An ex-paramilitary commando must stop a megalomaniac intent on taking over the world.
|Prologue: Genesis of the Beginning
Forêt Des Quatre Piliers, France: February 10 10:19|
The metal sphere dimmed, the light receding from the room and once again leaving it mostly in shadows. Only a few indistinct shapes could be seen around the sphere, standing so still they might as well have been shadows.
“Set it on high again. We need to see how long he can last.”
The sphere, about a meter in diameter, flared again, the brilliant surface a blinding white. The man, Richelieu, was chained to a large circle, his arms and legs spread out so he looked like an X, arched his back and screamed.
“Is that the highest?”
There was a nod.
Richelieu screamed again, his eyes rolling into his head, foam frothing at his mouth. A monitor began to flash and a loud beeping sound filled the room. He started to shake, tremors tearing through his fragile body. Tears mixed with red slid down his face.
The light abruptly vanished, but Richelieu still trembled violently.
“He’s ready. Give him the shot.”
An assistant trotted over to the chained Richelieu.
“Get me the syringe.” The assistant syringe held the syringe up, so Richelieu could see it, before he rested on a choice spot on his neck and slowly depressed the plunger, injecting the contents of the syringe into his bloodstream. With a quivering sigh, Richelieu’s eyes shut, but the tension stayed in his body, his muscles hard and stiff.
“Excellent. Let’s make our report now, before it’s time.”
Richelieu, head hanging against his chest, sobbed. He was done for and he knew it. He would never survive another day. But he had a mission. A mission that he would complete. If he didn’t…
He shuddered at the thought. The consequences of failure were too great to even think about. Struggling, he raised his head. The lights had come on, illuminating his surroundings. In front of him the round orb stared as it always did. Though it was plain and undecorated, a malevolent feel emanated from it.
He twisted his head so he could see his bonds. They were made of some type of material that he didn’t recognize; they weren’t chains but a solid, ridged cable, attached to a ring that hugged his wrists and ankles. There were two more, also attached to a large band around his middle, made of the same material.
Around the room there wasn’t much to see. Except the orb. It dominated the room, intruding on everything, invading his waking thoughts and sleeping dreams. Richelieu looked over it again, unable to stop himself. It was connected to some sort of contraption, wires sprouting out of it, a makeshift control panel stuck onto the top. He also knew that there was some sort of glass observation box behind the orb where the scientists waited. The only entrance into the room was the windowless carbon-steel door on his right, but it was always locked. Two guards stood outside of it 24/7.
Richelieu was about to slip back into sleep when the door opened, and the familiar click of a cane on the cement floor echoed across the room. Richelieu looked up, too exhausted to say anything.
“I’m here to help you.” The voice was strange, like nails scraping down a chalkboard. “I’ve decided this is all a mistake. I’m sorry.” He took out a remote and pressed a button. Richelieu’s bonds retracted, dropping him to the ground.
The man who had just entered proffered a hand but the other man ignored it, picking himself up with obvious effort.
He stood up, rubbing his wrists where the manacles had bitten into them. His arms were sore from hanging for so long. The two faced each other, the newcomer almost a head taller than Richelieu. Without warning, Richelieu swung a fist into the newcomers soft belly, driving him to his knees, then kicked him once, twice, a third time, before yanking him up by the collar and searching his jacket. Inside one of the pockets, he found a Luger P08 semi-automatic. Without a moment’s hesitation, he pushed the barrel against the newcomer’s head and pulled the trigger. A loud crack reverberated inside the confines of the room, and the newcomer was thrown back, his head hitting the concrete with a wet smack.
The two guards ran into the room, alerted by the gunshot, but with two more shots, also to the head, they fell. With a grim smile Richelieu walked over to the bodies. Sticking the P08 into his belt he grabbed the guns, Beretta Neoses, and several extra magazines. He had to find a computer. If he didn’t then all was lost. He had been granted a reprieve and now he had to make the most of it.
