Two months ago – Arizona
Sonti answered a classified ad in the paper that talked of earning high dollar salaries, foreign travel, glamour, excitement, and just about everything life had to offer. Sonti was skeptical when Rob pointed it out to her, but let herself be talked in to at least responding to the ad.
At her interview, she learned the company was using technology that was cutting edge. It had been a spin-off from the space and biotech programs and had been incorporated into Global Intelligence, a worldwide information gathering system and brokerage.
Sonti was accepted into the program and began an intense period of enhancement exercises. While not physical in nature, they exhausted her in the level of intensity her trainers required of her. Her least favorite training exercise was called ‘The Dot’. Simplistic in the extreme, this exercise was the most demanding. The idea was to stare at a small black dot in the middle of a piece of white paper and concentrate only on the dot. No wandering of the mind was permitted. You couldn’t take your eyes off the dot. You couldn’t cheat by focusing your vision somewhere behind the dot or in front of it. The trainers monitored the Initiates through hand or forehead terminals. Sonti had a sneaking suspicion that they were doing more than monitoring. She felt that they were doing inventory of her mind. She had no idea what they were looking for.
It wasn’t long until Sonti said goodbye to Rob. Sonti went off to work for the company she had trained for, and Rob had another list, with another name at the top.
Three short months after answering that classified ad in a town in Texas, Sonti and four others found themselves being driven to their first Assignment. The exact location was kept somewhat vague, they were told, due to the advanced techniques Global Intelligence, GI for short, and the fear of industrial espionage. Sonti was able to gather enough bits and pieces of conversation to believe that it was in the Middle East, away from water, and probably in a desert.
They left the relative comfort provided by an overtaxed air conditioner in the bus that brought them from the airport and stepped onto baked sand in a scorched landscape. ‘Definitely desert’, Sonti thought to herself.
Shielding her eyes from the harsh glare of the sun, Sonti looked for the ‘Hub’, the central gathering point of the GI system. There was not so much as a stick of shade around for miles, let alone a building large enough to house the army of workers required to gather, store, and interpret the information submitted from thousands of agents worldwide.
As she looked across the barren field of rocks and sand, Sonti heard the bus pulling away from the new recruits. Returning in the direction it had come, it kicked up little clouds of dust that drifted slowly with the wind.
The five just turned and stared, too dumbfounded to move or protest. Too weary to chase the trail of dust that followed the bus over the low rise and out of sight.
“Great. Just great. Weeks of training on how to concentrate, relax, and even breathe, and not one course in desert survival.” said Dan, the youngest of the group, at seventeen.
The other four turned to him as one and said, “Shut up, Dan!”
Sonti spoke up. “He has a point, you know. They didn’t give us training because we don’t need it. They wouldn’t waste that kind of money in training and travel just to let us die here.”
As she spoke, she noticed a puff of dust at the base of the small rise that formed the rim of the small valley they stood in.
“Look. Here comes some one for us now.”
The group turned to see a man in a military style uniform walk toward them. They each picked up the single small suitcase they had been allowed to bring with them. Sonti put her few belongings in storage for three years, the length of her first ‘tour’. She didn’t have much, but it was still hard to narrow down what she would take to just one small suitcase.
The man, First Level Advocate Bradley, according to the ID card he wore, indicated that they should follow him. As they approached the place where Sonti had seen Bradley appear, they found to their amazement that they were headed underground. Two doors, like cellar doors opened out from the desert floor, and concrete steps led down for several feet to a landing where they turned out of sight to the left.
Sonti could still recall the feeling she got as the steel doors closed behind them. Each member of the group jumped at the sudden clang of steel. They each heard the mechanical whir of meshing gears sliding locks into place.
Sonti wasn’t the only one to notice that the door had no handle on the inside. “How do we get out if there are no handles on the door?” Dan asked their guide.
Bradley apparently didn’t hear because he didn’t respond to the question. So, Dan asked again, a little louder this time. “If there is an emergency and we have to escape, how can we leave if the doors don’t have handles?”
At this, Bradley stopped and tilted his head, as if to pinpoint the location of a buzzing mosquito. He stayed this way for a moment and then continued along the hall.
