Human Resources: Part Three
by Mark Brand.
updated: 03.2.7-9: 13 July 2006.
Human Resources: Part Two.

Human Resources: Part One.

forum: night.blind: Human Resources

a collaborative fiction.

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night.blind: 03.2.1: 07 February 2006: Mark Brand.


        "Mother fucker…" Dante cursed violently. A curved needle perforated the flesh in his calf for the final time.

        "Almost done," the doc said. The doc was a nurse, and the nurse was still in nursing school. On the bright side, he did have a genuine sterile suture kit.

        Dante sat on a high-seated laboratory stool in the basement physiology lab of Hitch Community College. His bad leg was resting on another stool. The light was good, and the lab had a door that locked and no windows. Dante didn't care to guess what sorts of grim vivisection went on in this room. The entire space smelled of formaldehyde and a brand of biocide designed to clean gore off of stainless steel instruments.

        Dante had been injured before a number of times, and sewn up without anesthetic, but he had never learned to tolerate it well. His calf wound had been painless for hours after the initial injury, but had slowly turned into a beastly, howling semi-agony. Putting weight on the calf sometimes sent an infuriating burning sensation up and down his leg.

        He had decided at the last minute to delay his trip to the Grange for a bit longer. He was a complete mess, and it wouldn't be at all encouraging to the men and women under his supervision if he showed up looking half-dead. The insurance policy who had answered the distress call in the Sentra happened to be roommates with a nurse. Red Sentra's name was Dustin, and his nursing student friend's lab coat said "Boner" where the name should have been.

        "Twice a day," nurse Boner said, offering him a handful of antibiotic ointment samples. Dante nodded and took them. There was no braggadocio here; no Dirty Harry 'stick it up your ass'. He fully intended to return to the Grange as gracefully as possible, and avoid any idiotic entanglements like a preventable infection.

        "The sutures come out in ten days, not before."

        "What do I do?"

        "Do you have one of those little kits like from Sears of men's grooming tools?"

        Dante vaguely remembered getting one for Christmas a few years before.

        "Take the nose-hair scissors and dip them in alcohol or bleach for ten minutes, then just clip under one side of the knots. Make sure they come all the way out. Tweezers if you need to."

        Dante nodded.

        "Ten days, not before. No matter how much they itch."

        "Got it."

        Dante looked up at Dustin, who was sitting on a counter next to a dozen dissection trays. Evidently the pizza man with the red Sentra wasn't as slow as he looked. Dustin hopped down and looked at Boner with a surprisingly-serious expression on his face.

        "Bone, you can't ever tell anybody about this. If you do…" he held up his hands as if to say: that's it.

        The nurse looked at Dustin and then back at Dante.

        "Hey I can't tell anyone anyway. It's doctor-patient privacy."

        "You're not a doctor, Boner," Dante said, slowly, "but you're right. You won't be telling anyone about this."

        The nurse's face went rapidly white.

        "It's not as bad as that," Dante said, cracking a smile, "I work for the government, that's all. Me being here is a national security issue. If you tell anyone I was here, the NSA will lock you away forever."

        Dante reached into his wallet and retrieved a hefty stack of cash. It amounted to just over $2500. He pressed it into the nurse's lab coat pocket. Boner looked at it as if Dante had just handed him a shrunken head. Dante took the nurse aside, conspiratorially, and spoke in a low voice.

        "We don't expect you to work for free, but again, this is strictly found money. Don't deposit it into a bank account or spend it all in one place. And for Christ's sake, don't claim it on your taxes."

        At this, nurse Boner snorted a little.

        "No way, man," he agreed.

        "I knew you'd understand," Dante reassured him.

        Dante smiled and put his jacket on.

        Dustin accompanied him back to the surface of the campus's science building. The above-ground portion of Shermer Hall was a hideous late-50's utilitarian construction of glass and blue/gray metal. Dante thought Mies van der Rohe's soulless Modernist trash probably impressed the narrow-minded, lower-middle class drones that came here to earn their Associate degrees.

        The nurse left them at the lab door.

        "Thanks again," he shook Boner's hand. "In all seriousness, though, if the money leaves a trail that can be followed more than $50 at a time, you're a dead man."