Kicking the door open he quickly checked the corridor. For some reason though, the placard on the door caught his eye. TEST LAB C-33/a. He blinked and looked back out at the corridor. Clear. He ran down the hall and stopped at the first door, flattening himself against it. He could hear the sound of the Nexus soldiers, Blackwood’s private army, running to the testing room. But these wouldn’t be any ordinary Nexus soldiers. They would be Nex Vexillum, an elite unit of the Nexus. Nex Vexillum were heavily armed, and ruthlessly dangerous. He wouldn’t stand a chance.
Throwing the door open he raised both of the guns, firing simultaneously into the corridor at the oncoming guards and into the room. With his foot he kicked the door closed so he was on the inside and dropped one of the guns.
Richelieu grabbed another magazine from his pocket, reloading as he threw himself behind a chair. Finished reloading, he pulled out the P08 and jumped over the chair, flipping a metal table up so it stood on its side. He fired from around the sides until the return fire stopped.
Gasping for breath, he dropped the empty P08 and retrieved the other gun from where he had dropped it, and surveyed the room. Half a dozen white-coated scientists lay around the room. All were dead, killed in the heated battle. The remains of a cabinet hung on the wall, torn apart by the firestorm, glass mugs falling out. A sink head had exploded and water sprayed around the room wildly.
But there was no computer.
He hurried around to the other side of the table, looking through the pile of objects that had fallen off the table when he had flipped it. He sifted through, coffee, the remains of a mug, pencils, sodden paper, and there!
A tablet computer, silent black screen, cool aluminum backing.
But it was wet, coffee pooling around the edges of the frame. Please work, please work he prayed. He tapped the home button, and the screen came to life. With a shout of glee he opened the internet, logging onto his email account. As he did somebody began to pound on the door. Reinforcements. Setting the computer down, he began to search the cabinets until he found a gun, a Beretta carbine. Aiming it at the door he pulled the trigger. The gun leapt and bucked, bullets slamming into the door. Returning to the computer he quickly typed out a message, choosing a recipient from his address book. One more thing had to be done before it could be sent.
He was startled out of his concentration as the door shook, smoke billowing through the crumpled edges. Returning his gaze to the computer he selected an email from his inbox, clicking on a link. That link would activate a program that would send the email, then, when that was completed, wipe the computer clean, destroying everything on it. The program would temporarily mask the email, allowing it to slide underneath the radar. A proxy site would intercept the email and shuttle it around until sending it to the final recipient, once the program was confident all traces had been purged. Even later when the computer was searched, no trace of the email would be found; who sent it, who it was sent to, or what it contained would never be discovered.
The door buckled inwards before crashing to the floor. A spray of bullets burst in, catching Richelieu in the chest and throwing him backwards. There was the familiar click of the walking cane. The same man he had just killed minutes before stood over him, a Luger P08 pistol pointed right at his head. Behind the man with the gun he could see dark shapes with tubes strapped onto their backs and hoses in their hands.
He looked up at the P08. “How?” he croaked.
Then there was a crack and blood exploded in front of his eyes. Richelieu slumped to the ground, dead.
Mediterranean Sea, France: February 10 11:33|
The woman looked at the email that had just arrived. A great shaking sigh ran through her body. When would it end? Another dead. So many had died in the past few months.
But she couldn’t let her private feelings stop her. She forwarded the email to fifty-two more people, who would in turn forward it to whomever they thought could utilize its information best. When she had finished, she closed the computer and clasped her hands.
So, it was as they feared. His plan had started in earnest. They would need to stop him as soon as possible. Picking up the slim phone that lay beside the computer she dialed a number.
“Kent? I want you to continue your current operation.”
There was a pause and she continued.
“I know, I know. But I have new, frightening, information. They’ll probably need protection. I don’t know if he’ll do anything but I want to be sure. Thank you.”
Setting the phone back down she bowed her head. A tear trickled down her face.
San Francisco, California, United States of America: February 15 4:31 PM
It was a quiet day in San Francisco, the sky covered by a shield of gray clouds, fog clinging to everything, rain drizzling down. Few people were out in the dreary weather, save for a single oddball trio, running down 24th Street in Noe Valley, towards a Starbucks that offered warmth and protection from the elements. The man dressed all in black, from the fedora to his shiny boots, and the young teenage boy, not more than fourteen, sat down at a table near the window while the third member of their party, a man in a sombrero, ordered their drinks.
