by J. Darksong
Part 5) Harriet
“Welcome aboard, Senator Barclay, and you as well, Miss Baxter,” the tall well-dressed man replied with a smile, reaching out to shake her hand. “My name is Jared, the assistant director of this facility. I trust your trip in was a pleasant one?”
“Hardly,” the Senator sniffed, glancing about the facility with undisguised disgust. “I’m not a big fan of ‘cloak and dagger’, Mr. Darkwood, so please forgive me for being less than impressed at your high tech security measures. And I don’t see why your facility had be to stationed underground, when there are any number of perfectly good buildings—”
“Actually, Senator, we’ve checked into that,” he cut in smoothly and graciously, gesturing to a small motorized car just outside the now open doorway, “and with all the considerations of our somewhat... specialized equipment, this was the optimal location to set up shop. After you,” he replied, gesturing towards the empty seats in the back of what appeared to be a monorail tram.
“A monorail system? Underground?” Megumi Baxter said with a slight frown. “Is the facility really large enough to require something like this to get around?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” Jared replied, climbing into the driver’s seat. “Our facility houses a staff of just shy of two hundred staff members, technicians, and doctors, as well as our security staff. The facility itself is three levels, the first housing the living and training quarters, the second housing the medical staff and operational controls, and the deepest, lowest level holding the supercomputer as well as the machines that run this entire base.”
Starting the engine, the three of them zipped along the tracks, down a long narrow tunnel, emerging out onto a large circular track encompassing the entire first level. The visitors openly gawked at the high tech living quarters, all gleaming metal and plastic, looking more like something found on a space station than a secret underground government facility. Each domicile had a thick transparent ceiling, allowing the tram occupants to look down into every room they passed. Several of the quarters showed people sleeping, bedded down for the night, while others were simply relaxing, eating dinner, or watching TV.
“We’ll be arriving at the security check-in station momentarily,” Jared announced, grabbing the women’s attention once more. “If you have any questions about what you’ve seen so far, please, feel free to ask.”
“I’d like to know just how much of the taxpayer’s money was spent on the construction of this... this... colossal eyesore!” Senator Barclay exclaimed, her perpetual scowl deepening. “NASA has less impressive facilities for their astronauts than what I’ve seen here so far, and this is only the first level!” She stepped off the tram as soon as it pulled to a halt, and turned to glare at her host face to face. “Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Darkwood. I am here solely to investigate and report back to the Senatorial Budget Committee whether or not this little project of yours should continue to be funded, or whether to terminate you completely. And seeing all this, I’m leaning towards the latter choice!”
“Fair enough,” Jared replied good-naturedly, walking around to the entrance. Taking the security badge from around his neck, he slid the plastic piece through the card reader, causing the door to swing open. “I just ask that you and your assistant keep an open mind, and reserve your final decision until after you’ve seen the entire complex. I’m sure once you’ve had a chance to see everything that goes on here, you’ll feel more supportive.”
“Doubtful,” the Senator mumbled under her breath, glancing over at her young assistant, who merely grinned, winking. In truth, he mind was already made up, had been made up even before she’d stepped into the elevator taking her a hundred feet below the surface. Still, her assistant had prompted her earlier, she needed to be able to back up her decision with facts when she met with the other members of the Budget Committee. Which won’t be too hard, by the looks of things, she thought to herself. I’ve seen military installations less grossly overfunded than this place!
Passing through security was something of a chore; both she and Miss Baxter were forced to register themselves in the computer system, then pass a biometric handprint and retina scan before being allowed into the inner area. When they were finally issued security badges, the Senator frowned again, seeing her name and picture printed on the plastic card. “And I suppose you couldn’t have simply given us a couple of generic ‘Visitor’ passes?” she snarked, glaring at the assistant director, who merely shook his head.
