Delta Green - All Part of the Job

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 1d

All three agents got an early start the next morning. Atwood wanted to have a look around Bedford, Dempsey wanted to find lodging closer to the town yet still outside, and Porter wanted his own rental vehicle – one not tied to the Des Moines airport or a federal expense account.

Atwood reached Bedford first. It resembled every small town in every American movie of the last thirty years: red brick and granite downtown, leafy side streets lined with modest ranch homes, local-brand gas stations and convenience stores on the corners and on the highway exit ramps. The “Welcome to Bedford” signs where U.S. Highway 148 turned into Madison Street claimed a population of 1,406; sported the emblems of the Lions, Kiwanis, Elks, United Church of Christ, and other respectable organizations; and proudly boasted of being the “Home of the Fighting Bulldogs – Division Champs 1987, 1991, 1997, 2000, 2007; State Champs 1992.” The closest other towns were 10 to 15 miles away in any direction over rolling, sparsely-wooded farmland.

Banners hanging over Main and Madison Streets and flyers all around town announced the Corn Queen Pageant at the high school which coincides with the Bulldogs’ homecoming game on September 30th. Every street light had a small camera covering the road, sidewalks, and businesses. Atwood decided Bedford Cable and Electric must be doing good business because only one building in town – the HelpLink Regional Training Center – had a satellite dish.

The street light cameras seemed out of place in a small town, but they were only the beginning of the subtle but oddly disturbing qualities of the town. Almost every building had sliding glass doors that slid open when an electric eye detected motion. The buildings that didn’t have these doors instead had keycard or keypad locks; even the private residences.

Taylor’s Diner looked like a welcoming sort of place, and there were only a few tables not occupied by high schoolers in letterman’s jackets or cheerleader’s sweaters. The diner was directly across from the Bedford Times-Press. Next to the diner was the Brave New World Daycare Center which not only had the electric eye and sliding glass doors – very unusual for a daycare, Atwood thought – but it also had a sign in the window depicting a masked individual crying and holding the bars of a jail cell while a smiling couple held a baby. The caption on the sign read “Foil kidnappers! Fingerprint your baby!”

Still dressed in his borrowed battledress uniform, Atwood decided to see what he could learn from the kids at the diner. As he entered, he was slightly unnerved to hear The Police playing Every Breath You Take over the speakers. Without sitting, he claimed a seat at the counter by setting down his cell phone and keys.

Every breath you take, every move you make …

Atwood scanned the diner for a table with the greatest concentration of young men, but the entire group seemed to be rather fluid. Some remained in one spot the whole time, but others would sit for a minute and talk before moving to another table to socialize.

Every bond you break …

When the waitress, Diane, asked to take his order, he said he’d like some coffee and a slice of Key Lime pie. He raised an eyebrow when he realized rather than scribble his order on a pad like at every other diner he’d ever visited, she instead checked a few digital boxes on her tablet and submitted his order to both the kitchen and register electronically. Fewer than 1,500 residents in an otherwise typical small town, and yet such high technology and security everywhere he looked.

Every step you take, I’ll be watching you.

Atwood approached the largest group of young men and jumped right into a Marine Corps. recruitment speech. None of them seemed interested at all, not even when he not-so-subtly questioned their bravery. Every one of them seemed convinced the homecoming game against the Taylor County Cornhuskers would be the springboard for their college and professional football careers. When he asked what made them so sure they could even play college ball, a few of them stood up and completely dwarfed him. These kids were big. Not all of them, but the ones who stood up, for sure, were over six-feet tall and probably 200 pounds.

Every single day, every word you say …

Whatever. If Captain Rush pulled a dozen kids from this town, he had to have been a fantastic recruiter. Atwood shrugged and returned to his coffee and pie. It was only a minute or so before he had a cheerleader on either side of him, bouncing and smiling. The blonde on his left introduced herself as Shannon and the brunette on the other side as Ashley. They were seniors at Bedford High, and they were selling tickets to the homecoming game Monday night. Tickets would be $15 at the gate, but if he got them from her, they were only $10. He had to admit, she had a hell of a sales technique. Sure. Why the hell not? He bought three tickets with cash. The brunette handed him three credit card-sized laminated cardboard tickets. Each ticket had the logos of both teams, the date and time of the game, and an obvious RFID chip. They were also numbered sequentially, 0002 through 0004. That meant not only had they sold very few tickets but also that they had probably sold at least one other.

Every game you play …

Ashley wasn’t really his type, but damn. There was something about her that … Atwood stopped his train of thought right there. That was definitely not why he was here. He needed to be on his guard in this town because it seemed to be a death sentence for federal employees. Besides, she was just a girl, a senior in high school. Of course, that meant she might be … Atwood shook it off again. Something wasn’t right here, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. It was probably a trick of the light or his mind, but looking from Shannon to Ashley, he could have sworn the blonde’s eyes changed from blue to violet. When he looked back, though, they were blue. He thanked the girls for the tickets and finished his coffee before leaving the diner in haste.

Every night you stay, I’ll be watching you.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 1e

Nothing about this damned town added up, and it was creeping him out. Never mind that he wasn’t really a Police fan either.

Porter and Dempsey had followed Atwood through Bedford but continued on when the behavioral analyst stopped at the diner. Dempsey drove while Porter searched the internet for nearby lodging. Both agents got the same vibe as Atwood did from the cameras and electric eyes, so they didn’t want to take a chance on staying in town. Just across the state border, a real estate company in Hopkins, Missouri was running a deal on a few fully-furnished houses where the cost to rent one for a month was less than the hotels in town were charging for a week. There was no contest.

Dempsey dropped Porter off at an Enterprise Rent-A-Car before heading off to close the deal on a safe house. Porter paid cash for his rental car and immediately headed back toward Bedford. On the way, he called the sheriff’s office. He told Sheriff Taylor his name was Walter Scott – a lie backed up by a full set of false identification in his briefcase – and he was an attorney representing the Badagian family. He would be in town later in the day to perform his duties for the family; claiming the personal effects, reviewing the official reports from the coroner and police, examining the vehicle, ensuring the body is cremated in accordance with the family’s wishes, etc … Once the call was done, he popped the battery and sim card out of his phone. Something about that town didn’t sit well with him, and the fact that the most recent death was someone inspecting the telecom network, he wasn’t taking any chances.

Porter’s face-to-face meeting with the sheriff went well. Woody was a nice guy and seemed willing to help. And yet, some of his answers weren’t acceptable to the NSA agent. Sure, the investigation could take a while, but it really shouldn’t. Today was Saturday. Why would he have to wait until Tuesday to collect the body? A homecoming game. Really? So what if the entire town supported their high school. The sheriff had a job to do. Porter wasn’t happy, and he pressed the sheriff to accelerate his timeline. Sheriff Taylor said he would try, but a big city lawyer just had to accept the realities of small-town life. The Bulldogs were a big deal in this town, and homecoming and the Corn Queen Pageant might slow the investigation just a bit.

Atwood decided he would get a room at the Skylark Motel. He didn’t want to stay, but he was a little paranoid, and he wanted to stay in character. A sign on the desk politely requested “three forms of ID for personal checks,” so naturally, he paid cash. Even still, the transaction was finalized with a signature on an electronic display. Screw this town with all its security and surveillance. Watch the room key be electronic, too …

Yes, as it turned out. The door to his room was unlocked by a keycard. Everywhere he went in this town, he felt he was being tracked. Cameras watching everything, electric sliding glass doors probably recording every time they open, keycards to open his motel room door. Whoever they were, they knew his every move, and he didn’t like it. At least there was a fire escape. He could just leave the window unlocked and come and go that way.

Atwood’s heart sunk when he unlocked the window, and yet somehow, he felt he shouldn’t have been surprised. Attached to the frame outside the window was a laser tripwire. A freaking laser tripwire! At a cheap-assed motel. Who had the money for this? Who had the need for all this surveillance? Where was all this information going?

The building with the satellite dish? That had to be it. But why? Why, damn it? Oh, he hated this place. Screw Bedford. Screw Taylor County. For that matter, screw all of Iowa.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 2a

Since his phone was disassembled, Porter was unable to receive the many text messages Atwood sent regarding all the electronic surveillance in the town. Dempsey had received those messages and the one where Atwood said he was staying at the Skylark. The Irishman sighed. Why, when you know someone is watching everything, would you send a text saying you know they’re watching? When you’re in town investigating the death of someone who was probably killed because he found out something about the telecommunications system in the town, why would you send a text that is probably only going to get you killed, too? And then to follow it up with one giving your current location and room number? Those weren’t even rookie mistakes. Those were suicide notes.

