Episode 1 - The Tower
Desc: Ash is sitting in a coffee shop when his train of thought is interrupted by commotion outside. He sees beyond the veil into the supernatural realm for a moment, and takes down a homeless man who attacks him.
Notes: Theron Ashland sat sipping on his large mocha java chip frappe', inside the Grounded Cafe', staring out of the window at nothing in particular. Images flashed before his mind, images of wars, actions taken to defend his homeland.
Out of the corner of his eye, through the window outside The Grounded Café, Ash saw two men dressed in black combat gear duck behind a car.
Coolness rushed down his spine, and his muscles tensed.
He reached for his side arm.
He shook his head, and looked again, they were gone.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD that was the diagnosis they’d assigned him. Ash relaxed and sank back into the leather bound chair; alone, in the corner of his favorite coffee shop. Always keep your back to the wall, be near the most exits, but never too visible. It was like breathing, it never stopped... even in civilian life.
As Dean of Military Science, Ash's job primarily lay in administrative work and policy these days, plus a few sessions counseling the younger cadets, and would-be trouble makers. He was quite overqualified for the position, but he ran a tight unit.
He stared at the faces of the pedestrians as they passed by the window. Hurried. Busy. Buried in their smart phones. So oblivious to the world around them, or the little clouds that float around their shoulders.
The leaves had begun to fall, most had turned shades of orange and yellow, matching perfectly to the Pumpkins that had been dotting porches and windows through the city the past few weeks.
Some commotion outside broke his train of thought... Everyone was stopping, turning, and staring in the same direction, a few moving toward the distraction.
Ash stepped outside to see what was happening, turned a corner, and nearly ran into a bystander.
A man in a tattered and dirty suit with a graying beard, was standing on top of a pickup truck screaming at no body in particular.
"You always did love Mother best... I know... That's why... You couldn't keep your mouth shut..."
On he went, incoherently. Just as Ash took a step closer, the man turned to stare him directly in the eye. Then, in a deeper, gravelly voice: "You... What do you want with us?" Then he turned back to his one sided conversation.
Ash could see a large creature behind the man. The bottom half was more mist than form, as though it were made of smoke. The top half was like a man, with the head of a bull. It was charcoal, and streaks of white painted across the chest.
Ash could feel his palms turn cold, and he felt as though he couldn't move his legs.
A smaller creature was on the homeless man's shoulders, screaming into his ears. He couldn't hear the conversation, but Ash could tell that the homeless man was responding, and that he had only been hearing one half of the conversation. Ash looked around and nobody else seemed too surprised, as usual.
The large creature stared directly at Ash, cocked his head to one side and disappeared along with the smaller one. The homeless man was by himself again, then his eyes narrowed. He leapt off the truck, and ran at Ash. It took all his training to keep from being pinned down. The old man was wiry but he was stronger than he looked.
Ash let out a cry, "Jesus!"
The wiry man stepped back as though he had been punched.
That was all Ash needed. In 30 seconds he had the man hog tied with his own belt.
The police were just arriving. "Charlie's at it again... Let's take him in."
Three big men in uniform put cuffs and a muzzle on the old man, gave Ash his belt, and threw him, rather harshly, into the back of the squad car.
Behind him, someone mentioned: "Those were some moves Marine."
"Airman. Uh... Thanks. No harm done." Ash noticed his coffee cup crushed, the contents covered the sidewalk, and his jeans.
"Why don't you let me get you another… on me."
Ash looked up to see a balding man in blue slacks, matching polo, and a pile of papers in his arms.
"The least I could do for a man who'd be willing to step in to a situation like that, protect all these people. What's your name son?"
"Ash. I need to get some new clothes. I don't think I need any more caffeine right now. But thanks for the offer." With a waive, he set off toward home.
Ash headed down the side walk, past the shops and restaurants. There is a girl crying, typing away at the phone. A little red frog on her shoulder, was yell into her ear. Ash could only imagine what it must be saying.
A little old lady is sitting inside a window at the nursing home. She is knitting something, probably a blanket. A large man in all white, stands behind her, smiling. He looks up at Ash, his smile fades slightly, and then returns. He looks down to her again.
Ash could not see the figure accompanying each person, only certain ones, here and there. Most were just clouds, or mist.
"Don't worry so much." His doctor told him, "These may be after affects from the war. As long as they do not interrupt your daily work, or cause you to want to harm yourself or others, you should be fine. Consider yourself lucky. Just think of them as a construct of your active imagination, an amusing distraction from the mundane realities of life."
He turned off the street between two old buildings, and up a well-worn path into the woods, his refuge from the masses, to home. Ash opened the front door.
It wasn't a mansion by any means, but it was more than sufficient for him. 2,500 sq. ft., 4 bedrooms, a home theater, game room with pool table. Yes sir, he had a fine cabin in the woods. All to himself. How he'd managed to live here eight years and still not have a single friend invited over was a mystery, even to himself. But he liked things just so. He liked the solitude. At least that's what he told himself.
Ash took a seat on his second story balcony, overlooking the hills and lake. He stared at nothing in particular for several hours. Then he laid down in his hammock, bundled in the overpriced winter resistant sleeping bag.
As sleep overtook him, he thought to himself "Yes sir, this is one fine cabin."
An explosion knocks him against a wall. He barely sees, through the smoke, troops running about, hauling rubble off of bodies, checking pulses. Some are screaming in pain. Others shouting to one another. Half the mess hall is completely gone, all that is left is fire and rubble.
Ash can feel the beat of his heart in his neck, his forehead rushed with sweat. He sees them all running around, but all he hears is intense ringing. As the numbness subsides from his brain, shock waves hit his chest as more buildings are getting hit nearby. Ash uses the wall to steady himself, and works to stand on his feet.
Others will tend to the wounded. This band of Jihadist miscreants found upgraded weapons; Russian no doubt.
Ash shoots out the building, down the road to the artillery unit. He grabs his rifle and heads for the highest structure, a radio tower toward the side of the camp.
He can see the launch area where the rockets are being fired from. He takes a few quick breaths, hyperventilating floods the lungs with oxygen, one last deep breath in and hold, steadies his body. Through the scope he can see about 10 of them. They only have two missile launchers. They have very little cover, firing from open desert, mostly hiding behind their Jeep, and a few large outcroppings of fallen mountainside.
He fires two rounds back to back, taking out both missile launchers, one exploding in the handlers face. Ash then begins firing one round after another as the attackers fall like Coke cans on a fence post. The rounds hit their targets with extreme prejudice.
Three remain, cowering behind the Jeep. Jeeps are great vehicles for driving through tough terrain quickly, but they are built light, not armored. He sees one peek through the glass, gone.
The other two attempt to climb in the vehicle keeping their heads down and drive away. The problem with that, is that both seats are occupied, both seats are easily identifiable. He doesn't need to see them, only the back of their seats. Two. One. The Jeep speeds up as it drives erratically, then crashes into a mound of rocks.
Ash woke up... another nightmare, if you can call a memory a nightmare. He rubbed his eyes, and glanced to his wrist. Red numbers flooded his vision, 3:30 am. He rolled over and went back to sleep.
Desc: Eta has a dream of the white room, wakes up and heads to a cafe' with her friend Janice. She has premonitions that come true.
Brightness greeted Eta when she aroused from a drug induced stupor. At least, that's what she assumed as she was coming to, based on the physical effects she was feeling... she must have relapsed again, blacked out... "I wonder what bedroom I've wondered into this time..." she thought to herself. Eta's muscles were sore and she felt the hard surface underneath, it felt cool on her back. It must have been a kitchen floor, maybe tile, or hardwood?
As she squinted, she saw simply bright white... "It must have been one of 'those' parties…", she mumbled to herself as she grimaced past sore muscles to get to her feet. But as the fog cleared she found the resolve to sit up, find her bearings, look around. Something didn't set right.
As her mind rebooted; Eta became keenly aware that nothing was right. This was no frat house, and she wasn't in college anymore. That girl has been dead for many decades, and forgotten. At least she tried to forget.
Drawing her groggy attention back to the situation at hand her training started to kick in and she began to assess. There were a large series of L.E.D. lights above, too bright to look directly at. The ceiling was high, too high to reach. The room wasn't very big, square, maybe twenty feet. She realized that her clothes had been changed and she was wearing something akin to a white leotard or bicycle suit, with black trim.
She kind of hoped to keep it when she was out of here, it's nice.
Eta scanned the room, no doors, windows, no escape. Only flat walls, she now realized were metal, as far as she could tell. In the center of the room was a white table and one box. She approached carefully and opened the box, assuming this must be the next step in whatever weird situation she'd found herself.
"They said training would involve untried methods. Maybe this is a training center and my next assignment. 'Escape the box with no escape "... Well… maybe she wasn't as good at catchy mission names as she was with two Glocks at her side.
When Eta opened the box all she found was a plastic bag, with an iPhone. She turned it on.
It booted silently...
She woke suddenly, but silently. As though she'd been awake for hours.
The only thing weirder than waking from a weird dream, is waking inside of a weird dream, only to then wake from that dream… But that was who Eta was after all… weird was her middle name. Well, ok, maybe not. But it sounded cooler than "Technical Sergeant Nadine Etaine Romanakov", or "Lieutenant" as she was now known by the Colorado Police Department.
" 'Eta'... It's pronounced "Eh'---tuh", she'd had to be deliberate in her pronunciation with a probie the other day. He was probably just trying to get to her because of her odd accent or because she was a chick. Either way it worked, but he probably wished it hadn't when she was done with him. You don't get to be one of the first females in the USAF to enter combat, or afterward onto the SWAT team, as a female, without being a bit feisty.
Eta glanced at the bare walls of her studio apartment. Eight years out of the service, and she still hadn't bought a single painting, or decoration for the room. This was not home, there is no home. This was a safe house… an eight year safe house.
“Find your happy place girl…” She closed her eyes, and in her mind Eta saw a butterfly land on the window sill. A feeling of warmth flooded over her for just a moment.
Her attention was broken by three short buzzes.
The phone, Eta read the words on her screen. "coffee?"
Janice was the one human odd enough to actually want Eta's company outside of work. And she'd asked for three years before she finally said yes. But now… it was a nice distraction. Maybe, she'd be willing to call Janice a friend?
She typed back, "Sure, be there in 10." She strapped on her dual Glocks, rib holstered, and a jacket to cover. You never can be too careful.
Out the door into the wild white winter madness that is Colorado Springs.
Over at the café, Janice is still chattering away about the latest episode of Blacklist, which Eta is normally very into. Today she just feels less normal. That dream, it had gone away since she'd been doing her herbal teas, but now it was back. Was this a relapse?
Suddenly, Eta's world disappeared. In her mind's eye, she saw a waiter walk by and trip on her purse, dropping the bottle of Perrier he was carrying, shattering all over the floor, contents pouring over her shoes and spraying up onto Janice’s lap.
She turned to Janice who had stopped talking, and was now staring at Eta. “You feeling' ok hun?”
"I'm fine Janice, sorry… these darn headaches, what were you saying?” Eta denied.
"You need something? I always carry the standards, generic of course… same thing, less money…"
"Janice, I'm fine, really." Just then a waiter walked by with a bottle of Perrier. He tripped on her purse, and she reached out and caught the bottle before it hit the ground.
"Whoa! Did you see what you just did?” Janice pushed up her glasses. “You have amazing reflexes." She was always expressing how impressed she was with Eta. She worked in Dispatch, but told Eta that she always dreamed of being on SWAT like her.
"Thank you." the waiter said, and he moved on looking embarrassed.
"Wow girl." Janice said. "You really are good.” Janice went back to recanting the television show. Eta tried her best to appear interested, she actually really enjoyed the show. But these day dreams, or whatever they are, were getting out of control. It wasn't so bad at first. A few harmless day dreams, followed by coincidences. But after eight years, they were getting hard to manage.
Janice glanced over at the TV, a commercial about laundry soap. At the end, a butterfly floats out of the towel and across the room, landing on the window sill.
"Hmm..." Eta said under her breath. Then, Janice disappeared.
Eta was somewhere else, far away. City street. Cars driving by. People walking along, minding their own business, most looking down at screens as if they were walking by GPS. Now there's people running, the streets of roped off, and she can see people in jogging suits, numbers on their back. Then her attention is drawn to a young man placing a backpack in the trash can. She knows this place, but she's never been here. A blinding flash of light. Glass splattering all over her. The percussion hits her chest and…
It's over... It's the same day dream she's been having for weeks now.
"Oh my!" she hears from just behind her, she turns to see a couple staring at the bar. Several others are slowly turning to see the television as well.
"An explosion went off at the Boston Marathon just moments ago…" the reporter covered the information they had so far.
…wait, did they say Boston? A sick feeling comes over her... is that even possible? Glancing at the TV, she sees the young man with the back pack, from her day dream, running away from the scene in the news with all the other people.
Eta folds her head into her hands at stares at the T.V. in total shock.
"What is happening?" Eta whispers. "Excuse me, Janice, I have to make a call. I have friends in that area. I'll see you later ok?"
Without waiting for an answer, she hurries out the door, then walks to a nearby payphone, which are getting harder to come by these days, keeping her face from a clear line of sight to any cameras she sees. She calls the F.B.I. hotline with an anonymous tip regarding the bomber, and the news channel that had the photo. Then she heads home… to process.
Desc: Ash has a dream of the white room, wakes up and heads to his coffee shop on the way to work. Runs into Dr. Briar.
Bright blinding white permeated the room. A white cardboard box sat on a thin snow white metallic table in a small space covered in white painted titanium walls. "How did I get here?” Ash mused to no one in particular. Looking down he noticed the white form fitting uniform he was wearing. His deep tan the only other contrast in this other clinically pure room. A soft hiss was coming from the ceiling, but he couldn’t look up because the ceiling was lit from end to end with bright LED’s, air conditioner maybe. He could barely see around him without squinting. Disorientation started to settle down after the first few moments awake, and he found his bearings. Training kicked in.
Thoughts move to business, take stock. Name/Rank: "Captain Therun Ashland, USAF”, he said out loud. No response. Taking inventory of his body, every part was accounted for, legs, arms, toes, fingers, the scar on his neck under his right ear. No pains, other than the usual.
Ash tried to recall his last memory before finding himself in this room void of any obvious doors, windows, or openings of any kind, not even a seem was apparent as he circled the room with his eyes and fingers. The thoughts came like rapid fire. He didn’t bother with escape plans, not yet anyway, obviously he'd been handled before arriving here and must be under surveillance this very moment. No way to defend against attack without knowing where the openings are, but there would be no use because if he were going to be killed he would be in some dank prison cell not this white washed room in some overly tailored biking suit. Still, better to be defensive and keep himself against a wall ready to react.
“Bring it in Ash, bring yourself together… What is the last thing you recall? I was on X-Island doing survival training in the South Pacific. I had just dropped in from 15,000 feet. Working through the forest to the hacienda I had retaken the residence and recovered the “stolen” technology, sent it back up on a UAV. Routine training mission. I swam off island to a nearby island and was waiting for my evac. There was a flash of light..."
…that’s it, there was no other memory. He woke up here.
The box on the table was the only thing in the room with him, besides the table itself, which seems to be built into the floor. He approached the table cautiously. Eyes had adjusted some to the light, but there was still not much to see. The legs and table appeared to be built of high strength metal, not breakable by hand. The package seemed like any other white shipping box, sealed in white duct tape end to end.
