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The Lie that Saved the World Chapter 16: The Phantom Protocol

by VengefulReaper


Warning: This work has been rated 16+.

As the submarine's hatch hissed open, revealing the entrance to the submerged hideout, Ethan's senses were immediately enveloped by the unique atmosphere of the compact underwater base. The air felt cooler with a faint smell of metal, and the gentle hum of motors and generators resonated through the confined space.

Ethan stepped out of the submarine and onto a narrow metal platform, his shoes clinking loudly against the metallic surface. The ceiling arched above him extruding into the depths of the bunker. Cables and pipes snaked along the walls. Pressure regulators as well as oxygen filters were mounted strategically around the base.

To his left, he noticed a control station, its rows of blinking lights and glowing displays manned by an operative. In front of him stretched the main corridor, leading deeper into the heart of the base. The walls were plastered with technical diagrams of reticulation plans and architectural drawings. The erection of this rendezvous base was recent and still in progress.

Ethan’s vision blurred for a few seconds. His HUD scrambled, forcing him to close his eyes to allow the disturbance to settle.

“Sorry about that,” Jim said. “Due to this base being relatively close to the surface, it’s encased in electromagnetic fields.”

Ethan examined the cylindrical structure of the base. “That’s why the base is…like this.” He looked outside one of the reinforced windows. Hazy, but still visible, was a series of curved metal poles, galvanized and sealed to prevent rusting, looping around the base. “This base is encased in a galvanized copper coil to produce an electric field.”

“And running through the middle of this base is, for lack of a simpler term, a giant bar magnet which produces a magnetic field. This thing is a floating EMP.”

“I assume there isn’t a way of communicating with Steve or the others from here, then,” Ethan replied as he followed his two companions down the corridor.

“There is only one emergency line that is permitted here. We’ll just have to wait. On the bright side, this thing is the most remote place on Earth. Nobody is finding us here.”

The corridor eventually opened into a compact control centre. A makeshift table hosted a holo-desk outlet similar to the one in the main bunker. To his left was the entrance to what looked like the barracks of sorts. Jim approached a stationed operative and began conversing with him. His voice was low and urgent, but his demeanour remained calm.

After sending the operative on his way, Jim returned to the table where Amber and Ethan stood. A chess board was placed at its center, its pieces scattered across the board. “I’ve informed them of the situation. We should be expecting Steve’s arrival soon according to the last transmission from their submarine log.”

Ethan sighed. “So, what now? We make this our base?”

Amber shook her head. “Prolonged exposure to this type of environment is incredibly unhealthy. Sometimes, it can be fatal. That’s why this is only a short-term rendezvous point and not an alternate hideout.”

Jim stroked his chin, still rattled by the experience. “One man, Amber…”

“I know.”

“One man just strolled in here, took us for a ride, strolled out and took down a bunker that had been standing for decades. Forget countering it, how are we meant to survive that? It’s like he was contracting all my muscles.”

Ethan turned away, his expression tense.

Amber shrugged. Her voice was calm and collected. She seemed to be good at keeping her composure but even she seemed rattled by Jim's recollection of events.

"I don't know, Jim. I don't know. But we'll find a way. We always have."

"What about the bunker?" Jim asked. "What about the data?"

Ethan attempted to scan for any wireless signature of the bunker's equipment with his eye. Servers, satellites, GPS... nothing popped up. The data stored on the bioweapon was wiped as well. "All of it was wiped. Steve must have a backup of that information somewhere, right? "

"The information I gave him on the bioweapon was far too recent for him to back it up. It was probably still on the remote disc I gave him." Jim slammed his fist on the table. "Damn it!"

Amber shook her head. "We've got a long night ahead of us."

"What did we actually accomplish from that interrogation?" Jim asked. "We didn't get any information about the bioweapon which was what we needed, nor did we extract any information about his forces stationed on Earth." He clenched his fists. "He took us for a fucking ride and we bought it!"

Ethan turned away, his expression stern and focused. "Not really."

Jim and Amber's gaze locked onto Ethan's, their expressions puzzled.

"He did tell us one thing..." Ethan's voice trailed off.

"Well, what is it?" Amber asked.

"He's not the one on the thrown," Ethan said. "Someone else is up there." He stroked his chin. "And it won't be long before Adrian begins to lose influence amongst his people."

