Eyes on the world, p.1
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       Eyes on the World, p.1
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           John D. Boyden
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Eyes on the World


  Eyes on the World

  The “Ladder to Where” series

  Copyright 2014 John D. Boyden

  All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead in any real or imagined world is purely coincidental. Historical personages, places, and events are referenced, used, and changed as needed for the purposes of the story.

  Thank you for downloading this ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your favorite ebook retailer to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Acknowledgments

  Dedication

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  About the Author

  Other books by this author

  Connect with John D. Boyden

  Acknowledgments!

  Our beautiful cover page image was created by SUNBIRD on Facebook. A friend of mine named Max, found it. SUNBIRD was asked for permission to use it and gave me permission freely, telling me there was no need to credit them. Their fabulous art certainly merits this credit. If you agree click on the link and like the Facebook page! Thank you SUNBIRD!

  Dedication

  I cheerfully dedicate this first publication to my wife, Melanie, four grown kids, friends who provided me early critiques on my writing, and our dog Sissy.

  Thank you all for your love and support.

  Chapter One

  The doorbell rang at the large single story white-washed adobe house outside of town. Jake stumbled down the hall. Jake was only five foot seven, but weighed two hundred and sixty pounds. He was ill. He was scared. He was marked for death.

  Rimfire, New Mexico, is a small, quiet mining and farming town in New Mexico. The town sprawls leisurely along two miles of Rimfire's mountain peaks. An exhausted Jake Granger answered the door in rumpled black sweats. He looked sickly in the fading light of early evening.

  Once William “the tech” Allison stepped into the hallway, and got closer, Jake looked worse. The sweats were stained and covered with indescribables. Probably food. Jake smelled bad. It was four days of junk food, and no bathing bad. His eyes were bloodshot and his hands shook. William flat out told him so, even as he asked himself if he needed to call the team doctor.

  Jake looked up at the big man and, grinning like a fool, shook his head up and down in full agreement. William was blunt and to the point. He was also well over six-four and two hundred-fifty pounds and right in his assessment. His military training showed in his haircut and posture. The old friends shook hands.

  “Thanks for coming over. I gotta admit, I'm kinda surprised you did come.”

  “I heard something I've never heard in your voice before. You've been mad, bored, happy and sad. In all that time I never heard panic. When I heard that over the phone, it brought me as quick as I could gather my tools. I've got to admit I was worried. You just don't panic. It's not who you are. Besides,” William Allison laughed, “you do always have weird things happening with your computer. I had to see what happened this time.” He would watch Jake closely, assessing medical needs...

  “Yeah, always something. It's what happens with me and my computers. Anyway, I'm glad you came.” Jake took William into the converted guest bedroom that was his computer room. “Here's the damned computer.” It sat upright on a small table in the middle of the room. The kind of cheap buy and assemble table found at Walmart or K-Mart.

  “I can smell something electrical burned, Jake. Do you know what happened?”

  “Not really. I can give you a step by step?”

  “Jake, it's not worth the trouble. You obviously need sleep, buddy. I've never seen you this tired. Your black sweats look like you've worn them for a week. Smell like it too. Your eyes are bloodshot and ... How long has it been since you slept?”

  “I've been up 96 hours straight.”

  “Sounds serious.” That may explain it, William thought. He just needs sleep.

  “You won't believe.” Jake's overweight body began shaking.

  “Stop Jake. Just Stop. Breathe deeply. That's right. Do it again. Breathe deeply. I don't think I've ever seen you this agitated either.” William was becoming alarmed.

  There was silence as Jake took one more deep, shuddering breath. He blurted, “but I've got to tell you what happened.”

  “Later, my friend. Go get some sleep. You can give me details in a few hours.”

  “But, but...”

  “Go. I'll help. Everything will be fine. Let me work on the computer. You go get some sleep and let me see what I can do here.”

  “Oh, all right. I will. Mi casa es tu casa, buddy. 'Night.”

  William watched as Jake bumped into the hall, holding out one hand to steady himself, sliding along the wall as he went out of the room and turned left down the narrow hallway. He fell against the wall twice, pushed himself along into the first room, the guest room, to crash. William followed, closing the guest room door, after he saw Jake fall into the bed. William returned to the computer room and closed the door. He paused, listened for a moment, and pulled out an unusual looking headset from his bag. He put it on and made a quick call. The headset was integrated into his Sat phone. His cell phone wasn't secure in this location, or anywhere for that matter, and he knew it.

