The Argonaut Initiative

Dwelling In The Basement

From the outside, it was like any other home in suburban New York. It was a two story house with a two car garage, two floors, and a basement. It was several miles away from New York City, and seemed like a comparatively small town. Jane Doe and the others drove there in an unmarked box truck. They headed north to track down one of the few leads in the recent raid on the Everglades base. Based on the code that had been used to hack their systems, they had traced the origin point to a hacker known as "1kt0m1," presumably a bastardization of the name of a certain trickster-spider spirit in Lakota legend.

The truck itself was similar to one Jane Doe had seen in the FBI. It was a four wheeled, white painted box truck that seemed to blend in anywhere it was parked. While vans were smaller, the box truck allowed them to hold much more gear than the van. The truck itself was driven by two Agents. The rear of the truck was where all the gear was held. There were monitors across one wall of the truck, all showing the readouts of countless sensors and metrics. Bars, pie charts, and raw numbers appeared all over, resembling a collage of PowerPoint slides. A number of others showed video feeds from concealed cameras around the truck, giving them full vision on the sides and rear without the need for windows. There was also a monitor showing a satellite image showing their location. On the other side of the truck was several weapons. There were rifles, submachineguns, shotguns, pistols, and various tools locked in cabinets across from the wall of technology. There were all of the favorite weapons of the team: Tranquilizer Ruger pistols, Benelli M3 shotguns, knives, Glock pistols, Steyr AUG rifles, P90 submachineguns, stun batons, and others Jane did not recognize.

Their boss, Sean Stein, sat in front of the wall of monitors. The man was a mountain of muscle sitting in a flimsy folding chair. Jane was unsure how it could support him. Sitting next to him was a large cybernetic man, Dr. Jason Bear, wrapped within a dark hazmat suit with a small robot attached to his back. The AGI, Tina Turing, sent an autonomous variant of herself to control her robot drone. A Filipino man, Noel Juarez, with a black Kevlar suit and pair of pistols sat next to them. Jane Doe sat beside him, dressed in a business suit with a thin Kevlar vest underneath.

Stein moved towards one of the widest monitors and showed the picture of their target. The man was a thin twenty-something with a gaunt face and disheveled brown hair. He had stubble over his face, and pale skin. He looked like he had not stepped outside in a long time. On the monitor next to that was the blueprints for his house, showing all the rooms and their dimensions.

"This young man here is David Halitsky. A real basement-dweller," Stein pointed out. "He's our only lead in the raid. His code was used by the intruders, and it's our job to bring him in."

"And if he doesn't surrender?" Noel asked, leaning back in his chair. "Shame if we'd have to use force on him. We could really use talent like that. He's also kinda cute, in a nerdy, home boy sort of way."

"Halitsky is known as the hacker "one-kay-tee-zero-em-one," and is wanted by at least a dozen agencies for cybercrime, hacking, and software piracy," Jason Bear said in a monotone voice. "His sole credentials are an undergraduate degree in Computer Science and some graduate classes taken as part of a computer repair job at a local college. It may be unwise to offer a known criminal a job with us."

"Dears, don't fight! We know he's a conspiracy theorist and libertarian extremist," Tina Turing's robot said. "Of all the types of extremist, that's definitely not the worst. I think I may have met him online before, but I'll have to physically scan his computer to be sure."

"Troops, first we have to bring 'em back," Stein said. "There's two possibilities. One, he didn't know what his code was for, or two, he's a willing accomplice. If one's the case, the intruders may try to silence him. If two's the case, he's an enemy. Either way, it's better if he's in our custody. So get 'em back, and then we'll decide what to do with him."

"Right," Jane nodded. "I'll go out. Noel, ready to go?"

"Sure thing," he nodded. "Let's go pay our friend a visit."

She held her badge in hand. While technically Jane knew she was no longer part of the FBI, the job necessitated she use some items from her former job. An FBI styled badge with a fake name had been given to her for this mission. She noticed Noel was bringing Ruger pistols with him, due to this mission requiring them to take him alive and preferably uninjured. Noel had the letters "FBI" written on his Kevlar suit. It was almost exactly like the surplus DEA uniforms they had worn before, only with different letters on them.

