John Velvet was highly upset. Outraged even. Downright pissed once you cut out all the polite euphemisms. He hadn’t slept much since this Odin business had started, and he was wired from drinking so much black coffee. John Velvet held an important position as Director of the American Intelligence Machine. As such, he was expected to be able to identify potential threats to the safety of these United States and counter them. He had realized right from the first attack that he had had the opportunity to secure the Voice of Odin for the United States and had let it slip through his fingers.
His desk phone rang and he picked it up. His assistant’s voice spoke in his ear, “Sir, I’ve got a call from Colonel Thompson of B.I.T.E. Priority Alpha One.”
“Put him through.” Velvet leaned back in his high backed chair and rubbed his aching eyes.
“John? It’s Alvin Thompson.”
“Al, I hope this isn’t a social call. As you can imagine, I’m busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest over here.”
“Trust me, I know exactly what you’re going through. London’s a ghost town. Everybody was scared shitless that Odin would hit the city.”
“Then you’ll understand my bluntness when I ask you to get to the point of this call.”
“First off, I want your word that this call stays between us.”
“Hold on a sec.” Velvet reached over to the phone console and shut off the digital voice recorder that had automatically activated when the call was patched through to him. “Okay, my recorder’s off. This better be good, Al.”
“It is. Do you know a man named Dillon?”
Velvet felt a sudden sharp pain in his gut as if a spear of ice had been driven into his bowels. Hearing Dillon’s name usually had that effect on him. “Don’t tell me he’s mixed in this.”
“Up to his eyebrows. He spent a merry few days running from me and Greg Tipp, half the mercenaries in Europe, and some of Odin’s agents. John, you know him, right? Is he a bad one?”
“Dillon? No. He’s an arrogant son of a bitch with more mouth and nerve than brains. But I’ve had occasion to work with him a few times. I don’t like him, but I trust him. Just how involved is he in this Odin business?”
Thompson spent a quick and succinct ten minutes telling Velvet what he knew. Velvet listened quietly, not interrupting or asking questions until the story was finished.
“So where’s Dillon now?”
Thompson’s voice was wary. “Project: 65.”
“Christ! Why’d you send him there, Al? Dillon’s a pain in the ass, sure, but he’d have worked with you and Tipp! Why did—?”
“Now steady on, John! I didn’t make that decision, and I even questioned Greg on the wisdom of it. I agree with you that we’d be better off with Dillon on our side, working with us, but Greg’s determined to make Dillon suffer for the dance he led us on. Why do you think I wanted your word that this conversation would be between the two of us? If Greg Tipp knew I was handing this information to you, he’d have my head, friendship notwithstanding. But I’d heard that you and Dillon knew each other and I figured that if anybody could put pressure on Greg, it would be the Director of the Machine.”
“Damn right I will.”
“Whatever you have to do, do it quick. Greg’s had him there for a day already. And that’s just about the record for holding out. Greg’s about to really start to go to work on him.”
Project: 65 is located on a small rocky island off the English coast, protected by the most sophisticated electronic cloaking device in existence. Established back in 1985, it was jointly funded by several intelligence agencies, including the Machine and MI6, as well as others of various allied nations. The island existed for one purpose: to extract information from men and women in any way necessary. To accomplish this end, Project: 65 employed a variety of experts in interrogation techniques, some subtle and insidious, others savage and brutal. Project: 65 guaranteed one thing: if someone were sent there for the purpose of getting information out of them, it would be gotten. No matter what.
Doctor Yolanda Merrydew watched on a monitor screen as Dillon was removed from the sensory deprivation tank he had been confined to for the requisite 24 hours prior to interrogation. He was placed on a gurney and his naked body wiped dry. Yolanda stood a petite five-foot-one and a riot of soft auburn curls framed her round face. She looked more like a cheerleader than one of the world’s leading experts in electronic interrogation. She turned to her assistant, Oskar. “So what’s the progress we’ve made on this one?”
Oskar looked at a notepad in his freckled hand. “The subject has been in sensory deprivation one day following injections of Four and Seven Crash. He’s ready for White Room interrogation.”
Yolanda Merrydew sighed. “Gregory Tipp sure about that?”
