Originally based on a writing prompt about the NSA, I've been writing about a thousand words or so a night on my blog. I think I may turn this into a full blown novel, but could use some constructive criticism. Am I alone? submitted by
Raymond sat at his PC and thought back to the day he'd had. The bullying had been worse than normal. That jerk Dwight; one of of these days he was going to get his. Somehow, Dwight had managed to not only slam him into his locker, causing Raymond to spill his lunch, but he had also arranged to have one of his buddies mess with Raymond's car. Luckily, one of his teachers had caught the guy in the act, but still. The humiliation of having his car towed then having to take the bus home stung.
Raymond sat in front of his PC and ran his fingers through his short cropped hair before posting to his social media sites about how tired he was of bullies. His mind drifted back to his old school, the one he'd spent the last three years at. He hadn't really had friends there either, but people left him alone. No one picked on the goth kid who's dad was a small town army hero. After dad left, things changed. He and mom moved out of state, so he had to start over. Raymond still didn't like people. People betrayed you. People lied to you. People were selfish. Being at a new school, being new was a liability and people took advantage of it. No one knew you and or your former reputation. As a senior, this was even more of a problem.
Mom had never explained why dad left. One night, he was home, and the next, his mom was crying over divorce papers. A week later, he died in a car crash out in New York. Raymond hated his dad.
Determined to pull himself out of his funk, Raymond put on his favorite music logged on to his favorite site: a blog devoted to spy fiction. As much as he hated his father now, the love of espionage stories was the one thing they shared when Raymond was younger and it reminded him of better times. His dad had told him that there was always an answer, even if it required sacrifice. Inevitably, the good of all was important. In searching for answers to fictional problems, Raymond was usually able to lose himself enough to forget the pain.
As he browsed through the new stories, he found nothing that really garnered his interest: the same pap fan-fiction that bloated the site. He rubbed his temples and debated about going to bed early. “You are not alone.”
Raymond blinked at the pop-up that appeared on his screen: a simple, black box with green courier text. He moved the mouse cursor to close it, but the cursor dodged the “X”. Alt-F4, likewise, did not close the window. Raymond jumped as his phone rang out a text alarm. Pulling it from his pocket, he unlocked it to find a text from a number that made no sense, given it had seventeen digits. “Rough day at school. Sorry, Raymond, but I can't stop them. Not yet. I need you to trust me.” Looking up at his PC, the message “I need you to trust me.” was repeated.
“Who are you?” Raymond typed, scared at both the response and at what this person might know about him.
“Call me Gemini. I would tell you to not be afraid, but, any sane, logical person seeing this would likely be freaking out right now. I'm running out of time, Raymond. I've been watching you from the shadows as a favor to someone. I've watched you now for years, keeping tabs on you.”
Keeping tabs? Years? What kind of deranged ass would watch a teenager for years? “Why me? I'm no one.”
Raymond's screen began to fill with browser pages: posts he'd made, stories he'd written, articles about his dad, birth records, school records, phone records. The black window popped back up. “Not no one. What you think you know, all the pain you've been through, I wish I could've done something to prevent it. My talking to you is going to get me in a ton of trouble, but you had to be warned.”
“Warned? Warned about what?” Raymond's mind spun. He was just a teenager.
“Your dad knew some deep level stuff and people think he let you in on it before he went under.”
Went under? Didn't they know his dad died three months ago? “Okay, this isn't funny. My dad's buried in a cemetery on the other side of the country.”
There was a pause. “He's not dead. He's somewhere in Europe. You are in serious danger. Look outside your window: two agents are about to come knock at your door.”
Raymond glanced out the window and spotted a black sedan that hadn't been there when he got home half an hour ago. The two men in suits looked out of place in his neighborhood. Turning back to his PC he typed. “Okay. You have my attention. Why should I trust you? Who told you to watch me?”
“Because your father was my C.O. in the Army and he asked me to watch over you. If you want the truth, come to Donatello's Pub. Bring nothing with you: not your laptop, not your cellphone, nothing. Don't use your credit card. You can be tracked.”
Raymond flinched as the car doors closed. He tossed his phone on his bed. “How do you know all this?”
