Chapter 1: excerpt continuation…

But once that had been taken from her, and after her subsequent move to New York City, she abandoned her lifelong abstinence to what she now viewed as regular pleasures. With all of these thoughts in her mind, she attempted to scratch away a small patch of white powder that she noticed on her black pants, the result of the previous night’s small indulgence on some cocaine before bedtime. Her phone’s screen lit up with a text message she had been waiting for.
Heather – ‘Managed to get you in!’

Annabelle quickly typed back ‘thank you! appreciate it’

Heather – ‘Anytime! owe you!’

Annabelle felt uncomfortable with the way that her former college classmate would express that she still ‘owed’ her for something that Annabelle had done for her years before. They had one class together during her first year and they remained acquaintances until graduation and for some time after that, but the sole reason that Heather felt indebted to her was because Annabelle had written nearly all of Heather’s senior year term papers. Without her help, Heather would not have graduated on time and probably would not have landed the job she had now. Despite majoring in Art History, Heather Bailey had managed to land a job with the press corp in charge of mediating between politicians and the media. Along with others, it was Heather’s job to arrange who in the media would have access to candidates for interviews and press conferences. Since graduation, Heather had worked for various candidates from both major political parties, providing her services to facilitate their interactions with journalists. It had been many years since Annabelle had helped her, and she really thought nothing of it and would prefer that Heather stop mentioning it, but this time it became of good use. Despite that Annabelle no longer worked for HCN, Heather had managed to secure Annabelle a seat amongst the reporters covering a major announcement from the New York Senator Sara Blythesin occurring later that day. With the proper journalist credentials, courtesy of a very willing Heather, Annabelle could take a seat among her former colleagues and competitors and thus try at posing a few questions to the Senator to clarify details about an incident that had been covered by the press back when it had occurred. It was to be the first of hopefully many investigative journalism pieces that she was working on while she established her own independent news site/blog: Maverick News Online. It was a not-so-subtle reference to what her show on HCN used to be called: The Maverick Files. HCN would probably give her some trouble for using the word ‘Maverick’ being that she was no longer affiliated with HCN. But she didn’t care. All she wanted was to reestablish herself once again to regain what she had quite publicly lost in a humiliating way. Again, the memory of how her downfall occurred was one she would wish to forget, thus her often over-indulgence in alcohol and a bit of cocaine like the previous night and the many before then.

Today, however, she needed to summon back what had made her good at her job for a few yet glorious years. It was currently 1pm and the press conference was scheduled to take place at 3pm at an outdoor event on Columbus Circle, near the southwest corner of Central Park. She then took out her laptop and began to review her notes concerning the incident that she intended to ask the Senator about later on. She took one long gulp of her extra-large coffee and began to mentally process everything she had gathered about this incident.

Before Sara Blythesin became a two-term Senator, she had attained the rank of Captain in the United States Army. Not much is known about her roles in any missions due to most of them being classified and probably listed as special black ops, except for one that had unintentionally come to the media’s attention. The only publicly known mission that the Senator is known to have been a part of was Operation Free Home, during which she was the commanding officer over a task force of 9 army rangers. Their mission, according to what the Army provided after various Freedom of Information requests from the press, was to safely extract American citizens being held hostage by the QUA terrorist organization.

The QUA, Quantum Uniformity Alliance, were a group of renegade theoretical physicists turned armed rebels who fervently believed in the laughable sci-fi notion that all of existence was just a grand simulation inside an interstellar super computer. Their main objective was to challenge the rules and limits of physics by forcibly taking control over all the world’s hadron ion colliders and smash enough atoms together to create a rip in the fabric of space-time, potentially paving a way to a higher dimension outside of the grand simulation that they believed the universe was a hostage to. Among their lesser goals was to slow down the speed of Moore’s law, the principle that computing processing power gets predictably greater as time goes on. The QUA would infiltrate the many R&D facilities of the leading chip makers around the world, sabotaging their experiments and prototypes so that the computer and chip industry would not progress as fast and exponentially as Moore’s law dictated. Their obsession with slowing the progress of computing power was due to their rabid fear of the singularity happening; the time where modern science and technology would successfully engineer the first of potentially many self-aware, conscious, and autonomous artificially intelligent machines capable of learning and processing massive amounts of data. They believed that such a machine did not yet exist, but eventually would become a reality if the computational power of microprocessors continued to progress to better and faster thresholds. Annabelle couldn’t help but be both annoyed and amused at the same time as she reviewed this information concerning the QUA. ‘it’s amazing and yet embarrassing that these idiots have been practically allowed to get as far as they have’ she thought to herself. Clearly they saw way too many movies about the so-called robot apocalypse. She remembered the first time that the QUA had come to her attention during her senior year of college.

