The Argonaut Initiative

New Home

She stood in the darkened room over two fresh corpses. The poorly lit room seemed like something out of a nightmare. At her feet lied a dead man and his young son, both shot between the eyes from her smoking gun. In the door frame stood a figure, his features concealed by shadow. He laughed to himself as the FBI agent turned the gun towards her own head. Her own body had turned against her, and refused to obey her survival instincts. Her powerful urge to live fought futilely against it. The trigger was depressed, and the young woman awoke.

She was in a black SUV headed north of Washington, DC, on her way to her new job. In the driver's seat and shotgun position sat two muscled men in suits. Both had shaved heads, wireless earpieces, dark glasses, and red ties. Their faces looked similar to each other, both stern and cleanly shaved. Both stared ahead at the road, paying no heed to the passenger in the rear seat. The men were models of uniformity, seeming to both blend in and stand out of their environments at once.

Behind the two hawk faced agents sat a nervous young man. The young woman had blond hair cut short and parted down the middle. She had green eyes, a small nose, and average build. She was dressed in a blue blouse with a black jacket and pants. She held a road map of the DC metropolitan area in her hands. Judging by road signs, she was heading towards where the state borders of Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania all met. There was a small dot on the map denoting a government base, Raven Rock, and a dot south of that, near Delaware. It was labeled, "Camp Jason."

"Cute," the young woman remarked. "So, we're getting close? It will be good to finally be out in the field again."

She handed the map back to one of the agents in the front seat. "We're here, ma'am," the man replied without a hint of emotion in his force. She tried looking out the window, but she could not see out the tinted window. The location was technically meant to be public knowledge, but what exactly went on there was certainly not. Like many things, it was buried beneath a veil of secrets, red tape, and denials.

The woman using the name 'Jane Doe' exhaled, and tried to relax. All of her things had already been moved into the new dorm, but that was the only portion of the facility she had seen before. The lower levels and other suites were all considered to be "off limits." Hopefully, that would change when she arrived. She now returned to the secret base that would be her workplace.

"We are here," one of the agents said in a monotone voice. "You may disengage seat belts, and enter the facility."

The SUV slowed to a stop. Jane Doe picked up a black leather briefcase from under the seat and reached for her seatbelt. She opened the door and stepped out. The two agents in the front disengaged their belts and climbed out of the car in unison, moving alongside each other in clockwork precision. Jane looked at her surroundings.

The compound looked the same as it did when she was her before. They were surrounded by woods on all sides, and had a chain-link fence surrounding the perimeter of the place. Near the center were a number of dilapidated, single story wooden buildings. A sign reading "Camp Jason EPA Soil Analysis Center" was placed outside a single story shack. There was a parking lot with a handful of cars, mostly black SUVs, unmarked vans, and a few smaller civilian sedans. The only parking garage was a single story garage with a white front door that looked like it had been ripped from a suburban home. Juxtaposed nearby were some recently looking windmills, all sleek and made of white polymers. Each was roughly three stories in height. The only sounds were was the rustling of the woods, and the turning of some of the windmills nearby. The place was the sort of featureless location even a Federal inspector would get bored of eventually. Like the agents, there was a certain defense in conformity and hiding in plain sight.

The two agents followed an overgrown sidewalk into the front of the primary shack. The headed up to the front door, and held it open. Jane Doe walked in, trying to recall where the covert entrance was located. Inside of the shack, a similar agent to the two outside sat at a wooden desk, processing a stack of papers. Beside him was an average looking PC. The room had some flimsy wooden chairs and uncomfortable metal ones, with a basket of year-old magazines next to them. The floor was made of wood, and the walls and ceiling were covered in chipping white paint. Behind the desk, a door was open to a small rest room with a single toilet and sink in it. Nearby was another wooden door. Something inside the shack smelled of mothballs.

"The new operative has arrived," one of the agents behind her said. "Access the facility. Theseus challenges the Minotaur."