“I work for the NSA, or, at least, a part of it. Don't worry about finding me. I can find you.” Raymond stood up and made his way to the back window. Popping it open, he looked back to find his PC had been shut off. He paused only for a moment to ponder the insanity of what he was doing, but the knock on the front door had him out the window and running.
The alleyway behind Raymond's house was empty and he could feel his heart race in his chest, his breathing labored in the humid stale summer air. His mind fleetingly went to his former gym teacher telling him to run faster. How was Raymond supposed to know being able to run a mile in six minutes could actually save his life? Rounding the corner, he stopped by the streetlight to look around. No cars parked on the street. Nobody standing in their windows. Yeesh, Gemini had him paranoid of his own shadow. As Raymond jogged down the road, his eyes darted around, looking at every car that passed by. Would they have figured out he was gone by now? Looking up, he noticed the pub ahead, only to notice a police car in the lot.
“Slow your roll, dummy.” He thought, dropping his pace to a leisurely stroll. Okay, the pain in his side? Not so much fun. “Damn, I'm out of shape.” Getting closer, he watched the police car slowly pull out of the pub. Don't make eye contact. Don't make eye contact. Just keep walking.
The chirp of the police car siren caused him to glance up reflexively, just long enough for panic to set in. He turned his head toward the sound and almost smacked into a telephone pole as he watched the cop pull someone over. Leaning against the pole, Raymond stopped long enough to catch his breath. Was this really happening? He was taking someone's word, someone who had hacked his system, that his life was in danger. Couldn't this just be some elaborate hoax or joke? Then he remembered Gemini saying they worked for the NSA. Yeah, after that Snowden guy, Raymond was more than ready to believe the NSA could and would monitor him. Danger or not, he needed to know why the government felt he was important enough to monitor.
Walking into the pub, he nodded at a teacher he knew from school, Mr. Jeremy, who was apparently enjoying a beer and some ribs, before making his way to one of the rear, high backed booths. Ordering the mini-lasagna appetizers and a cola, he took a few deep breaths to try to calm his nerves. Peering around the edge, his eyes swept the room. Who was Gemini? His eyes drifted past the guy in khakis, the couple necking in a corner, Mr. Jeremy, and the waitress. None of them seemed suspicious. But what do I know? All I know about spying I learned from bad novels and movies.
A melodic female voice with a faint Bostonian lilt rang out from the bar. “Is that for table six? I'll take it over. Thanks Janey.” Raymond ducked back into the booth as the voice got closer. “Bring my order over, will you?” Here's your appetizer and your soda.” A woman's voice said. Raymond looked up just a Caucasian woman with black, pixie cut hair, appearing to be in her late twenties, sat down across from him, her purse placed against the wall on the booth table. His eyes drifted up from her largish breasts, confined in a black t-shirt with the words “Potius mori quam foedari” written on it, into blue eyes rimmed with cat eye glasses. Her eyebrow arched as she looked at him. “There are less conspicuous places to sit in a bar. You know that, right?” The waitress, presumably Janey, brought over another soda and a beef tenderloin sandwich. The woman, oblivious to Raymond's stare, slathered mayo onto the bun and liberally topped it with pickles. She took a bite and chewed as the waitress headed to another table.
Swallowing, the woman smiled and shook her sandwich at Raymond to get his attention. “You know, Midwestern folk are a little odd, but they make some great food. Now would you kindly pick your chin up off the floor and stare at my face and not my breasts. Men. I swear, if someone would have told me earlier that all it takes to get a man's attention is the right bra, I'd have probably taken that job in Zurich. Now eat your food while I explain to you what's going on.” She put up her hand as Raymond started to speak. “Before you say anything, let me repeat. Shut up, eat your food while I explain what's going on.” She pulled a pen out of her purse and wrote down four words: “You are not alone.”
Raymond looked at her, wide eyed. This waif of a woman was Gemini? She didn't appear to be anything more than your average college student. Didn't spies wear suits and use ear pieces? Gathering he thoughts, he took a bite of one of the mini-lasagnas and watched her finish off her tenderloin.
Gemini smiled and sipped her soda. Luckily Raymond was keeping calm. There was hope for the both of them yet. If he kept his wits about him, the both of them might actually survive this mess. “Let's start what I can tell you without worrying about anyone overhearing us. First, your dad is most definitely not dead. I met Sergeant Leonard Michaels when he was doing drill at Fort Bragg. The man knew tactics better than most and knew how to draw out the best in each of us, myself included. When he got a promotion, I was lucky enough to be kept under his command, doing recon mostly. During my time working in his platoon, he often talked about his wife and kid back home.