“We take our security here very seriously,” he replied, leading them both through the titanium plated entrance doors, and into the cafeteria area. “Considering our operational mandate, it wouldn’t do to have all these security measures and let a spy or enemy agent down here just because he’s flashing a VISITOR badge, claiming to be some VIP from our own government. Not that I’m suggesting such a thing about YOU, Senator,” he added, flashing her a grin. “This is the cantina, where operatives and staff members alike can grab a bite or two, or simply converse and relax in between assignments.”
“Excuse me, please,” Miss Baxter spoke up, adjusting her thin horn rimmed glasses. “I’m not exactly clear on what you mean by ‘assignments’. What do your operatives do, exactly, Mister Darkwood?”
Jared paused a moment, considering. “A very good question,” he said after a moment, walking over to the cafeteria front desk. “My standard answer to such a question would either be ‘classified’, or ‘I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you’, but if your clearance is high enough to enter with the Senator, then I guess I can fill you in. But first... would either of you like something to eat or drink? The temperature and air quality is carefully monitored by the system, and by necessity, the air is extremely dry.”
“Yes, actually,” Miss Baxter replied, licking her lips. “Do you have Diet Coke?” The lady behind the desk nodded, reaching behind her into refrigerated cooler at her feet.
“Hmm... in that case, I’d also like a Diet Coke,” the Senator replied after a moment. The cafeteria clerk nodded again, and turned holding up two small, clear pouches filled with dark brown liquid, with a small plastic straw glued to the side. Megumi and the Senator glanced at each other, then back at the ‘drink’ offered, eyeing it dubiously. ”That is a Diet Coke?”
“Of course,” Jared replied briskly, gesturing to the lady as well, receiving a pouch filled with clear liquid. “And I’m having Sprite. We receive regular deliveries once a week, straight from the local bottling company. However, again, considering the nature of what we do here, using glass bottles or aluminum cans.. or anything else that could conceivably turned into a makeshift weapon, seemed ill advised.” He sighed. “A while back, an operative whose training didn’t… ‘take’… decided to escape, and kill anyone who tried to get between her and the elevator leading out. She made it as far as the cafeteria before security caught up with her, and even then she managed to kill two of them and seriously wound a third, armed with a broken Pepsi bottle and a dull butter knife.” He shook his head. “Before my time, actually… I wasn’t with the project back then, but from what I hear, the next day they began installing the biometric safeguards and replaced all the silverware with plastic.”
“My God,” Miss Baxter breathed softly, turning away, looking slightly ill. Senator Barclay, though noticeably pale, continued on, bringing the discussion back to current events. “You were about to tell us exactly what it is your operatives do here,” she said after a moment. “I think I’d like to hear that now, if you please.”
Jared removed the straw, sticking it into his pouch taking a deep drink. “I’ll do better than that. If you’ll follow me over into the next area, I’ll show you.” He paused again, frowning. “Feel free to drink up, ladies. You just poke the straw the plastic like those little Capri-Sun juice pouches. In fact, the same company that produces them makes these clear ones for the bottling company for our deliveries.” Turning on his heel, he walked out of the cafeteria, leaving the two women to catch up to him. Down another corridor, they stopped in front of yet another massive metal door, with no handle, only a card reader. Without commenting, Jared slid his ID card through the reader, which beeped loudly as the door slid open.
“This is the training center,” he announced proudly, gesturing to a wall sized window, showing an immense training ground filled with numerous people, men and women, undergoing various stages of physical training. As the Senator and her attaché peered through the window, they were able to make out the individual sections. To the right, several people of varied age, sex, and race were practicing their marksmanship with various firearms, from handguns to sniper rifles. In the middle section, several of the operatives were sparring with one another, demonstrating a wide and varied range of martial arts; in one section, two women were kickboxing, in another section, karate, and in yet another section, Greco-Roman wrestling.
“This is where our operatives practice and refine their training,” Jared explained, “each of them becoming masters of not merely one discipline, but all of them. Our operatives learn to be flexible, to adapt to their situations, to think and process and react with the proper use force for any given situation.”