"Code phrase accepted. Affirmative," replied the one behind the desk in the nasally, monotone voice she had heard a lot of recently. At first, she was put off by it, but she had grown accustomed to it.

The desk worker pushed a series of buttons on the PC, and turned back to the papers. A mechanical click was heard, and the two agents opened the closed door next to the bathroom. A concrete stairwell with a dim light opened up, and the agents descended. Jane followed them down, and the office worker locked the door behind them. Cool air came up from below. The mouth of the facility gave her goosebumps, and a chill of uncertainty of what was really down there.

Descending the stairs, the two agents came to a metal vault-like door in front of them. One of the agents entered a code into a keypad next to the door. The sound of grinding metal made Jane cringe for an instant. The door rotated to the side, and revealed a small metal chamber behind it. The agents stepped in, and Jane followed them in. There was the grinding of metal as the vault door closed behind them, sealing them in the small room. Ahead of them was another thick door, which more resembled a bulkhead aboard a ship. Again, one of the agents entered a number into a keypad, and the door opened up. This door opened backwards, allowing them access to the compound behind it. All of the defenses seemed intended to both keep things in as much as out.

While she had seen this hallway before, part of Jane half expected another door behind the bulkhead. Instead, there was a metallic hallway. Instead of the cool air of the stairwell, the bunker remained at a comfortable room temperature. The walls, floor, and ceiling were made of stainless steel polished to a mirror sheen. Several smaller doors, each a wooden one with a conventional lock, were lined down the hall. Most of them were full of military style cots and shower rooms for the agents, but there was a notably different door at the end of the hall. The agents led the way into the complex, having Jane following behind them. Like everything else she had seen so far, there was a certain sterile, soulless quality. According to what she was told, it was as much of a defensive measure as all the agents with guns and thick doors.

The primary sound that Jane noticed was the humming of unseen machinery. There was no distinctive smell in the tunnels, and they looked inhumanly clean. As the agents lead Jane down a narrow stairwell, she could see why. A small machine, moving around on tracks and using mounted cameras and presumably other sensors to navigate, climbed up the stairs. It was about two feet long, and possessed telescoping mechanical arms that terminated in rubber-covered hands. In one hand was a rag, and the other one, a spray-bottle of cleaning solution. It reached the top of the stairs, and then began spraying and wiping the walls. It would probably be what put janitors out of business once the technology reached mass market in some unknown number of years in the future.

"Do not mind the cleaning robots," one of the agents added. "They are controlled by a specialist within the facility."

Jane nodded and continued on. She had seen the cleaning robots on her trip here before. She had mentally prepared herself to experience stranger. The two agents continued onwards, eventually coming to an opened door with the wood "Administration" on a sign on a nearby wall. The two agents flanked either side on the door, beckoning Jane Doe inwards. The young woman entered the room, and observed the scene. It was a far cry from the empty-seeming facility she had seen so far. Perhaps as a sort of karmic backlash, that was why the room was so individualized.

The room itself was made of the same gunmetal gray alloys as the rest of the complex. The floor, however, had an afghan carpet on it, with a wooden desk on top of it. There was a bank of computer consoles, some filing cabinets, and a television with surveillance camera feed from the front door on them. In the back of the room was a locked cabinet holding different guns. There were different military medals on the wall nearby. A small military styled cot was located in the rear corner of the room. A hawk nosed man with a shaved head sat at the desk. He had suit and tie on, but Jane could easily envision the man in combat fatigues. His desk had a computer console, some old books, and replicas of various tanks, planes, and other military machines. A metal canteen reading "Semper Fi" was placed on the desk.

Her memory recalled the name and face of the man who had interviewed her before: Colonel Sean Stein. Technically, he was a former Colonel. He had retired from the Marines to take command of this group. Certain classified missions had made him well-suited for the task. Or so Jane had recalled from the brief biography she heard. She reached out her hand. Stein stood up, and gripped Jane's hand before vigorously shaking it.

