A man of persuasion
Stoneman had made it his lifelong ambition to control the human mind. Once he could master that, he could achieve ultimate control. Torture, interrogation, pleasure, fear, avarice, mental cruelty, hypnosis, drugs; all were tools available to him for experimentation, to help him understand and identify how he could overcome the human instinct for resistance and survival. He needed to destroy the human spirit in order to be able to manipulate and control. His new-found ability to control the President’s mind would certainly help, but he needed to make sure he had mastered this skill before assuming it would give him what he desired.
Stoneman had achieved institutional power and now he had unrestricted access to any facility – experimental, scientific, research, intelligence and information, the list was endless. To top it all, he had unlimited funding to support his on-going work that was necessary to achieve his objectives. The Treasury didn’t exactly agree to the CIB having this access, but the President (that is, Stoneman) had decreed the State’s need to achieve control of the people was paramount for survival and therefore he had direct access to the State coffers. Now, as Commissioner of the CIB, and with the President as his pawn, this allowed him an unparalleled opportunity to study the effects of his trade, record his findings meticulously, and invent new and more effective means of acquiring information and confessions from his subjects, ultimately leading to total control.
All the more interesting was the way in which he had ‘stumbled’ across mind-influencing techniques when interrogating subjects under the influence of Buzz. A whole new branch of study had opened up to Stoneman when using this drug as an integral element of his persuasive capabilities. As was his nature, he wanted to experience and experiment on himself and took to using Buzz, in varying doses, to understand the effects of the drug. His depth of knowledge and his desire to absorb information surpassed the finest scientific minds on the planet. With his ability, he could also cross boundaries, leading him, unbelievably, into the realms of the unknown, which included the spectral and psychic worlds. Stoneman had a true grasp of the capabilities of the human mind and, having recently experienced the ability to enter the President’s mind and manipulate him, believed he was on the verge of being able to control the thoughts and actions of many others.
Such was his reputation, every one feared him. In fact, he was now the most powerful man in New York State. The President despised him, hated him, wished him dead, but had no other choice than to suffer him. He was highly nervous due to the power Stoneman had amassed in such a short time, and the fact that he had dispatched his assassins so easily, and had ordered the summary execution of the Commissioner, his closest confidant and friend. He was deeply worried about the information Stoneman had acquired about his sexual preferences and now, to top it all, Stoneman was in his head telling him what to do.
“The audacity of the man, thinking he can manipulate me. I need to find a way to get rid of him,” muttered the President, keeping his voice down, unsure if Stoneman could hear his thoughts. “I’ll find a way.”
Stoneman’s power enabled him to gain access to anywhere and anything he wanted at any time. His almost insane interest in Buzz had him accessing secret military and government scientific laboratory files for data from the period when the drug was first trialled as a weapon. Although implied to be a weapon, it was actually a catalyst that turned certain individual troopers, grouped by similar physical and mental characteristics, into a collective unit, all linked by common thought, which substantially improved their fighting capabilities and gave them increased strength and speed. Initially the findings were impressive. Units under the controlled influence of the drug produced amazing results in the theatre of war – minimal casualties and the ability to overcome enemies swiftly and with deadly force. As is always the case, the hierarchy demanded and expected far greater results and achievements as time went on. Doses were increased and soon came chronic addiction to the point where some individuals within the collective units went insane and turned on their colleagues with disastrous results.
The project was scrapped, though, as is usually the case in a capitalist and opportunist world, someone saw the potential for an addictive substance and it was soon on the streets, controlled by the criminal underworld, wreaking havoc on what was left of a ‘civilised’ society. Stoneman was fascinated with the side-effects and the way in which they manipulated the minds of unsuspecting weak humans. He pressed on relentlessly, trying to identify improvements to the composition, strength and side effects of Buzz. He was looking for the key to complete and utter mind control and loyalty to him. He didn’t actually realise he wasn’t that far away from achieving this; the means to achieving this final step were literally only metres away…
A month on from his encounter with the President and Stoneman was passionately delivering his trade to a shadow of a wretch suspected of informing on CIB activities. In reality, this poor individual was a vagrant dependant on Buzz; the tag of ‘informant’ was purely the licence to interrogate with whatever means possible. He was yet another experimental subject to be used in the name of progress.
Stoneman was in his interrogation suite; a fully mirrored room – walls, ceilings, floor, door – all crystal clean and soundproofed. The room was very bright, illuminated by light that was refracted between the mirror seams. The intensity was such that it irradiated the room but, strangely, it did not reflect on the mirrors or form shadows. The light was bearable unless looked at directly within the seams, where it pierced the eye like a laser and was pinpoint painful – a subtle touch invented by Stoneman as a means to ensure those being questioned stayed focussed on the matter in hand. Behind one mirrored wall was an anteroom used for private viewings; the view into the interrogation suite was via a two-way mirror.
The poor hapless individual was a man named Grainger, once a dedicated civil servant who had fallen on hard times. He was picked up by CIB agents for Stoneman’s research programme after he had been ‘arrested’ for dealing in Buzz and trading CIB secrets – fabricated charges, maybe, but nobody cared or even dared to question. The completely naked Grainger was restrained in a glass chair in the centre of the room, his limbs and torso fettered by clear plastic straps that restricted all possible movement. His emaciated body had been covered in sensors that were linked to the computer in the anteroom, and his head encased in a clear plastic mould that prevented Grainger from moving away from the fixed vision immediately ahead of him – a reflection of himself with Stoneman at his side and a glass trolley adorned with a myriad of utensils – modern, ancient, evil – all waiting to be used.
