Under the Radar
by Russell Lutz.
updated: 1.8.5: 20 December 2007.
forum: night.blind: Under the Radar.

a collaborative fiction.

......... ....... .....  

night.blind: 01.8.1: 09 March 2005: Russell Lutz.

The Abduction

          The longest – and shortest – ten hours of Jason Alaniz’s life began with a phone call at 2:48 PM.  He pulled the little phone from the charger on his bedside table and hooked it over his ear, not willing to even expend the energy to sit up.  Only an adrenaline-filled syringe to the heart would have gotten him awake faster than the three words from the voice at the other end:

          “Yoda’s been taken.”

* * *

          The meeting wasn’t anywhere near the Oval, where various feel-good lullabies were currently being spoon fed to the Man behind the Big Desk.  This particular Man might even have been smart enough to realize the true powerlessness and out-of-the-loop-ness that his position had, at least at the present moment.  And possibly for many other moments besides.

          Jason came, instead, to the Treasury Building.  The SecTreas, Jason’s former boss, had made the horrifying call directly.  In the operatically dark and dramatic subterranean room were also the SecDef, the SecHomSec, the CJC, the NSCC, and the DCI – a veritable alphabet soup of power.  Jason couldn’t help but notice that he sported – despite the much ballyhooed gains in civil rights in the past fifty years – the darkest “tan” in the room.  Since he could also bench press any two of these men, he chose not to feel too intimidated by the racial disparity.

          “Jason,” the SecTreas cooed, needlessly buttering the agent’s ego.

          “Where’s my boss?” Jason asked immediately.  He wanted to help – more than anything he wanted to help – but he most certainly did not want to start up an internecine turf war between who knew how many factions of the Federal Government.

          “Right here, Jason,” came a voice from the conference phone in the middle of the table.  The FBI Director, Jason’s current employer, could be a callous and thankless old bitch, but Jason trusted her.  With that, he took his seat at the round table.

          From the six men in the room, and a potpourri of others on the – Jason hoped very secure – conference line, a picture emerged.

          At 10:04 AM this morning, Yoda’s class – along with several others from his elementary school – arrived at the National Museum for a field trip.  A team of fifteen Secret Service agents monitored the entire four hour extravaganza of five-year-old out-of-the-classroom mania.  Nothing untoward happened in the Museum. 

          At 2:03 PM, as a cleverly designed method of running the little monsters’ energy level down a bit before pushing them onto buses for the trip home, the teachers trooped all seventy-five children – Yoda included – to a nearby park.  Agents created a perimeter around the park.  This was their first mistake.

          At 2:26 PM, the teachers began herding the screaming, running, laughing kids back to the park entrance where the buses still sat, rumbling, waiting to hit the road.  Agent Waters visually confirmed Yoda’s presence in the crowd.

          At 2:27 PM, a bright and soon-to-be-promoted young tech in Surveillance caught a discrepancy between Agent Waters transmission, and the position of Yoda’s tracer on her screen.  Yoda was traveling away from the buses, not toward them.  She called for reconfirmation of Yoda’s position.

          At 2:28 PM, the soon-to-be-demoted Agent Waters changed her story.  The child she had assumed to be Yoda was, in fact, a remarkably similar looking child, wearing exactly the same clothing.  The Agent-in-Charge called for emergency response.  The children – except for the Yoda-look-alike – were shoved immediately into the buses and counted.  The teachers were sequestered.  The bus drivers were relieved of their duties and shuffled away as well.  The tech in Surveillance reported Yoda’s position – now stationary.  The agents converged, weapons drawn, on the location to find the pinkie-nail-sized tracer discarded under a thick holly bush; it was covered in blood.  It took the agents three minutes to confirm the blood belonged to Yoda.

          Jason took a deep breath.

          “Why me?”

          “Excuse me?” the DCI asked.  He’d been in his job just shy of forever and had grown accustomed to asking questions of underlings – i.e. everyone – not answering them.

          “Your history,” the SecTreas said quietly.

          Jason saw a crazy, looping trail of fire behind his eyes.  His left arm twitched involuntarily.

          “I’m flattered,” Jason murmured in a flat tone.  Every one in the room read his insincerity correctly.

          “Too many coincidences.”  The voice of his Director came through the phone.  “I know you’ve been under cover for a long time, but—”

          “It can’t be…” Jason said.  He looked down to the glass under his fingertips.  In the lower right corner glowed the date: January 13.  Ten years to the day.  “You said coincidences?  Plural?”

          The SecTreas answered the next question: “It was the same park.”

          The lightheaded, stomach turning, shaky-chilly feeling that hit Jason at that moment felt uncomfortably like an attack of long ignored hunger, but instead of wanting to eat, all Jason wanted to do was throw up.  He clenched thick fists, willed his body to calm, and nodded.

          “I’ll need everything,” he said in a voice stronger than he felt.  His eyes flitted to the DCI.

          “Of course,” the SecTreas said.  The DCI said nothing.

* * *

          The next two hours were an agonizing blur of force-fed information.  Jason partnered with the Agent-in-Charge from Yoda’s detail, Sarah Banter.  He had to admit she was a good choice for such a detail.  A willowy blonde with a pleasant smile and a pleasant voice.  She could put any child at ease, intercede with any intrusive adult, disarm an unruly teen of either gender with her subversively subtle sex appeal.

          The way she brought Jason up to speed – in an efficient and organized way – revealed intelligence which rivaled Jason’s own.

          Emotionally, she owned up to the responsibility for her failure, but didn’t let it overwhelm her with shame.  She was clearly committed to bringing Yoda back quickly and safely – or as safely as possible.  They already knew he was injured.

          The Yoda-look-alike offered them nothing.  The boy was mute, perhaps even mentally challenged in some way.  They also found inconclusive evidence of abuse.  Techs had already taken DNA samples to compare to FBI and local police files – maybe they’d be able to find his parents.

          The other students saw nothing.  The teachers saw less.  The agents provided excruciating detail that was nonetheless valueless.

          “You know what’s next?” Sarah asked in a sympathetic voice.

          “I’m not made of glass,” Jason growled at her.

* * *

          The park looked different empty: smaller, ironically enough.  A dozen or so officers ringed the place, keeping out civilians.  So far, none of this had hit the blogs yet, so press weren’t an issue.  Yet. Another contingent of techs scanned the park for additional evidence that didn’t exist.

          Wrought iron fence, rough black lacquer.  Jason gripped it as he stepped inside.

          A thousand screaming teenagers, holding signs, asking for poses for their camphones, yelling how much they love her.  Swan smiling sweetly for them all.  She deserves the idolatry.  Never has a First Daughter been so guileless, so pristine in her knowing innocence, or so deserving of her elegant Secret Service handle.

          Sarah led Jason past a swing set, sadly unused at the moment.  A jungle gym waited for sweaty-palmed youngsters to grasp at its rungs.  Giant metal ants, just the right size for five-year-old riders, marched in place through the immaculate grass.

          The game is heated.  Swan’s team is only three points in the lead.  She is a middling player, much more of a team captain than a star.  She rallies her mates, a collection of gangly fifteen-year-old girls.  A foul.  Twenty agents tense up.  Swan knows she must stand up and shake off the elbow to forestall something ugly disrupting her game.  The crowd cheers louder.

          “This is where we found the tracer,” Sarah said.  These bushes, planted some nine years ago, when the park was remodeled to remove the taint of that terrible event, smelled too green for this grim, winter day.  Jason looked hard at the ground, daring it to offer him a clue.

          There is, strangely, no warning.  Usually, someone sees something, gives the agents half a second to think through the methods they will use to save the primary’s life.  Two seconds on the clock.  A close game and bad training puts too many eyes on the court.  A flicker of flame in the crowd.  A twirling, looping arc of danger.  Swan is cheering from the sidelines during the critical final minutes.  Top of the arc before anyone sees anything.  Jason feels unreasonable anger at the use of a Corona bottle.  Half full.  Rag burning.  Good throw.

          “Can’t be political,” Jason mused.

          “Why not?” Sarah asked.

          “Can’t be domestic political,” Jason corrected.  Swan’s father and Yoda’s father weren’t exactly on the same side of the American ideological spectrum.  Jason and Sarah knew distinctions like that might mean less than nothing to a radical from Pakistan or Brazil.

          Assuming the events were connected.  Assuming the connection was more than just a joke in very bad taste.

          No time.  Calculus that would take a college freshman fifteen minutes to work out with stylus and glass churns through Jason’s head in a tenth of a second.  He leaps.

          Jason checked his watch.  “Ten to five.  Time to call in.”

* * *

          They sat in the SUV, tied into the conference call with the dark room, using up digital one-time-pads at a furious rate.  In ten minutes, Jason confirmed that nothing had changed.  Nothing from the kidnapper(s).  Nothing from the mute child.  Nothing from the tracer or the blood.  Nothing from the students or the teachers or the bus drivers, grilled again and again like a really tough steak.

          One pause lasted just a little too long; Jason decided to push some buttons.

          “We need to step things up,” he said.  In his mind, he was eyeing the DCI again.  The old man hadn’t said anything, but Jason knew he was there.

          “We’re doing everything that—”  Jason interrupted the SecTreas.

          “We need to step things up,” Jason repeated, altering emphasis, willing his contempt through the encrypted cellular signals with whatever psychic energy he might have had at his disposal.

          A longer pause.  A shifting of papers.

          “I’ll see what I can do,” the DCI said.

          A click.

          “What was that about?” Sarah asked.

          “A hunch,” Jason admitted.

* * *

          Jason’s hunch was confirmed fifteen minutes later.  A package of material was flashed to his PDA.  He started to review it, and immediately got a headache.  “We have a printer in here?”

          He printed out the five pages of material.  The headers of every page were blacked out.  Eighty-percent of the text was blacked out.  The page numbers were even blacked out.  It was almost comically funny the level of paranoid that gripped whichever agency had developed this intelligence.

          What wasn’t blacked out remained determinedly cryptic.  Jason tried to pan the gold from all this silt:

          “…with Goodyear tires, dark blue or dark green or black…”

          A possible vehicle.  Sarah dispatched an agent to send out the APB.

          “…bandage on the back of his right hand…”

          That seemed to refer to the removal of the tracer.  If the kidnapper felt the need to bandage the kid, that was a good sign.  Or not.

          “…dark skin, black hair, mustache with no beard, scar under left eye…”

          Sarah began another APB.

          “…white stone or concrete…”

          Possibly a description of where Yoda was being held.

          After scanning the entire document a second time, Jason took the time to ask the more important question.

          “Where did they get this?”

          “It could be gibberish,” Sarah cautioned.  “It could be intercepts that the NSA thinks are related to this kidnapping.  It could be anything.”

          Jason shook his head.  This wasn’t nothing.  This was something.  He had to decide if figuring out the mystery of how this information came to be in his possession would be an efficient use of his dwindling time.

          Sarah’s earpiece sparked to life so loudly Jason heard it.

          “Copy.”  To Jason, “Possible location on the vehicle.”

* * *

          It was 6:44 PM and nearly full dark before they got to the location, south, in Virginia, two miles off I-95, where the abandoned van sat by the side of a dusty road.  Six Highway Patrol officers stood nearby, obviously curious to know what the nameless Agents in Black might want with the rusty old green van.

          Jason checked the tires.  Goodyear.  The paint – what there was of it still on the vehicle – was dark.  His hands gloved, he opened the rear and climbed in.  The thing was the very definition of empty.  There wasn’t even any flooring in the back.  It was bare metal.


          Jason climbed back out and let a goggled tech with an ultraviolet light source into the van.  The tech found the blood in ten seconds.  They matched it in two minutes.


* * *

          The first satellite images of this sector flashed to Jason’s PDA by 7:03.  As soon as Yoda went missing, increased surveillance of the Greater DC area began.  Time was not on their side.  Sunset had come and gone just after 5:00.

          Sarah spotted the image corresponding to their location first.  They scrolled through time slices, hoping against hope one of the five-minute-spaced shots would include not only the van, but whatever vehicle the kidnapper had switched to.