The table was cool to the touch, not cold, but cool, like everything else in this room, floor, walls, etc. Ash pealed at the tape slowly, ready to react to its contents. This box was obviously here for him, it was the only thing in the room, and no-one had reacted to his being awake. Laying the tape aside he opened the lid and found an iPhone, neatly wrapped in plastic. He opened the bag and turned on the phone.
It booted silently…
Ash woke up in a sweat… it was that stupid dream again! The same dream… for 8 years. PTSD came in all shapes and sizes… for Theron Ashland it came in the form of recurring dreams, nightmares really. Some doctors told him it was suppressed memory. Others told him that it was his mind trying to make sense of the missing time. He wasn't sure himself.
Regaining sleep was unlikely. The clock read 4:07 am. Ash had a few hours before he had to head to the school to start his day full of students’ excuses for misbehaving, and professors’ excuses for their students test results. Things were so much simpler when you could just shoot your enemy. How he ever agreed to accept a position involving people, he'd never understand.
Still, a steady paycheck in post military retirement was more than many Vet's hoped for. Maybe some extra calisthenics would help erase the bizarre and bring him back to reality… again.
By 6:00 am, Ash was heading to the school for another day, and he stopped off at the Grounded Café for a do-over from last night. As he walked in, Mike, the usual morning Barista nodded "I'll have it right up for you Ash. It's on the house today, thanks for keeping us safe last night man. I heard all about it…"
Ash nodded back, "Thanks Mike! I'm a little out of practice though… that little old man is stronger than he looks." They both laughed, and Ash took a seat in his favorite leather chair, in his corner. He was skimming through the local paper, when he noticed another man come and sit in the chair beside him. He tried to ignore him, but he could see from his peripheral that the man was just staring straight at him. He couldn't focus to read a single headline, and so he put the paper down on his lap and smiled at the man.
Small stature, balding in the front, large square glasses. "How can I help you mister…?"
"Briar. Dr. Briar. I was most impressed with your show of heroism last night Airman. I apologize for calling you Marine, I know how you boys like to keep yourselves distinguished from each other. The thing is, I've never seen a member of the Air Force fight like that. Pardon me for saying, but I've always thought of you Airman as more brains than brawn, if you know what I mean." Dr. Briar smiled, warmly.
"No offense taken, I've just had more than my fair share of run-ins, and I've picked a few fights with those Marines you mentioned as well."
"Tell me Mr. ...."
"Ash, just call me Ash."
"Thank you. Tell me Ash, I couldn't help but notice that you were looking at the man rather odd, just before he jumped on you. It was not the face of strange curiosity that most of the bystanders had. There was something… unique... about the way you looked at him? What was that about?"
Images of the dark cloud, the figure, the small frantic creature danced in his head for a moment. Ash passed it off, "Dr. Briar… is it? I suppose I was just gearing up for the fight. Those of us with training tend to view conflict a bit different from other folks."
"Ash!" Mike the Barista was calling.
Turning to Dr. Briar, "Coffee's ready… I have to go to work now."
"I see… well, thank you for satisfying my curiosity." Dr. Briar stood, and put out his hand. Ash stood, and took it with a firm shake.
"So long Dr. Briar, nice to meet you." Ash grabbed his coffee and headed out the door.
Desc: Eta is on leave, decides to head to L.A. to find the mystery man from her dreams
Eta woke up at 9:09 am, as usual. Her day started out normal enough. Then during a raid on a local drug den, she was knocked over by some punk kid who couldn't have been more than 22 years old. He got away!
How could she have been so careless? Boss Man said that it could happen to anyone, but she knew she wasn't OK. And she let her team down, and a suspect got away. She needed to take time to clear her head, before someone got hurt.
They'd been begging her to use her time off anyway, she'd accrued the stuff for three years straight without using any. So she took a paid leave for six weeks.
That ought to be enough time for this to pass over...
Or drive her nuts.
One way or the other, this will be settled.
Eta placed her keys on one of the hooks by the door, and her purse on the other. If you can call a kevlar fanny pack a purse.
She locked the dead bolt, three times. Set the alarm code, 3. 3. 3.
Eta glanced to the inspirational photo of a waterfall, framed on the wall, a constant reminder,
"Nine represents achievement and completion, when all has been put right, and in order. Order is control. Control is power. Power is defense. Master Xua Chi".
Defense against the world, people, but mostly, herself. Self cannot be trusted. Above all else, self must be controlled.
Eta glanced the place over, everything is where she left it. Windows and doors secure. Sounds correct. Smells check.
She let out a sigh, shoulders relaxed.
Glocks, still holstered, were placed on the bed, under the pillow. Eta walked to the kitchen, poured hot water into a teacup, then parked herself at the desk by the window.
The desk was close enough for light and fresh air, but just out of the line of sight from other tall buildings and potential sniper nests.
She rotated the blinds, so that no one could see in. The screen came to life, the cursor blinking in the long rectangular box.
Eta tried searching, "visions", "psychic". Every search brought with it a rabbit trail of charlatan websites looking to make money off of the unsuspecting fools who dared to believe their trickery. No real science. No exploration. Nothing to explain her situation.
"What is happening to me?" Eta sighed. The sights and sounds of the bombing were fresh in her mind. The news channels didn't do it justice.
She'd been there... somehow. She could smell the explosive materials, she could see the bombers face when he put the backpack in the trash can. He was frightened, not bold. He looked at the people around him so sadly. Then he walked away, head down, crying.
They caught him this morning, thanks in part to her tip off, she hoped. He looked surprised on the T.V. Like he didn't know how he'd been caught.
This does not bode well for the order she'd crafted for her life. There had to be logical rational answers for this phenomena. Or was this just the past catching up with her. Something finally snapped inside, and she'd gone nuts afterall?
After hours of nothing concrete coming up in the searches, Eta closed the laptop lid, and sat back in the chair. She rubbed her neck, and eyes.
They burned, she must have forgotten to blink again. Eta laid down on the bed, and stared at the ceiling until sleep overtook her.
She's late for an appointment. What appointment? She doesn't know. She's just sitting here in the food court, with her laptop, waiting for... someone? The sign on the wall says Sky Mall.
She's been here a while, she's not sure how long. Time ticks on, clicking away on the keyboard, search after search brings no relief.
She looks down and there are lockers. A man walks up, black jeans, black jacket with a Carhart logo, grey beany. He opens the locker, and pulls some things out.
Just as he is about to turn around, there is a flash of bright light, and he is gone. No bomb this time, he's just gone. She needs to meet him. But why?
Eta sat up. Had she been asleep? Not sure. Another vision? She'd pulled her last $3,000.00 from savings, on the way home last night. She'd planned to drop by the airport and take the first one way flight to anywhere but here.
A few taps on the keys revealed a Sky Mall in Los Angeles California. Ten minutes from Union Station, and L.A.X. Perfect, she could walk from the airport.
"I guess L.A. counts as 'anywhere but here'..." Eta said.
Janice was more than willing to drop her off on one condition. "Take pictures, and bring me back an amazing story of your adventures! And if it's boring... Just make something up for me!"
She looked out the plane window, it wasn't as impressive without the thrill of a parachute strapped to your back. Eta closed her eyes, and sleep came, eventually.
Dr. Briar watched Ash leave, as he sat back down to his tablet at the table in the back of the Café. He stared down at his screen, which showed vital signs playing alongside a recording of the event as it had unfolded the night before. Dr. Briar pulled up the private Instant Message, and began typing.
Note: Subject A reacted to the white noise, even 10 years after the end of his experiment. Elevated vital signs, and increased erratic behavior were nearly instant. Subject B showed signs of elevated vitals, but he was attacked, which could be the reason. Subjectively, I feel he saw something; however, even after my interview with him this morning, the data was inconclusive.
Subject A: Terminate.
Subject B: Observe.
Dr. Briar pressed enter, and took a sip of his Carmel Macchiato. For a few minutes the cursor remained empty, blinking on the screen as he watched the sea of humanity passing by. If they only knew… is this what it was like for the dinosaurs? Just roaming about their territory, eating and pursuing each other until one day… an explosion changed everything?
One of his experiments had managed to ellude them, despite their precautions. The frustrating part, was that despite his vast resources, and well paid hackers, this experiment remained elusive. They knew who they had thought he was. Until they realized that the person they thought they had, didn't exist. By then it was too late. He'd shown great promise during the experiments. His brain scans were clean. Text book case study. The only problem was that he didn't exist. When they went to find him for a check-in, he was missing, and the alias turned out to be empty. Ryan Wrecking never existed.
They couldn't find him, but they could put a stop to the madness before it got any further out of hand. Already they'd eliminated 25 of the most extreme cases, the ones gone wrong, the liabilities. They must put a lid on this mess before there was any more exposure to the program. A message popped up.
Subject A: Terminate.
Subject B: Terminate.
Dr. Briar may have been many things, but he was assuming that taking the life of a man who was not showing signs of being a danger to himself or others was just beyond his moral line. He responded.
Subject B: Terminate Not Needed.
Subject B: Terminate!
He didn't need to be reminded, again, who was really in control. With sadness, he resigned himself to the inevitable.
He sent a text to the associates he had brought to town.
Subject A - Terminate.
Subject B - Terminate.
The reply came quickly.
Dr. Briar suddenly felt ill. It's hard to imagine that just a few short years ago, he'd been a respected scientist. Sure, he worked on the fringe of science. But how had he come to this? Reduced to putting down his own test subjects? This was the price he'd paid to touch the edges of the known universe and rip them open. This was the price he'd paid to have his funding needs met by an "interested party". Only too late did he realize, too interested.
Desc: Ash dreams of the dark room, wakes up and he's attacked. He needs to leave town for saftey, and find out what's happening. Why the attack, and why the dreams, and what was with that homeless guy?
The iPod had given short but clear instructions.
"Col Ashland. You are in no danger. We are conducting an experiment in sound waves and sound deprivation. After a cleansing period to be determined, you will be ushered into another room. You are to sit in the chair for another period of time, also to be determined. That is all. Within a few weeks, you will leave no worse for the ware, unless this works. In which case, you will be better for the ware."
That was all it said. The one and only track, ended.
It was always bright. The lights never turned off. It may have been 10-15 days? He was trying to keep marking the days on the white box, but he could not tell when one day started, and another ended. With no natural light as reference, his circadian rhythms were off. Ash wakes to the sound of his food being delivered for breakfast, fold, his only measuring stick. He eats in silence. He doesn't even hear the static from above anymore. When he is done he places his tray on the shelf and it disappears into the wall again.
*Click* The sound in the overhead turns off. "Well… that's new." Ash said the first words he'd spoken in days.
The air pressure changes as a slight crack in the wall snaps open. The crack opens wider as the panel disappears into the wall. *Whoosh*, the crack becomes a doorway, which opens into a long hall. Since this is the first interaction he's had since he woke up in the looney bin, he decided it was better to investigate the new, than stay in the old. Ash makes his way down the long hall, lit with blue LED's this time.
He makes his way into a room, approximately 15 by 15. The door shuts behind him. The floor is built from a hatch work of solid wire. Very sturdy; however, unnerving as you can see several feet beneath the floor which is covered in deep triangular foam, of various sizes and depths. The walls, ceiling, all made of the same substance. One chair, bolted to a frame on the floor. It looks comfortable enough. Like a dentist chair. Seeing no other option, he takes the chair.
Upon taking his seat, the lights are turned off. The only thing Ash could see was the flashes of white dots dancing around his eyes from having been in the light moments earlier.
The silence is deafening. Ash clapped his hand once, and noticed that the clap was hallow, as though the walls took the sound and sucked it out away from him, then wouldn't give it back. If it were possible for sound to be less than nothing, this was it. The sound was sucked right out of him, so that all he could hear was his own breathing.
After about ten minutes, his ears began ringing. It started subtle, but grew worse.
When the ringing subsided, he could hear the beating of his own heart, and the sloshing of bodily fluids throughout his own body.
Having spent the last several days in what he would have called silence, all of Ash's racing thoughts had subsided. He's moved past wondering where he is, when he'll leave, he's now just him. Alone with his thoughts. And increasingly, his past.
He could almost hear his own thoughts. As though that voice in his head, that was always present, telling him what to do, and where to go, and how to act, watch out for that... don't say that... oh man, what did you do that for? It was as though the inner voice became almost audible. As though he could hear himself think. Or rather as though his thoughts could speak to him audibly. It was an odd sensation, but occupying his mind was the only thing he could do. He'd never admit it to a captor, but solitary confinement was his favorite part of being a prisoner of war. He enjoyed self-time, silence.
Now though, alone in the dark now, with no sound of any kind, negative sound. He sits. Lays back in the reclining dentist chair, and he waits. He waits. Eventually, after what seemed like hours, Ash started to fall asleep.
He did not know how long he'd been asleep, but his concentration suddenly snapped into focus with the feeling that he was not alone in this room.
He'd known before he entered the room that cameras were on him, and he was being observed... but that wasn't it. He felt the air in the room change, as though someone had entered the room with him. He could hear breathing in the room. He wasn't tied to the chair, he could get up, but where to? He couldn't see, he'd memorized the layout though. He knew the entrance he came from, and he didn't see any other known entry ways before the door shut out the light. Ash slowed his breathing, and observed with his four remaining senses for any clue as to the whereabouts, and intention, of the new participant.
"Ash..." a voice whispered from all around him.
"Ash... " He sits up. How long was he asleep? Is he asleep now? How would you know in dark silence?
"Ash... we know about you Ash... We know who you are... Fraud! Failure! Hypocrite!" The voices were filled with pain, and anger.
Ash shakes his head... the voices vanish. For the first time since entering this crazy place, Ash felt fear creep into his spine. Those voices… they almost sounded like… them. Images flashed through his mind of the wars he'd fought, the people he'd killed for God and country. Was it for God? Who's god? The god of good oil prices? What country? The one that left him to rot in an Iranian prison, because we could not admit we had been there to begin with? Disavowed they called it. Escape required cruel and unusual punishment of his captors, even for him.
Through the silence a buzzing grew steadily... startling him
Ash woke up. Still in his hammock. He pulled his phone from the pocket of his jacket next to him. 3:17 am, 10 new messages from the same unknown number. He opened the messages, and they all read the same.
"ATTACK IS IMMINENT!!!!”
Ash felt his senses come alive, 25 years of drills and real life base attacks had drilled that message into his DNA. His focus came alive, and his hearing and sight became acute. Ash steadied his breath. He didn't move, not yet, he wanted to know what direction? What attack? In Oregon? Really? He started to assume that this was a prank being pulled by one of the new cadets. He got out of the hammock and walked to the kitchen to get some water. He still didn't feel right though. Something was off. He placed the glass on the counter and…
Ash heard the front door open, and then close softly. It could be a prank, and if so, he didn't want to accidentally shoot one of his students. At the same time, 10 messages is enough to put him on edge, so he quietly pulled his side arm from the drawer, but holstered it in the back of his pants.
He also grabbed his custom Survival Knife from the drawer.
Ducking down behind the island, he used the glass reflection to watch the hallway. Two men entered the hallway, geared up in all black, using professional Russian hand signals. They moved silently, and they were built for battle. These were no students. Ash watched as they made their way to the porch, where his hammock still looked like it was being slept in. Intended to fool students pulling a prank, but just as handy when being attacked for real.
He started to rise, so that he could work his way to a better defensive position, then a bright light made him pull back. He couldn't see anything for a few moments. When the light cleared, he could see the men on the porch as they approached the hammock, and then opened fire on it. Ash holstered his knife, and went back to his side arm. He took several shallow breaths, followed by one deep breath, steadied his focus. He could see the hammock, and its contents falling apart. He stood, worked quickly to get behind the couch, which he had special made for just such an occasion.