For the first time in seven months, relaxation had finally settled over the trio. Seven months previously all three had been in Egypt during a three day adventure that had changed all of their lives.
Señor Pepe, the man in the sombrero, and Jojo, the teenager and his son, had travelled to Egypt in August expecting to provide assistance to some mysterious Egyptians who had sent them a letter. It seemed perfectly innocuous, if a rather a strange way of contact. Señor Pepe was known around the world for being both an accomplished architect and a prolific philanthropist. But what seemed like an innocent request, they quickly became the target of an ancient cult that was desperately trying to assassinate them. After their plane was forced off course and exploded over central Africa, a strange man saved them, killing the assassin and jumping to safety before landing in a lake, at the center of which was a prehistoric island inhabited by head hunters, cannibals, Nazis, and giant beasts that had died millions of years previously. With the help of the man, Horus, they escaped from the island, and began traveling north, to Egypt, along the way falling into several more deadly adventures before stumbling into the subterranean lair of the cult, lead by the evil, and seemingly invincible, Amon-Ra. It was there that they came across the man in black, Tepes, discovered that the letter for help that had started them off on the wild adventure had been a sham, and lost Horus to a mob of mad terrorists that Tepes had been chasing. Lost and confused, Señor Pepe and Jojo finally found themselves at the mercy of Amon-Ra, after fighting their way through countless miles of tunnels infested with cultists and terrorists alike. Jojo ended up being forced to kill Amon-Ra with her own knife to save Señor Pepe’s life, and the duo escaped from the tunnels, answerless but alive.
The man in black, Tepes, was, now, an ex-CIA paramilitary commando, had suffered his own three day adventure in Africa. He had battled his way across Northern Africa as he desperately tried to stop the launching of a nuclear missile by the terrorist organization al-Qa’ida, intent on destroying Washington D.C. He ended up in Egypt, chasing the last of the terrorists that were being lead by his archnemesis Zacchaeus, an assassin. The chase took him into the cultists’ tunnels where he ran across Señor Pepe and Jojo. After the mission, in which twenty-two of the twenty-three men under his command ended up dead, Tepes went rogue, killed the last man, and left Egypt for San Francisco, rescuing Señor Pepe and Jojo from the endless desert in the process.
Señor Pepe returned to the table with three drinks. A hot chocolate for Jojo, he had refused Jojo’s begging of an iced tea with double vanilla and no ice, a black coffee for Six, and a soy strawberry and cream for himself. Jojo and Tepes were idly discussing the America’s Cup yacht race currently going on. As the Spaniard sipped at his drink, his eyes roved around the Starbucks, until they alit on an newspaper stand. The front page of the San Francisco Chronicle read “ARTHUR BLACKWOOD TO SPEAK AT SAN FRANCISCO.”
Señor Pepe stood up and purchased a copy, bringing it back to the table and reading the front page article. “Hey, look at this. Dr. Blackwood is having a seminar Friday afternoon to promote his new book. This is the last stop on his tour. He’s made positively amazing discoveries in the field of psychology. I’d love to hear him speak. We should all go.”
“But I’m in school…” complained Jojo.
Señor Pepe waved his hand. “Oh pfft, that didn’t stop you from waiting in line for the third Kill Bill, now did it?”
“That wasn’t during school,” Jojo pointed out.
“No, just a school sponsored event. Whatever, your psych teacher will be thrilled you actually want to do something concerning normal psychology.”
“I do plenty of stuff in psych. I actually like psych. Unlike Spanish. Or Latin.
“But those things are important. You need them. Right Tepes?”
Ignoring Señor Pepe’s question, Tepes picked up the paper. “Wait,” he quietly remarked, in his usual laconic manner. “Look at this.” The ex-commando pointed to a well-built, shadowy figure in the background behind the picture of Blackwood standing behind a podium on the National Mall. “You see him? I don’t like the way he looks. He’s not a business person, I’ll guarantee you that. He looks more like a hit man.”