The others in the group let Dan know that such questions were idiotic. Of course there was a way to open the doors if needed; a switch or remote-control mechanism. And please shut up before you get us into trouble.
They traveled along the hallway as it gently sloped down. Several minutes later, they came to the end of the hall.
“I don’t get it” said Dan. This time nobody told him to shut up. “What’s this? A dead-end?”
“Shouldn’t there be an elevator or door or something?” Sonti asked.
The group had come to what appeared to be a dead-end. No doors, windows, or openings. Nothing but cement block walls.
FLA Bradley spoke for the first time. “You are seeing exactly what I want you to see”, he said. “You are surely not so naive to think that you are part of an organization limited to the physical plane. Each of you has been chosen and trained to operate outside of that plane. You must realize that there are varying levels of ability in the non-physical world.”
Bradley moved over to Beth, the only girl besides Sonti in the group. “Tell them what you see, Beth”.
Beth looked at him. “Me? All I see is a wall. A cement block wall.”
“Is that all you see?” Bradley whispered. “Look again.”
Beth turned her attention back to the wall. “Oh. Oh my. It’s beautiful! What a place!” She was trembling and swaying. She moved toward the wall. Her eyes fixed on the vision, she asked Bradley, “Can I go there? Please?” She was close to tears by now and begging to go to what looked, to everyone else like a block wall to everyone else.
Bradley turned his back on her without answering and moved to Paul. “What do you see, Paul?”
Paul glanced at Beth and saw her searching the wall for her vanished Utopia. Loss and tears covered her face now. Paul felt he should do something to comfort Beth. After all, he was the oldest in their cell, and they looked to him for guidance. They even called him Gramps in a friendly way.
But a quick look at Bradley, with those piercing eyes and demanding features convinced him instead that he should look at the wall, and now! He opened his eyes wide in astonishment when he focused on the wall. “I see…. I see…” His voice faded as he reeled and fell to the floor.
Bradley’s’ voice boomed in the cavernous hall. “STAND UP.”
Sonti watched in amazement as Paul stood, or as she realized later, as he was pulled to a standing position by invisible hands.
“Report, Paul. What did you see?”
“I saw…. I saw God.” Paul whispered.
There was a moment of silence as the group watched the emotions of awe, fear, wonder and something undeniable play across Paul’s’ face. They were jolted by Bradley’s’ raucous laughter.
“God?” Bradley asked. “You saw God? That’s rich. Really it is. You can’t know how funny that is. No Paul, that wasn’t really God. Perhaps I’ll tell you who it really was someday.” Still chuckling, Bradley moved toward Dan.
“What do you see, Dan?”
“I’m not going to play your game, Bradley. It’s obvious you’re getting your jollies here, but the fun stops now. If there really is someplace to go beyond this miserably hot hall, then take us. If not, then let us out. But either way quit screwing around!”
Bradley looked steadily at Dan then smiled thinly. “Step back everyone. Let Dan have ample opportunity to see the wall and to obey a simple command.”
‘Command?’ thought Sonti as she stepped back.
Dan looked at the others moving away from him and lost some of his courage. But not all off it. “What are you going to do to me?”
Bradley gave Dan another smile. Larger this time, but twice as cold. He stepped forward to put an arm around Dan’s shoulders. “Dan, Dan, Dan. What am I going to do to you? Nothing. I am sorry you thought I was threatening you or bullying the others. No, you’ve got it all wrong, friend. I just want to show the level that we operate on here. Beth was able to follow my instructions quite well. Paul saw something and even though he let himself get carried away by his imagination, he was still able to report what he saw.
Bradley looked at the wall and spoke to all of them in an almost fatherly tone. “Don’t think in terms of your past experiences with items classified as ‘real’ or ‘unreal’, ‘physical’ or ‘spiritual’, ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’. Obey me and your other Masters here. They have a level of ability that will allow them to interpret what you perceive into truth and reality.”
He turned back to Dan, “You see, Dan, this is just part of your training. Not a game. Definitely not a game. In fact, the stakes at risk here are colossal. If you were to glimpse even some of what could be won or lost here, you would be burdened beyond belief. It is for this reason, your own protection, that we will limit your participation in this venture until we feel you can handle more responsibility. It is also for this reason that we will demand immediate and total obedience to our commands. Can you understand that, Dan?”