        He smiled once more into nurse Boner's terrified face and walked back toward the parking lot. Dustin followed at his heels like a cocker spaniel.


night.blind: 03.2.2: 21 June 2006: Mark Brand.


        Some people are possessed of a particularly keen sense of self-preservation. The Lawyer, one of the two marginally-effective musclemen under Dante's departmental umbrella, happened to be one of these.

        "One word, just say one fucking word to me," Dante growled at him as the Lawyer scurried around behind him in the long hallway under the Grange. He stopped and looked the nondescript G-man in the eyes. The Lawyer's eyelashes were twitching microcosmically, but he was otherwise utterly still and silent. This was all well, as Dante fully intended to kill him where he stood if he dared speak.

        The Lawyer, whose name was probably something old-Germanic with the prefix "Lieutenant", waited mutely under Dante's steely gaze.

        "No roadblocks?" Dante asked him, point blank.

        The Lawyer said nothing. Dante turned and continued down the long barrel of subterranean tunnel toward the viewer pods. The Director's hands clenched and unclenched at his sides. The feeling of anger was electric in the air around him, as it always felt when his hand was forced.

        "The lack of backup, I understand. Someone fucked me. But you couldn't have thrown up one fucking roadblock?"

        Dustin trailed behind the two of them at a distance of about ten paces. Despite being fully aware of his predicament, the pizza man found it difficult to avoid staring openly at the Grange's brave new world. They reached the end of the hallway finally, and boarded a smallish elevator lined with panels of bare stainless steel. The doors clunked shut and they descended.

        "Is Majestic-21 still with us?"

        "Yes sir. She managed to keep you locked for most of the engagement in Syracuse, but she lost you when…"


        "When Captain… er… Susan, went down."

        "So there was no coverage of the road-trip at all?"

        The Lawyer consulted his Palm Pilot. Tiny taps accented the hum of elevator mechanics. Dustin winced and reached up to stick his fingers in his ears.

        "Wow," he said, "this sucker goes deep."

        Dante and the Lawyer both stared blankly at him for a moment. Dustin suddenly became intensely interested in the floor riveting.

        "It appears that eight of the Majestics on-site performed freelocks at some point during the last twelve hours, but the only one who held a sustained, pod-assisted lock in the last six hours was…"

        "Majestic-02," Dante finished.

        The Lawyer looked at him for a moment, trying to hide his surprise, and quietly replaced the stylus into the side of the PDA.

        The elevator finally reached the floor they had selected, which was designated by the letters BV rather than a numeral. The elevator doors slid open to reveal yet another lengthy hallway, this one broken at intervals by heavy, institutional doors. Dante set off quickly down the hall. He already knew where he was going.

        "I want to see the playlists for everyone for the last 24 hours. Every single fucking one of them, no exceptions. I have the clearance. After you get those for me, I want you to inform Major General Rockland that the chicken has come home to fucking roost. I'll be in my office, but I need to stop by somewhere else first."


        Dante whirled at the sound of his name. Dustin, already somewhat mollified by his odyssey through the bowels of the Grange, nearly tripped over himself.

        "Err... sir."

        "What is it?"

        "Can I go now?"

        Dante looked briefly at the Lawyer and nodded.

        "Sure, goodbye," said Dante. He continued down the hallway.

        The Lawyer pulled out a silenced pistol and with the other hand grabbed a handful of Dustin's polyester windbreaker jacket.

        "Huh? Wha—"

        The Lawyer backed him toward an unmarked door with an emergency bar on it. Dustin's ass hit the bar and the sound startled a yelp from him. The Lawyer pushed him through the door.

        "Hey man! Wait—"

        The insurance policy's voice was cut off by a click that might have been the pistol's hammer being thumbed back or the door closing behind them. In either case, it was the last Dante heard of him.


night.blind: 03.2.3: 21 June 2006: Mark Brand.


        He knew that the building would be watching him. He would have to move quickly. The hallways weren't monitored as heavily as the pods, but there would be electric eyes on him just the same.