“He was most definite. He said he wants this one interrogated in the White Room and furthermore, he wants to be there.”
Gregory Tipp was ushered into the control center of the White Room. Dillon was encased in a huge chair with built in restraints that held down his arms and legs securely. Dozens of sensors were attached to his muscular body. His breathing was slow and shallow. Two technicians placed a bulky helmet on his head, affixing several thick black cables that ran from the chair to the helmet, and adjusting readouts. The White Room lived up to it’s name as it was a chamber of solid, pristine white. The chair rested in the center of the room. Yolanda Merrydew and Gregory Tipp sat behind a thick pane of two-inch thick smartglass where they could keep a visual eye on Dillon.
Dillon’s body was absolutely limp and helpless. He had been pumped full of two versions of Crash, a potent psychotropic drug created by Yolanda. She had devised it to completely tear down any and all psychological barriers natural and unnatural in the shortest amount of time possible. Coupled with the sensory deprivation chamber, Dillon was now ripe for interrogation in the White Room.
Yolanda activated her control board. There were four rows of seven hundred red buttons, four rows of two hundred orange buttons and three rows of four hundred black buttons, arranged in a semi circular pattern.
“How on Earth do you remember what all those buttons are for?” Tipp murmured.
“It’s not unlike playing a piano, believe it or not.” And indeed, Yolanda cracked her knuckles and limbering up her fingers much like a concert pianist preparing to play a difficult piece. “I’ll be constantly bombarding Dillon with a variety of electronic stimuli designed to make him remember whatever we want to know. He’s been injected with two versions of Crash, and that’s more than most people are able to take. He’s only now open to us. I’ve never seen a subject fight as hard as he has against the drugs.”
“What will happen exactly after you begin the interrogation?”
Yolanda pointed at an LCD screen that unfolded from the ceiling. “The White Room is basically a huge computer designed to interpret human brain waves and translate them into holographic images we can see. Once we begin, we’ll be able to see his thoughts and memories on that screen.” Yolanda seated herself and her skinny fingers danced lightly over the keys. “Ready when you are.”
Tipp sat down next to her and his lips quirked as he looked down at the thick file he held in his hands. It was Dillon’s file. He’d spent a few minutes looking at it before coming to a decision. “His file has nothing about his childhood or his nationality. Let’s start with filling in a few holes in his background. Can you do that?”
Yolanda nodded and her fingers became a blur as they manipulated the keys of The White Room.
Dillon: Age 12
The snow was thigh deep and Dillon was sleepy and tired. The icy wind slashed at his face through the thick scarf and goggles he wore. His hooded parka was warm despite the heavy coating of ice that sheathed it.
He turned his head to look up at the Amazonian woman who held his gloved hand in hers. She wore no parka or hat or goggles and she seemed impervious to the arctic winds. Her shoulder length black hair was now pure white with ice. An eye patch covered her right eye. Her face was that of a classic beauty, proud with high cheekbones. She was so strong and Dillon loved her more than anything else he had loved in his young life.
“I’m tired,” Dillon whimpered. She bent down and whispered to him, told him he only had to be strong a little longer and soon they would be with friends who would look after them and help them escape their pursuers. But it was hard to be strong. Dillon had forced himself to be strong for so long. He remembered his father, a big, powerful man with a bristling beard and a booming laugh, one that had shaken Dillon with awe that such a huge sound could come from someone human. His father had disappeared when their enemies had destroyed their island home and that was when Dillon had learned to be strong. But he couldn’t be strong any longer. He and the woman at his side had been on a horrendous odyssey covering the entire world, pursued by hateful foes that slew in silence and mist.
They trudged through the snow. The woman looked back over her shoulder every few minutes. She couldn’t let the boy know just how exhausted she truly was. It would be dangerous for him to know how desperate their situation had become. But it would all be over soon. She would have kept her promise to her husband, a man she loved more than life itself.
Dillon stumbled and fell to his hands and knees. His feet and hands were numbed, even through the thick mittens he wore. He couldn’t go on. He was too tired, too cold. He just didn’t care anymore. He cried, hating himself for the weakness he was displaying in front of the woman. He wasn’t supposed to be weak. His father had always told Dillon that he was a special boy who would grow up to be a special man. But right now he didn’t feel special at all. He felt like a crybaby. A weak, useless crybaby who would never, never grow up to do all the special things his father had said he would do.