You never can be too paranoid... or is that prepared? He could never tell the difference.
He crouched behind, on one knee, fired several shots into the nearest target. The assailant flailed forward into his counterpart and then went over the balcony. Stunned by the commotion, the other remaining member turned to see where the shots came from, too late. Ash emptied the remaining rounds and he went down. Ash re-loaded, and approached with caution. He kicked the weapon aside, and checked for life in the assailant. DOA. A glance over the edge revealed no change of survival there either.
Ash stripped the man of anything useful, then picked up him up, and threw him off the balcony to hang out with his friend. Ash grabbed the man's rifle, and swept the house for more. Clear. This was an AN-94, advanced Russian assault rifle, way too expensive for general issue to the Russian military or police. This was a special breed that had the balls to enter his house.
Who sent them? What in the world did they want with a retired professor? Surely it can't be a grudge from his special forces days? That was over eight years ago, then again, people like Ash never really retire. They just go dormant, to be pulled back in a moment's notice. Which is why he still had a Commanding Office (C.O.) to report to quarterly.
When he knew the coast was clear, he called his C.O. to report the incident. No reason for the civilians of this sleepy town to know that there had been a Russian attack on US Soil, they'll send a sanitation team to make it look like it never happened.
"General Akbar… Sir this can't be an isolated incident. I need to go dark and find out what's going on."
"Understood Ash. Check in every two weeks, and we'll see what we can find on our end. We'll let the school know we called you into active duty on short term notice. They won't ask any questions. And Ash… be careful. I don’t like the smell of this one."
"Roger. I'll check back in two weeks."
Ash threw together his hiking pack, and necessities. He pulled his cash from the stow-away hidden in the back of the couch. He took one last glance at his cabin, now a little less beautiful than before… sighed, and walked out the door. The sanitation team would be here before light. And he needed to be gone by then too. Ash pulled the bike out from the garage.
He didn't ride the Vulcan often, but he really enjoyed it.
He really did need to get out more, even if it takes people looking to assassinate you, to get you out of town. He glanced both directions. He'd set up safeties in Washington and California. "Heck, let's make like the birds and head south for the winter", he stated. He pointed the nose down the road, and took off. Making sure to keep to back roads, but ones with multiple exit paths. "Russians…" he pondered, "what do the Russians want?"
React to Ash "escaping"
Dr. Briar pulled up the private Instant Message, and began typing.
Subject A: Terminated
Subject B: Termination Failed, Escaped, On the run. Cannot find him. Lost two units.
There was a long silence. Butterfly's flew around in his belly, and his hands grew cold. The Benefactor, as he was called, did not take kindly to failure; however, he was also a cold calculator. He was hard, but not rash. As long as Dr. Briar was still valuable he would not receive his direct wrath.
A wave of relief washed over him. He was still valuable, for now.
He picked up his phone, and pressed speed dial.
"Welcome to Esion, this is Clara speaking, how may I help you?"
"Clara, this is Dr. Briar. Get my plane ready, I'm leaving in one hour... Oh, and hire two more assistance, I seem to have lost mine."
"Yes sir Dr. Briar, right away." He pressed the big red disconnect button, and sat in the cafe for a few moments, pondering his next moves. He would not be allowed to fail again.
Desc: Eta is pursueing a vision of a man at a locker, she has to find him. It turns out, he's her old partner from spec ops, Ash.
The Los Angeles Sky Mall was bustling with humanity, roaming about like so many ants building a colony without knowing why. Eta sat in the food court tables just outside the Chick Filet, overlooking the railing down to the first floor, in perfect view of the lockers. She couldn't get the latest vision out of her head. After that incident a few weeks ago with the Boston Marathon, she was officially freaking out. Then this new vision started up.
She's sitting in this exact spot, and a some guy in black jeans, a black jacket with a Carhart logo, and a grey beany steps up to a locker, he turns around ... Vision Over.
"I'm not sure who this guy is" she said to no one "... or why I used my vacation time on short notice and the last of my emergency fund to fly out to Los Angeles to sit in this chair. All I know is, if he has any clues, about why I'm seeing stuff before it happens, it's worth a shot to come find out." Eta shook her head, "You're talking to yourself again girl, get a grip…"
So she waits… and waits. She's been here all day, every day with her laptop surfing the Wi-Fi... waiting. She's had only this vision, every night, for two weeks since the Boston Bombing. So here she sits, waiting. Day 12… hotels and fast food.
Bouncing from site to site, Google providing no solid answers, she's now attempting to use the other search engines, hoping for different results. She's hit up Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo... she's moved on to deep web searches. Checking out the Library of Congress, National Security Archive, Virtual Library, Infomine... grasping for answers.
There were a few articles about paranormal studies and research.
Did she hear voices? No.
See things she can't explain? Yes.
Did she have the feeling she was being watched by a close loved one? No.
She laughed so abruptly a few people turned around to look at her for a moment. The thought was hilarious. There were articles about people coming back from war with strange mental reactions, and being misdiagnosed with PTSD. Paranormal research was hard to wade through, for every non-biased scientific evaluation, she found 1,000's of kooks and quacks that ranged from television psychics to religious evangelists. All of them wanting to provide you with answers, for the low cost of... or a love gift of...
Eta was on her fourth cup of Venti Soy Chai Tea Latte for the day when she saw him. Out of the corner of her eye, there was a man with dark blue jeans, nearly black. A black jacket with a Carhart label on the shoulder, and a grey beany... he was headed in the direction of the lockers.
She gasped. Pulse quickened, muscles tensed.
Eta tried to look casual, in case he turned her direction.
If Special Forces training had taught her anything it was how to observe without being seen. He was headed straight for the locker... and then passed it, and headed out of sight down the halls to the bathrooms. She wouldn't have the time to get down there and follow, and the vision was about this locker, so she decided against her inner desire to pursue and kept up with her searches. If that was the guy, he'd be back. If it wasn't, she'd miss the real person she was here to see.
More searches turning interesting tidbits of useless data. It's a decent distraction, but she's no closer to the answer. Eta stares into the crowds below as they meander through the mall. Out of the corner of her eye she sees the man again, walking away from the lockers. He disappears underneath her, toward the exit. She sits debating, "Should I go follow, or stay and wait?" She decides that the vision has her in this seat, and him at that locker.
Eta is startled by a young man holding a heart shaped box. "Yes?"
"This is for you, have a great day", the young man starts to take off.
"Wait, sir… this can't be for me." He turns back to face her. "I don't know anyone here. You got the wrong person."
"No Ma'am. You are the one. He pointed to you, black leather jacket, laptop, purple hair. He said to give this to you." he turned and walked away.
Eta looked around, she felt the icy tinge run through her spine. She could feel her breathing quicken, and her skin tighten. Glancing in through the crowd, she could not locate any immediate danger. Eta put her ear to the box to listen for mechanical devices. It was light, too light to be a bomb. She opened it, and there was a note inside. "Why did you open this box? Haven't I taught you anything? Gotcha! Over Please." She recognized the hand writing instantly. "Hey there slugger! Nice avoidance technique, almost didn't notice you there. What are you doing here?" It may have been eight years, but they were partners for longer than that. She stood up, glancing around. She didn't see him. She looked toward the locker, there he was. The man in the black jacket pulled a backpack from the locker, and turned around.
"Of all the crazy… ", she said. Her muscles relaxed. Eta folded her arms, feigning annoyance, and nodded her head calling him over. The she sat down. She took a deep breath, and sighed.
Ash walked up to her, smiling. He'd aged well. "Time has been hard on you, huh tough guy?"
"It's done wonders for you slugger. Look at you". He sat down. He recanted his ordeal in Oregon, and his trip down here to pull his backup safety stash of money, weapons, and passports.
She recanted her pre-cognitions and experiences in Colorado.
When they had both finished explaining:
"Psychic precognition… huh? Weird."
"I'd have taken your Russians over my psychotic breakdown, more predictable."
"I guess so. What do we do now?"
"I don't know. I've been searching for answers, Google has been most helpful. Did you know I could have latent Psychic Tendencies?" She smiled.
"Really?" Ash put on his best serious face. "Well… let's get you’re your own program!"
They both chuckled.
"So Chief, what's the plan now?"
"I don't know, but I do know we'll need someplace to crash tonight. You have any visions of a 5 star hotel in our future? We can't use credit cards, got to stay off the grid."
"No. The last vision was of you standing there at that locker, of course I didn’t know it was you at the time. Fresh out of visions for the moment…. Wait… it's coming in now…"
Ash sat up a little straighter, after his fight with the homeless man he was open to strange possibilities.
"I see you, and me… sleeping in a cardboard box!" Ash slouched a little, and shook his head. "Hey, I spent most of my emergency fund and this wild goose chase, getting to this dump of a city."
"Well, we can't stay here. But I think I can afford someplace better than a cardboard box."
They both got up, and took off together on the bike, through the streets of LA. They parked the Vulcan in an Alley, then went to Denny's for a bite to eat. You can always count on Denny's when you are operating on a budget.
Desc: Ash and Eta run into Chester in an alley being harrased by a gang. They dismantle that group, and Chester takes them to a safe place.
Before they could make it into the front door, Ash heard something, and motioned for Eta to follow, making their way to the alley beside Denny's. As they rounded the corner they heard voices, and they didn't sound pleasant. Curiosity got the better of Ash who peaked into the alley to assess the situation. Eta made a grumpy face, but followed. "Ash" she whispered, "we're trying to stay off the grid. Let's not get in the middle of something we'll need to explain to police." He motioned to keep her voice down, and glanced around the corner. Three… no four, Latino men, armed with hand guns. All dressed in sagging jean shorts, white ribbed under shirts, and button down plaid, with only the top button together. Blue bandanas wrapped around their arms.
"Chester, Chester… it's been a long time since we've seen you around boy? You ain't buying no more, or what?" The smallest guy was doing the talking. Shaved head, snake tattoo on his neck running up and over his skull. "You still owe us that program you promised boy. The one that would get us into people's accounts. Where'd you disappear to essay?!" Turning to the chunky guy on his left, "Gordo, what's it been, two… three years since we've seen this punk? Since he promised us a program in exchange for our merchandise? I think it's time to pay up Sancha!"
Ash could see the shadowy figures rising up and around the four guys. Never quite solid, but so often present in situations like these, with shady people. Then a light caught his eye. He noticed the gleam first, and then the whole scene exploded into bright light. Ash backed away, temporarily blinded. After a few blinks, he could see a very large man, brown hair, dressed in all white, with a gold belt and long sword. He was standing behind the victim, but looking straight at Ash. He smiled, motioned to the four assailants, nodded approval, and then… disappeared again.
Ash motioned to Eta. Four assailants. Armed. One victim. Cover me, from over there. I'm going in. Eta pulled her side arm, and sighed. "Really?" she whispered, "I took vacation time to come to LA and shoot gangsters?" Eta silently made her way to just behind the parked car. She stayed in the shadows between the car and the wall, but kept her side arm pointed at the group. Ash adjusted his chest holster within easy reach of his slightly open jacket, and walked down the alley as though he didn't see the crowd. They were so busy they didn't see or hear him as he approached. He walked right up next to the largest of the bunch and stood there for a while. They were so busy being bully's they didn't even notice him.
Amateurs. Tired of being ignored; "Fellas, what's with the party!?" he screamed out with his best impression of a loud drunk. Snake head whipped around, followed by everyone else. Tiny looked the most surprised, which made sense considering the guy was standing right next to him and he didn't notice. Snake head put on his best bravado stance. "You lost boracho? I think you need to move along… "
"Why? I was just leaving the bar and my friend had disappeared. I was looking all over for you buddy, where did you go?" Motioning at the victim.
Snake head didn't give him time to respond. "You have 60 seconds to leave, before you become a part of this party amigo… and trust me, you don't want to be a part of this party."
Ash straightened up a little, still putting on a drunk show. "I'll tell you what amigo…." He swallowed. "I'll give you and your friends 10 seconds to leave this alley before I ruin your party and take my friend with me."
Snake head had enough; "Tiny… get rid of this guy, huh?" Tiny pointed his gun at Ash's head… and the world slowed down.
Ash moved in to Tiny's space, pushing the gun away from this body, stepped on his toes, pulled his knee into the opposite inner thigh, simultaneously taking his gun, and hitting him in the nose with the butt of the gun. With one big shove he knocked Tiny into the guy behind him and they both went down. Ash whipped around, in two quick strides and hit the third guy in the throat so hard that he dropped his gun and went down to the ground with both hands on his neck trying to breathe. Finally, he side stepped to Snake Head, and with one hand took Snake Head’s gun hand and held it pointed to the ground, and with the gun he'd just taken from tiny, and pointed it right between his eyes.
By this point two of the assailants were still nursing wounds while the third had recovered and was starting to point his weapon at Ash. Just then the gun flew out of the guys hand, as a faint swoosh could be heard from down the alley. He grabbed his hand in immense pain as it was now bleeding profusely.
Ash, no longer pretending to be a drunk, looked Snake Head directly in the eye. "So here's how this goes. A) you and your friends leave your weapons in the alley and take your friend to the hospital to have his hand looked at. B) you all leave here in body bags as my friend back there picks you off like ducks at a carnival shooting gallery."
Snake Head hesitated for a few moments, then dropped his gun, as did the others. The four of them ran out of the alley, right past Eta who stayed hidden so they wouldn't see where she'd fired from.
Ash picked up the weapons and put on the safeties before loading two into his belt. He threw the others to Eta who had come down the alley by now, sure that the four had left for good.
"You're getting rusty old man." Eta half smiled.
Ash returned a smirk and then turned to their new friend. "You have a name kid?"
"Chester…" he managed, a bit shaken from the encounter.
"Well Chester, we'll need to get moving before they gather the courage to return with the rest of their gang, or police come after someone reports the commotion. Anyplace you know that we can go and be safe from them, and the police for that matter?" Ash said.
"And maybe some food?" Eta shrugged, "This kind of interrupted our dinner plans."
"Yeah… sure… this way…" Chester motioned to the street and the three of them left the alley. They made their way to the Union Gospel Mission.
Chester waived to the night guard, "Albert. These two are with me."
"OK, sounds good. Just sign them in Mr. Chester." The guard was older, he looked like he could hold his own, but he wasn't going on any marathons any time soon either.
"Who were those guys?" Eta asked as they ate a free meal.
"It's a long story. Suffice it to say that they were part of a life I no longer live. By the way, not that I'm not grateful… but where did you two learn to do that CIA, Kung Fu, Ninja stuff back there?"
Eta and Ash glanced at each other and smiled.
"It's a long story…" Ash stated.
Chester smiled. "I see what you did there."
Eta kept her eyes on the doors and windows.
Chester followed her glance, "Well hey, seriously, if you want to avoid prying eyes, the mission might not be the best place for you two to stay tonight. Most of the residents are long term bums, and are still discussing the conspiracy behind the Kennedy assassination, or Roswell. But we do get a few savvy's in now and then, and if your faces are on the news or anything, they might know. They'd take the opportunity for a tip line reward." Chester glanced at the wall for a moment, and turned back to them. "Why don't you stay at my place? It's big enough."
"Are you sure it's a good idea to invite total strangers to your house Chester?" Ash put up his hands, "Not that I mind."