        Dante paused briefly in the hallway at a red security locker and held his ID card near it. The tiny wire coil inside the plastic card was recognized by the smart lock and the flat handle-less door popped open. In the event of a fire or loss of electricity, the lockers were accessible to anyone. Inside were a fire extinguisher, a pair of micro-filter breathing masks, a flashlight and some firearms. The Grange-issued pistols and submachine guns were locked with a separate key. Even though a key to unlock them dangled from Dante's keychain, he ignored them. He took, instead, the final item from the locker, an emergency fire axe.

        Majestics 16 and 17, buddy-buddy as ever, were loitering in the main passage and huddled close. Dante caught Matty Rose's eye and so, apparently, did the axe. Rose grabbed Norris around the shoulder and the two of them ducked into pod 17. The door shut gingerly, but Dante paid them no heed. He passed the door to Margaret's room, from which emanated the mild smell of stale food and teenager. He would deal with her later.

        Finally, Dante stood in front of the door to Arthur Glenrock's pod. He took a deep breath, and knocked lightly on the door. It was late afternoon, and unlikely that the old man would be napping. Dinner was soon to be served in the cafeteria, and Glenrock always showed up dressed and on time to his meals.

        "Yes," the reply came from within, "just a second, I'm not dressed."

        The instant Dante heard the voice, he unlocked the pod door and carefully opened it to avoid hitting the desk behind it. The door opened only to about forty-five degrees before stopping against the desktop. He took a step back and swung the axe down viciously. The wood which he had taken for mahogany was actually just pine veneered with a quarter inch of the more expensive hardwood. The axe bit deeply into it with a muted chopping sound. He pried it loose and swung again, this time taking getting almost completely through. He could hear running water from the pod's bathroom sink. Glenrock turned to look out the bathroom door at him as Dante swung the third time.

        The corner of the desktop, and a chunk of the leg under it, came loose with a woody clatter on the linoleum floor.

        "What the fucking hell—"

        Glenrock stared at him with eyes wide. The old Viewer stood in the back of the pod, safety razor in hand, wearing a wife-beater style t-shirt and half a faceful of shaving cream.

        Dante said nothing. Instead, he kicked the door open completely and buried the axe in the middle of the desktop, pinning to it a pile of loose papers. He left it there, handle sticking up at a jaunty angle, and closed the distance between Glenrock and himself with two big strides. Glenrock put both hands out in front of him, with the safety razor at the end of one, as though the cheap little plastic thing were a knife. Dante barely noticed the man swing the razor at his face. A quick, reflexive strike to the forearm sent the lime-green razor skittering off to the corner of the pod. Majestic-2 made a teeth-gritting, guttural cry and held on tightly to his snapped wrist. Dante planted a hand in the middle of his sternum and shoved him backward. The old man stumbled on his heels and fell, striking the back of his head on the hard-plastic edge of his bathtub.

        Dante kneeled with his knee in the middle of Glenrock's left thigh, and took his head between his hands. Glenrock's thinning gray hair was wrapped in Dante's fists, and Dante bent his neck back painfully over the edge of the plastic. Rings of old-man grime and mildew lined the basin.

        "Art," Dante said.

        Glenrock looked at him blankly, still dazed from the fall.

        "ART," Dante shouted, pulling hard on the old man's hair.

        Glenrock's face scrunched painfully and he let out a yelp of pain. His eyes returned to focus and he stared up at Dante like a wounded and cornered animal.

        "Who told them where we'd be?"

        "Wha—" Glenrock started to ask, dumbly.

        Dante grabbed Glenrock's left pinky finger and yanked hard upward. The finger broke and stood upward at a ninety degree angle. Glenrock squealed like a woman.

        "Who told them where we'd be?" Dante grabbed Arthur's head again and pressed it hard against the tub.

        "Someone else," Glenrock said, though his uncooperative vocal cords made it sound like summon esse.

        "Who? You're the only one who freelocked. Who are they and who told them we'd be there?"

        Glenrock started to shake his head side to side, and Dante bashed him against the bathtub again to make him stop. The old man lay there for a moment bonelessly. Dante grabbed two good handfuls of Glenrock's hair and hoisted him up and over the edge of the tub. Dante bent his throat over the edge of the hard plastic and spoke into his ear. His face was so close he could see Glenrock's carotid pulsing thinly against the gray flesh of his neck.