“While in Afghanistan, Leo saves my life when I get wounded during a raid. Bullet wound, which I recovered from, but I'd be dead out there, as cliché as that sounds. Another year passes and we both finish out our tours. I got out and headed into the intelligence field. We kept in touch, but he never did go too heavily into what he was doing as a civi.” Gemini took another sip of her soda. “A few years pass and I'm doing data analysis for big brother. About a year later, I get a letter from him, saying he'd heard where I was working and to keep an eye on you, if I could, as he wasn't going to be able to. Now, the man did save my life and it was something I could do under he guise of keeping track of military veterans.
“This is where things go off the deep end. Don't get me wrong, but I feel I know you as well as your own family, but stuff started coming up that didn't add up. I kept seeing posts of yours about your dad being away on business, going to south Texas, Mobile, then smaller towns down south. I'd get curious, wondering what Leo was up to, and I'd find a similar report in the same areas when I'd cross-reference military activity. Not good stuff: anti-governmental protests, survival camps, gun shows. Basically, the typical intel about people who might have a serious beef with the government. As if that wasn't bad enough, we have Snowden dump all this information, then that kook Reynolds drops what really happened in northern Afghanistan in 2013, including your dad's name and mine.
“That is why your dad vanished. He knew the government was about to screw him and he's one of the few men with the means to do something about it. Which leads us to the problem: Snowden may have had the information about what the NSA was doing, but all he had was intel. What I didn't find out until yesterday was what was really happening and what your dad is trying to prevent.”
Raymond finished his mini-lasagna and stared at Gemini. “You're saying my dad is alive and is trying to bring down the government?”
Gemini shook her head as a shadow fell over the table. Looking up, Raymond was surprised to see Mr. Jeremy standing there. “Getcha ass in gear, Gemini. We're out of time.” He grinned at Raymond, his even white teeth bright against his dark skin. “Careful. You're already down the rabbit hole, son. Be glad I'm on your side because we've got go. Now.” Chapter Two
“Yeesh, Taurus, calm your ass down, baldy.” Gemini said, taking another bite of her sandwich. Raymond mouthed the word Taurus at Mr. Jeremy, who shook his head. “If you're talking about the guys that came in after me, I know those two losers. They're both ass kissers, brown nosers and all around by the book, sycophantic goody-two-shoes. Neither would cause a scene in a place like this for fear of what Brownstone would do to either of them.”
Mr. Jeremy shook his head. “Yeah, but unless you've got a plan to get past boot and licker, we'll have Brownstone so far up our ass, I'll be coughing up the next assignment.” Gemini winked then finished her sandwich. “In fact I do.” She waved over the waitress. “Hey Janey.” She passed the woman a twenty. “Meet me in the ladies room in two minutes, would you?”
Raymond looked at Gemini as Janey smiled. “Isn't now a bad time to powder your nose?” Gemini stood up and smiled. “Girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.” Heading the restroom, Gemini took quick measure of who was in the room. Seeing a couple of young, freshmen girls, she knew her play. She just hoped Jim and James were stupid, or horny enough, to fall for it.
“You're sure you saw her walk in?”
James looked over his bear at Jim and held back the urge to beat him into a blood pulp. Of course he was certain. The intel was sound. Elise Gemini Kirkpatrick had gone rogue two days ago and made contact with the target's son today. The vehicle she used had a GPS system they could track easily. He knew that. He also knew she knew that. The question was why was she being so reckless. Why stick in an area where she knew she was being hunted? Why go to Leonard Michaels's son? Their analysis indicated that the son had been aware of at least some of the things Michaels had been doing, but why tip the boy off? “Hey there.”
James and Jim turned to look and found their view completely block by a wall of breasts inside tops with the local college mascots on them. Looking further up, both women had a pair of beer bottles in their hands, just as the two moved to sit, one to the left of Jim, the other to the left of James. “You seemed lonely. Never seen you here before.” One of them smiled as she put the beer in Jim's hand. “I'm Tiny and this is Tiffany.”