  A brief communication took place. The tech verified the team was on the same page and clear on each of the next steps. He alerted Control about Jake's condition. Constant contact was essential given how rapidly mission parameters could and did change. Especially lately. William kept the headset in place, kept his connection on.

  William “the tech” Allison opened his travel kit on the plastic table behind the desktop computer. The tech pulled out a hard disk, various other computer components, tools, and a gun from his computer bag. He spread them out over the table. Over the next hour he repaired the burned wires, accessed the machine, ran a few tests, and then started to watch the computer recorded video of Jake's discovery.

  He paused the video after he watched the part where Jake hit his head. William went out to the kitchen to fix popcorn, chuckling lightly as he thought about his poor friend. His buddy was going to wake up to a completely changed world. The room was now secured. He knew the house was secured too. How long that could last was anybody's guess. He did know the "mi casa" statement by Jake was true. Jake urged his few friends to treat his home as if it were theirs.

  William heard Jake snoring when he stopped at the bedroom door on the way back. With a bowl of microwave popcorn in hand, he returned to the computer videos to find out exactly how Jake had spent those long sleepless hours. He watched the opening scene again. “Poor Jake will be the one who won't believe.” William spoke to the empty air of the room. His comment was logged. He clicked the video. It was too good not to watch again. “Oh Jake. Only you.”

  He saw Jake's mouse slide off the computer desk and Jake reached down with his right hand, knocking off the hot tip of the cigarette in his left hand with the edge of the desk. The tip bounced into his lap. After a moment of looking frantically around, he jumped up from his chair, hit a handful of computer keys, knocked the chair over, and then fell to the floor on his left side, hitting his head on the side table as he fell. William saw Jake was out cold and shook his head in wonder.

  With a few more keystrokes William accessed a second video source that took him to Jake's discovery.

  An online control board with a bunch of embedded video links appeared. A pop-up immediately blanked that out, readin
g 'you are currently invisible and cannot be tracked. Change status?' The choices were yes and no. William nodded to himself, and continued clicking, following this journey down into the technological rabbit hole. After checking his watch, he did a quick survey of all Jake had seen during those 96 hours. Everything was properly logged. He moved smoothly through the content. He was impressed. Jake had achieved about seventy-five percent of the initial training without any directed guidance or visible oversight. It wasn't definitive proof, but it was directly in line with William's own confident prediction. Jake's old file was looking accurate.

  William remembered those first exploratory discussions revealing how valuable Jake might become. Jake saw patterns and made connections.

  “The world is in a mess, buddy. Violence keeps getting worse. The instant news of depravities encourages others to grab the moment to add their own spin to it. Kids, families, schools, hospitals even malls. It has to stop.”

  “I agree, Jake. The question is how. What changes can we make in our society that have a chance of working?”

  “The pattern isn't clear to me yet. So far I see better mental health care and anger management training as two components. Beyond that I think, only guessing here, there are environmental factors we don't understand happening right now. I'd guess dietary factors too, since we've strayed so far from genuine food to chemical formulations replacing them. There is more. I'm not sure what it is, though. People have to be correlating all the studies, don't they?. We need that data.”

  “I would hope so. It's floating around somewhere on the net I suppose. What are you going to do?”

  “I'll help one person at a time, where I can. I've been posting free online workshops and having a bunch of conversations.”

  William smiled to himself recalling. He thought, this recruitment might not work out, but everyone involved would know within the next few hours. If everything went as planned. He hoped Jake would make the right choice after he understood the situation.

  William Allison changed the hard drive, carefully setting the old one in another slot. He copied the videos and Operating Systems over to the new hard drive. Finally he made one more complete copy for records. All of the computer files went to a one terabyte thumb drive, including the new OS. They had much bigger drives at the shop, but he'd known this was big enough. William had been building computers for Jake for years. After verifying the transfer, he removed the old drive and melted it into slag with a designer acid gel in a special glass container. When the gel settled, he dropped in an additive capsule and both the bowl and gel dissolved into an odorless vapor floating upwards until it vanished. The research and development section continued to amaze William.