As with all occupants of the chair, Grainger’s eyelids had been sewn open with rough metallic thread with enough slack to cause pain when the subject attempted to blink. This, apart from inflicting agonising pain, ensured he could not avoid the spectacle. His reflection mirrored his abject fear. He scanned the room for signs of hope (as far as his vision would allow him), but there were none.
Stoneman, his left arm in his jacket pocket, swung round in front of Grainger and spoke in a soft yet menacing tone.
“I understand, from the evidence presented to me by my agents, you’ve been passing on information of CIB activities to subversive organisations, primarily, it seems, to support your disgusting habit!” Stoneman bent closer towards Grainger and spat, “What have you to say, then?”
Grainger squirmed and tensed what little muscle he had against the restraints, but it was in vain. He saw Stoneman produce a large syringe from his jacket pocket.
“What’s that?” he gasped. “What are you going to do to me? What’s that for?” he cried.
Stoneman stood directly in front of him and smiled in such a way that Grainger clearly saw the pleasure in his eyes.
Stoneman replied, looking at the syringe as he raised it in his left hand, “Oh, this?” He paused, then, with speed beyond that of any human, he drove the syringe needle deep into Grainger’s right eye and deeper into his brain, releasing the full load instantaneously.
Grainger screamed in agony, tensing his whole body as the drug coursed through his brain.
“Don’t struggle,” said Stoneman calmly. “We don’t want to snap the needle now, do we?”
He withdrew the needle very slowly, achieving the desired impact as Grainger visibly shook with pain, shock and fear.
He then withdrew the tip of the needle quickly, deliberately snagging the pupil and said in an apologetic tone, “Oops, silly me, a bit clumsy, sorry.” Then he added mockingly, “And said with such sentiment too!”
The dispassionate manner in which Stoneman delivered his trade made him all the scarier. He loved – no, he was obsessed with – his role in life. If you happened to be in the same room as him when he was delivering each element of his trade, you would sense the extreme satisfaction he received. He most likely had an orgasm when the subject was at the height of their pain threshold.
Stoneman left Grainger moaning in the chair and strolled to the anteroom where he could observe the experiment through the mirrored wall from the comfort of his leather bucket chair with a glass of the finest bourbon.
The potentially lethal dose of Buzz was administered through the eye and deep into the subject’s brain not because this was the best method to achieve the desired results, but because it was extremely painful and Stoneman got great pleasure from doing it. The method of delivery did, however, allow the drug to course through Grainger’s brain directly, taking immediate effect. His staring eyes rolled back into his head. Eerily, the whites of his eyes reflected the bright unforgiving light of the room. His body tensed and shivered, lightly at first from the instantaneous pleasurable effects of Buzz, then violently from the surges of hallucinatory visions that conflicted with normal thought, intensifying with each breath Grainger took. Although Grainger was a hopeless Buzz addict, he was used to the watered-down dose of the street traders, usually cut with junk, rat poison or some other cheap substance. Stoneman’s was pure, concentrated and available in vast quantities, bearing in mind the fact that he now controlled production. Grainger went rigid, bursting against the restraints then suddenly he slumped, conscious yet somewhere else. His eyes returned to see his reflection in the mirrored wall ahead, then objects, things, beings, subhuman shapes appeared around him. Stoneman checked the brain activity recorder next to him on his research desk. Yes, it was OK this time. Far too often technology had let him down. He needed this material for his research. Even though there was a plentiful supply of subversives and criminals for interrogation, they could only be used once.
Grainger’s eyes appeared to grow in size as he spotted something in his peripheral vision in the mirror on his right. His mouth began to froth and the colour drained away from his skin. He was terrified, fixed to whatever he was seeing. It appeared as if he were withdrawing into the chair, seemingly retreating from something. Stoneman watched Grainger intently, clearly happy with the results of his handiwork and the victim’s brain activity that now was off the scale. Engrossed as he was with Grainger’s plight and the multiple screens in front of him, he still managed to catch sight of something unusual; an apparent rippling of the mirrored wall on his left. As it rippled, it shimmered and pulsed. After a few moments, ‘something’ started to emerge out of the glass and it headed towards Grainger. It reached him. It had no real form or substance but wisp-like tendrils snaked over and around him, ‘sniffing’, ‘touching’, almost ‘tasting’ him. It then started to engulf him, covering his extremities first, unbuckling the fetters with ease and releasing Grainger. It halted momentarily. A tendril-like arm twisted towards the place where Stoneman sat watching from behind the mirror. It appeared to be observing him fixedly but without eyes and, in a gesture of recognition, it appeared to bow slightly and then return to its grisly work.
Grainger was so stoned on Buzz he could only portray fear physically and not vocally. To Stoneman, it was a beautiful spectacle; the sight of a human being so terrified that they could not utter a sound but their body language said it all. He was transfixed by the apparition as it totally engulfed Grainger. It proceeded to retreat back to where it had come from. Once it had fully disappeared back into the mirror, the glass again rippled, shimmered and returned to its original state bar one minor change, the mirrored surface had dulled slightly.