“So, basically, you’re training Special Ops soldiers?” Miss Baxter said with a frown, sipping from her drink pouch.
“Okay, I’ll admit, it’s a rather impressive set up,” the Senator said after a moment, taking a sip of her drink as well, “but it’s nothing any other military training set up hasn’t already achieved. I still fail to see the point here—”
“Ah, but that’s the beauty of it,” Jared cut in again, grinning nearly ear to ear. “This isn’t a military installation, and those aren’t soldiers. They’re all civilians. Normal average people from off the city streets. These are people from all walks of life: young, old, rich, poor, black, white, yellow and red… and the only thing they have in common is the training they’re receiving.”
“What?” Senator Barclay yelled, while her assistant nearly choked on her drink. “You mean to tell me you have a bunch of randomly picked people being trained to serve as Special Ops operatives?!? Are you mad? Insane?”
“Neither one, Senator,” Jared replied calmly, moving towards the door, to a small intercom system. “Lab One, this is Darkwood,” he replied into the speaker. “I’m in the Observation Room. Send me up one of the new recruits... hmm... um... Cynthia. Yes... send her up, please.” Turning back to his guests, he sighed. “This facility is more than just an overblown martial arts den. Our operatives are trained to become the perfect sleeper agents, the perfect spies, able to blend in perfectly in any situation, able to protect themselves if needed... and if necessary, able to take out a target with precision, perfection, and no emotional detachment.”
“Wait! Wait a second!” Megumi cut in, shaking her head. “You’re talking about assassinations? You’re training these people to be assassins? To kill people?”
“I believe ‘assassination’ only refers to a ruler, dignitary, or high level government official,” Jared pointed out candidly, “but to the basic idea, yes. But again, you’re only focusing on that one detail. The big picture is so much more! They are—” He paused as the side door opened, and a young dark haired woman, no more than twenty-one years old, stepped inside. She was dressed in a pair of sky blue lycra shorts and a matching V-cut top. She smiled at the assistant director, the smile fading slightly as she noticed the other visitors.
“Um... you called for me, Sir?” she asked, feeling a bit nervous and unsure at their scrutiny.
“Yes, Cyndi, I did. Just relax though. I’m giving the Senator and her attaché a tour of the facility, and I thought perhaps you could help me with a little demonstration. Can you help me with that, dear?”
“I...” she began, swallowing slightly, a blush starting to spread from her cheeks. “I mean... I’m not sure. I only just arrived a few hours ago, you see...”
“That’s okay, dear,” Jared replied soothingly. “That’s precisely why I called you. Cynthia, in a moment I am going to take a swing at you.” The girl’s eyes widened, and she took a step back, in fear. “Relax girl, I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to demonstrate to our visitors the effectiveness of our training regimen.”
“But... but I haven’t even had a chance to train yet!” she whimpered, drawing back, as Jared reared back to hit her. She winced, closing her eyes, not even trying to block the blow, gasping loudly as he slapped the side of her face. Eyes wide, she stared at him in shock, her lower lip trembling, as if she were barely holding in the urge to sob. Angry and affronted, the Senator made a move towards Jared, who merely held up a hand, stopping her.
“Pawn to Queen’s six,” he said in a clear concise voice. Immediately, Cynthia stiffened, the fear and hurt disappearing from her face, replaced by a blank emptiness. “Defensive mode, level three, NLR,” he said, before suddenly swinging a fist towards the impassive girl’s nose.
Cyndi responded swiftly, twisting slightly to the side, neatly deflecting the blow with her forearm. “Acknowledged,” she responded loudly, continuing to dock, block, or deflect the rapid series of blows her Handler threw at her. Ducking underneath a high kick that surely would have decapitated a lesser adversary, she countered, dropping low, sweeping his leg, and sending him to the floor. Jared grunted, rolling to the side to avoid a pale soft bare heel coming down towards his ribcage, then, arching his back, kipped up back to his feet. Cyndi stood by, still completely expressionless, as he charged her again, this time grappling, grabbing her about the waist. In one smooth move, she turned, twisting, batting him across the temple with her elbow, using her freed arm to grab his, as her lefts slid between his, pushing them apart and back, taking him off center, and finishing with a wicked over the shoulder toss.