Jane stepped out of the rear of the truck, and walked up the front lawn. The grass was grown and short, perhaps dead from the recent rash of storms that had hit the northeast. There were two evergreen trees to the side of the house, almost two stories in height. The lawn itself had a slight elevation. The flat open grassy backyard was visible through a waist-height chain-link fence. The house itself seemed a bastion of suburban conformity. It blended into the background as much as the countless homes like it up and down the block. The neighborhood itself seemed a piece of Americana locked in the 1950s. Jane looked back, and saw two transparent forms exiting the back of the truck. Jason Bear and Tina both had activated their active camouflage, and moved into position according to their plan. Jason had a Benelli shotgun loaded with bean-bag rounds, while one of Tina's mechanical arms held a Ruger tranquilizer pistol and the other held an electric stun baton.

Tina Turing and Jason's large, transparent forms checked for anyone else in the street and moved rapidly towards the sides of the house. The robot took position behind one of the evergreen trees, allowing it to fire at the front door or the windows in the front. Jason took up position around the back, covering the rear windows, back door, and most likely avenue of escape. "I am in position and ready," the scientist said over his earpiece radio. "Non-lethal parameters adjusted."

"We're ready when you are," came Tina's sultry voice. "Just be careful. I'd hate to see your pretty selves harmed."

"We'll be fine," Noel radioed back. "JD, I'm ready."

Noel followed behind Jane, providing her with backup. He moved alongside the garage door, obscuring anyone from seeing him from the front door. Jane quickly looked back, and saw her comrades were providing overlapping arcs of fire. She exhaled, and walked up to the front door. It was a white painted metal one, similar to many the other front doors on the street. Jane inhaled, and then released her breath slowly. It had been a long time since she had done this. She rang the doorbell, and a high pitched chime sounded. There was a delay of a few seconds, and the door opened. It was answered by a fifty-something woman dressed in a pink sweater and long pants. Her face was rounded, and her hair was curly bleach blonde.

"Hey there! Can I help you?" she asked in a high pitched voice.

Jane tried to remain stoic, and fought her instincts to socialize with the woman. "Excuse me, ma'am, is David Halitsky home?" she said in her most emotionless, professional voice.

"Yes, who are you?" the older woman looked surprised.

Jane pulled out her fake badge. "Special Agent Jane Smith of the FBI," she replied. "I'd like to talk with your son." The other guys had been hardly original when coming up with her alias.

The woman stepped back, her red face becoming more pale. "Did he do something?"

"We just want to talk with him, ma'am," Jane repeated. "He's been earmarked as a person of interest."

"I'll go get him, then," she backed up. "Would you like to come in?"

"Yes, ma'am," Jane entered. She knew that while a formal search required a warrant, if allowed into a home by the owner, it was still legal. "Thank you."

"Can I get you anything?" Mrs. Halitsky asked, heading into her kitchen.

Jane looked around the house. The place seemed old, and definitely had not been significantly redone in a long time. The floors were faded yellow tiles. There were light brown rugs. Several potted plants were located around the house. A dusty bookshelf dominated the nearest corner. The smell of pine scent wafted in from a nearby room. Following the woman into the kitchen, Jane noticed the area seemed more modern. There was a ceramic-topped oven, a large microwave, and large gray refrigerator. Given how old the neighborhood seemed, Jane half-expected to find an icebox or even a wood burning stove inside somewhere.

Mrs. Halitsky opened up a door with faded while paint. There was a carpeted staircase leading into a darkened hole beneath. This was presumably the basement that Dave spent most of his time in. As she descended, Jane wondered how the hacker could stand to operate in such darkness. Certainly it would harm his eyes in the long term. Even though the lights were off in the basement, enough light poured through the windows to allow Jane to see after her eyes had adjusted. As she descended, she could see the basement had some furnishings. It was partially finished, with a tiled floor and wood paneling on the walls. There was a tattered brown sofa in front of a television console with several videogame consoles, both modern and archaic, underneath it. There was a bookcase full of textbooks, notebooks, computer program boxes, and videogame and DVD cases.

A wooden dark board covered with dents hung from the wall slightly off center. Several darts and throwing knives were embedded into it. Across the basement from that was a corner concealed behind a stack of boxes of old computer parts and dissembled cathode ray tube monitors. A hunched figure sat in front of a flat screen monitor with headphones on, as if hiding behind the pile of technological detritus. He was on his computer, playing an game on it. The young man matched the photograph of him, and was dressed in a gray hooded sweatshirt and sweat pants.

His mother tapped him on the shoulder. "Dave?" his mother tapped. The hacker removed his headphones. "Yeah? Who's she?"

"Special Agent Jane Smith from the FBI," Jane continued. "I'd like to-"

"Shit!" he shouted. "The Feds are after me!"

