Book 1: Ensemble
Chapter 8: A Sense of Security
Madeleine couldn’t have hoped for a much better outcome than the one that had just played out. Both “loose ends” on the ICP front were neutralized and the ICP brass, for the time being at least, was buying into the scenario that she had painted for them. That is, that the Ministry was the clear aggressor and that a prudent, well thought out ICP retaliatory approach against them would be their best option going forward. Including the compensatory pill was genius, she thought. She hoped that it would bring this ordeal to a quick resolution and simultaneously galvanize the hatred the ICP already harbored towards the “enforcer” organization that was the Ministry. Sure, there were still some unanswered questions she would have to explain including, how did the Ministry execute a precision “one-shot” kill in a closed room? For that, she would suggest that the Ministry’s surveillance video on Dial (which had been identified by the Underground as “active” prior to his entrance into the room) was most likely there to help triangulate the best possible remote kill shot. The low-power hologram that was used to conceal the hallway bullet hole was put in place by her people seconds after the shot was fired. It was a stable signal that wouldn’t be disrupted very easily, especially if you weren’t looking for it. Maddy realized that the chicanery would eventually have to be replaced with a permanent, physical fix but she also knew that Lebanchek and company would soon be back, so this would have to do for now. Other issues that could have been complications also went smoothly. Thankfully, the ICP already wanted to have nothing to do with the Ministry. This was an important factor since the Ministry obviously knew that they didn’t have anything to do with actually initiating the hit on the ICP agent. However, so long as they had no interest in even listening to any “tales” the Ministry might want to spin to the contrary, all would be good. The fact that Cranston and company were likely already plotting their revenge against Ministry forces (with perceived “help” from the Underground), made her even more confident that things were tracking in the right direction. Even the perception of a Ministry “success,” in so far as securing Dial after the altercation, was an illusion. She actually wanted that outcome, at least for the time being. The Underground would have ample opportunity to secure him when the time was right. For now, they had something better than Stanley Dial. They had his entire family. That last bit made Maddy smile. She knew that she had to control the events going forward. And to that end, Stanley would be their mouse while his family would serve nicely as the requisite wheel of cheese…
Chapter 9: Forensics
“Rick, where are the rest of the CSIs? They are already 30 minutes late,” asked a bloodshot-eyed and very tired Gus Lebanchek.
“Actually sir, they were set to show at 8:00 a.m. and it’s 7:50 right now with most of the investigators already on site…”
Lebanchek let it go and didn’t reply. He was still too exhausted after a sleepless night. He wanted this done right. None of what happened the day before made much sense to him. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. At this point, it was pretty obvious to him that the Underground wanted to frame the Ministry for the initial shot that started the fracas. But what they were hiding and how that initial shot was executed eluded Gus, at least for the moment. Hopefully, having additional time to sort things through with many sets of eyes at the scene would help shed some light on what actually went down. Crime scene investigators should be able to handle all the trace evidence, he thought, assuming everything wasn’t scrubbed clean overnight which was a distinct possibility. However, that potential reality didn’t overly concern Gus since this particular forensics exercise wasn’t designed to collect evidence for trial. He knew that was never going to happen. The bodies and most, if not all, the trace evidence was likely long gone by now. Gus fully expected to find a ghost town when they arrived and that’s exactly what he got. When his team reached the crime scene, no one was in the building and the two bodies in room 333 had been removed along with the payoff money and any visible evidence of the blood that was spilled 12 hours earlier. Still, not quite everything was cleaned up. Ministry bullet holes remained in the wall opposite the entry door. The Underground correctly concluded that forensic evidence would be of little use to anyone, including the Ministry, so why bother cleaning everything up. There was no doubt that he was dealing with an intelligent Organization. But Gus also knew that mistakes were inevitable, especially from those who usually think that they are the smartest people in the room. Still, as of right now, the Ministry had next to nothing to go on except to use Stanley Dial as bait. What Gus really wanted was to get something concrete that he could use to convince these Organized crime lords that their “allies” were, in fact, their assassins. Gus also knew that getting to that point would be much easier said than done. The Ministry busted thugs like this all day, every day. Why would they believe, trust, or even listen to him? For any of that to happen, Lebanchek needed a smoking gun. After canvassing this place for the last hour, he had nothing. At least nothing that he could use in that capacity.
“Rick, make sure your guys get every last speck of DNA, ballistics and anything else in this room and the adjacent hallway that could remotely be used to help us. We know next to nothing about the guys that died here yesterday and I don’t like being in the dark.”
“Understood,” responded Joliet, as he motioned to one of the CSI to canvas a new area.
Gus walked over to the door. Two CSI agents were scrutinizing the hole in the door left by the bullet from the Underground assassin’s gun. “Can you confirm that this entry point matches up with the bullet hole that killed the initial Target who was standing near the desk,” said Lebanchek.
“It does, sir, absolutely,” said the taller of the two CSIs. He added, “We can already confirm that the entry point is associated with an incoming trajectory based on the entry/exit fray patterns on the door.”
“Good,” said Gus. “If you find anything else, especially if what you find is odd or doesn’t quite match up, let me know.”
“Of course sir,” the second CSI chimed in.
Gus wasn’t sure what it was but something didn’t seem quite right. He still had a lot of unanswered questions. During the mission, Joliet had men positioned in that hallway. They were not immediately outside the door due to safety and detection concerns but they were situated in that hallway. According to Rick, one team was located approximately 10 meters on the north side of the door, in an adjacent entryway while the second team was similarly positioned on the south side nearly 15 meters from the entry. Given all this, there was no plausible way for a gunman to “suddenly appear” just outside doorway 333, fire a shot and then just as suddenly “disappear”. Joliet and Lebanchek had spent the better part of two hours last night speaking with every member of the two teams. None of them saw anyone before or after the initial shot.
