Danger and Dreams
“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War
I returned to the car shaking. The pain was just beginning to register on my forehead and shoulder. I closed the door and looked around at the car in a new light.
The windows were made of bulletproof glass. The walls looked like they could endure an explosion. I was in a tank.
Avery slid into the front seat, and I heard the car doors lock. A rather comforting sound when you realize anyone might want to kill you.
He turned to look at me, opening the center console armrest. He pulled out a first aid kit and popped the lid.
“How do you feel?”
I took a couple of gasping breaths and then got a hold of it, “I think I might be in shock.”
Avery nodded as he pulled out a little flashlight. He clicked on and then flashed it over each of my eyes, “And your head?”
“It hurts, but I’ve gotten worse from falling off of my bike,” I responded. He nodded again and handed back some gauze.
“Press that against the bleeding. We’ll deal with it better soon, but we need to get you out of the area.”
I heard police alarms blaring past us towards the restaurant as Avery kicked the car into reverse. He shot out of the back of the parking spot, and then, to my surprise, he continued in reverse, sending me lurching forward. He drove backward until we arrived at another small intersection. From there, he swerved, switched into drive, and flew down a separate road.
“What’s happening?” I asked, holding the gauze against my forehead.
“The Paris Police will escort you out of the city, and then the French Military will meet us and take you by helicopter back to project Athena.”
The military was getting involved… this was not science. This was a war.
They patched me up on the helicopter, and the ride was novel. Even in my terror, I couldn’t help but feel cool that an escort of six helicopters and two fighter jets flew me back to Athena. Just for me.
I was then rushed into Athena’s medical offices, where I was looked over a billion times to make sure I was alive. They concluded all I had sustained from the Assassination Attempt was a scratch on my head, a bruise on my hip, and some rug burn on my shoulder. The words assassination attempt sent a little tingle through me, partly of fear, but partly of excitement. Someone had actually tried to assassinate me like I was a world leader or something. And all I had done was some science. You have to admit it’s kinda awesome. But I also have to admit. It had not occurred to me that as I grew more important, more people would want me dead.
After the doctors looked me up and down and got some painkillers, Myke ushered me into Josh’s office. Myke was deftly calm but seemed to be in a state of awe. He asked if I wanted anything specific to be prepared for me after the meeting, a movie, or a certain meal, and I didn’t respond. I’d been so pumped full of adrenaline I’d vibrated, and now the adrenalin was gone. Josh’s office door opened, and I stepped inside without looking back at Myke.
I collapsed into the chair in front of his desk, trying not to look as weak as I felt. Josh set down a tablet and looked me in the eye.
“How do you feel?” He asked.
“Fine, but a little shaken.”
“Good. We’re still trying to figure out what happened, but this seems like a one-off act. No government seems responsible for this, so the chances of great military action against you are low. That being said, we’d like you to stay inside Athena until we have everything sorted out. The Chateaus has high security, but inside Athena, even an employee couldn’t get to you unless they had the right key card and thumbprint.”
I nodded, inside Athena felt untouchable, and Josh continued.
“We are scanning every email, text, and call you’ve had in the past week. It would have had to have been someone who knew your importance and knew where you were meeting the doctor for lunch. So far, we haven’t discovered anyone you’ve mentioned it to. Do you remember mentioning the meeting verbally to anyone?”
I paused, “Umm, Myke, because he was helping plan my day, and then Avery obviously, I mentioned it to Martha on my way out that morning. I mentioned to Charlie I was getting lunch with the doctor, but not where I was getting it. Also, I didn’t tell Martha where either, just Myke and Avery and Robert knew the location. I’m pretty sure.”
Josh nodded, “Avery is loyal to France at his core, and his military training wouldn’t allow him to slip up at something like this. Myke has worked for multiple politicians, even some on opposing political parties, and never leaked anything. I personally screen Robert and can vouch for him, so I would doubt any acquisitions in his direction. All project Athena employees have extensive background checks and are heavily screened, but we’ll start looking. You are one of the least trained people here, so let me stress again that you can never, under any circumstances, mention the nature of the project or your job to anyone outside of authorized personnel. So when your brother comes to visit, none of this can be mentioned.”
“When?” I asked. “How did you know my brothers were visiting?”
“We listen to your calls, just in case something like this happens. We just want to keep you safe.”
Myke led me to a clean, bright room. In the center was a white bed, and the walls were a perfectly smooth concrete grey. The room was lit by LEDs set into the ceiling, and the floor was an impeccable black tile. The room was large with nice furniture and a huge TV set into one wall, but the bathroom impressed me most. The bathroom was made entirely of flowing angles, with a large flowing bathtub, a huge glass shower, and a wall-length mirror with a stand-alone metal sink that had no counters.