“My God!” Senator Barclay gasped in shock, stunned by the sudden violence of the last few seconds. The girl turned to look at her as she spoke, and the Senator backed up a step, suddenly afraid that she was about to receive a similar thrashing. A soft chuckle from the floor, however, caught her attention, as Jared rose back to his feet, getting up a bit slower this time, brushing the dust off his suit.
“Cynthia, King to Queen’s six,” he said calmly, staring the dark haired young girl in the eyes... eyes that blinked rapidly for a few seconds, then widened, as life returned to them. She glanced around in slight confusion, wondering how she’d moved to the other side of the room in what seemed to her like the blink of an eye. “Thank you, Cynthia dear, that will be all for now,” he said gently, giving the confused girl a soft pat on the shoulder as she walked to the door and left. Turning back to the Senator and her assistant, he sighed. “So... I’m sure you have questions for me NOW, Senator...”
“Mind Control,” Miss Baxter blurted out suddenly. “You... you brainwashed that girl! I saw her... saw her face when you said that code word trigger. She went completely blank! And then, when you said that second part, she snapped out of it, looking like she had no clue what had just happened!”
Senator Barclay scowled, coming to the same conclusion. “That’s what this is all about, isn’t it, Mr. Darkwood? This facility of yours... it’s nothing more than an elaborate base for your brainwashing experiments! Your so-called ‘operatives’ are just innocent people plucked off the streets, their minds tampered with, then sent back out to act as your sleeper agents, living their lives completely oblivious that they’re all really puppets dancing under your strings!”
Jared merely shrugged, nonplussed. “A rather biased, derogatory expression of the facts, but still, entirely accurate. The Director feels that the best operative is the one that doesn’t know he or she is an operative. And yes, as you stated, our agents live out their lives as normal, completely unaware of their actions as our agent. But the reason is far less sinister than you are making it out to be! The average person can’t deal with the gritty, dirty reality of what we do to keep our country safe. Even most well trained soldiers have a hard time dealing with the aftermath of killing the enemy... or taking a person’s life. Some people can deal with it, and some people can’t. And the only people that aren’t bothered by it in some way are emotionally detached sociopaths incapable of feeling empathy for another person.”
“And that’s exactly what you’re doing here!” The Senator challenged, gesturing to the window. “Creating an army of amnesiac sociopaths! You brainwash them, train them, then release them back out into the wild like some kind of endangered animal!” She scowled. “Well, that tears it, Mr. Darkwood. Those are American citizens down there, not your personal lab rats! This little project of yours is over as of now! When I make my report to the Budget Committee, not only will your funds be terminated, but you and your compatriots will face criminal charges!”
Jared stared at her for a long moment, then sighed shaking his head. “I’m sorry to hear that, Senator. I’d hoped you would keep an open mind about everything you’ve seen here... that you would at least TRY to understand. It’s a very simple fact: freedom isn’t free. This country has enemies. Terrorist attacks are on the rise, as is civil unrest. No one is happy about the state of the world, but no one is willing to do what needs to be done to change it—”
“Oh, please,” Senator Barclay cut in, disdainfully. “Save your 9-11 bullshit! You and every other right-wing extremist believe you can use what happened then as an excuse to bend the laws to your own views and do whatever the hell you want ‘for the good of the Country’. Well I’m not about to stand by and let you get away with this shit! You’re not going to talk your way out of this! You have violated these people’s civil liberties, and I intend to make damn sure you pay for it!”
“I see,” he said, walking over to the window, glancing out at the training center. “I guess that’s that. You’ve made up your mind on this matter.” Turning back to face them, he closed his eyes briefly. “Pawn to Queen’s seven.”
