Chapter 25

Sunday Morning, 7:00 AM EST…

Sitting back in the large brown leather chair at the head of the lavishly decorated boardroom's meeting table, Victor Stronheim listened quietly, taking in all he was hearing. He looked to each of the people seated at the large darkened lead glass meeting table, the various other top people in Project: Eden, pleased with himself that with his money and influence he had gathered together such an impressive group. In each of the twelve seats around the table were ex-military leaders from various branches, ex-covert operatives from different countries, leading scientists in biology, electronics, biochemistry, and other areas that had proven useful to the project's cause.

He remembered approaching each and every one of them personally, telling them that he had heard of their work in their various professional fields, and that he was truly impressed with the accomplishments that they had acquired, which in all truth was the actual case. All the individuals he had sought out were the best in their chosen professions, amassing various awards and commendations for their works and praised by their peers, which was exactly what he wanted…the very best he could get. For this important undertaking, he could afford to have no less.

As he found the very brightest, very best in their respective areas of expertise, he would ask them if they were pleased with what they had been doing and had accomplished up to that point. Some would say yes they were but a good number of them would say they were ready for the next thing, the new challenge. After Stronheim heard an answer like that, he could see that they had the kind of mind and spirit that needed to be challenged, and would next ask if they wanted to do oh so much more with their talents, like save the world. When he got to that part of his recruitment pitch, Stronheim by that time had either the reaction of confusion, disbelief, or out right amusement as they laughed at him. If that happened, and in the cynical world he lived in it happened quite a bit, he didn't get upset or aggravated by the refusal to believe in his word alone. After all, he knew and understood that it would be hard for anyone to accept that they could help save humanity on the words alone of a man they had never met before in their lives.

At that point, the usual question was who or what would they be saving the world from? The military and covert operation ones always thought it was some group of terrorists or some ultra radical political ideal that needed to be stopped from spreading, while the scientist types always assumed some sort of virus or disease that needed to be cured.

'Ironic how they all had vastly different ideas of what the threat would be, yet how right all of them actually were.' he mused, sipping his early morning coffee as he remembered all of them asking the question. With each one, Stronheim told them he would let them answer for themselves; all they had to do was come to an address he would give them and let the potential recruits see for themselves what they would be helping to safe guard the human race against.

He made the offer to the twelve people he wanted to have high ranking positions within Project: Eden, and then brought them to see what was known within the project as "Hostile #666", a joke started by the technicians in the research labs that caught on and stuck. After the twelve saw with their own eyes and were convinced that "Hostile #666" wasn't a hoax as most of them wanted to believe, some of them…actually most of them…said some sort of prayer. Regardless of their initial reaction, they all signed on to join Project: Eden. They had seen in no uncertain terms that the threat he spoke of to all of them was indeed very real, it was very dangerous and it was right there among them. And more importantly, they all had realized that these…Things couldn't be allowed to terrorize at will. No, they had to be stopped as quickly, efficiently and finally as possible, and they were the only ones willing and able to do it.

Stronheim listened carefully to reports on how various projects were coming along, from new containment ideas for captured "Hostiles" to improved detection devices to track the "Trespassers", to higher weapons upgrades to "exorcise" them more effectively, and smiled inwardly. He was proud of the many hard working, committed people he had gathered to work for Project: Eden, and that believed in his idea that they were doing the world a service. These men and women so strongly believed in his ideal that they were willing to give their time, energy and sometimes even their lives to make sure the rest of the world remained blissfully ignorant of and blissfully safe from the dangers that most had no idea were around them. When the various department heads were finished with their updates, Stronheim quietly set down his coffee cup and cleared his throat, an action that immediately gathered the full and undivided attention of all gathered in the boardroom. When he saw that all eyes were focused on him, he spoke.

"First, I would like to thank you all for your dedication and exemplary service to the Project." Stronheim started, gazing around the table at them all. "Without your efforts, we would all live in a much darker world today. Once again, thank you."

