August 15th, 2013 CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia
“I apologize for my late arrival, ma’am,” said Special Agent Aaron Hinds entering through the glass door. He wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead and smiled nervously. The forty-two year-old African-American agent wearing dark rimmed glasses and a lightly wrinkled gray suit quickly strolled over to a flat-screen monitor mounted on the wall. He shakily lifted a remote toward the screen, pressed a button, and glanced over at his beautiful boss sitting at the far end of the large conference room. “I didn’t realize I would be presenting the quarterly training data to you myself, today. My supervisor just told me when I came to work this morning...well, I...nevermind, I’ll get to it.”
CIA Director Annalisa Moore, an attractive woman with an IQ that rivaled her appearance, smiled, laced her fingers in front of her, and leaned forward. Her tanned skin glowed from the monitor’s luminance. “You’re quite alright, agent. Now, please, take a breath and show me the standings.”
“Y-y-yes, ma’am. So, here is the latest from The Farm, erm, Camp Peary, just as you have requested, madam Director.” Agent Hinds swallowed and pressed a button on the remote, forcing himself to look away from the woman and toward the screen filled with charts. “As you can see, recruit Hitchens is tied for top of his class just as you have...”
“Do you know if Agent Fitz is continuing to give him a hard time?” she interrupted.
Aaron turned around once again to stare at the CIA Director. “I believe he has, ma’am. I would say he’s pulled out all of the stops. After reviewing footage from around the facility, it appears that Agent Fitzpatrick has repeatedly attempted to, um...sabotage recruit Hitchens’ finals in some form or another. During the last timed armed qualification test, for example, Agent Fitzpatrick apparently issued Recruit Hitchens a jammed firearm. Another recruit tossed Hitchens his weapon upon completion allowing Recruit Hitchens to complete the exam tying for first place.”
“Interesting. Tell me, what is that recruit’s name, Agent Hinds?” the director asked.
“Christopher ‘Chris’ Biltmore, I believe. I would have to verify...”
“The recruit from Yale?”
“Yes, ma’am, that would be the one. He and Hitchens are in the top two spots. They have been working together it appears.”
“Working together? That’s a change. What do you make of that, Agent Hinds?”
“Honestly, it’s a mystery to me, ma’am. I can dig in a bit further if you like?”
“No, it’s fine...um, Agent Hinds? Forgive me, but may I call you Aaron?”
“Ma’am? Oh, yes, by all means.”
“Thank you. So, Aaron, tell me, how many years have you analyzed recruit data?
“A little over twelve years, ma’am. I have been with the Company for a total of fifteen.”
“And you probably have a nose for talent?”
“I would like to think so.”
Annalisa paused. “But your background is in I.T., correct?”
Aaron shrugged, wondering where this line of questioning was going. “Well, sort of. Basically, I just keep an eye on the activities at Camp Peary, now.”
“Weren’t you involved with Deep Web analysis at one time?”
Aaron sighed. This was a touchy subject that he wished he didn’t have to discuss. “Yes, a few years ago I ran a small team of analysts watching Deep Web transmissions from our overseas ops teams in web censored locations. Our mission was to make sure their communications were getting through to the right channels...”
“You lost that position after 9/11, correct?”
“Yes...sort of,” the agent replied and lowered his head. “I didn’t find the overseas communication until it was too late, so, I thought it best if I resigned.”
Annalisa placed her chin on her fingertips. “I see. Well, what do you think of him, Aaron?”
“Recruit Biltmore, what do you think about him? Is he reliable?”
“You want to know my opinion?” the agent inquired in astonishment. For years, no one had requested his opinion on anything -well, no official higher than his Department Manager- and now for the Director to call him by his first name, he felt as if he might lose consciousness.
“Yes agent, you have watched Fitz’s little pissing match of a temper tantrum in greater depth than anyone and recruit Biltmore was involved. What do you think of recruit Biltmore’s potential?”
“I think in some ways he is the polar opposite of recruit Hitchens. He has the tendency to be an arrogant asshole and seems to wear a very unearned chip on his shoulder. However, in the past few weeks something has changed and I feel it’s due to his newfound and very unexpected relationship with Recruit Hitchens. It’s this recent growth that drives me to believe he might make an excellent agent...eventually.” Aaron grinned. “It would be worth it to pair Hitchens and Biltmore together in the field at some point in the future, just to see how much they could help each other overcome their various shortcomings.”
“Turn off the monitor and have a seat, Aaron,” the woman said.
“Please, call me Annalisa,” the Director responded with a smile and then patted the back of the leather chair next to her. “C’mon, I said, park your ass in a seat!”
Aaron stumbled over and extracted the overstuffed brown chair from beneath the shiny wood table. He sat and, noticing his hands were shaking, quickly lowered them below the tabletop.