Stoneman got up and re-entered the room, noticing the acrid stench of urine and human waste as well as the yellow tell-tale puddle beneath the now-empty chair. A satisfying grin spread across his face as he reflected on the extreme fear Grainger had experienced, which had caused him to defecate as a consequence. He made a note to get the cleaners to mop up and sterilise the room again. He examined the chair. The restraints had been delicately undone along with the mind probes and body sensors. It was all left as if ready for the next guest. His eyes shifted towards the mirror and he moved across to where the apparition had first come through. His eyes took in every detail, searching for the key to unlock the world that he knew was on the other side. The mirror had dulled; it was greyish in appearance, almost transparent, with a suggestion of depth that was difficult for ‘normal’ human eyes to perceive, but then Stoneman was no ordinary human. He reached out and touched the mirror. “Cold as usual; solid and unforgiving in its reflections,” he thought, “yet I sense power beyond. Nothing to show me how to get beyond; I need to review the CCTV and the brain patterns of the volunteer.” He turned and, as he did so, he brought his cell phone out of his breast pocket, dialled a number, placed the phone to his ear and barked the order to get his interrogation suite cleaned immediately. He ended the call and left the room, making his way to his penthouse.
Quite unusually for Stoneman, he had failed to notice the glass pebble in the corner of the room as he left. His mind had been concentrating on the evening’s work and how he could forward his quest to control the human mind through pain and suffering.
He reached his office and surveyed the databank – the greatest and most powerful computer system ever designed and operated in the known world. The CIB had amassed aeons of data, image recordings, TV and radio transmissions, telephone and mobile communications; you name it, it was on this mainframe. The data was continually reviewed, analysed, dissected and reassembled. If it was of the slightest interest, it was re-filed for further investigation. All suspicious incidents or events were investigated by the notorious CIB agents.
Stoneman was now the ultimate power behind this incredible knowledge bank. Hardly anything managed to escape the ever-watchful eyes and ears of his beloved CIB. Nobody was safe; every single person in New York State had a profile that was linked to at least one misdemeanour. No matter how trivial, it gave Stoneman the power to interrogate anyone he pleased, if he so wished. Although the mainframe was the CIB’s principal tool against subversion, it was Stoneman’s key to the domination of the human race and he had ensured private access to the entire system and the information contained therein. In addition to stored information, he also had access to the greatest scientific minds for assistance, should he require them. Nobody dared refuse him. He was also careful to assign experimentation and study in small un-associated packages, segregating elements, never having anyone work on the same package more than once. This ensured that only he would ever know the outcomes of his experimentation and there was no trace to his ultimate objective of absolute power. Nobody was to undermine or usurp him, though, as he was already so powerful, it appeared that nobody could.
He made himself a coffee, went into the lounge and picked up his newly found companion off the couch – a huge midnight-black tomcat that he had named Abbadon(7) (primarily due to his aggressive nature, aura of evil and unusual fire-red eyes). It was strange how a cat had appeared so suddenly in Stoneman’s life, especially as he had never been an animal lover and, as a child, he had been more inclined to capture them, research their kind, identify their position in the food chain and cruelly pit them against their adversaries in cages – to the death of course. Abbadon, though, just happened to appear from nowhere one day and follow him in off the street, making his way right up to the penthouse and ensconcing himself inside.
Abbadon introduced himself to Stoneman that day by leaping up onto his desk. He sat right in front of him, purring, staring directly into Stoneman’s eyes, hypnotically bonding. It was an instant allegiance; Stoneman felt like he had always known this devilishly ugly feline. It was a true kinship, something he had never experienced before in his life. This kinship was sealed by Abbadon launching himself at Stoneman’s face, deeply clawing his right cheek and Stoneman instantaneously drawing his push knife, nicking Abbadon’s right ear. They both settled quickly, following this violent moment, and tended to their wounds as blood brothers. Since then Abbadon had been forever in close proximity whenever Stoneman was in the penthouse, almost as if he were protecting him.
Stoneman began reviewing the day’s collection of video images and data, aligning the images from all angles with the sound recordings and brain readings from Grainger. He then started from when he had first entered the room. This was the most satisfying part; he could watch himself enter and see the expression on the face of the client, listen to the fear in his voice and see the spike on the brain activity readings when Grainger realised it was him.
He stroked Abbadon and spoke softly to him, “I do command respect, don’t I? I have such notoriety and people fear me,” he chuckled.
Then he continued scanning the images, sounds and brain patterns, ensuring the chronological sequence was accurate to a micro second. He short-shifted time, condensing the data from beginning to end, noting the peaks and troughs of brain activity as it responded to pain and fear, and the moment the needle entered the eye to when it struck deep into the brain, the trough as the Buzz coursed through his veins and brain, searching out every nerve ending in his body. The even sharper peak when the ‘thing’ first touched him – an unusual plateau he had never seen before when the ‘thing’ had paused to make ‘contact’ with him. It was very interesting that the brain patterns of the client should recognise this. He paused his session and reflected on the contact. He felt attuned, in harmony, even at one; there was a sense of belonging, family, a feminine link with evil, ultimate power and control. He tagged this section of data for further analysis.
“Now, Abbadon, how do you think the entity got through and left again?”
Stoneman scanned the images, played and replayed them, searching for the link between the worlds that he assumed were kept apart by the mirror barrier. There was nothing apart from the massive increases in brain activity at the critical points – administering the drug, the entry of the entity and the point at which it touched Grainger, and the contact when it finally consumed him. There must be something… Apart from the doorway and his anteroom, he knew the mirrors were encased in a concrete room – ceiling, walls and floor – so there was no breach there. It had to be another ‘dimension’, he concluded.
He checked and rechecked the point of entry again and again.
“Hang on, Abbadon, what’s that?”
He replayed the point when the mirror finally closed behind the entity. There was a glint of something on the floor. He tagged the data and shut down the terminal.
“Sorry, Abbadon, have to go.”
Stoneman gently placed him back on the couch. Abbadon stretched, did a couple of pirouettes and settled down to continue his nap.