        "Art, listen to me. You're going to tell me who did this to me, or I'm going to break your neck right here, on the edge of your bathtub."

        The man's eyes popped wide, and a gurgle escaped his throat.

        "That's right. I can see you haven't used your Tilex in a while. You sure you want the last thing you see to be your bathtub ring?"

        Glenrock's eyes danced with terror, and he said nothing. Dante let up enough for him to answer.

        "Where is Jasper?" Dante asked.


        "I know he's gone. Where did they take him?"

        "Director Nagel," a voice said in his ear. He felt the cold metal of a gun barrel.


night.blind: 03.2.4: 28 June 2006: Mark Brand.


        The voice startled Dante so much that he nearly dropped Glenrock. He turned slowly to see Major Rockland's assistant Cady Morrow standing under the bathroom doorway with a pistol in her hand. The two stared at each other for a moment. Slowly, he let Glenrock fall to the bathroom tile.

        "Hello, Miss Morrow," he said cautiously.

        "Hello, Dante."

        "You realize that it's at my discretion to deal with the Majestics as I see fit?"

        "Of course," she said patiently. "If you wish to retire Majestic-2, that's completely within your operational scope, though there will be consequences if the killing is unwarranted."

        "It'll be warranted."

        Morrow lowered the pistol slightly and forced a smile.

        "The Major General received news that you had returned. She expected you for debriefing an hour ago, but given your circumstances, she wanted me to let you know she understands."

        Alarm bells went off in his head. His superiors never understood. They never understood success, and certainly they didn't understand failure. All they understood were their directives and whether or not they were met.

        "Tell Sabra that I have reason to believe Majestic-2 sold me and my acquisition team out to a third party. He has information about who they are and what they've done with the asset I was supposed to acquire."

        "You can tell her yourself in a minute, hence the debriefing. She wants to see you upstairs."

        "Where the hell was my backup?" Dante asked her, standing slowly. Rockland's assistant let the pistol drop towards the floor, but didn't put it away.

        "Major General told me to tell you that she apologizes for that, and that something has happened in the interim to prevent an effective rescue mission. All our resources were tied up elsewhere."

        "What happened?"

        "Something bigger than the Grange is going on."

        Another not-answer.

        "The fucking eyeballs were freelocking all this time and something too big was going on for me to get some goddamn backup?" He tried to sound reasonable. She did, after all, have a gun.

        "I think we had better take the conversation somewhere else," she said, gesturing at Glenrock.

        "Just a second."

        Dante pulled out his cell phone and speed-dialed the number for the Lawyer. The number, which was an internal panic number of sorts and meant to bring them running, went straight to voicemail. This was bad. If the Lawyer and Stock Broker were gone, he was completely on his own. Dante pretended to speak to someone.

        Hello, this is the extension of Lieutenant Gabriel Spitzer, please leave your…

        "It's Dante, listen, come down here and clean this mess up. Glenrock needs some medical attention."

        …I'll return your call as soon as possible…

        "Put him somewhere in isolation till I get back."

        Dante clicked the phone shut. Miss Morrow cocked an eyebrow at him.

        "All right, let's go."

        Morrow finally holstered her weapon under her suit-jacket and they made their way to the front of the pod. The doorway was strewn with debris and pieces of broken wood from the desk. They needed to negotiate the mess, and Dante gestured for her to go first. As she began to pick her way around the mangled corner of the desk, Dante grasped the handle of the axe and pulled it loose. For a wonder, it came out silently, and Miss Cady Morrow was facing the hallway when he buried the blade of the axe into the back of her head.


night.blind: 03.2.5: 28 June 2006: Mark Brand.