"I don't know what to conclude from that, Ethan. None of us do. I suggest we continue this discussion when Steve and the rest pitch."

An operative entered the room. "Sir... General Starkson has arrived."

Jim stood up, sweeping the collected dust off his clothes. "About damn time."

The three of them entered the hangar, a large and spacious area with a high ceiling and a series of support beams. In the centre of the hangar was a single submarine, the sleek, black exterior a stark contrast against the white walls and metal floors. The hatch of the submarine hissed open and out stepped a man, tall and muscular supporting his friend on his shoulder.

"About time you showed up, Steve. You looked pretty banged up."

"Not as bad as Ethan," Steve replied. "How the hell are you still conscious."

"Adrenaline mixed with a shit ton of painkiller patches over pretty much all his wounds," Amber explained. "We've got quite the story for you."

Breach exited the submarine encased in Ethan's exo-suit after John and Steve with Rico limping closely behind. "It can't be more wild than ours."

***

"Okay, you win... Yours is so much worse," Breach said, breaking a long silence of shock and fear felt around the room. Everything was revealed aside from Ethan's sickness. Much to Ethan's relief, Jim left that part out.

"Either way, Ethan saved all of our asses. He's a trustworthy member of this team now," Jim said after a lengthy and awkward conversation (or interrogation) about Ethan's motives.

"I still have some questions," Steve said, "but for now, let's assume we're on the same team. I have no reason not to trust him. He's done nothing but help us."

"I have a question," Rico said. "What now?"

Steve rested his arms on the table. "I didn't think there'd be a day where I'd have to say this, but the Alliance needs to be disbanded...for now."

Breach slammed his fist on the table. "You can't be serious about this! Right now? When we're our most vulnerable?"

"Just listen to me, Breach..." Steve replied calmly. "The organization as a whole is in danger from both Duncan and Sigvald. If I disband it, that threat trickles down to just this room. The rest of the operatives are insignificant numbers in Duncan and Sigvald's eyes. For us...it's personal."

"Yeah, but aren't we better off together?" Breach countered.

"We may be stronger together, but right now... we don't need to be strong. We need to survive. They need to survive. The infiltrators will maintain close contact and continue working from the shadows, but the rest need to vanish."

"Steve's right," Jim interjected. "We're not taking the entire Alliance down with us just because we're the targets here."

"We'll regroup once we have a plan of action to take down SEKT," Steve continued.

"Bu-"

"I don't have time to argue with you, Breach!" Steve insisted firmly. "I am the leader of this organization. I am solely responsible to Duncan for the decisions I make and in this situation, I don't have the time to put this to a democratic vote!"

Breach composed himself. "Sorry, sir. It's just..."

"These are going to be rough times, Breach. For you and for everyone. But this is the only way I see out." He pulled up a map of Durban. "I own a few houses in close proximity to Ethan and Rico. You and Amber should move with your family into those houses. They have added safety precautions and pre-installed panic rooms. It's safer."

"And what about when we're on missions?" Amber asked. "We don't have a space to congregate and safely deploy from."

"There will be no missions from here on out. Our mission will be to extract the messages from Ethan's head. Breach will work with him to get those out and assembled into an interpretable format after Ethan recovers."

"I'll need to get my hands on some more hardware to work on that," Ethan said. "I know a few places near the docks that can supply me with the relevant equipment, but I'll need a shard of Secronium to work with and an isolated environment to safely handle it."

Steve nodded. "I don't have the resources I had an hour ago but I will see what I can organize for you."

"What about the exo-suits?" Breach asked.

"They're compromised," Steve replied. "As far as I know, the only one that remains is the one we used to escape, but the A.I. functionality was disabled in the process. I don't think it is restorable but if it is, that would be of assistance."

"I'll keep it stored someplace safe," Breach said.

An eerie silence followed.

"Are you sure about this, Steve?" John asked. "If we disband the Alliance, we may not be able to regroup again."

"I'm not," Steve replied. "But what choice do we have? We're at his mercy now."

He opened up the communications network and connected to every single agent in the Alliance. "Duncan is going to be either really pissed or really happy about this."

He looked over to John who gave him a firm nod of approval. Jim did too. Amber, Rico, and Breach were hesitant. Their faces were etched with doubt and fear.

"Grab your spare equipment and let's make for the teleporters. It's time to go to the surface."

