“Those don’t look like your typical rent-a-cops,” agent Hunter Holt jocularly commented to his partner as he peered through his binoculars. Thir standard government issue gray Dodge Intrepid was parked across the street from an unassuming red brick building in one of the warehouse districts in Los Angeles. Hunter Holt was athletic, with a medium build, close-cropped sandy blond hair, and a square jaw. His friends often called him Texas due to his slight accent, confident swagger, and the fact that he was overly proud of his gun collection.
“What do you think they are, ex-marines?” replied Anthony Scott. Partners for three years, Anthony was the younger of the two at thirty years of age. While Hunter came from a strict investigative background, Anthony had a doctorate in physics with an emphasis in applied sciences.
Agent Holt continued to observe the three guards who stood on the stairs in front of the only entryway into the building. Aside from slight variations in height, hair color, and facial structure, each could have been cloned from either of the other two. Their hair was cut military style, and their frames were large, lean, and well muscled. Each wore a light blue suit, a tie, a pair of sunglasses, and each carried a walkie-talkies with an earpiece. “If I didn’t know better, I would think they were secret service,” Holt replied.
“Somehow I get the feeling that flashing our badges isn’t going to be enough to get us past these guys,” Scott commented. “I think we’d better be prepared to taser them. You don’t think the agency will have a problem with that, do you?”
“Why would they,” asked Holt. “Officially, we don’t even exist. What our lack of visibility doesn’t protect us from, the Patriot Act does,” he said with a smile as he put the binoculars down and opened the car door.
As the pair began walking the building, the trio of guards turned their attention to the approaching agents. One of the guards stepped forward. “Is there something I can do for you?” he growled.
“I’m Agent Hunter Holt, this is Agent Anthony Scott,” they quickly flashed their badges. “We’re investigating a murder and would like to take a look around inside.”
“Let me see your badge,” the guard sneered.
Hunter smiled as he produced his gold foil badge.
The guard laughed. “I’ve never heard of a government agency called the PSI. I don’t know if you’re a reporter, or what, but you need to leave now.” He brushed aside his vest to reveal the sidearm holstered at his waist.
“I don’t think you fully realize your position. We’re part of a government agency with just as much authority as the FBI. We are conducting an offical investigation and we are not required to obtain a warrant. You will let us into this building or you will be arrested,” said Hunter in a calm matter-of-fact tone.
“No, I think it is you who are mistaken,” the guard sneered as he shot a sly glance towards his two comrades behind him. “You aren’t going in this building. You don’t have a security card, nor are you accompanied by anyone from the Clark-Reynolds Technologies Company. If you want in, you have to talk to the main office.”
Holt and Scott were not about to talk to the main office again. They had already been there and received a similarly chilly reception when they spoke with the company’s president. It seemed clear to them that the company was trying to conceal something about this murder. “Alright,” Holt said in a patient but menacing voice. “Let me put it to you this way. You are letting us inside this building or you are about to be dragged out of here in handcuffs. Make your decision.”
As he predicted, the guards responded by pulling their firearms – silencer equipped H&K Mk 23 SOCOMs. The time to talk was over, and the agents’ training immediately kicked in. “Last….” The guard began to say as both Holt and Scott fluidly drew their tasers and fired.
Holt quickly aimed at the guard speaking to them and pulled the trigger, releasing a charged wire while Scott took aim at the nearest guard behind the one who had been speaking. The two guards were struck and immediately fell to the ground, quivering as electricity coursed through their bodies. The agents were unable to fire their tasers again until they disconnected the two who had already been hit.
The final guard hesitated for just a moment as he saw the other two fall to the ground. He quickly aimed his gun at agent Holt, and squeezed the trigger twice. Holt anticipated the shots and threw himself to the ground just before he heard the bullets whiz by his ear and strike the asphalt behind him. He rolled behind a bush and drew his own gun to return fire.
Rather than draw his own sidearm, agent Scott focused his concentration upon the remaining guard and engaged a portion of his brain rarely utilized by most people. He extended his hand towards the gunman and reached out with his mind. He sensed resistance and worried that his adversary may prove unsusceptible to his mental attack. The guard pointed his gun at Scott and held it for a moment, but did not squeeze the trigger. Scott maintained his concentration, mentally exerting as much control over the subject as possible. A moment later the guard’s hand began to tremble, then he slowly lowered his weapon and stood motionless, a vacant expression spreading across his face.
The agents wasted no time immobilizing the guards they had taken down. They kicked the firearms away, then rolled the guards over onto their stomachs, brought their hands together behind their backs, and cuffed them. Holt felt inside pocket of the guard he had been speaking to and withdrew a white plastic card. He climbed the steps and located a black panel on the wall with a red light embedded in the lower right hand corner. He waved the card in front of the panel and heard a quiet beep. The light turned green and he heard four separate thumps as the door unlocked. As he pulled the door open, he hoped they wouldn’t have to deal with any more guards on the inside.
“Smile, we’re on camera,” Holt said, pointing to a security camera monitoring the building’s door.
“That probably feeds to another location. They probably know we’re here already. How long do you think it takes to drive here from their offices?” Scott asked.
Holt shrugged. “It will take them at least forty-five minutes to drive here through rush-hour traffic. Of course it’s also possible that there’s a security office monitoring this place nearby. Either way, I’d say that we had better find what we’d better hurry and get out of here.”