        Dante dragged Rockland's assistant into the bathroom by the back of her collar. The axe still stuck out of her skull, and her eyes stared sightlessly at the ceiling. Glenrock was still breathing, but he was unresponsive. He grabbed the broken finger and the old man didn't move. Dante started the bathtub running water and hauled Glenrock into the tub, face-down. The water pooled slowly at first, but then made it up to the level of Glenrock's mouth. He started coughing reflexively when water started being inhaled with air. The water soon turned pink with blood and covered Glenrock's face completely. Dante pulled Cady's corpse in on top of him to weigh the old man down and closed the bathroom door behind him, leaving the water running. He locked Glenrock's pod and made his way up to his office. The hallway was deadly silent, and no one dared poke their heads out of their doors.

        Dante mounted the stairs up to his office and was unsurprised to find it completely empty. Susan's reception desk was exactly as she had left it, which brought visions of her dying on the hotel floor swimming into his head.

        He picked up her telephone, which had a blinking red light for missed calls.

        "You have… eighty-four… unheard messages. To listen to your messages, press 1… to review old messages press 2… for other options—"

        Dante slammed the phone handset down and went into his own office. His own desk, in contrast, appeared to have been shuffled through since he last was there. His files on the Majestics looked disarrayed somehow, and when he checked them he found meaningless fax confirmation sheets in the place of the files that were supposed to have been.

        He heard a footstep in the hallway. He ducked his head down involuntarily and crouched behind his desk. Here, and unarmed, there was nothing he could do if Rockland or one of her lapdogs found him. He had already narrowly escaped being erased once today, and didn't want to be tested a second time. He peeked under his desk and saw a thick set of feminine ankles with rainbow-painted toenails.

        "Mr. Nagel," Margaret Barnaby said tentatively.

        Dante peeked over the top of the desk. The girl was alone, and stood in a pair of shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt. She looked down at the floor as he came up from behind his desk, clearly embarrassed to be there.

        "Oh. Hello, Margaret. You startled me."

        "Sorry about that, sir," she said.

        "What is it?

        She scrunched her nose beneath her glasses, as if trying to think of a good way to say it.

        "Is Susan…?"

        "You know she is," Dante said sternly. "You can't lock her; you know she's gone."

        "Th-that's what I thought. The thing is…"

        Dante stared at her, and the girl suddenly found words failing her. He knew that wrapping an arm around her beefy shoulders would encourage her to say whatever it was she had to say, but there were more pressing details to consider at the moment.

        "Talk while we walk," he said to her, hurrying her out of the office and up the hallway toward his living quarters.

        "You know how you said that I couldn't lock onto Susan anymore?"

        "Mmm hmm," Dante replied, checking the corner of the hallway before proceeding. It was empty.

        "Well, I tried locking onto the little baby, too, and I wasn't able to get him."

        "He's a Viewer. Glenrock couldn't get him either. Sometimes that happens. We don't know who he's with so we can't lock them…"

        "Right, but I could lock him before—"

        "Doesn't matter," Dante said, cutting her off. "Listen, do you have any idea who took him? Did you get any sense of who they were in the ambush team?"

        "You… you killed all of them," she said, helplessly.

        Dante opened the door to his apartment.

        "No, I mean the couple at the rest-stop."

        "What couple?" she asked.

        He could have slapped himself. Of course she didn't know what couple. She had lost the lock back in Syracuse. He turned on her and took her by both shoulders.

        "Margaret," he said, "I really only need one thing, and I would love it if you'd do it for me."

        She gave him a confused look.

        "Don't worry, it's my responsibility. You're just following orders like everyone else."

        She looked at him doubtfully.

        "I need you to go down to your pod and try to establish a lock on Major General Rockland."


night.blind: 03.2.6: 28 June 2006: Mark Brand.


        "Can you hear me, Margaret?" asked Dante.

        "Gotcha," she said.

        He put the earpiece for his cell phone behind his ear and pocketed the handset.

        "Wait till I tell you before you go into the tank, understand?"


        He rifled through his closet, looking for the small steel locker with the numeric lock. He found it at the bottom, under a shirt that he had left there. He typed in the combination and took out his Colt automatic and a spare magazine. It felt steady in his hand and even more reassuring tucked into his waistband.

        He left his apartment and took the elevator up past Clinical Pharmacology and towards the administrative floors and the Majestic level security office. This was the nerve-center that controlled the pods and the cameras that overlooked the entire Majestic living space. He keyed the door with his card and typed a number into the door panel and it opened for him. A young Private who he had never seen before was sitting at one of the terminals. He appeared to be the only one there.