He stood up, and reached for something in the pile of broken computers. Jane drew out her electrified baton, since it was too close for the pistol. Dave shoved the pile of computer parts forward, bringing down an avalanche of obsolete parts crashing down on Jane and his mother. Jane yanked the woman backwards as she moved out of range. The pile smashed down nearby, and Dave produced a weapon. It was a short length of rebar with a wrapped duct tape handle. He held it in one hand, and swung at Jane.

Jane parried his downward strike, and moved her foot in to set up a downward sweep. She clasped his forearm and side of his neck, trying to avoid his weapon. Jane knew she did not want to bludgeon him with the weapon if she didn't have to. She rotated her hips, but David proved himself to be limber and removed himself from her grasp. He dropped the rebar, and grasped several knives from the dartboard.

"Get away from me and stay back!" he shouted in a panicked tone. "I know your secrets!"

Jane Doe could see his eyes had gone bloodshot, and he was moving towards the rear corner of the room. It was strange he wasn't moving towards the stairs. He kept one of the knives in his hand cocked back and ready to throw. Jane figured there would not be enough time to grab her pistol and fire before he could throw a knife. The last thing she wanted was a civilian, David's shocked mother, getting a knife by mistake.

Before she could determine a course of action, David yanked down the window and pulled himself through. He was strangely limber and fast for someone who lived in his basement. Jane held the stunned woman in her hands. "Ma'am, are you alright?" she asked.

Mrs. Halitsky was too stunned to reply. Jane cursed to herself. She didn't want to leave the stunned mother by herself, nor let David get away. If he was crazy enough to start tossing knives with his mother around, no telling what else he would do. Living alone in the basement for too long couldn't be healthy.

"Intercept suspect out back!" Jane shouted into her radio. "He popped out a back window! He's armed with throwing knives!"

"Affirmative," came Dr. Bear's monotone response. "Suspect spotted! Commencing engagement!"

Out back, Bear stepped into action. The cloaked cyborg scientist raised his shotgun and blasted at the man in the gray hooded sweater. The bean-bag round missed its target by millimeters, and Bear readjusted his aim quickly. He drew a bead on the fleeing hacker as he ran towards the waist high chainlink fence in the rear of the yard. Bear's calculations completed in less than an instant, and the trigger to the weapon was pulled. The projectile stuck Halitsky in the back as he vaulted over the fence, knocking him face first onto the ground.

"Suspect downed," he reported.

Bear approached the downed target, keeping the Benelli ready to fire again if necessary. He was under instructions to limit the collateral, so he would prefer not to discharge it again. Even a rubber bullet could ricochet and cause significant damage. The scientist dropped his cloak, and vaulted over the fence. He saw David laying face first, prone, and motionless on the ground. Cautiously, the scientist went to feel his neck for pulse and to restrain the suspect if necessary.

Suddenly, the hacker spun around and threw a knife at the scientist. Jason turned himself at the same instant, but the knife still made contact. It penetrated his hazmat suit along the shoulder, and dug into the injured flesh beneath it. Bear let out a grunt as he tried to re-adjust his aim at the suspect. In the instant the knife attack happened, Dave Halitsky had darted away, using a neighbor's shed for cover. He ran in a zigzagging pattern, making it harder for Bear to focus on his target. Dr. Bear struggled to aim his shotgun with his uninjured hand, but was unable to get a clear one.

"Suspect attacked with a knife," Bear reported. "Heading north towards nearby street on foot. Received compromising injury."

"Dear, head back to the truck and patch yourself up," came Tina's seductive voice over the radio. "I've got this one covered."

"Estimations of your robot's speed and lack of mobility would be unable to pursue target," Bear replied. "Pursuit by foot means the suspect has a significant lead. Subject likely well practiced in parkour."

"Don't worry about that, dear," Tina continued. "I came prepared."

Looking up, Dr. Jason Bear saw what Tina Turing referred to. The sound of buzzing filled the air. Jason wondered for a moment at this fact, as insects like bees and hornets would not likely be alive in outside in this time of year. Looking up, though, he saw these were no ordinary swarm of bees. Instead, they were Tina's glass bees. The robotic insects were translucent, rendering their metallic innards visible to all around them. Each of their syringe-like stingers, as Jason recalled, was loaded with the same tranquilizer as their Rugers. It had been a while since Tina had used that attachment, causing him to forget it for an instant. The swarm began to split into smaller ones, each flying over different houses in front of them.