"Listen. Strange you are. Weird…. Maybe even a little scary. But two people who would walk into an alley to save a guy they don't know with super cool Ninja moves like that, and then let the crooks live? If you meant me harm, we wouldn't be here right now. Besides… there's something about you… I can't put my finger on it, but I feel like we were meant to meet tonight, and I always trust my gut. It’s always done me right. Besides it's the least I can do after you risked your lives to save me. Win-Win in my book."
"Good enough for me. It's a viable option. What do you say Eta?"
"Less cameras to avoid at his place than the hotels" she shrugged,” Better plan than any".
They wrapped up their dinner, and Chester waived to Albert, and the three headed to his place.
Desc: Eta and Chester go to Chesters' house; and she has another dream. This dream is of a bomb at the parade.
Chester is giving them the grand tour. “Kitchen is through the left there, there is a Kurieg there, if you drink coffee. There's also a latte wand if you are the frills type coffee drinker.”
Ash is following just behind her, she can feel his warmth.
“Nope, not going there. Get a grip girl.” She said under her breath.
Chester pointed to a big room just off the landing, “The movie theater is set up with a touch screen display, just scroll through the movie you want to see.”
“Wait…” Eta said, “Did you say movie theater?”
“Yes I did.” Chester shrugged, “If you close the doors you can turn the volume up as loud as you want it. It's totally sound proof from the rest of the house." He smiled big about that one.
“Some house you got here Chester.” Ash threw a glance at her, eyebrows raised.
“Thanks, follow me.”
Heading up the stairs, then down the hall to the right, they passed several doors. Pointing to Ash, "You can take the first door on the left, and Eta, you can take the next one. Just so you know, my working hours are just starting, so I'll most likely be asleep when you two wake up. The house is yours. I’m usually up about mid-morning to noon. If you need a computer there is a guest computer in the living room. I'll let you get settled, I'll be in my office on the third floor if anyone needs me." He nodded, and headed up the second flight of stairs.
"Who is this guy?" Eta said.
"I don't know… but I think we signed up for the wrong career." Ash said. "I'll see you in the morning".
Eta nodded, and then headed to her room. Suite, was more like it. It had its own bathtub with jets, and empty walk-in closet. She put her bag on the chaise, went to bed.
Suddenly, she was not in the room anymore. She was floating above the house. The wind was whipping through her. She wanted to see closer to the ground, and found her self floating toward the directino her eye had been looking. At ground level, the light was still on in the house. Chester was working on something. She thought of Ash, and found herself floating through the windows, doors, walls, and into his room.
Ash was sitting on a chair, by the window. His hand under his chin, as he stared outside. He seemed to be lost in thought.
An image filled her mind. A tower. Then she was whisked away from the house, and went flying through the air. She was passing over houses at sonic speads. No need to put her arms out like superwoman, she was just along for the ride. As her flight slowed, she came upon a gated compound. There was a manicured entrance, and private secruity. Multiple buildings on the property, but the most interesting was a large tower, 13 stories tall.
At the top of the tower, a light was on through a corner window.
Eta floated to the top of the building, and saw a man with white hair, typing into a computer. He turned and looked in her direction, but he didn't see her. He just stared outside while he spoke into his bluetooth headset.
Floating down, and then backward, she was hurled through the night, back into her room.
It's getting worse... these visions... she needs answers. But this one, it was different. It was real, raw.
Glancing at the clock, it's 11:02 am. She over slept. I guess overslept is an understatement when you have no plans, but she felt like it was over sleeping. She dressed in a hurry and worked her way down the hall. The smell of food carried her down the stairs and around the corner. Ash was flipping pancakes and stirring sausage. Chester was sitting at the counter talking… then he turned around to see Eta walk in.
"Hey. I'm not normally awake this early, but Ash discovered cookware in my kitchen, and I followed the scent down stairs. I didn't even know that stuff was in there!"
"I'm glad he found it, I'm starving." Eta gave a nod to Chester, and sat down at one of the bar stools.
Ash turned to her, "You ok Slugger? I heard you tossing and turning a bit last night. It was fitful enough I could hear it from next door."
"Yeah, I'm alright… but…"
Ash turned around. "What is it?"
"I had another one."
"Really? What about this time?"
Eta glanced at Chester and hesitated.
"It's ok…I trust him. I had a buddy run a background on our friend here. No offense Chester." Chester smiled and waived, mouth full of coffee, "And it turns out that Chester's security clearance is almost as high as ours"
Eta gave Ash a glance. "OK, what do you do? Exactly, I mean?"
"A little of this, a little of that." Chester laughed. "Here's the thing." Chester pulls out his business card and hands it to Eta. "Internet Data and Program Security Analyst - Chester Jandihar IDAPSA".
"Wow", she says, handing it to Ash.
"Yeah, it's a mouthful. But CEO's get all freaked out when you call yourself a Hacker, so the business title makes them feel better. Basically, I design programs of various kinds for businesses, non-profits, even the government. I also test systems for vulnerabilities and report my findings. Then in my free time I just build random stuff, programs mostly." Chester shrugged, "So as I said, a little of this, and little of that."
Ash smiles, "He's consulted for the N.S.A."
Eta raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "If you say so…" Eta began to recant the visions she'd been having to catch Chester up to speed. Then the most recent vision, detail for detail, as best as she could remember it.
"You must think we're both nuts… huh?" Eta turned to Chester.
"Actually." Chester mused, "I find this fascinating. We've been studying this kind of phenomenon for years."
"You have?" Eta turned to give her full attention to Chester now.
Chester pulled up his tablet, and starting scrolling through files. "I've worked on a lot of wicked crazy projects, but some of them have been about the kinds of experiences you two are talking about. This one…" Chester handed the tablet to Eta who scrolled through the site. "… for example. The Esion Eti'hw Institute & Research Facility. They pronounce that second word like Et-Eew. I built some seriously intense stuff for them. They're just the kind of people who dabble in your experiences. I wouldn't use them though, they give me the heebeegeebees. Especially that main guy… what's his name.Thaddeus. I finally turned the project over to some eager MIT brats. I couldn't work with them anymore."
"What kinds of projects? What's the research-" Eta took a quick breath. "The tower."
"Yeah," Chester pointed to the picture, "that's their pride and joy there. Esion Tower."
"No, you don't understand, my vision, I was at that tower last night." She recounted her vision to them.
"The white haired man had to be this guy" Chester took the tablet, navigated to the about page, and handed it back. "Thaddeus J. B. Rotcudnoc, say that ten times fast." he laughed.
Eta pulled up the About page and read the first line. "Have you ever wondered what is just beyond this world? Have you thought there had to be more? Religion and Spiritualists have let you down? Turn to science. Our work in quantam mechanics and extra deminsional evolution, is providing solid scienctific answers to many of life's olderst questions. The Esion Eti'hw Institute was founded on the ground breaking principals outlined in the thesis 'Unlocking the Extra-Normal Mind. A study of the human mind’s unlocked potential', By Dr. Richard T. Briar." Sounds freaky, just like the rest of the kooks I've been reading about the last few weeks. "
"Wait… did you say Dr. Briar? Let me see that." Ash grabbed the tablet out her hand. He scrolled to the bottom and stopped. His brow furrowed, and lips pursed.
"What's the problem? You look like you've been punched." Eta observed.
"The night before the attack, this guy sat across from me at the coffee shop. He was asking a bunch of weird questions about the encounter with the homeless guy. It was almost as if he knew I had seen something, but I just passed it off as though it was nothing. I had forgotten about him until just now."
"So, you have strange encounter where you see something that wasn't there, theoretically…" Chester interjected, "… then this guy shows up asking questions. Then that night you are attacked by assassins. Yep, I knew that place gave me the creeps."
Eta could feel her skin tighten, and the hair on the back of her neck stand up. "So what does this mean?"
"I have no idea, but I need to get some answers. I'm going to do some field reconniasance. You two be alright for a few hours?"
"Sure," Eta said. "I'll clean my guns. I have a feeling I'll be needing them."
"Cool! You can set that up here on the counter. I'll start checking out what I can about this institute, see what they've been up to since I stopped working with them. See? I knew I was here for a reason." Chester grinned. He was cute kid.
Ash's reaction to meeting Chester
He heads out to scout out the towers, and do some field work.
Ash drove the Vulcan to a military surplus store, and restocked a few items he thought he would need. He picked up two uniforms to match the secuirty in the website photos. Then he turned the bike north onto the I-10, and headed to Santa Monica.
On the way, Ash could not get the vision of the large man behind Chester out of his mind. The things he often saw on people, the medication he'd been taking for halucinations. Now it turns out he might not be crazy after all? Or maybe he still was.
***** Ash needs to have a sighting here, and it needs to urge him on.*****
Desc: Eta tags along to an Orphanage, where a child prophecies her future, and confirms the bomb is real.
"I have an appointment to make, and this program will take a few hours to run." Chester took his last sip of Mountain Dew, and threw the bottle in the trash can. "You are welcome to stay here and get some rest. Or, you can come along if you'd like."
Eta glanced at the code running in the background. "Sure" With a nod, she left a note for Ash, and they grabbed their coats and headed out the door.
In the car Chester rambled on and on about this Orphanage they were going to. "Ms. Wu is one of the most inspiring people I've ever met. She was raised in mainland China. She was a second child, but her parents refused to abort her, so she lived without honor or privilege. Eventually, when she was 15, he parents sent her to the USA hoping for a better life. She was mistreated by her "tour guides", but eventually broke free. Now she runs an Orphanage here in L.A."
Chester nodded to the building. It was a nice place for being an Orphanage. It looked more like a private university campus. "She takes the ones that no one else will take. Many of her kids will spend the rest of their childhoods here, some the rest of their lives."
They parked, and walked in. The entrance was beautiful, laid with quality white tile, and a marble receptionist’s desk.
"Hey Ellaine", Chester waived to the young lady, who couldn't have been more than 17.
She nodded, and smiled, but then turned back to her telephone. "Yes sir, and what is the address?"
Chester led her to the common room. A library ran the length of one wall, with seating areas to read. There were cubicle style desks with computers, and a separate area room to the side for games.
A woman walked in from an adjacent office, "Peter." she said to a young man with a hoodie. "Did you complete your homework before turning on the game?"
"Yes Ms. Wu."
"Um... " the kid fidgeted, "I'll go get that started right now Ms. Wu."
Chester pointed to the boy as he left, "That kid has been through 14 foster homes, and he's 16. There is almost no chance he could be adopted anywhere now. But Ms. Wu keeps him in line, and he's been showing great improvement, he just needed to have someone show him love and discipline."
"How did you find this place?" Eta asked.
"Well..." Chester smiled, "I was given a list of places I could use to fulfill community service, and I threw darts at the wall. The first one stuck on this place. What I didn't know, was how much Ms. Wu would mean to me. She treated me like one of her troubled kids, and she was just as tough on me as them."
"Ms. Wu, Good to see you." Chester said as the woman approached.
She was small, maybe 4'9"? It was hard to say, but she looked like she was in her late 60's. After some introductions, Ms. Wu turned to Eta, "Dear, I need this young man for a few minutes to fix my computers. These kids keep downloading things. Would you be willing to wait here?" Eta nodded in the affirmative.
Eta walked over to the book shelves and glanced at the titles. They seemed to have everything from Honors World History to Sesame Street. Eta grabbed a book on US History that had pictures, and sat down in a nearby chair. She put her feet up on the ottoman, and leafed through the pictures.
After a few minutes, a young girl walked by to the book shelf and sat down next to her.
"Your pretty" she said, not looking up from her book.
Her speech was odd. Not down syndrome, but maybe Autism, Eta thought. "Thank you" Eta replied.
"You have dreams..." The kid said.
A little taken back, "Yes, most people do. Do you have dreams?" trying to make conversation.
"Yes..." not looking up from her book, "... but not like yours. Yours come true."
Eta was not sure how to respond, she just stared at the girl for what felt like an eternity.
"You need to stop him. That tower scary.” The girl stood up, and walked away with her book.
Chester walked up behind her, “She another one that cannot be adopted.”
Desc: Chester gets into the institute, and discovers the next key for Ash and Eta to solve.
Notes: suddenly, she was not in the room anymore. She was floating again. Above a crowd. Hundreds of people below. Large balloons in familiar shapes were passing by. On her far right, Santa Clause was coming down the road in a fake sleigh with plastic reindeer.
Back at the house, Chester was working on one side of the counter, and Eta sat on the other side.
"You know the problem with these MIT brats?" Chester smirked. "They are way too sure of themselves. They are so convinced that they're the smartest kid in the room, and everyone has to answer to them. They've never had to make it on their own, or do their own work. They get sloppy in their life, and sloppy in their code. And that's how I got in."
"Chester… if you don't mind me asking…" Eta kept her head down clearing the barrel of her Barretta 9mm. "How does someone with your obvious talent end up teaching computers for dummies at a homeless shelter, and hanging out with orphans?
"Well, it's a long story, but not I'm not sure it's a terribly interesting one... I was one of the youngest graduates of Caltech to date, I was working with a major IT firm all bright eyed, ready to change the world. Then I started to realize that all I was doing was making really ugly people a lot of money. So I started drinking, then came the drugs.
Soon I couldn't code anymore so I lost my job. My parents couldn't bare the fact their son turned into an addict, so they stopped returning my telephone calls. I ended up doing things I'd rather forget."
Chester paused for a sip of coffee… "One day, standing in front of a judge I was told I could take jail or A.A plus community service. So, I chose A.A. and service. I had nowhere to go, but a guy at one of the meetings told me about the Union Gospel Mission. So I stayed there… every night for months. After a while I started to notice how badly the place needed new computers, but couldn't budget them in. I made a few calls to an old professor I knew at Caltech, and he sent me all the parts I needed to build new computers, custom made for the shelter. They had never seen so many computers in one place, and so high end. They were afraid they'd get stolen. I showed them how to lock them down, and use them. Eventually I migrated from resident to volunteer, and eventually honorary staff." I create code and do odd projects for money, and I make enough in my spare time to live better than most people, so I spend most of my time helping people down at the mission. Consulting for the N.S.A. gave me a big break back into the world of coding professionally.
It's not the life my parents had in mind… but it's more satisfying than making rich people a lot of money so that they can spend it on their mistresses and toys. Pardon me a moment, this part will take some concentration…" Chester's' fingers where flying again.
It's amazing how fast the kids fingers could type. This kid could type in his coding language, faster that Eta could think in English. He was something else. She called him “kid”, but he wasn’t that much younger than her. Not bad on the eyes either.
As he was distracted with code, she wandered the room studying his life. You can never turn off the solider, or the spy. Besides, even pointless analysis of the contents of his bookshelf was better than the thoughts of what might be happening to… No. She's not allowing herself to think that way. She must stay focused.
Even if that means being focused on "Quantum Mechanics for Mathematicians by Leon A. Takhtajan". Really? Who is this guy?! Eta looked out the window and watched some birds pecking in the yard…
"Hey, this is interesting." Chester waived her over. "xxxxxxxxxxx
*****hatching a plan to break into the tower. And bug the CEO's office and computer.*****
Desc: Ash and Eta break into the intitute to get informatino out of their computer, then they are discovered.
Hopefully the intel Chester gave them was still current. The compound didn't seem heavily guarded, Ash knew that missing personnel would just trigger the alarm. He snuck in through a side window after the guards had passed. He could see men in lab coats running tests and reading outputs. There was the slight scent of rubbing alcohol, lemon scented. Ash opened the door of an unused room, and got out of the hallway, out of sight.