He was across the state line in Missouri, but Atwood’s text was to his number which compromised his phone. Good thing it was a burner. A shame it still had more than 100 minutes on it though. Dempsey called SSA Gomez to let him know the situation and to request access to a satellite phone for the duration of the Operation. Gomez said he’d have it sent directly to the safe house, but it wouldn’t arrive until morning. That was fine.

Topping Dempsey’s list of leads was to check out the scene of the accident. From the briefing, he knew it was on the business highway just outside of town, but he wasn’t sure where. Hopefully, Porter would find that out when he talked to the sheriff. Also, when he went to check it out, he was going to need a cover. The Irishman called one of his contacts for a favor. He needed a convincing forgery of Iowa State Department of Transportation credentials. Wallet, please; lanyards were for losers. His connection said he’d charge it to Dempsey’s tab and have it dropped off in a few hours.

Dempsey then went out to the shed and smashed his burner phone into a million pieces before putting them in a metal bucket with a bit of gasoline and torching them. Thanks, Atwood. Now he was going to have to get another phone and more minutes.

Porter asked Sheriff Taylor for access to Mr. Badagian’s vehicle and personal effects as well as a copy of the official police report. The sheriff was happy to help. On the way to the evidence lockup, he asked the clerk to get the responding officer’s report printed for Mr. Badagian’s family lawyer.

The evidence lockup was downstairs, as was the jail. In fact, the two men had to walk past the four cells on the way. Porter was surprised to note one of the cells was occupied. The man was asleep, and he had a hat covering his face. The hat was well-worn and sported a logo of a praying mantis with a man in a suit standing behind it holding a gun to its head.

Porter didn’t have a list of Badagian’s possessions, but what was retrieved from the evidence lockup looked about right. He knew the investigator had a cell phone and a laptop computer. In addition to those, there was a wallet with Badagian’s ID, a Leatherman brand multi-tool, and a toolbox with pretty much everything the spook would expect from an FCC investigator. Porter nodded and asked to see the vehicle.

“Of course, Mr. Scott. The car is being held at Archer’s Wrecking and Salvage a couple blocks down the street. Tell you what: I’m about to take off for lunch anyway. I’ll walk you down there.”

Sheriff Taylor led the way back up the stairs. The clerk handed the spook a manila envelope with the police report as they passed.

Porter and the sheriff walked down to the salvage yard and over to Badagian’s white Buick LeSabre from the FCC motor pool. As he examined the car, Porter could feel the sheriff watching his every move, so he made it quick. He wasn’t a forensic scientist, but there were a few things that stood out as potentially interesting. First, the windshield looked like it was smashed inward, and the glass was spidered out from a few different spots. The driver’s side window was also completely gone. Also, the impact didn’t seem to have damaged anything past the front crumple zones. Another thing he noticed was a lack of blood anywhere. Surely the wreck that caused this wasn’t fatal? In fact, Porter got the impression the car would probably start right up. It appeared to his eye the car was fully operational except for the deployed airbag. He nodded matter-of-factly and thanked the sheriff for his time.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 2b

The laser tripwire on the window bothered Atwood. Almost everything in this town bothered him, but the tripwire was too much. He decided not to leave the room until dark. While he waited, he dismantled the phone in his room and looked it over. He wasn’t sure what a bug would look like, but he wanted to check just to be sure. As far as he could tell, everything appeared right, so he put the phone back together.

He had been periodically peeking outside through a small space between the curtains, and this time, he saw something. A brand new, red Lexus RC Coupe pulled into a parking space a couple spots down from his rental car. The man who stepped out was big. He was one of the darkest-skinned black men Atwood had ever seen, and the FBI man estimated he was about 6’3” and maybe 240 pounds. The man wore a finely-tailored black suit and carried a briefcase.

The behavioral analyst guessed from the way the man dressed and carried himself, he was probably a highly-paid bodyguard. The man hit a button on his key, and the car doors locked with a beep. Atwood watched as he walked up the stairs and entered the room two doors down from his. The agent didn’t want to step outside his room just yet, so he got his binoculars to see if he could get a read on the license plate. Apparently, the guy was from Maryland. Well, at least he wasn’t the only out-of-towner here.

If he was going to be stuck in his room until nightfall, he might as well make some use of his time. What was the name of the woman the Marine recruiter supposedly had a relationship with? Cherry? That was it. Allison Cherry. Atwood opened the phonebook and flipped to C. There was only one Cherry, and it was the right one. He had her number and address. As he was dialing the number on the motel phone, he thought to himself how interesting it was that with all this technology in town, they still bothered to put names and addresses in a phonebook.

Ring … ring … ring … ring … Early afternoon on a Saturday, and he got Ms. Cherry’s answering machine.

He left a message telling her his name was C.H. Brown. He was in charge of administering Captain Rush’s will, and she had been named as a beneficiary. He was in town for a few days and staying at the Skylark Motel, and he’d like to get together with her to discuss the specifics. He left the number for his room phone in case she’d like to get back to him.

While he left the message, he continued to watch outside. At one point near the end of his call, he spotted a charcoal gray Chevrolet Camaro pull up. There was a man in the driver’s seat, a blonde girl in the passenger’s seat, and a brunette girl in the back. He recognized the girls from the diner. The brunette – what was her name? Ashley? – got out and looked around. She looked at the windows of the rooms like she was either making sure she wasn’t being watched or was trying to determine who might be in the rooms. She bounced over to Atwood’s rental car and looked inside before running her hand along the fender. The girl took one more look around before bouncing back over to the Camaro and getting in.

As the car drove away, Atwood put his binoculars to use once more. Most of the Iowa plates he’d seen were white and blue and numbered in black in the format ABC 123, but the Camaro’s plate was white with red lettering and numbered F1403. It also had the firefighter’s insignia on the far left and said ‘FIREFIGHTER’ in place of the county name. Whatever just happened, he didn’t like it. Were the girls stalking him? Did one of them get her father to help?

He didn’t trust the motel Wi-Fi, so he turned his cell phone into a mobile hotspot and connected his laptop to the internet through it. He sent SSAC Gomez an email with a request to trace the two plates. It took about an hour before he got the response:

Iowa plates:
Will Taylor – Member of Bedford City Council, Captain of Taylor County Fire Department.

Maryland plates:
Kellan Dunn – Assistant Director of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Director of Information Innovation Office (I2O)
A Taylor in the Camaro. No surprise there. But what the hell was an assistant director of DARPA doing in a town like this? Nothing good, for sure. Plus, DARPA meant federal, and that meant this Dunn guy was either a likely candidate to add to the list with Heathcliff, Emmett, Rush, and Badagian, or he was responsible for the list. He sent another text to Porter and Dempsey. Why the hell weren’t they responding? It only added to his feeling of isolation.

While he waited, he decided to look up DARPA and the Information Innovation Office. According to what he could piece together from their website and Wikipedia, this Mr. Dunn was in charge of or related to various projects in the interests of national security, but the projects were wide-ranging, and in a few cases, he questioned their ethics. There was a social engineering project aimed at correcting and directing the behavior of large groups of people with the express purpose (supposedly) of increasing the security of any cyber-networks they might have access to. There was a project for neural implants on soldiers, one for remote-controlled insects, and another for using plant physiology to detect chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats.

Damn. All of that was apparently real. And that’s just what made it to the internet. Wait … there was one more that caught his eye, and it sent a shiver down his spine. Combat Zones That See. The project’s goal was evidently to track everything that moves in an area by setting up a massive network of surveillance cameras to a centralized computer system and using artificial intelligence software to identify and track all movement. All movement. Seriously? Sure, DARPA claimed it was for battlefield use, but that could be abused. And if it were abused in the United States, he thought, it would look a lot like Bedford, Iowa.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 2c

His business in town concluded for the moment, Porter returned to his rental car – the one with Missouri plates and no federal connection – and headed back to the safe house. By the time he got there, Dempsey had received the Iowa DOT credentials from his contact and was ready to go. He ran his plan by Porter, and the NSA man agreed checking the scene of the accident was a good idea. But where exactly did it happen?

Porter dropped the manila envelope on the dining room table next to all the bombs the Irishman had been making, or as he called it, “Irish Coffee.” That was his code word since it was much less likely to be flagged. Porter opened the envelope and read the police report out loud.

Taylor County Sheriff’s Report

Incident: Auto wreck w/fatality
Time of Incident: appx 9:35 pm (officer arrived on patrol 9:47 pm)
Reporting Officer: Larry Funderburk
Location: 300 yards past mile marker 9 on IA-2.