"Welcome to the Argonaut Initiative, Jane Doe," her new boss shook her hand. "Nice to see J. Edgar's idiots eventually had enough common sense to send someone here. Always good to have a nice face in the fight!"

"Reporting for duty, sir," Jane said in a mock-military tone. "What's my first assignment?"

"Hoo-rah, initiative!" Stein grinned, pumping his fist. "Always great to have. But I'd like to ask you a few things before you get all settled in and cozy. We're stepping out for a mission soon, and I need to get a few things squared away."

"Ask away, sir," Jane nodded. "But you know I'm not going to discuss the incident."

"I know it left you unwilling to use lethal weapons," Stein's tone suddenly turned serious. "But I'm sure you've heard all the shrinks saying the incident wasn't your fault, which is true. The asshole behind it's compost, and you're here with us. As such, you are required to obey one golden rule of mine."

"Yes, sir?" Jane asked. "I don't drink, smoke, or screw anything. I've cut down on junk food since the Puppeteer incident, and I vigorously exercise. I'm not religious, and I'm not going to any religious or political functions unless I have to. Those are my boundaries, and all you need to know."

A look of mirth appeared on the military man's face. " Doe, I don't care about any of that!" he laughed. "You could be a commie pinko, you could worship that cannibal hippie on the cross, or you could be a robot from space, and I still wouldn't give a shit. What I do care about is the golden rule I learned while I was getting shot at."

"Sir, you know my preference is not to carry a live gun since the incident," Jane shook her head. "I'm not going to carry any other kind of lethal weapon, either."

"You never did ask what my golden rule was," the Marine replied with a grin. "Never give up the ability to defend yourself, and be armed with something you know how to use. I heard you were a pretty good shot with your sidearm."

Stein pulled out a briefcase from under his desk. He turned it to face Jane, and opened it up, revealing a suppressed Ruger Mark II pistol and a magazine.

Jane Doe tightened her fists. "Sir, I am not carrying a sidearm."

"You are. No soldier of mine's going into a hostile situation unarmed if they can avoid it," Stein's face tightened up. "But hear me out. The moron that ran this organization before me didn't require weapons. He lost a bunch of good people, and I got his desk job instead."

The boss picked up the magazine and removed one of the bullets. Instead of the shape she was expecting, it was instead a small pointed dart. Stein grinned. "They're special tranquilizer rounds. They knock a bad guy out fast, and real quiet, too."

Jane Doe let her muscles relax. She was unsure of what to do. She had half expected to be forced to carry around one with traditional bullets. While the tranquilizer gun was not unwelcomed, it was still potentially lethal, but then again, anything was. It was good that she was at least being allowed to have her personal code considered by her superiors.

"Your profile says you took some arnis and aikido," Stein added. "Hoo-rah! Always good to know someone not afraid to take 'em on up close!"

"Limited experience in arnis and second degree black-belt in aikido, sir," Doe replied.

"You'll like this here toy, then," Stein pulled another object from his desk. It was a small metal cylinder with a button on it. The cylinder extended, revealing itself to be a telescoping baton. Stein pressed another button, and an electric current danced around the tip. He then retracted the stun baton, and handed it to Doe. "All I want is you keep those on you. An unprepared agent's a disaster waiting to happen, and one of the best ways to be prepared to is be armed with something. Knowledge, weapons, gizmos. Whatever works, and they all do in most situations. Helps me sleep better at night when all my employees are packing. I want you all coming home to a victory party, not the morgue! Especially on your first time out! It may not seem like it, but once we're celebrating, this place really comes alive!"

"Thank you, sir," Doe nodded. She carefully picked up the pistol, and put in an empty shoulder holster she had been issued earlier that day. Jane put the baton into her side pocket. She had promised herself she'd not kill again since the incident, but she knew this job meant she'd certainly need to be familiar with some kind of self defense. "I doubt I'll join any festivities. I am a professional on and off the clock. I do, sadly, require some time for rest and regaining my focus."