A number of windows opened showing several agents connecting to the communications network. Once everyone was there, Steve inhaled.

It was time to accept the truth that the Alliance had lost much of its power since the bunker was destroyed. They had no base to hold operations and they had no protection left from Duncan. They couldn't go public, nor could they stay silent.

"Operatives of the Alliance," he began with a somber tone, "This is an urgent message to every Alliance operative active or dormant. We have been compromised. The bunker has been destroyed, barring any accessibility to the base below. Our president has relinquished financial aid and security to the Alliance following the emergency powers granted to him." He paused briefly, choosing his words meticulously. "In lieu of this, I am initiating the Phantom Protocol with immediate effect."

An aura of gloom and somberness drifted above the infiltrators.

"Under such protocol, the Alliance and its members will dissolve temporarily. Our mission will be halted."

The infiltrators opened a weapons panel on the wall, grabbing what they could and placing it around their waists. Ethan waited for them to claim their weaponry.

"Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to return to Base-001."

Breach walked up to him and handed him the remote to the exo-suit. "Steve told me to keep this safe."

"Why me?" Ethan asked.

"Call it a shot in the dark, but from what happened today, you seem to be a walking firewall for electronics."

With one tap of the button, the suit crumpled up methodically shard-by-shard. It split itself into five parts and slithered up Ethan's body. The first two formed bracelets that fit snugly around his arms, the second two formed a belt around his waist and a metallic necklace, and the last wrapped around his eye like a snake, spiraling inwards until his jade-green pupil.

"A force of elite operatives will work to re-establish connection with the lower levels of the base and extract our trapped resources in due course. A recall will be initiated on this very transmission line when phase 2 of Phantom Protocol begins."

John clipped his blade onto his waist.

"The times ahead of this organization are daunting."

Amber holstered her dual revolvers.

"The future is uncertain."

Breach strapped his shotgun behind his back as well as his box of explosives.

"Though we are dissolved, the threat remains intact, awaiting our return. Our hope has dwindled to nothing more than a spark."

Rico examined his sniper and slid it in its pouch on his back.

"But a spark is all that is needed to ignite a flame."

Jim wiped his pistol and knife clean and tucked them away.

"A kindled flame will grow into a fire and a fire will breathe light into our darkest times."

As they all cleared from the wall of weapons, Ethan gazed at the only weapon remaining on the shelf. An elegant energy war bow. The nameplate was partially scratched off but it remained readable.

"This organization began to oppose injustice and oppression."

Ethan brushed the dust away.

Adrian "Scorpion" Salacron.

"Perhaps circumstances...No. Perhaps I have complicated a simple mission... contorted it to beyond recognition. I failed to uphold this institution and its purpose."

The infiltrators joined the crowd of operatives on their way to the teleporting room. Steve's message echoed through the speakers of the hallway. Their footsteps were heavy and somber.

"As a failed leader and representative of this institution's values, I ask of you one last favor. I ask you to uphold the real mission of the Alliance in your lives. To unite...to fortify...to strive."

The transmission cut and Steve lifted his head from the holo-desk. With a heavy breath, Ethan lifted the bow from its stand and held it under the light. Green energy ran through the limbs of the bow and into the string.

"You kept his bow," Ethan said. "Why?"

Steve dropped his gaze to the chess board on the table. He picked up the king from it and tucked it into his top pocket.

"Hm..." he shrugged, walking away nonchalantly. "Must have forgotten about it."

"That last part of your speech. The real mission?" Ethan shouted after him. "Is it true?"

Steve stopped in his tracks. "Every word."

The two men, both of them dressed in their uniform, walked to the teleporting room, which was no larger than the room they were in earlier. Ten stations sat waiting for them, arranged around the room. Behind it, the wall had been replaced with an energy field, which shimmered and shifted like a pool of mercury.

Breach reached for the remote in his pocket. "Cloaking weaponry in three, two, one, cloak."

A shimmering wave of neon pixels flooded over them, shifting and changing as it touched each of their weapons. In a matter of moments, the dangerous and suspicious equipment was masked to look like harmless, everyday items.

"This will also scramble their magnetic signature so we can pass through the metal detectors."

"Let's get going, then," Steve said firmly. "Set the coordinates to KZN hospital. Let's get this man patched up."