“Hope you like grey.” Myke tried when he finished the tour.
I chuckled, “I guess I do.” He looked relieved at the laugh.
“There aren’t any windows in Athena, so if you get tired of looking at concrete, metal, and plastic, tell me, and I’ll try to smuggle some plants in for you.”
I sighed, I didn’t really want to talk, but I forced myself to. “It’s a beautiful room. I probably couldn’t have afforded it as a hotel room three weeks ago.”
“True, but three weeks ago, no one was trying to kill you. Just remember, it’s my job to make your life easier, so if you need anything to help with that, text me or press this button.” Myke said, gesturing at a button next to the door.
The door was made of six-inch thick steel, and the hall my room was in was entirely inaccessible without a thumbprint and card from Josh, Myke, or Avery. I had no idea how close to the outside I was. I could be in an underground bunker or in the wall of Athena near the top of the dome. I just knew I was far from the outside.
Myke left me, and the door closed, locking dramatically. My room was utterly silent and sterile.
I lay down on the soft bed, not bothering to turn the lights off or get under the blankets. Though the adrenaline had stretched me thin to tiredness, my brain was whirring. The hand of my watch slid by, and by 2 in the morning, and I still had no conscious memory of sleep.
Then somewhere after that, stressful thought fades into stressful dreams.
A blaring alarm awoke me the next day. I fumbled with it, squinting against the bright LEDs that I never turned off. Eventually, I was able to make the alarm quiet somehow, and I checked the time. Seven-thirty.
It can’t be, I thought in horror. It felt too dark. Not literally, like I said, the room was bright, but it felt like if there had been a window, it would have been dark outside.
I got up, showered in the smooth bathroom, then wandered around in my towel, trying to remember where Myke had said they’d put all my clothes, but eventually, I found them in the boxy white dresser.
Once dressed, I walked over and pulled on the handle.
Panic began to rise in my throat, but then I quickly swallowed it back down. It was just for my safety. They hadn’t locked me in here. They just needed to keep me safe. I was important. They couldn’t have me wandering the halls of Athena. It occurred to me how many things I’d signed away, my privacy, my own mind, my safety, my right to tell my family things, and now my ability to leave my bedroom when I wished.
They at least could have told me.
Then I remembered the button. I clicked it and spoke into the little microphone on the wall. “Umm, can I get out?”
“Okay, I’ll be there in a moment,” I heard Myke reply.
I stood there awkwardly, not quite sure how long a moment was, and then with a hiss reminiscent of an airlock, and the door opened. Standing outside was Myke, the two security guards, and Avery.
Avery and Myke walked me down the long grey hallway. It was lined with numbered doors and led to an elevator. It was buttonless and such a smooth ride I could barely tell which direction we were going.
Myke led me through identical windowless hallways to the little circle which Gertrude’s desk guards. The door to my office, Josh’s, Charlie’s, and the Room of Ra were all closed. The same to military-dressed men standing outside the door that always did. With their huge guns, uniforms, and British flags. I think Charlie called them Steve and Johnson, though I didn’t remember which one was which. I smiled at them. I’d never considered the soldiers much, but having them hear now made me feel secure. One of them, the one on the left, had buzzed blond hair, freckled, and was a couple of inches taller than me. He smiled at me comfortingly.
Myke explained that Charlie and Josh were waiting in the Room. So I used my card, unlocked the door, went through the airlock, and then entered the Room of Ra.
Dimmer lit than most of Athena and much softer, the Room of Ra was its usual infinite silence. Charlie and Josh were sitting around a circular grey table. Charlie looked pale, and Josh flashed a smile when I entered, but today it didn’t extend much to the eyes. There was a tense air of disagreement between them.
I sat down and nodded at each of them and waited. Josh might be the only person that I didn’t feel comfortable demanding answers from.
Once I was settled in, he began. “Good to see you Matthew, we’ve been working around the clock to figure out who could be responsible for this.” Josh didn’t waste time. “Luckily, our research so far has indicated that this attacker was not from a large organization but was a mercenary who worked with and for an Anarchist Marxist group in Paris. We are dismantling the group now.
“There is no way the group could have known you would be at that location and who you were unless someone from inside Athena gave away information. So, that means someone who works here has to be a traitor of some type.”
My mind flashed through the people I knew from Athena, Martha, Gertrude, Isabella, Gabrellio, the scientists, Myke, Avery, Josh, and Charlie. I liked all of them.