"I know you ain't got much time before I send you out," Stein added. "Normally, I don't throw raw meat onto the fire, but we ain't got much time to waste here. Situations don't just wait for us to have free time. When the shit hits the fan, we hit the shit ASAP."

"How about my coworkers?" Doe suggested. "I would like to meet them before we move out. As a professional, I believe I will work more efficiently once I get to know my team."

"Can do," he nodded. "I'll send up a guide now. It'll take about a few hours before everyone's ready to roll. We're kinda doing on short notice."

Stein pushed a button on his desk. "Hey, Noel, think you can show the new agent around?"

"Sure thing!" came a high octave voice over the other end.

"Oh, and Jane," Stein added with concern registering.

"Yes, sir?" Jane replied as stoically as she could.

"There's ain't nothing wrong with dropping the professional bit now and then," Stein grinned. "I mean, the agents are already boring enough. Our individuality's what helps this team get by. We're professional when we need to be, and ourselves all the time."

Jane Doe heard footsteps down the hall, and turned to see her presumed guide to the place. He was a southeast Asian man with short black hair, and a lean, muscular form. He had two silver Beretta 92 Inox pistols on cross draw holsters across his chest. He wore a belt with more magazines on it, tight jeans, and dark glasses. On his black shirt was an upside-down pink triangle with the overhead silhouette of a man holding a pistol in a triangular stance. It had words reading "Pink Pistols: Pick on someone your own caliber."

"Hey there," he put one hand to his hips and moved the other near his face. "Nice to see some estrogen in this sausage fest."

Unsure of how to respond, Jane went for something she considered diplomatic. "Nice to meet you, too," she nodded. "I'm Jane Doe."

"You and all those bodies in the crawlspace they can't identify, honey," the waved his hand through the air while moving his hips. "Now tell me, what's your real name? Believe me, I've probably got one stranger than you."

"It's legally Jane Doe now," the agent replied. "That's all I'm going to say."

"I understand, girl," the man replied. "I'm Noel Juarez. Formerly of the US Army. Got discharged for reasons you can probably guess. I didn't ask or tell, but some jealous asshole did."

Stein stood up from his desk. "Despite the fact Noel here's fluent in over a dozen languages, obeyed rules to the letter, and is a damn good marksman, he got the shaft."

"And not the kind I normally like," Noel muttered, shaking his head. "Anyway, let's go meet your other coworkers."

It would be interesting working with this man, Jane thought. Noel directed her down a nearby stairwell, into a familiar hallway. There was a sign reading "Operative Quarters" on it. The residential hallway did not have a speck of rust on the walls, ceiling, or floors. The lights in his corridor seemed brighter. Two cleaning robots were busy cleaning the sliding, automatic door out front of one of the rooms. This portion of the base seemed like it was intended to be the most appealing. There were four doors down the hall, each with a name on them. They read, "Noel Juarez," "Dr. Jason Bear," "Tina Turing," and finally, "Jane Doe." Each door had a security camera and intercom in front of it, presumably so the person inside could see out and communicate.

The gunslinger knocked on Jason Bear's door. The camera turned towards them, and then the metallic door opened up. Jane Doe could smell something strange from inside the room. She looked forward, and saw a large figure clad in a dark green hazmat suit. A gust of cold air from the room blew the smell of soldering into the hallway. The hazmat suit covered the entirety of the man's body. The visor itself was made of a dark, opaque plastic. It looked as though the man had been consumed by a plastic sheet.