  The discussion with Jake, whenever he woke up, would tell them both what came next. William checked in through his Sat phone, made a quick progress report to control and the team. He sat back in the black pseudo leather of Jake's computer chair and smiled. He took the time to relax and enjoy the moment. A final review of the protocols in his mind satisfied him. He wanted to do right by Jake. He hoped he could.

  William was checking his watch again when his Sat phone buzzed about thirty minutes later. William asked, “What's up?”.

  “The first attack was stopped.”

  “When did it start?”

  “Five minutes ago. Wasn't worth alerting you. It was expected.”

  William disagreed, but remained silent on that point. “Can you stop a second attack?” William asked, concern mixing into his baritone voice. The opposition never stopped with one unsuccessful attack. After two failed attacks, they might break off. They all knew that.

  “Probably. It depends on how many soldiers they send. Our count keeps shifting. Something strange is going on. There are eighteen, if we are correct. The first contact was a scouting party, we think.”

  “Is the exit prepared?”

  “As planned. Available in two minutes. Three options available.”

  “Thanks. Give us twenty. I'll go wake Jake.”

  The Opposition

  “Do we have the location?”

  “Yes. Some place called Rimfire. Check your cell.”

  “Got it. We are headed out.”

  “ETA?”

  “Be there in two hours.”

  “Acknowledged. Call on arrival.”

  The three teams loaded into three black Lincoln Navigators. The on board guidance systems were set with the address: 820 Black Rose Lane, Rimfire, NM. Eighteen soldiers, dressed in black, loaded their equipment and tore off down the road outside of Albuquerque, NM. Two hours later they were parked near the address. It was located just off of a major road. They were parked on the corner edge, across from an empty lot.

  This opposition team was made up of three Andromeda team members and fifteen mercenaries. Leader One was Sigrid Arno, a ten year veteran mercenary, who was in charge of this foray. He'd managed to keep his team together and alive for two years with a solid record of achievement. This, a priority two mission, was the most important one ever assigned to his team. Control said so.

  “Something is wrong.” Leader One stared at the house less than one hundred yards away. They were parked across from the empty lot.

  “What's wrong?”

  “Look at that house. Does it look like the ranch house design from the sat photo? Is there a number?”

  “No. It's a large trailer house, no number.”

  “Exactly. This is the wrong house. Check the Nav Sat.”

  “Yes Sir.”

  The computer module accessed the Satellite and cross coordinated the data for the correct geo-positioning of the house. The correct location was two miles further down the road. The infrared heat signature view showed that house surrounded by cooling vehicles and living people. The house was not visible. Computer correlation confirmed the property location from recent daylight pictures.

  “Damn Google maps. Good thing we have backup”

  The five soldiers around the leader chuckled, hearing the Nav Sat called a back up. Computer software mapping, available free on the internet, still had a long way to go. Sigrid called control and discussed the situation. The two referenced and looked at other area maps while they talked to each other. Adjustments tweaked the mission very little. The mission was still a go. Capture or kill.

  Those five warriors making up Sigrid's squad included two infiltration specialists, Miso Jamel and Carlos Maduro, both former special ops members from different services. The three remaining members were Communication Specialist 4 Ivar Dosbrugen, Tech Specialist 3, Bobilo Manjuju and Ordnance Specialist 3, Ma Uholo. Sigrid liked a balanced team. The men worked together well.

  The hunters moved up the road with minimal noise and parked their shielded vehicles half a mile from the target. Sigrid knew, from past attacks, closer took away the surprise element. In war attacking forces wanted every possible advantage. This was war. They unloaded, grabbing ordnance, and weapons. Once the three squads were ready the final briefing was held. Everybody was clear on their orders. They split up and moved quietly past the houses and into the fields on both sides of the road. They would gather together, in squads, behind the enemy and attack.

  First, the infiltration squad would attempt the requested snatch and grab from the least defended direction, the front this time. If that didn't work, they did have orders for that contingency too. They would follow the specified protocols.

  Four men from Leader One's squad settled in across the road near a dilapidated horse barn. Two others approached the house from the farm road running past the garage into another farm. There were no occupied houses within five hundred yards. The opening message went from across the highway to the enemy from Leader One's bull horn. The first option of driving up to the house and collecting Granger was already off the boards. Immediately starting the fire fight failed too often. Deception bought time. Enough time bought saved lives and Sigrid did not want to train new members. He liked his team the way it was.