Jason predicted the most likely outcome of events as he made a retreat back to the truck. The swarms would each converge on their target from different directions. The swarms of high tech bugs vanished behind the nearby houses. Jason sat back in the truck as he removed the knife, and applied first aid to himself. Afterwards, Noel and Jane appeared back with their unconscious prize in a fireman's carry. Noel kept his knives, and the hacker's hands were cuffed behind his back. They sat him in one of the chairs on the truck, away from the weapons. He had a number of stinger marks across his arms. There was no bleeding, but a few minor cuts.

"Where is Tina Turing's drone currently?" Jason inquired. "I wish to thank her for her timely assistance."

"Oh, she's inside, scanning all of this fellow's computer files," Noel added. "She'll be back soon."

"How about his mother?" Jason inquired. "Was not she a concern of yours, Jane?"

"The mother fainted, and should come around soon," Jane replied. "She just needs some rest now."

"Still, this fellah put up quite an escape," Stein whistled. "Never thought a nerd would be as fit as he was."

"He was cunning enough to catch me off guard with one of his knives," Jason muttered to himself in his monotone voice. "My suspect subduing programming and protocol warrants improvement."

"Hey, Tina, how's the search coming?" Sean radioed the robot.

It was then the cloaked from of Tina's drone came out the front door. It crawled across the lawn on its treads, ducked behind an evergreen, and came out near the truck. Noel picked up the robot and set it into the truck. He closed the doors behind him.

"Well, turns out I did know this guy," Tina began to giggle. "Quite intimately, too."

"One of many people you've cybered with, then?" Noel added.

"Of course," Tina replied. "But there's more than our recorded conversations on his PC."

"Anything relevant to the investigation?" Stein asked. "Preferably any evidence if he knew about the base or not?"

"You know Sci-Net, right, boss?" Tina asked.

"Yeah. That computer network that DARPA scientists use for strange phenomena and hints," Stein replied. "It's like our own private internet, ain't it? Did he hack into it?"

"Sometimes, researchers anonymously contact each other and exchange favors on it," Tina continued. "Someone took a request for some code able to crack a certain, specialized type of encryption, and didn't get any worthwhile feedback. So, they then reposted it on a conspiracy theorists' board that Dave frequented."

"So they farmed out their work to the opposing team unknowingly," Sean nodded. "Smart idea, using their enemies to cover their tracks like that."

"When I talked to him, I got a feel for his personality," Tina explained. "He believed the government wasn't being transparent about all of its funding, and most taxpayer dollars vanished to pay for political pork and for politicians' private parties."

Sean rolled his eyes. "And the sky's blue, too. There's one thing I can agree with him on."

"His response was to try hacking secure systems to find out where every dollar went," Tina continued. "So, unsurprisingly, he began poking into black budgets a while. He became increasingly paranoid since, and frequenting encrypted forums full of like minded paranoid people. It's around then he cut off contact with me, and most of his other contacts."

"Eh, still taking it personally?" Noel added, waving his hand. "Believe me, girl, I know what that's like."

"Did he ever hack into Sci-Net?" Jane asked. "Seems like that might be a goal of his."

"Not that I knew of, and no record on his computer," Tina replied. "If he did, he was either real good at covering it up or too afraid to come forward. I honestly don't think he ever knew of it, which isn't surprising."

"But he'd definitely have interest in accessing it," Jane replied, and turned to Stein. "Perhaps if you still have interest in recruiting him, sir, that may be used as an offer?"

"Let's get his ass awake first," Sean replied. "Hey, Agents, drive us around the block a few times."

The truck began to move, circling the suburban streets. Sean shook their guest until he awoke. "Rise and shine!" he said.

"Huh?" he replied in a half awake state. "Where am I?"

"Hey, sir, don't you think we should give him some time to wake up?" Jane suggested. "Waking up after being chased is going to be traumatic enough."

"Oh, just leave the talking to me," Tina purred. "I can really push his buttons. Even more than yours, dear."

"Aw," Noel replied. "Go play with our friend. He needs you more than I do."

Tina's robot began to caress the hacker's arms and legs. Dave moaned as he opened his eyes and focused on what was happening. His eyes shot open and he pulled himself back. It was then he realized he was surrounded by a motley group of strangers. Tina and Jason guessed they would be able to detect a spike in David's blood pressure if they were observing that. His entire body seemed to jolt, and goosebumps formed on his skin.

"Oh, shit!" he looked away from everyone around him. "It's down to Gitmo now, isn't it?"

"Can you answer some questions for me, dear?" Tina's voice purred as a mechanical hand massaged him under the chin.