Stoneman left his fortified penthouse at the top of the CIB HQ via his private lift, reaching the depths of the subterranean basement, sixteen levels down, in a matter of minutes. He stormed out of the lift towards the interrogation suite and entered. He searched and searched, realising the room had been cleaned.
“Damn those fucking cleaners! They’ll have to answer for this!”
He pulled out his cell phone, dialled a number and barked his orders, “Hatcher, place the interrogation suite cleaners under arrest immediately and bring them in. They’ve disturbed a crime scene. I want the suite quarantined and I need a forensic team to meet me there now.”
The CIB interrogation suite had its own cleaning team. It was necessary due to the sensitivity of the work undertaken by the CIB, and more specifically, in recent months, the work undertaken by Stoneman. It was essential that only trusted people were employed. Angie and Harry Cooper had been doing this job since their retirement from the CIB, where they had both been highly respected and loyal level-A1-cleared data analysts. Their analyst roles consisted of working on the highest security, classified information. They were trusted without question, following twenty-five years of unblemished service, and although they could have continued, the mental demands placed a great strain on their aging bodies and minds. They had been physically and mentally exhausted and had decided to retire. But retirement proved a little harder than they had realised. They found they were unable to get jobs as nobody felt they could be trusted, as they had worked for the CIB. They found it very difficult to make ends meet with their meagre pensions and the monotony and subsistence living put a strain on their relationship, despite the love they had for each other. Fate played a saving role not long after they had retired; they were tipped off by a former colleague about a little cleaning job going at the CIB – good money, part-time and very secure. They soon were back and although the cleaning was extremely unpleasant and degrading at times, it was relatively stress-free, kept them active and at least the pay was good enough to allow hope for a moderately secure life. Such was the normality of the work as seen through their eyes. Having been in the CIB for so long, they thought nothing of the horrors undertaken in the cause of duty for the ruling powers.
Harry and Angie had received the call to clean up another mess.
Harry looked at Angie and said, “I wish you didn’t have to do this work, Angie, but you have to understand it’s necessary for the State to maintain order, as unpleasant as it is.”
Angie smiled and replied softly, “I suppose you’re right, Harry. You usually are. I just pity those who have done wrong.”
Harry gave her a knowing smile and thought, “How innocent she is. I love her dearly and it’s such a shame we’re having to do this despicable work to survive.”
“OK, let’s get on with the deed. You know Stoneman doesn’t like tardiness,” said Harry chirpily.
They arrived at the CIB HQ, signed in after their body scans and made their way down to the basement, collecting their gear on the way. As they entered Stoneman’s interrogation suite, they both sighed with relief. Unusually, there was not much to do – clinical mopping of the floor and cleaning of the chair, tidying the utensils (Stoneman insisted that nothing was sterilised!), buffing the somewhat dulled mirror and airing the room. It shouldn’t take long.
They began in their usual efficient way. Whilst Harry was busy cleaning the chair and sorting the instruments, Angie attempted to buff the dulled mirrored wall, but soon realised it was not due to dirt or some kind of mist or film; the mirrored wall had changed. She was somehow drawn to the translucent depth, almost sensing a kind of belonging.
“How odd,” she muttered, looking deep into the misty depths.
Her almost daydream state was distracted by a flash to her right from a tiny object in the corner of the room. Angie, pretending to continue to buff the mirror, moved and went to investigate. She stooped and picked up a small glass pebble. Again a sense of belonging, even ownership, swept over her as she cradled it in her hand. Angie quickly looked to see if she had been spotted collecting this little glass pearl. No, Harry was engrossed in his work, so she secreted it in her pocket and began the mopping.
As they finished and surveyed their work, they double-checked, making sure everything was spotless; they knew Stoneman would notice anything that was out of place. They were worried about the dulled mirror, though; as much as they had tried, it wouldn’t buff up. It had to be a fault with the glass, or at least they hoped so. They had been brought back once before to stand in front of Stoneman for a slight smear on the chair pedestal and, having been on the receiving end of a tirade of abuse and threats, they had always made sure they never would be again.
They left after putting away their gear and passed back through the body scanners on the way out. As she did so, Angie hesitated, pondering, “What if they notice my treasure?” She brushed her pocket and felt the small bulge, looked up and pressed on. Nothing, no siren or flashing red beacons signifying foreign objects not present before. She sighed with relief internally and hurried after Harry.
“Shall we pop in for a quick drink, Angie?” Harry asked.
“Why not!” came Angie’s reply, as she realised she could do with a stiff drink to calm her nerves, following the taking of an object out of the CIB HQ.
Angie could not keep her hand off what she now felt was her own personal property. The bond had clearly grown; she felt new life filtering into her aged body. “How strange,” she thought. She grasped Harry’s hand and skipped along beside him. He looked bemused at her energy and smiled. They headed off towards Mo’s Bar.
Harry and Angie were so in love. Their lives, although childless, like many other couples following the legacy of the Viral Wars, were happy. They always did everything together, no matter how trivial it might seem, and they never fell out or argued. They were so lucky to be able to work safely with each other… or so they thought.
Harry noticed the sudden change in Angie’s mood and felt cautiously cheerful and content in her newfound joy as she bounced along the sidewalk squeezing his hand in the stifling night air, smiling and humming in her own little world. He couldn’t imagine why she was like this, but he was happy for her. They turned off the sidewalk into Mo’s Bar, ducking into the neon tunnel that devoured all who entered. Mo’s was one of the few places where people could meet in relative anonymity and have a relaxing drink. That is not to say the CIB didn’t frequent the place or have it under surveillance, but it was generally agreed no State business was undertaken in or around this place, however the odd incident was inevitable, especially when drink and the odd substance was involved. Even Stoneman was known to have an occasional bourbon, though it was thought he used his time to note who was there.
Mo’s Bar was relatively busy. The heat had brought many to partake of a cool drink to provide a little light relief from this unusually long and oppressive heat wave.
“Hi, Mo,” said Harry. “Two of your coldest at our usual table please.”
He left a couple of dollars on the bar, grabbed Angie’s hand and made for their secluded table by the window. “Yep,” thought Harry, “a happy Angela most definitely!”
They arrived at the table and found a friendly companion who sat staring at the stars, blinking through the night’s haze.
“Hello, Mike,” said Harry and Angie in unison.
“How are you today?” added Angie who always had time for Mike.
“I’m very well, thank you, Angie,” replied Mike. “I’m finding the weather very muggy for a man of my years, but at least that’s given me the excuse to come here for a cold beer – for the last ninety-two days, that is!”
They all chuckled at Mike’s humble attempt at humour. He was such an affable man; he always had time for everyone and was a highly intelligent and philosophical individual and, though he said little, he always listened and, when he thought it might help, gave his valued opinion.
As Harry and Angie chatted to Mike, Harry noticed that Angie was looking longingly at Mike – not sexually, but it was as if she had suddenly come across a long-lost family member whom she had not seen for years. This was not worrying but strange, as she had never been like this before. “Ah well,” he thought, “she’s the happiest I’ve seen her for some time. I can’t ruin it for silly envy on my part,” and he returned to the conversation.
Harry interjected, “Mike, I can’t help but notice, you’re always looking towards the heavens. What do you find so fascinating?”
Mike simply turned his head and, looking deep into Harry’s eyes, said, “The future is out there, Harry.”
He pointed very accurately towards Arcturus, the brightest star in the Bootes’ constellation, without so much as a glance towards it.
He continued in a subdued and melancholy tone, “This life on Earth may soon be extinguished. The human race has had many chances to redeem the mistakes of the past, yet the greediness of a minority for power and material things, as well as their indifference towards the value of life, prevents our true destiny, to which all humans should be entitled. Without realising it, the majority of humans allow this to happen.”
Mike paused as Harry and Angie sat mesmerized, waiting for more. It came after Mike had finished a long sip of his warming beer.
“I believe there may be hope, though the path will be difficult and fraught with danger.” Again Mike paused, this time looking directly at Harry. “Lives of loved ones will be lost but their loss will not be in vain. The Gods will, as they inevitably do, take sides and join in this game of chance. Fate will rely on the assistance of a few chosen ones in determining the final roll of the dice.”
They continued to chat with Mike for the next hour, discussing the strange fog and light show and how Angie had experienced elation during the light show and a significant foreboding when the blackness had arrived. Angie clearly had difficulty coming to terms with the attraction she felt towards Mike. She wanted to touch and feel the bond she knew was there, but held back because of her love for Harry.
“We’d better go now,” said Harry as he drained the last drops from his glass. “Come on, Angie, darling, an early night beckons.”
He grabbed her hand to help her rise from the table.
Mike rose and hugged the both of them. “Be careful, you two; danger’s afoot tonight,” he whispered and waved as they left.
Mike watched them leave Mo’s and his eyes followed their journey off down the road towards their apartment until they finally disappeared as they turned the corner a block down. He returned to his stargazing, casting a longing look at the heavenly bodies that beckoned for him to return home. A sparkling tear, reflecting the stars, slowly fell from the corner of his left eye.
Harry and Angie walked hand in hand down the sidewalk towards their loving, safe home.
“I need an early night, Angie; it’s been a long day,” said Harry.
“I agree, honey,” replied Angie as she toyed with the glass pearl in her pocket – the warmth, the security, the belonging coursed through from her fingertips’ nerves to the receptors in her brain.
They entered the lobby to their apartment block and made their way up to the fourth floor by way of the ancient lift. They would prefer to have used the stairs but getting older did have significant disadvantages. They arrived on their floor, the lift groaning to a halt, the aged doors screeching in protest as they opened. They stepped out, still hand in hand, made their way to their apartment, unlocked the door and entered.
“Home,” they both muttered with a satisfying sigh.
Being creatures of habit, they set about shutting down for the night, putting everything away, ensuring it would be tidy for the morning and they got their clothes ready for the next day. Angie put the overalls they had worn for cleaning in the wash whilst Harry collected the trash.
Harry said, “Off down to empty the bins, darling.”
“OK, honey. I’m having a shower. Don’t be long!” replied Angie.
“As if I would,” mused Harry, leaving the apartment and locking the door behind him, before heading off to the lift.
He arrived at the basement, whereupon the lift doors groaned in stereo as they opened. “Strange,” thought Harry, “all the lobby lights are out. I must report this to the landlord.”
Using what little light there was from the vending machine in the far corner, Harry made his way towards the bin store. The blow to his head from behind took him by surprise and he fell in a heap, the trash bags scattering across the floor. He lay squirming, stunned, his head reeling, stabbing pains shredding his brain. He groaned and felt seriously nauseous.
Massive hands at the end of strong arms picked up his limp body as if it were weightless and slammed him into the adjacent wall, pinning him to it by means of a single hand to the neck.
“Well, hello, Mr Cooper,” said Hatcher cheerfully. “I’ve received reports of a serious theft and breach of CIB security at the HQ.” He paused. “Surprisingly, you’re involved!”
Harry tried to recover his composure, but he could not breathe as the hand that held him was crushing his windpipe.
“Cat got your tongue, Harry?” quizzed Hatcher, smiling as he said it, knowing Harry couldn’t reply. He tightened his grip. Harry, by this time, was squirming violently, desperately wanting to breathe, but his weak, frail hands were unable to prise away Hatcher’s fingers, clamped vice-like around his throat. Harry’s efforts weakened by the second as his body went limp, his skin paled and his mind slipped towards unconsciousness. “Angie, oh Angie, I’m sorry…”
Harry’s thoughts tailed off as, all of a sudden, his brain sensed the grip on his throat had gone, kick-starting the survival instinct. His lungs heaved into action, immediately replacing the spent oxygen in his blood. The painful sensation of fresh, rejuvenated blood coursing through his arteries made his mind feel like it was about to burst from the sudden rush of life force.
Hatcher fully released his grip and Harry fell to the floor in a heap, his body retching from the nauseating effect of pain mingling with sudden and intense changes to his body. He gingerly massaged his bruised neck, but the pain remained intense and did not abate. He coughed and felt the salty taste of blood in his mouth. Hatcher bent down and rifled Harry’s pockets, bringing out a small bunch of keys.
He stood up and turned to the agents behind him, barking an order in an intimidating tone, “Body-search him now. Anything you find, give it to me. I reiterate, anything, no matter how small, do you understand?”
Both agents nodded in acknowledgement.
“When you’ve done that, I want you to take him back to HQ. Mr Cooper has an appointment with Stoneman, which he cannot be late for.”
“Yes, sir,” replied the stockier agent as he and his partner lifted Harry under the arms and propped him against the wall, palms flat on the wall, arms outstretched, ninety degrees between torso and legs, legs spread wide. They each pulled out of their jackets a pair of latex gloves, donned them and began stripping him of his clothing. Hatcher left them, knowing they would do their job well, and made his way to the lift and up to the fourth floor.
Angie was in the shower. For someone in their sixties, she was a very attractive woman with a slim yet curvy, toned body – probably because she hadn’t had children and had lived a relatively pampered existence despite the hardships all around. Angie loved her fully mirrored shower room. Although never a vain person, she liked to admire herself, appreciate her age-defying beauty whilst washing herself under the deliciously cool shower.
As she stood under the water that rained down on her olive skin, she unconsciously played with the opalescent glass bead, which she still clasped in her left hand, sensing its warmth and bonding, which, for some strange reason, seemed even stronger at this moment in time. Whilst she was partially in a dream world, dancing on the shore of a distant land, she noticed from the corner of her eye that the mirror to her left had begun to glow faintly and it appeared to have depth. Angie felt herself drawn and turned towards the mirror. Reaching out to touch it, she gasped as her hand disappeared into a now-rippling surface. Angie immediately retracted her arm in fear, subconsciously rubbing it with her other hand, almost checking it was still there. Angie looked down to confirm.
“Yep, still there,” she breathed nervously and turned off the shower, carefully watching the mirror for signs of further activity.
The mirror remained aglow and it appeared to pulse slowly. The sense of belonging she experienced with the pebble and with Mike washed over her. A strong desire to go to the mirror and enter it was overwhelming.
“No,” she uttered, “I’ll tell Harry.”
She turned, left the shower cubicle, collected her gown and wrapped herself in it.
Angie made her way to the lounge.
“Harry, Harry you’ll never guess… Harry?”
Angie’s voice faltered as she saw Hatcher sitting in her armchair, smoking a cigar, ash piling up on the arm.
“Wh…where’s Harry?” squeaked Angie, her eyes wide and welling with tears, her mouth drying rapidly, her body shaking with fear.
“Oh, he’s fine, Mrs Cooper, quite fine. In fact, he couldn’t be safer. Now, to business. You have something belonging to Stoneman and, more’s the pity, we have it on good authority you stole it, instead of handing it in.”
Angie toyed with the glass bead in her gown pocket. “I… I… don’t know what you mean, Mr Hatcher,” stammered Angie in a poor attempt to buy time. “I… we are loyal servants of the State. We have A1 clearance; we wouldn’t take anything.”
Hatcher sat looking at Angie without expression. He rolled his cigar between his right index finger and thumb, put it to his mouth and took a deep draught. He removed the cigar and, without a care in the world, stubbed it out on the arm of the chair. With his massive arms, he extracted himself from the deep chair. He stood towering over the petite frame of Angie, who shivered uncontrollably, and he gestured towards the bedroom.
“I’ll need to carry out a simple search of your person and the apartment, Mrs Cooper, as you’re clearly lying. You’ve chosen the difficult route and I’m glad as it fulfils my daily needs. Now, shall we…”
Again he gestured towards the bedroom whilst donning a pair of latex gloves he had drawn from his jacket pocket.
“I… I… need to go to the bathroom,” insisted Angie in a somewhat submissive tone.
“I don’t think so,” replied Hatcher as he lunged towards her.
Angie, despite her age, was agile and she turned, running back into the bathroom, attempting to lock the door behind her. It was too late; Hatcher was right there behind her, pushing open the door with ease.
“Stupid woman!” growled Hatcher and he back-handed Angie across the side of her face.