  “This is the FB
I. Lay down your weapons and surrender. This is the FBI. We have warrants for the arrest of Jake Granger. You have five minutes to comply. Reply forthwith.”

  The Sat Nav infrared screen showed some movement from the enemy. A voice replied, “Send one man forward with the arrest documents for consultation. We are a private security firm assigned to protect Jake Granger.”

  The assault leader smiled, knowing the infiltration team was already in place and moving forward. He smirked at his communications specialist. “This might be easier than we thought.” Sigrid put down the bullhorn and hollered “all right, give us a minute or two to grab all the paperwork.” They had the paperwork. The only risk was in the delivery. If those guys protecting Granger really were from a private security firm, it would work. If his team made it safely into the house, he would step forward and play the sincere FBI agent. It could be that easy. Too many ifs, Sigrid didn't believe it. The invisible house told him he was dealing with the enemy.

  Miso Jamel and Carlos Maduro silently stomach crawled into position behind the garage. They used their senses and their high tech monitors. They heard nothing, although they were certain at least one guard had to be somewhere close. Wild dogs howled in the distance, insects chirped, nothing more. No sounds emerged from the house or garage. Experience told them muffling gear was in place.

  Their enemy liked to secure locations so that no sound or light escaped. Both men were used to that. Once breached, sounds and locations would be clear. Their mission to capture Jake Granger could continue after the breach. Miso looked over at Carlos. They were about fifteen feet apart. The infrared tag view in their goggles showed their locations and hands to each other only. While a Sat View could reveal their thermal, few other processes had the capability to see through the materials used. They could see each other and their surroundings. They saw seven of the enemy located in front of and leaning against the house. They were a good hundred feet away. The enemy couldn't see them because they didn't possess the required special filters. Their tech, their gear and the skin covering liquid, made them invisible. Their skills made them a silent and deadly team.

  Miso and Carlos studied the house. They heard Sigrid over the bullhorn. It was time to act. The single garage window, five feet from Miso and the garage door, were the best points of entry. They'd settled on the window as both quieter and quicker during the strategy sessions at Base. Defender location and time available did not change the scenario. Miso signaled. He heard a soft, unexpected sound next to him. He warned Carlos. They both jumped to their feet ready for anything.

  Sigrid watched the Sat heat signatures showing his two men as they crawled nearer to the garage. They bounced up and were attacked by three other blobs of light that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The fight was brief. Five fought and two died. A third ran toward the main group of defenders. Who won? His men or the others? He switched the view to tags. All his men were tagged so he could know their exact location at all times during a mission. When they died, the color changed. His men, then. Dead. Likely knives. With the snatch and grab foiled, he changed to the networked communication bands and gave the order for the third alternative.

  This would take them a while to set up. They'd got prep time down to fifteen minutes in rehearsals. He'd started to send his group on a full weapons frontal assault when the green blobs of lights representing the located enemy all winked out. That was new. He immediately warned his squads to be aware that the enemy was on the move and had gone invisible on the Sat tag software. One word set the fourth alternative in motion. “Ordnance”, Sigrid whispered on the com.

  Since the infiltration didn't work, destruction was the final choice. Nobody left alive. The house would be obliterated. Enough with the risky frontal assaults. It was killing time. They unloaded the newest R and D designed mortars, set them up, and dropped in the payload. Coordinates relayed by the handsets to the experts targeted the attack. Leader one checked on each of his squads. The tag view showed they were all working on their mortars. Three blobs gathered together would normally tell the story, but he had more visual detail. He asked for status updates and confirmed the coordinates. One by one the three squads acknowledged readiness. Once all reported in, he told them “now”. All three invisible payloads flashed almost soundlessly up into the sky.

  The Home Team

  William pulled the newly installed hard drive from the computer and put it in his bag with all the other stuff. He grimaced. No plan survives implementation. No one knew that better than William Allison. This carefully planned , take your time, two days of recruitment, orientation, and discussion was a fail. It was a down and dirty, run like hell day. That was going to happen yet again. Things were changing. Times were changing. People were insane.