Gus also spent a lot of time looking closely at that hallway. No roof entrance or hidden floor opening existed. He and his men had been scouring the entire area all morning to see how this might have been pulled off. The hallway had no trick entrance that they could find. So far, it truly was a mystery. One that Houdini himself would have been proud of, thought Lebanchek. Then, just as he walked by the doorway for the nth time that morning, something hit him. The bullet hole was quite high…too high, in fact. It looked about six to eight inches above his eye-level, which would have put it at 6 feet 1 inch or maybe 6 feet 2 inches. “Guys, how high is that hole off the ground?” he asked the crime scene investigators.
After a quick measure, the smaller CSI responded, “exactly 6 feet 3 inches, sir.”
Not a bad guess Gus thought. “Is this what you would expect to see?” he asked them.
“Well sir, now that you mention it, it is a bit odd. Unless our shooter was taller than 6 feet 8 or so this would make for an awkward shot. He would also have to know exactly where the target was before shooting and there is no evidence of a sight hole present,” said the taller CSI.
“Yes. It’s also likely that the shooter would have needed some sort of visual surveillance aid. Perhaps an infrared penetrating device,” Gus added.
“There is one more thing, sir,” said the taller crime scene investigator.
“What’s that?” asked Gus.
“Not only is the entry point quite high off the ground but the hole is oriented such that the angle of penetration is approximately 30 degrees off parallel. The shooter angled the gun downward instead of firing straight and level through the door.”
Gus stood still and stared at the door for a moment. “Why would anyone do that?” asked Gus.
The CSI responded. “At the moment sir, I do not have a plausible explanation. An off-angle shot like that would only decrease the likelihood of a successful target strike. It really doesn’t make much sense.”
Gus responded and shook his head. “No it doesn’t. None of this does.”
Chapter 10: The Institute
Madeleine hadn’t been out here in years, many years in fact. At least from the outside, everything looked quite unspectacular. With its rural, spread out landscape, The Institute had none of the feel of a traditional university campus. Of course, for obvious reasons it had to be that way. Still, it did have everything the Underground Movement needed. Great teachers, top-notch facilities, the best technicians, scientists and of course, elite students. Getting the right people was no small task given the fact that the Underground was directly competing with the deep-pocketed Ministry for top talent. Sometimes they had to overpay but mostly they used the moral high ground recruitment tool or the intellectual superiority route to get the people they wanted.
It wasn’t always that way, Maddy thought to herself. She knew that much first hand. Her father, Dr. Ronald Wilheim, worked for DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency for 22 years before it was absorbed into the fledgling Ministry some 27 years ago. Back then, working for DARPA meant you were doing some cool shit. Her dad’s work was no exception. He had top-secret clearance but it was no secret that he was working on advanced time travel applications. More specifically, he was working on technologies that would enable multi-year Jumps into the future. The only problem was the newly-minted Ministry wanted nothing to do with innovation of that kind. They didn’t care about anything other than perfecting short-term Jump techniques that would allow them to efficiently maintain full social and economic control. The only research worth funding were efforts directly associated with the recently established Sweeper program. Her father had little use for such a short-sighted, draconian program. And as a result, the Ministry had little use for him. What stuck with Maddy all these years however was not the philosophical differences that her father had with the Ministry but instead the brutal, dishonest and heartless way in which the Organization quickly chewed up and spat out one of its own. Her father tried for years to get the Ministry to strive for more and to look more broadly at the vast possibilities associated with the science of time travel. In the end, his efforts proved fruitless. Ministry leadership simply wasn’t interested. Instead, they decided to transform her father into a public pariah, which proved to be a quick and effective way to get rid of him once and for all. After planting false evidence of espionage, stripping him of his clearance, job, pension and ultimately his dignity, Maddy’s father had become a shell of the man he once was. He died soon after he was convicted of crimes he didn’t commit. He never made it to sentencing. To this day, Maddy’s mother and younger brother still hadn’t recovered emotionally. She knew she hadn’t either. Her drive and deep devotion to the Underground was evidence of that. Everything that the Underground had become was what the Ministry should have always been…but never was. Still, Maddy tried to live her life without regret. It wasn’t in her nature to pontificate and wonder “what if”. She was a doer, and she was doing her best in an Organization she deeply believed in.
The same could be said for Dr. Edward Karak, who was the Director of the Underground’s Institute for Higher Learning. Whatever he and his staff were doing and however they were doing it, it was working. Karak was still a fine physics professor, but there was no doubt that he had really hit his stride as the school’s top signal caller. He was able to multitask with the best of them and he somehow always managed to find the resources, staff and students that the Institute needed.
Madeleine had arrived at the Institute a bit early than expected and decided to sit in the back of the lecture hall and listen in. She hadn’t seen Professor Karak in nearly a decade but he looked as if he hadn’t aged a day. She instinctively touched her face and looked down at her hands. Her self-conscious thought quickly faded however as she began to immerse herself in Professor Karak’s discussion on the basics of Time Travel Law that every first-year freshman, regardless of specialty, had to take. The possibility of time travel was something everyone had heard of but almost no one could confirm. With that thought in mind, Maddy looked around her and realized that every one of these kids was just as clueless as she was some twenty years ago…
She loved this particular class and still found it fascinating all these years later. Professor Karak was a brilliant teacher but his handwriting skills were truly atrocious. These poor students didn’t stand a chance if they were relying on visual note-taking which thankfully, was not the case for most of them. Dr. Karak could have used any number of modern delivery methods to teach his class but ever being the romantic he decided to use antiquated chalk to bring home his message. Somehow she was able to decipher what he scribbled on the left side of the lecture room blackboard…
Basic laws of time travel (Yes, there is a lot more to discuss, but this will suffice for now.)