There was some general discussion around the table after he said that for a few moments until he held up his right hand, calling for quiet and refocused attention. "With that said, I must tell you all that we are again facing yet another grave threat to human life as we know it. I am sure you have all been briefed on the true nature of the happenings in New York last night?"

"Yes, sir. But is this a correct number of casualties?" Commander Nicole Edwards asked, flipping through the information packet she had just been given by an aide that was handing ones just like it to the others seated at the table. "Sixty eight dead? In just two attacks?"

"That would be the correct up to date number as forwarded to us from our contacts there with the Bureau, yes." Stronheim nodded solemnly, looking at the increased numbers himself.

"What the hell is going on up there? A full scale invasion?" another military type asked, also pouring through the information he had just been handed.

"Not a full scale invasion, no. But as to exactly what is going on there, we cannot answer that with a full certainty. I need some hard data on the New York situation and I need it now. Now does anyone have anything concrete on that to share?" Stronheim asked, searching the faces gathered at the table.

Marcy Ellison, head of research and development for the entire of Project: Eden, spoke up then. "Well, sir…we've been tracking the Hostiles activity all last night, and as they have been expending a great amount of dark energies, our scanners have been having a very easy time of it."

"Excellent, Doctor Ellison. What more can you tell us?" Stronheim asked, his curiosity aroused.

"We can confirm that there are a group of five Hostiles, all of Level Four status or higher, with what appears to be at least two Level Fives." Doctor Ellison continued, adjusting her glasses as she began reading notes from her lap top computer that she had brought in with her.

"Two Level Fives? Jesus, no wonder it was so bloody last night!" Commander Edwards said, a statement that Stronheim had to concur with. The Level rankings of Hostiles, as developed by Project: Eden, started out at Level One, a very minor threat that could usually be dealt with requiring only minimum force and manpower. The Levels went all the way up to Level Five, which would be considered a major threat in which extreme measures were not only allowed, but generally demanded. A lone Level Five working solo could easily massacre a fully armed platoon of soldiers if they weren't properly trained and equipped to deal with it, and even then there was no guarantee that all of them would come home alive. Besides a Level Omega threat, there were none more dangerous than a Level Five…and no one had ever seen a Level Omega.

"Yes, Commander…two Level Fives. But wait, it gets even more interesting." the doctor said.

"How so, Doctor?" Stronheim asked.

"They weren't the only ones that were expending energies in New York last night." Doctor Ellison answered, looking back at her lap top screen. "It seems as though there were three more readings last night. A Level Five Trespasser and an unknown, and it's the unknown that has me fascinated and worried, sir."

"Please explain."

"Sir, the unknown defies all current classifications that we currently have on record. I've even had my people tap into The Order's data banks and they have nothing that matches it. Whatever it is, it is truly one of a kind, and that's the fascinating part."

"And the part to make you worry?" Stronheim asked, looking intently at the doctor.

Doctor Ellison took a deep breath of air, exhaled and explained. "I worry, sir, because this unknown? It's a current Level One with the potential to be a Level Five…at least."

" 'At least'?" Stronheim repeated incredulously. "You mean to tell me there is something we have no knowledge about, no idea of the abilities or weaknesses of, and that it has the potential to become more powerful than a Level Five?"

"Yes, sir. Easily."

"Wait, you said three extra readings. What about the third?" one of the other scientist types spoke up.

The doctor hesitated, and then finally answered. "The third, who didn't remain on our scanners for more than a few minutes at most, gave off Hostile power readings so far off the charts we have no other choice but to designate it Level Omega."

"Jesus Christ. There was an Omega Hostile in New York last night? On top of everything else?" Edwards sat back in her chair, her loud groan heard over the rest of the people gathered at the meeting table, talking between themselves. "It's a freaking wonder New York is even still standing! What the hell are all those Hostiles doing there?"

"An excellent question, Commander. One we need to find the answer to without delay." Stronheim said, immediately commanding the attention of the room again. "Doctor, continue monitoring the activities of the Hostiles, but pay close attention to the Trespasser and the unknown. If I am correct, they are why the Hostiles are there in New York. Also, I want to know immediately if the Omega Hostile comes back on our radar, understood?"