Eta followed closely behind a few moments later. She looked tired. She’s not sleeping well, he thought to himself. Moving their way across the room to another doorway on the opposite side of the large room, a slight opening allowed enough sightline to assess the situation on the other side. They would need to be quick. Ash and Eta moved silently and swiftly down the hall toward the office towers. They were dark, so odds were that they were under light guard and they could be in and out without being seen.
The elevator would be easier, but that would alert someone to its use. The stairs would be longer, but they would have a greater chance of avoiding their being spotted. Hopefully the cameras were already looped, they'd have to rely on Chester to complete his part of the mission. They didn't want to risk breaking radio silence to confirm. If he saw them heading into a trap, he'd break silence to alert them.
As they entered the main floor of the office suite they checked infrared and found no motion detectors in the immediate area. Chester advised heading for the admins computer, the password security of an admin is often overlooked.
They inserted the thumb drive provided by Chester, and turned on the computer. It whirred to life, and started booting. Chester's program hacked in through the boot drive into the main file system and onto the servers. Once uploaded they could leave, because the program would begin uploading all the sensitive data to multiple safe servers around the country, and back up servers behind those. These people may or may not be sophisticated enough to track all that down, but not until Chester had a way to recover the files from one of the backup points, without leaving a trace behind.
The upload of the info-virus was complete. Eta and Ash turned off the monitor but left the computer running. Chester had advised that the virus would shut down the computer before anyone came in for the day, after it was done with it’s work.
Ash took the thumb drive and stepped on it to crack the case open. He took a screw driver and punctured the memory chip with a hard punch, then repeated this a few times. He then handed it to Eta who placed it onto a super magnet she was carrying in her pocket. This should sufficiently erase the data. And if by some miracle they are able to recover the data enough to understand the encryption for the virus, it will be long after Chester has recovered what he needed from the server network he used to store the mined data.
Making their way back down the stairs, footsteps and chatter below gave them pause. Ten levels down. The guards were making their rounds, chatting about the latest football game. Ash looked up, and didn't see anyone that direction. It would be a tight race, but it was the plan B they had discussed. They kept the foot falls as silent as possible as they made their way back up the stairs, trying to keep an ear on the guards below, and not alert them to their presence.
A few floors up, and they heard the sound of radio chatter. They stopped to listen. The guard room couldn't see the guards in the stair well. The loop had been discovered, they were compromised, but no-one knew they were here, they heard the guards coming up the stairs faster now. Ash and Eta kept to the walls and made their way quickly. If they stepped light enough the guards wouldn't hear them over their incessant chatter and yelling "Clear".
Ash and Eta were so focused on the guards below, that they failed to watch the doorways as they passed them. The door opened just as they passed it, and lights flashed from the rifle.
Or was that a rifle?
It was a bright blue light... not the yellow red muzzle flash it should have been.
Ash knew it as he was going down...
...he'd been tazed.
He'd known that feeling from years of training. They used to taz each other just for fun, and built up a tolerance to it. In a one on one fight, Ash could have come back fighting, but a then second taz hit him. The guards from below had caught up.
Three, no four men were on him, holding him down. The needle pinching his arm would mean powerful sleep. These were professionals. Now he knew what it felt like to be the victim of a smash and grab. Such a rookie mistake too, letting his guard down. They should have come in slower, or divided their attention.
As he felt himself going under the power of sedation, he forced his eyes slightly open, he could see a figure coming toward him dressed in black. He closed his eyes, but he heard a sigh. It sounded like disappointment.
Was that himself sighing?
Darkness came over him...
... The room always started out so bright. The white room. White walls, cold metal, hissing from overhead... the familiar dream, the dream he'd had every night for five years now... The dark room would be next. He hated the dark room. But the white room wasn't so bad, except for that incessant hissing.
Desc: Eta escapes the institute, and makes it back to Chester's place.
Eta ran for all her legs would carry her, three guards were behind her. She was losing them faster, she could outrun these mall cops any day. Up ahead she saw the door open, and one came toward her.
Running time was over for the moment. She'd have to stand her ground against this one, and the three behind. She saw the Taser flash, she side swiped and it made no contact. She used the momentum to grab the Taser and pull it toward her, while she pulled in her knee to his inner thigh. Whipping around she tossed him like a rag doll at the other three coming up the stairs.
In another life, she could have just shot them all and been done with it, but these were innocent guards. She broke into their facility. These were not enemy combatants, and she couldn’t just blow them all away.
Still, getting caught isn’t an option either.
For split fractions of a second time slowed down. Should she stand against these four or had she thrown them off enough to regain her lead? Nope. One had gotten passed the others without losing momentum.
He came at her with the Taser too. What is it with these guys and Tasers? She allowed the wires to fly passed as she used the stairwell handle for grip and plucked herself up into the air, and landed a kick right to the face. He hurled back into the other three who were just getting untangled. That was the break in momentum she needed.
Eta flew up the stairs faster now, highest speed. She couldn't worry about Ash right now. He could handle himself. If he'd been caught, she couldn't help him if she were caught too. Up the stairs, out to the access door to the roof. She pulled her side arm and fired three rounds into the padlock and landed a good jump kick into the door, which flew open before her.
She tore a piece of her jacket and let it hang on the emergency exit latter. She then threw it down the side of the building. It carried enough weight with her extra gear that caught the wind, and landed out toward the edge of the field. They would hunt the fake her down in the fields.
Meanwhile, she found an access panel, and hid inside the ducting. She waited for a half hour to ensure that they were all on the hunt for her elsewhere, and then Eta slowly exited the access panel. Eta worked her way down the fire escape on the dark side of the building. She could see they'd taken the ruse. Whole rounds of guards with flash lights were working their way through the field, other in vehicles were driving the field looking for farther signs of escape. There were even two helicopters searching the fields further out.
Eta noticed that two of the guards on break had left their flak jackets hanging on the stairwell when they ran out to join the chase. Fortuitous! She donned the jack that matched the other guards, the pants were so similar they'd never have been inspected close up. She took the tie back from her hair, and let it down with a shake. She walked in a hurried manner, but purposed to look like someone on a mission for the boss (not someone running for her life) toward the gate.
She slipped out the back gate right toward all the fuss, and took a hummer with her, why did they always leave the keys in these things? She picked up a guard along the way, and ordered him to watch from the passenger side and she looked out from the driver’s side. They whirred along, he tried to talk once, and she reprimanded him for not paying attention. "We have a fugitive on the loose and you want to make small talk soldier?"
"No Ma'am!” came his reply. He didn't so much as look her direction for the rest of the journey.
She stopped along the road and told him she thought she saw something and told him to head over the hill and look, if he spotted anything to call it in. Meanwhile, she'd check the other side of the road. She was so bossy and official that he never second guessed her and went running up and over the hill. She took off down the road and toward the town.
Eta pulled in behind a truck stop, lost the flack jacket and ripped off the bottom of ther cargo pants, and twisted the belly of her under shirt into a knot. Nothing would attract attention away from her face faster than this get up. She headed through the area toward the sleepers. Found an older Ford Escort parked on the darker side of the building, late 1990's. She pulled out her Leatherman and worked on hotwiring. In two minutes she was driving up the on ramp toward the I-10. She need to break radio silence, but not yet, not until she was sufficiently out of range.
Dr. Briar sits at the monitor, watching as they place Ash in the chair, and cuff him in place. Similar setting to when he first met him.
Thaddeus, we cannot push him any further, he's already been in the room longer than most others, and his vitals are dangerously out of control. We must put an end to this test… or give him a rest and start again.
"You Dr. Briar, like these experiments, are temporary and expendable… you would do well to remember that."
A chill crept over his spine, from his tail bone, up his neck, and into his head.. His skin became cold as the realization dawned on him… He was never the one in control. When he'd brought Thaddeus on, he'd been so hungry for the financial backing and the seeming eagerness that he showed in the project, he'd never stopped to consider that Thaddeus would take over.
"…I'll be in the observation lounge that I paid so much money to build. If we lose him, I will handle it. Proceed." Thaddeus stepped out of the room, and walked down the hall.
Dr. Briar slumped into his chair with the realization… he'd sold his science, his soul, to this partnership. Without this financial backing, he'd have to pull out and stop everything. Shameful though it may be, the scientist in him was curious to see what would happen if he pushed the patient over the age.
So he turned back to the monitor, and kept one eye on the vitals, then turned pushed the slider one notch higher. "It's beginning... the biometrics just spiked."
"Good." The answer was curt.
The previous test subjects had nowhere near the discipline that Ash did. This should be an interesting observation. He''d been incredible so far. Getting a trained military man, accustomed to being alone for days and weeks, a survival expert. He had already outlasted every scientist, street volunteer, and audio geek they had ran through the tests. Many of them didn't make it through the prep room, but they never had anyone last this long, he'd been in there for three hours and just now he's starting to show signs of a dimensional tear.
"You are a genius!", Dr. Brair spoke into the observation lounge microphone.
"Yes, Dr. Briar I am! That is why you brought me here." Thaddeus replied. "To fix this reject project and bring something valuable out of it. Keep me appraised of any changes, I'm leaving for now."
Dr. Briar could see through the window as the black suited man turned and left the room. His tuft of white hair bouncing along as he walked away.
That was 8 years ago, the begining of the end of his life. Now he was still here, cleaning up the mess his Benefactor had left behind. Ash was stirring, he would go and complete the mission. His stomach turned at the thought.
******** Run some tests on him while he's out.********
Desc: Ash is trapped in the institute, and is confronted by Dr. Briar.
The silence was deafening. Except for that constant hiss from above. The light was still too bright to open his eyes. But the sound was familiar.
I know this place...
The dream again.
He could feel cold steel against his wrists.
This was new. He didn't recall being locked to a chair in his dream.
Then he heard... click. click. click.
Ash forced his eyes open to see a room very similar to one from his dream. As his eyes focused, he could see that this one was longer, the table was at one end. And there was a single clock on the wall. This room had a pronounced and obvious door, with a glass window.
"Oh good... you are awake. I'll be with you in just a little while."
That voice. I know that voice.
Ash took in his surroundings. Nothing much to see. Nothing but white walls, white chair, white table, white clock. Silver Handcuffs on his wrists.
No silly outfit, he was simply wearing his black gear from the night before, minus the weapons. Blood had dried on his sleeve where the guard got a good kick with his boot. It looked like they patched him up, maybe a few stitches in the shoulder.
Ash noticed four cameras, one in each corner.
The door opened, and in walked a small bald man in a lab coat.
"Good morning Col. Ashland. It's nice to have you back among us. You took a pretty nasty fall last night, and put three of my guards in the hospital."
"Glad I could help." Ash Smiled.
Always make sure your captor knows you are in charge.
Dr. Briar returned the smile. "It seems you and I have some unfinished business. As soon as we track down your friend, we'll have questions for her too. My best head hunters are looking for her now.”
He placed a file on the desk. “Tell me, Col. Ashland, how much do you remember about me?"
"You are Dr. Briar, we met outside the cafe in Oregon, and you smell like peppermint candy."
"Yes, all true. But how about before that time at the coffee shop, is there anything else you remember about me?"
"No. Just what I’ve read about you online. Should there be?"
"We shall see." Dr Briar pulled out some wires and pads. "While you were out, you were injected with a serum of my own design. It will help you be more forth coming. I'm simply going to attach these to you for monitoring. I promise it won't hurt. We tried putting them on while you were out, but you kept sweating them off...." He placed the pads on Ash's temples, neck, chest, and forearms. "Tell me, Col. Ashland, how long have you been having these nightmares?"
"Are you my psychologist now?
"Let's just say that I am an interested party."
"I get bad dreams, left over from the war. Not that it's any of your business."
Dr. Briar continued to press with question after pointless question. Ash found it to be the oddest interrogation he has ever been aware of. Not once did Dr. Briar ask him why he broke in, or what he hoped to accomplish, or what he had done while in the facility. He just kept pressing him with questions about his life, habits, and preferences in food.
It was the kind of small talk Ash always tried to avoid in normal life, and yet he was tied to a chair in here. So he could either answer these pointless questions, or say nothing.
He was pretty sure that nothing was a bad option, because they'd probably put him back away for a while. He would use this opportunity to counter-interrogate. So he kept Dr. Briar talking while he answered the Life Survey as Dr. Briar called it.
After what felt like hours of incessant questioning, but the clock assured him it was only 45 minutes, Dr. Briar placed is pen on top of his notebook, and leaned back into the chair. His eyebrows furrowed, and the skin around his fat nose wrinkled.
Ash, sat back in his chair. Let the urge to break his own thumbs to escape the handcuffs pass for a moment.
The door was still locked, and he didn't want to risk killing the good Dr. He was most definitely someone who needed to be arrested (given the circumstances), but he wasn't yet sure he needed to die. Not yet anyway.
******* Ash needs ot have another sighing here.**********
Desc: Eta makes it back to Chesters. They think they are spying on Dr. Briar, and the tables are turned. The connection is cut. Will Ash be killed?
Two hours passed since she had left the Tower. On the inside, Eta was feeling the intense pressure to get back to Chester and make a game plan. Her training told her to make sure she wouldn't be followed first. She'd borrowed a car from the Denny's parking lot. She'd driven in the wrong directions for miles, making frequent turns, watching for familiar faces or vehicles... after an hour she was sure she wasn't followed, or found.
She parked the car at a different Denny's, placed the keys into an envelope with some cash (enough to buy a better car), and put it on the floor board by the pedals. She called an anonymous tip from a payphone. With luck, the Police would have the car before the owner knew it was missing. She'd wiped it down for prints and evidence.
Five minutes later, the Metro Bus took her to the Metro Rail. That was four hours ago, when she arrived at Union Station. She'd walked from there. The car they had rented was in a safe place, it was rented under an assumed name, so the Institute shouldn't be able to find it. They'd have to go back for it when it was safe, unless Ash could get to it without being seen.
When she walked up to Chester’s place and stepped in, she could hear him typing away. He turned around in relief. "Oh man! I'm so glad you are safe!"
"I am, but I think they have Ash. I came back here to re-group and re-gear, then I'm headed back up there."
"Actually, Ash wasn't the one I was worried about. You were the one I was worried about..." He paused. His eyes were not on her face. “Um. Nice outfit.”
Eta could feel her skeptical face coming on, she could always feel it in her left eyebrow. She was turning red, heat run up her neck.
Chester was too busy to notice her reaction, he turned back to the monitor and call her over. “The virus worked. I've tapped into every system they have, and they don't know it's even in there. They have him in a room controlled by electronic locks. These people obviously never considered a real cyber threat after I left. All my backdoors are still in place."
The monitor showed Ash strapped to an expensive looking chair, in the middle of a very white room. His arms and feet restrained with metal cuffs.
"Now, I can work miracles with systems, but there is nothing I can do about those cuffs." Chester threw up his hands. "That is all up to him."
"Alright." Eta ran up the stairs and back again. She unzipped the duffle bag she had left in her room. Then strapped on a new set of clips for her Glocks. She changed jackets, and looks. "You monitor from here. I'll stand by in case he needs a ride."
"Where will you get another ride?" Chester glanced back.
"I'll improvise." Eta held up the new phone Chester had prepared while she was changing gear, and waved it at him. Then turned around and headed out the door.
Desc: Dr. Briar needs to tie the boston bombings to a series of information security breaches. And point him toward Dark Matter.
Ash let out a big breath, "So Doctor... Did you run out of questions? I thought we were having fun?"
"If I release your hands from those cuffs, would you promise not to try to escape?" The Doctor's eye said he was serious.
Ash's hands hurt, and he hated to break promises, but it would be nice to get out of the cuffs without breaking his own thumb.
