To celebrate the last day of official operation of The Facility under supervision of the Military and United Nations, The Corporation prepared a small celebration at the site. It was announced that both the President and Minister of Defence will attend, plus deputies of United Nations and The Corporation of course, and they all will meet the last tourist group, which visited The Facility. Some important news should be announced too, which will influence the future of the country. But it all should be a surprise, and only several key journalists were invited, to keep the whole event very low-profile, even petty: only about ten VIP people, plus their security escorts, should be present. This was the style The Corporation liked: to start avalanches from very small waves.
It was four o’clock in the afternoon, and Caroline, the Executive Manager of The Corporation, was on her way to the site, escorted by Rudolph, Business Manager, and their driver, Lucy, from Internal Affairs department, servicing in ‘VIP Executive Protection’ unit. Lucy proved her value by providing security to Rudolph’s daugher, 18 years old Milena, currently an intern at The Corporation. The girl was a mess in the past, but using precise psychological techniques and manufacturing ‘a small incident’, The Corporation made their new asset from her. They gave the young girl a purpose of her life: that was the way The Corporation worked.
They could use a company helicopter, but Caroline insisted on using a car, although Internal Affairs department always warned her, that it’s not secure. She was too important. But she liked to be in direct contact with the world, feeling all smells of her vicinity and bumps on the road, to ‘keep her mind clean’. She always knew, that isolation is dangerous, and she wanted to stay in touch, connected with low levels of the world.
Also, she didn’t use any extensive security measures. Lucy was only a driver, she was not armed: and dark woods they passed could provide many advantageous spots for a potential ambush of an enemy. And The Corporation had many enemies worldwide, including powerful Intelligence services.
Still, the car was moving through dark forests, and not too quickly. Caroline just wanted to ‘enjoy the view’, and they had still time, so she relaxed. People around her were already used to her style. She always told them, that any protection and security is just an illusion, and the only thing that decides is, whether you are able to enjoy the present moment, regardless of all threats and dangers, usually present only in your mind. It was some kind of exercise for Caroline, to face her fears directly: yes, behind every tree around, there could be a sniper or somebody with RPG, and although the car was armored, it was not indestructible.
Rudolph never accustomed to this style of ignoring all risks deliberately. So he usually spent the whole ride working, using a laptop.
They were about ten kilometers from the site, when Caroline’s special phone ringed. They called it ‘Line 5’ internally: only the most important messages came here. If this phone ringed, something really serious was happening.
Caroline didn’t react immediately, she was still watching the dark line of trees around. But eventually, slowly, she picked up the phone.
She listened for a minute or two, and then she said into the sudden silence: “Stop the vehicle, Lucy.”
The security risk of stopping the vehicle on this deserted, small forest road was not only high, it was extreme. Lucy turned her head at the back seat, but Caroline’s eyes spoke clearly. She insisted.
So, in the middle of the lost wood, the luxurious car, carrying the management elite of The Corporation, the company No.1 worlwide, stopped.
“Let’s have a walk together, Rudolph,” Caroline said to her companion, and she opened the doors. All security procedures were broken this way: but she was the highest deputy of The Corporation. She could make the rules.
Rudolph followed the woman between trees. Although it was still daylight outside, here, in the forest, it seemed like evening.
He watched her attractive female figure from behind. She walked on the needles with certainty, even with high heels. It looked even funny: to see a perfectly dressed, stylish and glamorous woman, admired by thousands, even millions, walking through a dark forest, without any set destination. She was simply walking, slowly and freely, maybe thinking.
The car could be seen in the distance, with headlights switched off, not to attract any unwanted attention. Lucy stayed inside, and called for security support immediately, using onboard transmitter. She was clever and experienced bodyguard, who needed no direct orders. She was able to decide herself, and she was prepared to carry the related consequences. That was the reason why she made it so far in the structure of The Corporation.
“Exactly 8 minutes ago, we lost contact with The Facility,” the loud speaker disturbed the silence of the forest around. “We checked all surveillance cameras, and no foreign force occured there. So, without doubt, it had to be an inside job. This was not a technological failure.”
Inside job! Only that last tourist group, consisting of several innocent citizens and four members of Military Police were inside!
“We lost contact not only with The Device, but also with the Third Floor of The Facility,” the voice continued. And that was the most disturbing news: this floor, containing the hydrogen fuse reactor, plus backup generators, was completely and absolutely sealed from all other floors. Even the enemy, who attacked The Facility with high-powered explosive charges previously, was not able to breach this seal!
