And that was that, the October 13 entry the last of the posted pages, which made Ashley wonder about the gaps. The eight-day gap between the termination of Melanie’s assistantship and that last entry, and the nine-day gap between the last entry and her disappearance. Maybe what was there wasn’t relevant, but there were other reasons why it might have been left out. She was angry, despondent, as people generally were when they lost their job and any hope for their career; doubtless she said things that reflected poorly on her mental state. And perhaps they included other information Blake preferred not to give out, perhaps because it would compromise his identity. (It seemed possible, even probable that he was close to her; no one would still be pursuing the matter five years on if they were a total stranger, would they?)
Still, Ashley couldn’t deny that these diary entries at least seemed to support the blog’s account of events. That raised the question of just how real they were. Nothing in front of her proved that those pages were really taken from Melanie’s diary, or that those JPEGs were really pictures of equipment in a lab at Povenmire University, and Ashley could think of no way to actually verify those claims.
But it did seem possible to verify some of the information in the diary pages. Ashley minimized the blog and brought up the Googolplex start page to look up Melanie Young, whose disappearance was noted in the Povenmire Journal in late October 2010. The piece mentioned that she had indeed been a grad student at the university prior to her expulsion on grounds that were not clarified. The implication throughout was that she had been a troubled young woman whose life had been going down the tubes—and that her disappearance was the culmination of that.
Ashley decided to look up the other people mentioned by name in Melanie’s diary, Doctors Hamilton, Morganstern and Chalmers. Dr. Hamilton had died in April, and Dean Chalmers was currently President of Harrison University in Texas, but they had both been at Povenmire at the same time as Melanie Roberts (as had Dr. Morganstern, who was still department head). Additionally, the university’s Department of Psychology had been conducting a brain imaging research program in the fall of 2010.
But what about Shelley Young, Ashley wondered? Logan contacted the university and made some discrete inquiries. She had enrolled at the school that semester, and then dropped out of school September 27 due to a “family emergency.” Armed with her personal information Logan looked her up and found her still living with her family up in Washington state. A peek at their financial records showed that her parents were paying an awful lot of medical bills.
“We could try contacting them,” Logan said, “but they might not want to open up to strangers. Very likely someone got to them, intimidated them into not pursuing the matter.”
“It’s something that we know she exists,” Ashley said.
At the least, there was nothing to contradict Blake’s account of these events, but she wanted stronger substantiation than that. She spent some time on Googolplex looking to see if anyone had written anything about a scandal in Povenmire’s psychology program, or allegations of ethical misconduct against of the people named. She found nothing.
Ashley turned back to the blog after that. Besides the facts, and the conclusion drawn from them, she found a posting titled “THEORIES” in which the blog’s author speculated about what was at the back of it all.
The change in the mental state of that student Melanie observed suggests that the experiments involved some sort of manipulation of the thinking or mood of the subject.
Of course, that raises the question of what equipment would have been used—which brings us back to that suspicious white box that Dr. Hamilton described as “prototype” brain imaging equipment. I’ve checked out every photo of a piece of brain imaging equipment I can get my hands on, and haven’t found anything like it, even five years later.
Consequently, if the unmarked item Melanie photographed in that room was a prototype for a new type of brain imaging device, it’s one that has not only not made it to the market, but never been publicized in the way one would expect from a system being used in actual research. It seems at least as plausible that the box had another function—that its purpose was to generate electromagnetic waves for exercising control over individuals remotely.
That struck her as fanciful.
“This stuff about electromagnetic waves,” Ashley said. “Is any of it making sense to you?”
“I’ve heard of psychotronics,” Logan said. “Devices which can manipulate the human brain that way. But I’ve always had the impression they were one of those things that’s always being researched, but without anyone ever building a practical, usable machine. Same as with lots of other technologies that are supposed to be right around the corner, but which somehow never seem to happen. Like flying cars and nuclear fusion power plants and gene therapy for disease.
“Is that what Blake’s arguing?”