  William woke Jake up with a cup of steaming coffee. Jake was grateful for the coffee. Joaquin Jose Maria Granger Aguirre aka Jake only needed a brief urgent conversation to get the idea of what was going on. He trusted William and their relationship. It was enough. He did change into semi-clean gray sweats. Jake was ready in less than ten minutes from waking up. He was getting more coffee when William 's Sat phone buzzed. William answered, looking at Jake. William was sorry there wasn't time for a shower for Jake too. Jake's color looked a lot better.

  “Status?”

  “Five minutes? Our men are all in place. Eighteen attackers confirmed, but they are not attacking. Something else is going on.”

  “We're out of here, option C, no delay.”

  The Opposition

  Sigrid's three teams hit the dirt for protection as they fired, knowing what was coming. Sigrid watched as the three mortars crashed down on the house. The explosion was spectacular. “Check out the house. Kill anyone you see.” The team spent ten minutes on the recon. They found nobody other than their own two dead. They packed the bodies down to the cars talking quietly between themselves. The ordnance leaders broke down the mortars and the rest of the team hustled to the Navigators. No police or fire or anyone responded while they were there. Sigrid called control “Mission failure. Two bodies, ours. No prisoners. No responders. We're leaving.”

  The Home Team

  The target for the day left the building minutes before the strike. Portation was option C for this mission. William Allison's announcement instigated the process. The result was mechanical, quick, effective, and thought to be untraceable. Allison, his bag of tools, and Aguirre, carrying his third cup of coffee, disappeared leaving the tiniest energy footprint in the Universe. They were safe. For now.

  Jake's house was neither safe nor lucky. Later news and police reports would describe it as an accidental gas leak, despite the fact that the house was all electric. The house was blown apart and what remained, burned to the concrete slab and the ground. Neighbors were not affected. Responders slowly arrived during the second hour after the event.

  The unnecessary destruction was a policy decision. A next step escalation in this secret ongoing war. The kill ground, swiftly cleaned up by the protection detail before they left, burned. The property was littered with the debris from the explosion. The home team's simple solution? They spread the fire a little further to cover their own movements, and left. There were no shell casings to gather. The opposition made no second attack to overwhelm the home team. Total annihilation also did not happen. Both sides knew no responder would arrive quickly or explore around the immediate site. The home team realized something had changed during this mission. Control would tell them what the analytics showed was happening during their debriefing.

  Many on the home team's currently identified list of opponents did not play nicely with others. Total destruction was a new element. Murder was becoming the new norm in this war of secrecy and information control. Their attackers had added a brand new element, this night, with complete destruction. The war was evolving.

  Stashed in a well protected hideaway several States away from New Mexico, in Oregon, the conversations could finally begin. However it was late and Willia
m asked Jake to hold all the questions until morning. He introduced him to Oscar, the night duty resident. Jake accepted the request and seemed to be willing to go along. Oscar wrinkled his nose, as they shook hands. Stepping back, Oscar showed him to his bedroom apartment. The quick tour included the bed, a study, bathroom, and closet. He assured Jake that the clothes in the closet were in his size. Underwear, socks, toiletries were all stored in little compartments while shirts, pants, and an expensive looking tan suit were hanging up. Two pairs of shoes were on the floor in boxes. The walk-in closet looked almost empty.

  Oscar was visibly uncomfortable when he suggested “Jake, uh, you might want to shower first.” Jake did and went directly to the bathroom shower after Oscar left. He turned the shower on and stripped, tossing his cleaner, but still dirty, clothes into a hamper. The shower was hot and strong. Jake was happy there was body shampoo. He gloried in the hot water rolling over his body. Part of his mind kept asking what in the hell is going on. Another part of his mind kept repeating this is insane and urged him to get out. Jake quelled those inner voices. He knew he would get answers in the morning.

  Life required waiting to find out. Waiting in line. Waiting for someone else to respond. William wouldn't screw him over. That small doubting part of Jake added a question mark to his confident thought statement. Jake closed off the doubts and muttered “Tomorrow” to himself. Toweling off, Jake explored the closet. Tossing the towel on the closet floor, he laid out clothes for the morning. It didn't take long. Jake got a good night of uninterrupted sleep in clean sheets.

