The first thing I remember when I regained consciousness was the steady hum of jet engines and the faint tint of ozone in the air. I found myself laying on a leather couch aboard one of Department 10’s plush Dassault Falcon transport planes probably heading towards their headquarters located outside the small town in western Virginia. Feeling slightly relieved that I was not dead I moved my head to look around which only produced waves of nausea rippling through my body that made me wish Amanda’s thug had just finished the job.
“Don’t you just love that new stun gun toy?” I heard Amanda say from somewhere across the plane’s cabin. “The design came from a batch of files you and I recovered from an old Soviet research facility back in 96. The problem was always the power source, but some of our bright boys and girls came up with a miniaturized superconducting coil that allows about twenty full-powered shots. Oh, the nausea and disorientation will pass in about an hour, but it’s best you just stay on the couch until we land.”
Through force of will alone, because I wanted to show her up, I literally gritted my teeth and stood up despite the world deciding to spin around at warp speed. Standing turned out to be the easy part, when I decided to walk towards the ornate leather chair Amanda was sitting in my stumbling shuffle was both comical and sad at the same time.
“Still far too stubborn for your own good I see.” She said as I plopped into the seat across the cabin from her.
Unfortunately, my little act of defiance left my body weak as water but my rage at being forcibly pulled back into Department 10 was still strong. “All right Amanda, explain to me why you breached our agreement? More importantly, why should I lift a finger to help you? Don’t even try that that shit about appealing to my patriotic sentiment or defeating some danger to national security. You and your special benefactor ended all that for me back in 2004.”
“Fine,” she said pulling a computer tablet out from a side pocket of her seat, “If I can’t appeal to your sense of service maybe I can engage your mind in legitimate scientific inquire.”
I stared dumbfounded at her for several seconds after she said those words before I broke into a fit of laughter.
“What’s so funny about pure scientific research?” She asked with a vague look of disgust on her face.
“Need I remind you of the story about how I caught you experimenting on children you bitch?”
By the time Amanda and I were finished with our accelerated training programs and became full members of Department 10 our highly selective group was completely engaged in cleaning up the elaborate and dangerous messes left after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both of the main participates of the Cold War had employed numerous high-tech gizmos and bizarre techniques to out flank the other on the geo-political world stage but at least the United States was able to retain control on most of their toys. In fact individuals inside the American government actively suppressed certain technologies because while they would have benefited society as a whole were greatly inconvenient to a number of influential people in the supposed free market.
Inside the Soviet Union, a closed and authoritarian society, things were ironically different. After it fell many of its finest scientists and high concept technologies scattered throughout the world and fought over by any number of other countries, corporations, or organizations. In many ways, it made the 1990’s far more dangerous than the actual Cold War had ever been. Making matters even more fun, Amanda and I were called upon every now and then to deal with the occasional Twilight Zone-like situation that would easily defy all our preconceived notions of reality.
During those years, I was happy as a kid that had just sleepily stumbled into the living room on Christmas morning to find Santa had brought everything he wanted and more. And just like a kid I was caught completely off guard when it suddenly ended.
Department 10’s only real government oversight came from a small panel chaired by whoever was the Vice President at that moment. Since its establishment in the late 1940’s a strict hands off approach was maintained, that is until 2003 when the sitting Vice President decided Department 10 was going to begin cooperating with certain groups outside the government to promote an agenda more in tune with the administration. Dr. Jamison totally refused citing long-standing policies of Department 10 being outside the normal governmental fray. The Vice President promptly replaced Dr. Jamison with an individual who had none of the scientific credential required to even begin to remotely understand what our group dealt with on a usual basis.
The new director of Department 10 did have one thing going for him, a lowbrow bureaucratic cunning that knew how to manipulate and divide our group. Right from the start, Amanda agreed with this new direction for Department 10, to the point it quickly ended both our professional and personal relationships. The day we said our final goodbyes I had every intention of never seeing her again, I had always known that at her core she was a cold and calculating person but her betrayal of Dr. Jamison and embrace of the new regime was far too much to accept. However, a little over a year later our paths crossed again one last time proving Amanda lacked not just simple empathy but the most basic principles that make a person human.
I was in Paris chasing down one of the last rogue Russian scientists. This particular guy was in France trying to arrange for a group of Uzbek smugglers to take him across the rapidly shrinking Aral Sea located in central Asia to an island where the Soviets had built a highly secure biological weapons research station. The various national intelligence communities believed the scientist wanted to retrieve a vial of enhanced smallpox. Normally Department 10 agents would not be tasked with such a “normal” mission but I figured since I was in the proverbial doghouse the new director just wanted to keep me busy and out of sight.
Out of nowhere I received a message from Dr. Jamison to drop everything and link up with one of Department 10’s special reaction teams outside Warsaw, Poland. The old man explained that the entire smallpox mission was a deception to get the required assets in place to stop something far worse than a new global pandemic. It did not surprise me that even though Jamison was officially “retired” he had the pull to move both people and materials.
Because of Dr. Jamison’s prior planning the Special Reaction Team and I were in position in only a few hours after I received my message. The section of Warsaw we found ourselves was a bright and shiny new industrial park built just a few short years after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Our initial recon of the area showed it nearly deserted since it was close to two o’clock in the morning with most of the local businesses running strictly daytime operations.