- You cannot (initially) travel into the past.
- ‘Changes’ made in the future do not erase or modify events in the past.
- Conservation of mass always applies (no matter what time you are in).
- Inter-dimensional (aka alternate timeline) travel is possible (albeit tricky).
- (Simultaneous) time/space travel is possible (but not likely in my lifetime).
- You can minimize uncertainty but you can never eliminate it completely.
This was vintage Karak, she thought to herself. Complex science boiled down to bottom-line facts. Those six lines pretty much could get you through the class. Of course, not knowing the details associated with each tenant wouldn’t do you much good. For example in ‘1,’ while it is true that you cannot travel into the past from the get-go you can travel back to the initial time you Jumped from (plus the clock time you remained in the future). So in a relative sense, the traveler was going back in time but never any earlier than the initial time of the Jump itself. This is why Professor Karak strategically and parenthetically inserted the word “initially.” ‘2’ was interesting to her since unlike most time travel law it reads logically and makes sense. Here, we are not talking about changing the past and creating the quintessential and stereotypical “science fiction paradox” where you go back and kill your grandfather. As noted in law ‘1’ this is simply not possible. The point of law ‘2’ is to drive home the point that once an event has occurred it cannot be undone. It is over. It can be thought of as a play consisting of a series of short acts. Act 1 ends and act 2 begins. An event in act 2 cannot impact what has already happened in act 1, unless one is discussing the world of quantum physics. Here, in this bizarre subatomic realm, ‘law 2’ may not always hold true. However, as humans, our conscious existence occupies the non-subatomic world governed by Newtonian physical processes whereby the veracity of ‘law 2’ is unquestioned. Law 2 simply confirms the concept of cause and effect. Your actions now cannot erase or modify prior events. Of course, it is still possible to modify the present such that future events are affected. Which brings us to law 3. The way Madeleine had taught herself to understand this tenant was to think of every snapshot in time as a separate event complete with separate individuals occupying each discrete time step. So a person at t=0 was not, in fact, the exact same individual occupying t=1. This means there are an infinite number of ‘yous’ running about. Hard to fathom in a theoretical sense and even harder to accept in a practical manner, but true nevertheless. This would allow for two (or more) ‘nearly identical’ individuals to occupy the same time. However doing so would also require that the ‘you’ that left t=0 was no longer there. Employing conservation principle number ‘3’, this can be mathematically thought of as 1 + 1 = 2 under normal (no time travel) circumstances and 0 + 2 = 2 when active time travel along a timeline is in play. To help her wrap her brain around this one she liked to think of the alternate (and infinite) number of ‘Madeleines’ as her time travel twins. Thinking this way also made it much easier for her to understand how she could not possibly go into the future and jeopardize ‘killing herself’ or erase her own past. Pretty disturbing concepts, she thought but also pretty powerful, conceptually. As she was lost in thought, Karak snapped her out of her school day dreaming.
“So that’s it for today,” echoed Karak. “However, before I let you go I want to congratulate and welcome you to the Institute. If you value freedom, if you value choice, if you value the future of humanity being able to chart its own natural course you have come to the right place. Here, you will learn things that will challenge your current perception of reality. In time (no pun intended), you are also likely to add to our ever-growing body of knowledge. In a word, welcome!” There was a brief, polite pause (likely to make sure Professor Karak was indeed finished) followed by a boisterous round of applause from the new students.
As the lecture hall began to empty, Professor Karak spotted Dr. Wilheim in the back of the classroom and began to smile as he approached her. “Madeleine it is so nice to see you, it has been far too long!”
He reached out and she met his embrace. “I know Professor, far too long indeed,” she responded with a smile.
“Professor? Please Maddy, you must be kidding!”
She laughed and added, “I know, but sitting here brought me back twenty years especially seeing you at the front of the class. It seems like forever ago, but I haven’t forgotten a thing you taught us. In fact, since that time I’ve managed to apply much of it!”
Professor Karak didn’t say anything. Instead, he just smiled and looked at her. He was amazed at how little she had changed. She was in her late 30’s but still looked like the young, and yes, beautiful woman he had taught many years ago. Finally, he broke in, “So what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Well,” she said, “we have had some very promising fieldwork recently, but we also have had some complications.”
“Ah yes, the unavoidable trade-offs. I am very familiar with that reality, unfortunately. What seems to be the problem, or should I say in a more positive light, how can I be of assistance?” He beamed again and was just so thrilled to see one of his best students after all this time.
Maddy replied, “Professor, do you have some time to sit down, perhaps over dinner tonight? I will get you up to speed but it will take some time to sort through it all.”
“Actually, the Professor is swamped but Edward, on the other hand, does have some free time this evening.”
She smiled again. “I’m sorry…Edward. That is going to take some getting used to.”
“Good, something to work on! Let’s meet at the Rathskeller at 8 p.m. You remember how to get there I assume?”
“Of course,” she said, “that’s a great choice. I’ll see you there at 8.”
As she made her way off-campus, a flood of memories and emotions came back to her. She was looking forward to the visit and to seeing the Professor and others she remembered from her days of learning. However, she also realized that she had underestimated the complicating emotional aspects a trip like this could potentially include. There was no denying that the Professor had made an indelible positive impact on her life, but it was also now clear that her impact on him was a bit more emotionally charged. From personal first-hand experience, she already had concluded that work-related romantic involvements rarely worked out well. With the stakes as high as they were, she knew that there was absolutely no room for any distracting complications, especially ones of the romantic variety.