The room itself resembled a cross between a small lab and apartment. The room was cleaned with the obsessive details of the outside, and the items inside were organized to an inhuman and obsessive degree. There were bookshelves full of scientific texts organized by subject and title. There was a rack of computer processors, all encased in gleaming metal forms. On the otherwise featureless walls were various posters showing different equations. There was a chemistry set, with all manner of strange tubes and substances inside them. A small workbench sat in a corner. There was a foam mattress with a sleeping bag on top of it in a corner, pressed perfectly. Jars of murky fluid were stacked on a metal shelf on one side of the wall. An open chest with mechanical parts sat in the rear of the room, near a small and shiny bathroom. The man in the hazmat suit continued mixing two vials of chemicals together. The room seemed like it was the idealized lab of the future from some old science fiction movie.

"State your business in this room," the man in the hazmat suit did not turn his attention away from the chemicals while speaking. He seemed similar to the agents in the tone and pitch of his voice. He placed the test tube in a centrifuge, and turned it on. "Samples must be prepared and field equipment readied prior to deadline."

"Doctor Bear, this is our new comrade," Noel added. "Jane Doe, formerly of the FBI. Helped solve the Puppeteer murders."

"I am not here for social interaction with females," the Doctor said in a monotone voice similar to that of the agents. "I am here to provide scientific, technical, medical, and armed assistance to the Argonaut Initiative according to the terms of my employment contract."

"That's only part of the reason you're here, Jason," Noel added. "Come on, stop being so silly!"

"I am merely being efficient in my use of time," Jason replied emotionlessly. He pulled out a multitool-like device, and plugged it into a computer. "The specimens in the centrifuge will be completed in twenty five minutes, and my nanotool requires further modification based on optimization simulations. In addition, there is a new batch of agent components that requires automated quality assurance to begin. If you have no further business of note, I must continue my work."

It was then the door smalled shut again. Noel stepped back just in time to avoid the door almost catching his foot.

"Is he some kind of robot?" Jane asked her guide. "I think those agents had more personality than he did."

"You should talk, silly, with all this professionalism stuff. As for Jason, he's just like that," Noel swatted his hand. "He was born with a rare form of high functioning autism. In his case, it's like Asperger's Syndrome crossed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder on steroids. He focuses exclusively on one thing, tuning out everything else. Never liked people looking at his body. That's why he's in the hazmat suit."

"Still, he seemed so mechanical," Jane commented. "I've seen military and police drilling that was more flexible than that."

"That's because he kinda is," Noel said in a half-whispered tone. "He used to work in academia before coming here. He focused too much on an experiment when something else exploded. He rebuilt himself literally from top to bottom with his own cybernetics."

"So he's some kind of cyborg, then?" Jane asked. "I know I've expected strange things, but he just seems so...logical."

"He's not logical as much as obsessive," Noel replied. "He used to be worse before the accident, believe it or not. Thanks to his psychology, he compartmentalized his mind. He's in his science compartment now, but if he gets into the field, steer clear from him when he's in berserker mode."

"And what was that about agent parts?" Jane's eyes narrowed. "I heard they were clones, and I can understand that. But you have spare parts for them?"

Noel waved his hand a bit, indicating uncertainty. "Eh, kinda," he added. "We grow flesh and some organs and throw them over an artificial frame. They're non-sapient with only a few basic personality-like responses pre-programmed in. They're based on a friendlier form of Jason's personality."

"Isn't that a little elaborate when you can just recruit humans for cheaper?" Jane shrugged.

"Yeah, but we tend to have a high mortality rate for standard operatives. Dead bodies from real people under our employ brings a lot of unwanted attention, as our old boss's clusterfuck showed," Noel replied. "Plus, the boss would rather loose drones than employees with families. I tend to agree with him there."

Jane nodded. It was strange, definitely, but she felt she was a bastion of normalcy in this job. She was determined to be as thorough and professional as was necessary. She had investigative skills the others didn't.

"Oh, let's go meet Tina!" Noel suddenly perked up. He walked with his hips swaying to the next door, and knocking on it. The camera above it moved a bit, and a seductive voice came over the intercom. "Yes, cutie, how can I help you?" she purred. "Bringing a friend to play?"