Ethan stepped into the teleporter.

Teleporting in 3…2…1… Please remain calm and keep your arms inside the terminal!

The screen began to flash red as an error message was forced into the teleporter.

Error! Error! Unknown source detected! Consolidating conflict to match destination!

...

...

...

Destination locked. Beginning atomic disassembly. Location: KZN Hospital.

Ethan sighed. "I hate hospitals."

Questions

1. I tried something weird with Steve's speech by intercutting it with other actions from the infiltrators. Is it hard to follow?

2. Is the technical jargon too technical at times even for a sci-fi?


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Fri Sep 15, 2023 11:09 pm
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Rose wrote a review...



Greetings @VengefulReaper!

Image

Beyond my beloved horizon, I'm setting sail into uncharted pages with an itch for adventure. Through binoculars, I spy with my little eye another chapter of the story titled “The Lie that Saved the World” that deserves a good review. Therefore without further ado, let’s begin.

I. Plot Development
Well, honestly, I can't really say much about the plot development because I didn't start reading from the beginning, but I can, however, tell you what I have been spying with my little eye (rubs hands together mischievously)...
So, so, I know, yes, I know that your story is not Mission Impossible, but can't really stop myself from visualizing it all as if it is another MI movie. I mean, your writing style is just doing all the magic, the adrenaline in the scenes and the action are just perfectly painted.

In "The Interlude" I actually realized that Ethan is not "Ethan Hunt" but "Ethan Rider". So if you're asking me, yes, I do see Tom Cruise as Ethan Rider, and yes, it is a whole other world of an Impossible Mission Force 6 with your own unique twists and turns.
I did notice that Steve activated the "Phantom Protocol", can't say that it's not making me think about MI Ghost Protocol. It is probably one of those reasons why I decided to dive into yet another captivating chapter of yours.

II. Character Development
It's the 16th chapter, so it's evident that your characters have made many developments. But it is also mostly because of your writing style that I can "read" about their personalities in just one chapter that is so far away from the introduction of the character.

I can already tell you that Ethan Rider is my favorite character, not only because he is a self-confident person but also very intelligent and caring...(okay, maybe he's also my favorite character because he reminds me of Ethan Hunt), but (clears throat), as I was about to say, he is definitely a pretty good agent with a lot of experience.

This part really gives a realistic feel to it and it you do a pretty good job at describing how Ethan, or any agent, could have felt or looked like in that situation. It was a kind of humorous line for me.

"Adrenaline mixed with a shit ton of painkiller patches over pretty much all his wounds," Amber explained. "We've got quite the story for you."


Can't say that that didn't sound like Ethan after a tiring mission, a half death experience and bad news:
Destination locked. Beginning atomic disassembly. Location: KZN Hospital.

Ethan sighed. "I hate hospitals."


III. Set The Setting
Not much to say over here, only that your writing style is already good enough and described everything just as they should be described.
The teleportation room could use a bit more work, and you could also consider adding some more tension over there. You know, letting the whole Phantom Protocol sink in.

For instance, this part:
Steve dropped his gaze to the chess board on the table. He picked up the king from it and tucked it into his top pocket.

"Hm..." he shrugged, walking away nonchalantly. "Must have forgotten about it."

I believe that there is more to "must have forgotten about it" than it seems. Steve tries to hide it, but after the "just-finished-the-speech-of-dangers", it might be better to write this part differently. Maybe try to describe the character's physical reactions or provide a more vague answer. But that is, if my theories are correct and Steve really is hiding something...

One other thing, that I have been meaning to ask is provide us(or me) with a better explanation of Ethan's diagnose. I don't really understand why he's dying so soon (wiping away invisible tear).

But overall, the mission-feel is really there and as a reader, I can assure you, it's more than okay for Steve's speech to be interrupted by other actions. It's weird, 'cause I've never read that before, but what's so weird about weird? The "dramaticness" is there and that's all that matters now, because I can definitely say that I'm experiencing all that from my little cozy coach with my delicious chips.

IV. When all is Said and Done
I savored every moment of reading this. A fantastic literary experience! I've run out of things to say, I've literally written down everything that popped into my head and I still need to process the whole situation of the story. Your imagination is as big as the whole MI6 force!
Good luck with your future writing projects!

So that was me, that's it and that's all.
Hoping the review has been of value to you!