"Wait, dear," he looked at Tina's robot, recoiling in horror. "I just wanted to ask you a few questions. Do you remember me?"

"Tina Turner, right?" the scared hacker gasped. "Don't tell me you were working for the Feds! I thought you worked for Singulartech!"

"My real name's Tina Turing, and I work for both, dear," Tina replied. "The government's pretty big, and all you need to do is find an agency with similar concerns to yours."

"You sold me out!" the hacker accused, tears welling up in his eyes. "And you didn't even have the nerve to show up in person!"

"I know you didn't believe me, dear," Tina replied. "But I really am an AGI. This robot is my main physical form."

"What the hell?!" Dave exclaimed. "But on your webcam, you seemed so-"

"Natural? Yeah, I know," Tina replied. "That was all fake. Of all the smut I uploaded, I'm proud to say I simulate only the highest quality, with aim to stimulate."

The mechanical hand moved towards the hacker's pants. Stein and Jane looked away. Bear did not observe the hacker at all, instead using a nearby console to sort through data that Tina had taken from the computer. Noel observed the hacker's "interrogation."

"It's not like you didn't know human-level AGIs existed, dear," Tina continued. "You were smart enough to hack all that information about the Science Wars, the Neutrino Case Files, and the other stuff."

"So it's about us, then?" Dave winced. "I know I cut off contact, but I was afraid of this! Did you send these Feds after me?"

"No, I'm used to it," Tina replied. "This isn't about us, it's about you."

"About me, then?" Dave looked up at Stein, who glanced back at him out of curiosity. "I'm guilty of hacking into Federal computer files, writing the code to do so, leaking files to the media, and I just attacked some of you today with knives. I did so in self defense, and in defense of my country! The greatest form of patriotism is dissent, and you won't be able to silence the truth for long! I gladly go as a martyr to truth!"

"We're not here about that, honey," Tina stroked David's leg, drawing his attention back at the robot. "We're here to ask about some specific code you wrote. Specifically last March, from the date on the file. Designed to penetrate a very specific type of encryption."

The hacker, who had worked himself up into an excited state, released his sucked in chest and leaned back into the chair. It was like a block of ice melting into a puddle of slush.

"You think I remember that far back?" David shrugged. "I took requests from a message board all the time for programming. I don't remember many of the specifics."

"It's alright," the robot fondled his leg. "I do."

"You went through my computer, didn't you?" Halitsky stared at the robot's camera eye, which was looking back at him.

Tina snickered. "Of course! There were no additional traces of contact with the guilty party. I scanned your computer completely, and your online accounts too."

"Then why do all this to me?" David complained, lurching forward. "Let me out!"

Stein turned back to face the hacker. He leaned one foot on the counter nearby, and looked down at the hacker. David backed away, intimidated by the muscular man with the shaven head. Sean Stein locked him with a steely gaze. Then, he extended his hand, producing the key behind him.

"Think of it as a job interview," Stein replied. "I'm Sean Stein, and I want you for the Argonaut Initiative."

"Oh, please!" David muttered. "Last I heard of them, they were mostly killed in action and disbanded six months ago! I heard some pencil-pushing asshole got everyone killed. Just another example of government incompetence."

"Now that I'm in charge, we're recruiting some new talent," Stein gestured to the team. "And we're trying to fix that. Tina here's a member."

"I had myself donated from Singulartech when I heard about this organization," Tina purred. "This job's got plenty of perks."

"Like posing as Feds and chasing down people in suburban New York?" David replied. "Tina, I expected better from you!"

"Remember that secured network you couldn't gain access to?" Tina added. "That one you had heard of, but never could gain the proof you wanted?"

"Yeah, Sci-Net," David added. He suddenly seemed more perky and upbeat, as if a light had turned on in his mind. "You mean you can get me access to that?"

"Of course, dear," Tina continued. "And we can put you in Witness Protection, our own bunker, or a nice, remote location away from your current place. You'll be paid pretty well, too."

"Oh, so you're trying to buy me off, is that it?" David asked. "Well, honesty and the truth is not for sale!"

"I never said you had to sell off honesty or truth," Stein added. "I just want someone with connections to the online underworld. Now, I know you've been to some fucked up places online, and I don't judge too much. My job's to ensure this here planet doesn't end up wiped out by some super-science gone mad, manage my troops, and do it all on a budget smaller than a county college."

"So, you want me to just give up on my search for truth?" David complained. "And work for the people I'm trying to reveal? Your masters are ultimately corrupt politicians!"