        "What's up?" Dante said, and shot the man as he turned. He dragged the body off of the terminal and locked the door behind him. At the numerous computer screens were rotating video feeds from the pods. He waited till the feed for Majestic-21 flashed up and he froze the rotation.

        "Still there?"

        "I'm here," Margaret replied, shrugging slightly. He could see her in the pod: pale, flabby and naked except for her underpants and the breather apparatus. "What was that noise?"

        "Nothing. I dropped something. All right, you're set to lock. Go ahead."

        She dipped into the tank and he watched her go under.

        "Eyes," she asked instinctually.

        "Eyes read, Majestic-21," Dante said quietly. His voice was rendered electronically by the computer and transmitted to her underwater.


        "Permission granted."

        "I'm patching your through to my headset," Dante told her.

        "Are you Eyes?" she asked him.

        "I am today."

        "Ok. This should only take a second."

        Dante left the security office and made his way carefully down the hall toward the elevator. He made it there without incident. Strangely, there was no one else in the hallway. Only one floor above him now was the level reserved for Major General Rockland and the other administrative staff. "She's not being easy to get a good lock on."

        "Keep trying."

        "I'll get it, don't worry."

        Dante found the advice hilarious. He had gone off the reservation now, and there was no turning back. He could do nothing but worry.

        The elevator chimed as it stopped on the administrative floor. Dante rechecked his pistol as the doors opened.

        "I've got her," Margaret said.


night.blind: 03.2.7: 13 July 2006: Mark Brand.


        There was something un-right about the lobby of the Grange's admin wing. The last time he had been there was less than a week ago, but it seemed like the large wood-paneled room had aged a decade in that time. The carpet, which had been a rich lustrous red wine color, seemed to have picked up half a dozen scuff marks and dirt tracks in the interim.

        The desk that Cady Morrow usually occupied was empty, of course. Her headset hung ready on a wire loop that jutted up from her telephone like an upside-down coat hanger. The large steel-cored cherry office door was closed, but light spilled out from under its bottom edge. It was only when Dante noticed that the brass handle was not so shiny as usual that it dawned on him that what looked different was the fact that the room had not seen the housekeeping crew in at least a day or two.

        Everything seemed more used than usual. This registered in some far-away place in Dante's mind, but he was carried too quickly by his own angry momentum to stop now. The chairs across from Cady's desk were dusty. This was unequivocally peculiar, given that there generally wasn't much in the way of dust down here. Dante touched the brass handle, which he didn't need to pull. It slid away mechanically to his right on a hidden track.

        "Why didn't you st—?" Sabra Rockland's voice cut off sharply as she looked up from her desk.

        The Lawyer and Stock Broker were seated in Rockland's office in the cheap metal and polyester chairs across from her with their backs to Dante. Both of them turned and threw sheepish looks over their shoulders at him as he entered. The Stock Broker made as if to rise to his feet, but Dante's pistol was already trained on his head. The two corporate pipe-hitters sat back against their chairs and waited for the end.

        Dante kept his pistol trained on all three of them, and stood so that the Lawyer and Stock Broker were between himself and Rockland. To her credit, she did not stutter or stammer, but took a few shallow breaths in preparation for what she was going to say. Dante saw this, and realized that whatever came out of her mouth was sure to be poison honey.

        "Dante, what in the fuck are you doing in my office?"

        Her abrasive drill-sergeant tone stopped him in his tracks for an instant.

        "Director Nagel, what the fuck are you doing in my office with a weapon drawn?"

        He gritted her teeth and let her scream at him, this time coolly letting it pass over him. This was misdirection straight out of The Art of War. Dante had a copy of it on his desk.

        "Hey em gee." He said, personably, "We need to talk."

        "Stand at attention, soldier!" she howled.

        Dante fired a round into the desk. Splinters of wood blew across her face and she recoiled with both hands. The men in the chairs jumped a little at the report, but made no other move.

        "Em gee, I'm done standing at attention. For right this second, you're going to give me your attention, and I'm going to try hard not to shoot you."