          (They had already exhausted the few places where the kidnapper could have reasonably led – or carried – Yoda from the van on foot.)

          There it was.  A dark green van parked by the side of the road.  Alone.

          “Damn it!” Sarah yelled.  “The satellite missed it.”

          Jason carefully moved up one time slice, then clicked north one mile.  Then another mile.  Then another mile.  In five minutes, on this one-lane road, if you didn’t want to bring attention to yourself, you wouldn’t drive faster than thirty-six miles per hour.

          Back to their location.  South one mile.  South one more mile.

          “There.”  He practically stabbed the screen with his stylus.  A white sedan was driving south on the road.  Sarah assigned another agent the task of tracking that sedan – it might have been a BMW or a Lexus – through the satellite imagery to find its current location.

          Jason’s PDA beeped at him.  He answered it, finding a new flash from the DCI.

          It was an image: extraordinarily blurry, as if seen through the eyes of someone on nitrous oxide.  The image was putatively of a face, but not a face that could reasonably be described as human.  Filling the image, at a disarming, canted angle were red eyes, snarling teeth, and eyebrows in a comic-book parody of evil.

          Dark skin.  Black hair.  Mustache with no beard.

          Scar under the left eye.

          Attached to the image was a small text message.

          “You have three hours.”

          Jason’s watch showed the time as 7:13.

* * *

          Jason and Sarah climbed out of the SUV on the edge of a gargantuan parking lot.  This particular supermall, within spitting distance of I-95, had pushed the limits of central Virginia’s access to disposable income.  But that didn’t mean that there weren’t thirty-five thousand people there at 7:53 PM that evening.

          The satellite trail led here; with the sunset, it ended here as well.  The car had been ditched.  They could even see it under sodium lights from their position at the edge of the lot.  Two agents in another vehicle drove further into the lot to inspect it.  Nearly one of his allotted three hours was gone.  Jason wanted to strangle somebody.

          He wanted to strangle the DCI.

          “I’ll be back,” he snapped at Sarah.  He climbed back into the van and picked up those five sheets of heavily censored text.  He held one up to the ceiling light, hoping something might shine through that black marker that someone had so recently – and so quickly – brushed over these pages.  The lines of the marker were uneven, but thorough.  Nothing he wasn’t supposed to see was…

          On the edge of one line, in the middle of a long paragraph, thick with black, was a number.  5.  In front of the 5 was a single hyphen.  Just barely visible in front of the hyphen was the barest edge of a letter.  A capital letter.  The tall, seraphed edge of an N or an M or an H.  Jason pulled the paper close and peered carefully at that fragment.  A downsloping line from the top of the letter.  An M.  Had to be.

          M-5.  What could M-5 stand for?  Maybe a typo, and this information had come from MI-5, from the Brits?  Unlikely.  Tensions between the US and the UK were at a high unseen since 1812.

          Could they have been behind the attack?  Also unlikely.  Tensions weren’t that high.

          “Jason!” Sarah called.  He hopped out.  “We’ve got the suspect’s DNA.”

          Two minutes to scan the sample of hair with the portable rig.  Two more to compare against Federal databases.  Jason didn’t ask the DCI to make sure the sample was compared against all databases.  By 8:01 they had the kidnapper’s name:  Ari Najal, Pakistani, nothing in his record to indicate terrorism.

          But he had been in DC on January 13, ten years ago.  And he was forty years old.  He could have been the man who threw that flaming Corona bottle.

          Even more interesting, a recent picture looked very much like that dream image the DCI had sent Jason.  The image was too distorted for facial recognition technology to make the match, but human eyes still had something going for them.  Jason could see the resemblance.

          “Tell me you have an address,” Jason begged the other end of the conference line.

* * *

          At 8:24 their SUV rolled onto St. Claire Lane in Richmond, the most recent address for Ari Najal.  Other agents were converging on his place of business, a nearby coffee house where he worked as an assistant manager.  Since the shop’s hours were 8-6, Jason chose to join the team going to Najal’s home.

          The nondescript apartment complex was not made of white stone or concrete.  Its walls were blue-painted wood, and they needed a touch-up.  Najal lived on the second floor.  Jason led three agents up to the second floor balcony.  Another three approached from the alley, watching for escape through a back window.

          Just as Jason hit the landing, Najal’s door opened and a man came out.

          “Freeze!” Jason yelled, training his pistol on the man.  He turned and ran too fast for a positive identification, but it was more than enough for Jason.  He fired two rounds, missing the suspect by inches.  The man jumped the rail at the end of the balcony, landed on a closed dumpster, rolled to the ground, and continued his flight.  “All agents.  Suspect running south!”  He turned to the three following him.  “Down.  Go!”  They turned back to the stairs and scampered down, running across the courtyard, following the suspect.

          Jason felt confident enough to shoot and to send agents after the fleeing man, but not confident enough to leave the apartment unchecked.  He crouched beneath the living room windows of the little one-bedroom, then sprang through the open door, checking the living room, dining area and kitchen in three seconds.  He found the bathroom empty.  Bedroom and closet, the same.

          In his earpiece, he heard the sound of agents attempting to triangulate the running suspect based on glimpses of his flight through the back streets of the neighborhood.

          Jason returned his attention to the apartment.  The front rooms had been sterile, devoid of anything that hadn’t been included in the bargain-basement price of the furnished apartment.  Only the bedroom held any promise of real information.

          Changes of clothes in the closet, everything a barista might need to wear.

          A small collection of paperbacks on the side table.  Pulpy action thrillers.

          A small glass, cut into prismatic angles, hung from a cord in the window.  There was too little light coming from the street to make the glass worthwhile.  Across the alley, and over the roof of the modest house on the next street, Jason saw their SUV.

          He paused.


          He ran out of the apartment and down the stairs.  He wanted desperately to call for help, but that could mean disaster.

          He rounded the corner of the building and vaulted the fence at the back of the alley.  There was the van.  Empty.  Sarah, nowhere to be seen.  Jason scanned the street, looking for possible exits.  Where would Najal have taken her?  In his mind, he knew that’s what had happened.  His instincts told him it was true.

          Najal would need transportation, but he would need to keep out of sight with a hostage.  Jason only had as long as it took for Najal to find a car easier to hotwire than their SUV before Sarah would be dead.

          He broke from his momentary paralysis and sprinted across the quiet street, past the SUV, through another yard on the other side, and up the alley.  Someone must have put their car back here, just waiting to have it stolen.  Someone around here must have been that dumb.

          On his earpiece, he heard the report that the rabbit had been caught, and that he wasn’t Najal.  They would grill him, of course.  But time was growing short.  Jason spared a look at his watch, hitting the button to make it glow.  8:42.  Ninety-one minutes to go.

          Assuming that original estimate of three hours wasn’t someone rounding up.

          He heard a grunt.  A soft scrape.  A louder, but muffled, thud.  Jason ran as fast as silence allowed.  Ahead, to the right, one of the homeowners had chosen not to fence his property from the alley, but left an opening for a driveway.  Coming around the edge of the fence where a ten-year-old Honda waited to be jimmied open, Jason came face to face with Najal.

          He held a knife at Sarah’s throat.  He had her earbud in his ear.

          “You’ve found my brother, I hear,” he said, his voice too smooth, too cultured.  At once Jason felt like the man was acting.  “He knows nothing.”

          “And now I’ve found you.”

          Sarah was barely conscious.  She’d been beaten badly, her face bloody, one arm hanging at a broken angle.  She registered Jason’s presence with a slight widening of one eye; the other was too damaged to move.

          “It’s not that simple,” Najal purred.  Jason wanted more than anything to put a bullet between this man’s eyes.

          “Simple enough.  You’re under arrest, and you’re going to tell me where he is.”

          Najal smiled, bright white teeth against his dark skin and mustache.  Jason wondered how many young ladies swooned for this monster while they ordered their cappuccinos.

          “I know you,” Najal said.  “You’re the hero that saved the blonde bitch ten years ago.”  Jason felt Najal’s eyes as they scrutinized his left hand.  A bit of burned, ragged scar tissue peeked out from Jason’s shirt sleeve.  “How’s the arm?” Najal asked in amused tones.

          “Where is he?”  Jason refused to let Najal rattle him.

          “Did the girl offer some sort of reward for your service?  She opened her legs for you?”  Again, that smile.  “No, of course.  Agent Jason Alaniz would be too much the gentleman to take a young girl’s chastity.  Perhaps her mouth would suffice.”  Sarah struggled weakly.  Najal gripped her tighter, restricting her air, shushing her like a mother shushes a baby.

          “If you don’t tell me where the boy is, then there’s no reason for me not to kill you right now,” Jason reasoned aloud.

          “Perhaps the girl?”  Najal hefted Sarah’s slack form just a fraction.

          “She’s irrelevant,” Jason said, maintaining his best undercover face.

          “Then shoot her,” Najal teased.

          “Tell me where he is,” Jason repeated.  Enough of their conversation had gone through his mic to alert the other agents.  They would be here soon.  This would turn into a bloodbath in seconds if Jason didn’t do something.

          “Time is short,” Najal warned.  Perhaps he was talking about the approach of the agents.  Perhaps he was talking about the impending death of Yoda.  How did the DCI know there was a clock on this?  How did he have a picture – albeit a funhouse version of a picture – of Najal in the first place?

          “You have connections inside,” Jason said.  Najal’s composure broke finally… but not in the way Jason had hoped it would.

          “You wish to insult me in such a situation?” Najal rasped at him.  “Your government does not have the moral courage given to a goat!”  Jason watched Najal’s eyes.  He watched Najal’s hand, holding the knife.  He watched Najal’s arm, the shape of the muscles of his arm under his skin where his stylish tan shirt sleeve had shifted.

          Calculus of intent.  No time.

          Jason fired a single round, hitting Najal’s face just an inch to the right of center, shattering his zygomatic bone, exploding his left eye, cratering his nose, destroying the lion’s share of his autonomic muscular control with the loss of his cerebellum.  His arm went slack and dropped the knife an instant before his body collapsed to the gritty concrete of the driveway.

          Jason retrieved Sarah from the mess he’d made and pulled her into the alley.  Agents were visible only a few yards away.

          “You idiot,” she mumbled at him before she passed out.

* * *

          Jason meta-gamed it.  The information the DCI had sent was too good, had been too helpful, to indicate Yoda’s kidnapping was a Government operation.  Of the ten-thousand terrible things the US did to maintain their stability in the fragile world, it seemed that kidnapping and killing the son of the President wasn’t one.  At least, not today.

          So, the DCI had info, detailed info, on Najal’s appearance, his vehicle, the location he’d stashed Yoda (white stone or concrete)… but he didn’t have Najal’s name, the license number of the vehicle, or the address of the location.

          Meta-game it.  At 7:13, the DCI knew about the three hour deadline.  He’d already given Jason a trove of valuable information by that point.  Assume he sent the deadline information at most a quarter hour after he received it.  That meant that the clock had started ticking close to 7:00.

          Jason killed Najal at 8:46.

          Najal must have stashed Yoda somewhere around 7:00.  The times matched with surveillance data on the white BMW and expected travel times from the supermall to Richmond.  He didn’t have time to do much else.

          Najal had to get from wherever Yoda was stashed to his apartment in Richmond in, at the very outside, one-hundred-six minutes.

          Meta-game.  Meta-game.  Everything the DCI had given him was visual.  Only visual information.  What kind of visual information would indicate a ticking clock for the life of Yoda?  A bomb, with a digital readout.  That was too James Bond for Jason.  He’d dealt with his share of bombs – one in particular arced dangerously through his mind at the moment, his left arm twitching again.  Never had he seen a visible timer, helpfully showing everyone the time remaining before the bomb went off.

          Jason took a deep, shuddering breath, triggered subconsciously by the realization:  Yoda was going to suffocate.

          He checked his watch.  9:23.  Fifty minutes to go.  Maybe.

          He climbed out of the SUV and addressed the remaining agents who hadn’t accompanied Sarah to the hospital.

          “I need information on recent construction activity in a one-hundred minute radius from this spot!”

* * *

          At 9:44, Jason verified that a condo complex being built on Brookley Road on the north side of Richmond contained no air-tight pockets of white stone or concrete.