“Don’t be such a worrier,” Señor Pepe chided him, “It’s probably just his bodyguard. The doctor is one of the most famous people in the world. Men, and women, like that need bodyguards. Quit worrying.”
“I’m not so sure…” Tepes remarked softly.
San Francisco, California, United States of America: February 19 1:46 PM
Four days later, the crowd filed into the theater at San Francisco University, eager for the presentation. “This is so exciting!” Señor Pepe whispered to Jojo. “One of the smartest men in the world, right here!”
“I can’t wait to hear him talk!” exclaimed Jojo.
Señor Pepe, Jojo, and Tepes found their seats, close to the front. Señor Pepe and Jojo excitedly chatted about Blackwood, psychology, and various other topics pertaining to those subjects. Tepes though, remained silent, carefully watching the theater for any sign of the shadowy figure he had seen behind Blackwood. As he observed, he noticed several suspicious looking men. They seemed to be part of the audience, but Tepes wasn’t so sure. They had nervous faces, and their gazes darted around the theater. Making sure to keep an eye on them, Tepes settled back in his seat.
Promptly at two o’ clock, there was a smattering of applause as a tall man walked onstage. It was impossible to say how old he was, but if he had ever had any plastic surgery it wasn’t apparent, for his face was perfectly natural. He had smoothed back black hair revealing a widow’s peak and was dressed smartly in a Kiton suit that, though simple, screamed power, and wealth. A custom made one was worth over twenty thousand dollars. On his feet were A. Testoni loafers that cost fifteen hundred dollars a pair. He wore no jewelry except a one point five million dollar Tour de I’lle watch, one of ten in the entire world.
Blackwood walked with the air of an upper class individual. But at the same time everyone in the room felt like he was a friend they had known for years.
Blackwood had been featured in the Forbes 400 and on their list of Most Powerful People for years. He had graced the cover of TIME Magazine three times and donated millions of dollars to charity, traveling around the world to help countries in need. One of the most famous photos of the decade was of Blackwood with an emaciated Ethiopian child on his lap, clinging to his shirt. He became prominent after writing the bestselling book How to Become Successful Before 21 which went on to sell almost twenty-million copies. From there he just kept getting bigger and bigger. He was hailed as the next Edward Hunter and made huge leaps in the field of mind control, manipulation and hypnosis. Blackwood also proved himself to be a competent businessperson, making himself a fortune by buying and selling stocks until he was on the board of trustees for some of the biggest businesses in the world, including Umbrella Corporation, Enoch Enterprises, Humanistas Limited, International Genetic Technologies Incorporated, and Nightrise Corporation. He was highly respected, and had even attended several Bilderberg Conferences. He was a member of both the PARS Society and the Olympiq Society, some of the world’s most exclusive organizations, which only accepted people who scored in the top 99.99997 percentile on IQ tests, or one in every three million five hundred thousand people. Nearly every person of any influence, from world leaders to Middle Eastern oil sheikhs, were indebted to him in some way.
Blackwood smiled confidently and adjusted the microphone. The clapping ceased. Gazing out over the audience, Blackwood was briefly silent. Then he began to speak. “Psychology,” proclaimed Blackwood in a loud, commanding voice, “is an intricate subject. Many psychologists I’ve met only care about money. I, however, do not believe in this. The true path to being rich is through influence, talent, and inheriting ten million dollars from your dad at age twenty-one.”
Everyone laughed at the bad joke. They couldn’t help themselves, they had to laugh. Blackwood oozed with this wonderful charisma that made people want to do things for him, to impress him and to make him happy. He seemed to speak with a wonderful assonance, even though at first glance his words sounded perfectly normal. They melted together as if he spoke in a melodious language long lost to humanity. His words were resonant, and beneath them there was an almost inaudible undercurrent of love that flowed throughout his speech. Some even said that the way he talked was analogous to Churchill, casting an incantation over all who listened. He stopped talking, and the empty space left by the lack of his words seemed to be dissonant, so ugly was the cavity made in the auditory sense of all the listeners present.