Gemini snickered as she watched the two women paw at the two agents. That should keep them distracted for a few minutes. She motioned for Raymond and William – Taurus's real first name – to follow her into the kitchen. The three of them made their way to the back and ducked out the door. “Well, that went better than I'd planned.”
A dark laugh stopped Gemini as she rounded the corner. The figure in front of her was bad news: black jacket, black jeans, black shirt, red tie, and eyes as cold as an Alaskan winter. “Really, Gemini? Go out the back? Did you really think we wouldn't have someone watching here, too?”
Stupidly, she had. She didn't think frick and frack were smart enough to request back up, much less this kind of heavyweight. Dimitri Veschenko was six foot four of solid muscle and bad attitude. He was also the head trainer for martial arts at the regional office she worked at. Cold, ruthless, and, unfortunately for her, exceedingly competent, he was a guy who liked to get his hands dirty. Reveled in it, or so the rumor went. He'd been an interrogator at Gitmo and knew just how to squeeze a source for intel. Raymond wouldn't stand a chance. “I got this.”
Gemini looked to her right as William stepped up. “You sure?”
“Oh yeah, baby.” William moved between Dimitri and Gemini. “Sometimes, you just have to grab the bull by the horns.” Rubbing his hands together, he smiled as he faced Dimitri. “Now get going. You know what you've got to do.”
Raymond started to object as Gemini grabbed him by his arm and ran toward the front of the bar. For her size, she was startlingly strong. She headed right for the black Escalade and pulled out a key fob from her purse. “Yours?” He asked.
“William's. He palmed the keys into my hand when he moved in front of me. Had to guess my car was tracked, but then, that was a given.” She unlocked and started the vehicle remotely. “Get in. The corporal might be able to last a few against minutes against Dimitri, but I don't know how much time Jim and James will take to realize we're gone.”
Getting into the passenger side, Raymond quickly buckled up. A crash was heard behind him, and, staring back at the darkened glass, he quickly saw the bullet impact in the glass, the silhouette of the man Mr. Jeremy had fought pointing a gun at their vehicle. Why the hell did Mr. Jeremy have bullet proof glass in his SUV? He grabbed at the handle over the door as Gemini pulled out and sped up the hill from Leonardo's. “Who the hell was that guy? I can guess that the 'corporal' was Mr. Jeremy, but why are we being shot at?”
Gemini pulled onto the highway. “We need to get to a computer store, someplace not a chain.” She watched the exits and took the next one. “I don't know this town as much as I'd like, so I'm going to trust you to point me the right way.”
NSA not knowing something? That was a bit disconcerting. Raymond point to the next right. “Couple of miles down the road, there's a computer store I sometimes window shop at. I usually can't afford to buy anything there as mom gives me a shitty allowance.” Raymond froze. He hadn't even thought about his mom. “My god, there's agents back with my mother. We have to save her.”
Gemini shook her head. “She's innocent in all of this. I know the agent who's been keeping her under surveillance. She's clean. You, on the other hand, posted a few stories that were, shall we say, intriguing. If not for your dad, a lot of that would've been blown off as fanciful.” “Those were just things I came up with when dad would ask me what I would do in a situation.” Raymond shrugged as they pulled into the small computer store. “I thought they were just him testing me, nothing important or even plausible.”
Gemini sighed. “They were tests. More than a few of your stories were based off of top-secret missions, though a few details were changed or omitted.” She got out of the Escalade and headed toward the door to the store. “As to why we were being shot at, that's why we're here. Spy tip one: money talks. Lots of money sings and dances.”
Entering the store, Raymond couldn't help but look wistfully at some of the gear. He barely paid attention to Gemini as she started picking out hardware. The guys behind the counter nodded at him but were far more interested in Gemini. “That's what I get for never buying anything,” he thought, “but it's not like I can afford any of this.”
Gemini carefully pieced together everything she'd need for a bare bones kit and grabbed a copy of Linux. Setting them down on the counter she waited for the total then smiled up at the clerk. “Say, you boys wouldn't mind if I checked with my sister to make sure I didn't miss anything? I left my smart phone at my house and need to email her.”
The two techies looked back and forth at each other. “I'm sorry,” said the one working on a PC, “We've got to maintain our security.”