“I have reviewed your files, Aaron, and all of them show you have an exemplary track record of dependability. Your work ethic is top notch...have you ever even missed a day at work?”
“Twice...back in the winter of 1999 was the first time, I believe. It was the flu. Something going around the office, you know?” he responded nervously. Aaron swallowed. “And then there was September 10th, 2001. I haven’t touched a drop since...”
Annalisa nodded in understanding. “No wife, kids, family, right?”
“None. Married to the Company.”
“Aren’t we all,” Annalisa said with a smile. “Well, I just might have a new assignment for you if you are up for it?”
“An assignment?” Aaron asked, now seated fully erect.
The Director produced a binder with an official Central Intelligence Agency seal and the red letters ‘Top Secret’ emblazoned over its cover. She slid it in front of Agent Hinds. “What do you know of human sex trafficking, Aaron?”
“Enough to know there are some sick people in this world.”
“Would you be willing to put your life on the line to change that?” Annalisa asked and then tapped the report.
Aaron lifted the folder’s cover, grimaced, and then quickly slammed the binder closed. “That’s awful. How can one human being do that to another?”
“I don’t know, but people will do all sorts of things for money and power. I’ve seen it firsthand the world over.”
Aaron looked up at Annalisa. “Is this related to some sort of terrorist plot or something, ma’am? Why is the CIA so interested?”
“Let’s just say someone very important is,” the Director replied. “...and so am I. It is one of the reasons the President gave me this position. I’ve seen the destruction this activity creates, Aaron, the lives it destroys. The CIA already has a bad image when it comes to questionable activity surrounding similar behavior and I cannot openly comment on what some rogue actors have or haven’t done in the United States’ name in the past. However, I can address this issue in my way, starting right here and right now as Director.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, what’s this important person’s interest with all of this?” Aaron inquired, looking down at the report beneath his hands. He drummed his fingers on the cover nervously. “I apologize in advance if this seems out of line, but when it comes to politicians...”
Annalisa raised a hand. “No, but I understand what you are thinking...that there is some sort of political angle involved with this; however, I assure you it’s not. It has to do with someone very important and their relative; a niece. A young woman that went missing overseas over two years ago when she was working with Physicians Without Boundaries. She vanished without a trace from a United Nations medical tent. Apparently, whoever abducted her didn’t know who they had taken. Then, a year ago a former U.N. soldier working as a security contractor claimed to have seen the same missing doctor in Afghanistan. He said he heard she was bought at a slave auction and that’s when I got the first phone call. By the time we got a team in there, she was gone. But last week, in a SAD recon mission, the CIA’s photo recognition software spotted what appeared to be this same woman matching her features once more. She was standing next to an Afghani warlord in an area of Afghanistan where U.S. loyalties are very tenuous. Finally, my longtime pet project was given full funding and a greenlight.”
“Ah, I see. This VIP and their family wants their niece back and you are using this as an opportunity to tackle something you think needs to be addressed...brilliant.”
Annalisa smiled. “So, are you interested?”
Aaron nodded slowly. “Absolutely.”
“Excellent. Now, I want you to do something for me. I need you to go pick up Biltmore and Hitchens. I understand they are in Richmond right now role-playing a recruitment scenario with the FBI. I asked the Bureau to send my brother in to detain them. He and Hitchens are well acquainted and I don’t want anyone getting hurt. Then, go tell that idiot Fitz to release them to you with full agent status. That should piss him right off.”
“Me? You know that I’m just an analyst, ma’am...”
“Not any longer, Field Commander Hinds. I’m placing you in charge of this thing.”
Aaron nearly fell from his chair. “I haven’t run an op (operation) since...”
Annalisa reached over and patted Aaron on the hand. “This is a different kind of op and from what I can see...you are a different man, now, are you not?”
The Director smiled. “Your team will fall under the Special Activities Division, but it is its own entity. I need someone who knows the Deep Web and can monitor and use it. That’s where these people exist, but it’s also how you and your team are going to communicate, because there is one thing you must understand, Aaron. Your team will be on their own. No protection. I want you and your people to be ghosts.”
“So, director, you are saying we will be expendable? Is that why you have selected me and two new recruits for whatever this op is? That’s Hitchens and Biltmore’s purpose in all of this, then?” Aaron asked, a bit concerned that he might have overstepped.
Annalisa was unfazed. “No, I prefer to think you and your team will become so good they will be unstoppable,” Annalisa said with a slanted grin. “Seriously, Aaron I need people with a solid core, ready to give everything for another human being, and I feel these people that I have selected, are the best suited for this task. In fact, I am willing to make my own sacrifices in pursuit of these goals.”
Aaron looked down at the table as if contemplating his situation. “I see.”
“Let’s get everyone assembled and I’ll brief you all at once.”
“Yes ma’am.” Aaron stood. “Can you at least tell me what this division is called?”
“Clandestine Human Recovery or simply, CHR.”