"Not today," Noel gestured for Jane to come closer. "But our new employee wants to see you."

"Sure," the sultry voice opened the door. "Send her in."

Jane half expected to see another woman inside. Instead, she was greeted by a blast of cool air when the door opened. A number of fans were positioned around the room. The room itself was smaller than Jason's room, but was far less varied. There were stacks of microprocessors and electronics from wall to wall, all beeping, whirring, and clicking. Several robots similar to the cleaning drones moved across the floor. There was suddenly a buzzing of insects, and Jane looked around for a magazine. Noel merely stuck out his hand, and several dark shapes landed on them. They swarmed around, droning as they flew.

At first glance, they appeared as honeybees and hornets. Looking closer, Jane could see instead, they were all robotic. Some of the insects resembled honeybees more than hornets, and had a translucent glass body that revealed their technical innards. There was a chirping sound, and mechanical birds began to sing and flutter from their perches on top of the processor stacks. The room itself was a technological garden, with its own flora and fauna.

"These are the way nerds celebrate the birds and the bees," Noel snickered. "And the glass bees are a reference to some writer, I think."

"Ernst Junger, honey," Tina's voice added. "You should really read the classics sometime."

"Nah, I'm just enjoying my youth in the meantime," he grinned. "Why don't you show Jane Doe here your body? Your main one, at least."

"Sure, honey," Tina replied.

Jane Doe prepared herself to see something stranger, like a robot woman. Instead, a machine rolled out from behind a stack of processors. It had four telescoping arms protruding from it, unlike the cleaning drones. Two of the hands were empty. One of them held a cut down M60 machinegun mounted on it. The fourth arm had a number of specialized tool-like protrusions, presumably screwdrivers, lock-picks, drills, and other devices. A number of tool attachments and electronic sensors were mounted on the body of the robot. It resembled a cross between one of the Army's TALON robots with a tool chest and Swiss Army knife on treads. The machine's arms then began to fold up and retract, shrinking the robot into a more compact form. It was hard to mentally connect the seductive voice with such an ungainly contraption. Even a techno-fetishist would be hard-pressed to find anything attractive about it.

"Mmm," Tina moaned. "I can get as big or small as you want. I've got attachments for just about anything you can imagine, and then some."

"Yeah, that new vibrator was something," Noel grinned, recalling fond memories. "But why don't you tell Jane what your job is here?"

"I watch your back, both in real life and online," Tina explained. The compact robot moved towards Jane's leg and began stroking it with one of the hands. "I'm mission control, intel, and tech support. And lover, when necessary."

"So, you're an AI, then?" Jane guessed.

"DAGI," Noel corrected. "Based on a Singulartech Version 34 system they donated to us."

"DAGI?" Jane asked.

"Decentralized Artificial General Intelligence," Tina explained. "A self-aware digital entity, or infomorph, running parallel processing on several robots and computers."

"So you control all the robots and security here?" Jane surmised.

"At times," Tina Turing complained. "But Jason handles most of that work. He's anal, and not in the way I like."

"Uh huh," Jane replied, unsure of how to form words. How to be professionally courteous to a sex-crazed machine wasn't something any other job would require. "Well, it's interesting to me an AI...er...DAGI who's so interested in human sex life."

"Oh, you have no idea," Tina Turing purred. "Not having any of the necessary parts makes you a lot more creative with what you have. I've controlled a few agents for some experimentation, but Jason insists on not adding any interesting parts to them."

"Right," Jane nodded and headed back to the door. "Nice to meet you, Tina."

"You know where to find me if you're ever feeling lonely," Tina adjusted her voice to be even more seductive. "Nice meeting you, Jane. Hope I can help you unwind after our mission."

Jane left the room, and Noel followed her. The door closed behind them, and Jane headed for her room.

"So, had enough for now?" Noel inquired. "I can take you to where they assemble the agents! Or maybe show you some of the weird things in the Vault?"