“But that is not the purpose of my lecture. Friends, I am here to give you a two hour audit in psychology. Hopefully, by the end of this day, you will be more informed about psychology than anyone you know. But this is only the prologue to the incredible world of psychology. It is truly vast, and in my opinion, one of the most fascinating subjects on Earth. It is my sincere wish that this will open the way to greater dialogue between you and your psyche. So now I ask you to recant what you have already learned, and embark with me on this adventure…” He spoke with a polished, worldly accent that belonged to no particular country or region.
Tepes stifled a yawn. God, this guy is boring, he thought. He looked around at the rest of the audience, but they all gazed at Blackwood with rapt attention. Tepes seemed to be the only disenchanted one, free of the spell that Blackwood had cast over the audience.
And Jojo. The spunky young boy was attempting to text through the fabric of his jeans, ignoring Blackwood completely.
Tepes looked back to the stage. He saw what the others didn’t. Though Blackwood’s words were cheerful and cordial, Tepes discerned a type of malice in his eyes, a sort of obsessive aura around Blackwood that told Tepes that no matter what it took, Blackwood would accomplish whatever it was he set out to do.
Tepes turned his attention to the third and highest tier in the theater. This section was blocked off so only theater workers could enter. With his specially trained vision, Tepes was just able to pick out three figures in the shadows. They were armed with what appeared to be suppressed rifles of some type.
Tepes narrowed his eyes. He knew from the beginning that there was something strange about Blackwood. He tapped Jojo on the shoulder and motioned for him to follow. Tepes stood up, silently slipping past the people in their seats. Jojo had more trouble, crashing into every person until the whole row was sitting up, angrily buzzing at him.
Tepes shook his head and hurried up the center aisle, evading the watchful door attendant’s eyes and walking around to the door to the third tier. With a disdainful look at the NO ENTRANCE signs, Tepes knocked them aside. Jojo pushed them too, even though Tepes had already shoved them aside. Walking up the musty red-carpeted staircase they arrived at a spacious balcony overlooking the theater. Tepes scanned the area, but the men he had spotted were nowhere to be found.
“Where did they go?” he muttered.
He cautiously crossed the balcony and knelt down where the snipers had been positioned. The only thing that showed anyone had been there was a rectangular black box, a handheld transceiver. Words were issuing forth, identical to the ones that Blackwood was saying down on the stage. He stood up looking at the stage where Blackwood was speaking. Tepes looked at the radio, trying to figure out what it meant when he heard a sound. Any normal person would never have been able to hear it, but with his super-trained hearing Tepes could pick up the quietest of sounds.
He whirled around. Two men stood there, rifles strapped to their backs and Beretta U22 Neos Inox pistols with four and a half inch barrels equipped with silencers in their hands. Jojo gasped in fright and sprang back into the shadows.
“We don’t want any trouble,” hissed the first guard. “So come with us.”
“Weren’t there three of you?” Tepes asked, stalling for time.
“Oh yes,” the guard replied, “but he’s still out looking for you. And, as you have our radio, he won’t know we have you. So do us a favor and just give it back nice and slow.”
Tepes walked slowly forward.
“Move back!” the guard commanded. “Don’t come any closer!”
Tepes stopped walking. “Fine,” Tepes spat, “but you’ll regret this favor.” He tossed the radio high in the air so the guard had to look up to catch it. At that precise moment, Tepes sprang in and struck a humming uppercut to the first guard’s jaw.
Jojo left the shadows where he was hiding and dove behind a seat.
The second guard brought his gun around to shoot Tepes, but Tepes was ready.
He struck the guard on the head with the bottom of his fist and then drove his knee into the guard’s stomach. Turning around again he grabbed the other guard’s collar and punched him in the face. Tepes let the guard fall to the ground and looked around, not even breathing heavily. Jojo emerged from where he was hiding behind the seats.
“Wow! That was really cool!” Jojo declared.
Tepes only grunted. “Let’s go wait outside. I don’t want to meet that last guard.” They walked back down the stairs and out into the lobby, then outside. “Get behind those recycling cans.” Tepes gestured toward a row of blue plastic cans. Jojo hopped over the cans and crouched down, Tepes following him.
Señor Pepe walked out of the theater, a shiny new book under his arm. He looked at the recycling bins, shook his head and sighed.