The Device was offline, and they had an Asset inside, sent into the past. They promised her to get her back: and now, she was there for 32 minutes already.
No wonder, that Caroline wanted to think about this very dangerous situation. The problem was, that the Asset knew the future. And the enemy will recognize it eventually. All Einstein’s wisdoms, that the future can’t be changed using a time displacement machine, could be very seriously challenged: today.
But how was it possible, that the Third Floor was offline? Yes, it was quite easy to put The Device out of order. It was only a machine, full of sensitive electronics: but The Third Floor was literally a fortress inside a fortress.
“So, we have eight people inside altogether,” Caroline was thinking loudly. “Did you checked them again?” she asked.
“Ten times, using our advanced PSY and surveillance software. Still no trace of any conspiracy,” the caller responded. It was Diana Cedrova, that woman from Internal Affairs department, who called Caroline to ‘take a vacation’, when the enemy attacked this land during so called ’18 hours war’, and then he mysteriously withdrew. She was a loyal servant, so she moved up in the ranks, and today, she was leading the whole department, so critical for overall operations of The Corporation.
“One 15 years old boy from Grammar school, highly talented, with proven track of school records, from a good family without any suspicious history,” Caroline remembered. “One single mother with two kids, loving them, who would never leave them, and one retired man, aged 65, who enjoys his grandchildren and works as a railwayman. And one of them was able to put the whole Facility offline, although they were all preciously checked. Well this is some puzzle,” Caroline said. She was well known by joking in the most tense situations.
There were also four members of the Military Police, escorting the group. But these men were not only checked many times: they were in deep bond with The Corporation, they were all their assets. They were excluded from any suspicion, and The Corporation knew very well, why.
Three people inside, without any weapons or explosives, escorted by four perfectly trained members of Military Police: and still, The Facility was completely offline suddenly.
Minutes were running. And that journalist Catherine was still in the past, in disguise that will not hold for too long. As The Device was offline, there was no chance to get her back immediately. And this could have serious consequences for the whole mankind.
“We can use one of our black sites,” Rudolph suggested. “We can send a team…”
“Don’t be foolish, Rudolph! We would have to send the whole army. We don’t know, where she is, but there are many enemy soldiers around her now. And the Military will never agree with such risk, to send an army into the past, to retrieve just one asset. We should leave things, as they are.”
“You mean… to leave that journalist in the past, even with her knowledge of the future?” Rudolph was astonished.
“Nature would like a simple solution like that,” Caroline agreed, still walking through the wood. They were in the middle of the forest now, completely lost. A bird was singing nearby, totally ignoring the fact, that the present time could influence the future of the mankind.
“There is an update,” Diana was on the line again. “Two persons occured at The Facility’s entrance.”
Only two of seven. Things started to clear. Caroline knew, who they were, immediately.
“Let’s go to the site,” she turned back to the car.
Mark was serving in the Military Police for six years. His last assignment, to guard The Facility, the place which changed the world, was the matter of highest honor.
All members of the escort unit had precisely determined tasks. Every of them had one member of the tourist group assigned, to supervise and watch.
He watched ‘his person’ closely, for the whole time inside The Facility. One day, when he will be suggested for a high military medal posthumously, his professional approach will be remembered. He did everything well, but still, it was not enough.
They were just watching the show. One member of the group, that Catherine, a journalist, agreed to be sent into the past, to investigate the fate of The Asset. And the rest of the tourist group watched her progress, during her Intelligence mission in the past.
When ‘his person’ started talking, Mark was not suprised. Many times, a guest felt a need to share his or her insights and feelings from the show.
In the beginning, Mark tried to be polite, so he smiled and nodded. But as he was listening to that person longer, something like suspicion grew in his mind. Some instinct told him, that this is not a standard conversation.
But when Mark’s hand reached for the holster of his service pistol, it was too late.
One hour later, Catherine, that journalist, was dragged for an interrogation by enemy Military Intelligence unit. Her face was bruised already, but not too much: if she would know something about interrogation techniques, she would understand, that the enemy knows how special is she, and he wants to be careful with her. So he only distracted her, to force her to cooperate, but he kept her in good shape, so she will be able talk extensively and provide many crucial answers.
“Who gave you this uniform?” an enemy Intelligence officer asked her a very simple question, quite slowly and calmly. But it was only the beginning.
Later, another questions will be asked: and she will be forced to make the most difficult decisions of her life.
Continuation: A Cold Case