  William worked for another hour focused on the plan's checklist. He talked with both control and the team about next steps and time frames, before hitting the sheets. He worried about the attacks. He worried about the leaks. William worried. Ongoing assessment, orientation, discussion, and recruitment still made up the plan. The time line was shortened, again. Everything had to be concluded by noon. The next planned move would be a proactive move, scheduled for two PM. One or more security breaches were identified. Control was vague about exactly how many. William was assured the sniffers were on the hunt.

  Jake rose at his usual New Mexico four AM time. It was just past three AM in their new location, but a full four hours sleep was enough for Jake. He brushed his teeth and shaved. Guessing the day might turn more formal, he dressed carefully. First underwear, socks, then the tan suit. Looking good, he thought. He'd picked a blue tie and the dark brown shoes. He thought hard about wearing the tennis shoes instead. He would have preferred them. He looked into the mirror, reminding himself. “I've got to tell Oscar he was right, everything fits.”

  Wandering into the kitchen, Jake encountered Oscar again, and met Fred. Both were station personnel assigned to this station. “Thanks Oscar. You were right. The clothes fit. I've got to ask how you guys do that and why?”

  Oscar looked at Jake and said “William will explain it all later this morning. Please hold all questions for him. Fred's cooking. What would you like for breakfast?”

  “What've you got?”

  “Pretty much everything. How does steak and eggs sound?”

  “Fabulous! I haven't had steak for months.”

  “Rare right, Jake?”

  “Yup. Just cripple the calf and send it by.”

  “Gotcha,” Fred chuckled. “Well done for you Oscar?”

  “Yes, Fred. No pink, please. Thanks. I'll do the hash browns.” He pulled a bag out of the freezer.

  They all ate. Jake kept trying to get answers, but both Oscar and Fred continued to politely pass on answering any questions. They kept telling him “William will explain.” Jake ate his favorite breakfast with total concentration, and the three did talk after. It wasn't much, but they chatted a little about sports. They watched the early morning news at Jake's insistence. There were the usual murders, kidnappings, incursions, political screaming matches and scandals. Daily news was a soap opera.

  William came in around six A.M. and greeted Jake with a cheerful “good morning”. Fred and Oscar left as soon as William Allison entered. They told Jake they would see him later. Before Jake could ask a single question, Allison said “Answer time. My answers won't be complete, but I'll give you what I know.” He handed Jake a small piece of a waxy solid substance and tucked a second piece in his own ear. He nodded as Jake did the same, giving him a thumbs up sign.

  “What happened William?”

  Allison laughed. You want it all in one sentence?”

  “Yes. No! I want to know it all.”

  “Damn. One sentence would be easy. It will take a while for me to give you the basics, much less the entire story. In fact I don't even know the whole story. Let me try to give you a useful summary of what is going on. I'm told you will pick up more details as we go along, if that is your choice.”

  “I've got a choice?”

  “You certainly do. You will be asked to make a decision after I've finished explaining.”

  “Okay, you've intrigued me. Give me the one sentence version.”

  “Sure. We have a problem or two and need your help.”

  “That seems workable, William. Go ahead with a little more detail.”

  “All right. We are in a war. NO. No questions yet, Jake, just listen. We are in an unexpected fight against our own efforts to create a freer world. We are trying to build one that is more open, more free, and more honest. It didn't start that way. It wasn't in the original thought back when the project idea kicked off. Control as a goal wasn't in the plan either, and we didn't choose this fight. We sure didn't want a war.

  Information, national defense, structured development, and boatloads of money to make desired changes were the first program goals. Others with different agendas are making it a war for control of this world. They want the world under their own control. They want to own the world. We should have expected extreme opposition, but we didn't see it. Our enemies want less freedom rather than more. They are trying to destroy us and take away everything we have built. They want everything for their own benefit and plans of conquest. We know...”

  Oscar came sliding around the corner bouncing into the door jamb at 7:04 AM. “We have to get out of here now. Control says our location is compromised. So...”

  “How the hell did...?” William Allison interrupted.

  “No specifics. Unknown.”

  “Choice C? Get it ready.”

  “No. They might have a trace on it. We've got to go to B.”

  “You're kidding!” Allison was shocked. The choice of a level B escape in a secure site meant imminent attack. There were always three exit strategies. Sometimes more.

  “No. Now.”

  “Leave everything. Let's go Jake.”

  “What? Again? This is getting ridiculous,” Jake grumbled.