"Politicians have little direct input into this organization. The ones directly in charge of this organization are some of the greatest scientific minds in the country," Jason added in. "They are known as the "JASONs," after the months "July-August-September-October-November," in which they meet. They are formally organized as the MITRE-"

"Shh!" Noel tried to silence the cyborg. "Let's not bore him too much."

"Dear, the bottom line is this," Tina said. "You can continue what you were doing, only with us watching your back, and doing some research for us now and then. We can move you some place other than your basement, and give you some more security. We can give you training, guns, and access to Sci-Net. If you find something you don't like, feel free to leak it to the media.."

"Just imagine the smug look on politicians' faces vanishing as they're put in cuffs and paraded in front of the media," Stein leaned back and grinned. "Just warms my heart too."

Jane turned her attention away from the conversation and focused on one of the monitors. It was the view from a concealed camera observing the rear of the truck. There was a strange black sedan following them. It had government tags on it, and four Agent-like individuals occupied the car. The angular vehicle patrolled closely behind them, practically tailgating. To Jane Doe, this was not only suspicious, but downright sloppy. Someone wanted to draw attention to themselves by sending out a black car with government tags and suited operatives who stuck out in a suburban environment more a flying saucer.

"Hey, Dr. Bear, mind running the plates of that car?" she gestured to the monitor. "Tell me who or what agency it's registered to."

"Car registered to FBI, believed stolen two weeks ago," Jason noted in a disinterested voice. "Behavioral pattern does not match with standard FBI tactics."

"That I know," Jane nodded. "Hey, Stein, we might have company!"

Stein turned away from the conversation for an instant, with an irritated look on his face. Jane only pointed to the car. The former Marine cursed to himself, and grabbed two weapons off the opposite wall. He loaded a Steyr AUG, and slid an HK SOCOM pistol into his holster. "Agents, get us somewhere remote!" he shouted. "I get a hunch these assholes ain't the neighborhood watch. Punch it!"

There was no gradual acceleration to a higher speed. Instead, there was a jolt in the rear of the truck as the vehicle suddenly accelerated. The truck gained speed, and one of the strange agents in the pursuing car stuck something out of the window. An HK UMP fired rounds at the back of the truck, causing bullets to start pinging off the rear. If Jane recalled correctly, trucks like this were often equipped with concealed armor similar to that of an armored car. Still, enough bullets would punch through. There were weak points along the truck's body, as she recalled. The fact it was intended for defense and concealment allowed them limited opportunities to return fire.

The truck began shaking back and forth as it picked up speed. The weapons and monitors on the walls did not shake as much as Jane thought that they would, due to their restraints. The entire truck suddenly jolted to the side. Turning her attention to a monitor, Jane could see the car had tried ramming itself into the side of the truck. The move made no sense to Jane. The car was moving slower or at a constant speed to them, and had less mass. The angle of the impact was so small, the car would be otherwise parallel with the truck.

The front right of the enemy car was bent, but not totaled. It was as though the car was trying to nudge them. For an automotive assault, it was unlikely they'd be trying to attack using a smaller car at a slow speed and firing randomly with a weapon unable to penetrate their target. Jane looked more closely at the camera feed from the left side of the truck. One of the rear side doors of the car was opened, and there were three people inside it. One person was missing from inside.

"Hey, do you have any roof cameras?" she asked Stein. "I think we've got someone on top!"

"He's welcome to try!" Stein muttered. "The whole rear roof's covered with armor!"

Almost on cue, the sound of something moving on the roof echoed through the truck.

"Sir, there are structural and unprotected weak points on the vehicle's roof," Jason added. "The rear is the only armored part of the truck. While it was being constructed, the cargo container was the primary retrofitted part of the chassis. The only modifications to the front were an engine and bulletproof glass."

"Damn!" Stein cursed. He pointed his AUG upwards at the roof of the cabin. "Agents, shake 'em off!"

The Agents began swerving the truck back and forth. The guns and electronic equipment began to shake a bit more violently, smashing against the wall.

"What the hell's going on?" Dave asked from the chair he was handcuffed to. "What's going on?"

"I think it's the parts of the government who don't like us trying to resolve their differences," Tina calmly noted. "Chances are, they were watching you and wanted to silence you and us at the same time. If I were you, dear, these are the people I'd run from. "

The hacker looked wistfully at the wall of weapons. "Why run when you've got firepower like that?" he grinned. "Since getting a gun was too hard, I had to use knives. Still, either would be good about now!"