Reconstruction: While traveling at a high rate of speed, subject swerved suddenly, ran into a tree growing in the drainage ditch, and was thrown from the car. Swerving may have been caused by headlights of oncoming truck, as many truckers in a hurry use IA-2 as an alternate route to the Interstate.

Notes: Subject seemed dead when officer arrived; officer took him to St. John’s after examining scene (9:50 pm). Subject wallet ID’d as Neil Badagian, FCC official from Des Moines.
Porter frowned as he read, and his frown only deepened as he neared the end. The information in the report didn’t agree with the state of the vehicle. Again, he wasn’t a forensic scientist, but he didn’t believe the car was going very fast at all judging by the limited damage to the front end. And there was no way Badagian had been thrown from the car. The windshield was spidered from a few solid hits from the outside, but there were no body-sized holes.

Dempsey pointed out another inconsistency: The incident was listed as an auto wreck with fatality, but the note said the subject “seemed dead.” Also, he didn’t believe it was a common practice for a responding officer to load a body up into the patrol cruiser and take it to the hospital. Surely the hospital had an ambulance and EMTs? Never mind the obvious issues with contaminating the scene of an accident. The officer arrived at 9:47, examined the scene for three minutes, and threw the body in the cruiser?

Porter was in complete agreement with the Irishman’s assessment, so they decided to check out the area noted in the report. State Road 2 was a quiet road with inadequate lighting. Fortunately, it was still late afternoon. The agents had no difficulty finding mile marker 9, and 300 yards beyond that, they found the scene of the accident.

Porter may not have been a forensic scientist, but Dempsey had some experience in the area. The Irishman noticed several things on a quick survey of the scene. First of all, there was only one tree, and that tree … That tree? There was no way a Buick hit that tree at a high rate of speed and left it standing. It was big enough to damage a car, sure, but only if it was hit at a slower rate of speed. There were tire tracks which indicated a car had driven off the road here, but the angle was all wrong. They were pointed directly at the tree at an angle and depth which implied the car was lined up and set in motion. He had done that exact thing with the car in Vermont not long ago.

So the car had stopped before being positioned. Porter suggested the only reason to stop here would be if you were being pulled over by the police. The NSA man also spotted broken glass on the shoulder of the road. Glass shouldn’t have broken until impact with the tree. The two men began to put together their reconstruction of events, and it didn’t agree with the police report. It seemed to them, Badagian was pulled over, removed from the vehicle, and beaten to death before being thrown in the police cruiser. The officer then smashed the windshield and pointed the car toward the tree before allowing it to drive off the road. An examination of the body might confirm the assessment, but the agents felt confident they had the right sequence of events.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 2d

Before concluding the examination of the scene, Porter wanted to be sure they weren’t missing anything. He booted up the VR headset and released one of the quadcopter drones he’d bought with money a hurricane victim would never see. The bird’s eye view revealed rolling hills, farmland, and the occasional tree. A little further down the road, the drone spotted a dense grouping of trees which stood out. Porter directed the drone that way, and he was rewarded. From above, it was easy to see the six-wheel tanker truck parked between the trees, but it would have been well-hidden from the road. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to camouflage it from the side.

He flew the drone closer, and he noticed a familiar logo on the tank: A praying mantis about to be shot execution-style by a man in a suit. It was the same logo on the hat of the man in the jail cell. The name on the tank said “Brewster Pesticide, a Brewster Holdings Company.” This Operation just kept getting better and better. Porter brought the drone back and packed it in the trunk of the rental car.

The two agents walked down to the truck and inspected it. The cab was unlocked, and the 500-gallon tank was locked tight. Dempsey checked the passenger’s side, but the glove box was locked, and so was the center console. No keys above the visor either.

Porter checked the driver’s side. No manifest in the door like most truckers would have, but he found it under the seat. He scanned it for relevant information, and other than the driver’s name – Peter Travis – one thing jumped out. One really big, really bad thing. According to the manifest, the truck was hauling pesticide. The language used would be meaningless to most people, but Porter had had a long career in the spy and anti-terror game. He knew a thing or two about chemicals. What this manifest said to him was that the truck wasn’t just carrying pesticide; it was carrying pesticide enhanced with teratogenic toxins, deadly PCBs, and other hazardous waste.

Dempsey followed all that. It meant this was no pesticide truck. It was a 500-gallon chemical weapon. But who would want it, and why? Porter nodded. Those were good questions. As for who … the driver, Peter Travis, was in lockup, and Sheriff Taylor was holding him for some reason. It was a good bet those two might have a few ideas. Either way, this truck was dangerous, and it needed to be immobilized. Dempsey drew his hunting knife and slashed the three tires on his side before tossing it over the truck lawn dart-style with a “heads up!”

Porter looked up just in time to dodge the blade. He grumbled, but the truck was still the most dangerous thing in the area. He slashed the tires on the driver’s side and handed the knife back to the Irishman as they headed back to the car. It was starting to get dark, and they didn’t want to be near Bedford after sundown. They hoped Atwood was okay on his own, but neither agent was willing to go looking for him or to give him a call. Not in this town. Back to the safe house.

Ms. Cherry had still not returned Atwood’s call, and it was dark enough out by now. The profiler put on his jacket and headed down to his car. He wanted to get the hell out of this town, but that might blow his cover. Even still, he was getting hungry, and … He jumped. Three or four bees landed on his right shoulder or buzzed around it. He swatted them away, but they came back. Not on his left. Not above his head or near his feet. Just his right shoulder. He hurried to the car but stopped short.

There were at least a couple dozen more bees on and around the fender the girl had touched. She’d touched the right side of his neck at the diner, too. Had she sprayed something on him and on his car? Something to attract bees? Or … she couldn’t be working for the guy from DARPA. Right? One of the projects the agency was working on was remote-controlled insects.

He took off his jacket and scooped a few bees from the car. He hurried back inside his room, smashed them, and then opened his jacket. It wasn’t a pretty sight. He wasn’t a biologist or entomologist, but if someone wanted to control an insect remotely, they would need to attach something, right? Like a bee-sized headset? Or maybe turn them into cyborg bees? Then again, maybe this town was just getting to him. Cyborg bees? Really?

All the same, he wanted to be sure. Atwood took a magnet from the refrigerator and touched it to the smashed bees. Little bits of bee did stick to the magnet, but it wasn’t because they were magnetic. Okay, good. Atwood breathed a sigh of relief. That probably meant his cheerleader stalker sicced bees on him on her own. Time for a shower and more waiting. Why the hell didn’t the other two respond to his calls and texts?
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 3a

The shower didn’t do much to calm his nerves, and so Atwood maintained a careful watch out the window through a crack between the curtains. Every so often, he shot a disapproving frown toward the phone. It was about 7:30 PM when he saw the large black man, Kellan Dunn, leave his room and head down to his car. Atwood took a deep breath. He wasn’t crazy about the idea of leaving his room before the rest of his team made contact, but he needed to know what was so important about Bedford, Iowa that DARPA would send the Assistant Director. As Dunn backed his cherry red Lexus out of the parking space and began to drive away, Atwood quickly slipped down to his rental car to tail him.

Dunn was in no hurry, and there were few other vehicles on the street, so Atwood maintained what he hoped was a safe distance. He watched as the Lexus pulled into the parking lot of the HelpLink building and parked next to the white Honda Civic which happened to be the only other car in the lot. No surprise there. That building was the only one in town with a satellite dish, and those industrial air conditioning units on the roof were just big enough to make him suspicious.

He continued past the HelpLink building and was about to turn around when he noticed the red and blue lights in the rearview mirror. His heart skipped a beat, but that was okay because his lungs forgot to take a breath or two anyway. Should he make a run for it? That didn’t work out well for Badagian. He was near the center of town in a rental car anyway. No way was he getting away by running. Any other time, all the camera coverage would make him feel much safer.

Atwood took a deep breath and pulled over across from the diner. He kept his hands on the wheel and watched his driver’s side mirror. The deputy stopped near the back of the rental car and leaned like he was getting a better look at the license plate. Atwood heard the plastic of his taillight smash, and that seemed to confirm his fear. There was nothing routine about this stop. He rolled down the window as the deputy approached and shined a flashlight inside. The name on the deputy’s uniform identified him as L. Funderburk.

“Know why I pulled you over?”

“I have a few guesses.”

Atwood did his best to keep the snarl and fear out of his voice, but he wasn’t sure it worked. After handing over his rental agreement and driver’s license – his real identification since he didn’t have anything else – he waited patiently as Deputy Funderburk returned to his cruiser to run his checks. So that was it. They knew he was an FBI agent. That put him on the list. Now, the only question was whether they were going to try to kill him now or start calling him from random numbers until he killed himself.