The Dr. stood up, and walked over, releasing the cuffs. "I have just decided, against my better judgement, to trust you Col Ashland." Dr. Briar took a sip of water. He handed Ash a water bottle, and sat back down.
"OK. Thank you, I think. Trust me how?" Offer trust to the captive, good technique. Ash used it himself in Afghanistan.
"Please, let me get my thoughts together" Dr. Briar closed his eyes, and bowed his head. He put his hands together and rested his forehead on his two index fingers. "Your friends have attempted a hack of our security system which means that this session is not being recorded for a while as the system is resetting. What I have decided to tell you could cost me dearly if it were to be discovered by my..." The doctor's eyes glanced to the floor "...benefactor."
Ash decided to go along with whatever this was for the time being. "Dr. Briar, you have my attention."
"I was supposed to have you killed today when I got everything I needed from you. Just like I was supposed to have you killed in Oregon. Then, against my better judgment, I sent you those warnings."
"So... The text messages." Ash felt a tingle run up his spine. "That was you?" he sat back in the chair, and blew a sigh.
"I am still not sure why. It obviously cost me as you turned around and broke into my lab. I can play this off as the brilliant scientist but incompetent soldier; however, you will need to escape on your own."
"Not that I am not grateful, but can you clue me in here? I'm a bit lost."
"You think you broke into my lab because my website reminded you of your dreams, and you have been having strange experiences. Well this is half true. The website is designed this way on purpose. It is a calling card to all of our experimentees. When people run searches for the experiences they've had, this site will come up in the top listings."
Ash sat forward, and stared Dr. Briar in the eye.
"Tell me Ash," Dr. Briar stood and began pacing back and forth behind the desk. “Are you familiar with Psychotropic Warfare?"
"Sure" Ash jumped in. "We used various forms in the field. We would pipe in sound that drove the locals nuts, disperse crowds, and in one instance, the people went crazy and started a riot amongst themselves."
"Well you only experienced the tip of the iceberg. Those were the weapons that were tested and released. Many thousands of others are being researched by DARPA, and those funded by people like them. At the turn of the century one of the most brilliant men of his time, Nicola Tesla, performed experiments that revealed air at its ordinary pressure, is a conductor for large amounts of electrical energy. He theorized that electricity could be generated at one location, and transmitted to another without the use of wires."
Dr. Briar took another sip of water, and started talking faster. "Some mathematicians and scientists believe that Tesla's work would provide the basis for understanding seemingly paranormal phenomena like telepathy. At the same time Tesla, who was an engineer and mathematician, and had gained experience in telephony and electrical engineering before immigrating to the United States in 1884, was studying the properties of waves as it relates to electricity. Meanwhile, others using his work as a basis for other wave forms started the modern field of acoustics..." Dr. Briar stopped, his eyes searching the blank walls like planes looking for a place to land.
"Doctor, you're losing me a bit here." Ash said, “Did you have a point?"
"I'm sorry" Dr. Briar put his hands up, "I get so excited about the possibilities. Where was I....? Ah yes... Have you heard of Extremely Low Frequency, or ELF?"
"You got me there," Ash sat back again, "No idea".
"When researchers started applying Tesla's equations in electricity waves to sound, they found interesting applications. The human ear can generally hear between 20 Hertz to 20,000 Hertz. Exceptions outside that range are possible, but rare, and usually found in the young. ELF started as experiments using "sound" frequencies below the level of human hearing. Think of a dog hearing a dog whistle, but you can't. Same idea, but the dog whistle is higher than normal human hearing, and the ELF's are lower. Anyway, when ELF's are produced at high pressure levels, think volume, they have been found to cause interesting physiological results."
"Dr. Briar, your enthusiasm is hard to miss, but I'm still missing the point."
"Yes, yes, I'm always so lost in the details, bear with me and I will get to the point, I promise. We do not have much time before the system resets. So, research has shown that external ELF magnetic fields induce electric fields and currents in the body which, at very high field strengths, cause nerve and muscle stimulation and changes in nerve cell excitability in the central nervous system. Due to the ethical issues regarding testing human subjects, experiments on dogs were conducted at levels of 170dB at a frequency of 0.5 Hz.
Curiously the dogs stopped breathing because of lung ventilation due to the high intensity pressure changes. The 0.5 Hz frequency of the sound acted as an artificial respirator and the dogs showed no ill effects afterwards. Also, psycho-acoustic warfare was used in the Waco siege at the Davidian compound in Texas."
"This is not exactly news, that's what I said before. Like the crowds dispersal units we used in Afghanistan."
"Yes, but, they can do more than just irritate the body and mind. Prolonged exposure to ELF's from normal electronic appliances, like TV's and Smart Phones, have been shown to activate the ATM-Chk2-p21 pathway in HaCaT cells, inhibiting cell proliferation."
Ash raised an eyebrow.
"Meaning, that they change the brain and cell structure itself! The cells were actually prevented from normal replication, and in some cases mutating, as a result of ELF's. On the flip side, there are indications that there could be positive benefits from exposure to certain ELF's and not others. Many of the most profound effects of ELF are attributed to infrasound in the region of 7 hertz. This corresponds with the median alpha-rhythm frequencies of the brain, which predominantly originate from the occipital lobe during wakeful relaxation with closed eyes.
Our research found that frequencies under 7 hertz create a general feeling of relaxation and wellbeing, known as the alpha state. One of the most beneficial frequencies on earth is said to be the 6.8 hertz frequency. Interestingly, the Pyramid at Giza has a constant frequency of 6.8 hertz running through it. However, curiously, this is the resonant frequency of the body's organs and hence organ rupture and death can occur at high intensity exposures to certain frequencies in this range. We had to be very careful."
Ash motioned to keep going, because he was going to anyway.
"Several decades ago I was working as a Higher Research Scientist at the National Physical Laboratory in England. I was in charge of a project to study Optimum Biological Frequency Resonance, or OBFR. The hypothesis was that our biological system is "tuned into" the background frequency of our planet, which is a steady pulse of 7.83 hertz which beats around the planet within the earth-ionosphere cavity. While testing several new acoustic chambers I stumbled across an interesting development in our Negative Sound chamber."
Ash held up his hand, "I'm sorry, Negative Sound?"
"Yes, it does 'sound' odd, doesn't it?” the doctor chuckled at his own joke. “The room is located 100's of feet below the surface to avoid ambient noise, and then covered in deep sound baffling wall to wall, floor to ceiling. The subject is asked to sit in a chair in the center of the room. Because any sound you make does not bounce back to you from the wall, as it would in any normal space we live in, the result can feel as though the sound were negative. This simply means that the subject is experiencing less sound than they have ever experienced, not that the sound is actually below zero, that is impossible."
Ash could feel his gut sink... "Are you telling me that room actually exists?"
The Doctor paused, "Yes, why?"
"It's from my nightmares, I see that room every night."
"Well, that is to be expected. You see, you were one of many volunteers who were subjected to our experiments during Operation White Noise."
"Excuse me? Volunteers? I do not recall Volunteering for anything."
"That is unfortunate. I will come to that, but please, allow me a moment to get to that. In due time, in due time..."
The Dr. took another sip of water, and sat down on the edge of the desk in front of Ash. "When we subjected our volunteers to the room, we noticed that some began to hallucinate. Most chalked that up to the vast capacity of the human mind to fill the void with something. However, I had already begun separate experiments in paranormal research and ELF effects. We found that we could place the subject in a clean room first, and bombard them with white noise, which sounds like static. Call it an acoustic palate cleanser before the main meal. Slowly, over a period of time determined by the subject’s readings, we would introduce specific ELF's to determine their effect. We would then move them to the Negative Sound room, and continue only the ELF's from there. They could not hear the ELF's, but they were there being played in “silence”. At that point something amazing happened. The subjects were able to temporarily tear back the veal, and see into the beyond."
"The Beyond?" Ash could feel his jaw tense, "What do you mean, beyond?"
"Different subjects were exposed to different ELF's, ranging from 5 hertz, the lowest we could produce with our equipment at the time, on up to 15 hertz. We found that 6.66 hertz, 7.77 hertz, and 19 hertz had the most profound effects. Subjects exposed to the 19 hertz would experience the 'haunted house' effect, skin crawling, feeling like someone passed them. At 6.66 hertz the subject would actually see dark creatures around them, and in some extreme cases hear them. Others were exposed to the 7.77 hertz range, and they would see light creatures. Some, you for example, were exposed to all three stages several times. Curiously, the exposure was not the only factor. Some responded differently than others."
"OK, I'm hearing you... But none of that explains why your 'benefactor' wants me dead."
"Well... The experiments went fine. The test subjects did not seem to have any long term affects and were not able to duplicate the experiences outside the chamber. The only lasting affect was that prolonged exposure seemed to have an effect on short term memory. We believe this may have something to do with a symptom we have called the Eternity Effect."
"The subject loses all sense of time and place, and has to be brought back down to reality before release. This often takes a few more weeks in the clean room. After that they were released, and no worse for the wear. Until..." The Doctor hesitated for the first time in minutes.
"Until... What?" Ash prodded.
"We could not have known, never have expected..." The Doctor mumbled to himself.
"Doctor Briar. What? Until What?"
"Years later, as subjects came in contact with the naturally occurring ELF's, their symptoms reappeared outside the room, out in real life. The old man, the crazy one you confronted, he was one of ours too. But he was worked on years before you were. The first time we realized this new result was when we were contacted by an emergency room. We were listed as the primary care physician in those days. The man had quit his job in the middle of the shift, and walked out into oncoming traffic on the freeway. When he was asked why, he was told the voices told him to. He was hurt, but they stabilized him. The next day he snuck out of his room, walked into traffic again, and died on impact. The resulting accident caused more fatalities."
"We thought he was just a bad egg, pre-disposed to craziness before we got to him. But then it started happening again, and again. Not all of them, mind you, but more than could be statistically explained by pre-disposition. We now believe it has to do with the increase of technology everywhere. There are more ELF's and they build in standing waves in people’s homes, jobs, cars, radio towers, cell towers, the list goes on. It was determined that we were responsible, and we needed to conduct damage control, before anyone outside could be become aware of us. Monitor each subject. Anyone showing symptoms would be put down before they could harm others."
"I imagine that you know that is illegal?"
"Of course, but the tests themselves were cutting edge, and corners were cut."
“So the tests were illegal too.”
“In a manner of speaking. Off the books, certain agencies found the data useful, and looked the other way.” He sighed. “I only learned later that the funding for the project was not entirely above board. We could not tell the authorities about all the subjects. The lawsuits would cripple us. We decided that anyone showing symptoms would be locked away if we could arrange it, but that too risked exposure. Eventually we started putting them down. I only agreed in the most extreme of cases at first, but then once I was in, I could not get out. I could both continue my work and get my hands dirty, or I would be put down too." The doctor turned white at the thought.
Ash let out a sigh, and wiped his face.
"Which brings me to you. I just cannot do it. You are a good man, and I just couldn't do it. Then you had to show up here and ruin my one good deed. But it occurs to me that we may be able to help each other now. There is another volunteer that was showing promise, and then he turned out to be the worst of them all. He is out there in the world causing untold harm and havoc, and he must be stopped. However, despite my best resources, I cannot find him. It's possible that you, with your Special Forces background, could."
"Alright, let's just say that I'm buying your story for now. Something still doesn't add up. I was not released from some clean room. I went missing from a top secret training facility, and weeks later I was found on a desert island with no memory. How does that fit in to your volunteer story?"
"You were special, you and your friend. We needed subjects from specific backgrounds that were not as likely to volunteer. So, we arranged to have them delivered. I cannot tell you more, I wish I could. I was the Chief Scientist, but I did not handle the... Business End. You showed up and I put you into the clean room before you woke. Afterward, you were delivered back to your people. I cannot tell you who, or how...” Doctor Briar leaned closer, "But I can tell you that we could not have done it without help from your own government. You be careful who you trust. I know DARPA funds were siphoned more than once for our project."
Ash sat, silently. Staring into the floor.
The Doctor walked around to his desk, and pulled open the drawer. The doctor came back around, and dropped a small white envelope into Ash's inside jacket pocket, then put his finger to his mouth.
"I don't believe there is anything else I can tell you at the moment. I cannot help you escape from here without looking complicit. The system will be reset shortly. When it does the cameras will reboot. There is an exit down the hall that leads to the outside."
He pressed a button on the wall behind him.
“Yes Doctor Briar." A man answered.
"We are done in here, there is nothing more I can learn today. Take him to his cell, and we can do this again tomorrow." Dr. Briar smiled and winked, then his eyes turned downward.
Two guards entered the room, and asked him to stand up. They recuffed him, and motioned to the door. As they passed the desk he shoved his weight into one guard knocking him to the ground. The other was blinded by a quick head butt to the bridge of the nose. Ash put his shoulder into the Doctor's chest, and kicked his knee to the side. The Doctor went down to the ground.
"A little too easily" Ash thought, "but hey, this isn't the Oscars".
He grabbed the keys from the desk and ran down the hall, unlocking his cuffs on the way.
Ash crashed through the door, and headed off into the night. The system must have eventually reset, because he could hear sirens in the distance, but only after he was a few miles from the facility. With no camera's it was a wild goose chase to know which direction he had headed.
Eta got the call from Chester that Ash had escaped out of the back entrance. One emergency powered camera showed him heading east toward town. Which left only three directions he may have really been headed. She glanced at the Google map of the area, in satellite view. She had been here only last night. But the terrain looked different in the early morning light. North and West were both fields and highways. South led back to the beach. Beaches are easier to get lost in. He could take the conspicuous clothing off without needing to find an entirely new outfit. He may have to grab a pair of shorts.
Eta drove the newly borrowed Corvette down to the coast. She saw a bum sitting on the bench with what appeared to be a newly acquired military grade jacket. She pulled up to him, and asked where he got it. Then he pointed her toward the beach shop nearby.
"Thanks buddy." Eta nodded and pulled up along the curb in front of the shop.
"Took you long enough." A voice spoke from behind her. She could feel her heart jump into her throat. How does he do that?
"You could get shot..." She said without turning around. "... For sneaking up on a girl like that."
"I could" Ash sat came up and leaned on the window of the convertible she’d ‘borrowed’, "but life is worth the risk some times."
"So..." Eta pulled her sun glasses down. He was wearing the same pants from the night before, but he had torn them into cut-off shorts and he managed to acquire a new a new tank top that said “Malibu Style”.
He had put on a few pounds since they worked together in Israel, but he didn't age badly. She cast the thought aside. No. Not him. "Now what grandpa?"
"Now, we make sure I wasn't followed. Then I take this" Ash pulled a thumb drive out of a white envelope. "to Chester." He slipped it back into the envelope, then his pocket.
“The audio was out thanks to Chester’s virus and the system reboot. But it kept his access to the cameras, even though there’s was down. Chester noticed that he put something into your pocket before you escaped. What’s on it? And why did he give it to you?”
“I didn’t exactly escape. The good Doctor Briar let me go… well… I guess he didn’t let me go, as much as he didn’t make it hard to escape. The only thing in here was the thumb drive, and a name on the outside. "Darkmatter".
“That’s an interesting turn of events.” Eta said. “Why, exactly, would he do that?”
“It’s a long story, I’m not sure that I trust him… tell you on the way.” Ash jumped over the door into the passenger seat. “Uh… that is as soon as you tell me where you got a bright blue 2016 Corvette.”
Eta could feel the grin crawl across her face. She couldn’t help it.