“Dillon! Get up!” The woman’s voice was a scream, not of fear, but a harpy’s war cry. Dillon looked over his shoulder and felt his bladder go, his ski pants soaking with urine as he watched death coming and coming damn fast.
Four tall men, all in baggy black clothes. No snow touched them. They would not allow it to touch them. They had skin that was the gray of cold, dead ashes. They did not appear to run but they came swiftly over the snow, leaving no track. Black baseball caps sat atop their hairless heads and they carried large leather satchels that greatly resembled bowling ball bags.
With a burst of fear-induced adrenaline the woman snatched Dillon up and swung him onto her back.
“Hold on!” And she took off like a greyhound, all fatigue gone.
God, could she run! The world became a blur to Dillon as he wrapped his legs around her waist and his arms around her throat, listening to her breathing as she ran flat out, not allowing the four gray men to gain any ground, but not losing them either. Dillon hung on with all his might, too scared to do anything. Why did the strange men want him dead? Why had his peaceful and happy life, once upon a time spent on an idyllic island paradise with a palace like Aladdin’s, been turned into a constant, unending nightmare of pursuit and fear?
The woman was tiring. She could no longer maintain the pace she had set. But that was fine with her. She had known this would be her final sprint; that she would blow herself out once the adrenaline rush wore off. But her goal was in sight.
Ahead of them, a shining silver bridge that seemed woven from gossamer strands as delicate as any spider’s web spanned a deep gorge. The bridge was actually singing as the arctic winds blew through it, and to Dillon the song sounded like one of hope. Stamped on the arch of the bridge’s entrance was a symbol: a golden circle surrounding a phoenix holding a sword in one claw and a shield in the other.
The symbol of Shamballah, the City Eternal.
The four men would be on them before they could reach the bridge. But Dillon could make it. Once he set foot on the bridge, he would be safe.
She swung Dillon from her back, set him on his feet, and her long arm thrust out to point at the bridge. “Listen! Go to the bridge! Cross it and don’t come back across it to the other side!”
“Aren’t you coming with me?” Dillon asked wildly.
The gray men glided closer, their free hands opening the zippers of their satchels, even as their faces split into ugly grins of red gums and jagged, overlapping teeth.
“No! You have to go! Don’t be afraid. There are people on the other side, friends of mine who will love you and care for you just as much as I do. Now go and do as I say! Go!”
She thrust Dillon away and he stumbled toward the bridge. The woman ripped her coat open, pulled out a .44 Magnum revolver, and fired the last two shots she had been saving for herself and Dillon. Two of the gray men fell, their skulls shattered by the heavy slugs. Inky blood spilled onto the snow.
Dillon reached the bridge, ran across, and didn’t stop until he had reached the other side. He fell to his knees, gasping and coughing. He looked over his shoulder.
The woman had thrown away the empty gun and she faced her enemies with nothing but her bare hands. She leaped like a tigress to fight her last, lonely battle at the top of the world. Her last words drifted on the howling winds. “I love you, Dillon!”
The battle was savage and swift. Sharp objects in the hands of the gray men flashed silver, then red. Blood spurted.
Dillon watched, horrified. And only one word burst from his throat in a howl of anguish.
Tipp blinked his eyes as the screen suddenly went black. So engrossed had he been in the holographic representation that he’d actually been leaning forward in his seat. Tipp looked into the White Room. Dillon’s right hand had formed into a fist and his body was jerking uncontrollably. His cheeks were wet with tears.
Yolanda pushed away from the console. She looked at Tipp with wide eyes. “My God… his mother… she was butchered like a hog in a market.”
“But where were they?” Tipp demanded. “Where were they going? Who or what were those . . . things chasing them? Where does that bridge go? Why did you shut the program down?”
“I didn’t!” Yolanda scooted her chair back to the console and consulted her readouts. “Dillon’s fighting the drugs and the stimuli. He’s got an incredibly strong will. Somewhere in there, he knows we’re probing his memories and he’s fighting to keep them locked inside. The White Room itself aborted the program so as not to cause him any permanent physical or psychological damage.”