Gemini pulled out five, hundred dollar bills. “Really? It's kind of important. It'll just take a few minutes.”
The clerk's eyes bulged a bit before he tugged at his collar. “I'm sorry, but not while we're open.” He looked at the door then back at the counter where now ten bills lay. “Of course, I mean, we were planning on closing early anyway, right, Mike.”
Mike stood up from his PC. “Uh, yeah. We were just about to close for lunch.” Palming five bills, he nodded to the clerk. “Joey was about to go next door for some Italian, right?”
Joey nodded and took the other five before ringing up Gemini. “Whatever you say, boss.” He handed Gemini a receipt then headed toward the front door, sliding the sign to closed. “You want anything special, Mike?”
Shaking his head, he gestured toward the back. “So, you're interested in a job here, eh? Let's fill out some paperwork in the back.” He glared at Raymond. “What's with the window shopper?”
Gemini grabbed Raymond and pushed him to the back. “He's actually a client.” She pulled out another fifty as the front door closed behind Joey. “Here's the deal. Ten minutes. You saw nothing. You actually stay outside while I finish, it's another fifty. Don't worry. I'm not after anything you have and could care less about your porn that you keep on your work PC.” The man gawked. Truthfully, Gemini had no idea what this guy had on his work PC, but, he was white, in his thirties, and owned a PC shop. Porn wasn't altogether unlikely. She watched the man sign in then close the door behind her and Raymond. Slipping a USB thumbdrive into the machine, she waited until the programs on it installed themselves onto Mike's computer.
Peering over her shoulder, Raymond watched as a simple green text on black background popped up. “So why are we logging in from here?”
“First,” Gemini began, as she logged into something called “Project Greensky”, “this guy probably has all his security run through his PC, including all his cameras. I've already set up a program to erase the time we've been in here, along with a fair chunk of after we're done and disable any and all microphones. Second, the only difference between a hardline trace and phone is time. At least with a hardline, I'm not speaking so that's harder to sift for. Third, a chain store has a shit ton more survailance and variables. Here, we had two techs and no customers. Last, who would really look for an NSA agent in a small computer store?”
Raymond supposed that made sense. He watched as Gemini skimmed through text posts. “Okay, so what are we looking for?”
Gemini paused. “Aries.”
“Aries?” Raymond looked at the post Gemini had stopped on.
“Aries: Deep underground, Dallas. The stars are aligning, but the view is fantastic. If you need me, start to finish where the world around can be seen from inside a star, until Virgo rises to the occasion.
Virgo: You're a jerk, Aries. I love you like a brother, but you're a jerk.”
Gemini smiled and pulled out the thumbdrive. “That's what we needed. Not exactly a lead on Sagittarius, but help nonetheless. Up for a roadtrip?”
Raymond shook his head. “You've got to be kidding me. First, you've got me running from men in suits, then I find out my history teacher is a secret agent, now you're telling me we're going on a road trip? What about school? What about my mom? What about my life?” His voice pitched higher and higher.
Gemini moved in front of the office door. “This is your life now, Raymond. I apologize that I had to pull you into it, but your dad didn't exactly leave me much choice. It was pull you in or watch you get lost for good. Those people that stopped by your house? I've known them for at least five years and neither of them would hesitate to make someone disappear if they believed national security was at stake. These guys don't believe in due-process. Hell, most of us don't. The only things standing between you and never seeing the rest of the world again are me and a promise I made to make my C.O. happy. Luckily for you, what your dad wants is more than just your safety, so I'm less inclined to forget that promise and claim the reward that's probably on your head by now.”
“But I don't get it! I don't know anything!”
Gemini stared Raymond straight in the eye before shaking her head. “You know plenty. You came up with solutions that even your dad hadn't thought of. In that lonely, anti-social, black haired, earring wearing skull of yours is one of the most analytic minds of our time. My job is to get you to your dad and hope the two of you can figure out the mess we're in.”
Raymond swallowed back the fear. Maybe Gemini was right. She was certifiably nuts, but maybe she was right. “Okay. Let's say I believe you. Where are we going?”
“I'll tell you in the car.” Gemini looked at the clock on the wall and cursed. “We're running out of time, Raymond. You have two choices: stay here and hope what I'm telling you is a lie or come with me and try and save the last chance this country has.”