That question was answered when the deputy came back with his license and a $150 ticket for a broken taillight. Phone tag, it was, then. Well, screw this town. They might get his money, but they’d never get the satisfaction of his death. He threw the car into drive and headed cautiously back to the motel. His heart and breath may have skipped earlier, but they were making up for lost time now. After locking the door to his room and barricading it with the dresser, Atwood decided he needed another shower and some very light sleep.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 3b

Porter was pretty light on sleep as well, and he’d gotten up around 4:00 AM, made some coffee, and started researching. By the time he got his first refill, he had a few relevant items of interest. The Capitol Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland had run an obituary for Captain Rush and a single paragraph a few days ago with the title “Body Found in Bay Believed to be Marine Recruiter.” The Kansas City Star had run only an obituary for Shelley Emmett with no surviving family members listed. The Ames Tribune had run a front-page story following Heathcliff’s arrest. It was light on details, but it promised more information as it came available. It seemed to sensationalize the story, but that was the only story the paper ever ran on it. It made national news, but even those stories seemed to die out after a few days, and nothing substantial was ever reported other than the obvious "tenured professor fired after arrest."

Then there was the Bedford Times-Press. It had a website, but only the day’s brief headlines were available. For a subscription fee of only $32 and an email address, however, he could have access to previous editions and receive an electronic copy of future editions for an entire year. The NSA spook was already connected to the internet through an encrypted chain of proxy servers which changed every five minutes. He also had a refillable gift card for just such an occasion. Now, all he needed was a new fake email address.

A couple of minutes later, Porter was browsing back issues of the Bedford Times. The website was clear and reasonably laid out, but it still had the feel of an amateur website. There were no ads or pop-ups, but there were also no flashy banners proclaiming headlines, and the pictures were all thumbnail size until clicked. Still, it served its purpose. The paper was published on a weekly basis, and the issues were relatively short. They dealt only in items of local interest - mostly bake sales and high school sports - and the articles were rarely more than a paragraph long. It had the feel of a school newspaper.

The most recent edition had a paragraph about the "tragic car accident" on IA-2 east of town, but it spelled Badagian's name wrong - Badaggian. It stated the time of the accident as approximately 9:35 PM. According to police, he was speeding and likely swerved to avoid oncoming headlights.

There were no articles on the other three deaths, but two other articles from past issues did pop out. Merle Vaughn, pastor of the Bedford Evangelical Church of God, hung himself in the church office in 2008. The paper speculated that it had something to do with the fact that he was recently outed as gay. The other article mentioned the fatal electrocution of Steve Gibbs, an Ameritech telephone repairman who was helping bring the town’s phone system back up after the 2010 flood. That could potentially raise the body count to six. Maybe seven if Atwood wasn’t careful. Porter decided that should probably be the first line of business for the day; finding Atwood and regrouping.

Dempsey agreed. Of course, he had just woken up and hadn’t had his coffee yet, so he reserved the right to change his mind before lunchtime. It was Sunday morning. Hopefully, they could get everything resolved today and get out of Iowa before the homecoming game and the Corn Queen Pageant.

Porter and Dempsey resisted the urge to grab breakfast a safe distance from Bedford, and they arrived in town about 7:00 AM. Atwood’s last communication had been the text reporting he was staying at the Skylark Motel. That was just before Dempsey’s burner phone became a literal burner phone. A quick scan of the Skylark on their first pass revealed Atwood’s rental car and a cherry red Lexus a few spots down from it. As they were in the other car provided by FEMA, Porter was okay with pulling up next to Atwood’s car.

Dempsey was about to get out and run up to Atwood’s room, but he didn’t need to. Atwood had apparently been watching. The FBI agent came quickly down the stairs and hopped into the backseat. The agents had no trouble on the way out of town, and while it was highly unlikely anyone could hear them, none of the agents spoke until they were a few miles clear of Bedford. Something about that town hit all the triggers for paranoia.

The first stop was to switch vehicles for the one Porter had rented on his own. Then it was off to the Denny’s in Hopkins. Each agent filled the others in on what he’d found, and then they discussed the situation to put everything in perspective. Porter didn’t like the thought of the Assistant Director of DARPA in Bedford. It didn’t help that he apparently had business to conduct at that HelpLink place. That’s where the answers were going to be. Whatever reasons were behind all the security, surveillance, and secrecy, they were in that building and Assistant Director Dunn’s head.

But how the hell were they going to get in there? It was a good bet there were at least half a dozen traffic cameras with a view of that place, not to mention the electronic eye on the front door and the keycard locks on the side doors. Stealth wasn’t an option. Maybe just walk in the front door during business hours and have a look around? Badges might get them access, but they’d almost certainly get them on the murder list.

Dempsey pointed out Atwood was already on that list, and Atwood pointed out that Dempsey could take this fork and shove it straight up … Porter slapped the table which spilled some coffee but seemed to diffuse the already overly-tense situation.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 3c

They all agreed no one was going anywhere alone in Bedford for the time being. Atwood was already on someone’s radar, and to be safe, they were going to assume his calls and internet use were monitored if not traced. The plan, then, was to head back to the safe house and put Gomez and his team to work digging up any and all information on Assistant Director Kellan Dunn and why he might be in Bedford. Anything he could get on HelpLink would be a plus as well.

The waiting was tough, but it was preferable to the paranoia of that damned town. It was after noon before Gomez got back to them with a brief email.

My sources can confirm Dunn had close association with MJ-6, Project PLUTO though details are hard to come by. No connection to Delta Green or any of our operations. I've got feelers out on his Project PLUTO connection. Will let you know what I find tomorrow afternoon. Recommend caution. If you disappear him, he'll be missed.
Porter growled. The other two had a bad feeling, but they were too new to realize the implications. MJ-6, Project PLUTO.

“I don’t know what the hell Project PLUTO is, but MJ-6 is bad news. It’s … It was a section of Majestic-12. But those bastards were infiltrated and dismantled, and their assets were reallocated. They were Above Top Secret U.S. black budget just like us. DARPA and Majestic … son-of-a-bitch. This ain’t good, gentlemen. Whatever he’s doing there, and whatever is in that building, you can be sure nothing good is going to come from it. Gomez is getting us more information tomorrow, so I say we hit up a liquor store and drink to the dead tonight. We’ll probably be seeing ‘em soon.”

Atwood nodded solemnly, but the Irishman wasn’t convinced. In fact, the way Dempsey saw it, that whole town, HelpLink, DARPA, and whatever the hell PLUTO was could all go screw themselves somewhere very uncomfortable. There was no reason for any of them to die tomorrow. Except maybe Atwood. He was on the list, after all.

No. Porter was finishing the job. So was Atwood. Dempsey sighed and declared none of his team was dying in that hellhole tomorrow without him. On one condition, of course: The Irishman does the liquor shopping. None of this Budweiser swill those Americans like to drink. It was going to be Bushmills 21-Year-Old. Straight. There was a nod of agreement from Porter. Atwood wrinkled his nose, but he agreed as well. He’d much rather have the Budweiser.

With nothing more to do but wait until tomorrow, the agents shared the Bushmills and old war stories while they played poker for pretzels. Morning came early.

Delta Green work aside, Porter’s life had become rather comfortable in recent decades. Whereas he had been somewhat of a risk-taker as a young field operative, his promotion to case officer capped off his gradual conservative slide. With that promotion came the comfort of a nice house, two cars, and a couple of ex-wives. He slept well any other time, but never on a Delta Green Op. When the Program activated him, he knew he was in for light and broken sleep for the duration. He was always the one to make the coffee because he was always the one awake at 4:00 AM.

Dempsey was up in time for breakfast, but the Bushmills had done a number on Atwood. The FBI agent was dead to the world, and it looked like he might be in that condition until noon or so. Porter and Dempsey decided to head out for breakfast, and when Atwood still hadn’t rolled off the couch several hours later, they headed out for lunch, too. The Irishman decided if they survived and worked together again, he and Porter would split the good stuff, and Atwood could have all the Budweiser he liked.

True to his word, Gomez sent an encrypted email just before 3:00 PM. It contained some useful information that Porter immediately wished it didn’t.

MJ-6 PLUTO evaluated all scientific and technological information received from Extraterrestrial Biological Entities. It had a host of sub-projects.

ARC DREAM was a sub-project of MJ-6 PLUTO which handled biotechnology transfers from an alien intelligence known as the Greys. ARC DREAM primarily served a management and bureaucratic function for its own sub-projects.