“So you’re saying there is a spy?” I asked. I’d only ever considered spy’s in the concept of movies. I’d never had to think about my coworkers and friends as people who might be trying to get me killed.
“Yes, a spy. We need to find them as soon as possible before they cause more problems. We have looked the best we can, but I think there may be a faster and more efficient way to find this leak. We want you to use Destiny’s Touch for its intended purpose.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“We want you to go in and find who it was. We want you to ask the Ethos who has been leaking information.”
“You want me to use Destiny’s Touch to find them?” Like a weapon? I added in my mind.
Charlie and Josh looked at each other, Charlie looking hesitant but interested, and Josh excited, “Yes.”
“3, 2, 1, Sunrise a go.” I heard Charlie say, and then all of reality shifted.
In my normal life, reality was a light that was filtered through a colorful film. The film projected into what I knew as experience, but then that film was ripped away, and the light hit me.
I was getting much faster at sorting myself out from this light, so it didn’t take too long. Soon, I was aware of my existence separate from it, and I could ask the question. Having a question made it much easier than wandering around. With a line of inquiry to follow, I could stay away from that infinite tug of the source. The bright light that Charlie had warned me not to go into but was always begging me to enter. Every river of light came from it and flowed back into it.
I dived, searching for the spy inside Athena. I first stumbled upon images of me driving to lunch in Paris. So, we are on the right track.
I arrived at lunch, but I started to feel the tug of the inevitable, of the dreams, of the infinite expectation of that place. No, they’re not real. They’re just dreams. They are not the touch. I thought in horror.
I veered away with all my might and found myself watching someone smoking a cigarette on a curb in Paris. His face was lit by a patterned light through the trees. His chin was covered in half-shaven stubble, and on his neck were faded tattoos. He was the man in the mini-cooper.
A woman, tall, thin, with dark hair and eyes, walked up and sat next to him. He offered her a cigarette, but she denied it.
She said something to him in French, he answered her.
She nodded and walked away, and I knew to follow her in the Ethos.
The place shifted around me. Like paint in rain, it flowed together and became a blur. It kept flowing until another image formed and then hardened again. I was in an apartment. It was dimly lit. The room smelled like alcohol and strong perfume. The window curtains were closed, but no light came in from behind them. It was night.
In the center of the room was a crummy couch with two people slumped on it: the dark-haired woman and a man with a blonde buzz cut and freckles. I knew I had seen him somewhere, but I didn’t know where. I focused my view on him, and information I shouldn’t have known came to me. His name was Steven; Steven had worked in the British military, he had been liked by his superiors, so he was one of the few handpicked to work protecting project Athena. He was Catholic by baptism, but now only vaguely religious and only when things were going badly. He had a little sister who was a teenager, and he hated her boyfriend. He thought French girls were hot and, as a consequence of this, loved this new job and apartment in Paris. Most of the military had to live in Athena, but he was allowed to live in Paris since he was so well trusted and liked.
His arm was wrapped around the dark-haired women, and both of their sets of eyes were glued to a TV. In between them and the TV was a messy coffee table with two empty bottles of wine and two glasses. Steven pressed his lips against the woman’s head.
“Is that your job?” The woman asked. The slurring of her words with her French accent pushed the sentence to the edge of understanding. She gestured vaguely at the TV, where a Soldier shot a machine gun in a desert somewhere.
Steven let out a hard laugh, “No baby, we talked about this, I guard stuff.”
“What kind of stuuuuuuff?” The women asked, letting that wordplay out.
“Y’know stuff. Like you know area 51?”
“The American military thing?” The woman asked slowly like she was having difficulty with the words.
“Yeah, like area 51 stuff.” The man said.
“Aliens?” She asked, turning to him in a mix of mocking and genuine confusion.
Steven rolled his eyes, “No, not aliens, but kinda like that. More like umm, super tech stuff.”
She paused, “Like Iron Man?”
He chuckled, “Yeah, kinda like Iron Man, but think more like,” He waved his hands around, “Time Travel.”
She sat up, eyes wide and bloodshot, “Time travel?”
“Yeah, I’m not kidding. I guard bloody time travel baby, the governments got a big-time travel machine, and it’s my job to keep it safe,” He said proudly, “But it’s super-secret, so don’t tell anyone.” he added hastily.
She leaned back against him, “That’s super hot.”
He smiled, “I know, right.”
I was filled with horror. I was almost killed because some British soldier got drunk and bragged to his Marxist girlfriend? That’s way less cool than an assassin hired by Russia or something. I didn’t want to die as a result of someone else’s third glass of wine.