          At 9:52, agents on the scene at a recently remodeled farmhouse half-way between Richmond and DC confirmed the same.

          At 10:01, Jason felt like a bomb with a visible, red timer was ticking inside his chest.  Time was almost out.  Assuming the DCI – or his people – had accurately estimated the amount of air Yoda had to breathe.  The agents back in DC gave him another address.

          “A health club, scheduled to open in March.  They ordered eleven tons of marble.”

          “Tell me that marble is—”


* * *

          Jason didn’t feel good to drive.  Another agent did that.  They screamed through the dark streets of Richmond to the site of the health club.  On the way, Jason’s phone rang.


          “It’s me,” the FBI Director said.  He hadn’t heard much from her all evening.

          “What is it?” he asked.

          “I don’t know if it’ll help, but I saw something on the DCI’s glass he didn’t give you.  I wrote it down…”  The sound of shuffling papers.  “Here is it.  Do you know the name…”  She struggled with the pronunciation.  “…Oh-bye Waan?”

          Jason shivered.  He actually shivered.  “Obi-Wan?  Does it say Obi-Wan?”

          “Yes.  The thing says, ‘Help me, Obi-Wan.  You’re my only hope.’  I don’t know where he…”  Her voice faded out as the phone moved from her mouth.  Voices.  Raised voices.

          Jason thought through what he just heard.  Yoda wasn’t the boy’s handle by chance.  He was short.  He was wise.  He had big ears.  Most importantly, the kid was a major fan of Star Wars.

          Where was this information coming from?  Everything the DCI had sent Jason was about Najal and/or the kidnapping itself.  Did Najal know about Yoda’s interest in Star Wars?  Unlikely.  He had convincingly bridled at the suggestion that he received any help at all from the Government.  Maybe Yoda had gotten a phone call out that the NSA had intercepted?  Maybe an e-mail?  If so, why not send that to Jason?  Why not give him everything, as he’d demanded when this all began?

          “Jason?”  The Director’s voice again.  She sounded quite a bit different.  Cowed.  Defeated.  In other words, completely unlike herself.  “Disregard that last transmission.  It’s not related to this case.  Understand?”  That last word – understand – held more meaning than all the words previous.

          “Understood,” Jason lied.

* * *

          Technically, the deadline had expired.  They pulled into the construction site on Bailey Bridge Road at 10:15.  Still, any possibility that the three hour deadline had been rounded to the nearest hour might be in their favor, likely as not.  Jason and the other agents fanned out, searching for any signs of recent activity.

          An agent on the north side of the site found it.  Tire tracks.  Foot prints.  A door handle still warm from human touch.  They streamed into the basement of the unfinished building, their shoes echoing off the smooth marble floors.

          A door, sealed shut.  Completely sealed.  Thick wax, top to bottom.  Jason backed away so agents with a battering ram could slam the door open.

          Jason went in first, gun and flashlight sweeping in tandem.  He scanned the room quickly.  It was a shower room, marble tile on the floor, three stalls without fixtures.

          He spun around at a sound.  A little whimper behind him.  Lying on a bench next to the door.


          “Got him!” he yelled.  Agents ran in and picked up the boy, gently but efficiently, and carried him out of the room for medical attention.  Jason stayed to survey the dark room, make sure they weren’t missing anything.  He carefully picked up Yoda’s shoes, which the boy had taken off and placed, side by side, under the bench.  He swept his flashlight past the empty holes where showerheads would someday be placed, looking for microphones and cameras. 

          In one corner of the room sat a pile of pipes, presumably some of the plumbing hardware the contractors would need to finish the showers.  Jason swept his flashlight over the floor, and found one small elbow joint of pipe apart from the others.  He knelt and examined the joint.  It was scratched, its gold veneer marred by some violence.

          As he stood, Jason’s lamp caught sight of something on the tiled wall next to him.  He played his light over the wall, and found out what had damaged the pipe.  Someone – Yoda, probably, based on the height of the letters – had scratched a message onto the wall.

          Jason felt faint as he read the message.

          He had little time before the chopper would be here to whisk Yoda back to DC for proper care and reunion with his family and who knew what kinds of therapy to wash this incident from his memory.  Jason shouldered his way through the agents and paramedics to the boy, laying on a gurney with an oxygen mask covering most of his face.

          “Hi.  My name is Jason,” he said to the boy. 

          “Hi,” came his reply, muffled by the heavy mask.

          “Did you write that on the wall?”

          The boy’s eyes widened with fright.  Jason put a gentle hand on his chest.  “No, no one is going to be mad at you.  It’s going to be okay.  I just need to know if you wrote that.”

          The boy nodded.

          “Before the man locked you in?”

          The boy shook his head.

          “You’re sure?”

          The boy nodded.

          “Thank you,” Jason said.

          He backed away, keeping a smile on his face for the boy’s benefit.  Then he ran back into the building, back down to the basement, back to the room.

          Two agents, agents he didn’t know by sight, were walking out with bags.

          “What’s that?”

          “Evidence,” one said.

          “Excuse us,” the other said.

          Jason stepped around them, and returned to the shower room, where someone had already set up portable lights which clearly revealed that the wall’s tiling had yet to be completed.  Just blank, untouched concrete.

          Jason knew better.  He would never forget the childish scrawl of those words, written by a five-year-old inside a sealed room, with no possible contact to the rest of the world:

          “Help me, Obi-Wan.  You’re my only hope.”

* * *

          Jason managed to arrange the meeting in less than forty-eight hours.  He was very good at his job.

* * *

          In a shadowy, dusty corridor in a nearly-forgotten, dead-end corridor of the Hart Building, Jason waited patiently until the DCI appeared.  He grabbed the older man, clapped a hand over his mouth, and dragged him out of the main corridor.

          Jason mimed silence with one finger, then removed his hand from the DCI’s mouth.

          “How dare you!” the DCI said, exclaiming in tone more than volume.  He seemed willing to follow at least some instruction.

          “How’d you get it?  How’d you get that information?”

          “You may be flavor of the month, Alaniz, but you do not set national security priorities.”

          “It’s not possible!” Jason seethed, leaning his muscular bulk closer to the spindly old man.  “You knew what he’d written on the wall.”

          “What wall?  What are you talking about?”  The DCI was either a damn good actor, or more disconnected than Jason had thought.  “How did you even know to push for my information in the first place?” the DCI asked, trying to turn the tide of conversation in his favor.

          “Are you kidding?  You’re the Golden Child.  You’re the Master Ninja.  You’ve pulled more magic rabbits out of your ass in the last thirty years than Houdini.  The Mainz extraction.  Sao Paolo.”  Jason leaned in closer, whispering.  “Nepal.”

          The fear in the DCI’s eyes told Jason the last one – the bluff – paid off.  Nepal was little more than a very vague rumor running around DC for the last year.  He’d thrown the DCI off his game, but only for a moment.  His colossal condescension returned.

          “Houdini was an escape artist,” he corrected.

          “Then I guess that was a bad analogy, because you’re not going to escape this.  I’ll go to the blogs, I swear it, unless you give me answers.”  During Jason’s threat, the DCI’s eyes flicked, however briefly, to the right.  Jason dropped the old man and spun around.

          The average-height, average-build, pleasantly smiling man moving deceptively quickly toward them had, as far as Jason could tell, the deadest eyes he’d ever seen in a living human face.  Before Jason could even raise a hand in defense, the dead-eyed man swept around him and plunged a syringe into the DCI’s neck.  The DCI managed a single, indecipherable burble, then collapsed like a pole axed cow.

          Jason went for his gun… but the dead-eyed man’s gun was already drawn and pointed at Jason’s gut.  Time spun out for a second.  No shot rang out.

          “Get it over with,” Jason grated.

          “I’m authorized to give you a choice.”

          “Let me guess.  Head or heart.”

          “Close.  I can give you a bullet or a job.”

night.blind: 01.8.2: 24 August 2005: Russell Lutz.

          The man with the dead eyes told him to pack light, just bring what he’d take on a three-day weekend to the country.  Jeans, sneakers, that kind of thing.  When Jason asked if he would only be gone for three days, he man said nothing.

          “The driver will be there on Tuesday,” the man said.  Then he vanished from the Hart Building.  Jason was left standing next to the dead body of the (former) Director of Central Intelligence.  It was only a matter of time before someone noticed the smell of blood and cordite.

          The man had offered Jason a job.  He hadn’t said anything about it being contingent on covering up a murder.  Jason ran down the hall to find the nearest Capitol Police officer.  

          Jason spent the next twelve hours under intense interrogation.  He could lie with the best of them.  His job depended on it, in fact.  Going under cover was all about lying.  In his professional dealings with other government agencies, on the other hand, he told the unvarnished truth as often as operationally possible.

          To the endless rotation of interviewers, Jason described the man who had pulled the trigger on the DCI.  He described – in great detail – the Yoda case and the DCI’s involvement in it.  He described the strange nature of the information that the DCI had provided to him, even down to the creepy quote from Star Wars.  The only piece of information he held back – and it was difficult for him to do so – was the job offer from the man with the dead eyes.  That tidbit he did not tell the Capitol Police, nor the CIA investigators, nor the Secret Service agents, nor the FBI agents, nor any of the other fifteen people who tag-teamed him for that grueling twelve hours.

          That nugget he saved for the only person in this city he trusted – Elaine McDaniel, the Director of the FBI.

          They met at a Starbucks in Georgetown the next day, Thursday, around four PM.  Jason chose the location and the time because he knew the place would be packed with people, all chattering and laughing – which would foul any audio surveillance – or typing away, each on their own personal glass, connected to the local wi-fi – which would foul most electronic surveillance.  As he read the situation, the only way this conversation with Elaine could be monitored would be if someone had an asset sitting at the next table.  To be safe, throughout the meeting he kept one eye on the giggling group of pre-teen girls that sat between Jason’s table and the coffee counter.

          He laid out his situation briefly.  Elaine’s response was eloquent:


          “I accepted his job for two reasons,” Jason said.

          “Because you have a death wish?” Elaine asked.  Director McDaniel was the dried out, matronly sort of Texan crone that thrived in Terror War DC.  Because she was a Texan, she was forgiven for blunt talk.  Because she was a woman, she was forgiven for ultra-conservative views.  Because she was over seventy, she was forgiven for not kissing ass – or at least not frenching.  Nobody survived in politics without a tiny bit of backside-smoochery.

          “The shooter was about to kill me.  I’m not bulletproof, Elaine.”

          “You’re close,” she said, glancing at his left arm.  Jason self-consciously tugged at his jacket sleeve, hiding his scar.

          “The other reason is this: I think the DCI was involved in some sort of highly covert intelligence activity.”

          “You’re kidding!  The Director of Central Intelligence was central to the direction of some sort of intelligence gathering?”

          “Elaine, I’m talking about something bigger here than IR satellite imagery or microwave glass-slaving.  He had information that no one could have.”

          “Jason, that’s a good thing.  You’d rather our enemies have that technology instead of us?”

          “It got him killed,” Jason seethed.  He didn’t allow his tone to rise above a whisper.  The girls continued to compare notes on… lip gloss, or the latest boy band, or whatever girls talked about nowadays.  To them, he was invisible.  He wasn’t even cute enough to elicit furtive glances, particularly not when he scowled like this.

          “He was a dick,” Elaine said, never one to bother about niceties, such as not speaking ill of the recently dead.

          “That’s not the part that scares me,” Jason said.  “They were reluctant to give me the information.  Information that would have been crucial to getting Yoda back alive.  You were there, in the room.  Am I wrong?”

          The wheels were turning.  Elaine thought long and hard about that.  Finally, she said, “Risk and reward.”

          “That’s your answer?  Bullshit!  A five-year-old isn’t a line on a ledger, particularly when he’s the son of the President.”

          “What are you saying?”

          “I’m saying there’s something going on, maybe at the CIA, maybe at the NSA, somewhere.  I have an in, and I’m going to use it.  Cut my connection to the FBI.”

          “You’re quitting?!”