Sub-Project BOUNCE was designed to develop Super-Soldiers based on alien DNA and anatomy. The goal was to make "clean" soldiers who were immune to CBR/NBC warfare.

Sub-Project CATALYST handled the main body of ARC DREAM research and had become more of a production house which occasionally spun off further sub-projects. Catalyst had perfected the accelerated growth of human embryos and fetuses to adulthood in a period of several weeks. However, the more growth factor used to accelerate development, the greater the risk of biological failure.

Sub-Project CORE had the greatest potential for drastic, world-altering effects. If each experiment is taken separately, CORE simply altered microbes, animals, and biochemistry. Viewed as a whole, CORE provided the advent of a new global ecology; an ecology based on genetic engineering and alien science.

Sub-Project RECOIL had been producing physiologically altered NRO DELTA and MJ-5 BLUE FLY personnel since 1993. The test subjects had been given enhanced strength through the use of advanced steroids and specially designed adrenaline-producing organs. The musculature had to be nanotechnologically enhanced in order to prevent injury from the increased biochemical strength. One RECOIL test subject had even been given a musculature which had been wholly replaced by extra-dimensional myomers. The skeletal structure had also been regrown and gradually converted into a diamond matrix by nanotechnology in order to bear the great weights and stresses imposed by enhanced strength. All this caused great agony in RECOIL subjects which was partially cured by neurosurgery and painkillers.

An ARC DREAM researcher, one Dr. Brian Cherry, is confirmed to have a daughter, Allison, in Bedford, Iowa. He went underground after reappropriation of Majestic assets. Fortunately, ARC DREAM has been shut down, and Dr. Cherry has not resurfaced. Dr. Cherry may have sought out his daughter. If your group finds evidence of ARC DREAM activity, eliminate it covertly. There are elements in governments worldwide which would love to get their hands on Dr. Cherry's research.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 3d

As Porter read the email aloud, Atwood opened his bleary eyes and tried to focus on the ceiling. The FBI man swung his feet around and stood up.

“So, we’re talking aliens and genetic engineering? Okay. Let’s forget for a moment that Gomez is suggesting aliens are real, and our government has supposedly been dealing with them like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Whatever the source of the genetic engineering, that’s got to be why DARPA is there. That Assistant Director Dunn guy is in charge of some messed up stuff. I mean, neural implants on soldiers, using plants nuclear threats, remote-controlled insects … Aliens or not, that’s some mad science.”

Porter agreed. He confirmed that aliens were, in fact, real. And genetic engineering for super soldiers was not something he was going to let happen. ARC DREAM was shut down for a reason, and if this Dr. Cherry was continuing his research in Bedford, it was going to stop.

“If we find evidence of ARC DREAM activity … Atwood, you said there was something off about those cheerleaders you got the tickets from, yeah?”

Atwood nodded.

“If you call color-shifting eyes and bee summoning ‘something off,’ then yeah. But I’m not eliminating cheerleaders, covertly or otherwise.”

Dempsey had no such moral dilemma. The Irishman announced he’d be happy to off a couple unnatural athletic supporters as long as it turned out they really were unnatural. But first and foremost, the mad science needed to stop. And to that end, some not-so-mad science might help. He suggested rigging the Brewster Holdings dirty bomb to take out the HelpLink building, but Porter didn’t think it would be enough. The air conditioning units on the roof screamed multiple sub-basements, and what they were after was most likely at the very bottom.

Okay, then. How were they going to get down there? The sheriff had said the police investigation would be on hold until Tuesday if it didn’t wrap up by Sunday night. He’d suggested the whole town would be at the game. If that was even close to accurate, the HelpLink building might be empty, or lightly guarded at worst. Sure, the traffic cameras would probably pick them up entering the building, but as long as no alarms were tripped, they might make it in and out and be long gone before anyone even thought to check the tapes. And if they were really cautious, there might be no reason for anyone to check the tapes at all.

Atwood was on their radar – whoever the hell they were – and he was expected to be at the game. Then again, he’d bought three tickets and said he had a couple friends in town with him. Score another one for Atwood. Dempsey grumbled.

Well, they couldn’t all go to the game. In fact, Porter said, all three of them would be needed for the HelpLink raid. But what if someone noticed they weren’t there? The tickets had RFID chips. That was it, then. Porter suggested they all attend the game long enough to ditch their tickets at the stadium. They might even do a little recon while they were there. Then they could leave the game and head to HelpLink. Anyone tracking their tickets would think they were still at the game.

Kickoff was at 6:30 PM, but Atwood said the cheerleaders would be getting the crowd pumped up by 6:00. Just in case things went pear-shaped, the agents decided to each take a different car. Porter would drive the car he rented, and Dempsey would drop Atwood off at the motel to pick up the other car. Then they’d caravan to the game, ditch their tickets, and caravan to HelpLink.

The agents headed out a little before 6:00. It was breezy, and storm clouds from the southwest followed them all the way to Bedford. The wind steadily picked up the closer they got, and by the time they arrived, all of Bedford was blanketed in the dark clouds.

The streets seemed deserted. Local businesses were closed, and the few vehicles to be seen were parked in private driveways with two exceptions: a cherry red Lexus RC coupe with Maryland plates and a white Honda Civic were parked next to each other in an otherwise-empty HelpLink parking lot. That was something. Assistant Director Dunn and … probably Dr. Cherry were there, but the building looked deserted. The raid might go smoothly after all.

As the bright lights over the Bedford High School football field come into view, the reason for the empty town was confirmed. Nearly every available parking space for a half-mile around the school was taken. It would seem the entire county had shown up for this game and the Corn Queen Pageant to follow it. Kickoff wasn't for another 20 minutes yet, but true to their word, the cheerleaders could be heard leading the crowd in various chants.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 3e

Despite the distractions created by the lights, music, and chanting, the agents were quick to notice the Taylor County school bus with the Taylor County Cornhuskers logo emblazoned on the side. A stocky man leaned against the large front tire next to the door. His face was shrouded by the bill of his trucker hat, but the orange dot of a cigarette shined out from the shadow. On the bus and near the back seats, another man seemed to be yelling angrily into a cellphone and pacing very tight circles in the aisle. The only available parking space within a half-mile happened to be right next to the bus.

Dempsey pulled into that spot while the other two circled the lot and headed off to find somewhere else to park. The smoking man put out his cigarette and approached Dempsey’s car waving his hands in a shooing motion, but the man on the bus calls to him from a window.

"Don't worry about it, Jim. Let him park there. Coach Anderson's not gonna make it anyway. Neither is Cody."

Jim just shrugged and headed back to the front of the bus as the other man stepped out into the parking lot. The Irishman thanked Jim in a tone that was smart-assed even for him, but Jim just narrowed his eyes, spit, and lit another cigarette. The man who had been on the phone continued talking to the smoking man.

"Damnit, Jim. What the hell am I supposed to do now? Kickoff is in twenty minutes. Somebody knifes Cody's tires and keys his car, so he catches a ride with Coach Anderson. Then the coach ties his car around a tree. Now I gotta go out there and coach this team on my own without a damned quarterback? Damn! I hate this town."

Jim just listened along and made small grunts of agreement. It sounded to Dempsey like the smart money was on the Bulldogs, and maybe someone had made a point of ensuring that. Once Porter and Atwood walked up, the Irishman joined them, and the three headed toward the stadium entrance.

The stands on both sides of the field were packed with supporters of each team. A quarter-mile track of asphalt divided into six lanes encircled the chain link fence containing the football field. The teams were warming up at opposite sides of the field, and each school's cheerleaders were bouncing, swishing, kicking, and cartwheeling on the track in front of their respective team's stands.

A cheerful young man with thick glasses and a Bedford High School Academic Team sweater passed their tickets below a scanner which beeped happily. Just on their left as they entered was a concession stand selling hamburgers, hot dogs, pretzels, nachos, and sodas of all sizes. Atwood took the tickets and dumped them in a trash can, and after Dempsey finished buying a pretzel and a Dr. Pepper, the agents walked back out to the parking lot. The kid in the glasses and sweater called after them as they exited.

"Make sure you have your tickets with you so you can get back in!"

While the parking lot was full of vehicles, it seemed to be devoid of life. It was an odd realization, but it was one that couldn’t be denied. There were no people or animals anywhere around, the trees had all long since lost their leaves, and the agents were alone in the middle of it all. Everyone in town seemed to be packed into the stadium.