“A bit conspicuous… don’t you think?” Ash turned back to Eta. He had his superior officer face on, but she could see the smile he was fighting back.
“Zillow is amazing for finding wealthy people selling their third homes in this recession. This guy still had his car collection in the garage in one of the photos, and his ‘sophisticated’ key box wasn’t that sophisticated.” She shrugged. “I had to do something with my time while I was waiting on Chester to tell me where to go.”
“Hey” Ash interrupted her moment. Trade spots with me “I’m driving.”
“HA!” Eta snorted. “Go steal… er… borrow… your own sports car. I’m driving.” She looked him in the eye. “Besides, we both know that I’m a better driver, and I’d like to return this in one piece so he never knows it was missing.”
Ash tilted his head and looked like he wanted to say something, then threw a glance at his shoulder stitches and put on his seat belt.
Her fingers fumbled for the phone in her Cowboy Holster bag. She paid UrbanTool $115.00 for this glorified fanny pack. But she hated purses, and this was just that cool. She handed a phone to Ash, “This one is yours, call Chester and let him know I found you.”
Then she pressed the start button and the engine roared to life.
Desc: He learned some of the secret to their past, in exchange he is let go to hunt down a bigger fish. Dark Matter. Ash escapes with a thumb drive. It contains a list of everything he knows about Dark Matter's operations.
Ash could feel his stomach gurgling. He couldn’t tell if it was mad at him for starving it so long, or grateful for the new supply. They had brought a large order from Thai Banquet on the way to Chester’s, and they were all sitting around the table digesting the events of the past few days.
Ash spent most of dinner recapping the conversation with Dr. Briar, while Chester ran a debugging program on a non-network computer. “We’re not about to just open that thing before we know what Trojan horse is on there.” He’d already walked them through making sure that there was no GPS tracker before he let them get close to the city. The video chat came in very handy, he didn’t have to rely on their descriptions.
“So… You guys were actually part of these experiments.” It was more of a statement, than a question. Chester turned to Ash, “Why don’t you remember being a part of it?”
“If Dr. Briar is to be believed” Ash said, “And there’s no telling yet if he is… The experiments cause the cells of the brain to re-structure, in some cases in dramatic ways. He said that these experiments were forcing the next evolution of mankind. Unfortunately, short-term memory loss is common for most test subjects. The memory loss is worse for some than others.”
“Why would some people experience greater effects than others?” Eta asked.
“The ones that experienced the greatest changes to the brain’s molecular structure have more changes in the temporary memory area of the brain? He said that some people were more susceptible to the experiment. He thinks that these are the humans who were genetically pre-disposed toward the next evolution of mankind, more advanced already, and his experiment just pushes them along. Kind of like a jump start?”
“Huh… We’re like… X-Men?”
“Something like that. ‘Evolved’ is the word he used.”
Eta glanced down at her Styrofoam bowl. “I don’t feel very evolved.”
“Me neither.” Ash took another bite of Pad Thai. “He said the dreams are latent memories from the experiment itself. Some memories, those with more powerful emotions are more ‘sticky’.”
The laptop on the far end of the table beeped. “Done.” Chester said, and he went over to the keyboard and started typing. After a few moments of silent chewing and watching from Eta and Ash, Chester stopped typing and turned the monitor to them.
“So… what is it?” Eta asked.
“Files. Thousands of files. I'm fairly certain that non of this was on the data I hacked from the Tower. This is top secret stuff you wouldn't keep on a connected server. It looks like there is a file for every experiment they ever ran for 20 years. They are grouped into categories. Danger. No Danger. Evaluating. Missing.” Chester pointed to the file names, “Check this out though. Next to each name is an indicator ‘Alive’, ‘Passed’, or ‘Eliminated’.”
“That sounds ominous.” Eta pointed with her chopsticks. “Is my name in there?”
Chester’s fingers flew through some files, “Yeppers. You and Ash are both in here. The date says it was about eight years ago. It may take a while to go through these. Most of the file is just charts and graphs.”
“Well… that certainly matches with the time period we got ‘Medically Discharged’. General Akbar was so mad." Eta said.
Doing his best impression, Ash stuck out his chest: “‘Two of my best agents went missing for weeks, and can’t even tell me where they were? Of all the asinine bull! You had better come up with something better than that for your actions, or I’ll have you court martialed.’ “Ash chuckled, “He was not happy.”
“That is, until we were subjected to every test known to man, and he was certain we were telling the truth. Then he just looked crushed, like someone took his candy away.” Eta feigned a pout.
“Well, especially for you.” Ash threw a wadded napkin at her. “You were his poster child. The pilot project. The first woman to be allowed to join the Combat Control. You were ‘paving the way for other women’ he said.”
“Yeah, then he followed it with ‘… so don’t screw it up Romanakov.’
“I’m just glad that I was at Fairchild while you were at Lackland. I heard you gave those boys a hard time.”
“I did.” Eta’s eyebrows furrowed, “They deserved it too.”
“And then when they called us in to the new tactical unit, only 6 chosen in the whole Air Force. He was so mad when he had to discharge us, after all that.”
“Let’s not pretend he was sentimental. He was just losing his investment. He had to start over with two new recruits, 46 months lost. That’s what really got to him.”
Ash could still feel the heat burning up his neck when he was being questioned by his own commanding officer. How dare he accuse him of lying? Ash was the most dedicated servant the US Air Force had ever had, and he was not going to just sit here while some bureaucrat in a uniform questioned his loyalties. That was what he felt. What he did was what he was trained to do, sit there and take it. Submit to the tests, and prove he was right through the process.
“Did you see his face when he had to apologize to us?” Eta laughed.
Ash remembered the joy it brought him when the General apologized for his outburst. “He’s been atoning for that ever since. I assume he still contacts you twice a year for progress updates?” Ash asked.
“He sure does. Like clockwork. Last time-”
“Hey guys…” Chester interrupted. “Did you say General Akbar?”
“Yes, that was our commanding officer. Why?”
“Would that be General George Akbar, USAF? Commanding Officer of the Air Force Special Operations Command?”
“Yes…” Eta sat forward. He ears pulled back ever so slightly when she was interested. Ash had always found that to be a funny quirk. “Why?”
“He’s in these files too.” Chester said, his voice tone sounded as confused as Ash felt.
“General Akbar was experimented on too?” Ash asked. He could feel his own heart beating in his chest.
“Not exactly.” Chester said. “He’s under a separate file labeled ‘Contributors’.”
The three of them crowded around the screen, pouring over the file. “General Akbar was the one who delivered us to Dr. Briar?” Ash wasn’t sure if Eta sounded mad, confused, both?
“Hold on…” Chester said. “There are some intake notes here.”
The screen read:
Colonel Theron "Ash" Ashland, USAF Spec Ops.
Technical Sergeant Nadine Etaine “Eta” Romanakov, USAF Spec Ops.
Contributed as possible use for USAF. DARPA funding under the Enhanced Soldiers initiative. Copy all test results to DARPA and General Akbar.
“Wait…” Eta back up into the couch near the table. Her eyes narrowed, and mouth pursed together, “He knew where we were? He knew and still drilled us like that? Of all the-” Eta cut herself off mumbling to herself in Russian.
Ash wasn’t sure how to feel. Confused, sure. Angry, obviously. Yet, somehow, it felt… right. Like that annoying piece you cannot find on those hidden images games his students were always playing on their phones. They would always get so mad that he could spot it in 10 seconds when they had been looking for hours. But this had been a puzzle he just couldn't piece together until just now.
“It makes sense.” Ash said.
Eta threw him a stare.
“No, it makes sense.” He continued. “I always assumed he checked in on us because he was sorry for our strange departure. Or because we were high value assets and he was hoping we’d eventually remember something useful for his investigation.”
“OK?” Eta’s eye's told him she was waiting for the punchline.
“He was trying to see if we’d remembered something, but not for his investigation. He was trying to see if his investment had paid off. He wanted super-soldiers, and instead he got broken soldiers with memory loss and bad dreams. He’s been hoping something would eventually happen.”
“That lying horses butt.” Eta sat down on the edge of the couch.
“OK.” Chester piped in. “So… what does that mean for us now? Can we trust this guy? This General? Or how about the Dr. Briar?”
“As for Dr. Briar, I think we can all agree he may be useful, but we cannot trust him. As for the General, I was trained to never trust anyone. That’s why I’ve only checked in from random payphones that show a circle around a different neighborhood blocks from here.”
“You trusted me pretty quickly.” Chester said.
“Well, I didn’t have much choice with you.” Ash replied. “We did not really having a plan when we got here. Coming to your rescue made plans for that night harder.”
“Why did you come to rescue me?” Chester inquired. “You could have let it go, you didn’t know that I was worth saving.”
“Didn’t have much choice their either. Your friend was very convincing.” Ash said.
“My friend?” Chester asked.
“Yeah, what friend?” Eta joined in.
“That night, when I heard the commotion in the alley. I looked around the corner and saw the group harassing you. Then I saw a flash of light. When it cleared I saw a large man, maybe eight feet tall… with a white robe, like Caesar… standing behind you. He looked at you, smiled at me, motioned his hands to the men, and then vanished. I kind of couldn’t help myself. I rushed in without knowing exactly why. How do you turn down a guy like that?”
“You saw an angel behind me?” Chester seamed more amused than surprised.
“I guess that’s what you’d call him. Sure. Fits the description.” Ash said.
“Well how about that.” Chester said. “Good job Herbert.” He gave a high five to the air behind him.
“Herbert?” Eta asked.
“That’s what I call my Angel.” Chester said.
“You’ve seen your angel too?” She asked.
“No. But God doesn’t really tell us their names, and we’re not supposed to worship them, or get fixated on them. But I always feel better knowing the people I’m hanging with. So I gave him a name.” Chester said flatly.
“You believe in angels huh?” Eta asked.
“Of course. Don’t you?” Chester asked, his eyes widened. “After all you’ve been through lately, surely the supernatural doesn’t shock you?”
“I’m still not sure what to believe about all of this. I’ve just been hoping I wasn’t nuts, and for some rational explanation. It sounds like we’re onto one now, with the whole evolution thing. But angels? I mean, next you’re going to tell me you believe in elves and wizards.”
“Not such a wild assumption on your part, but magic has always been the layman’s explanation for things science hasn’t understood yet.” Chester pulled his Android out and held it up to them. “Imagine you went back in time to the days of Knights and Inquisitions. You show them a smart phone, and play music from it, or a Ted Talk, or a video of a cat attacking a lighted Christmas tree. You think they would ask you for one? Maybe a few would, but most would want to burn you at the stake for the use of magic.”
“Point taken” Eta said, “But still… angels?”
“You think this world is all there is? We are living on one of several dimensions. Angels and Demons are just created beings, like us, that live on another level, impacting ours. Ash merely saw through the veil for a moment.”
“And me?” Eta asked.
“Assuming that Einstein was right about time and space, and string theory is right about multiple dimensions, time is a dimension, like height, width, and depth. If you were to jump out of the four dimensional box, you would be outside of time. Past, present, and future, would all be tangible to you at the same time, like the three dimensions of a Rubik’s Cube are available to you now. So ‘future visions’ are nothing more than your ability to operate, partially and temporarily, outside of space-time.”
“That sounds a bit wild, so how did you come to this conclusion?” Eta seamed still unsure.
“Math and Science were pre-requisites for a PhD in Computer Science. This is common topic of interest on the Science Chat Rooms.” Chester shrugged. “Hey, it’s getting late. It could take years to sort through these files manually. Let me run a search algorithm to compare the data in the files for your mystery man "Darkmatter" to the internet news feeds and dark web searches. This may help to bring us to the most relevant information. I used to use that when studying for tests. Came in very handy. Who wants to read worthless stuff, when you can jump to the answers? Then we can sort through that in the morning.”
Eta nodded in agreement, and with a yawn headed off down the hall.
Ash piled the plates and such on the counter and put the left-overs in the fridge. “Thanks Chester, for everything. I know we’re imposing here.”
“Are you kidding?” Chester said. “This is the most fun I’ve had in my life. See you tomorrow.”
Dr. Briar pulled up his monitor at his desk in the tower.
Subject WildCard took the bait.
Good. Keep watch and monitor results.
He pulled out up the footage of Chester's house. The heat signatures showed three inside. Now they would lead him to the real prize.
Episode 2 - The Parade
New Scene 6
The costumed men and women were dancing through the streets. A Snoopy Balloon passed by at her level, 100’s of feet above the crowds. Gift Boxes, the size of houses, followed. She could see dear old Santa at the end, rounding the corner.
A new element appeared. A young man, holding a remote control. He and his father were wearing Santa hats, and fake white beards. She followed their gaze toward a small Unmanned Arial Vehicle. It was shaped like the Millennium falcon, but she could see cameras attached to it. They were apparently trying to get a better glimpse of the parade. It flew in an out of the balloons.
That’s when she noticed that they seemed to be avoiding the television cameras, and security stations. Quite expertly in fact. It was odd, these visions, she could see near and far at the same time without obscuring either set of images. The pair were not smiling, like the rest of the crowd. They were not pointing and laughing at the parade floats. The father was whispering in the son’s ear, and the son was intent on following the path of his UAV.
The toy plane made its way up and over the last set of balloons, and then down toward Santa, nearly knocking him off his pedestal. He looked more annoyed than frightened. It swooped back up to the last balloon, and under.
Eta willed herself to float down for a better look. As it approached the underside, a small package fixed to the vinyl started to emit a red light.
Wait… no. The red light wasn’t coming from the package, it was coming from somewhere else. The UAV. A metal point was on the front end of the UAV and attached to it was a laser pointer. The kind you might find at Dollar Tree. It was flying straight up now, 90 degrees, at full speed. The red dot fixed directly at the middle of the box.
She’d come to expect what was next.
First the flash…
…then the percussion against her chest…
…then the sound of explosion.
She was hurled through the sky half way across the city. The devastation was enormous. Whole buildings collapsed. People that had not been crushed were running from the scene. But it would do no good. The air was windy, and an orange cloud wafted in all directions. The runners were dropping dead within feet, some within blocks.
Walking, nearly oblivious to the commotion, through the dust were a father and son. Wearing gas masks. They hopped onto a parked motorcycle, on a side street. And headed into the city, and they were gone. She could just make the first three numbers of the Virginia License, K38…
Eta could see the kid smile, raise his fingers to the sky, and toss the Santa hat and beard to the wind.
She watched as the costume floated through the air, landing on a body nearby.
Eta woke. The dream, night after night. She lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling for a few moments. Knowing that sleep would not soon return, she got up and walked to the window. She opened it and let the cool air rush over her. It almost reminded her of home.
She couldn’t get the image of Santa out of her head. She always thought that a white Santa was odd.
“Everyone knows that Santa was a dark skinned Russian.” Her Mamochka would start the heated, good natured debate with Da’.
“No dear,” Da’ would counter. “He was an Irishman, plain as the nose on your face.”
And on the debate would run. Reindeer? Please. Not these brown skinny things in American cartoons. He used large chested white Reindeer, with long pointed antlers, like tree branches with no leaves.
That’s the Santa her Mamochka taught her about.
Of course, there is no Santa… no elves, no fairies, no Jesus, no Mohamed, no Buddha. All trappings of religious non-sense to keep ignorant people in line, and full of pointless hope. And when those ignorant people got too far out of line, they sent in Eta to put them down. Well… they used to, until she got broken.
“So…” She broke the silence. Considering the conversation earlier that night. “I’m not just broken… I’m also a failed experiment. Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Her voice fell deaf on the evening breeze.