"Hey! Talk after these guys are compost!" Stein shouted. "Damn, we're not shaking him! He glue himself to the truck or something?"

It was then a blast of gunfire tore through the top of the cab. Bullets perforated both of the Agents. Jets of crimson splattered across the front of the car. Stein fired a burst from his AUG through the roof as he realized what had happened. Jane, Noel, and Jason grabbed onto solid bars on the walls. One set of Tina's hands held onto the wall, and the others held onto the handcuffed, panicking David Halitsky. Sean Stein tried climbing into the driver's seat, firing upwards at the roof as he did so. He wanted to try to keep whoever was firing away from the roof, hopefully long enough to regain control of the truck.

Sean Stein wriggled his way through the narrow opening between the back of the truck and the two front seats, keeping his rifle's muzzle facing upwards. He could see the muzzle of a gun sticking through the roof., and he fired where he presumed the shooter would be perched. The staccato of gunfire temporarily deafened the former Marine in the enclosed cabin. He shoved the body of the Agent to the side, and jammed his foot down on the gas. His foot, falling as if it was made of lead, did indeed hit the brake.

However, the truck began to skid. Stein tried to turn the wheel, when an unwelcome sight appeared in the rear view mirror. The truck was still upwards at an angle, with two of its wheels in the air and two others barely on the ground. The black car appeared alongside them, and slammed into the rear of the truck at an angle and at a much higher speed. The car totaled itself as the three men inside bailed out. Stein cursed to himself as he held the steering wheel closer. The truck fell onto its side, and skidded forwards off the road. There was a sparks as metal grinded against asphalt, and a loud, shriek as momentum sent the truck sliding forwards.

In the rear of the truck, Jason used his grappling hook to hold himself in place, holding Noel, Jane, David, and whatever parts of Tina's robot would fit in the cyborg's massive grasp. He used his body to shield the group from the debris flying around the rear of the truck. Bear closed what was left of his organic eyes under his opaque helmet, and hoped his comrades would be unharmed. He felt objects tearing into his hazmat suit from all angles, and some even cutting into his flesh. He would have a lot more to patch up than a single lucky knife strike if they survived this. With him doing this, the odds of them surviving increased significantly. Bear held onto the team as the overturned truck slowed to a stop on the side of the road.

"Hey, everyone okay back there?" Stein shouted. "We got at least three hostiles out there!"

"Minimal injuries on personnel in rear of vehicle," Jason reported in a monotone voice. "Evacuation of vehicle recommended."

"No need to tell me twice," Stein replied. Sean opened the truck's driver side door, smashing it open with the butt of his rifle. He pulled himself out of the wrecked vehicle, with some minor scrapes and bruises across his body. Stein swept the rifle around as he climbed out of the cabin, searching for any enemies. The door of the truck was reinforced with Kevlar and the windows were bulletproof glass, so it would act as cover if their enemies were waiting.

Looking onto the roof of the cab, he saw the enemy operative who had climbed aboard. He had several chest wounds, and an HK submachnegun remained in his hands. The question as to how he managed to remain aboard the truck even as it sped was answered when the Marine looked on the dead man's hands and feet. There was a gray, skintight material over them. Immediately, Stein recognized this as gecko-padding, a high tech material using thousands of microscopic suction cups to hold heavy objects onto walls and ceilings. The fact that they also had access to it meant whoever had sent them also had knowledge of their covert technologies.

He surveyed his surroundings. They were in a wooded area along the side of the road. There was moderate traffic nearby. Local police would probably be responding soon. Sean Stein wasn't concerned with them. On paper, they were an experimental FBI unit on an unannounced training exercise gone awry.

Sean Stein saw a familiar car with a totaled front pulling off the side of the road. Cursing to himself, he took cover behind the truck. He didn't want to return fire in their direction, since a few stray rounds could hit civilians and bystanders.

"Everyone, fall back to the woods!" he ordered. "End this fight fast, and make sure no bystanders get hit!"

Around the rear of the truck, Bear was helping the others get out. Noel still held a pair of Rugers, Jane had her own Ruger, Dr. Bear still held his shotgun, and Tina had a pistol in one hand and lifted the still-handcuffed David with the other. With the other weapons inaccessible, they would have to make due with what they had loaded out with. The group used the truck as cover and began to flank the trio of suited operatives who emerged from the black car.

