“Mike, you’re gonna have to turn ‘em over to us. You know that, don’t you?” the voice on the other end of the phone said.
Michael Cardano reflected on the quality of the tone of that voice. Several million lines of code and a few hundred miles of fiber optic cable lay between him and the man on the other end. The code was written to ensure the security of the connection, dissolving the vocal noises made at either end of the connection into miniscule bits, whirling them into a billion randomized patterns and then, at the last moment, reconstituting them into a facsimile of the original vocal intonations. Most of the code was actually tasked with recreating as accurately as possible the sound of the original voice. The voice from the phone sounded like the man Michael knew him to be. He could hear the tonal indicators of his emotional veracity. The sound was true to the voice. He hoped his own voice would sound as true at the other end of the line. He felt the need to be able to control the shading of his voice, to shape the way he was perceived, and he didn’t want the nuance he aimed to create to get lost in the code.
“You gotta be kidding,” he snorted.
“You realize this is just more of Meacham’s bullshit, don’t you?” he needled.
“He’s gonna flog this turkey all over the hill, and we both know it’s bullshit. That’s not how real soldiers work.”
“Maybe you’re right. So what?” the other man said.
“He’s gonna get us all killed... or worse. That’s what!” Michael muttered.
“That doesn’t change anything. You still gotta turn ‘em over. Are you gonna bring ‘em in, or do we have to come get ‘em?” he asked menacingly.
“Fine! I’ll need a couple of days. I’ll have ‘em there on Monday.”
He hung up the phone, not waiting for a reply. He knew the men on the other end would accede to his request. But he was equally certain that they would come down early, sometime on the weekend. They would not wait for him. If he was lucky, they would come on Sunday, late in the evening, hoping he would have his guard down. He needed to be ready to move on Saturday. A lot depended on Kane.
Michael first met Kane years ago in the
. He was working out of the embassy and occasionally needed a driver, and maybe even a bodyguard. The problem was that a bodyguard large enough to be worth anything would spook his contacts. So he ended up taking a lot of chances in those days. On one meeting, his boss arranged for a new driver, some kid from Philippines Subic Bay. He looked like a callow farm boy from Kansas or Iowa, who knows, maybe even . He was smallish, on the skinny side. He was wearing a Marine uniform. That seemed improbable. As he sat in the backseat of their sedan it struck Michael that this kid wasn’t wearing any rank insignia. Just fatigues. He had assumed it was a uniform because the kid walked like Marine. You didn’t learn to walk like that in Nebraska . Who was this kid? Kansas
His name was George. He had bounced around the services a bit. Started in the army, wanted to be a Ranger. He didn’t look like the physical type they favored. Somehow, he found his way into some obscure unit in the Navy. Being large wasn’t quite as useful on a ship. So here he was, working out of
Subic, driving cars for the embassy. He must have washed out of some program or other, and now they didn’t quite know what to do with him. Meacham must have seen something he liked in him. He didn’t usually make mistakes about people. About everything else, maybe. But not people.
He was going to meet a Chinese contact. Tang. That was all he really knew about him. He was ready to sell something concerning the North Koreans. Exactly what wasn’t clear. But Meacham was willing to take a chance. He and Michael had been developing this contact for months and they wanted to get him to commit to something. They were driving through a seedy neighborhood in
. Of course, at that time, every neighborhood in Manila looked seedy to American eyes. The meeting was at an Italian restaurant, of all things. Was Tang joking? Or was he trying to put Cardano off his guard? Just don’t eat anything there, he thought to himself. Manila
George pulled the car up in front of the restaurant. There was another car, in the alley, with a driver leaning against the passenger side door. He looked too tall to be a local. Another Chinese? That didn’t look promising. If Tang brought him along, maybe he didn’t have the nerve to breach security. Or maybe he was trying to do it right under their noses.
As Michael walked up the steps and pulled open the door he noticed George approaching the other driver for a cigarette. What was he up to? The room was empty and dark, a glow from the kitchen and whatever glared in through the dirty windows out front were the only light. A Chinese gentleman motioned to him from a booth at the far end. Was it Tang? It looked like him from that distance. Before he’d taken three steps, a strong hand reached around his face from behind and clamped a sweet smelling rag over his nose and mouth. Everything went even darker, and much more compressed.
He woke up, feeling groggy and nauseous some time later in the back seat of his car. George was holding a cool, damp cloth over his forehead.
“Here, drink this. You’ll feel better soon,” he said.
“What the hell happened back there?” Michael wheezed.
“Things went south in a hurry. I had to get you out of there. Fast.”
“Where’s Tang?” he asked, trying for some composure.
“Dunno. But those guys weren’t there to deal.”
