Ms. Petrovich and her agents escorted me into a secure location deep within the underground Metro system. The aging white room was a converted office of some kind. It resembled a cross between a scary old laboratory – where they did god knows what to who – and a makeshift conference room, complete with an oval table and uncomfortable, hand-me-down chairs. I plunked down into one while Ms. Petrovich leaned against the room’s remaining laboratory island, her arms and legs crossed.
“You’ve been a busy boy, haven’t you, Trenton?” she began, staring deep into my soul, as if attempting to suck the information out of me through some new psychic technique.
“How much do you know?” I asked.
“Only what Allison told us.”
“So she’s okay?”
“She’ll make it ... good thing you brought her back when you did.”
“What did she say?”
“Enough, but that’s not as important as what you can tell us.”
“You have to let me go.”
“They’ll kill her if I don’t stop Matt.”
“Number Nine and the Chinese.” She casually pulled out the nearest chair, eased into its squeaky frame, and looked around absently, as if to tell me that things were going to happen on her terms and not mine. I decided to play my trump card. “If you let me go, I’ll tell you where another batch of the Benadine Mineral is located.”
Ms. Petrovich grinned slightly. “And where might that be?”
“Only if you promise to let me go.”
“Well, Trenton, if you’re talking about the meteorite that crashed into the Great Salt Lake in Utah, then I’m afraid we already know that much.”
I was devastated. “How do you know about that?”
“We know lots of things that may surprise you.”
Ms. Petrovich decided to let the mouse live a little longer and offered up some cheese. “Some renegade organization – not the Chinese – is holding both the Benadine Mineral and the wormhole theory hostage. The only reason we haven’t blasted them to smithereens is because we first need to know whether or not your encounter with Crimson James brought on the trigger-effect and, if so, whether you can complete James’s unfinished theory.”
“I’m afraid I can’t. I seem to have lost everything I learned from him after we separated. It happened gradually, but it’s all gone, nonetheless.”
“That’s what we feared. Now, another little nugget of gold we found in the sifter is that your good friend Matthew wants to deal with you and you alone.”
“He wants to kill me.”
“Yes, I’m sure he does. However, we suspect that he really wants to know if you have the theory. And if that’s true, then we’re pretty sure he hasn’t acquired it … yet.”
“If he doesn’t have it, then what good would it be for you if he and I face off?”
“You have value in the fact that he despises you and if you’re what he wants, then we are ready to make an exchange.”
“So you’d throw me to the wolves in order to acquire the mineral?”
“Think of it as a small sacrifice for the greater good.”
“That’s barbaric … you’re insane.”
This didn’t faze the steely Ms. Petrovich. “We also have the added benefit of Number Nine’s threat to Allison. You wouldn’t want her to go through life constantly looking over her shoulder, would you? Our protection only goes so far and the Chinese are nothing, if not ruthless, when it comes to following through on a vendetta.”
“Now I’m confused. Are you going to let me go or not?”
Ms. Petrovich nodded to one of her agents, who produced a small metallic box. She tapped in a five-digit code and it slid open at the sides revealing a thin, silver object.
“We’re not entirely barbaric, Mr. Locke,” she said with a sliver of a smile and handed me the gadget. “Besides, you were Crimson James in a past life and that’s a resource very valuable to the State.”
“It goes on your wrist.”
The device was cool to the touch, almost icy, and when it connected with the top part of my wrist, it sprang into action like boa constrictor. Once snug, a blue light emitted in all directions accompanied by a series of calibrating beeps. Five seconds later, both the beeping stopped and the light disappeared and I had the all too familiar sensation of understanding someone else’s consciousness, just like with Crimson and Ben Min, but this wasn’t one of my past lives, this person was alive today.
“This is one of your friend Matthew’s greatest inventions … and we’ve replicated it. And in case you’re wondering, it has a two-mile radius.”
“Meaning, any concurrent consciousness within that range, will be under your control.”
“Your friend may be a nut job, but he’s one smart cookie.”
I was about to ask how I would know who else I controlled, but the answer was becoming transparent in my mind’s eye. Not only was our soul in control of one body, but it seemed to be in control of several. My god, how powerful was the soul, I wondered.
“Do you sense another presence?”
“Yes,” I replied, suddenly aware of the power this offered.
“Who are you?”
“Ranka Kivnitovic, a lobbyist for a Serbian banking conglomerate.”
Ms. Petrovich glanced at one of her agents, who punched in the name. A moment later, he nodded.
“A woman, how interesting,” she said.
“So you mean to tell me that if Ranka were wearing this device, she would be able to control me as long as I was within two miles of her?”
“That’s right, but you haven’t tried to control her yet, so do something minor to test it out because you need to have control of whoever your other consciousnesses are in Salt Lake City.”
“So let me get this straight by taking it one step further … that would mean I was also all of the people she had been in her past lives too?”
“Changes the whole dynamic of the human soul, doesn’t it?” she replied. “Now try to control one of her movements.”
