Just as I was about to use my forcefield to start a light show, a series of thin lines lit up along the top and bottom corners of the hallway. They didn’t produce much by way of light; had I been relying on my natural eyes, I would only be able to see the lights themselves to guide me forward. My enhanced vision allowed a view of the corridor equivalent to broad daylight.
I kept my eyes focused solely on the strips of light; the fact that I could see in here was proof enough they might also be able to. The tunnel looked to be an old construction of cobblestone and brick rather than concrete and steel. Not a fly-by-night organization, it took work to get this tube in order, but also not an organization that had building permits.
I tried to imagine who built these tunnels in the first place as I took step by echoing step down the corridor, if only to repress flashbacks to the maze warfare we were forced to contend with in Iraq. Too large to be for people-smuggling, too new as well. Money went into building this tunnel, which implies organization and a need for space. In the end, I settled on smuggling, whether to avoid tariffs, drug laws, or Prohibition I wasn’t willing to hazard. More than anything, I want to know how some urban developer hasn’t shoved the business end of a backhoe into their secret clubhouse.
Those thoughts and others were how I distracted myself from the fact that I was walking down a kilometer long murder tunnel. The lack of scorch marks, stray shell casings, or explosives damage to the wall gave me confidence that they never used weapons down here, but that didn’t mean they weren’t equipped to. Depending on the powers they had pointed at me, they may even have noticed that fear. With any luck, they imagined the dark was why I was nervous.
I came to a room where several dozen light strips spread out in a large circle. Here, their showmanship was stretched to its maximum extent, with sticks extending into ‘tunnels’ which came to dead ends only feet from the room, and strategically placed ceiling lights which created the illusion of a tall dome fit for a cathedral rather than the four or so meters that the ceiling extended. Other than that, the place looked like the inside of the long abandoned brick train station I used to play in as a kid. These people are going through a lot of effort to appear far more impressive than they really are.
In the center was a stage with several video screens that looked to come from rather cheap flat-screens. Granted, ‘cheap’ was a relative term, but the whole layout couldn’t have cost more than two grand. I went through the motion of looking up at the ceiling as if trying to see the top; they weren’t the only ones who could put effort into appearances.
It appears that we’ve move from Wonderland to Oz at some point. “Anyone home?” I took a couple steps toward the nearest false tunnel, as if I planned to keep going past their stage.
That seemed to be the key to getting this show on the road. The five screens came on at once, emitting a dim light and revealing the room in much greater detail. I could now recognize a cord hanging from the ceiling down into the mess of equipment they used to run all this. Said cord was at least three different wires bound together by duct tape, one or two were no doubt for power and the third was a fiber optics cable plugged into a laptop that poorly disguised as part of the pedestal.
Yeesh. Even the Iraqi rebels could afford wireless.
The second panel of the five grew a little brighter. A silhouette of a somewhat overweight man moved in the screen, but the movement was too unnatural and repetitive to be mistaken for the image of a real person. “Greetings.” Even without the distorter, there was so much static that I couldn’t have recognized their voices anyway. “Do you know who we are and why you’re here?”
I’m here because you are idiots who think I am an idiot. “All I know is Stormbreaker considers you friends. I assume you wanted to talk to me about shooting some brat in the throat.” I knew the boy’s name, I knew it before the mission even began. Had I not, then the dozen times I’d heard it on the news would have made it impossible to forget. “Hope you don’t expect me to apologize.”
The third panel lit, this time with what was meant to be a woman’s head with shoulder length or longer hair. Her voice was no less distorted than the other. “We were warned you had an attitude.” The more I listened, the more I grew convinced they were using a cheap text-to-speech program rather than a voice disguiser. “I see our intel was correct.”
I spread my hands out from my sides and shrugged. “I’ve heard the same thing.” I made note of the woman’s language; she was attempting to intimidate me by implying their organization had reach, that was obvious. The question in my mind was whether she picked the word ‘intel’ to appeal to my service background, or if it was a habit from her own.
I brought my hands together in a clap that echoed through the room. “So, the best I can figure is you’re part of some shadowy conspiracy here to kill me, or you’re part of some shadowy conspiracy here to recruit me. Mind telling me which so I can update my day planner?”
“Straight to the heart of the matter, I see.” The fifth panel did the same routine as the other two, while I wondered if anyone ever talked like that in real life. “Very well. We’re an organization of concerned citizens, nothing more.”
Part of me wanted to ask when someone would shout ‘change places’. “Concerned citizens don’t often have high tech underground bases.” I still don’t know how I said that with a straight face. “Nice place, by the way. Very Illuminati.” I’ve seen garage bands in the Eighties with better gear than these people.
“Indeed,” the second panel spoke again. “We’re not willing to sit back and watch as the world slides into chaos around us. Every day, things degrade further and the world gets worse. A slow decline into corruption and decadence that is killing America from the inside. Remember back to your own childhood and tell me you don’t see it.”
I suppressed the part of me that wanted to argue that, if anything, the world was better today than during my own childhood. There may be as many bastards today as always, but we’re making progress. “Preaching to the choir, buddy.”
“We have to do something to stop it,” the woman in the third panel said. If, in fact, she was a woman. For all I knew, all three voices were controlled by a single person on the other side of a keyboard. “If we do, then imagine the world we’ll leave behind for our grandchildren.”
Oh god. Why do the crazies always pull that ‘think of the children’ bullshit? “Hey, I’m already doing my part. If you got suggestions, I’m all ears, but other than putting down the mad dogs,” you, for example “I got nothin’.”