Back at the embassy compound, Meacham filled him in. Tang was dead. Or there never was a Tang. It was hard to tell. But the guys at the restaurant just wanted to throw Michael in the trunk of their car, and that would have been the last anyone ever heard of him. It was Meacham they must have wanted. Michael would not have been of much use, didn’t know enough. After they discovered their mistake, they would have disposed of his body.
There were some inquiries the next day from the local police, and an article in the paper about four dead Chinese. There were no leads. They had been found in an alley behind an abandoned restaurant. When the police arrived, they found that some one had already taken fingerprints of the victims. At least, all of them had ink on the fingertips of their right hands. That was puzzling. The Chinese embassy was saying nothing in public, but screaming bloody murder behind the scenes. They may not have cared much for the lives of their operatives. But they were worried about being seen to have been outplayed, to have lost face. That might give encouragement in the wrong quarters.
But what had really happened in that restaurant? Those guys were big. At least the two he saw. Bigger than him, so a lot bigger than George. When Meacham showed him the police report, he noticed that it didn’t mention any gunshot wounds.
George said nothing about the events of that day. Nothing about the restaurant. Nothing about Michael throwing up on the ride back. Nothing. Meacham had found him the perfect driver. A bodyguard no one would notice. Nothing about him drew anyone’s attention. No one felt threatened by him. Unless, of course, they looked in his eyes, those blank, dead eyes. Empty, like the eyes of a
Midwest farm boy, and then some!
Michael left his den and went down to the basement. There were actually two basements under the main building. The lower one connected by passageways to the other buildings. It was not a huge underground complex, like you see in the old Bond movies. But it was very discreet. A quick search of the compound might not reveal the second basement, especially a search conducted in a hurry, perhaps under fire. It would be no good to hide down there in an attack. A more deliberate search would eventually reveal it. But you might be able to use it to elude intruders for a little while, perhaps long enough to escape through the long passage that led into the woods behind the main building.
That tunnel was concealed much more carefully than anything else in the basements. It might take a full thirty or forty-five minutes to find it. It didn’t lead to the fences, or to any of the gates. It led further into the heart of the estate. A little bit of misdirection that might enable someone who really knew the woods well to get away. It would be very hard to track someone there, especially in the dark.
The upper basement was mainly for storage. The concrete floors were carpeted and the rooms were very well lit. A couple of them were casually furnished, like a suburban rec room. There was a ping pong table, a pool table, a TV room. Michael kept a small, private office down here, with the only computer terminal in the main house. The mechanicals were kept in one room, and in another the mainframes and servers that ran all the electronics on the estate. But there was no arsenal. It wasn’t that kind of place. The security guards had the only firearms on the estate. Michael figured that the enemy he was really preparing for would always be able to outgun him, so there was no point investing his resources there. Instead, he focused on stealth and subterfuge, and better intelligence, he hoped.
The second basement was much darker, barely even lit. It was more than fifteen feet below the upper basement. It was practically a cave. The temperature stayed a constant fifty degrees or so year round even though it was completely unheated. There were a few small rooms, with sparse furnishings, a few wooden tables and chairs, some benches. No electrical outlets. The few lights were powered by batteries connected to solar cells on the roof. He clearly did not intend to spend much time down here.
He sat down in his private office and made his plans. They would have to spirit Yuki away from the estate, and the girl, too, he supposed. And they’d have to do it quickly. He had been expecting that phone call, and had already begun making plans. He had sent George to a safe house outside of
to meet a couple of his agency contacts. He was calling in some pretty old favors. He just worried that George might not be able to persuade them to trust him. He trusted George implicitly, he had good reason to. But others often didn’t. Why should they? Langley
There had been other scrapes, and George had saved his life a number of times. More than he cared to remember. He owed him everything. But he had also saved George, protected him, concealed him.
Eventually, Meacham had sent Michael on a different kind of mission. There was a group of scientists in
working on a project that had become Meacham’s new preoccupation. They were researching drugs to enhance the fighting capabilities of any soldier. Years of research into the effect of psychotropic chemicals had convinced them that they could enhance both the response time of the aggressor instincts, and the sensory acuity that would actuate those instincts. In effect, they would turn soldiers into super sensitive, hyper-aggressive predators for brief periods. There were drawbacks, of course. The subjects became difficult to control, and initially could not follow mission commands for more than a few minutes. Soldiers like this would require constant battlefield supervision. But at their best, they were capable of great ferocity, and seemed utterly uninhibited by concerns for their own personal safety. Their preservation instincts were almost completely suppressed. Tokyo
There were also some severe side effects. Of course, most of the early subjects went insane. Several committed suicide. Other side effects mimicked those of anabolic steroids. Hair loss, megalocephaly, loss of libido, depression.