Tipp took off his glasses and dry-washed his face with his hands before replacing them. “Could what we just saw have been some kind of psychotic fantasy on his part?”
Yolanda shook her curly head. “Absolutely not. The White Room would have detected any sort of abnormal brainwave activity. True, Dillon has some unusual brain activity I’m not familiar with, but he’s not crazy, I can tell you that.”
“I want to know more. Can we go back to that point in his life?”
“I strongly advise against it. It’s obvious that was a highly traumatic event in his life, and if we force him to relive it yet again—”
“Point taken, Doctor. I don’t want a vegetable on my hands. Very well. How about if we jump ahead a few years and see what we can learn.”
“Very well. But let’s be careful how we go about this. We could open up another trauma event.”
“Let’s see what happened to him at… nineteen. How about that?”
Yolanda nodded and her nimble fingers again manipulated the keys of the White Room.
Dillon: Age 19
Dillon held his head up proudly as he climbed the nine hundred gold and marble steps leading to the Andarran Tower, fortress and home of the Warmasters of Liguria. There was joy in his heart, but sadness as well. He had caused his friends and teachers much pain when he had announced his decision to leave Shamballah and return to the world. He could not stay any longer. He had spent the past seven years in the care of the Warmasters, and they had taught him well, taught him much, but what they had taught him in seven years amounted to a single drop from a tall glass of water.
His teachers stood at the top of the stairs, awaiting him. Mister Om, the smiling Oriental with the face of a thousand wrinkles. Serena, tall and slender as a rapier. James, the thickly muscled African with a laugh much like Dillon’s father. And Kerenos Ford, whose golden eyes had looked upon Dillon these past seven years with much love and respect.
It was Kerenos Ford who had urged him to stay. “Your training has barely begun, my son. Stay and become one of us. Become a Warmaster.”
Dillon’s answer had been full of regret, but firm nonetheless. “I’ve learned enough for what I need to do. I have a quest I must pursue, and a vengeance I must enact if I am to sleep at night without hearing the screams of my mother in my ears.”
Kerenos Ford had dropped his head and could not look at Dillon. “You know that you may not be able to find Shamballah again if you want to come back. It was a miracle your mother was able to.”
“I know.” Dillon embraced the old warrior. “I know.”
He reached the top of the stairs and knelt before his teachers. Kerenos Ford raised his right hand, a hand that wore a beautiful gauntlet of silver and bronze. He laid his hand on Dillon’s head and—
Dillon’s entire body jerked as if he were having a heart attack. Sweat flew from his skin as he jerked and thrashed.
Tipp leaped to his feet. “My God, what’s happening? Is he dying?”
Yolanda was madly punching buttons. “I’ve never seen anything like this! His entire system is rebelling against the drugs and the electronic stimuli.”
“You’ve got to get things back under control! I want to know who those people were!”
“I’ve got to stop the interrogation! Everything is redlining! If we continue we’ll kill him!”
Dillon’s body suddenly went slack and still. His head lolled to the side and saliva drooled from his slack, open lips.
“What’s going on now?”
“I won’t know until I’ve examined him, dammit!” Yolanda snapped at Tipp.
“Is he dead?”
Tipp’s cell phone bleeped for his attention. He fished it from a pocket and pressed a button. “Tipp here.”
“Sorry to disturb you, sir, but it’s John Velvet, Director of the Machine.”
“I know who Velvet is, dammit! What does he want?”
“He wants to speak to you, sir. Alpha Priority.”
“Did he say how he knew I was here?”
“No, sir. But he doesn’t sound a bit happy.”
“Damn. Tell him I’ll talk to him in ten minutes by Ethercom.”
“Very good, sir.”
Tipp put his phone away. “I have to use your Ethercom to talk with this man Velvet.” He pointed at Dillon. “You check him over and you get him ready. When I finish with Velvet, I’ll want to start the interrogation again.”
“I’ve told you that we could kill him if we start opening up traumatic events in—”
“Dr. Merrydew, you have your orders. Either you carry them out or I’ll find somebody who will.” Tipp brushed by the woman who could only watch him go with a look of hurt astonishment on her face.