“Yeah,” Ashley said, looking at the footnotes at the bottom of the page, hyperlinked to other sources. According to those items, scientists had found that it was possible to use electromagnetic fields to induce hallucinations in people, to panic, disorient and frighten them, to alter their ethical sense, to transmit sounds directly into their heads, to pacify them.
But the stories that offered specifics all seemed to be reporting on scattered experiments. And all those experiments sounded pretty primitive next to the program Blake speculated about, which involved not the alteration of an individual’s behavior through the application of an electric current directly to part of their brain, but remote control.
Of course, things changed when she got away from the more respectable-seeming news sources, items in other, more dubious-looking venues than the ones to which Blake linked his reader making the case that this had all gone way beyond little lab experiments. One British tabloid talked about the Russian government’s developing a “zombie gun” that turned people blasted with its energy into mindless thralls. Another web site, even more dubious than that, talked about a collection of radio aerials in Alaska built for high-altitude atmospheric research as part of some kind of neurological warfare plot.
The anonymous author of that item said that the fact that the mainstream press was not discussing the issue was actually evidence of a major cover-up.
Ashley returned from these items to the blog author’s theories, wondering if they would be any different.
Of course, this all raises the question: just who would be behind such experiments? The answer is, of course, the U.S. government, which has a long history of research in the area of mind-control, the most notorious episode in which is the Central Intelligence Agency’s MKULTRA program, begun in the mid-1940s, and continued at least until the 1970s. It is quite possible that the program never altogether stopped, and remains active today, in some other form, under some other name. Certainly military authorities continue to express great interest in the subject. Consider the following passage in Army Colonel Randolph Stone’s recent Twenty-First Century Warfare:
“In contrast with new vehicles making space flight as routine a matter as atmospheric flight, battlefield-deployable directed-energy weaponry and the appearance of truly autonomous, unmanned weapons platforms, the appearance of behavioral-control weapons by the middle of the twenty-first century is not merely plausible or even probable, but near-certain.
“Some will naturally call for us to refrain from developing such technologies, but the reality is that even if we were to actually do that, our enemies would develop such weapons and use them to achieve their ends—unless we were to acquire them first, and then make use of that position of advantage to insure that others cannot inflict a ‘psychic’ Pearl Harbor or September 11 attack on us.”
Ashley sighed at that, Blake’s analysis looking to her like just more of the conspiracy-theory talk of the kind in which the Internet was awash. So she decided to take a look at the passages in the decrypted file which may have been relevant to such a story. The first she came across was an e-mail dated October 7, 2010 that read:
Melanie Roberts has been expelled from the program, but is now attempting to alert the press to her suspicions. If anything, it may be that her loss of her position has made her more determined to cause difficulties for us. It is far from clear that she will succeed in her efforts, but it may be best to play it safe.
The prior communication mentioned there was an e-mail from September 30 that read
One of our graduate students is becoming a problem. She doesn’t know much, but is asking a lot of questions, and I don’t think she’s taking the answers I’m offering. I’ll try and deflect or dissuade her through the normal channels, but if that doesn’t work we may have to step things up.
September 30, the very same day Melanie went to see Dr. Hamilton, whom Ashley suspected of being HAWKEYE. October 7 was shortly after she was pushed out of school, when she had started getting in touch with the local media. An item sent back to HAWKEYE the same day read
We will look into the matter. Melanie Roberts will be referred to by the code QUAIL in all subsequent communications.
Ashley sought out other references to QUAIL and found an e-mail from October 22 that read
QUAIL has been eliminated.
Melanie Roberts was QUAIL, and QUAIL was reported as “eliminated” the day after she went missing. Ashley worked out that the e-mail was sent at two A.M. Pacific coast time, which did not seem at all coincidental.
It occurred to Ashley that this was the proof for which that blog’s publisher was searching—and that it was possible, even probable, that he would be able to help them work through the clues in their file.
“All right, I’m sold,” Ashley said. “And I think that the next thing we should do is get in touch with him.”