  “Yes. Ridiculous doesn't begin to cover what these attacks are doing. Follow me, buddy.” William Allison led the way. Oscar went last.

  They entered the hall closet next to the kitchen. A panel hidden inside waited to be used. Once tripped by the proper password and other protections, a new doorway opened into a narrow gray stone circular staircase. Down those steps the three men went. The steps took them below the station where other panels took them further away. They only used two. These panels, once used, turned into solid walls. Determined blasting could open a path there again. The pane technology, used in panel construction, allows for changes in the original programmed path. Panels have been set to re-open to more dangerous pathways. Misleading directions are provided to any who follows, if they can survive the journey's traps to exit that curious maze.

  The three men traveled in silence for about an hour. There were many twists and turns with multiple side tunnels along the way. Most turns were ignored. A pale blue light illuminated both the tunnel, and the direction ahead for a continuous thirty feet. Darkness fell behind them once they passed. They came to a large white-washed chamber with murals on both walls and another tunnel leading out. Oscar headed to the
right side of the wall displaying an elaborate mural painting of an iridescent red white and blue dragon flying toward the viewer from a large mountain in the background. The dragon blew streams of fire at a small village at the bottom of the picture. Oscar's left hand extended. He reached toward the mountain with his index finger sticking out.

  Jake interrupted. “Touch the village Oscar.” Jake's voice carried an eerie certainty.

  Oscar paused and stared at William Allison wanting a no. William's eyebrows rose in surprise. He processed Jake's certainty, and Oscar's silent demand? He answered the querulous look Oscar directed to him. “Trust Jake, Oscar. Touch the village.” Oscar did as he was told.

  A twisting purple whirlpool spun out from one of the house images in the village at the touch of Oscar's finger. Three colorful pseudopods reached out from the whirlpool like stringy hands from an alien world and wrapped around each of the three people in the room, creating three purple mummies in less than a second. The pseudopod wrapped mummies vaporized into a fading purple mist. Only empty silence was left in the vacated room with one blank wall. Across from it, a dazzling mural scene with a string of majestic Swiss mountains over a lush green valley spotted with farms waited.

  The three travelers arrived in the bunker of a safe house in the middle of a small village of seven hundred people. The landing area was concrete with a metal table and four chairs. A cordless phone sat on the table. William silently initiated the scan for bugs upon arrival. He picked up the cordless phone and openly made the expected call. He listened to Control as he watched Oscar and Jake grab chairs and sit down. William didn't like what he heard, as he walked around the room. His own comments told Control he understood. He finished the call. William sat down across from the other two. Then the bug checker bleeped in his ear. Jake was bugged. The tap was located in his right shoe. That was an unfortunate confirmation of what William needed to know.

  “Why Oscar?”

  “Why what, William?” Oscar looked at Jake, but not at William.

  “Why did you bug Jake?” Oscar 's sad eyes rose to meet his accuser. His shoulders slumped. He knew he was caught.

  “They have my family. I didn't have a choice,” he replied sullenly. Oscar reached into his suit pocket and threw a worn, folded picture down on the table to verify the story. Blackmail did fit one of the patterns the opposition used when they could make it work. It was popular. It got nasty.

  Jake and William studied the photo. Jake glanced back at Oscar, trying to read him. Jake's eyes widened, he ducked his head down, turning the side of his face slightly to the right, as if listening intently. He nodded, touching Oscar on the arm. He looked thoughtful as he did. Oscar stared at Jake with his forlorn eyes, hoping for sympathy. “Freeze, Oscar,” Jake said, watching Oscar's eyes roll up until they showed white, although several red lines from swollen vessels displayed. Oscar did not move.

  “What did you do Jake?” asked a disbelieving William.

  “I heard a voice in my ear say 'He's lying. Touch his arm. Tell him to freeze.' So I did and he did. Pretty cool, huh. Was it you? It didn't sound like your voice.”

  “Cool? We'll see. For certain, I didn't tell you. In fact, I've never seen anything like this happen before.” William called control as he kept a close eye on both the unmoving Oscar and an overly pleased Jake. He fretted, as he informed Control about this latest event. Had he been mistaken about Jake? Control calmly explained the unusual occurrence. William blew his tension out with a huff and relaxed.

 
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