One of her philosophy professors, who would later become an active member of the QUA, would incessantly lecture about the futility of existence and of humanity’s desire to find purpose in life. “There is no purpose because we are not real! Me, you, they, us are all not real! If who you think you are and who you think I am is not real, then I have some liberating yet melancholic news for you. Free will is also not real!” He’d begin many of his lectures along the same lines while never assigning any work nor giving out exams. Later that year, she had learned that the school had given her and everyone in her class an A grade with 2 months still left in the semester. Gladly, she took the A grade and was glad to have an extra 4 hours to herself during the week now that the class was cancelled. That extra time allowed her to research and write Heather’s papers. What she discovered shortly after was that her professor had been caught with a device that would monitor and keep a record of every keystroke tapped by his students as they used their laptops in his classroom (most of which was to do whatever they wanted to, whether it be shop, write emails, work, or be on social media since there was no reason to take notes about his lectures anyway). With that information, it was believed that he intended to remotely gain control of his own students’ computers to frame one of them for a hacking of a new computer science/research laboratory in the school that had not been made public at the time. Thankfully, for his students’ sake, this plot was discovered and prevented when he was found with the illegal spying device. Despite being arrested and charged with a felony, he later skipped his court appearance and fled the country. It was later uncovered that he had been in collusion with other QUA members as they began their first of many attempts at technological sabotage.

Annabelle’s concentration returned to the classified operation that the then Captain Sarah Blythesin had been in command of. Ten prominent American scientists had died of natural causes throughout a span of 18 months. Through various autopsies, police reports, medical records and family testimony, none of the 10 deaths were suspected of having any foul play. It did appear strange that 10 perfectly healthy individuals would die of causes ranging from spontaneous brain embolisms, heart attacks, sudden aggressive spread of cancer in the brain, lungs, and heart, and even two cases where it was proven quite conclusively that they had simply died in their sleep. However, the CIA had managed to intercept intelligence stating that the 10 were in fact alive and in good health while being held captive in an abandoned weather facility in Montauk, Long Island by operatives affiliated with the QUA. The 10 bodies purported to have been the same 10 scientists were in fact forged bodies of 10 other unknown persons. For obvious reasons, the fact that they were alive needed to be kept away from the public’s knowledge and a top-secret operation was put in place to rescue the hostages as well as to capture and detain members of the QUA guarding the facility.