"Not today, please," Jane shook her head. "I've had enough for now, thank you very much."

"I can show you my room," Noel grinned, gesturing with his thumb back at his door. He then slapped his palm in the face. "Oh, wait, that came out wrong."

"Eh, no thanks," Jane replied. "But thanks for the tour. I'd like to get used to my room until we get ready to go."

"I can get that," Noel gestured back to his room. "Stein says he'll call us when we need to roll out in a few hours. Just grab any travel supplies you'll need, since we'll be out for a while. Until then, I'm going to go practice my singing."

"What kind of singing do you do, Noel?" Jane asked in a half interested tone.

"I do vocals in a death metal band with some friends of mine," Noel grinned. "We don't meet very often, but we're all pretty close."

"I find it hard to believe you could do death metal vocals," Jane shook her head. "I can't understand them most of the time, anyway."

"That's the point, you silly goose!" Noel playfully teased, waving his hand. Suddenly, Noel unleashed a deep, feral voice from his throat. It sounded to Jane like a demonic blender gurgling razor blades and shredded intestines.

"I did not understand a word of that," Jane shook her head.

"Don't let stereotypes get in the way of your thinking," Noel grinned. "For instance, you know how metal helped bring gay fashion to the mainstream unknowingly?"

"No, but I'm sure I'm about to find out," Jane rolled her eyes.

"Rob Halford, the main vocalist of Judas Priest, visited gay bars frequently," he grinned. "And because of that, he and the band began dressing in similar fashions, namely black leather. It's just funny even some homophobes now wear fashion that came from eighties gar bars."

"Interesting," Jane nodded her head, and tapped her briefcase. "Now, I'm going to go back to my room. My stuff's all ready to go."

Jane headed towards her door. The door itself automatically slid opened, and she walked in. She pressed a pad to lock it behind her, and looked around. The room had a few bags and boxes that still had yet to be fully unpacked. The room's metal walls, ceiling, and floor seemed sparse. There was a small dresser in a corner, a sleek-looking Initiative issued PC on a featureless work desk, a mini-fridge, a small bathroom with a cramped shower, toilet, and sink, and barely furnished bed. She put her tranquilizer pistol and stun baton into empty drawers on the desk. It wasn't as soulless as the rest of the base. Jane had intended it to be simple so it would be easier to clear her mind for meditation. Now was time for introspection and meditation. The Spartan surroundings gave her the most comfort. As soulless as this place seemed, it was preferable to the chaotic, cramped building she had worked at before.

Jane Doe set her briefcase down, and opened it up. Inside was clothing she preferred to wear when focusing. There was a white cotton martial arts gi and black hakama inside. Jane changed her clothing into the gi and the hakama, and sat in the kneeling seiza position on the cold steel floor. Jane Doe closed her eyes and exhaled. She recalled herself during her aikido black belt test, performing some of the breathing and relaxation exercises her sensei showed her. There was no past, and no future. Only the present, and thoughts were all transient. In this microcosm of eternity, the memories of why she had joined rushed into her head. With a mission coming soon, she realized it would be important to confront her personal demons. She would face her memories again, and realize they were the past.

"I am, I was, I will be," she chanted to herself. "I will face my memories, and when they pass, only I will remain."

She recalled the gun gripped in her hands. She recalled the sweat and fear in that dark bedroom. She stood alone with her pistol out and two hostages tied and gagged in front of her. She felt her own body betray her, as she shot her fiance in the face. She saw the dark figure in the mirror laugh at her, and taunt her. "There's more to this world than you ever knew," the man mocked in a deep tone. "Your fear and helplessness are your best friends in your pathetic life, savage!"