The wind picked up even more in a sort of escort as they made their way back to their vehicles. It looked like storm clouds were still rolling in at a frantic pace, packing them more and more densely together. They were churning and swirling directly over the HelpLink building. In fact, as they pulled their respective vehicles into the HelpLink parking lot, they could see a vortex directly above the building. The only electrical activity in the sky was around the vortex, and it caused the dark clouds to light up periodically. Between those times, the agents could make out a clear, starry sky in the eye of the maelstrom of roiling clouds.

As the agents got out of their vehicles, the lightning flashed around the vortex again, and all three agents had their eyes drawn to the sky. As the clouds lit up, they could make out the contrast of something – a ball, a meteor, a van … Something big and dark streaked from the stars directly through the hole in the clouds and into the HelpLink roof. They didn’t have time to comprehend what they’d seen much less take action before it hit.

The sheer force of the impact knocked them flat on their backs from 50 yards away, and it shattered the glass doors and windows of the building. It took a minute or two before the agents could regain their senses and stand up. By that time, everything was quiet again. All that could be heard was the wind and a football game in the distance.
 
I have not read the new installment yet, but I wanted to stop in quickly and say that I am so glad that there are further updates. This Story Hour has been very cool
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
Thanks! Once you have read it, please do feel free to let me know what you think.

We've had numerous scheduling conflicts and random occurrences recently, so the next installment may be the last for a while. We fully intend to continue with the game, and I'll definitely write up every session, but we need to iron out scheduling and venue. It's looking like taking the game to Roll20 is going to be the most likely result. One player is deciding whether he's going to stay in town (and if so, where) or find another place in Alaska where he can put his education to use. My wife and I are also discussing moving back to the Lower-48 possibly as soon as this Fall.

I've definitely got plans for the game though. I have two solid Ops worked out at least 80% or so, and a million other ideas as usual. Roll20 might provide a wider pool of players, too. My city has about 30,000 people or so, and I can almost guarantee I'm the only person here ever to run Delta Green. Still, I've [-]subjected[/-] brought the wonders of Delta Green to ... 20 people, I think.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
It's the end of the fiscal year here in Alaska, and that means as a governmental accountant, it's by far the busiest time of the year for me. Add to that the fact that my step-kids are visiting for the summer, and it adds up to almost no free time for me. That alone should be enough of an excuse for taking so long to post the finale to the Opera, but wait! There's more! The write-up is about twice as long as my standard session write-up, so ... well, there's that.

Unfortunately, this represents the last installment until we manage to get schedules worked out again, and that may be after summer. Still, we do plan to continue.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 4a

As the agents regained their senses and rose to their feet, it was Atwood who broke the silence.

“The hell was that? A meteor?”

Dempsey was staring wide-eyed with a grin. At times like this, when he was truly and entirely enthralled, his accent could become heavy and thick.

“Oi don't nu, but if i'd 'av 'ad wan, oi might not 'av 'ad ter leave Éire.”

Atwood blinked at the Irishman for a moment, and his blank expression gradually became one of contempt. When he replied, he lingered on the initial ‘W’ and dragged it out.

“What?”

Dempsey had either not heard the FBI profiler, or he was ignoring him. Porter clarified the Irishman’s words for Atwood as he started covering the ground to the building.

“He said he doesn’t know, but if he’d had one, he might not have had to leave Éire – Ireland. For the record, I have no idea what the hell that was either, but I don’t hear alarms or sirens.”

No alarms or sirens. Porter saw it as an opportunity. Dempsey saw it as an invitation. Atwood was sure it was a trap. Regardless, they were all sure there were answers somewhere in that building, and now there was an easy way in. The Irishman jogged to catch up with Porter, and Atwood followed but lagged behind. All three agents drew their guns.

The three stepped through the shattered glass doors. The building was eerily quiet. They could hear dripping water and a dull wind near the center of the large room, but the only light came from the light posts in the parking lot and the sliver of moonlight filtering through a large crack in the ceiling.

All three agents lit their flashlights, and each had a different way of holding it with his gun. Porter held his with his thumb closest to the lens and just below the grip of his pistol. Atwood held his with his pinky closest to the lens and to the side of his pistol with his wrists touching. Dempsey held his out to one side and pointed his gun in the other direction.

Beyond the reception area with brochures, newspapers, magazines, and teal couches, the room was essentially just a large secretarial pool. Ceiling tiles in the center of the room had either fallen or were hanging precariously. The crack in the roof had to have been almost 100 feet long, and the satellite dish was hanging inward on a sagging section of roof.

A door on the far wall was labeled ‘Training Evaluation Office,’ and not far from that was the steel door of an elevator. Closer to the agents, another door was labeled ‘Stair Access to Roof and Basement.’ Dempsey and Atwood were about to head up to the roof when Porter stopped them. He said they needed to clear the ground floor first before heading off. Besides, there was something off about that Training Office. For all the security in this town, why did this one door have a standard mechanical lock and no electronics?

Porter led the way, and the other two followed. The NSA spook was the only one trained in this sort of thing, and whatever fell from the sky would probably still be on the roof when they cleared this floor. The door was unlocked, and Porter stood to one side and pushed it open. When nothing exploded, screamed, or shot at them, he whipped around and pointed his gun at the room in general.

Power seemed to be out to the rest of the building, but this room had three computer workstations running at full power. It was difficult to tell at a glance just what the computers were doing, but it was obviously not “training evaluation.” Each computer had three monitors, and each monitor displayed continuously updating graphs, charts, and lists. One monitor also had an open window cycling through live-streaming video from traffic cameras in Bedford. Each workstation had thick cables running through holes in the floor, and Porter said they were likely connected to a mainframe on a lower level.

The three workstations had various personal touches of the workers who manned them; pictures of family members, Bedford Bulldogs Football bobblehead, birthday cards, Bedford High School desk calendar with "Homecoming game and pageant!!" written in red ink on today's date, etc ... The room looked like the typical IT office, just with overly-expensive computer equipment. There was nothing to imply an evacuation any more hurried than your usual end-of-the-workday exodus, but Atwood still didn’t like the feeling he was getting.

Other than the door through which the agents entered, there were two other exits; a concrete-walled stairway in the opposite wall leading up and down and a door to their left with a mechanical lock and a plaque identifying it as the office of a Dr. Clark.

The door to Dr. Clark’s office was unlocked and opened easily to reveal a small, windowless office containing a desk, computer with a single monitor, and a modular shelving unit. Several computer printouts were stacked neatly on the desk, and Dempsey flipped through them. They contained a wide variety of charts, graphs, and lists ranging from a complete traffic-flow map of Bedford to the likelihood of Bedford residents to call phone-sex lines broken down by demographic subcategories. Porter and Atwood would have found all of that quite interesting and important, but the Irishman just yawned and failed to mention it.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 4b

Atwood checked the drawers of the desk. In one, he found two brown folders. One was packed with what appeared to be blackmail evidence on Sheriff Taylor; pictures of him and various official-looking people exchanging briefcases and folders for thick envelopes, two years of his bank statements showing countless large cash deposits, and an envelope with a lock of brown hair and a small glass jar of what was probably blood. The second folder contained several printouts of emails between Dr. Clark and people from various .gov addresses and a company called Brewster Holdings. One email from Kellan Dunn marked Top Secret mentioned DARPA projects called Mind's Eye (to develop visual intelligence in machines) and CTS - Combat Zones That See (to "track everything that moves" in a city by linking up a massive network of surveillance cameras to a centralized computer system). Another email mentioned a late-September visit to inspect progress and to meet with someone named Dr. Cherry regarding his research.

Before the agents could discuss the implications, the relative silence was broken by the sound of twisting or snapping steel from somewhere down below and off in the direction of the elevator followed immediately by a crash. Porter spoke in a hushed growl.

“Put it all back. We need to move, and we can come back for it later if we need it.”

The sound came from below, and that’s where Porter wanted to go, but Atwood and Dempsey wanted to check the roof first. Atwood thought it would be good to clear the building systematically from top to bottom; he also didn’t want anything to do with the sound of ripping steel. Dempsey just wanted to see what hit the roof and find out if he could make one. It was two against one, and none of the agents wanted to be the one to go off alone, so the roof it was.

The concrete-walled stairwell from the Training Evaluation Office led up to a heavy steel door. Porter tested the handle and found that it was unlocked on the inside, but pushing it open, he saw that it would lock behind them with an RFID keycard lock if they let it close. Dempsey propped the door open with his flashlight, and the agents stepped out to examine the roof. The wind was starting to settle, and the vortex of clouds directly above the building seemed to be dissipating.