Raymond ran his fingers through his hair nervously. “You swear my dad is alive.”
“I swear on my sister's grave. It's not far from here, actually. I'd show you but were short on time.” Gemini opened the door and pulled another fifty from her purse. She also flashed something that looked like a wallet from her purse at Mike. “We were never here.” Mike nodded. “Might want to head out. I imagine Joey'll be back any time. Pleasure doing business with the government.”
Gemini turned away and rolled her eyes. “Right. Enjoy your lunch.” Grabbing Raymond by the wrist, she headed to the front, just as Joey walked in. Raymond pulled away at the door then held it open for Gemini before following her to the Escalade.
“So, where are we heading?” He asked as he buckled in.
“Southwest. Dallas, specifically Reunion Tower: the view there is three hundred and sixty five degrees inside a globe that looks like a huge star.” Gemini smiled and licked her lips. “Food's good, or was the last time I was there. In either case, we've got about two days to get there and a limited window to make contact.”
“And we're meeting who? Aries?”
Gemini nodded as they pulled onto the highway. “When war is coming, an arms specialist is handy, and Aries is one of the best.”
Raymond paused and thought about that. “Let me guess, a word play on the Greek god?”
Gemini laughed. “Told you that you were smart. Yeah. It was all Sagittarius's idea.” Mentioning him, her smile and laugh stopped.
“So you all have code names based on the horoscope. Who is Sagittarius, anyway?”
“Depends on the mythos.” Gemeni answered evasively.
Raymond flipped her off. “Okay, Ms. Vague, let's try again. Who in your group is Sagittarius?”
Gemini didn't answer for a full five minutes. “He's the one that guides us all: your father.” Undisclosed Location – somewhere in central Illinois
Dimitri Veschenko walked into what looked like an abandoned factory building that sat next to a state highway. The dim light pooled over the weathered door and cast a look of pallor of Dimitri's face. He waited for the hidden cameras to acknowledge his presence, not that the face that he'd used a keycode to gain entry to the premises hadn't already tipped off those inside. Still, security and procedure where what kept the nation running. Order, discipline, justice: these tenets guided him, focused him. He understood the rules and expected everyone else to live by them. The problem was as much as he sought order, it was the nature of humanity to do their own thing. Inevitably, someone would selfishly believe that their way was better, damn the consequences, and you ended up with what he had now: a rogue agent.
Walking in to the door, he nodded at David Zimmerman, who was on watch duty. David was a rookie, but he was tough, determined, and had proven himself to Dimitri to be completely devoted to searching out threats to United States. David buzzed Dimitri in then went back to watching the security cameras. It likely going to be a slow night, which was a bit of a buzz kill, but Dimitri was counting on having a little time to sift through Elise Kirkpatrick's files. Heading down the stairs, he glanced up at the video wall, monitoring keywords, data streams, phone records, GPS coordinates, and news reports for anything of note. His assistants, Carla Jenkins and Zebulon White, were at their stations, hopefully getting more information about the man he'd identified as “William Jeremy”.
Dimitri rubbed his jaw, still sore from the roundhouse the man had hit him with. His back was sore from the bull rush that followed. Before he'd been able to get up, the man had vanished into the treeline. It had taken an hour to get the guy's information, fifteen minutes to locate his apartment, and five minutes to figure out the man was gone. The apartment didn't even feel lived in: no food in the fridge, no magazines, no mail. There was a shredder but had been empty. Even the bedroom was empty: no toothbrush, no comb, nothing. Trash pickup, apparently, had just been by. William Jeremy was, for all intents and purposes, a ghost. Even the paperwork they'd gleaned from the school he'd worked out turned to be fabricated. Whoever had done the work for this guy's personality, it ran deep.
“I've got a hit, boss.” Carla said, smiling as she stood. “Corporal William Barrows, age 30, U.S. Army special forces. Honorable discharge in 2008. Masters in military history from Princeton. Worked in the Sudan, South Africa, and the UK as an instructor before disappearing in 2012. Lost known address had him in Tahiti.” She handed Dimitri a tablet then brushed her bangs back from in front of her face. “He's definitely tied to Leonard Michaels. Corporal Barrows was part of a series of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan with Michaels, all black ops, wet works. This guy is as smart as he is deadly.”