The doctor nodded. "Yes, sir. I already have my people all over it."

"Excellent. Commander, have a strike team prepared to go on a moment's notice. We may be needing your team's services very soon in New York. You have two hours to choose your people and have them assembled, then report back to me for briefing."

"Yes, sir. It will be taken care of immediately."

Stronheim stood up from his chair and leaned forward to rest his hands on the meeting table, looking at each of the people still seated. "There is a major crisis at hand, people. One even bigger than we had originally thought. But this is what we are gathered here for, this is what Project: Eden was created for; to protect all of humanity from the very threats that are in New York as we speak. This is as serious of a crisis as we have ever faced before, but until The Purgatory Objective is completed and operational, we are mankind's best defense. Now let us do what we have sworn on our lives to do and protect our fellow human race from this menace. Good luck and Godspeed."

Almost as one, each of the twelve rose and began to file out of the board room, some getting together to talk over the meeting with each other as they exited. As the last of the twelve left and Stronheim saw that he was alone, he moved to the doors of the meeting room, closing them and then locking them.

"You can come out now." he said, turning to look back at the wall that was behind where he had been seated. As he looked, a large section of the wall began to slowly slide to the left, revealing a concealed man-sized passageway that led into another room. Stepping out of the once hidden doorway was a man that looked to be in his mid to late twenties, with wavy shoulder length brown hair and the very light beginnings of a beard, the kind of five o'clock shadow that comes from missing a few days of shaving. The man wore sunglasses as dark as pure tar and his clothes were just as shadow toned, black denim jeans, a very dark blue crew neck tee shirt, black leather boots and leather gloves. He walked over to where Stronheim had been sitting and picked up his information packet, then began reading over it.

"An inspiring speech." the newcomer said in a casual tone, his voice holding a trace of a European accent of some sort. "Is this is why you called for me?"

"Yes, this is exactly why. I take it that you heard the rest of the meeting, correct? The Level readings?" he asked, coming to stand near the stranger.

The darkly dressed young man nodded, still not looking up from the folder. "I heard. It sounds intriguing, to say the least. When do I leave?"

"A helicopter on the roof is waiting to take you to a private jet, my friend. From there you go to New York where your usual equipment will be waiting. Did you require anything else?"

"No. The usual will be more than enough, thank you." he answered, closing the folder and dropping it back on the table. "Looks like I'd better get started."

"Wait, don't you want to know what your objective is?" Stronheim asked as he watched the man begin to head towards the door leading from the meeting room into the rest of the building.

"I thought it was obvious. Go to New York and "exorcise" anything not mortal I find, correct?"

"That would be your secondary objective. Your first is to find the Level Five Trespasser and the unknown, and bring them back to me alive."

"Alive? Why?"

"Because whatever it is that has that many Hostiles gathered in one place must be extremely important, and I want it before the Hostiles get it or before The Order's Templars."

"If you insist. Alive it is then." He nodded to Stronheim. "Is there anything else?"

"There are two FBI agents that are already there to lend you any aid you need, Exodus." he said, reaching into his inside business suit jacket pocket. "Let me give you their names and cell phone numbers..."

Exodus took the card and slipped it into one of his trench coat pockets. "All right, but I doubt I will. It would probably be safer for them to stay out of my way."

Stronheim nodded. "Very well. In that case, good luck and good hunting, my friend."

"Thank you, but I don't believe in luck." he said as he began walking towards the door again.

"Just what do you believe in, may I ask?" Stronheim asked curiously, moving to sit back in his large chair.

Exodus stopped, his hands on the door handles of the meeting room double doors and paused there momentarily as if to think the question over. "Simple. Death to all Celestials." he stated in a quiet matter of fact voice, then opened the doors and strode out of the room. Stronheim, having been finally left alone, quietly began to contemplate if he had made the wisest decision he could have in setting the enforcer for Project: Eden loose in an unsuspecting New York.

A/N: Like, omigawd...a new chapter? For reals? *faint*

Heh...I know, it's been awhile but I'm back and will be continuing this. Miss me? Then show it with reviews, people...peace! -=)