“We could call for backup,” Scott suggested.
Holt shook his head. “The only backup we’re going to get right now is the local police, and I’d prefer to keep them in the dark about this for now.”
Before them was a hallway with a dozen rooms on either side. “This is going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Holt commented. He walked back to the doorway and kicked the guard who had tried to warn him off earlier. “I need some information,” he said. “Help us find what we’re looking for and we won’t press charges.”
The guard glared at him. “What kind of guarantee do we have on this?” he asked.
“None,” said Holt, “But if you cooperate, I promise that we won’t arrest you. You can walk away and we never have to report what happened outside that door. You’re in a position with nothing to lose and everything to gain, and it all comes down to whether or not you trust the promise of a federal agent. I suggest you think very carefully about your situation.”
The guard was silent for several seconds. Holt could see the sweat beading on the man’s forehead. Finally the guard said, “Alright, I’ll agree to that, but I guarantee that you’ll face consequences for this. Now what do you need?” he asked.
“I’m assuming that this place is used for archiving. I need to know where I can find the research on something called project blacklight.”
The guard nodded. “You expect me to know that? I just guard the place.”
An evil grin spread over Holt’s face. “You see, that’s an unfortunate answer, and I don’t buy it for a second. A minute ago you were willing to shoot us, which means that someone has convinced you that the contents of this building are worth killing for. We’re government officials, and you were not only refusing to cooperate, but you tried to kill my partner and I. Why would you do that if you’re just a guard? Do I have to remind you that you’re about to be hauled in, charged with assault with a deadly weapon, and probably imprisoned for at least ten years?”
The guard shook his head. “Okay, I’m sorry, I remember now. That was the project the doctor who was killed was working on. They just moved some materials from the main offices to here a couple days ago. You’ll find the files on that project in room eleven.”
Thank you,” said Holt. “Stay where you’re at and we’ll set you free when we leave.”
Scott and Holt walked down the hallway to the sixth door on the left side. He tried the door, but as expected, it was locked. “Do you want to give this a try?”
Agent Scott bent down and withdrew a pair of lock picks from his pocket. “Do you really think letting them go is a good idea?” he asked as he inserted the picks into the lock.
Holt shrugged, “It’s either that or haul them in, charge them, and make them stand trial. Do you really want to have to explain to a jury what PSI does? You know our agency tries to handle things discreetly, so that’s what we’re doing. We’re letting the small fish go while we learn what Dr. Russell’s murder was all about.”
Scott wiggled one of the picks and they heard a click. He then tried the knob and felt the knob turn all the way to the left. He pushed the door open and the phourescent lights within automatically turned on. “Hey, it’s your call, but I have to admit that I’m not a fan of getting shot at and letting the shooter walk.”
Within, they saw a room that was roughly twenty feet on each side, filled with filing cabinets. Scott pointed to the left, “I’ll start looking over here. You want to take the other side?”
Holt nodded and moved to the opposite side of the room and started reading the labels on the filing cabinets. He was in the A’s, but he opened a drawer. Within was a gray piece of foam. He lifted the foam and saw four removable hard drives underneath. “Project Archer,” he read from the sticker on the top of the equipment. He placed the hard drive back into the foam and closed the drawer.
“It looks like they’re archiving massive amounts of data here,” Holt said. “I just opened a drawer with four removable hard drives.”
“Yeah,” said Scott, “I’ve got the same thing over here, plus there’s a spindle of burnable DVDs. I’m guessing they contain backups from the hard drive.”
Holt moved from drawer to drawer, slowly making his way towards the center of the room. He saw project title after project title, some of them spanning as many as twenty hard drives. He opened a drawer and pulled back the foam, and read aloud, “Project Blacklight. I think this is what we’re looking for.”
Scott joined him. “Let me see,” he said as he pulled a palmtop from his inside pocket.
Agent Scott pulled a cord from his breast pocket and Holt handed him the drive. Scott plugged one end of the cord into the hard drive and the other into the palm. He pulled the stylus from the top of the device and tapped the screen a couple of times to begin access the contents of the drive. “It’s encrypted,” he said.
Holt was still digging through the cabinet drawers. He removed a stack of DVDs, and eight more hard drives. “Can you decrypt it?”
Scott chuckled. “I’m not sure. I guess we’ll see if these top of the line, government issued machines are as good as they’re cracked up to be.” He opened a decryption program, which immediately started working to break the code.
“Anything yet?” Holt asked.
“It just started working,” Scott replied. “Give me just another minute and we should have something.”
Holt moved on to the next file cabinet. This one was also labeled project blacklight. He pulled out another hard drive. “This project must have involved terabytes of data,” he commented.
Agent Scott heard a quiet beep, then the data resolved into recognizable files. He opened a couple of image files where he saw schematics of some sort. There would be time to analyze them later. He opened a couple of spreadsheet documents, and a word processing file. His eyes widened in surprise.
Holt was still digging through the cabinet when he suddenly sensed danger. He was about to turn his head to look over his shoulder when he felt, more than heard, the percussion of a firearm. The bullet impacted his skull under his right earlobe, passed through his temporal lobe, then his brain stem, and emerged on the other side of his head, taking a large bloody chunk of his skull with it. He collapsed to the ground with a thud as his body convulsed in his final death throes.
To be continued...
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