I nodded and concentrated on Ranka’s whereabouts. Based on the view out the window, she was in a very modern board room several stories up. Her colleagues were in business attire and a man in the power chair was speaking to the other four people spread around the table. I couldn’t see the person to her left, so I glanced over and spotted a woman.
Had I done that, I wondered, or was I just seeing the movements she was in control of? I needed to do something more decisive, I figured, and concentrated on her right hand. As if on command, her right hand twisted and played with the wedding ring on her left hand.
“That’s amazing,” I exclaimed.
“What?” Ms. Petrovich inquired.
“I just moved her wedding ring around.”
“Do something more pronounced.”
“Okay, I’ll try.” By now, the man at the head of the table had stopped talking and the woman to Ranka’s left was speaking. I noticed a cup directly in front of Ranka, grabbed it and took a drink.
“I just drank from her cup,” I announced, but got the sudden feeling that all eyes at the conference table were on me.
“Ranka, what do you think?” the man in charge asked.
“I agree with her,” Ranka said and I fully understood that that was the correct answer. Again, had I done that or was it Ranka?
“I think I just spoke for her,” I said and that seemed to satisfy Ms. Petrovich.
“Good, let’s shut her down until you arrive in Salt Lake City,” Ms. Petrovich declared. “You can practice later.”
I twisted the gizmo the required number of times and its locking system snapped off my wrist. I suddenly realized the entire Ranka experience had been draining, as if I had just run a couple of miles.
“You’ll get used to that,” Ms. Petrovich explained. “It’s like conditioning the body, except in this case, it’s conditioning your master consciousness.”
“Is that what it’s called?”
“Unless you can come up with a better term.”
“No, master consciousness works fine. It has a certain ring to it.”
She lifted the wrist device and handed it to an agent, then sat on the table in front of me.
“I think it’s time you win one for the home team, Trenton, and right the wrong that became your family name’s legacy … or at least set the record straight.”
I wasn’t sure what she meant by that last line, but if she intended to dangle some more cheese, it certainly worked.
“What do you mean set the record straight?” I asked as the wrist piece was placed into the metal case.
“As you’re aware, your birth-father, Colonel Mendoza, returned fifteen years ago from an historic expedition with the location of the Benadine Mineral … or at least enough to hold us over until more could be found.”
“I know, but then he was fingered as a double-agent in his past life and ended up taking his own life.”
“Well, there’s much more to that story than meets the eye.”
“Colonel Mendoza never returned from his trip out in space.”
“You’re not making sense.”
“It seems that something very strange happened out there, something unbelievably frightening.” Ms. Petrovich paused, shifting positions. “The Chinese exploration ship, Ming One, seemed to have run into your father … and things didn’t turn out so well for their side.”
“I’d say that’s a good thing, right?”
“Of course, but the only problem is that that encounter happened weeks before your father’s mission began.”
“Confusing, I know.”
“How could he be in two places at the same time?”
“We got to asking ourselves that question and didn’t come up with an answer until he returned.”
“But I thought you said he didn’t return?”
“He didn’t … his evil twin did.”
“Wow, you people really are out to lunch. Maybe you should get out of these fortified bunkers more often. The fresh air might do some good.”
Ms. Petrovich was unfazed by my wit and continued, “The man who came back was a dead ringer for your father until we noticed something out of place … the scar on the left side of his neck should actually have been on the right side of his neck. His medical records confirmed it and so the interrogations began.”
“So you think my father’s evil twin somehow switched places with him and came back to play the role of hero?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. We corroborated what our Chinese intercepts had been suggesting and got a more complete picture from the evil twin.”
“He actually admitted it?”
“What choice did he have?” she asked rhetorically as I sat stunned. “As you can imagine, the implications were staggering and still are. We couldn’t take a chance with the evil twin so the Aranautis angle proved a convenient fit.”
“So my real father wasn’t a traitor?”
“No, but I’m sure he met his fate out in the depths of space.”
“What happened to the evil twin – did he really kill himself?”
“Some things remain classified, Mr. Locke.”
“And what about my brother?”
The question caught her off guard, but only for a moment. The woman was a professional and recovered quickly.
“That is also another story.”
“So it’s true?”
“I tell you what, if you finish this mission successfully, then you and I can have a more in depth conversation about your family tree.”
“But I want to know now.”
“In due time, Mr. Locke. Right now you have bigger fish to fry.”
My thoughts immediately went to Allison. “You promise to protect Allison until this is over?”
“She’s in good hands, don’t you worry. Focus on this and then you can concentrate on that girl, among other things.”
“When do we leave?”
“There’s a plane waiting now … and by the way, we took care of your father’s body. You can lay him to rest properly once this saga is over.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“How about failure’s not an option, Ms. Petrovich, and my best friend Matt is no match for me because I already know how he thinks.” The stunned look on my face must’ve been pretty apparent. “But thank you will do just fine. Now go make both your fathers proud.”
“Yes, ma’am … I will.”