Dimitri glanced over Barrows's record as he headed to his office. “Commendations over two tours, distinguished service, bronze star. Hell, his record is almost as good as Michaels's.” He sat down in his chair and frowned as Carla took a seat on the edge of his desk. “I gather there's more.”
Carla nodded, smoothing out her skirt absently. “Timing with this new identity coincides with Michaels's faked death. Not a sure bet, but it's pretty damning circumstantially. The fact that he obviously knew Ms. Kirkpatrick is as good a sign as any that she'd be put here, by her intentions or not, to compromise us.”
Dimitri pondered that. “I know that she was working on our counter-insurgency program, but not how deeply. I already know from her records that she believes herself to be deeply patriotic, but I don't get why she'd go rogue over Raymond Michaels.” Carla laughed. “You don't have siblings, do you, Dimitri?”
Dimitri frowned at that. “I don't actually, but I'm not sure I get your point.”
Carla stood and moved toward the door of Dimitri's office. “Elise has two, or, should I say, had.” Dimitri's eye arched before gesturing for Carla to continue. “Her twin, Anna, and her younger sister, Jillian. Jillian would've been eighteen this year, but died during a robbery at a gas station while Elise was on tour in Afghanistan. My guess, being her C.O.'s son and about the same age as her little sister, she felt responsible for him.” Carla shrugged. “Never attribute to malice what can equally be attributed to stupid or hormones.”
Dimitri frowned at Carla. “I thought we were supposed to forgive being hormonal.”
Carla laughed. “Oh, you guys can forgive it all you want. I've known many a woman who've done something stupid because they felt it was the right thing to do. Then again, so do men. You just don't talk about it as much.” Carla stepped around the door and headed back toward the monitor wall, leaving Dimitri to think.
“Why are you doing this, Elise?” Dimitri pondered. “What do you know? What was so important that would give up everything and became a traitor?”
“So, is this where I get to ask why my dad is the head of a super-secret organization?” Raymond stared out the window at the fields that lined the highway, wind turbines spinning in the distance. “Because, frankly, if that's the case, why am I being dragged into it? Why was I risk?”
Gemini sucked on her lip. “What you're asking doesn't have an easy answer. Pretend for a moment you are a man with a lot of money, very powerful friends, and a metric butt tonne of pull. You want someone to disappear? Easy. Suspend constitutional rights? Cakewalk. Manipulate the press? A simple phone call. Convince a few people that the old way wasn't working? Child's play. Convince a nation? That is where things get tricky. Convince the world?
“Most people are more than willing to passively let things change around them as long as they, themselves, aren't directly impacted in a noticeable way. Human beings, despite being creatures of change, inherently prefer order as long as their base hierarchy of needs are met. Once you get past physiological needs and personal safety, most people are willing to ignore the rest of the world. If you're not worried where your next meal is coming from, that the roof over your head isn't going anywhere, who cares about some protests about the top one percent. Sure, it's nice entertainment, but, to the average person, they don't care.
“Conversely, if you threaten a person's job or home with revolution, even if that change would inherently benefit them in the long run, most will fight it. So, we have the scenario we have now: two Americas. One is the wool that's been pulled over everyone's eyes, slowly eroding their personal freedoms at the cost of an artificial sense of security. The other is the shadow world, trying to shift everyone into an intellectualist utopia, where there is no reason to have guns because the government will protect you, where there is no reason to speak up because the government will tell you what's best to think, where there is no reason to believe in God or Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster because there is no such thing and the only thing a person needs to have faith in is the state.”
Raymond looked at Gemini as she finished her diatribe. Then laughed. “You can't be serious. I mean, you had me going, but the wool? The Flying Spaghetti monster? Wow.” Raymond wiped his eyes. “Great imagery. What I don't get is why bother? Doesn't the current system work?”
Gemini pulled onto an off-ramp then headed to a fast food drive through. “Pop quiz: where are we at?”
Raymond rolled his eyes. “A burger joint. Why?”
Gemini pulled into the drive through and ordered. She gripped the wheel and frowned as they pulled around. “How does the food get here?”
Raymond shrugged. “Semi, probably a couple of times a week, maybe more.”
Gemini paid for the food then continued. “And how does the semi get the food.”