Despite that all the new structures we passed on the way in the warehouse we found ourselves about to assault seemed like some World War Two relic, almost to the point I half expected to see German soldiers guarding the fence that surrounded the perimeter instead of blissfully unaware Polish State Security types sitting inside modern cars smoking cigarettes. Always the master strategist his one last piece of advice was to split my team with the other half held in reserve. It did not make any sense but since the Poles looked like sheep waiting for the slaughter I did as he suggested.
“Security is amazingly slack,” the Special Reaction Team leader said while looking through a pair of binoculars.
“Yeah,” I replied, “it seems whoever is running this operation has taken the tactic of hiding in plain sight to the extreme.”
The actual assault of the warehouse perimeter went off without a hitch with the cops being taken out without any bloodshed other than bruised egos on their part. Once we went into the warehouse though it was all I could do to prevent the Special Reaction troopers from terminating the collection of scientists and lab technicians we found inside.
The entire warehouse was made up of sections of human bodies either laid out on dissection tables or mounted upright on special platforms. Both fine electrical wires and miniature fiber optic leads could be seen running out of the body parts and into nearby computer terminals. The worst sights though were the ones where there was some sort of electronic interfaces devices coming out of exposed human brains, many of these test subjects were children who were in some fashion still alive although thankfully, none seemed conscious. The thought that I could never shake was that it was a surreal combination of Dachau and information age technology.
The scientists and lab technicians quickly and easily ratted out the senior person who surprisingly thought our intrusion was a huge insult given that he worked for Department 10 and reported directly to Assistant Director Amanda Grey.
“Grab every hard drive and optical disk! Medics, start checking these people, maybe a few can be saved! After that we’re blowing this hellhole!” I yelled to the troopers inside the warehouse.
Just as I was going to order the other half of my team Jamison had said I needed to keep in reserve to come in and help with the collecting of evidence I received a radio message from the troops left outside covering the perimeter. “There are five military helicopters off in the distance heading our way. Three transports and two attacks and my guess is that they are coming for us.” The trooper said calmly.
Standing there amongst all that systematic evil knowing full well at least a few of those people in those incoming choppers were possible former friends of mine I answered back the only way I could. “Bring them all down, and then look for survivors. Someone is going to pay for what we found here.”
The wreckage of the downed helicopters started huge fires that eventually sweep through the nice new industrial park. It was especially good cover from the explosions that destroyed the laboratory where all those unfortunate souls were being experimented on. We could not save any of the subjects that had gone through that unspeakable hell, they had all been dissected to the point there was simply not enough left of them to live without life support equipment. As for survivors from the wreckage, I was somehow still surprised when they pulled Amanda out. Not only had she escaped with her life but aside from a few minor cuts and being unconscious she was unhurt. From what I knew about her history before we met she was always the type that survived no matter what.
Two more Special Reaction Teams loyal to Dr. Jamison arrived and we all quickly escaped to a freighter waiting for us in the Baltic Sea. Dr. Jamison was on the ship and had arranged a teleconference with both the new Director of Department 10 and the Vice President.
Of course the Vice President displayed a cool detachment on one screen claiming no knowledge of what was going on all the while the new director squirmed in his seat on the other obviously realizing he was playing the role of convenient scapegoat. Amanda, with her wrists and ankles cuffed, on the other hand confessed saying the project was an attempt to develop the technology to teleoperate a human being.
Both Dr. Jamison and the Vice President began playing hardball with the former saying he was going to release all the collected information and pictures on the internet while the latter said he could have a missile take out our freighter in under an hour. It was an impasse until Dr. Jamison mentioned the carefully engineered vial of Russian smallpox virus the Vice President and his staff had been exposed to a few weeks before. And that all it took for the virus to become active was exposure to a couple of fairly common catalysts.
The endgame reached between the Vice President and Dr. Jamison was the sudden and fatal heart attack of the new director of Department 10 a few days later and that everyone who had participated in the attack on the Warsaw warehouse would be allowed to return to civilian life unmolested. Despite the Vice President going into a rage Dr. Jamison refused to turn over the smallpox antidote saying he was going to make sure Department 10 never tried anything like those monstrous Warsaw experiments again.
The big winner in all this was Amanda who became the new director of Department 10. In fact she was giving orders even before the wrist and ankle cuffs were removed. Both Amanda and Dr. Jamison wanted me to stay on with Department 10 but I simply could not look at her and not want to slit her throat. Hell, even the Vice President wanted me to stay but as I looked at those cold dead eyes of his enlarged on the screen I realized if one person scared me it was him. Without saying anything I wanted until the freighter docked in London and like every good spy I had grabbed one of my prepositioned Rabbit Hole bags filled with money various passports, and other items helpful to someone who wants to disappear and then did my best to fall off the face of the earth.
The fact that Amanda found me was a testament to her intelligence but as I sat across from her I still felt the burning rage at the monstrous experiments she ran. Only the fact that I did not want to commit suicide prevented me from trying to crash the plane we were on. With nothing better to do, mainly sense I did not want to look at the woman, I took the computer tablet she had offered and began reading up on the case she wanted me to become involved with.
“You’re bullshitting me,” I said, “There’s no way any of this could be true,”
(Author's note: Part three will be in the final segment and if all the planets align and my wife does not try to kill me with yard work like last Saturday I should have it done by Sunday.)