“We understand you’re currently assigned to records filing in your police department,” panel five said. I’d come to the conclusion that panels one and four didn’t have people behind them. “You have access to thousands of confidential-”
Time to cut that conversation off. “Nope!” I brought my hand up, though still uncertain if they could see me. “I am not an oathbreaker. I swore to uphold the law, and protect the common trust. Stealing police property and handing it to people I only know through a screen ain’t gonna happen.” I spun around and started walking toward the exit.
“Wait,” the female voice said. “That was the correct answer.”
Of course it was. Such a shallow, obvious ploy with a shallow, obvious answer. I didn’t turn around before I spoke. “You wanna explain that?” I didn’t need them to; it was obvious they wanted me to tell them no. They already had at least one informant in the department, or more depending on how deep Stormbreaker was in with them. They needed me as a soldier, not a spy.
“We had to know if we could trust you.” Still the female voice. Is there a reason they’re using ‘her’ as the mouthpiece? Bet it’s some psychobabble about me being more susceptible to a woman’s persuasion. “If you agreed to spy for us, it would have proven you’re a traitor. Now we know you can be trusted.”
Jesus Christ, there are twelve year olds who can do better conspiracies. I turned to face the cameras again. “Well, glad I proved I’m not a scumbag to a bunch of faceless strangers. Does that mean we’re past the crap and can get down to business?”
“It does,” the fifth panel said. “As we said, we’re concerned citizens. You know as well as we do that the world is falling down around our ears. Our country is dying to parasites within and without. We can use your help. This, for example.”
The fourth panel lit up, this time showing some video clip I recognized from the news a few days back. Chanting protesters were shown on the steps of a courthouse as the police escorted a young man away from the building to a squad car.
“-the scene this morning as Garry Ware was found not guilty of the sexual assault and murder of his twelve year old step sister after Esper evidence was ruled inadmissible by the courts. The victim’s family released a statement that that they stand with their son, and that the jury has made the right decision.”
“Never mind the fact that he’s guilty as sin,” the woman stated. “He walked. That’s the corruption we must destroy.”
I resisted the urge to quip that he was clearly not guilty, it was just a question of his innocence that was in question. To be honest, however, there was almost no possibility he was innocent; a case won by money rather than facts. “That son of a bitch? I’m in.” I wondered if I might be laying the act on too thick, but I was in too far for them to change their minds now. “You find a way to get us in the same room, and the last thing that goes through is mind will be my foot. He doesn’t deserve a bullet.”
“No,” panel two said. “He’s far too visible. While we could get you near him, we can’t take the risk of our operation getting revealed. He’s just a symptom, anyway. The problem is the system itself. The poor victimized by the rich, children victimized by their parents, and the innocent lives ruined by the corrupt court systems and politicians who’ve sold their souls to corporate masters.”
If they chug the kool-aid any faster, they’ll drown before the arsenic kicks in. “Pity we can’t kill all the politicians.”
“One step at a time.” I know the distorted voices made it difficult to recognize irony, but somehow I got the feeling he thought I was serious. “For now, we have a number of small targets. Drug dealers peddling to children, mafia enforcers. People we can remove without anyone being too suspicious. People who don’t deserve the mercy of a prison cell. We’ll move up from there as we gain strength as a grass roots movement.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I said. Now to make it sound like this wasn’t my goal all along. “But I wanna know who I’m going after before I go after them. Taking out the trash is fine, but I ain’t about to kill someone unless I know they’re guilty. And that’s my decision to make, not yours. You don’t like it, then I’ll clean up the streets without your help. Got it?”
“We understand,” the woman said. “We can get you a list of targets, and information we have on them. I think you’ll find we’re on the same side.”
I think you’ll find I’m not the man you think I am. “Biggest problem’s gonna be dodging Internal Affairs. I’m sure you know I’m on their personal shitlist.”
“You let us take care of that,” Five said. “You’ll be back on active duty by the end of the week.”
I smiled, though not for the reason they imagined. “Buddy, you get me back on the street and I’ll remove the scum from it.”
“We will make contact with you again in four days,” Two said. The television screens started to go black one by one until his one the only one left. “You can see your own way out.” With that, everything turned off and I was with only the light strips to illuminate this cave.
Part of me wished I could go up to the equipment and leave a bug, but that risked too much suspicion. In addition, while I was equipped with the hacking module, the force interfering with my technology seemed to render it inoperative. More than anything, I couldn’t risk revealing the full extent of my powers if it could be avoided. I turned and walked away.
It came as no surprise when the Shadow-Tube was empty. Alice had run back up the rabbit hole at some point during my conversation. I pondered what buttons to press to get me back to the surface, when the elevator closed behind me and made its climb, then shifted into what I guessed was a westward direction. It came to a stop and opened into a parking garage.
My GPS system kicked back on the moment I stepped out of the elevator, letting me know I between the Museum of Modern Art and Times Square. I wondered if there was some special message my conspirators wanted to send by putting right in the heart of the city.
<Warren!> Fortunately, my uplink to the command center didn’t connect to my ears, or Phoebe’s shout would have blown out my eardrums. <We thought you were dead! The connection broke and it’s quantum linked and-> Phoebe broke down into incoherent babbling and sobbing.
<What Doctor Reed means to say,> a voice I recognized as Integral spoke over the system. <Your systems are connected to our computer via a philotic bond. Two subatomic particles linked via unbreakable quantum entanglement. The only method to silence the connection should be to destroy the machine on either end. Given that the device is located between your heart and spine, it was believed only a fatal wound was likely to damage it.>
<Alive, well, and uninjured,> I transmitted. <My onboard computer says I’m in good health. Although I think it’s clear at this point we can’t trust anything the machinery is telling us. Are Abernathy and Patil available?>
<Both are in the middle of a conversation with our mission employers.>
That’s convenient. <Put them all on the line. They’ll want to hear about this tea party.>