“Bakeries, farms, food processing plants. I'm presuming there's a point you're going to get to soon.”
“Getting there, smart ass. These are in turn owned by corporations who largely believe that it would be in their best interest for public to continue buying products and services with the minimum of fuss. They lobby the government to make sure they don't get screwed over, and, unlike the rest of us, have plenty of money. Plenty of money, as you saw earlier, is a great motivator. Now, in and of itself, that's not exceedingly harmful as long as people aren't actively getting hurt.
“Now take a small handful of these effete assholes. Suddenly they decide that, if they ran the show, they could force everyone to live what they felt like was a better life. Take your pick: socialists, neoconservative evangelicals, old school hippies now teaching humanities at Illinois State, bigots who smile while they gladhand the NAACP. Hypocrites, one and all, but with one goal in mind: to run the things they want them ran. In the past, the fact that each of them was vying for power kept the others in check. About three years ago, a rookie intelligence officer proposed to their superiors an idea of how to run this shadow government in such a way that the United States could appear to behind all the special interests while preparing to shift into this utopia, this nation where all the flaws of communism were solved, where the only threat to pulling it off would be if the people themselves were smart enough to not just protest, but fight back.”
Gemini looked at Raymond before pulling back onto the freeway. “But people aren't smart. A person is smart. Most everyone else stops caring once their basic needs are met. I bet you don't even know your neighbors names or how many kids they had.”
Raymond thought about it and realized, even back in Harrisburg, he hadn't really known his neighbors, and that was in a small town. “So, what was this plan?”
“It was the wool the government pulled over your eyes. It's why your dad is important. When he found out about the plan, he realized what it would take to stop it. He also knew that, if anyone initiated it, the United States will cease to exist as it is within months.” Gemini sipped her shake then sighed. “We just didn't think people would pull the trigger this fast.” Crossing the Illinois-Missouri border, Gemini sighed. “I almost wish I hadn't have dragged you into this. Tell me, Raymond, what would you do if you knew your government was about to go to war with its own people?”
“Arm myself, set up provisions, and find a good spot to hole up in.” Raymond chewed on his burger as he thought it through. “I guess I'd try to find like minded people, preferably ex-military or scientists, and prepare for the worst.”
“Exactly. And if you're the government wanting to take over, it would be in your best interest to eliminate those people, preferably in a way that the populous was completely unaware of. Step one: create a paramilitary unit capable of taking out the government. Step two: use that paramilitary group to infultrate potential resistance groups and take them over, making them into willing copies of the original paramilitary group, determined to stand against the rebels you couldn't control. God, I was so naïve.”
“What do you mean, you were?”
Gemini clenched the wheel. “It was my plan: the Gemini Gambit. I was the one that gave it to my superior, Dimitri Veschenko. The man who stopped us at Leonardo's was my boss. He was the one that suggested to his superior that the US engage in the Gemini Gambit as a way to prevent an uprising. His boss was Secretary of National Security at the time. Now, he has a more public role: Vice-president Walter Patron.”
*Edit: Spacing, because it didn't copy right from my word processor.
Importance of the vig in betting. The rule is simple: The higher the vig is, the fewer your profits will be. This is often ignored by punters who occasionally get lured by high odds on risky markets.The rates and yields play a major role when you try to accomplish long-term gains and should always be taken into account before placing a bet. NHL Live Betting Explained The NHL is the most fast-paced sport to bet live, because the action rarely stops throughout the course of the three periods. In-play betting can be great for NHL bettors, as they can get in on the action throughout different points in the games, mostly during the intermission of the periods. Also See. Round robin bet calculator - Enter the odds and bet details to work out your winnings with this free online tool.. What is an up and down bet? - Learn more about the if-cash up-and-down component of this wager. Explained, step-by-step, this guide covers both SSA and DSA styles of betting. Starting Price or SP betting is when you back a horse or dog and do not take a price ie: you do not take the fixed betting odds.Instead you leave your bet to be settled at the official Starting Price or SP. The SP is the official returned price of a horse from the racecourse at the point the race started. William Hill has long ago become a household name and many believe they are the very best bookmaker in the business. We definitely agree with the assessment, and so do millions of sports bettors that have been placing their bets with William Hill all these years.