        "This will end badly, Nagel," the Stock Broker said, suddenly piping up. Dante hit him across the back of the skull with the barrel of the Colt. The Stock Broker held both hands over his head and ducked down into his chair as far as he could go. Dante hit him again and blood oozed from his creased scalp. The man immediately started to cry.

        The Lawyer looked up hesitantly. Dante locked eyes with him for an instant.

        "Don't make any assumptions about me, Lieutenant."

        The Lawyer nodded. The Stock Broker was now softly sobbing and sputtering, curled into a near-fetal position on his chair. Rockland sat behind her desk in the same place as before. Aside from shouting, she had wisely remained perfectly still. Her left hand was flat on the desk, and he turned the pistol back on her.

        "Right hand."

        She nodded and slowly brought it out from under the desk. Her slowness was due to the boxy, small-framed Ingram submachine gun that she held in her right hand. She triggered the magazine release and it fell to the desktop. She placed the gun beside it, and rested both hands flat on the desk.


night.blind: 03.2.8: 13 July 2006: Mark Brand.


        "You've lost perspective, Dante," the Major General said to him.

        "I suppose that's easy to do when a fucking camper explodes in your face."

        "I didn't know anything about that."

        "It's not as if you haven't got two dozen fucking Weathermen around here. If anyone knows which way the wind blows, it's you."


        "Em gee, you're wearing my name out. I want to hear other names. A man and a woman. Another team from another unit?"

        "I'm not at the top of the chain."

        "You're high enough."

        Rockland took a few deep breaths and looked straight into Dante's eyes.

        "You can't possibly understand how out of your depth you are right now," she said with a resigned sigh.

        "That's right. I can't. Because no one ever fucking lets me in on it. I got no backup when the camper blew. I had to call some dumbass level 8 asset that I bailed out of jail one time to come and get me."

        She nodded.

        "We had already activated every reliable asset in the area to converge for another project. Something big has been going on while you were out."

        "So these fucks told me."

        The Stock Broker was still cradling his bleeding head.

        "I take it you weren't able to get the baby."

        "The hell I wasn't. I had Jasper in the glove and I was less than a hundred miles from home."

        Her eyes narrowed with what looked like genuine suspicion.

        "Start at the beginning," she said.

        Dante relaxed a bit. Perhaps this would be all right after all. He could almost imagine a universe in which he wouldn't be disciplined for killing a Majestic asset without documented cause or official blessing, much less storming armed into his commanding officer's sanctum and holding her at gunpoint.

        He proceeded to tell her about the setup, the ambush, Susan, the long drive, and finally the camper incident. Rockland listened intently to all of this. Dante admitted to himself that he saw no subterfuge behind her eyes. Either she was terrifically good at lying or she genuinely had no idea what he'd been through.

        "How did you lose contact?"

        "My headset was disconnected, and I had twenty-one keeping an eye on us."

        "May I check something?"

        Dante nodded. Rockland slowly typed something into the glass top of her desk. The backward-tilted computer screen brought up a log of playlists. She perused it for a moment, and then slowly turned the screen towards him. The duty log for the day of the kidnapping was incomplete.

        "We never heard anything about this."

        "I did too check in, and then again when I couldn't get a lock," Margaret hissed in his earpiece.

        Dante frowned at Rockland.

        "Who was running Eyes?"

        "I'd have to check the duty log."

        "No you don't. You fucking know who it was."

        She held up her hands and rolled her eyes.

        "All right, if I assume that you're right and someone dropped the ball along the way, they'll be disciplined. But there were extenuating circumstances."

        "So you've said, but no one will tell me what they are."

        Rockland nodded, and stared at her desk for a moment. Her hand hovered over a key, and she pushed it slowly and deliberately.

        The monitor facing him switched to a video feed from the Grange's closed-circuit security cameras. Dante forgot everything else as he looked at it.

        "It can't…. When was this?"

        But he had no sooner gotten the last words out than the Lawyer dove for the floor beside him.

        "Look out!" Margaret shrieked in his earpiece. He ducked instinctively and saw Rockland's hands flash to the Ingram on the desktop.


night.blind: 03.2.9: 13 July 2006: Mark Brand.