          “I’m going under cover, Elaine, and these people are very well connected to the intelligence community.  They’ll know if I do this like a regular op.  I’m going in deep this time.  Get me?”

          Elaine nodded, but her eyes still disagreed.

          “This is what I do.  This is what the FBI does, Elaine.  We investigate threats within the borders of the United States of America.  I think this qualifies.”

          Elaine nodded again, less enthusiastically than before.  Jason nodded back and dropped his unfinished latte in the trash on the way out.

          The subject kept drinking her icy, fruit drink, tasty, raspberry, maybe, or kiwi – taste was always tough – and there was a faint hum of something ringing in her brain, like she was afraid and annoyed, not like a lot of people, but she also felt like she was really important, more important than anyone else in the room, maybe in the city, and that was kind of weird, and she sipped again and looked up, but the man with the short, dark hair was gone.

          Gone.  Gone.  Where was he?  M-5 danced from mind – ‘…so cute with that new…’ – to mind – ‘…eleven percent, amortized annually, less tax basis of…’ – to mind – ‘…double half-caf, double half-caf, double half-caf…’ – through the coffee place.  Every mind, every brain something of an open book: every one but him.

          Into the street.  Into the panhandler – ‘…for an old Iraq War veteran…’ – who glanced after the man, who had short, dark hair and a strange burn on his wrist.  To the police officer – ‘…or when her shift is over, if there’s still…’ – who was driving past in his police car, passing the man, turning the corner.  Back to the sidewalk, to the college guy – ‘…ten pages tonight, ten pages tomorrow night, party Saturday, then Sunday fifteen…’ – who almost bumped into the man, but the man sidestepped him easily.

          Frustrating.  Frustrating.  No lock.  Can’t get a lock on him.  Why?

          On Tuesday morning at 9:45, Jason dropped his packed bag next to the front door and went into the living room to watch RCNN.  The man had said the driver would be there at ten.  At five past, Jason heard a honk.  He looked out his window.  A yellow cab idled next to the curb.  This, he did not expect.

          The cabbie – a middle-aged Russian, complete with scraggly beard and cliché accent – climbed out as Jason trotted down the steps.

          “Are you here for me?” he asked.

          “Jason Alaniz?” the man asked, mangling the pronunciation of Jason’s last name.  Jason nodded.  “You’re the guy.  Here.”  He held out a shaky hand, and Jason handed him the bag.  The cabbie tossed it into the oversized trunk of the car, a late-model Ford… sort of.  Jason thought it might have been modified slightly.  He climbed into the back seat as the cabbie got in front.  

          The cab would have fooled almost anyone else.  If Jason’s radar wasn’t on high alert, he wouldn’t have noticed either.  The front seat wasn’t quite grimy enough.  The meter looked a little too new.  The backseat didn’t have that travel advisory warning that every cab in DC seemed to have, about emission surcharges and shared rides from airports during peak traffic hours.

          “Where are you taking me?” Jason asked.

          “Downtown,” was all the cabbie said.  Jason laid back in his seat and tried to enjoy the ride.
Usually when he went under cover, Jason took on a whole new persona: drug dealer, counterfeiter, hacker, and on one memorable occasion, disillusioned game show contestant.  Now he had a much more difficult persona to slip into: his own.  He had to be himself in almost every way, except that he had to pretend he was interested in working for this shadowy group, not exposing them.  It was easier being a game show contestant.

          The cab pulled into a driveway on Constitution, right next to the Mall.  Jason recognized the building.

          “The Department of Labor?”

          “You want a job, don’t you?” the cabbie asked.  “Go to the OSHA office.  That’ll be thirty-five-fifty.”  He held out his hand.  Jason laughed off the request and pulled on the door handle.  The door was locked.

          “Thirty-five-fifty,” the cabbie said, this time a little more emphatically.  Jason fished out his wallet and handed the guy two twenties.  “Thanks.”  The door unlocked with a thunk and Jason got out.  The cabbie popped the truck and retrieved the bag.  He gave Jason a theatrical little salute, and drove off.
Jason felt underdressed in his polo and jeans and sandals.  The man had said to dress casual.  He didn’t know he was going to the corridors of power, right in the middle of Washington, DC.  The Labor building was just as huge and classically ostentatious as the rest of the architecture down here on the Mall.  He walked into the hyper-air-conditioned building and looked on the reference screen for the OSHA office.  Third floor.

          Up the steps, down the hall.  The office was just the bland, utilitarian, utterly bureaucratic sort of place you’d expect.  The receptionist – a prim Asian girl with perfect hair and skin – looked at him with obvious disdain.  “May I help you?” she asked with scorn.

          “My name is Jason Alaniz.  I have an appointment.”  It took the girl’s eyes a long moment to bother to look down at her schedule sheet for the day.

          “Spell that,” she snapped.


          “I’m sorry.  Who were you meeting?”

          “I don’t have a name.  I was told to come to the OSHA office, for a job.”

          “Told by?” she asked.  

          This was getting ridiculous.  Jason had the sinking feeling he was being played somehow.  High security government intrigue as frat hazing.  Next thing they’d do is make him exchange the flag flying off the Capitol dome for a Lambda-Lambda-Lambda banner.  Enough.

          Jason turned and walked out.  He’d go to Elaine and get his job back.  This was a dead end.  At the top of the stairs, a pair of orange cones blocked his access to the wide, marble staircase.  A pair of workmen were cleaning the steps.  Seemed an odd thing to do in the middle of the work day, but he was still fuming about the amount of time and energy that had been wasted already.  He turned around and went to the elevator.  The car arrived and he got in.  He pressed the button marked “L” and the doors closed.

          And the elevator didn’t move.

          Major General Rockland tapped the edge of her desk with a stylus in an increasingly erratic, staccato rhythm.  She didn’t enjoy talking to Washington under the best of circumstances.  What she did, out here, under the Grange, went far beyond the mundane business of government.  She and her viewers did no less than alter the course of history for every man, woman and child on the…

          Screw it.

          The man she had on the vid phone generated the same reaction in Sabra as he had in Jason – dead eyes, scary eyes, eyes without remorse or regret.  It was the rest of his face that was different now.  Gone were the All-American looks that Jason had described in freakishly accurate detail to every acronym in Washington.  Now Whisper – for that was his codename – looked like a heroin-addicted Hispanic man, complete with cheesy mustache.

          “I’m telling you,” Whisper said, “we either need to recruit him or vanish him.  He’s too good, and he’s got the scent.”

          Sabra nodded her head just slightly, not in assent, just that she understood his argument.  For all the unreconstructed bullshit that went on in the District of Ever-Loving Columbia, she needed a presence there, and Whisper was her presence, and for that reason he was good.  In fact, he was better than good.  He never once indicated an interest in knowing what Sabra’s group really did.  She’d made sure of that.

          Jason Alaniz’s fate hung in the balance.  Literally.  The elevator out of which he was currently trying to escape – a feat that, if he was successful, would have impressed Sabra even more than she already was – remained stationary, and would do so until she’d made her decision.

          It was the short, almost timid report from Chastity Reynolds – aka Majestic-5 – that made Jason’s recruitment so much more tantalizing.

          I couldn’t lock onto target A5RT22 (the code for Jason) even after a bunch of tries.  Are you testing me?

          Testing her?  I wish, Sabra thought.  Chastity was a very powerful and yet very inconsistent viewer.  She seemed able to lock on to anyone, not a minor skill, to say the least.  Give her a vague description of the target (gender, age, and for some reason most importantly weight) and a location on a map, and she could dip into their brain and pluck out not just their sensorium but the run of their thoughts.

          Problem was she couldn’t maintain a lock for more than about twelve seconds.

          Worse, she was only seven years old.  Half of what she saw and felt didn’t make sense to her.
She was perfect for the Yoda situation, because the target was also a child.  But all she came up with were images that no one was able to turn into anything like regular “intelligence”.  Sabra liked kids and all, but the life of one snot-nosed brat wasn’t going to amount to a tiny fraction of the danger of revealing the Majestic program.  They had problems enough with other super-black outfits.  God help them if the non-paranormal, rank-and-file intelligence community started to crawl up their collective ass.

          The abduction was a cluster, up one way and down the other.  On the one hand she had that unrepentant asshole of a DCI sneaking info out of her command.  (That security breach had been sealed up, with extreme prejudice.)  He was trying to curry favor with the President, of all people!  On the other hand, she had this boy scout, this Jason character, who wanted to actually save the boy!
No one in Washington seemed to have their priorities straight.  Damn swamp.

          Whisper should have just killed Alaniz in the Hart building, left his body next to the DCI’s, made it look like a murder/suicide or something.  She wanted to wring Whisper’s neck.

          Even as she had that thought, she thought back to the other 22 reports.  (They hadn’t yet replaced Irene.)  Not one of the Majestics could lock on to Jason Alaniz.  Not one.

          There were two possibilities, both remarkable:

          One: Jason was a viewer of extraordinary power, so strong he could deflect the probings of others.  The evidence did not support this scenario as the likely one, because he’d gone to extraordinary lengths to get information from the DCI, information that a powerful viewer could have just snatched out of thin air.  So, unlikely, but possible.

          Two: Jason was genetically invulnerable to viewer attack.  This was the more interesting, the more valuable of the two scenarios.  

          They were currently drowning in viewer talent: twenty-three Majestics up and running right now.  They had Milo White and Trisha McAdams in the wings, and maybe Jasper Daniels in a few years if Dante didn’t screw up that op.  And who knew how many more in Bloomington, Scottsdale, at Night Primary…

          What they didn’t have, what Jason might become, was the beginnings of a counter-viewing capability.  Her mind spun, thinking of the operational capabilities of an agent that could not be viewed.

          The first nation to conquer the sea conquered the planet an age ago.  Then another nation conquered them and controlled the planet for a few more hundred years.  The first nation to split the atom became the preeminent power on the planet.  The first nation to harness the power of the mind was just barely able to keep their preeminence intact in the post 9/11 terror age.  The first nation to defeat the power of the mind?  That would be the nation to control the fate of the world… for about fifty years, if current trends were a good indicator.

          All of this flitted through Major General Rockland’s mind in the time it takes to blink twice.  She nodded more decisively for Whisper’s benefit.

          “Send him to Orientation.”

          Jason paused in his attempt to disassemble the roof of the elevator when it finally began to descend.  After the first fifteen seconds, he realized he was descending below street level.  After the next fifteen seconds, he began to wonder if he was going to China.  He regretted his choice to not bring a weapon.

          The elevator slowed for a long time, then stopped.  With a friendly ding, the doors slid open.  The lobby thus revealed looked exactly like the inside of an American missile sub, specifically an Ohio class boomer.  Standing in the little room, where Jason had to duck to avoid smacking his head against a nest of pipes in the ceiling, was a young man wearing an orange tanktop, jean shorts, and flipflops.  The man looked Asian, maybe Filipino.

          “Welcome to Orientation,” the Filipino said.

          The illusion that Jason had somehow discovered a ballistic missile submarine from the previous century buried deep underneath the Mall in DC was no such thing.  No illusion: fact.  The Filipino – his name was Chas – was short enough to walk through the corridors without ducking.  The handful of others Jason saw on his way to the infirmary were similarly short-statured, and similarly dressed in beach wear.  It was hot down there.

          Chas handed Jason off to Leelee, a diminutive Japanese girl who ran the infirmary in the USS Orientation.  Leelee seemed incapable of smiling.

          “Take off your clothes,” she said.

          “You’re not even going to buy me dinner first?” Jason joked.

          “No,” she said.  Not a glimmer of humor.  Jason stripped.  When he took off his shirt, she didn’t blink at the scar tissue that ran from his left wrist all the way up to his shoulder.  That was an unusual reaction in his experience, particularly from a woman.  If he wasn’t currently undercover, he might have asked her out on the spot.

          The physical was thorough.  Heart and lungs, throat and eyes, pee in the cup, cough.  The rectal exam was almost pleasant, given Leelee’s very slender fingers.  Finally, she got around to mentioning his burns.