“Yes, Sir, I’m ready,” the Senator’s attaché, Megumi Baxter replied listlessly, going still.
Senator Harriet Barclay whirled around in shock. “Megumi?” she whispered softly, the color draining from her face. “No... no. This can’t... this is impossible...” She turned, seeing Jared standing there, his expression aloof, unconcerned. “How did you do this? Was it... something in the drinks? The Diet Coke?” she asked, blanching even more as she contemplated the half-empty pouch in her hands.
“No, no, Senator,” Jared replied, walking over to the enthralled assistant, running a hand gently along her cheek. “As I’d stated several times today, we take our security here VERY seriously. Once we knew you were appointed to head the Budget Committee in charge of our funding, we took steps to insure this facility’s future. Dear ‘Meg’ here was abducted several months ago, and trained as a sleeper to keep tabs on you.” He sighed softly. “And that’s exactly my point, Senator. This girl isn’t just some nameless assassin. She’s the same woman you’ve worked alongside for the past several months, talked with, joked with, even gone out to drink with. But she’s also one of our operatives. Her job was simply to let us know if you might be a problem, if you were the kind of woman who would side with us... or be a thorn in our side.”
Harriet Barclay moved then, darting quickly across the room to the door handle, pulling on it with all of her strength, desperate to escape. Jared allowed her a moment to realize the futility of trying to escape, then nodded to his operative. “Meg, restrain the Senator... but do it gently. I don’t want her harmed.”
“As you wish, Sir,” she replied tonelessly, walking over to the older woman, grabbing and pulling her arms behind her back. “Don’t struggle, Senator,” Megumi whispered softly into the older woman’s ear, “you can’t get away. But that’s okay... it’s going to be just fine. Relax. Trust me. You’re in good hands.”
“No! Let me go!” Harriet cried, struggling desperately, to no avail. The young Asian girl’s arms might have been made of steel instead of flesh and blood. “Megumi, please! You can’t do this! I know you’re still in there somewhere! Please! Let me go!”
“She won’t let you go, Senator,” Jared said softly, walking over to the small corner desk. “Megumi is still in there, but ‘Meg’ is in control right now. And Meg obeys only me, her Handler. Isn’t that right, Meg dear?”
“Yessss, sirr,” she purred softly, clenching her legs slightly. “I obey. Mmmm... and it feels so good to obey...”
Jared chuckled softly, returning from the desk, holding a small hypodermic needle in his hand. “It’s a simple program, Senator. Reward and punishment. A good obedient girl is rewarded, while bad, naughty disobedient girls are punished. In this state, Meg has only those two emotional states, pleasure and pain. There’s no doubt, no confusion, no anxiety. She has no conscience to dissuade her, and no sense of morality to wrestle with. In this state, Meg is pure, and untainted, capable only of obeying the commands of her Handler.”
Harriet gaped nervously at the needle in his hands as he approached. “What... what are you going to do with that?” she asked fearfully.
“I think you know perfectly well what this is for, Senator,” he said, matter-of-factly. “With your current view of our operation, you’ve become a liability. Moreover, you’re an obstacle. But we specialize in dealing with obstacles here. You either eliminate them,” he said, causing her to wince, “or... you turn them into an asset,” he replied, sliding the needle none-too-gently into her neck. “There. That wasn’t so bad now, was it? Just give it a little time to work, and believe me, all of your fear and doubt will fade away.”
Almost before he’d finished speaking, the Senator sighed, all the fight going out of her. She slumped in Meg’s arms, a wide glassy smile covering her face. Jared leaned forward, lifting an eyelid gently, checking its dilation, before nodding. “Well, Senator Barclay, I asked you to keep an open mind about our facility until I’d given you the complete tour, but you chose not to. So, I’ve opened up your mind for you. And I guarantee, after you’ve finished touring the programming centers on the lower levels, you’ll be MUCH more supportive to our cause... indeed, you’ll be one of the family.”