According to what was disclosed in the debriefing and the redacted deposition from a Senate Armed Services Committee closed-door hearing, both of which were gained with the Freedom of Information requests, what the public would come to learn was that Captain Blythesin, along with 9 Army rangers, successfully infiltrated the facility at midnight May 10th, 2020. Despite having practiced the infiltration many times in mock trials at an army barracks in a coast on New Jersey as they anticipated possible resistance from any armed militants, the actual infiltration met no resistance whatsoever. Captain Blythesin and her rangers were quickly able to find the captives and lead them out of the facility to a safe extraction point just half a mile from the old Montauk lighthouse. The primary objective of rescuing the hostages was complete while the secondary objective of collecting intel from the facility was still taking place. Since it appeared that the facility had been abandoned, Captain Blythesin allowed 3 rangers to stay behind in the facility to search and gather all records, hard drives, files, and to take photographs of anything of value that they would find. It was during this moment when the mission took an irrevocable turn that Blythesin did not plan for. As the 3 rangers made their way to exit the building, armed guards appeared from within secret corridors, hidden behind secret doors within the concrete walls and attempted to keep the rangers from escaping. Captain Sarah took it upon herself, single handedly, to go in and attempt to fight off the guards blocking the exit path for the three rangers still inside. Two managed to escape to a safe zone outside the facility while one remained inside, having provided covering fire along with Sarah for when the other two ran out. Sarah ordered private First Class Henry Mills to leave while she’d provide covering fire for him. However, upon his attempted run towards the exit, a bullet ricochets off Sarah’s helmet gear and struck private Mills in the head, killing him instantly. Sarah kept firing towards the shooters inside the facility as she attempted to pull Mills’ body out to carry it to the safe point but was met with heavier resistance from within the building. Ultimately, she gave up and returned to the extraction point where she and her remaining team and 10 scientists boarded two helicopters and flew back to New Jersey. Private Henry Mills’ body was later found along the coast of a Hampton Bays residence where it was retrieved, taken for an autopsy, and then given to his family for a funeral and burial that gained notable public attention. That was what the public was told about the events. Sarah was hailed as a hero for having rescued the 10 scientists and then her career successfully moved on towards politics.

“Would you like another coffee?” said the automated server screen at her table. Sarah touched ‘no’ on the screen and instead ordered another cheese Danish from the desert menu, another vice she had taken on as she no longer cared much about the rigorous fitness regiment that had been forced upon her when she had the contract with HCN. She then took out a small metallic folder from her bag and placed her thumb on the fingerprint scanner by its edge. A small red light turned to a faint green and then the folder opened from which she took out another set of documents. Her first reaction was to question the authenticity of these documents until she saw the blockchain signature at the bottom right corner of each page. A barcode, a set of numbers and letters, and a PIN number all were enough to authenticate that this document had at one point been part of the chain of possession of top secret documents circulating within the Department of Defense. Despite the meticulous steps taken to prevent the leaking of secret information out to the media, the leaks were still happening from within the government and the higher ups were always one step behind with trying to identify the leakers and stop it from happening. According to these documents, the publicly released version of events regarding Sarah’s rescue operation were all true except for two discrepancies: in an unredacted debriefing between Sarah and her unnamed superior ranking officers, taken hours after the failed rescue, Sarah mentions that she saw private Mills receive the shot to his shoulder from the same bullet that ricocheted not from her helmet gear, but from her own head. She survived the shot because 5 years before her enlistment, she had received a cranial metal replacement surgery, effectively removing a skeletal portion of her skull and replacing it with a thinner yet stronger sheet of metallic organic/titanium. When asked by her unnamed superiors why she had never disclosed this surgery in her enlistment form, her response is redacted off the debriefing documents and the questions revert to what happened with private Mills. Upon seeing that she had survived a direct shot to her head, he stood shocked in disbelief but then received a direct bullet shot to his head from one of the defending fighters inside the building. As more fighters appeared to gain on her position, Sarah left him, believing him to be dead.

The second discrepancy that directly contradicts the official public record is in another document which stated that a few months later, Sarah received a summons for another closed-door debriefing on the same operation. During this second meeting, she is asked if she is being truthful about having directly seen private Mills receive a direct shot to his head, causing his death. Sarah replies in the affirmative. It is then when the only unredacted name in the document appears and is mentioned only once; a person by the name General Arthur Turing. Mr. Turing then tells Sarah to explain why then is it that, after 4 months and after a very public funeral, private Mills was later found to be alive though unconscious in a forest less than half a mile away from the compound where the rescue had taken place. Though battered and emaciated without food or water for an unknown amount of time since the rescue operation, he did not have a wound to his head. He remains alive, though unconscious, under the care of a private clinic, with his family being given an extraordinary amount of compensation to keep his status a secret given how the public was given a different story at the time. Sarah remained steadfast in standing by her statement that she saw, with her own eyes, private Mills receive a direct headshot that, in her view, killed him in an instant. The document abruptly ends without an attempt being made by either party to clarify the discrepancies between the public and now classified record of the events.

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