As promising as these drugs seemed, there appeared to be no way to resolve all of these drawbacks. But a breakthrough occurred when it was noticed that the worst side effects were greatly diminished in female subjects. Also, in the case of women, the enhancement of the aggressor instincts did not come at the expense of a greatly reduced attention span. Female soldiers seemed likely to be able to carry out complex missions lasting over several hours. The
group hypothesized that it might be possible to manipulate the genetic code of males to mimic the neurological profile of females. These genetically altered males would then be able to benefit from the enhancements these drugs promised, while suffering greatly reduced physical and emotional detriments. It was even thought that it might be possible to reverse the genetic alterations at a later date. At least, that was their hope. Tokyo
Meacham wanted Michael to insinuate himself into the genetics group, assess the viability of their technique, and persuade them to turn over their research to him. Michael was skeptical from the outset, but Meacham was convinced that this was future of modern warfare. He was equally convinced that
’s military and economic future depended on research like this, and that his own career did, too. But, whatever his reservations, Michael accepted the mission. America
George accompanied him to
. Michael hadn’t noticed when it happened, when George had become attached to his career. Was it Meacham’s idea? Or George’s? It certainly wasn’t his idea. This did not seem like a particularly dangerous mission. At most, it might entail a bit of corporate espionage. More likely, it would merely be a matter of hiring someone away from their current employer. Still, George came along. Tokyo
And when it came down to it, George turned out to be essential to the endeavor. Michael had no traction in
. He was just a big, lumbering American. But somehow George fit right in. The lead scientist, Dr. Kagami, was assisted in the lab by his daughter, Yukiko. She knew the inner workings of every aspect of her father’s research. She was his confidante, his partner and his colleague. Soon she was George’s confidante, too. Japan
Yuki had long recognized not only that her father’s central genetic hypothesis was false, but also that his project was morally wrong. But he was stubborn. She continued working on it with him, exploring every avenue of his investigation, in the hopes that he would eventually see just how barren the project was and give it up. She loved him, and could not bear to see him waste his life in this way. She was also afraid that if she left him, he would be preyed upon by unscrupulous elements both within
and from abroad. Japan
Something about George struck a chord with her. She didn’t know why, but she trusted this gaijin (or foreigner) with the empty eyes. He had been lured there because of her father’s work. He represented everything she feared. But she could tell that he also understood that it was misguided, even wrong. And there was a subtle, quiet spirituality about him that reassured her. She could trust him.
They spent almost two years working with Yuki, cajoling her, deceiving her, learning from her, understanding her, and in the end helping her. Meacham was very patient. The moment of crisis came when the lab was infiltrated by a Chinese operative. Her father was in real danger. If the Chinese made off with Dr. Kagami’s research, or worse yet, with Dr. Kagami himself, Meacham would consider it a failure, even a betrayal. It didn’t matter that the entire research project was utterly fallacious. The Chinese didn’t know that, would never believe it, and neither would Meacham.
In the end, the Chinese did manage to steal the important records of Kagami’s work. But they did not manage to steal him. When the theft was uncovered, he declared that his work was a failure, that there was no genetic solution to the side-effects of the so-called Predator drugs. But no one believed him. The Mori Corporation accused him of espionage and sabotage. His reputation was destroyed, and he committed suicide. But all the interested parties still believed his research was valid and all came to the same conclusion: they needed to secure his daughter to complete the project. Yuki was in great danger.
But George and Michael acted first. They spirited her out of
Tokyo, hid out in Hokkaido for a few days, and then south to Kyushu. Eventually they made their way to Okinawa, where George hid out with Yuki for several weeks. From there, through Micronesia and then Samoa, they picked their way to . They hid there while Michael tried to patch things up with Meacham. He flew back to Hawaii and turned over everything he had from Kagami’s records, explained the fallacy at the heart of the entire idea, told him everything Yuki had painstakingly explained to him. He was no scientist. But neither was Meacham. Eventually, he was appeased. His foolish dream was banished, at least for now. Manila
When Michael returned to
a few months later he was surprised to find that a small child had been added to their party. Where had she come from? Had George found her in Hawaii ? She was clearly at least part Asian. She couldn’t be Yuki’s daughter. Could she? George told him that she was his niece, his brother’s child. Did he even have a brother? His brother had been married to a Korean woman during the war, who later died in childbirth. His brother’s health was failing and he asked him to take care of the girl. Michael did not entirely believe this story. But he was not inclined to challenge George over it. He owed him too much not to be willing to go along with it. In fact, he owed him so much that he was about to dedicate all his energies to creating a new life for all of them. Hawaii
In the ensuing years, Michael Cardano’s career flourished, without anyone quite knowing very much about him. He moved from one mid level government post to another, occasionally leaving government service for the private sector, later returning to another government post. Without making much of a splash, he amassed a considerable fortune, and a formidable network of shadowy connections. All because he knew that Meacham, or someone like him, would eventually reawaken the Predator program. And when that moment came, he would have to be ready. And now that moment had arrived.
Click for Ch. 4
Click for Ch. 4