“It’s a logical next step,” Logan said. “But then we have to remember that this blog couldn’t have totally escaped the notice of the people behind Project Athena. Sure, it does move around from one address to another, but then we’ve seen the kinds of resources these people have, and how far they’re willing to go in using them. The odds of Blake having been just too clever for them to catch up seem pretty slim, especially given the short list of people with the motivation to do something like this—relatives, close friends, maybe people with an axe to grind. They probably know exactly who this is, and how to get to them.
“So we have to consider the possibility that they’re tolerating his activities. Maybe because they think he can’t hurt them, because he looks like just a crank spouting off on a cheap blog about some years-old missing person’s case practically everybody shrugged off to, what, a few people who stumble across it any given day?
“Still, they killed Melanie for finding out the things he talks about here—or at least, to prevent her from going any further than she already had, which is exactly what the purpose of this blog is supposed to be. So another possibility occurs to me: that they’re watching to see who pays attention, in case someone more important does come along. The fact that his blog jumps around and he takes other precautions may complicate things for them somewhat, but probably not all that much.”
That gave Ashley pause. If they wrote Blake, the people after them were likely to find out about it—and come after all of them. Just as they found out about Logan’s turning to his friend at the NCO for help. All the same . . .
“I think we have to do this,” Ashley said.
“Okay. Since this seems to be the blog he’s using now—I’ve spent a lot of time looking for a newer edition, haven’t seen any sign of it—we can be hopeful that the e-mail address that goes with it is one he’s checking regularly. Just to make sure he pays attention, I’ll send him the chunk of our file relevant to his investigation. A few screen captures, as those will be less likely to get red-flagged if someone intercepts them.
“We’ll need to sign somehow, and I think ‘Blake’ will forgive us for using pseudonyms under the circumstances. How do you feel about George and Greg?”
It occurred to Ashley that even though they’d referred to Blake as a man the whole time, it could have been a woman’s name, nothing on the blog actually indicating the author’s gender. And that it was advisable to go with two gender-neutral names of their own, so as to give anyone monitoring the communication that much less information about them.
“How about George and Sam instead?” Ashley asked.
“George and Sam it is,” Logan agreed. He signed the message and fired it off.
Fifteen minutes later Logan said that he had a message in his box. A reply.
Ashley looked over his shoulder as he opened it.
HI GEORGE AND SAM.
YOU HAVE MY ATTENTION.
CAN YOU BE IN CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA NOON SATURDAY?
“Can we?” Ashley asked. The prospect of boarding a plane seemed even less attractive than before, and she wasn’t eager to get back on a train either. She supposed they could ride a bus . . .
“How far is Charleston from Baltimore?” she asked.
“About six hundred miles. Ten hours or so by car,” Logan said. “Speaking of which, it’s time that we get one.”
Each of them was perfectly capable of stealing a car, but doing that was likely to prove more trouble than it was worth. They decided to buy one instead, but saw from the hour that it was already too late to do that that day. They’d have to hit up a dealer the next day instead. Still, starting their drive Friday they could get to Charleston Saturday by noon.
“I’ll let him know we’ll be there,” Logan said, and fired off his message.
Again they had a response in fifteen minutes’ time.
COOL. I’LL GIVE YOU THE DETAILS SATURDAY MORNING.
That matter settled, they used the evening to scout out car dealers in the area online. They specifically wanted a car that would afford some versatility, without drawing second glances. A used vehicle seemed the way to go. A used hatchback, dark blue or something close to it, a couple of years’ old at least, seemed likely to offer the right mix of capacity and dullness. And they didn’t want anything that would need repairs. The idea was to get something Ashley could drive off the lot right away. Logan and Ashley settled on Mark Welch’s Automotive as the place offering the best combination of vehicle range and location, just three miles up the same bus line they rode to get there.
That left only the question of which of them was to go. Ashley pointed out that even if this had all begun with her, in Baltimore it was Logan who’d been spotted by their pursuers, not her, so that it was best if she went. That settled the matter, so Ashley picked up takeout from McGinty’s. They ate their dinner while watching sitcom reruns on a local TV station, and then turned out the light and went to sleep.