Yours in Puzzling Shadows,
Rose




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Thu Sep 07, 2023 12:59 am
Liminality wrote a review...



Hi there! Lim here with a review.

General Impressions

The first part of the chapter seems to be a cooldown from the previous chapter. I like that they get some time in the submarine to talk things out. The anticipation hikes up again in the second half as Steve starts making plans and issuing orders.

He looked over to John who gave him a firm nod of approval. Jim did too.

This might be a silly question but: how does John know Steve is looking at him here? I forget how much John can/ cannot see.

Adrian’s weapon still being in the former base shows Steve’s whole arc with Adrian is most definitely not over yet! That part is kind of sad, seeing how they’re basically enemies now.

Style

I could follow the jargon well enough. It feels about the right level for a science fiction story. For example, I liked the explanation of the electromagnetic field. It felt like it established the setting well. To me it also sets up Breach getting Ethan to ‘store’ the exo-suit, since that also has something to do with blocking electronic transmissions?

Steve’s speech had some pros and cons I think. I like that switching to the Alliance members grabbing weapons breaks up a long bit of monologue. It definitely ups the drama of the scene and emphasises how they’re basically going to have to make do with the few resources they have left from now on. I thought the actions of the infiltrators did distract me a little from the content of Steve’s speech. Maybe having fewer actions/cuts might work as a compromise?

Flow of the Scenes

[quote[Breach exited the submarine encased in Ethan's exo-suit after John and Steve with Rico limping closely behind. "It can't be more wild than ours."
***
"Okay, you win... Yours is so much worse," Breach said, breaking a long silence of shock and fear felt around the room. Everything was revealed aside from Ethan's sickness. Much to Ethan's relief, Jim left that part out.
[/quote]
Was there something we were supposed to know about what Breach, Steve and company did while Ethan was talking to Adrian? It kind of feels like that got glossed over, so I was wondering if it might be important.

I like the scene where Ethan asks Steve about the bow. I did feel like the switch from the speech to the bow and back to the speech again was a bit abrupt? It felt like the impact of each thing didn’t quite sink in yet, and the characters are urgently trying to get out of there and get to the hospital on top of that.

Plot and Setting

Something I like about the plot developments here is that the complications are being multiplied for the main characters. Not only is their base lost, they also no longer have that big army of operatives at their command. That forces them to change their approach to fighting SEKT (and also Duncan?). It also makes sense in a way, since it’s just the characters who were named from the beginning who are left.

"There will be no missions from here on out. Our mission will be to extract the messages from Ethan's head. Breach will work with him to get those out and assembled into an interpretable format after Ethan recovers."

This sounds like an interesting concept. It’s like a reconnaissance story but just from one person who doesn’t currently ‘know’ what information they have. I can imagine this would be a cool way to explore the tech in this setting as well.

A shimmering wave of neon pixels flooded over them, shifting and changing as it touched each of their weapons. In a matter of moments, the dangerous and suspicious equipment was masked to look like harmless, everyday items.
"This will also scramble their magnetic signature so we can pass through the metal detectors."

I liked this bit. I can believe a futuristic society with super realistic VR could have something like this, though I wonder if it would also work for tactile things – like whether the shape and texture of the weapons changes along with the visuals.

Overall

The main strengths of the chapter for me are the plot points being introduced and also the worldbuilding. I’m interested to see what further progress they can make on the message while Ethan is at the hospital.

Let me know if you’d like more feedback on something specific!
-Lim




VengefulReaper says...


Thanks for the review, Lim!

This might be a silly question but: how does John know Steve is looking at him here? I forget how much John can/ cannot see.

Very valid question. Answer: *sigh* I forgot he was blind.

Was there something we were supposed to know about what Breach, Steve and company did while Ethan was talking to Adrian? It kind of feels like that got glossed over, so I was wondering if it might be important.

See, that's what I was thinking too at first. I wrote about half a chapter of Steve's perspective of the collapse of the bunker and Duncan's meeting. Then I was hesitant to jump back and forth as it might be confusing in terms of timelines. I already have a lot of flashbacks. I'm not very familiar with non-linear storytelling and how much jumping is too much, so I wasn't sure.

But given the fact that you picked up that something was missing, I might insert that chapter in between this one and last one, so thanks for that!

-Reaper




The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.
— Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest