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Chapter 26

I hadn’t talked to my father about my birth-parents since the night he told me my birth-father had been accused of treason and had possibly taken his own life. It was still a hard pill to swallow and part of me didn’t want to believe it. However, I understood I needed to confront this part of my past as I was certain that it was the reason for my blackouts.

The next day after school, I headed to the Library of Congress to begin my own investigation. If my birth-father had been embroiled in a scandal of the magnitude my father had suggested – one which involved treason – the news outlets would certainly have covered it.

I stared at my reflection in the window as the train cut through D.C.’s underbelly. About halfway through, I snapped out of my daydream and began casually scanning my fellow passengers. There was a cute group of girls dressed in private school uniforms on the opposite side of the car too engaged in their own world to have noticed me. Their laughter pervaded the car and became the center of gravity during our ride.

At the next stop, the girls exited and I wondered what it was like to attend a private school, especially one set up for girls or boys only. I figured it sucked because how in the world were you supposed to meet the opposite sex? I heard some old folks argue this was actually good because it allowed kids to concentrate on learning and not get sucked up in the whole social drama.

I don’t know, maybe they had a point, but then my thoughts eventually gravitated to Allison and I realized that if either of us had attended private school, we would never have met. The thought made me wince and I was glad things were the way they were. Besides, private school was a lot of money and they still turned out their fair share of knuckleheads.

I then noticed a guy in a suit glance my way and a sudden sense of paranoia came over me. He quickly looked away, but as I double-checked through the window’s reflection, I saw him give me the once over again. Was I imagining things … or maybe he was looking at the guy sitting in front of me?

I secretly kept my eye on him, but he didn’t look my way again. Regardless, the seed of doubt had been planted and I moved cautiously up the Metro escalator. I exited near the Capitol building with my antennae up and an unsettling sensation pumping through my veins. This was ridiculous, I kept telling myself, but no matter how I tried to discredit the creepy feeling with rational thoughts, the underground city in my brain kept sending warning signals.

A couple of minutes later, I stood across the street from the library and watched for anything out of the ordinary. Not being an expert in such stake out techniques, I studied all corners of the building, any people lingering around the entrances, and especially kept my eye out for the stereotypical government suit with sunglasses. My imagination was having fun, but I wasn’t.

Nothing stood out so I moved toward the corner, but the light turned and prevented my crossing. A crowd gathered and waited. I tried not to attract attention and focused on the corner kiosk. The electronic headline streaming above the screen read: Negotiations Stalled … China Conflict Looms.

‘China Conflict Looms’ ran through my mind. Why had the negotiations stalled? Was Mrs. Lee right when she indicated that the Chinese may have discovered a way to travel through space via wormholes, or did we have the upper hand?

“Who knows?” a girl said to a friend as if reading my mind. I stared at them quizzically as they stepped onto the street. The crowd subconsciously pushed forward and kept me in line with the herd. I kept my eye on the two girls as I crossed.

Inside the library, I found a private, secure spot on the second floor with a window overlooking the Capitol building. Streams of people moved below in a leisurely manner. After a moment in dreamland, I finally sat down at my console and focused on what I had come for.

I swiped my hand across the desk and a holographic screen appeared. I quickly punched in ‘Sterling Mendoza’ and a few hits popped up. I clicked on the first one, which brought up a Space Force Academy graduation list from thirty-five years ago.

The next link displayed a similar list from a couple of years later: an Intelligence Squadron graduation. So far so good, I thought.

Then I clicked on the third and final link, but the name must have been separated because it queued up an article reviewing some philosopher’s work on perception and had given it a ‘sterling’ review.

Slightly discouraged, I entered a new search: Colonel Mendoza. Much to my surprise, a slew of hits lined the page. I leaned back and sighed, preparing myself for what I was about to read, but then noticed someone in the distance staring at me. As I double-checked, he looked away.

The hair on my neck stood up.

My eyes quickly shot back and forth several times scanning the place while trying not to be obvious. No one was behind me except a girl a couple of tables back who had been there when I arrived. I spotted the guy from a moment ago just before he disappeared behind a wall. The layer of skin just above my muscles exploded with a thousand pricks. Something was happening to my senses and I hoped a blackout wouldn’t occur.

I pushed the feeling aside as best I could and clicked on one of the links. ‘File Not Found’ came up. I tried again and got the same result. Quickly, I clicked on another link … the same result appeared. And again … and again. The same message displayed for all of them.

My heart pounded heavily.

What the hell was going on, I wondered, and then I saw him again, but this time he was with another suspicious looking character. They moved my way averting their eyes. In a matter of moments they reached my aisle, looked at me curiously, and walked past, continuing their conversation. Five seconds later, they stopped and greeted the girl sitting a few tables back.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

Refocusing my attention on the uncooperative screen before me, I tried unsuccessfully to pull up any links regarding Colonel Mendoza. I wondered why the files were unable to be found. What kind of secret did they hold that after fifteen years, they still needed to be guarded?

With frustration mounting, I closed the screen and headed for the door. This was going to take the skills of an expert, I thought, and the only place I knew where to get one that was willing to comply with my wishes was a guy I was afraid was turning to the dark side. This request would only encourage him, but it was necessary and I was now a determined soul in search of the truth.

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