Images of her parents, when they were alive. Christmas with family and friends. Like it should be. Presents, not many, too poor. But they would come up with something every Christmas, despite themselves. And then her life changed.
“America?” She said one day. “Really? We’re going to America?”
All she’d ever known was the temperate town of Letterkenny, Ireland. Her mother fled to Ireland during World War 2, when the Russians were working loosely with the westerners. She got her chance to leave as a “Volunteer Field Nurse”. She managed to claim asylum in newly formed Republic of Ireland, who had been sitting out the war as a neutral party. The Irish were sympathetic to her cause, as they too were under pressure constant pressure to roll over and accept the so called “United Kingdom”.
That’s where she met her Irish lover, a man after her own heart. They thought that kids were not in their cards, until she got pregnant in her mid 40’s. Her parents were older than the other kid’s parents, but she didn’t mind. It made her special. At least, that’s what she was told growing up.
At 10 years old, in 1976, her father, frightened by the escalating violence and the Kingsmill Massacre, decided to leave. He took his wife and daughter to start over in America. That’s when it all fell apart. He worked two jobs, with no family to fall back on, and died of a heart attack before she turned 16. Her mother died a year later of pneumonia, probably compounded by grief. By 18 she was the ridicule of school with the oddest of odd accents, and she didn’t fit anywhere. Then she was left to fend for herself.
“Not to worry,” a friend told her. “The military takes freaks like you all the time.”
And with a 99 on the ASVAB, she could do anything she wanted. She found a job in intelligence, and worked her way up the ranks. Which led her to today… a total mess.
Eta brushed off the past, and tried to remember the new elements of her dream.
She could still see the face of the young man with the remote, the father not so much.
One word popped into her head. It sounded so funny. She said it out loud.
She rolled it onto her tongue, and repeated it over and over. She found the word instantly amusing, but sad at the same time.
She let the images, of the dream and her childhood Christmas, battle each other for another hour, looking out the window into the night sky. Eventually she felt a yawn come on, stretching the back of her throat. That was a good sign that the dream was wearing off, and she could head back to bed.
The covers swallowed her, like an ocean. And she was the island swallowed by it.
Desc: Ash and Eta compare the files on dark matter to the dark net search results.
Dr. Briar needs to tie the boston bombings to a series of information security breaches. And point him toward Dark Matter.
They discover information on Dark Matter, the boston bombings, and the pattern search algoruhtym points them toward a particular terrorist cell in the north east.
They were gathered around the multi-monitor set of screens, and Chester displayed the most likely candidates for further review.
Closet to Rooftop
Desc: Back at Chesters, Ash is resting in the bedroom, when is transported to a man on a roof top, then ends up back in his bedroom. What he learns gives them their next clue. A Terrorist named ..... doesn't want to go through with it. They must find him.
It was the sound. It washed over his mind, like a shower on the inside. Water landing on pavement, concrete, and wood; as though beating a million tiny drums. The distant sound of the tiny river, washing down the sidewalks into the gutters. Ash always slept with the window open, but most especially on rainy nights.
We are no closer now to getting to the bottom of this, than we were when it started.
The rest of the house was asleep, but he couldn't find sleep. The air shifted slightly, and he felt he wasn't alone. Ash sat up straight, and at the edge of his bed sat a man. He was wearing blue jeans, a T-shirt, and a well-kept beard. His hair was pulled back into a pony tail, and he smiled. The man's eyes held a piercing gaze, frightening and peaceful all at once.
The man stood, and motioned to Ash. Almost unable to fight his own body, he rose to follow the man to the closet door. He reached out to open it, and a blinding light raced across the room. When Ash opened his eyes again, they were not in his room anymore. They were standing on a rooftop, overlooking New York City, and Herald Square.
There, sitting on the ledge was a young man, maybe no more than 20. He was holding himself, rocking himself back and forth.
It'll all be over soon. It'll all be over soon. He repeated to himself over and over.
Ash could see the Parade balloons in the distance. He knew this is what Eta had been talking about. Ash wanted to go stop him, but he couldn't move. His traveling companion put his arm on Ash's shoulder and smiled. He could feel the answer.
The bright light flashed, and he found himself standing in front of his open closet, staring at the darkness. Ash turned back to his bed, and lay there for a few more hours. Sleep overcame him, and he rested. For the first time in a long time, confused, but peaceful, he rested.
First Macy's Vision
She's standing in midair, 100 feet or more above the crowds. She can see a line of people in costumes dancing down the street, with large decorated vehicles in between groups. There are crowds on both sides of the street bundled in heavy clothing and a light dusting of snow from earlier today. She doesn't feel the chill, she's a spectator, not a participant. Eta floats, stationary, observing.
Suddenly, her vision is blocked by something brown and right up in her face, she wills herself a few steps back, and a large brown balloon fills her vision. A few more steps back and it's as large as a house. As it passes she can take in a full view. It's a... turkey? Yes, it's a turkey the size of a house, floating high above the crowds, and just below and even with her.
She can see Santa on his sleigh toward the end of the event... She knows this somehow. It's familiar, something her parents were involved in before she shut out them, their memories, and society in general. What's it called? There's a tradition for this? Santa and his float are just below her now. She sees the clock on the building, it's 1:17 pm...
Flash. Her chest is compressed, she can't breathe. The buildings around her crumble. She is thrown back 1,000's of feet. She takes the next breath she sees the cloud, just like old WWII videos. A mushroom cloud. The buildings are evaporating in every direction. The inhabitants won't even know what hit them until it's far, far too late. It's moving with great speed for miles, buildings evaporate before the wave in every direction.
As she sucks in a deep breath the world around her evaporates and turns black, then white, then she wakes up.
Ash was white. "You do know what you are saying right?"
"I guess so. Some parade is about to be attacked?"
"Not just some parade, Eta. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! That's an icon of Americana. It's filled with innocent people, including lots of children. That would be a disaster beyond the Twin Towers." Ash sat on a stool and sighed.
Episode 3 - Checkmate
New Scene 2
Desc: Dark Matter escapes. But his base of operations is shut down for now. Dr. Briar is running for his life from the Anonymous Benefactor.
Like Moriarty to Sherlock, Darkmatter is playing a long term game. He has his players separated from each other not just in location, but in construct. His Jihadists don’t' know about his drug sales, etc. He has False ID's upon False ID's. Layers of organization. He currently works out of a hotel that he owns under a shell Corp.
The F.B.I., working with Ash, raid a hotel, arresting over 100 people. Computers, hard drives, disks, records, all confiscated. The best stuff is on a single computer upstairs; but the disk was wiped clean. Darkmatter is smart, but he's no hacker. The data is corrupted, but not totally lost.
In the corner of the room, Ash finds a chessboard, with one pawn knocked over. There is a word written on the side of the white piece. Boom!
Ash's phone rings; and Darkmatter says: "let the games begin... Nice hat by the way. You should get that stain on your collar to the dry cleaner." Ash runs to the window, but sees nothing.
Desc: Dr. Briar leaves them with a list of other people affected by the experiments. Some of them are known to be dangerous, others have no apparent effect, and others may be struggling like they were. New Story Goal: ????
Change this to Ash's POV, and do something with it
Randy Elwood - Sr Audio-Medical Equipment Technician.
“Goooood… Did you see that? His blood pressure spiked and he stood up. Eye dilated. Something is starting. We’re almost there…” The voice said. Technician Randy Elwood took note of the time and date.
Randy Elwood. Sr Medical Equipment Technician at Briar Psychiatric Center. Randy has three PHD’s.
• Audio Physics (Science of Sound) - Just because he could never stop dissecting music. Thought it would be fun to study sound. Turned out to be his favorite degree. Though, he wasn’t sure what he could do with it, other than make great You Tube Video Soundtracks, which is how he paid for most of his training and school.
• One in Group Behavior - Maybe he could figure out how to interact with these humans he lived with. He’d never been much good throughout his life. Turns out the degree only made him better able to understand and predict human behavior, not mimic it to any realist believable degree.
• Human Anatomy-Biology - Maybe understanding the body better he could understand the mind and social patterns. Not so much. Just made for more awkward conversations are the few parties he tried to attend.
Although incredibly bright, Randy was a perpetual student. His professors advised he leave the comforts of school for the real world. Only so much can be learned in the library. With a few phone calls he was connected to to the Briar Psychiatric Center to assist in the on going study of sound waves on the human mind.
He didn’t mind the gig. He spent most of his time in a lab, by himself, reading and watching monitors. Not bad for $100,000 a year job. Especially not bad for the first paying job he’d had outside of school. Real job anyway, he still made a few sound tracks now and then. This was a great gig for someone with his specialty: “Not interacting with other people.”
Randy checked the monitors one last time before returning to his book. It was assigned reading by his new employer. Supposed to help the workers understand the “culture” of the company.
“Unlocking the Paranormal Mind. A study of how the human mind’s unlocked potential”, By Dr Richard T. Briar.
Couldn’t be worse than doing nothing, or that whole semester he took wasted reading about the breeding behavior of wombats!
The moonless midnight clung to the walls like a gulf oil spill. The flashes of color and bursts of brightness, reflected off of his glasses. Images of people screaming and running from the bombs. No one even noticed the purses and wallets being snatched. And no one noticed the three banks being hit. But most importantly, no one noticed the override being installed on the network cables underground a few blocks over. Lights on his computers spun to life.
Darkmatter, as he was known these days, got out of his chair and hopped around the room, laughing hysterically!
"These idiots fall for the Jihad thing every time! It's like a broken record stuck on my favorite song, it never gets old." Darkmatter smiled to his latest conquests. The twins, fraternal brother and sister, were his biggest fans.
His fingers went to blasting through the data now streaming into his network. He could see everything. From corporate servers, to granny's desktops. He had access to it all. And they wouldn't notice for months! They'll be too busy looking for some rag tag brothers with a death wish. With the install re-buried, under the concrete, it will take a long time for anyone to figure out it's even there, if they ever do. In that amount of time, he'll have data mined millions of computers and servers. He can use this to install a botnet on every user connected to this line, and rotate out from there.
All it cost was sending some lousy people off the planet early. They weren't doing anything productive anyway. His guides were proud of him, he could tell. They didn't say much, they just stood in the corner. But they were smiling. So he was on the right track. Too bad other's couldn't see Hecate and Adrasteia. Then again, why share their ancient knowledge with mere mortals. He was transcendant. One of the few on earth meant to ascend to higher realms of knowledge and power. The mortals would be gone eventually, so what if he sent a few early.
He enjoyed the chaos that came working with the Jihadists. They were self destructive idiots, but in them he got a two for the price of one deal. He could cause the chaos needed for his empire to run, and take them out of the genetic pool at the same time. Win-Win.
The monitor on the wall buzzed, it was that Dr. Briar again. He was alerted when he was trying to be found online. He set up a program to alert him when it happened, and then send a false lead.
"Brilliant." he said.
"Excuse me sir." A large security gaurd stood in the doorway. "The fans are chanting for you."
"We mustn't dissapoint the fans. 'Francis, we mustn' keep our fans waiting!' " A young man that could be his brother, if not for the Maryln Manson get up, nodded, and rushed out the door to the party downstairs. It's amazing how much noise 100's of teenagers and music can make, enough to cover up the real operations here. The key to operating an organization like this, it to ensure that you were not recognized as the man in charge. Set up a dummy, like Francis, to take the fall when it goes south.
It will always go south, make contingencies. All the people who turn states evidence will sware that Francis was the king of this castle. And Walter Vanderbuilt, Darkmatter, Bob... Whatever name he was going by these days... Will just walk out the side door and dissappear. That's the beauty of this operation. If it wasn't for that silly Dr. Briar... He'd have no thorns at all.
Darkmatter lay on the couch, Hecate and Adrasteia came to him, massaging his shoulders, and whispering promises of the grand future. He closed his eyes and the darkness over took him... sweet comforting darkness.
As the tablet's glow grew to life, an image appeared. On the image of a full moon, two torches crossed paths at the top, over the scales of justice below. The torches were made of gold, but held black and white flames. Upon the gold scales sat two weights named Adrasteia and Hekate .
Dark Elf entered his password, and the screens around the room booted to life. As he checked his monitors he was able to observe 1000's of cameras from around the world, but front and center were his prime monitors. From here he could see his entire operation.
Anonymous served it's purpose, now it was time to come out of the shadows. It was amazing how much could be accomplished through some keystrokes and well placed religious bull. Dark Elf roamed the dark net, smirking periodically at Hacker Aliases like "HellRazzer567". Really? That's the best you could come up with. Children. It was time to establish his own ID. Something to set him apart from his Anonymous friends. Dark Elf would do nicely. It was simple enough to remember, innocuous enough to be tracked to 100's of other individuals.
So far the instructions of his masters had paid dividends many times over. He was rich, powerful, and operated from the shadows. Just levitate a few chairs and the powerless will flock to you as though you had all the answers.
The Islamist Extremists were so easy to manipulate too. It was astonishing how easy it was to get some bearded scarf wearer to bomb a building by hacking their website and posting the challenge. These people were not any smarter than these looser addicts that were constantly doing his bidding at his hotel.
The great Dr. Briar was becoming a nuisance, but he was assured that he still served a purpose. He had a few ideas about what to do when that purpose was complete. Hiring a man to play the part of wealthy contributor? 100,000 dollars. The look on his face when he got the texts? Priceless.
What a moron.
Meanwhile, it was nice to be king. Lord rather. Lord Dark Elf. It had a nice ring to it, eh?
The best part of living in a hotel was total freedom. It was even better that he owned the hotel, and all the staff were his servants.
The room was dark, he'd been floating so many aliases, that
"Ash..." Chester spoke into the laptop mic. No response. He was still out cold.
The five entered the room with some fan fare. The lab coat turned to face the camera. It was Dr. Briar.
"Hello... who ever you are." Dr. Briar smiled.
Chester and Eta looked at each other in horror.
"We've discovered your little virus. And we're quite safe here, I assure you." Dr. Briar turned to Ash and pulled out a siringe. He injected a clear solution directly into his neck. No reaction.
Dr. Briar turned to a computer system on the wall, and pushed a button, and winked at the camera. The monitor went blank.
Eta and Chester looked at each other, mouths open, a look fear crossed Chester's eyes.
Eta felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. She said nothing, she walked out the door, and started punching the pillar of the patio.
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Chester and Ms. Wu's
Chester snapped awake...
His heart pumped against his chest like a battering ram, with the police just outside the door. Chester's skin was cold, clammy. Bed clothes were soaked.
Fog slowly cleared from his mind, under the light of a new dawn...
"They felt so real." Chester said to Ms. Wu, as he helped her run his own personal brand of Anti Virus software on the Orphanage Computers. He could have done it from home, but he enjoyed their weekly talks. "Black leather and mist were swirling about me, chasing me through the streets. I bolted into this old church on my right and locked the bolt. They were banging into the door, clambering to get through, the door was creaking... then I woke up."
"Interesting..." Ms. Wu said, as she picked up a "Coding Basics for Dummies" book, and placed it on the shelf.
"It was so real... even though I've been awake for a few hours now, it still feels real."
"Let me ask.." turning to him, "Why were you afraid of them?"
The question had not occurred to him. "I...Why wouldn't I be? They were scary monsters."
"Sure, but they were locked outside, you were safe inside. You escaped them."
"But there were getting in."
"Were they? Or were they trying to get in an failing?"
Mr. Wu had a knack for turning things upside down.