There was a three-foot wall around the perimeter of the roof to prevent accidental falls, and while the HelpLink building was only one story above ground, the entire town of Bedford could be seen from their vantage. The town was dark as far as the eye could see - everywhere except the Bedford High School football field. It appeared for all the world that literally the entire town was there. The wind carried the faint sounds of a marching band which seemed to indicate halftime.

The industrial air conditioning unit was even more imposing up close. It was most definitely too large for a building the size of the HelpLink Training Facility. The satellite dish hung at a precarious angle as it dipped down into the building through the long gash in the roof. Something large hit at an angle very close to the dish and came to a skidding and bouncing halt after almost 100 feet. Whatever it was, it likely weighed at least 500 pounds, and it was probably closer to 1,000. It was also probably a little smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle. A meteor that size would have devastated the town, and besides, it hadn't been glowing; it had been black against the electric glow of the storm.

Following the path of the object's landing led the agents' eyes to the other hole. There had been a second roof-access door near the front of the building where the other stairwell was, but the twisted sheet of steel and electronics which had once served as that door now laid discarded several feet away. Dempsey's assessment was the object had to have come to a stop at least 50 feet away from the stairwell so the impact couldn't have destroyed the door, never mind that it had been ripped outward rather than pushed inward. Either the door had already been in this condition, or something had demolished it. A shiver went down their spines at that assessment. Porter frowned.

“It look like something landed on the roof, picked itself up, and demolished that big-assed steel door to anyone else?”

Atwood nodded slowly with a gulp. Dempsey just looked down at his pistol and sighed.

There were no scorch marks visible anywhere on the roof which lent further doubt to the meteor possibility. The concrete of the roof access appeared to have been toppled backward away from the door while the door itself was pulled in the other direction. Exactly how it happened might have been a mystery, but it would have taken something with the size and strength of a construction vehicle to yank the door free, and whatever did it had left patches of a sticky black residue like battery acid.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 4c

Looking down the stairwell illuminated by flashlights and emergency lighting, Atwood spotted a mangled security camera. Dempsey’s quick scan of the roof access through which they'd emerged revealed another well-hidden and intact camera. Given the lack of a door on the other stairwell, the Irishman decided it was safe to retrieve his flashlight.

With Atwood in the lead, the agents carefully descended the concrete stairs. The metal handrails had been severely corroded in many places, and so they were less than useless. They gave the impression that if someone were to put a little weight on them, collapse would be imminent.

The door to the HelpLink lobby from the ground floor stairwell landing was in bad shape as well. The handle, hinges, and other metal components were so severely corroded that they'd likely never work as intended again, though they'd been so weakened that a good kick would probably bring the door crashing down.

From this landing, Atwood could see a body slumped against the wall on the next flight down. The body was easily identifiable as private security by his body armor and other gear. Like the rails and door, everything metal on the guard's person seemed corroded and useless. The handgun in his hand, a Glock 36, looked like it might still be in working order. Once the agents made it down to the body, a closer look revealed brown and black streaks around his mouth. His skin had a slightly bluish tinge, the tongue was swollen and black, and he was covered in brownish-black vomit. The man’s skin was dry, tight, and flaky as if he’d experienced rapid dehydration. Porter was no doctor, but he was a chemist. He gave his diagnosis in a grim tone.

“Call me crazy, but this looks like the fatal side of sulfuric acid poisoning. That would explain the corrosion on all the metal, too.”

Well, yeah. It would explain the corrosion, but Atwood wanted to know just what the hell explained the sulfuric acid in the first place. There wasn’t an explanation for that unless they wanted to go with the “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang goes rogue” angle. Dempsey joked that Dick Van Dyke had some explaining to do, but he was met with glares from the other two, so he just shrugged.

Disney-based explanations aside, the evidence seemed to support Porter’s theory. Atwood suggested they all put on gloves just in case, but the other two held up their already-gloved hands. Well, Dempsey held up an already-gloved middle finger, but the message was the same; you don’t raid the enemy stronghold in an overly-secure town under cover of darkness without gloves. Then again, as Dempsey pointed out, it wasn’t like Atwood was going to get added to Sheriff Taylor’s kill list a second time, though he might move up a spot or two.

The initial shock and witty banter out of the way, Dempsey studied the landing. The body was slumped against the wall at the mid-floor landing. He had apparently been running up the stairs from the room below when he turned back toward the room and fired several rounds.

The air down at this level irritated the agents’ eyes and nasal passages. The heavy steel door at the bottom of the stairs had been ripped from its frame with the digital keypad lock still in place. The room beyond was well-lit and apparently running on generator power rather than emergency power like the ground floor and stairwells. There were white flashing lights near the ceiling at regular intervals which appeared to be some sort of silent alarm.

Only a few feet inside the doorway were six lumps of copper with a thick turquoise patina and a scattering of rust. So, whatever they were following could not only dehydrate a man and turn him blue, but it also worked fast enough to rust and corrode bullets. Fantastic.

Several racks of computer equipment lined the walls of the room. It appeared to be a server room with expensive equipment. None of it seemed to have been touched. The only other exits from the room were the other stairwell leading to the Training Evaluation Office and an open elevator shaft. The elevator doors had been removed and cast aside much like the other stairwell doors.

Dempsey questioned whether Bedford really deserved their help. After all, no one in this town had proven themselves to be worth helping. Plus, nothing good went down that open elevator shaft, so nothing good was likely to come back out. It’s not like there was a surprise party at the bottom with birthday hats, Guinness, and Pin the Beard on the Leprechaun. No. There was an evil, flying Disney car armed with acid and who-knows-what-else. Screw Bedford. Screw Iowa.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 4d

That last bit got no argument from the other two, but all the same, this was their job. This was small-town America. That alone meant Bedford deserved their help. Dempsey wasn’t so sure.

The Irishman inched up to the elevator shaft and slowly peeked down. The corroded ends of what used to be elevator cables hung in the shaft, and he could see the mangled remains of the elevator car about 30 feet down where the elevator doors to the sublevel had been ripped away. This seemed like the only way down to the sublevel, but no amount of button mashing or security badge scanning would bring that elevator car back up. There were iron ladder rungs driven into the walls of the shaft for maintenance and emergencies, and the ones Dempsey could see clearly looked only slightly corroded.

He sighed and started carefully descending the shaft. He was careful to test every rung before putting his full weight on it. Seeing the Irishman disappear into the depths, Porter followed, and Atwood brought up the rear. The FBI profiler grumbled something about being seriously pissed off if he died in Iowa.

Most of the rungs were still relatively safe, and after a minute or so, all three agents stepped over the landing and out of the shaft on the sublevel. Like the stairwell outside the room above, the air on the sublevel stung their eyes and nasal passages. Beyond the elevator shaft was a wide hallway extending about 200 feet. The concrete floor was littered with the same copper lumps with the same turquoise-patina as they’d found on the floor above, and it looked as if handfuls of rust had been scattered about.

A large steel door at the end of the hall was closed and fully intact. Two bodies were slumped below it. They seemed to have suffered the same fate as the man in the stairwell. A camera in the ceiling at the end of the hall was positioned to capture anything that occurred between the elevator and the door. There was also a panel and computer screen to each side of the door. Porter said they were designed for synchronized handprint and iris scans.

Dempsey gave the camera the same single-fingered salute he’d given Atwood earlier when he had a terrifying realization. Apparently, Porter had had the same realization, because the NSA man spoke barely above a whisper.

“Anything seem off about this door to you two?”

The Irishman nodded.

“You mean the fact that it’s still intact? Yeah. But how?”

Atwood gave voice to the suspicions the other two had already formed. Someone on the other side had let it through.

Dempsey shivered. He then glared at the camera before picking up one of the blue-skinned corpses.

“Right. I’ll get Brainy, here. Atwood, you get Jokey. Let’s muppet these bastards and get the door open. Then we can execute Papa Smurf and get the hell out of here.”

Atwood lifted the other corpse while Porter aimed his gun at the door. Sulfuric acid poisoning, or whatever, at least their hands and eyes still worked. The steel doors slid open. The room on the other side was an odd mix of chemistry lab and surgery room. In the center was a wooden podium with a scroll of some sort clipped to the flat surface and blood-covered pottery shards littering the base.

On the right-hand side of the room, a large black man – Kellan Dunn – lied face down on a steel operating table. His wrists and ankles were held by steel restraining cuffs, and he was naked from the waist up. The flesh of his back had been peeled open, and his spine was visible. He was conscious and not sedated, but he was handling the pain remarkably well. A middle-aged man in a white lab coat stood over Mr. Dunn, and he had just finished injecting something into the man's spine with a nasty-looking syringe.