“You know everyone can see you. That is the most ridiculous hiding place you could think of.”
“I saw men with rifles on the top balcony. They were trained on us” said Tepes.
“I’m sure. Get out from behind those bins.” Dutifully, Tepes and Jojo climbed out from behind the recycling cans. “Now what is this about men with rifles?”
Jojo opened his mouth to speak, but Tepes interrupted him. “There were three guards with sniper rifles trained on us in the theater. When Jojo and I went to investigate they tried to kill us. I disposed of them both.”
“I hope you didn’t kill them!”
“No. I only knocked them unconscious.”
Señor Pepe sighed again. “They were probably trying to stop you from going somewhere you shouldn’t. That is their job after all.”
Tepes said nothing, only narrowing his eyes.
Señor Pepe continued. “Well let’s go home. We could use a nice rest. And Jojo, you’ll have to write an essay about how to use psychology in the everyday world since you decided to skip Dr. Blackwood’s speech. It was amazing, I don’t know why you decided to go prancing about the theater on some half-baked hunch that didn’t even turn out to be right…”
Jojo groaned, but Señor Pepe brushed him off and hailed a taxi.
San Francisco, California, United States of America: February 19 17:13_
Blackwood sat in the dressing room backstage, relaxing on a low divan. He admired his solid gold, Gresso Avantgarde cellphone with African Blackwood case, frowning. There was a knocking on the door. Annoyed, Blackwood looked up.
“Come in,” he called.
The door opened and a guard walked in, nervously fiddling with the buttons on his uniform. “Sir? We called all the men in. We’re missing two Aquila.”
“Let me guess. The ones that were observing the Spaniard and his friends?”
“Where’s the third? I remember assigning three to watch them.”
“He came to us. He said that he went to follow the younger one and the one in black after they left their seats. He never found them and was never contacted by his other unit members.”
Blackwood’s brow furrowed. “Were the guards that stayed ever located?”
“Did you check the balcony where they were supposed to have been stationed?”
“Huh, n-no, sir.”
“Then do that! Do I have to think for you? I don’t want some theater employee finding a couple of bodies. Too much unnecessary explaining. And paperwork. I hate paperwork.”
Blackwood stood up and marched past the nervous guard toward the balcony. “Can’t we have some light or something?” he commanded. “The show’s over.”
The guard spoke into his own radio and seconds later the lights switched on, illuminating every inch of the theater. Including the two inert bodies sprawled in the aisle of the balcony. Blackwood strode up to them and looked down contemptuously.
“Are they even alive?”
The guard bent down and lifted the first man’s limp wrist, checking for a pulse with two fingers. Quickly nodding, he scuttled over to the second man and repeated the process.
“Yessir, they’re both alive.”
“Then move these dullards out of my sight. They will be fully reprimanded later.”
The guard nodded and called for assistance while Blackwood walked back downstairs.
He flipped open his phone an spoke into it. “General?”
“I want you to find Señor Pepe, Jojo, and their friend. Tell me where they are, what they’re doing and why they came here this afternoon.”
Blackwood smirked. This was so easy. They didn’t know who they were messing with. Walking back down from the balcony and to his waiting Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe, he slid inside the luxurious car. Blackwood pulled out his cell phone again and looked at a picture of three figures. One was dressed completely in black with a fedora pulled low over his eyes, another with a bushy mustache and a sombrero on his head, and the last, a young boy, obviously frightened from his ordeal in the underground tomb. The shot had been taken with an incredibly powerful four gigapixel camera from a helicopter; the faces could be clearly seen. Four gigapixels was powerful enough to capture every individual blade of grass in an area the size of four football fields. They were sweaty, tired, and worn out, exhausted from their battle in the subterranean labyrinth that stretched beneath the farthest reaches of the Sahara Desert. Blackwood smiled. While he had been able to identify the Spaniard and his young friend, the final member of the trio, the one dressed completely in black, he had been unable to identify. Now though, with any luck, they would be able to lift DNA from the two guards and finally find out he who really was. He had access, legal or not, to practically every intelligence agencies’ databases in the world, including the few that had DNA databases, namely the CIA and MI6.
Blackwood smiled again.