          “Do you suffer any motor dysfunction?”  Jason responded by grabbing the most sturdy steam pipe in the ceiling and doing a set of twelve high-speed pull-ups, keeping his knees bent to avoid touching the floor.  He dropped to his feet again and gave Leelee a big smile.

          She simply made a check mark on her clipboard.

          “Get dressed.”  Just as he was buttoning his shirt again, Chas reappeared.

          “How’d it go?” he asked.

          “A million laughs,” Jason said.  Chas led Jason through the sub to what would have been the missile room in a functioning submarine.  For all Jason knew, maybe these missiles were functioning.  There was a little folding table and beach chairs set up in the room.  Sitting behind the table was a man about Jason’s age, vaguely ethnic, as if he had sixteen different kinds of DNA swimming around in his veins.  The man stood and shook Jason’s hand.

          “My name is David Morgan.  David Morgan,” he repeated, enunciating the name to a comedic degree.

          “I’m Jason.  Jason Alaniz.  How do you do?”

          “I’m fine,” he said, again very slowly and precisely.  They sat.  On the table was a pad and pen, and a deck of oversized playing cards.  “Jason, here is what I’m going to do.  I am going to lift one card at a time and look at it.  You are to think about what I’m seeing, focusing not on my card, but on me.  Attempt to see what I see.  Do you understand?”

          “Yes…”  Except he really didn’t.  Were they checking for psychic ability here?  Jason didn’t believe in psychic ability…

          Help me, Obi-Wan.  You’re my only hope.

          Or maybe he did.

          “Each card has one of five different shapes on it: a circle, a star, a square, a cross, and a group of wavy lines.  Do you understand?”


          “My name is David Morgan,” he said again, and lifted the first card.  Jason tried to concentrate, tried to see what David saw.  He found himself just staring at the back of the card, hoping it was see-through.


          David made a note and lifted the next card.

          They went through a whole deck of twenty-five cards.  Then David shuffled them and they did it again.  And again.  And again.  Four passes through the deck, for a total of a hundred attempts.  When they finished with that, David handed the deck to Jason.

          “Shuffle the cards.  This time, you will look at the cards, and I will attempt to see what you’re seeing.  Do you understand?”


          “Do not try to hide this knowledge from me.  We are working together.  My name is David Morgan.”

          “Yeah.  I know.”  Jason shuffled the cards.  He lifted the first card and held it facing away from David.  David paused.


          Jason dropped the card face up on the table.  Circle.  He noticed David flinch at that.  David made a note on his pad.  Next card.

          “Cross.”  Wrong.  Wavy lines.  Another flinch.  Jason kept a running tally in his head.  David batted about .240 on the first deck they went through.  They followed the same procedure as before, and went through the deck four times.  Out of the hundred total attempts, David got 23 correct.

          “That’s better than pure chance,” Jason consoled David, who by this point was in a high state of agitation.  He hadn’t said his own name in more than fifteen minutes.

          “No.  It’s not better than pure chance.  I know how many of each card are in the deck, so the twenty-percent expected rate of accuracy climbs from card to card as the stock is exhausted.  I did only as well as pure chance would allow given the information I had.”  He still seemed steamed.  Jason felt a hollow space in his gut.  He knew why they’d brought him down here.  He knew it.

          “How many did I get right?”  David spun the pad around to show him.  Jason did a quick count.

          What the…?  He did even worse than David.  He hadn’t thought to meta-game the situation by counting cards.  Seemed like… cheating.

          “I did worse than you.”

          David made a sniffing noise.  He picked up a phone and called for Chas.  Why was this guy so angry?  Neither of them was psychic.  So what?  What’s the big deal?  Chas arrived, looked at the pad, then gave Jason a frightened look.  Jason couldn’t figure these people out.  What was so special about not being psychic?!  Chas took him to a small room with a cot and a sink and told him to wait.

          Waiting, that he was trained for.

          Well, that was that.  Sabra set down her stylus and shook out her hand before composing the order in her computer-verifiable handwriting.  Jason Alaniz was nothing less than a godsend.  He had defeated David Morgan, one of their best proximity viewers.  Morgan couldn’t see shit on the other side of a closed door, let alone in Tripoli or in Camp Artemis on the Moon, but face to face, he could read anyone.

          Check that.  Almost anyone.

          The last thing she wanted was Boise or Scottsdale, or freaking Night Primary getting their hands on him.  He was coming to Hitch, Nebraska by the next available—

          Her glass went black.


          Twice in one week?  This was ridiculous.  Either things were really getting out of hand up there, or somebody in charge was flicking the chicken switch up and down like a kid jonesing for Ritalin.  Sabra didn’t see a message coded from Night Primary this time.  She saw something worse.

          SB1.  This was getting heavy.  SB1 was asking for a priority transfer of a new agent – one who barely knew why he’d been recruited – to Night Primary?  Sabra was getting sick and tired of having her authority compromised, even if it was from the very tippy-top of their hierarchical structure
“Tell me the truth,” she said to the impassive screen.  “Are you shutting down the Grange?”

          The screen didn’t respond.  In truth, she found that more comforting.  The Milo White orders HAD seemed hasty and petulant.  This, at least, was more what she expected from a UBO office.

          She tried to look on the bright side.  If she was transferring Alaniz to A~:PRIMARY, at least now she’d find out where the blasted thing was.

          Jason had only enough time to lie down and start to sort through his escape options.  They were, admittedly, limited, given his current location.  Chas burst into the little room, looking excited now.

          “You’re leaving!” he said between deep breaths from his run.

          “Where?” Jason said, sitting up on the cot.

          “Don’t know.  They just said you should dress warm.”


night.blind: 01.8.3: 14 July 2007: Russell Lutz.



          Jason slept for the first six hours of the flight. The plane was loud, cold and sterile to the point of discomfort. That didn't bother Jason. He had on the heavy wool and artificial fiber clothes they'd pulled out of some rarely used storage locker in the underground missile sub. He had a seat that reclined a good twenty degrees. He had a pillow.

          What woke him, finally, was Chas.

          "Wow! Look at that!"

          Jason, thus roused from sleep, scanned the cavernous plane's interior and noted nothing had changed. The gear in the back was still strapped down. The cockpit door was still closed and locked. Chas, bundled even warmer than Jason, was bent, eyes glued to the porthole-sized window. Jason leaned over in his seat to look out his own window.

          "What am I looking at?"


          Jason's knowledge of geography tended to the political hotspots of the world.

          "I thought that was in Spain."

          "It's Argentina!" Chas shouted. "We're looking at one of the most unique ecological systems in the whole world!"

          Jason chose not to call the kid on his use of the insipid phrase "most unique". Instead, he simply joked, "They don't let you out much, do they?"

          Chas tore his eyes from the view out the window long enough to grin at Jason. "Not really."

          "How long have you been working for them?" Jason asked, probing subtly for information on who "they" were.

          "Since college. They recruited me right out of Rutgers. Who knew a degree in Psychology would be so useful? I don't think they were really ready for an op today, or else they would never have sent me."

          Jason nodded. He climbed out of his seat and into the wide aisle. This plane could hold a hundred soldiers and all of their gear for a trip into a war zone. Sending this kind of vehicle just to transport two men seemed… insane. Jason stretched a bit, touching his toes, doing a couple of lunges. He ran in place for a little bit, then jogged the length of the cabin, up to the closed cockpit door, and back down to the cargo area and back.

          "I don't know if you're supposed to do that…" Chas warned.

          "Forgiveness, permission."


          "Never mind. Is it time yet?" Jason kept jogging while Chas checked his watch.

          "Close enough, I guess." He reached under his seat and pulled out a glass case, opening it and pulling out the machine and a stylus. He tapped it three times to boot the glass up. When the screen full of icons appeared, he double-tapped one labeled "Mission Parameters".

          A red window blossomed onto the screen, with the words, "SECURITY STATUS: INAPPROPRIATE ACCESS ATTEMPT. NEXT VIOLATION WILL VARY OFF DEVICE."

          "Okay, maybe not," Chas muttered.

          "Are we going all the way to Antarctica?" Jason asked. He paused his workout, running in place next to Chas's seat, checking his pulse with two fingers. It had been a while since Jason did any cold-weather work. He was pleased that his body still remembered how to function below zero after so long in the muggy climes of DC.

          "I think so," Chas answered. He glanced out the window. "Cape of Good Hope. And we're still going south."

          "That answers that."

          Jason was concerned that he might have gotten in over his head with this mission. He accepted the fact that he would be without backup while he tried to uncover this bizarre clandestine group who seemed inordinately obsessed with psychic ability. Chas had briefed him on what little he knew: that there were people called viewers who had some kind of second sight and provided the government with their special flavor of intelligence. Chas claimed no knowledge of the location, number, or specific skills of these viewers. The only one he knew personally was David Morgan.

          That was enough to put a few of the pieces into place for Jason. Real or not, this outfit thought that remote viewing was real.

          Help me, Obi-Wan. You're my only hope.

          Damn it.

          Anyway, they didn't think Jason was special because he was psychic. They thought he was special because other psychics—like David Morgan, and the mysterious M-5—couldn't read him. He was a blank spot in their collective psychic field of vision.

          Jason still wanted to believe that it was all some kind of ruse, or self-delusion. M-5's ability to see where Yoda was being kept wasn't a supernatural force at work. It wasn't some kind of bizarre X-Files case. It was a connection between this super-black outfit—whose name he didn't even know yet!—and Ari Najal and God knew who else. Dark forces were at work here, and not of the kind you'd find in a Stephen King novel. Jason was certain of it.

          Jason wanted to be certain of it.

          "Is it time now?" Jason asked.

          Chas glanced at his watch, then at the glass. "Uh… I think so, but why don't we give it ten minutes?"


          Jason went back into the cargo area to look again at the equipment they'd given him. Inside these black crates were a high-horse-power snowmobile, an arctic-rated tent and sleeping gear, no-match fire blocks, ice-climbing gear, fire pots to signal for extraction, MREs—enough for a week—and spare clothes. And then there were the weapons. Only the best for these guys—jacketless ceramic rounds delivered by the latest automatic rifles out of the Czech Republic, laser-sighted, cold-weather rated down to negative seventy-five degrees. Jason had everything he would ever need for a mission he didn't understand in the least.

          "Okay, let's try it," Chas said. Jason came back to the passenger section of the plane and sat next to Chas, hunching with him over the screen. There didn't seem to be any controls for the lights in the cabin, so the screen looked quite dim. Chas double-tapped the icon. The window that popped up was less angrily worded, if no less imposing:


          Two box outlines appeared below the message. Chas pressed his thumb to the first. Jason followed with his own on the other. The glass flashed, then reformatted to a new display, this one revealing a fabricated human. Despite the picture-perfect quality of the image, Jason knew it was a CG creation because it was a full color, live video of Abraham Lincoln.

          "Cute," he said.

          "I assure you, son," said the faux-Lincoln, "that I am not in the least cute, and I know it."

          "Interactive," Chas breathed. "Cool."

          "You, my boy, should allow me to give my briefing without further interruption. Can you handle that, Chas?"

          "Yes, sir!"

          "Fine then. Mr. Alaniz, you will be the point man on this op, and you have a very narrow set of parameters to follow. I urge you to listen very carefully to the sound of my voice. I am not suggesting that you follow these mission parameters, I am telling you that you will. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"

          "Yes, Mr. President," Jason said with a bit of grit in his tone. He didn't appreciate their use of Lincoln in this way. The man was a legend, not a punch line for use by shadowy government splinter organizations.

          "I'll ignore your indignation, son, because time is short. You've no doubt learned a bit about our organization from Chas here, so I'll skip the dramatic reveal. There are psychics in this world, and we've got a team of them down in Antarctica, at a site we lovingly call Night Primary. With me so far?"

          "Just get on with it," Jason shot back. Even though he was technically under cover, he didn't think letting his natural frustration with all the histrionics seep through would be a problem.

          "Me, I don't know what she sees in you, but that's neither there nor here. The reason for this mission is that we need intel: hard, live, non-psychic intel on what's happening down there. The transmissions from Night Primary have been… questionable for some time now. The bad scenarios include some kind of localized psychic maelstrom that has rendered the staff insane. The worse scenarios aren't worth worrying your angry little head with. Suffice to say, something is rotten in the state of Antarctica, and we need you to find out what it is."