Maddy showed up a bit before 8 at the Rathskeller mostly to get a drink under her belt and organize her thoughts before the professor showed up. That plan wasn’t going to work as she quickly found out. Immediately upon walking in, there was the Professor, at the bar, probably in the seat she would have taken had he not been there already. She smiled to herself. Slightly annoying right off the bat, she thought, but it’s ok, keep it friendly, on point and professional.
“Hi Maddy, you look fantastic, as usual.”
“Thanks, Professor it’s great to see you again as well.” He clearly had cleaned up from the last time she saw him just a few hours earlier. She also noticed the presence of cologne, which definitely wasn’t noticeable before. Ok, she thought, just get into why I am here and try to side step everything else.
“I am glad you had time professor to join me. I’d like to discuss a few things with you and get your thoughts.”
“Maddy, I will always, I repeat, always have time for my best student. And please it’s Edward.” He smiled at her.
“Of course. Thank you Edward, I certainly appreciate it. Let me cut to the chase and-”
Dr. Karak interrupted and said, “Wait a moment, a drink first. It can’t be that important, and that time sensitive!”
“Sure, ok, thank you,” she said as she ordered a glass of Pinot Noir from the bartender.
“That’s better. Now, as you were saying….” smiled Prof Karak.
“Professor, I’m sorry… Edward, there are a lot of things I want to discuss with you but I also need to be prudent. Can I ask you a question I should already know the answer to?”
“By all means.”
“Do you still retain Organizational top tier clearance?” she asked.
He chuckled and looked down.
“Is that a no?” she asked, looking concerned.
“No, of course I do. I tried several times to lose that albatross but no one would let me. ‘Too important,’ they said. ‘Too important for what?’ I asked them. I’m a teacher, not an Underground spy.”
This time she laughed, for real. “You know better than that. It’s for briefing purposes and so that your research and others at The Institute can either counter or stay ahead of whatever godforsaken activity the Ministry is actively involved in or planning next.”
“Yes, I know, I know, it’s just that I am becoming an old man who wants to be left out of all that and just do the good work of a plain old scientist.”
She laughed again. “Now you are being ridiculous! You are one of the planet’s best scientists on almost everything related to time travel theory and application. You are invaluable to us. You always have been and you always will be.”
He looked up and smiled at her. Uh oh, maybe a bit too thick she thought. But what she said was 100% true, no embellishment whatsoever. Still, he was obviously in a different place than she was so she needed to tread a little more carefully. She continued before he could interject. “What I meant was that your talents are required if we are to someday slow down the Ministry. You know that. There are some things that only a few of us can know. And like it or not you are one of those few people.”
“You can relax Maddy, I still have more active clearance than any department store on December 26th.” She tried not to smile but failed. He really did have a good sense of humor.
“Ok good,” she said. “Let’s get to it. As I am sure you already aware, we had our first no-signal Jump last week. It was also interdimensional. Of course, there was still no physical displacement, time only.”
“Yes, I am aware. Last spring I helped our operational teams design the module and provided them with in-house resources that should have helped them select the best possible candidate,” said Dr. Karak.
“Actually I didn’t know who provided the physical and psychological screening resources for the final selection,” she said.
He paused for a moment. “That surprises you?”
“Actually, yes a bit, it actually does surprise me,” she responded candidly.
Maddy knew, dating back to the earliest days of the Underground Movement, information regarding Organizational operations was very tightly controlled. No one person was allowed to have more information than he or she absolutely required for the mission at hand. In this way, any “damage” incurred by the Underground from (inevitable) periodic Ministry capture and interrogation would be limited in scope. In fact, during the Underground’s formative years soon after the 9/11 mass terror attacks, control of any covert Bush Administration specific directives needed to be vigilantly protected and compartmentalized. Today, this compartmentalization was still there but it was less rigid, as evidenced by the Professor’s revelation. This sort of casual “relaxation” resulting from the Underground’s access to the Pill concerned Maddy. For her, and the people she worked with, the Pill was only to be used as a last resort when Ministry agent capture and interrogation were inevitable and imminent. And thankfully, so far, its use has been strategically effective, meaning that there have been zero cases of “successful” Ministry interrogation since its introduction ten years ago. Still, detractors have argued that the Organization has lost too many good men and women who ended up using the option before it was absolutely necessary.
Regardless of current-day politics and controversy surrounding the use of the Pill, one fact remained incontrovertible. Maddy’s direct involvement in the development and subsequent operational implementation of the intelligence tool allowed her to quickly ascend into the leadership ranks of the Underground Movement at a very early age. In fact, she was still the youngest (38) regional Director within the entire Organization despite already being in the position for over 3 years. A point not lost on her proud Professor who was still visibly glowing about her surprise (and very welcome) visit into his academic domain.
“Yes, I understand your concern Maddy, but that was then and this is now. Besides we have your incredible blue Pill to thank for that,” he said with a wry smile.
Maddy didn’t smile back but instead looked down at her now empty glass. A point not lost on the Professor…
“I meant that as a compliment my dear,” he told her. “The reality is we have no choice but to take extreme measures. There is no denying that our numbers have been dwindling for many years. The ingenuity of you and your team helps us even the odds. The Ministry outguns us, outnumbers us and wildly out funds us. We have to take extraordinary measures simply to stay alive. And no, the irony in that last statement is not lost on me. All I can add is that as your Professor, it is impossible for me to be any prouder of what you have accomplished in such a short amount of time. And I also am certain that your father would completely agree with me…”
That last line caught her off guard. A tear formed before she could even try to stop it. Within seconds, it was making its way down her left cheek. Without saying a word, the Professor took his right index finger and wiped her tear away…
After a few seconds, Karak ended the powerful moment with a calculated matter of fact question he knew would help her quickly regain emotional control.
“So, this was interdimensional you say? Interesting, I expected the first trial to be a linear timeline Jump.”
As predicted, Maddy jumped right back in without missing a beat.
“We were anxious to test our ability to move laterally as well,” she responded.
Karak continued his line of questioning and dug in a little deeper.
“After waiting nineteen years to get our own machine and then going through another six years of testing, model development and candidate screening and integration, I am curious as to why you felt compelled to move so quickly?” he asked.
“Well, as you noted, we have been sidelined for so long and we really don’t have the luxury of strictly adhering to the scientific method and isolating one factor at a time. I’d prefer doing it that way, but unfortunately our current situation is forcing our hand to try and make as many advances as possible for each Jump we attempt. As you know, things are not going well.”
“Yes, that much is certainly true,” said Professor Karak. “What have you learned so far from the subject? I would like us to study the inter-dimensional bio tracers and I’m certain we have others on campus who could spend time with the individual in order to document the level of physical stress that was incurred. I am sure the modeling team has countless questions about verification of the timeline and inter-dimensional differences that were recorded. Not to mention-”
Madeleine interrupted him. “We don’t have the subject.”
Karak was very surprised. “What? How is that possible, what do you mean?”
“The Ministry has him,” she said.
Surprise morphed to shock. “I am not sure you should tell me any more Maddy.”
“Yes, I would rather not continue but I have little choice. I, we, need your help.” She continued. “The Jumps were flawless. It was the post-return timeline validation that was the problem. In fact, it was not validation at all since-”
This time he interrupted her. “Since it was timeline inter-comparison?”
“Yes,” she said.
Karak continued. “And I am guessing the subject had no idea that what he experienced was in fact not his own timeline?”
“Precisely,” she said again.
“I’ll make one more educated guess,” the Professor postulated. “What he experienced the second time was not quite what he saw on the first go around.”
“Indeed. And because of that, he became a bit, shall we say…unhinged.” she said.
Professor Karak was no longer looking up at her. Clearly upset, he added, “You need to acquire the subject Maddy …immediately.” Still looking down at his half-finished glass of wine he added, “If I am going to help you, I will need to know everything.”
“I understand Professor.” This time he didn’t correct her…
Chapter 11: A Plan to Get Stan
Maddy hadn’t planned an extended stay but after last night, she realized that she would be at The Institute for quite a while. The first thing she needed to do was sort out the current situation and come up with a viable plan to acquire Stanley Dial. At that point, she could have Institute specialists conduct physical and mental evaluations and make sure that every last detail of his trip was fully documented. Much had to be learned before a second Jump could be attempted. That much was clear. Last night, she had told Dr. Karak everything she was aware of, including the fact that her people had Dial’s family in custody. Karak didn’t like that very much either, especially the use of the word “custody”. She kept her demeanor steady but internally she was starting to get slightly irritated at how this situation was playing out. Many, if not all at the Institute were (happily) oblivious to the “underside” of the Movement. That is, how things actually operated in the real world. The Underground’s decades old culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” had an unfortunate side effect that was especially prevalent at The Institute. Here, many never seemed to ask or care where the funding came from. The only concern was that it did come, and in a timely manner. Maddy understood that the science and technology aspect of the Movement had always been the single largest ongoing cost. It had to be. However, this never-ending, no questions asked, stream of funding also bred an attitude of entitlement. The term ‘Ivory Institute’ used by many in the field was beginning to resonate with her. It had nothing to do with Karak’s obvious personal disappointment about how this operation was unfolding. She had thick skin, and could always handle just about any criticism that came her way. That said, she wasn’t about to apologize for doing her job. Complications always turn up on the practical side of any operation. And Maddy was nothing if she wasn’t practical. The tougher the challenge the better she performed. The situation with Dial was no different. She would get her man and The Institute would get their test mule. She was also certain that this would all happen sooner rather than later.
The next morning she met up with Professor Karak at the breakfast hall in the main cafeteria on campus.
“Hello Madeleine”, said Dr. Karak as she sat down in a chair adjacent to him.
“Sleep well?” she asked.
“I always do,” he responded with a polite smile. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the details of what you told me last night and I have several follow-up questions I would like to ask you,” he added as a matter of fact.
“By all means, ask away,” she told him.
“Ok good,” he continued. “On the day of the unfortunate ICP episode, you mentioned that the subject brought money to the meeting. Is this correct?”
Since there was no need to hide anything there was also no need to play the silly euphemism game either, she thought. “Yes, when the operatives were purposefully eliminated, the entire amount owed to the ICP was found beside both deceased bodies.” That was a bit harsh she thought, and perhaps unnecessary after seeing Dr. Karak close his eyes and breathe in deeply. Still, she was tired of the fact that too many academics expected to keep their hands clean and were unwilling to recognize those who were “executing” the requisite dirty work that made their existence possible.
“Given that …Dr. Karak paused, “how did this all come about?”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“When this individual won at the roulette table, why didn’t he just collect his winnings and leave the casino a very happy man?”
This was a fair question but one she didn’t have the answer to at the moment. “We don’t know exactly what transpired Professor, due to the fact that a WOS was put up almost immediately. We believe that Dial’s time travel signature was detected in some way and that Ministry agents were deployed to the scene within minutes. As you already know, we also lost one of our best undercover agents during the episode. One possible scenario is that his mark was inadvertently exposed soon after he had won, perhaps as a result of an unfortunate, premature celebration. Casinos of course are aware of the fraud risk related to Jumping. While rare, many establishments have seen the mark first hand as a result of a few Ministry Sweeper incidents that have transpired over the last 20 years.”
“Yes, all of that is possible I suppose, and it is also likely that the Ministry would make it appear as if the subject won legitimately so that a strategically advantageous meeting with the intermediary ICP agents could be set up.”
Madeleine waited for more but Dr. Karak did not continue. “Is there anything else Professor?” she asked. She could tell something else bothered him by the look on his face.
“Well, yes there is. According to one of the dynamicists I spoke with earlier this morning, there is a very real chance that your subject did not win at the table. In fact, there was a better than 70% chance that in fact he lost. The very similar timelines your subject frequented were nearly but not exactly identical. Over very short leaps of this nature, one might expect identical results on almost every inter-dimensional comparable outcome. However, numerical simulations from our ensemble runs suggest that chaos-dominated systems such as micro-scale turbulent processes matched with individual outcomes from games of random games are likely to have non-identical results even when nearly-identical ensemble member timelines are compared and contrasted. Your test subject could be the key to understanding how the real world Time Ensemble works, and just as importantly, the limits of the predictive system we have developed to mimic that reality.” Dr. Karak paused for a moment and then looked at the Director and said. “We need to find him, Maddy.”
“I know Professor,” she replied. “And that’s precisely what we are going to do.”
Chapter 12: Stanley Dial Returns
Stanley Dial was not very happy. Gus Lebanchek was even less happy, which meant Rick Joliet couldn’t possibly be feeling any joy. All of this sadness was understandable, of course. Stanley had just lost his family to Underground operatives, Gus was set up and played by the Underground like a violin twice in twenty four hours, and Rick’s teams came off looking utterly incompetent in the process. No, it was a bad day to be a Ministry agent or informant. Gus wanted to regroup and had even more agents back at the original scene where the two Underground intermediaries were killed. At this point, nearly forty-eight hours had passed and Gus was sure there was more to be discovered. In fact, thanks to analyses from DNA trace evidence collected the day before, Gus now had the identity of both men. As expected, they were linked to organized crime. Each had previous multiple “encounters” with the law. And both had done some time in the past. They were not big fish but they led Gus to a bigger pond. Lebanchek now knew who these guys worked for and asked Joliet to round up their ex-bosses earlier that morning.
Just then, Joliet approached Gus and Stanley and said, “Sir, this is Valery Stokovnik and his associate Mikhail Kolonoktev.”
Both men were burley and gruff in appearance. Both had scruffy facial hair and looked like they just rolled out of bed. Then again, maybe they always looked like that, Gus thought to himself.
“Fantastic, thank you Rick,” said Lebanchek. “Let me get you some coffee. We have a few boxes of Joe and of course a bevy of mandatory, police-issue donuts on hand this morning.”
The two Russian mobsters weren’t amused and just blankly stared back at him. Gus was unfazed and continued.
“Gentlemen, please set yourself at ease. We have asked you to come under friendly circumstances. We just want to talk with you and see what you might know about a series of events that have recently transpired.”
At this point, Gus was the only one who had anything close to resembling a smile on his face, and that included Stanley and Joliet.
“I assure you, if you work with us and answer a few simple questions we will have you on your way in no time.”
Stokovnik and Kolonoktev looked at each other with furrowed brows and then each turned their attention back to Lebanchek. “Vat do you vant from us?” responded Stokovnik in a thick Russian accent.
“Is it Valery?” asked Gus.
“That’s fine Valery, because ve know vat ve vant and ve plan to valk you through everything…” Gus said with a playful smile.
Still, no one else was smiling.
“First thing’s first however… Before we get into it, let’s get you and Mikhail some hot Dunkin Donuts coffee. Personally I think it’s the best.” Both men were already tired of Gus’ antics, but decided to play along and accepted the coffee that Gus and Joliet handed them. “Please follow me,” said Gus as he led all four men up the stairwell to the second floor hallway just outside room 333 where the shootout had occurred two days earlier.
“Ok, so here we are gentlemen,” said Gus as he stood next to the entranceway of room 333. Stokovnik and Kolonoktev didn’t seem impressed and simply stood there. “Nothing?…Nyet?” asked Lebanchek with a sarcastic fake smile.
Finally, Stokovnik seemed to have enough of Lebanchek’s clowning and blurted out in a heavy Russian accent, “Look Ministry man, vat de ‘ell do you vant from us? Spit it out!” Stokovnik blankly looked at Lebanchek and said nothing.
Stanley and Joliet looked a bit surprised but also said nothing. Even Lebanchek was temporarily silent. Not for long though.
“What do I want? That’s simple enough to answer Valery,” he said calmly. “I want to know the truth. Exactly what happened here forty-eight hours ago. Right now, I don’t shit. But I do think either both of you or your bosses know exactly what happened two days ago. You see, we have the DNA from your two colleagues who died in there, and without question, they are part of your ring…I’m sorry, part of your ‘Organization,’” Gus said using air quotes.
Kolonoktev, mostly tight lipped to this point deadpanned, “We don’t know vat you are talking about.”
At that point Gus opened the door to room 333 and all five men walked in. Gus walked over to the desk where both men were killed in the shoot out. Gus motioned over to Joliet and nodded his head.
Rick spoke up.
“The identity of the two men turned out to be the well-known Tony “Hard Head” Fiore and the other was Edwin Montelban, who as it turns out, was Fiore’s nephew. Both of these individuals have, well actually had, prior criminal records and are, sorry, were known affiliates of the Russian Philly mob, or if you prefer, members of the Integrated Industries Conglomerate of Philadelphia. Of course, both of you gentlemen are also card carrying members of this same fine institution.”
“Thank you Rick,” said Lebanchek.
“So what? We may or may not of heard of these guys. Big deal,” said Kolonoktev with a mild Russian accent much less pronounced than that of his colleague.
“None of that tells me why we are here or what you want. Also, we think you killed our guys for no good reason. Maybe we talk about that instead…”
Gus smiled. He actually was starting to appreciate these guys a bit, especially Kolonoktev. No fear whatsoever and very direct. Gus respected that.
“Sure, why not, I’d love to.”
Gus proceeded to calmly explain how he and his men did not initiate the gunfire in any way. He then went on to explain how he believed that the Underground assassinated their associates in order to cover their tracks.
“Cover their tracks you say. What were they trying to cover?” asked Kolonoktev.
Gus knew he had now hit a wall with these two.
“I can’t divulge that.”
Both Russians shook their heads and rolled their eyes as they turned away. Gus grabbed both men and took them off to the side. Joliet and Stanley Dial stayed back.
“Look, I am willing to let the past be the past,” said Gus with an intensity he had not shown previously. “And we all know that has been a very ugly past. However, all of that could change. I need your people to get me deep inside the Underground. I am certain that you were betrayed by your so-called “Underground ally”, he said, once again using air quotes.
“With some time, I am confident that I can prove this. They killed your men here…in cold blood. They don’t want the Ministry on their tail….and trust me, neither do you. Instead, your people could have a much more powerful ‘new’ ally,” said Gus with a smile as he employed air quotes for the third and final time.
“Call your boss. This offer is very real but it won’t last long.”
Within minutes, the Russians had set it up. Their head boss, Jack Cranston would come out to the crime scene. Gus instructed Joliet to pick him up. The two Russians, not trusting any of this, insisted that they also come along for the ride. Gus had no problem with that, except for the fact that now he would be forced to babysit Stanley Dial for the next hour. Making matters worse, when he looked at Dial all he saw was the complete failures of the past two days.
“Dial, get your ass over here.”
“What did I do now?” Stanley asked.
“Nothing. Look, I am going to crawl over this place again to see if I missed something. I need to concentrate. That means I can’t hold your hand while I’m doing it. Are you ok to take care of yourself for a while? And by “take care” I mean that you don’t get yourself, or anyone around you, in any more trouble. Can you do this?”
“Yeah, whatever,” responded Dial dismissively.
At this point, Stanley was so sick of Gus Lebanchek, Rick Joliet and anything that had to do with the stupid Ministry. For all he knew he had already permanently lost his family. Did any of these people care at all about that devastating possibility? Were any of these losers LOOKING for his family that they utterly failed to protect? Of course they weren’t. The one thing Lebanchek cared about was tracking down an Underground connection that could lead him to the machine and the people who sent him back in time. Anything else was either a means to an end or an unimportant side detail that could be ignored or dismissed.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, the word “F A M I L Y” in large black block letters flashed just in front of him.
He immediately looked around and wondered, was anyone else seeing this?? Stanley was dumbfounded. There were about ten people in the room moving about either collecting trace evidence or looking for it. Lebanchek was one of those ten. However, no one seemed to see what he just saw.
There it was again!
This time it was even bigger…
F A M I L Y
“What the hell?” Stanley uttred audibly.
This time a ministry CSI walked right through the word that was now about two feet in front of his face. Stanley was now officially beginning to freak out. He walked out into the hallway just outside room 333. A couple of Ministry officials were out there, but it was much quieter. Stanley could think. Was he losing it? He had no time to think about that.
Then the next message came through. This time it had each of his children’s names followed by his wife’s name, all in big block letters.
L A U R E N E D W A R D P A T R I C I A S T A N L E Y M A R I A
One name at a time, each lasting about five seconds followed by what seemed like a fifteen-second pause before the next name popped up. Then, the next words came through…
S A V E T H E M
This came through three times in a row. A sinking feeling in his gut quickly developed. How do I save them?? Is this a joke or a trick, he thought nervously to himself. Then, the word G O showed up followed by T O and finally 39.9495° N 75.1503° W appeared.
What was this? The last bit was obviously a set of coordinates. Those repeated in front of him at least five more times. They wanted him to go there. Was my family there? He wasn’t sure but that didn’t matter. Stanley looked around him. No one had seen any of this insanity. He was convinced of that. Stanley went back into the room 333 but nothing had changed in there. In fact, Lebanchek was so deep into whatever he was doing he was oblivious to anything else around him.
Stanley realized that he had to move now.
Lebanchek wasn’t paying him any attention and Joliet was picking up the mob boss with the two Russians. Stanley started to walk down the hallway looking down but not moving too quickly. There were two guys out there but they didn’t seem to notice him at all. They were too busy poring over every square inch outside that doorway and into the hall. Stanley couldn’t believe how easy this was going to be. He simply had to walk down one flight in the stairwell and within a minute he would be on the street, hailing a cab.
Within three minutes he was sitting in a yellow cab.
Before going anywhere he asked the driver to wait a minute.
“That’s fine buddy, it’s your dime,” he said in a South Philly accent.
Stanley punched in the coordinates he had previously memorized into the navigation application on his phone.
After another minute or so the driver chimed in.
“Where to pal?”
Slightly amused, Stanley glanced out the window. He answered the driver.
“Take me to The Independence National Historic Park”.
“Where?” asked the cabbie. “The Liberty Bell …Take me to the Liberty Bell, and get there as fast as you can!”
Chapter 13: The New Unholy Alliance
Gus was personally searching every inch of room 333. He had instructed his CSI team to do the same on the entry door. They missed something yesterday, he thought, but what exactly? Perhaps there was some Underground hidden surveillance they had missed. Maybe that could shed some light on what went down. Gus regretted not putting a surveillance video on Dial. It may not have helped but it also couldn’t have hurt. Still, worrying about that now was pointless. Gus was on his knees when Joliet came into room 333 with the two Russians and a third person who he logically assumed was Jack Cranston.
Gus stood up and put out his hand, “Gus Lebanchek, Jack Cranston I presume?”
Cranston didn’t reply or reciprocate on the handshake. “ I am a busy man Mr. Lebanchek, please state your business so we can get on with this.”
Gus couldn’t get over these guys. They were so full of themselves and were so used to always getting their way. Not today he thought…
“Cuff him Rick, and the other two. Use the chairs and desk where they were killed.” Gus walked out of the room and halfway down the hall. A couple of minutes later, he returned to the desk where the three men were sitting. “I would offer you something to drink, maybe some coffee, perhaps a donut, but I really don’t give a shit what you might want to eat or drink, so I won’t.” Gus continued. “Plus, as you say, you all are very busy and in a bit of a hurry. Given all that, let’s keep this short and sweet. Two of your men were killed here right in this room forty- eight hours ago. We know they were your men from trace forensics and criminal records we uncovered. What we don’t know is why the first man was killed, which of course set off the whole unseemly and completely unnecessary exchange that ensued.”
“Sure,” snorted Cranston.
“Excuse me? Please speak up,” said Lebanchek.
“How can you not know why Fiore was killed when your people killed them?”
“This Fiore you speak of, I assume, was the one with the Tree tattoo on his hand?” Gus looked over at Joliet who nodded in the affirmative. “Well Mr. Cranston, that’s where you would be mistaken. We, the Ministry that is, did not initiate the gunfire exchange that ended in the demise of Mr. Fiore. That act of aggression was initiated by your so-called allies from the Underground.” Jack Cranston shook his head and looked down at the floor.
Gus continued. “I expect the disbelief, really, I do. Why should you believe me? After all, the Ministry, being “above board”, busts “below board” people like you all the time,” he sarcastically added using air quotes once again. “Nevertheless, when you look at the actual facts, it’s quite clear that it was impossible for the Ministry to pull off such a precise execution. One bullet to the forehead, shot through a closed door by a ghost…”
After a moment, Cranston took the bait and picked his head up. “What are you talking about, ‘a ghost’?”
“A ghost, you know, someone who is invisible,” said Lebanchek. “It had to be, because we had several of our men in that hallway, not far from the entryway, waiting to come in if any of your people showed aggression towards Stanley Dial. But we both know that’s not what happened,” said Gus.
“No, obviously not,” quipped Cranston, who was still unconvinced.
Sending his disbelief Gus added, “So how did it happen, then?”
“Stop with the games Lebanchek. Why don’t you tell me how your men killed Fiore? Unless you are very stupid, I’m sure you had surveillance on Dial. Doing that would allow you to set up a shooter with the angle needed. You wouldn’t necessarily need a visual since you could triangulate the shot. We both know this, so just cut the bullshit.”
Gus Lebanchek stood still for several seconds. He mumbled to himself. “Jesus…triangulate…that’s it…” He then quickly left the room and went into the hallway. Soon after, he came running back into the room. “Rick, un-cuff them and give me one of those chairs.” Joliet did as he was asked. With a chair in hand, Gus ran back out into the hallway outside room 333. He closed the door to the room, placed the chair against the wall on the opposite side of the doorway and approximated an angle that would enable a bullet to go through the door and still be able to hit someone standing behind the desk, just as Fiore had been doing prior to his unfortunate demise. The rest of the men stood in the hallway, looking perplexed as they watched Gus stand silently on the chair for well over a minute.
Even Joliet was confused. “Sir, what exactly are you doing?”
Gus ignored them as he put his hand upon the hallway wall and moved it around as if he was looking for something hidden. Still finding nothing, he looked back at the door and adjusted his search by about a foot to the left. As he did that Gus instantly smiled as wide as Cheshire Cat.
“What?” asked an impatient and incredulous Cranston.
They all moved closer and looked at the area where Gus had his hand. “Watch this.” Gus instructed them to look at his right pinkie finger. He placed his finger directly into the wall. As he did, half of Gus’ finger appeared then and disappeared into the invisible hole in the hallway wall. He did this about ten times until Joliet finally got it.
“Hologram!” he shouted.
“Bingo!” said Gus. “Local power generation and shielded. Something like this, if you weren’t looking for it, could remain hidden indefinitely. Years, in fact. Still, this is quite sloppy for the usually buttoned-up Underground. Why they didn’t permanently clean this up is beyond me.”
Cranston went from looking annoyed and disinterested to visibly upset. He distinctly remembered Wilheim talking to him afterward and conveniently mentioning, more than once, “triangulation” and video surveillance as to how the Ministry likely pulled this off. Fucking bastards. If they want a war, I’ll give them one they won’t ever forget. He also thought about the blue pill bullshit Wilheim tried to add on for good measure. How sweet it would be to use it on her ass, he thought.
“Still too busy to talk, Mr. Cranston?” asked a still smiling Gus Lebanchek. Just then, a very distraught Joliet came up to Gus who was still standing on the hallway chair. “What’s up, Rick?” Gus’ smile instinctively began to fade. Whatever Rick had to say, he knew it was not going to be good.
Thank you for reading the most recent release of the SEKTOR V trilogy! Be sure to come back every 1st Wednesday of the month to find out what happens next!
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