The only other exit from the room was a single steel door to the left-hand side. It had been ripped from its frame in the same manner as the others, and the agents could see a long, dimly lit tunnel beyond.

Porter stepped into the room with his gun pointed directly at the doctor’s face. Dempsey followed next and aimed his weapon at the man on the table. Atwood stepped in last, dropped his gun, and turned to vomit.

The doctor dropped the syringe and raised his hands.

“Wait, wait! Don’t shoot! It’s not us you should be worried about.”

Kellan Dunn lifted his head enough to scan the room with glazed over eyes that didn't seem to focus before he dropped it back to the steel operating table. Porter growled. He wanted to shoot someone, but now he got to sit through the whole “villain giving away the evil plan because the heroes are too late” cliché instead. At least it would buy time for Atwood to recover. Dunn was strapped down with his spine showing, but they just might need all three guns for this.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 4e

“I’m guessing you’re Dr. Brian Cherry? Okay, doc. What should we be worried about instead?”

Dr. Cherry’s leisurely speaking pace contrasted sharply with the urgency of his words. He nodded his head toward the tunnel.

"What you should be worried about went that way. The tunnel lets out on the far side of the HelpLink parking lot."

“Yeah? And we should believe you … why? Tell me why you’re not blue, doc.”

“You’re down here, so you must have some idea why. My associate here needs me, so that thing he called – the thing you should be worried about – let me be.”

Atwood, who had recovered, felt Dr. Cherry's blasé demeanor despite the guns and the open-back surgery in progress indicated a psychological blockage, as though the doctor was suppressing recent trauma or stress by being overly-cold and logical. Much like Atwood himself was doing, actually. Doctor Cherry continued in his same calm tone and leisurely pace.

"You should take a look at the scroll on the podium. It's fascinating reading ... not that there's anything you can do to stop the thing now. It's discharged its duty, and now it collects payment."

Whatever that meant, it sounded bad. Porter was about to press for more details when Dempsey let loose a string of expletives in a heavy Irish brogue. The other two agents jumped at the sudden outburst, but Dr. Cherry hardly blinked.

The Irishman called attention to Dunn and the operating table. The surgical steel restraints and operating table were rusting. Surgical steel was extremely resistant to corrosion and rust, and yet they were rusting. The source seemed to be the man on the operating table, the man whose opened back and exposed spine were healing.

Dempsey fired two rounds, and almost immediately, half of the back of Dunn's head exploded like an egg with a spongy black yolk. The agents froze momentarily. Two rounds from Dempsey’s gun should have killed Dunn, but they shouldn’t have caused his head to explode. Ignoring that fact for the moment, Dunn’s brain should most definitely not have been a spongy black.

As the chunks of brain-mass spattered across Dr. Cherry's face, he hit the ground with a blood-curdling scream. The man frantically clawed at his face in a futile attempt to clear it. That wasn’t quite good enough for Porter. The NSA spook kept his gun trained on the fallen doctor.

Dunn's body went limp and motionless on the still-rusting table. His restraints were now little more than red dust. His wounds still seemed to be healing slowly, so Dempsey took the opportunity to toss one of his special explosive “Irish Coffee” devices into the opening in Dunn’s back before it healed completely. There’s no way that body should be healing like that, and he was sure there was no way it would heal completely … or so he told himself. All the same, it was far better to be safe.

While the Irishman handled Dunn and Porter had Cherry covered, Atwood stepped forward to interrogate the doctor. First, he dropped a towel on Cherry’s head and set a gallon jug of distilled water next to him. It could be tough to get anything useful out of a man whose face was literally melting. Doctor Cherry furiously mopped the black brain-mass from his face and took slow deep breaths to calm himself. Though he’d never say it, Porter admired the man’s ability to withstand pain and remain in control.

Once his face was relatively clear of the acid, Dr. Cherry looked up from the floor and spoke between gasping breaths.

"Look ... I don't know who you are ... or what you want, but ... you just cost me one hell of a steady paycheck. You let me gather my research, and cover me while I get to my car, and I can promise you I'll make it worth your while. I have a few off-shore accounts. How does $5 million each sound? Just to walk away from this. I'll disappear again. Win-win, right?"

Despite the gravity of his situation, the doctor honestly seemed to believe he had the upper hand. Atwood laughed, but the other two agents appeared to consider the offer. Porter was close to retirement anyway; he had another year or two left with the NSA at most, and he wanted to be done with this sort of work for good. And Dempsey … hell, give the Irishman $5 million, and he might almost be willing to trade his Bushmills for Jack Daniels for life. Well, ten years. Actually, make that a year, minus special occasions like his birthday, his mother’s birthday, St. Patrick’s Day, Tuesday, and Christmas. Okay, never mind all that. Give him the $5 million, and he’d have a shot of Jack as long as no one was looking.
 

Nomessiah

Visitor
The Bedford Project - Session 4f

“You guys can’t seriously be considering …”

Atwood was in disbelief which was odd because he was a professionally trained psychologist. It must have been his young idealism or the fact that no one in the FBI had cause to throw him under the bus for purely selfish or political reasons yet. Either way, both men answered his unfinished question with shrugs. Atwood growled, and Porter rolled his eyes.

“Okay. Fine, kid, but you owe me $5 million. And him, too.”

The Irishman shrugged again and turned his gun on Dr. Cherry who snarled in disgust as he stood up slowly to keep his knees from shaking.

“If you're going after that thing Dunn called down, you can shoot me now. Whatever your plan is, you'll only piss it off. You'd need a bomb capable of leveling a building to have a chance. You might as well let it collect its payment and leave. The beast did its job, and Dunn offered it the town of Bedford; 1,500 souls. You'd be fools to step in the way of that."

He collected a black leather briefcase from a cabinet beneath one of the counters, carefully skirted the black foam on the floor, and headed toward the podium. Porter stopped him with a shout.

“You’d best stop, doc. If I’m not getting my $5 million, you’re not getting to keep that scroll or that briefcase. If you want out of here alive, tell me just what the hell you’re doing in this town.”

Cherry sighed and turned back to face the agents. His eyes darted toward the body on the rusting steel table and back, but if any of the agents noticed, they didn’t turn to look. His voice was still warm, proud, and even excited. He hardly even seemed to notice the deep burns on his face.

"My research has made great strides in recent years. I've been able to cause beneficial genetic mutations with a series of ten weekly injections. One young lady, I injected with a mutagen derived from various bee species, and the results were better than I could have hoped! She can influence and direct everyone in this town! It's exactly what Dunn wanted, and DARPA was paying handsomely for the process. Can you imagine the battlefield potential? Soldiers silently following wordless orders? Covert agents leaving invisible trails and messages? It's pure genius if I do say so myself!”

Porter made a hand gesture indicating the doctor should wrap it up. What he had to say was important, but at the moment, there was supposedly a creature from some deep ring of Hell heading out to catch the tail end of the Bulldogs’ homecoming game.

"Well, anyway ... Dunn wanted to test my research for himself, and he said he had access to a creature of unbelievable power and ability. The only catch was that he wouldn't be available for ten weekly injections; it had to come all at once. That meant the injection had to go directly into his spine, and it had to be pure. The thing he called was terrible, but it obeyed him. He got the material I needed, and he sent it to collect its payment while I prepared the injection."

Porter wanted to pull the trigger, but two things stopped him. First, Atwood stepped in the way and began handcuffing the doctor, and second, there was another string of expletives in Irish brogue which culminated in a single word: “Run!”

The Irishman fled down the hall toward the exit Dr. Cherry had mentioned, and when Porter saw why Dempsey had shouted, he fled, too. Atwood was a little preoccupied, and he was really tiring of Dempsey. It wasn’t until the shadow settled over him and Dr. Cherry laughed manically that Atwood knew it was too late. The table had utterly rusted, Dunn’s wounds had healed, and he was different. His eyes were a shiny black, and his skin was somehow even darker. Even worse, an irritating and acidic aura seemed to radiate from him.

Atwood’s eyes watered and his nasal passages burned. He wanted to run, but he was dizzy. Anything more than the slightest and slowest twitch might cause him to vomit or lose his balance. His knees were weakening, and Dr. Cherry’s coughing laughter sounded miles away. The FBI profiler was starting to lose consciousness. He fell to his knees and then slumped onto his side on the cold concrete. He wanted to run, but he couldn’t even crawl. He wanted to scream, but he couldn’t even whimper.

As Porter and Dempsey ran, the Irishman counted. After a ten-count, he pressed the little red button in his hand. Neither man broke stride, instead following the words of the angel to Lot as he fled Sodom: “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee.” They prayed Atwood had made it out.
 

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