          "Alright. But if I don't know what Night Primary really is, or what it's supposed to look and act like, how can I tell what's wrong with it? I need for this briefing to actually… brief me."

          Lincoln sneered, shaking his head. "Helen Keller could catch your meaning, Alaniz. Put your PDA next to the glass."

          Jason pulled his PDA from a pocket and brought it close to the screen. A flash of light bathed Jason and Chas's faces. Jason checked his PDA's memory. It was two meg heavier than it had been a second ago.

          "Everything you'll need to find the site, infiltrate, and make it out to the extraction point is in there now, son. Guard that gadget."

          "That's it? Nothing else? You haven't even told me why you recruited me."

          "Well, if you haven't figured that out yet, son, then we've made a big mistake." Lincoln moved close to the camera, his bushy eyebrows and massive nose filling the screen. "Did we make a mistake, Alaniz? We can always… abort."

          Chas looked up at Jason, his eyes screaming what his voice didn't seem able to say. As far as threats went, that was a pretty blatant one. But it was nothing new for Jason.

          "I suppose I have to answer, or else you won't know what I'm thinking." Lincoln's significant eyebrows went up. "Good enough?"

          "You're a snot-nosed brat, but you'll do. At the landing site you'll need to keep a close eye on your gear and on Chas here. We don't have operatives on the ground at McMurdo, as a security precaution against infiltration by Night Primary."

          "I thought Night Primary was supposed to be on your side."

          "There are sides, and then there are sides. Try to keep up."

          "The pilots?" Jason said, throwing a suspicious look at the still-locked door at the front of the plane.

          "Third party stringers. I wouldn't invite them to your wedding, but they're not an immediate threat."

          "You realize I'm taking all of this with a grain of salt."

          "Take it with castor oil for all I care, son. Just take it seriously. This isn't some kind of elaborate training mission or a mole hunt. This is as real as it gets. Before the plane lands, Chas will install your sensory transmission capsule."

          "That's not going to happen," Jason said stonily.

          "It's okay," Chas said. "It doesn't hurt or anything."

          "I don't care if it feels like a damn blow job, you're not putting a tracer on me."

          "This isn't a negotiation, son, this is the mission. They can't trace you, which is good. We can't trace you, which is bad. Unless you get the capsule. If you're lost or compromised, we won't have any of the intel."

          "Then you've got excellent motivation to pick me up, don't you?"

          Chas and Lincoln shared a look of consternation.

          "Look at it this way," Jason added. "If I'm wearing some kind of transmitter, won't the Night Primary people hear it? Won't it tip them off?"

          "We've got some very good technology here, Alaniz."

          "Better than Night Primary?"

          The dead president growled a bit, looking ready to shut the whole operation down.

          "I don't like it."

          "Other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" Jason said.

          Chas swallowed and coughed at the same time, making a strangled, choking sound. On the screen, however, Lincoln burst into booming, presidential guffaws.

          "Maybe I do see what she sees. Good luck, son."

          The screen winked out, returning to Chas's icons.

          "Well…" Chas said, still a little unsettled by the interchange.

          "You know? Lincoln is kind of a dick."

* * *

          Three hours later and they saw the coast of Antarctica. Jason sensed the descent of the plane and kept a much closer look out the window. Thankfully this op was happening in local summer. He'd have twenty-four hour sunlight and relatively warm temperatures.

          On the other hand, he'd be visible a hundred miles away. Trade-offs.

          "Hey, Jason, why don't you let me install the capsule. I can rework it to send just your position. It'll record your senses for later, which is what we need. What do you say?"

          "I say no chance in hell."


          Jason divided his attention between the window—which revealed a world of white on the edge of a sea of dark, dark blue—and the door to the cockpit. McMurdo must have been down the coast a ways, because he couldn't see any sign of civilization yet. The map on his PDA said he'd have about a two hour ride on his snowmobile from the airport to Night Primary. At least this place he was going wasn't down at the pole.

          Truthfully, the cockpit door bothered him more. He didn't have Lincoln's faith in the pilots. What better way to sabotage the mission than to dump the plane and its cargo in the middle of an Antarctic ice field, or directly into the ocean?

          The more he thought about it, Jason realized he'd never even seen the pilots. That door hadn't opened since he'd walked onto the plane back at Andrews. The only indication that they weren't some kind of enemy agents was the fact that they hadn't done anything yet. Those weren't the kind of odds Jason liked.

          He stood from his seat and strolled up to the locked door. There would be no way to pick the lock or bash down the door. If the worst happened, and both pilots died, the rescue teams would have to blow torch the door to get it open. Jason didn't have a blow torch.

          "Hey, guys? Guys?"

          No answer. Jason tapped politely on the door. "Guys, I'm just wondering how long until we land. Do I have time to take a leak?"

          Nothing. Jason didn't like it.

          Chas looked up with a concerned expression. "Jason, really, just wait."

          "Are we still on track?" he whispered to Chas. Chas looked out the window.

          "I think we're fine."

          Jason tapped on the door again. "Guys? Everything okay up there?"

          Chas came up to the door and listened with Jason. "They're trained not to answer."

          "Or they're waiting to ditch the plane. Or they're dead. You want to bet your life on which it is?"

          "They're not dead," Chas argued.

          "Prove it. How long since the plane changed course?"

          Chas and Jason both looked out the window. They continued their slow descent, paralleling the coast.

          "We're on the right track," Chas said. "Just calm down."

          "Fuck calm." Jason hurried back to the cargo and started unlatching the straps. Chas ran after him.

          "We're gonna land soon. Don't!"

          "There's a GPS in here somewhere." Jason flipped open the lid on the first crate. Nothing but survival gear. He pulled it down and opened the crate beneath it. This one had weapons. He looked briefly at the cockpit door. He could try to tear it apart with the gun, but ceramics were notoriously poor ammunition against anything but human flesh. And anyway, he might cause more trouble than he prevented, shooting rounds in an airborne plane. On to the next crate.

          "God," Chas breathed. He ran back to his seat and fired up his glass again. Jason assumed he was looking for instructions from Lincoln. When Jason unstrapped the next set of crates, a voice came from the ceiling, through speakers he hadn't known were there.

          "Desist. Be seated for landing." The voice was insistent, but strangely robotic at the same time.

          "Right!" Jason yelled at the ceiling, hoping they could hear him. Something was terribly wrong, and he didn't have to be a psychic to know it. Chas continued to tap his glass, and the message repeated again. Jason ignored it. He found the handheld GPS in the third crate. He initiated a handshake between it and his PDA, superimposing their current position on his map of the area. Sure enough, they were flying away from Night Primary.

          Chas rushed up holding the glass up. Lincoln was back on screen, furious.

          "The mission hasn't even started and you're already off the script."

          "There's no script here. You people are the very definition of insane."

          Chas turned the screen around to talk to Lincoln. "He think the pilots are dead."

          "Or they're in on it. Whatever." Jason held up the PDA to show Lincoln. "Does this look like everything is fine?"

          Lincoln frowned. "One moment." His image froze, leaving his bearded mouth in a very unattractive—even for Lincoln—position. Jason took the opportunity to load one of the Czech rifles and pocket a couple of extra magazines. If the pilots—or whoever was in charge of that voice warning, which was still blaring through the plane—came through that door with weapons, Jason wanted to be ready.

          Jason heard two muffled, but distinct pops from the front of the plane. He rushed forward, rifle loaded and ready. Chas followed, cowering behind Jason. Lincoln piped up from the screen. Next to his virtual head was a low quality video shot of the cockpit of the plane. The two pilots were slumped, lifeless, both of their heads bleeding from nasty head wounds at the bases of their skulls.

          "The mission is compromised. Chas."

          Chas froze, his eyes glued to Lincoln's uncompromising face.


          "Yes. Yes, sir." He became strangely calm in that moment. He looked over to Jason. "I'm sorry." Then there was a disconcerting crunch in his mouth. His eyes rolled back in his head. He slumped to the floor, dropping the glass, which shattered. Shards of the device littered the floor, each carrying a frozen ghost image of Lincoln's determined face. Jason dropped the gun and pulled Chas up into his arms. His mouth was foaming with something that smelled foul.

          Suicide capsule.

          Dear God, what weren't these people capable of? Chas just committed suicide? Why?

          The bad guys—Night Primary? Someone else?—must have figured out what their mission was by reading the pilots, or Chas, or maybe even Lincoln, who ever he really was. The bad guys had killed the pilots, and Chas had killed himself, to cut any link. Jason was alone.

          He set Chas down on the bare metal floor, then hurried to the rear of the plane. He started stuffing equipment into a backpack, whatever he could get his hands on. The plane jounced once, twice. He paused long enough to regain his balance, but that only gave him a moment before another, more violence bounce threw him off his feet entirely. The plane was getting close to the ground. The winds out there must have been brutal, and with no pilots to smooth out the ride, it would only get worse, until it could get no worse, and they crashed.

          Jason crawled to the bulkhead where he'd seen one of the loaders activate the ramp back at Andrews. Jason punched the button. With a blaring siren and a whine of metal, the back end of the plane started to lever open. Blisteringly cold air whipped into the plane, hitting Jason like a frying pan to the face. He held onto one of the supports on the hull of the plane as long as he could, cradling the hastily packed bag in one hand and the rifle under the other arm. He could see the endless expanse of white rolling behind the plane, rising ominously toward them. He waited, waited until the last possible moment, so that the fall might not kill him instantly.

          The plane bounced against a snow-covered hillock with such force that Jason lost his grip and rolled, unprepared, right out of the plane.


night.blind: 01.8.4: 20 August 2007: Russell Lutz.



Viewing. Viewing viewing. The snake eats its own whatever. You could go mad. Ha. Go.

{"There's no script here. You people are the very definition of insane."}

Everything just a little too bright, a little too colorful, canted, funhouse versions of things. Kids. Gotta love 'em.

{"The mission is compromised. Chas… Chas!"}

{"Yes. Yes, sir." Moment of decision. "I'm sorry." Pain. Black.}

{"Jason! Jason!"}

Flood of emotion, raw, unrestrained, childhood emotion. God, he loved it.

He watched as Chastity tried to find another link to someone—anyone—within shouting distance of the Spic. She was so attached to this guy. Maybe it was her first crush, before she knew what the real connections between men and women are, before she smelled her first whiff of adolescent pheromones. He couldn't read her physical state—he didn't have that kind of sight. Maybe she was getting that tingly feeling in her little cunny, blood rush, beads of moisture pooling, dripping…

Damn it! He hated it when he came in the tank. The swabbers always gave him hell, and the smell didn't come out for days. Well, he had to report anyway.

The forty-six-year-old man pulling himself slowly out of the viewing tank was named Isaiah Gilligan.

No, really.

He was an old hand at viewing, one of the original viewers at Night Primary. For years he'd held a special place in the eyes, hearts, minds and balls of his superiors. He viewed children.

Kids less than a year old, not really worth it. Not enough visual acuity, their ears too muddled by their own caterwauling. After puberty, the link got fuzzy, sporadic, painful even, at least for Gilligan. Ages four to nine. That was the sweet spot. For so many reasons.

He could read boys, could read them just fine. He preferred to read girls. He had a vague memory of guilt about that in the distant past. He had a less vague memory of trying to get off with a girl of nineteen and not being able to get his cock hard, let alone getting any kind of orgasm out of the deal. And she laughed at him. And he punched her in the mouth. And she screamed. And he ran. And they found him.

New life—perfect life. Viewing. A whole list of children to view every day. He did his duty, watched the boys… then he watched the girls. He learned their daily routines. When they primped in the morning. When they bathed at night. When they invited their friends over for an innocent night of companionship that so rarely took the kinds of experimental turns that he always hoped for, but then, his fantasies exceeded reality so often.

Gilligan was a survivor. The recent change in management had its ups and downs, but Gilligan weathered the downs and looked forward to the ups. Old boss, new boss, whatever. The old boss—Gilligan was bad with names… Harold, Herbert, Hingham?—he accepted Gilligan's eccentricities, but he refused to give Gilligan what he really wanted. Was disgusted by it. Well, Gilligan didn't know what got Harold/Herbert/Hingham off in the middle of the night. He guessed when it came down to brass tacks it wasn't any more Disney-friendly of a scenario than Gilligan's.

The new boss—Nixon, Naughton, Knight?—had promised Gilligan a visit from a very special friend if his work continued to excel. And Gilligan wanted to excel. Because he wanted a very special friend. Desperately. And with this new report? Maybe… maybe… Of course, Nixon/Naughton/Knight might just as easily but a bullet in his eye. It had happened to others.


Gilligan had stumbled upon the President's kid on the verge of death in that little room a few days ago. He had watched as some random Man in Black—a wetback, in fact—saved the kid. That report had gotten Gilligan the attention he craved… and feared. Now, the Spic shows up again, being watched by a Majestic, his precious Chastity?

Chastity. Her name alone threatened to give him wood, even standing naked in the main pod bay, with his hand raised to alert that shifty little guy whose name he never remembered that he had a report for the new boss about a possible infiltration of Night Primary.

* * *

"He'll survive."

"I'm more worried about me at the moment."

"We have someone on the way."

"You better. I'm cold."

"He's a tough one. Resourceful. And he's only fifty miles away from the site."

"He doesn't have much of the gear. He almost fucked the whole operation."

"'Almost' is the biggest word in the world."

"I thought 'if' was the biggest word."

"…mouthy little fucker…"

* * *

Sabra nearly put a fist through the glass-delivered report. Alaniz, Chas, two pilots, a cargo transport plane and about a million dollars worth of equipment: gone. What in hell was happening to her command? The way things were going, she wondered how her career would survive. There she was, on the brink of getting some actual intel on the mysterious Night Primary, and she loses every fucking asset before the op even starts!

And on top of everything else, she had one of her premier viewers crying her eyes out over what she saw through Chas's eyes. Children in a super-black intelligence center! You could go mad. Go. Ha.

"Francis! Get me the NSA!"

"You mean… the actual NSA?" Her prissy little assistant poked his frosted head through her office door. It wasn't standard practice to interface with the non-black services, so he was naturally confused by the order.

Sabra's tone made it brilliantly clear how serious she was: "I need a satellite!"

* * *

Thule Nast veered between seething rage and abject terror with every step through the overheated hallways of this ridiculous station-under-ice. He revered Nacht. He hated Nacht. He feared Nacht. He envied Nacht. If there was an emotion, he felt it towards his chosen savior, this dark god of German night. Well, perhaps not ambivalence. He felt exactly no ambivalence towards the man.

But his failure. Thule's failure—allowing an infiltrator to escape, and with a view!—had reduced him in the eyes of his Master, and that was bad in every way. Thule was certainly not above taking out his highly charged state on anything or anyone in his path.


Thule stopped, turned, and answered the transgression of unwelcome conversation with a hard backhand against the face of the man. He did this before determining who it was he had hit, taking in only enough to know it was one of their "children". The man fell to the slick floor in a heap of pale flesh and blue gel. Ah, that one. The degenerate. There were many things Thule would do for pleasure. Pederasty was not one of them.

He wasn't that desperate quite yet.

"Speak!" he shouted at the viewer.

"I have a report for the boss."

"I am your boss!" To make the point clearer, he put a boot into the degenerate's back. Were the man's privates not carefully hidden by his fetal position, that boot would have done much more pleasurable damage. "Speak."

"There was…" Thule pulled back the boot, preparing to strike the man's face. "There was a plane, with an operative. A man. A Hispanic man."

"Yes? This is of interest to me?"

"He was told to come here, sir," the degenerate added quickly.

"Where is he?"

"I'm not certain. Close. The plane was disabled, his handler died. But if the operative did not… He was the one I saw before—"

Before? Ah!

"Rubbish! This information is of no use to anyone! Do you understand?"

"Yes, yes. Rubbish. Yes."

"Back to work."

Thule stormed away feeling strangely giddy. He had a piece of information, perhaps a vital piece of information that Nacht didn't have. A lap dog like Bahlow would break his balls running to his Master to reveal the intelligence, and be rewarded as a dog in return, with a pat on the head and a scratch behind the ears. Thule wished for more. Thule wished not for Nacht's emotional scraps. He wished for more than base survival. He wished for his god's favor.

Nothing would please Nacht more than for Thule to emulate him in every way. And, were he in this position, what would Nacht do with this information? He would hoard it, leverage it, use it to better his position in the world.

And so, likewise, would Thule.

* * *

"Madre Dios."

Lautaro pulled off his goggles and checked them for dust. He couldn't have seen what he just saw. He weathered the cold on his eyes for a moment, then replaced the covering. The image in the distance did not change.

A man. Alone. With no truck or snowmobile or sled with dogs. Just a single man. Running.

Lautaro had seen the plane, of course. How could one miss it? A huge monster of brilliant, shining steel soaring over the Massif, shadowing Lautaro and his companions briefly as it descended towards nothing at all. He saw the doomed plane bounce once, then it dipped out of sight. A fireball followed. Poor people, he thought.

He and his fellow Chilean guides crossed themselves and said a quick prayer for the souls aboard that plain. The tourists did not follow their example. What could one do? Yanquis.

And now, this one. This lone man, a single survivor of the crash, running through the snow, running from nowhere to nowhere, difficult to see in his white clothing, but clearly there. Lautaro attempted to catch the man's attention with a sun-glare reflection off of his polarized goggles. Either the man could not see the signal, or he chose to ignore it.

There were stories, of course, other guides who claimed that nefarious events occurred with regularity in the shadow of the Vinson Massif. Lautaro maintained that these stories were the only way the guides could deal with the slow death of their industry. Fewer and fewer wished to visit the bottom of the world. The preparations required to protect one's skin from the harsh radiation alone scared off most of the curious. The guides would rather appeal to conspiracy than to face the harsh economic realities around them.

But this… One man. Alone. Running.

It was enough to make a man think.

* * *

"Madre Dios."


Chastity jerked, the gel in her pod sloshing, spilling over the edges, running down the smooth, shining steel surface. With a great effort she pulled herself up and out of the sludge, yanked the mask off her face, and shouted into the bay.

"Jason's okay!"

* * *

"It's like the Jews," Karl said.

"The who?" Josef asked.

"The Jews. In Poland."

"Watch the hill."

"I see it."

The cat took the hill at more than a hundred klicks per hour. It left the snow behind briefly, then landed with a bounce. Josef glared. Karl grinned.

"The Jews, I was saying."

"I know you were saying. I don't understand."

"This is the spot?"

Josef checked his GPS. "I think."

"There." Karl pointed to a splash of red in the plain of white. He slowed the cat, putting it into a shuddering, terrifying skid. A new, tawdry drift of snow appeared beside the cat's abused treads.

"Fool," Josef chastised. They hopped out of the cat's high cabin, trudging through the new fall of snow toward the mess they were told to clean up.

"The Nazis, they killed all these Jew in Poland."

"I know. I saw it in a movie."

"No, before Auschwitz. This was early on."

The body was just as Bahlow told them. Naked. Torn. Frozen. Nacht must have enjoyed this one.

"They shot the Jews. They buried the Jews. They forgot the Jews. They remembered the Jews. They excavated the Jews. They burned the Jews. See?"

"No." Josef used one gloved hand to grasp an outstretched limb of the traitor's statue of a body. He looked up as a man in white burst from the snow. A brief blast of sound and fire, and Karl was lying in the snow, dead, his head nearly torn from his body.

There was a pause. The assassin turned to look at Josef through white-tinted goggles, and in that moment Josef thought he might just surv—


night.blind: 01.8.5: 20 December 2007: Russell Lutz.



The cat was anything but stealthy, but it was warm—good—and it was fast—better.


Jason kept the snowmobile pointed toward the blinking light on the little LCD screen. His GPS unit still held power, but there was no battery gauge. He considered briefly using the unit he took from the German team, but instead he shut it off. Might be traceable. He hoped Chas had charged his fully before stowing it on the plane.

Chas. Jason couldn't shake the image of the little guy's eyes rolling up into his head as he slumped to his death on the floor of the transport plane. This all had better be worth it. He chewed on a half-eaten protein bar he found in the cat and drove NNW toward Bentley.


This? This was Bentley, Night Primary, the location that Lincoln and Chas and all the other little subterranean folks under the Department of Labor were so worried about, discussing in hushed tones of fear and reverence? This looked like a sleep-away camp that had been transplanted, log by log, from some scenic lake in northern Wisconsin. He counted ten buildings, only one of which looked big enough to hold more than a dozen people at a time. He double-checked the reading on the GPS. This was the place.

He did see cat tracks splayed across the snow, coming to/from the camp. So someone was doing something here. He parked his stolen cat behind a snow dune and approached the site at a dead run. Maybe he couldn't be viewed, but he could always be viewed.

Halfway across the snow—except here it seemed more like hard-packed ice, as if he was running across a glacier—he heard the distinctive cough/roar of another of the jet-powered snowmobiles, coming in from the southeast. He put on more speed to reach the first of the outbuildings before the machine drew into sight.

He made cover with time to spare, and watched as a scout team rolled up to where he'd left his stolen cat—and the two dead Germans. He'd done his best to make the scene look like they'd had an altercation and killed each other. If swarms of guards appeared or sirens started blaring in the next ten seconds, he'd know that the ruse had failed.

Nothing to do about it now. He slipped as carefully as he could through the dilapidated camp, looking for any signs of life. The schematics downloaded to his PDA by Lincoln were sketchy. There were sections labeled "pod bay" and "power" and "cafeteria", but the connections between each were labeled with dotted lines, giving the impression that nothing was to scale. There was also this terse order:


Thanks. Hadn't thought of that last one.

Jason heard the cat again, much closer this time. He snuck around behind what appeared to be an outhouse—in Antarctica?—and watched as the scouting team of two helmeted soldier-types rolled their snowmobile up to the largest building and climbed down to the ice. They marched into the building. Jason sprinted to follow, catching snatches of German conversation. He peered carefully through a grimy window to see the scouts entering a modern, sparkling elevator.

Underground. Of course. These people just loved their underground installations.

The elevator doors shut. Jason ran into the building—no locks on the doors out here in the hinterlands—and put his back into prying open those elevator doors enough to slip through into the dark shaft. He carefully grasped the greasy, descending elevator cable and slowly lowered himself twenty or so feet to the roof of the car, gingerly stepping onto the frame of metal box.
The walls passing by on every side weren't stone, but ice, carrying a faint, fading blue hue as the elevator went deeper and deeper.

The light finally disappeared altogether, though the car continued to drop at what felt close to freefall. How deep was this place anyway?

After what seemed impossibly long, the descent began to decelerate. Finally.

Jason caught sight of some light spilling out from below. He tried to peer around the edges of the elevator, but the walls hemmed in too close.

Then he was blinded. He shut his eyes and just sat there dumbly for a second. His training kicked in, and he realized that he was visible. Very visible. He dropped to the roof of the car, flattening his profile as much as possible before taking a careful look.

Above, the elevator cable hung out of a chiseled-square hole in the ice ceiling. The car fell through wide open, cavernous space, brilliantly lit, and impossibly warm.

Below, Night Primary. Didn't look anything like Night, but Primary, that made some sense. This was how a major military installation should look. Gridded streets to delineate the rectangular efficiency of barracks, headquarters, power station, med stations, general store, armory. There was even a church, unless these Germans had some other use for a cross symbol. Everything was starkly lit by enormous banks of lights embedded in the ice ceiling.

Then he noticed the signage. All in English. The Germans were guests… or something else. So Lincoln's people had lost control of this installation, and they needed Jason to figure out how that had happened and who had done it.

Down and down. He peered far enough over the edge to see that the elevator's destination was inside a building on the surface. Good. He could wait for the end of the journey, then take his time climbing up onto the building's roof and find the best way to infiltrate the base.
The elevator slowed drastically before descending into the building, reducing most of the wobble caused by the open-air fall through the cavern. It dropped two floors and clattered to a stop. Jason sighed with relief.

Above him, a mesh of steel rattled across the square hole in the building's roof.



"I can't see anything."

"That's a good thing. It means he's in."

"This is the most important part."

"Tell it to the electromagnetic spectrum."

"I can arrange for another plane crash."

"Don't get your corset in a bunch."

"Don't pretend you're not expendable."

"Blah blah blah."


Jason waited five minutes before disassembling the roof of the elevator car and slipping down into it. If there weren't people waiting immediately outside for a too-long ride back up to the surface, then he needed to get in and get hidden as quickly as possible.

Godsend! Next to the elevator lobby, he found a storage room filled with clothes! Apparently Jason wasn't the only one who came to Antarctica expecting to find frigid temperatures everywhere he went. He stripped off the arctic camo gear and slipped into a green t and slacks—which seemed to be a kind of informal uniform, if the stores in this room were any indication. He didn't like having his left arm exposed like that. His scar would attract attention. Unfortunately, there weren't any long sleeve jerseys to be found.

He couldn't just walk into any room in the place. The installation looked big enough to hold several thousand people, but he imagined that the original inhabitants knew each other pretty well, and that the invaders knew each other better, and he couldn't be sure he'd fit in with either.

Now the map on his PDA made more sense. It really was to scale. He was a half-klick from the "pod bay", which was large, and labeled in bright red on his little screen. He guessed that was where the viewers were kept.

Was that it? Did he finally believe that they really had a team of hundreds or maybe thousands of psychics down here? They certainly had gone to a ridiculous amount of trouble to squirrel these people away under the ice. It had to be true. That didn't mean Jason was happy about it, though.

He peered through the exit of the transport building, surveying what he could see of the camp. There weren't very many people on the streets, and they were all rigidly Aryan types with weapons. People he could never infiltrate, not without a serious trip to the plastic surgeon. He watched them for a few minutes… waited for a window… then he ran for it.


Thirteen empty paper cups, each with a different Rorschach pattern of coffee silt in the bottom, stood like battle-weary but loyal soldiers across the desk. Her uniform blouse was long since discarded onto a nearby chair; she sat at the desk in a t-shirt and regulation slacks. Her hair was a mess.

Even so, she wished she was having this discussion face-to-face, if only via video link. Text communication wasn't able to convey the subtlety of meaning she wished to impress upon SBO:CP:O16.VA45:Q. She didn't know who this idiot was, but he didn't outrank her, she knew that much from the coded address.
















Sabra cut the connection with a flourish of her stylus that mimicked her desire to slit the pompous throat of SBO:CP:O16.VA45:Q.


Action movies—particularly the more sophomoric ones—loved to put their heroes into HVAC ducting. It was a convenient way to move characters from place to place with "stealth". Jason knew that most homes and office buildings had ducting far too small to admit a human male, and that the few systems that could, still would never support the weight.

Thankfully, Night Primary was an exception. The sheer amount of heat generation going on down here—particularly in the drastically overdesigned pod bay building—meant that he could slip into the heating ducts and move about. What he'd do when he got out, blackened and streaked with grime, well that was another chapter of a completely different story.

His map didn't give him much detail about the interior of the building. Either Lincoln didn't have detailed blueprints, or he didn't want to give them to Jason. Either way, he was flying blind now.

He paused whenever he caught sight of someone in a corridor, and took as many pictures with his palm-sized camera as he could. He had already classified the people he'd seen into three groups:

The soldiers were all German or Slavic, hard-bitten types with weapons always at their sides, chips on their shoulders, and a penchant for violence to just about anyone who wasn't a direct superior. He'd overheard enough conversations to pick out a handful of names that continued to be repeated, the most common being Nacht. This was either their leader, or at least someone highly placed in the organization.

The locals, the ones wearing the casual green outfits, were unarmed, frightened, often bruised or bloody, and always deferential to the soldiers. They must have been the original support staff of Night Primary. He knew they weren't psychics, because of the third group…

Singling out the viewers was painfully easy. Rarely dressed in more than a terrycloth robe, more often stark naked, they seemed to move about in herds, sometimes shepherded by locals, more often stampeded through the wide, concrete halls by one or two soldiers at gunpoint. Jason realized he was seeing shift changes. Groups of viewers traveling south—from the dormitory—were relatively rested, relatively clean and calm. Groups traveling north—back to the dormitory—were listless and/or jittery and usually still carrying some sort of blue grease on their heads and bodies. Viewing looked like it took a toll on them.

Was that true even before the German mercenaries arrived?

Now it was time for Jason to figure out a plan of action. He was playing a double game here. He was trying to accomplish the mission Lincoln had set out, and he was trying to get enough evidence to blow this whole fucking thing apart at the seams. Both goals required help from the inside.

The viewers were impossible. Always guarded and half the time strung out or near exhaustion. He could never approach them.

The locals were a dangerous possibility. They seemed to have access, but they looked whipped, beaten. If there was any kind of internal resistance brewing, waiting for an opportunity to overthrow these brutal new masters, it must have been hidden deep inside some other part of the base. Jason didn't believe he'd have the time to ferret them out. More likely, one of these beaten scientist-types would sell him out to the occupying force as an attempt at currying favor.

No, Jason had to approach a soldier.

Finally, he caught sight of a good target. The man was armed and had a hard look about him, just like all the others. But he seemed… a bit more effete. A bit more coddled. And he was small, too, which was good. Jason stepped up his crawling pace through the ducts—aware of the danger of creating more noise, but the place was loud to begin with. In fact, he could hear the tell-tale whine of a nearby reactor, which nicely hid the sounds of his reckless pursuit.
The little man moved into a jog. Jason almost lost him, but the soldier stopped after a few strides, having caught up with another man.


The other man, Sepp, was a caricature of the gross overuse of flesh. Nearly seven feet tall, wide at shoulder and hip, and more so at the belly. Jason watched the bear turn effortlessly, carrying over his shoulders…

Jason retched. Two women, naked, clearly dead. They had been tragically abused in a dozen different ways. Jason tried his best to avoid looking at them, focusing on the two men and their conversation. It was in German, so he understood none of it.

"Was ist es?"

"Ah. Sie denken er sein wütend an mir?"

They began to walk again, forcing Jason to crawl along, looking for another vent through which to watch and listen to their conversation. They reached an opening in the wall. The whine from the reactor reached a fever pitch just here. Jason could barely hear them. The big man tossed one of the bodies through the opening. Jason winced as he heard the girl's corpse flash into elementary particles below.

"Gerade bumsen Sie nicht oben wieder," Sepp said. He carelessly dropped the second girl to the floor, causing more unspeakable damage to her sad body. Jason instinctively reached for his gun… then calmed himself. Getting killed for that girl wouldn't help anyone, least of all the next girl.

Sepp, revealing what Jason had suspected, that he was more of a fighter than his bulk suggested, grabbed the smaller soldier and held him squirming by the neck over the drop into the reactor. Sepp smiled, then whipped the small man back into the corridor, where he smacked hard against the wall directly below Jason. He hurried over to the little man and attacked him again, though Jason couldn't tell exactly how, not from this angle. Probably it was a swift kick to the midsection.

Their discussion continued, until Sepp walked back into view and indicated the ruined body of the young woman, saying something incomprehensible. The cowed man answered, and Sepp trundled off, out of view and out of earshot.

Now was Jason's chance. He had found the perfect asset. A soldier, with access to weapons and probably the entire facility, but a man who was poorly treated by his comrades. He couldn't have imagined anything so…

Dear God, what was he doing? The little man crawled from under Jason's perch toward the corpse. He looked at her carefully, her legs, between her legs, her torso, then longingly into her face. He seemed to be immune to the horror that was her destroyed head, and the gory mess that had spilled from it. He reached down to fondle one cold breast… then he reached down to unzip his pants.


Jason bashed his way through the vent cover and slipped effortlessly to the floor, his knife at the ready. Before this disgusting excuse for a man even had the chance to turn around, Jason had his knife at the man's throat.

"Take your dick out of the corpse," Jason said, the unreality of having to say such a thing threatening to make him faint.

Thankfully, the man knew English. Unbelievably, however, the man tried to negotiate.

"It has been so long. It won't take a moment for me to—"

Jason, lightning quick, moved the knife.

"Pull it out or I'll cut it off."

That got the man's attention. He obeyed.

"Push her into the reactor," Jason ordered. The man obeyed. There still remained a nightmarish slick of her remains on the floor, but time was precious. Jason shifted from the knife to his compact rifle.

"You will remain alive as long as you provide me with useful information, and then you will die. Do I make myself clear?"

The man didn't answer immediately. He looked at Jason with a kind of wonder.

"You're the Hispanic."

Jason blinked at the non sequitur.


"The one 37 warned me about."

"37? Is that one of your viewers? One of your viewers saw me?" Jason found it strange how much it bothered him to imagine his special talent wasn't real. He had placed such faith in his ability to not be seen.

Other than that, Alice, how did you like the tea party?

You could go mad. Ha. Go.

"No. He saw… He saw…"

"Take me to him."

For the short walk to the dormitory, Jason kept the rifle prudently hidden between the man—Thule, his name was—and his own body, given the good chance they would see someone else. Luck was on his side, though, as the shift change appeared to have ended, and the hallways were clear.

The dormitory was connected directly to the pod bay building by a short, enclosed corridor. On the far side, the architecture didn't change much. Concrete dominated, punctuated by heavy steel doors, each with a tiny glass window. They were numbered in thick, stenciled paint, white on the gray metal. They stopped at the one labeled 37. Jason peered through the window, but it was covered with a towel on the inside.

"Open it."

Thule paused. Jason prodded him with the gun. Thule reached into a pocket and pulled a well-worn security badge that bore the name and face of someone else. Jason wondered if that person was alive or dead.

The door swung open on well-oiled hinges. Within, a voice shouted.


Jason shoved Thule through the door and closed it behind them. The man who had shouted, viewer number 37, lay spread-eagle on his military-style cot, his erect penis still grasped in one tight fist.

"What is it with you people?" Jason asked. The viewer's erection deflated with comic speed at the sight of Thule and Jason. "Put something on," Jason growled. The man—he looked to be around fifty, paler than any Scandinavian, flabbier than any video game enthusiast—slipped into a ratty pair of sleep pants. His expression seemed to be vacillating between fear and annoyance.

"You're viewer 37?"

37 reached over to a night stand and pulled on a pair of ancient horn rims. With his sight restored, he looked at Jason with realization.

Jason did not appreciate being so well known here.

"Jason…" 37 breathed.

"You know his name?" Thule asked, some of his spirit coming back. Jason couldn't have that. He thwacked the German on the back of the head with the butt of his rifle, and shoved him down onto the bed to sit next to 37.

"You saw me?"

"Me? No. You… You ... She…" Words left 37.

A profound instinct for self-preservation still seemed to function in Thule. "The other one, the Majestic. She saw you."


"Number five."

M-5. Jason felt that sense of unreality wash over him again, making him feel somewhat disconnected from his body. He steeled himself, not allowing his knees to buckle, his hands to tremble.

"She can't see you either," 37 piped up. "She…"

"She what?" Jason seethed.

"She… has a crush on you."

Thule muttered some German word under his breath. Jason ignored him.

"A crush?"

"She watched you save the boy. You…"

"You know about that?"

37 smiled, then laughed. "Of course we know about that! You're…"

"You're special," Thule added. "They sent you to kill Nacht, didn't they?" A glimmer of hope sparkled in the German's eyes.

Kill Nacht? Thule's self-preservation had transmuted very quickly into subversion and murder. Jason considered putting a bullet into this… thing right now. But he needed Thule. He needed them both. Thule would get him out of Night Primary and provide needed intelligence about the German force that overtook the base. Regardless of what Lincoln's eventual need for Night Primary was, Jason agreed that these invaders needed to be rooted out.

On the other hand, 37 would serve as proof of this whole nasty underground conspiracy. He was the one who could help Jason end it all.

"Pack. We're leaving."


copyright 2007 Russell Lutz.
Russell Lutz lives, works, and writes in Seattle.