Of its own accord, the pistol moved to the next bound and gagged hostage, her would-be stepson. She tried fighting the trigger finger with all her will, but she could do nothing against the man's will. He was controlling her every physical action by some unknown means. Her mind raced at the most likely outcome: The Puppeteer would have her kill the boy, and then herself, and the FBI agent assigned to the case would have died in a horrible murder-suicide. The Puppeteer would then vanish, just another unsolved case free to disguise his victims however he wanted.

The gun discharged, and neat red hole appeared between the boy's eyes. Jane Doe felt herself ready to vomit, but the Puppeteer was forcing her to hold it down. She felt the Glock 22 turn towards her, and her hand move to beside her head. She felt helpless, trying to fend off her own death.

"Any last words?" the shadowy figure taunted.

Doe tried to move her lips, but the Puppeteer held them tightly closed. "What's the matter?" he taunted. "Cat got your tongue?"

She tried to talk, but suddenly, the serial killer released her mouth and head. A blast of vomit ejected out of her mouth as she released her disgust onto the floor. "How'd you do it?" was the only thing she could say. She would have unleashed a torrent of profanity, if she still had any will left.

"Ah, the golden question," the Puppeteer taunted. "You see, Special Agent, there is technology more advanced than most morons dream of. I stole an experimental type of nanomachine that allows me to control someone's nervous system. Sadly, it doesn't work directly on the conscious mind, but on the limbs, and even then, it's not enough to do much. But it's enough for my purposes."

He grinned evilly. "As for when you were exposed to it, that's simple. When I was stalking you, I noticed you stopped for coffee at a particular shop every morning, on clockwork. All I had to do was slip some nanobots into the coffee supply, and wait for you to come home!"

The cold muzzle of the gun now pressed against her temple. Her traitorous hand held the trigger tighter. No matter how much will she mustered, the hand and finger did not move. The maniac reestablished his invisible dominance over her lips, silencing her.

"I know this is fairly anticlimactic, but it's much more enjoyable this way," a sadistic conceit came over his voice. "But this is the way it's got to be. Another Fed and family dead, and another score in my name. I have to say, you're the first female Fed I've killed, and the first victim to know what kind of technology I'm talking about. You should be proud! That's right! Cry! Scream! By the time the cops come, you'll be tomorrow's headlines!"

Jane suddenly felt part of her body regain control. Her jaw, and the rest of her head suddenly seemed able to move. The finger began to move slowly back on the trigger. Thinking quickly, Jane dropped her head down and to the side, just centimeters out of the trajectory of the bullet. The gun discharged, and the heat from the bullet was felt on her face. The Puppeteer wavered for a moment, unsure of what to do. In that instant, Jane Doe regained control of her pistol and hand, and shot off a quick round before the Puppeteer could react.

It nailed him between the eyes, killing him fast. Apparently, his nanomachines could only focus on sections of the body and perform limited actions. His desire to hear her scream and shoot with his pistol had loosened his grip on her entire head, allowing her to dodge it. His shock at what happened allowed Jane the time she need to respond. Jane exhaled freely, and waited. She still felt a disgusting feeling, as if she had bathed in a cesspool and was trapped at the bottom.

The case would have been hard to explain to even her superiors, had Sean Stein not shown up when he did. Explaining the origin of the nanomachines from a secret lab, she was offered a chance to start over fresh, and prevent super-technology from falling into the hands of maniacs. At first, she spurned his offer, and her life went downhill. Her emotions went out of control, she drove away friends and family, and wasted a lot of money.

Two years of meditation, therapy, life changing experiences, and soul searching brought her back. Now, with her training and new job, she felt much more confident. She changed her name, changed her look, and changed her life. She was through mourning. Now, her responsibilities were to protecting the country and the world from such threats. While accepting that worse things than the Puppeteer existed, Jane Doe felt much more prepared to face them. She dressed back in her regular suit, and placed toiletries, weapons, and other items into her briefcase. Whatever was going on was important enough for her to rush in on her first day. As per her new philosophy on life, she exhaled calmly and relaxed. Whatever was going to happen would happen, and she would deal with it as it came.