The three gunmen each had a UMP, and were firing at him. Sean figured he would draw their fire, and darted into the woods. There was a small babbling brook with several trees around it. Sunlight penetrated the woods from through the tops of the mostly leafless trees. The Marine took cover in the stream bed, allowing the cold water to soak into his clothing. He could see trees splintering around him, and the cacophany of gunfire. He fired in bursts from his Steyr, squeezing the trigger to unleash lead. A well-aimed rifle hit one of the goons in the chest, causing him to fall prone. He probably had on some bulletproof vest. So, for the second burst, the AUG put lead between the wounded gunman's eyes.

Despite having been reduced to a duo, the gunmen continued advancing towards the Marine. He depressed the trigger, but the gun went dry. He switched to his SOCOM pistol, firing rounds at the two as they took cover behind trees. They reloaded their UMPs, and continued pressing forwards. They were now at point blank range, standing over the bed of the creek. Stein fired at one, but his pistol ran dry as well. The two held their weapons over him with a cold, professional gaze behind their dark glasses. They were about to finish him.

A gunshot rang out, and Stein expected it was the end. There was a 'splash' as a body fell into the creek. One of the gunmen was about to fire a blast at Stein's head when he fell over, unconscious. Stein exhaled in relief. The remaining gunman whipped around and fired what was left of his magazine into the general direction the shot came from. It was then that Stein saw several tranquilizer darts strike the man in the face and torso. Another gunshot rang out, and Sean Stein saw the source of them. Dr. Bear was holding his Benelli shotgun. Behind him, everyone else had their tranquilizer pistols out. David Halitsky stood there, shocked at what had just taken place.

"Holy shit!" he looked around. "Someone must really have it in for you guys!"

"So, don't want to join up, then?" Stein muttered. "Can't say I blame you."

"No, no, you've got it all wrong!" the hacker added. "I know I don't trust the government much, but I'm going to need protection. Living in my basement just paints a bullseye on my back."

"So, you'll join us, dear?" Tina stroked his back. "It'll be good to have a hacker as skilled as you with us."

"If you've got an AGI, why the hell would you even need a hacker?" David asked. "And can someone get me out of these cuffs? They're starting to hurt!"

"Tina's silly and spends a lot of her bandwidth producing smut," Noel remarked. "So, a second computer whiz is always a good idea. Especially one with connections to the digital underworld."

"My online connections are just people on that conspiracy board," David replied. "And some software pirates, hackers, and online scammers. Nothing too interesting. I tried looking for arms dealers, but became too paranoid, given how much this state cracks down on guns. Now, can you get me out of the cuffs?"

"Not yet, dear," Tina said, pointing one of her hands at police cars approaching the scene. "This is all part of an FBI training exercise gone awry."

"Got it," he said.

Sean instructed Jane and Noel to lead the "prisoner" towards the sirens near the front of the woods. Sean mentally rehearsed his lines for the local police. Tina retreated back into the wrecked truck, to scavenge anything she could from the computers.

To subtle for anyone else to notice, certain chemicals filled the air. Jason Bear ignored the commotion caused by the police sirens and approached the downed enemy gunmen. Wisps of smoke appeared behind the ears of the unconscious gunmen. Jason ran to the closest one, and felt the back. As he suspected, the gunmen were artificial Agents. They lacked the ID chips that he always inserted into the Initiative's Agents, and had none of the other distinctive markers he used. The self destruct inside was destroying their "brains," which were a combination of silicon and organic processing elements. Bear activated his thermoptic camo, making him much harder to spot in the woods. Jason dragged the bodies into the stream bed, and began to cut through their skulls with his trench knife, recovering any remaining hardware he could.

He ensured the new recruit, the local police, and their potential recruit, could not see what was going on. The events of such a day would normally be overwhelming to most. The loyalties of the hacker would have to be confirmed, but for now, he had at least been located before the hostile Agents could. Given the psychological profile of the hacker, his behavior, and recent events was likely he now was more interested in the Initiative than threated. The recent attack had probably caused him to subconsciously rely on them as his allies. While his computer abilities were certainly formidable, he would enjoy other technologies. Dr. Bear presumed that "1kt0m1" would have interest in combining his parkour abilities with the gecko-pads once he was made aware of their technical capacities.

There was a strong indication the same party responsible for the Everglades raid had sent these Agents after them. Given the files they had hacked from the servers, it was likely they knew about most of their equipment and government connections. Their rival likely had government connections as well. The false story would resolve things locally, and an FBI official who never existed would "resign" over the fallout. For now, there was much work to be done. There were some questions, and few answers.