        Rockland's office exploded in ear-popping gunfire. The Ingram was a fast, obnoxiously-loud weapon, and the bullets roared against the wood paneling as Dante ducked behind her desk and out of the way. He put his Colt up and over the edge of the desk and fired a couple of rounds at random. He knew he hadn't hit anything because another ripping burst of fire tore chunks out of the desktop where his hand was a moment before.

        Deafened by the gunshots, he couldn't hear Margaret anymore in his earpiece, who was warning him that the Lawyer was turning around on the floor like a fish flopping on dry land. The Lawyer kicked Dante in the ribs, hard, and Dante felt something desperate in his spine and ribcage give. A tingling, radiating numbness threatened to make his left arm go numb, but never completely took hold. Given the wash of spearing pain that followed, he would almost have preferred it. Dante turned the Colt on the Lawyer and shot him in the throat.

        Just then, Rockland came around the edge of the desk behind him, walking in a squat like a duck. She was just leveling the Ingram at him as he turned and he sprung prone and got his head and shoulders around the left hand front corner, hoping she would shoot only his legs instead of his head or chest.

        As it was, however, she didn't shoot anything. The weapon misfired, and as she pulled the slide back to clear the round from the chamber Dante scurried around the length-wise edge of the desk. He tried to take a deep breath, but his ribcage protested with an explosive stabbing pain. He popped his head and arm around the corner of the desk and squeezed off a shot reflexively. This made Rockland, who was waiting patiently for him to do so, flinch. When she returned fire it was wide and to the left, and he was able to duck back behind the desk before the wood once more fluttered with bullet strikes.

        Dante decided to try looking under the desk, and saw only a small sliver of the heels of her boots at floor level. The he saw something even better. His ears still rung from the gunfire, but he saw the long rectangular magazine from the Ingram fall to the floor. He slid the Colt under the bottom edge of the desk and tried squeezing a few shots at her feet, hoping for a lucky ricochet. Her feet didn't move, but she propelled herself backward and away and he saw her rump land a few feet from where her feet had been. Just then his own pistol clicked empty and he made a dash for the door.

        Rockland's howl of frustration was barely audible in the puffy gunfire silence, but he knew he had timed it perfectly. Dante reached the door just as she slammed home a fresh magazine, and was through it and in the foyer before she could get a shot off. The automatic door hissed shut. He ran past Cady Morrow's desk and hit the elevator button for "up" with the palm of his hand.

        The door to Rockland's office was motionless. Dante reached for his remaining magazine and reloaded his pistol. There was no way she could have known that his gun was empty, and Dante knew she was hesitant to storm through a door where a bullet would meet her.

        The elevator door opened.

        Just as Dante wrapped himself around the opening and into the steel box of the elevator, Rockland's door slid open automatically. Dante fired twice at the doorway, not aiming, but there was no one there. Instead, on the floor was a light filing cabinet on wheels, that she had kicked over to the opening to trigger the automatic door. He pressed the button for Grange level, and just caught out of the corner of his eye Rockland leaping like a hurdler over the filing cabinet and into the foyer. She fired one long burst, into the closing elevator door and the fat pistol-sized submachine gun bullets poked metallic dents in the back of the elevator and the outer veneer. He crouched against the side panels and managed not to be hit.

        The elevator doors closed, and Dante was safe for at least the next ten seconds.


copyright 2004-2006 Mark Brand.
Mark Brand was born in 1978 and raised in Evans Mills, NY. He graduated from St. Lawrence University in 2001 with dual degrees in Biology and Sociology. He is a practicing Massage Therapist and currently lives in Evanston, IL with his wife Beth.

His previous literature credits include the short stories “Cameron’s Encyclopedia” and “The Cabana” in Silverthought: Ignition: A Speculative Fiction Anthology, “The Riot Act” and “Ballerina” in Alien Light: A Science Fiction Anthology, edited by Carl Rafala, and an essay in To Wound The Autumnal City, a 9-11 tribute edited by Paul Hughes. Additionally, his young adult novel The Prince and The Pitchman was published in 2002. His work has been featured on several websites including,, and he is a cofounder of the literary site