The blow sent her reeling back into the shower in a heap. Hatcher followed quickly. Picking Angie up by her neck, he lifted her clear off the floor and threw her against the mirrored wall. To his utter shock and disbelief, Angie disappeared headfirst through the mirror. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
“What the fuck?” he cursed, and jumped after her, arm outstretched as if to grab and retrieve her…
His hand hit the glass of the mirror with two hundred pounds of solid muscle behind it, shattering the mirror, the shards of glass lacerating his massive hand and forearm. Hatcher didn’t even flinch. His eyes scanned the shattered mirrored wall, searching for clues or a trapdoor. Nothing. Behind the broken mirror was a brick wall, nothing else. He looked bemused as he simply didn’t have an answer.
Turning to leave, he paused and picked up a towel, wrapped his hand and arm tightly to stem the flow of blood and left the bathroom. He took out his cell phone awkwardly with his remaining good hand and made a call.
“Hatcher here. I need a crime scene team immediately. Apartment 26, fourth floor, Galaxy Tower, Upper Ninth Street. Tell them I want it stripped bare. Anything, and I mean anything of interest, return it to HQ for my attention.”
He snapped his cell phone shut, showing a slight disenchantment at losing his quarry.
“Stoneman will not be pleased. Never mind, I have one half of the thieving duo.”
He made his way to the apartment block exit and returned to the CIB HQ to face Stoneman.
Angie sat bolt upright, realising she was cold and wasn’t where she should be. Her body ached from the sudden movement.
“Yes,” she said, remembering how Hatcher had tried to capture her. “How? Why aren’t I in custody?”
Slightly dazed from hitting the ground hard, she tried to focus on where she was. It was dark and misty with a purple hue that gave some discernible light to manoeuvre by. As Angie’s focus sharpened, she noticed dark silhouettes close yet not close – always on the periphery. Coupled with the silence, it became menacing, eerie and more than a little disconcerting. She hadn’t a clue where she was or how she had escaped the clutches of the evil CIB Agent Hatcher. This was nowhere she had been before, yet it was somewhere she had a vague recollection of.
“How did I get here? Where is here and how do I get back?” she sobbed as emotion and shock began to take over.
Angie had never been far from Harry’s side; in fact they were always together. This forced solitude was alien to her, causing her anguish and making her feel vulnerable. As these thoughts muddled her mind, her palm seemed to get warmer, which caused Angie to lift her hand and open her clenched fist. The glass bead lay in the centre of her cupped palm and glowed brightly. It seemed to bring comfort and security, dulling the pain of separation and pushing back the sensations of fear.
With tears in her eyes, Angie whispered to the glass bead, “I’m so glad you’re with me. I don’t know what I’d do without you, and Harry of course. Oh Harry, sweet Harry. I hope you’re OK.”
Her thoughts turned to Harry, her love, her life.
“I wish you were here with me, I miss you so much,” she whispered, tears welling in her eyes again.
As Angie sat on the cold ground she became aware of a bright light in her peripheral vision to the right, which drew her thoughts. Nervously, she turned and, to her utter surprise, found herself looking into Stoneman’s interrogation suite, not from the doorway or the anteroom with the two-way mirror, but from a position behind the mirrored wall, looking directly towards the glass chair. “How odd,” she thought. Angie suddenly sat bolt upright in shock as she realised she was looking directly at Harry bound naked in the chair.
She let out a frightened squeal, “Oh my God, Harry!” which she stifled very quickly as she realised Stoneman was by Harry’s side.
Angie stood up. Feeling the cold, she wrapped the gown more tightly around her body and tiptoed towards the room, fearful that Stoneman would realise she was there and capture her. Tears flooded her eyes at the thought of her dear Harry.
“Why is he there? Harry hasn’t done anything. I haven’t done anything. Oh Harry, is this a bad dream?” cried Angie.
Harry shivered uncontrollably, primarily from being cold but intensified by the apprehension he was experiencing.
“Why am I here? What am I supposed to have done?” he muttered to himself.
“I thought that was clear, Mr Cooper,” boomed Stoneman as he came into Harry’s view from the side. “You have something that belongs to me. Your precious little wife stole it from this very room yesterday and I want it back!”
Stoneman pulled over the trolley adorned with a myriad of evil-looking instruments and toyed with what appeared to resemble a miniature sword; it was a long thin steel bar about six inches in length, excluding the hilt, with a fine point and covered in razor-sharp barbs along each blade edge.
Stoneman picked it up, stood in front of Harry and informed him in a matter-of-fact manner, “This little beauty was found many years ago during an Archaeological Institute of America dig in Spain, researching the life and times of Tomas de Torquemada, whom I admire immensely for his work.” Without drawing breath, he continued in a conciliatory tone, “Now, bearing in mind the significance of the stolen item, I insist you tell me what you know about it. I’m sure, having frequented this room often in the course of your duties, Mr Cooper, you’re well acquainted as to the – how shall I put it – the reason people are brought here. They’ve done wrong and we need to find out why and correct them.”
Harry’s eyes widened with fear and beads of sweat began to erupt from his body despite the cold of the sterile room.
He replied shakily, “I don’t know what you mean, Mr Stoneman; we haven’t got anything of yours. I’m sure, when Angie turns up to collect me, we can clear this misunderstanding up. I mean we’re both loyal CIB employees and would never do anything to compromise the Bureau, ever.”
Without warning, Stoneman drove the steel rod hard into the fleshy part of Harry’s right thigh, burying it right up to the hilt. Harry screamed in pain. Being tethered so tightly, Harry couldn’t move, he could only grimace and tense every muscle in his body. He let out a sigh and sobbed uncontrollably; the pain was excruciating. Stoneman’s aim was perfect as the barbs scraped his femur but avoided any major blood vessels. It was a tribute to his intelligence and to his many hours of study of the human body.
Stoneman flicked the hilt with his index finger, which caused Harry to inhale sharply and cry out, begging, “P… p… please, please stop. I don’t know what you’re after. I… we haven’t done anything wrong.” Harry continued, “Angie, where are you? Angie, help me!”
“OK, Cooper,” interrupted Stoneman, “I don’t think you really understand my position. I always have evidence to support what I do; your crime is no different. Take a look as this.”
He picked up a small black, pen-like device from the trolley and pointed to the wall directly opposite them. A holographic video image instantly appeared; it showed Harry and Angie actively cleaning the room, the upper right hand corner of the image showing the date and time that counted on as the holographic video image played.
“I think you will agree with me when you see Mrs Cooper play her principal role in this opportunist theft. Unfortunately for you, Mrs Cooper has already admitted her guilt by evading arrest and fleeing with the stolen item and, regrettably for me, to a place where, for the moment, I can’t physically reach her.”
Stoneman returned his attention to Harry and, gripping the hilt of the rod, tugged ever so slightly. The barbs, as they were designed, anchored themselves to muscle and bone. Harry was on the brink of fainting from the pain, but Stoneman knew how to keep the human body receptive to pain and prolong the sensation before it shut down. He let go to relinquish the pain then pointed to the holographic image.
“Now, Mr Cooper, observe your wife as she secretes my property, then tell me you’re both innocent.”
Harry watched, tears rolling down his cheeks from both the pain and the realisation that Angie had placed them both in dire peril. He saw her stoop and collect the glass bead, look around to see if anyone was watching then secrete it in her pocket.
“There you have it, Mr Cooper; all I need in the way of evidence. Now, if you and your lovely wife are prepared to give me this item, I will do my utmost to let you both go free. What do you say?”
Angie, crying and shaking in uncontrollable fear, had been watching her beloved Harry suffer at the hands of this monster for far too long. Torn between the love of her life and the consequences should she take the plunge and join them, her heart won and Angie burst through the mirror into the interrogation suite, running, sobbing, arms outstretched towards Harry.
Stoneman had been primed for this appearance, following the report given by Hatcher, who was a good man who would never cover up his failures behind a smokescreen of lies. He was aware that a mirror, which was being used, shimmered. In a blurring instant, Stoneman was between Harry and Angie, knocking her sideways. Angie fell off balance and skidded across the floor, coming to rest, crumpled in a heap against the mirrored wall. Stoneman returned to the side of the chair where Harry sat. Harry displayed a look of pained amazement. How had Angie appeared through a solid mirror? He was glad to see her but deeply saddened as he knew they were both condemned, regardless of how this played out.
He cried out, “Angie, go back, go ba...”
He was silenced as Stoneman’s fist broke his jaw. Angie winced and howled at seeing her Harry abused further.
“Mrs Cooper,” began Stoneman in an uncharacteristically gentle tone, “I’m sorry I’ve had to resort to this, but you left me no choice. You have something that belongs to me. Now, please, hand it over.”
He stretched out his arm, hand open, palm up, in a gesture of honesty and openness to receive his prize.
Angie realised they were trapped but she couldn’t leave Harry; he was her whole life. If she fled, he would certainly die; if she stayed, they would both probably die and Stoneman would have something she knew wielded great opportunity. She toyed with the glass pebble in her palm. She had to make a decision fast before this beast decided for her. Angie got up and straightened her gown. She felt the warmth of the glass pebble in her clenched fist, a sensation of sadness, a parting of dearest friends, but a certainty they would meet again.
Stoneman shook her from her thoughts.
“There,” he said, “you’re making the right decision. Give it to me. Come on, over here.”
He gestured cautiously for Angie to approach as he desperately needed this insignificant yet precious element.
Angie gingerly made her way towards Stoneman, a smile of triumph materialising on her face that, for a brief moment, confused Stoneman. It was enough.
“Why… Noooooo!” he roared, shaking the very foundations of the building as Angie threw the glass bead at the mirrored wall she had entered through!
As if in slow motion, the pebble taunted Stoneman as he pursued it on its way towards its home. As fast and agile as he was, he failed to catch up with the glass bead as it entered the mirror and disappeared.
Stoneman came to an abrupt halt as time resumed normality. Standing only inches from the mirror, he stared through the depths of the now-dulled glass, knowing he would soon be on the other side.
“A matter of time, just a matter of time,” he murmured and turned to face Angie who was at Harry’s side, sobbing and desperately trying to undo the tethers.
Stoneman strode across the room, removing his push knife from his belt, and in one precise movement slit Harry’s throat. Harry died slowly as the blood drained away in rivers down his tortured body. Angie screamed in agony and despair, as she felt her beloved’s life force leave his now-limp body. On her knees, she turned, looking up to face Stoneman, who towered above her. Tears glistened in the bright light of the mirrored room as they ran down her pretty yet pained face. A look of sheer hatred and determination was etched permanently into her features.
“Hatcher,” boomed Stoneman, “get in here! I need this place cleaned up, a disposal arranged and an old lady locked up.”
The door flew open and Hatcher and two others entered. Stoneman turned to look at Angie, his dark eyes trying to penetrate her mind, but for some reason he couldn’t.
“You only have yourself to blame for this,” said Stoneman indifferently. “I’ll spare you for the moment as I do believe you’ll be useful to me. There’s something different about you; you’ve changed. We’ll have time to talk later. Hatcher, make sure she doesn’t escape this time. Use a room without any mirrors.”
And with that, he turned and left the room.