Dan nodded his head, and humbly looked at the floor.
“Good. Would you like to try again?”
Dan turned to face the wall and instantly went rigid with fear. He shook in horror. His mouth was open as if to scream, but no sound came out.
“Yes, Dan?” Bradley asked quietly. “You do see something don’t you? Good boy. Would you like to study it a little longer before you tell us what it is? Take your time.” Bradley slipped his arm down from Dan’s shoulder and now pinned Dan’s arms. Unable to turn away from the wall the vision on the wall held him frozen in a grip of terror.
Dan was crying now. Great silent sobs wracked his body. Between the sobs, he moaned quietly. The sight of whatever terror in the wall had transformed Dan from a teenager to an old man. It was as if he had seen the horrors of a lifetime compressed into those few moments.
Bradley let go of Dan and watched him fall to his knees, burying his face in his hands.
“What did you see, Dan?” Bradley asked quietly. “Tell us. I’m sure we all want to know what it was.”
Dan wept there on the floor. His tears splashing on the hard cement floor.
Bradley’s’ patience evaporated as quickly as Dan’s tears. “Tell me!” He roared. “Tell me now or learn the punishment for failure!”
Dan could not look up, but finally found enough composure to relate what he had seen. He spoke between sobs, “I was standing outside the gates of Hell. I could feel the searing heat and smell the sulfurous smoke that poured out from the pits of that dark place. I could hear millions of voices screaming. Each voice was clear. Each word could be understood. I couldn’t see anyone until one tortured soul floated near the massive gate. I could her voice clearest of all. She screamed hysterically. She was begging someone to leave. Her voice should have raw, she screamed constantly. She floated closer to the gate. In one brief moment, the smoke thinned, and I could see the woman clearly. She looked directly into my eyes and screamed ‘Leave. Don’t come here. Get away. God, have mercy on my son’.
Dan now looked up at us. “It was my mother.”
FLA Bradley gave a half-hearted attempt at sympathy. “Yes, Dan, it is. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I can’t. That would be a cruel deception. But, you see, that is why we are here. Each of us is expected to give a valiant effort to keep others from ending in an awful place like that. You will have opportunities to advance our agenda and help us bring down the power that has relegated us to torment here and hereafter.”
“B B But she is dead” Dan stuttered. “How can she be anywhere?”
Bradley drew his face into a frown and faced the group. “What I am about to tell you will sound fantastic. You may not believe it right away. I know I took some convincing myself.” Bradley looked into the eyes of each initiate in the tunnel with him to make sure he had their complete attention, then continued. “All those stories you’ve heard about an afterlife are true. They are absolutely, unequivocally true. There is an afterlife. You determine what that afterlife will be like while alive on earth. Contrary to some mystical religions, there is no rebirth to continue the growth to perfection, or to complete some great task left unfinished in a former life. Once you die, that’s it for you. Your energies and efforts and hopes and intentions all go to that great scale of ‘justice’ in the sky and, if the Judge, we call Him ‘That One’, is in a good mood, you get to spend time in heaven. Otherwise, well, you heard Dan describe where his mother was. That One is whom we fight against. He is our enemy!”
Sonti looked at the others. They were looking steadfastly at Bradley. Soaking in every word as pure truth. They would certainly take little convincing, but Sonti had some doubts.
“What about penance and purgatory? Don’t they exist?”
“Another myth inspired to tip the scales against us humans.” Bradley answered. “You will get all the details in the orientation sequence. Don’t worry if it seems too weird right now. Give yourself some time to adjust and adapt to the truth. We will soon be in your new home and you will have some time to yourself to get settled in before we get some work product out of you. After all,” Bradley grinned his best grin, “it’s about time to start earning those monstrous paychecks you will be getting.”
With that, Bradley quickly turned and walked through the cement block wall. That is, the wall disappeared as he approached it. The rest of the group followed him through the rest of the tunnel. Sonti let herself drift to the back of the bunch and thought about what she had seen so far. ‘This is a lot bigger than just a news gathering company. It’s a lot stranger, too. They put us through relaxation training. They ship us around the world and drop us in the middle of a desert. No escape, I guess. They lead us underground and show us optical illusions that would astound even the most stalwart of skeptics. They dump this afterlife junk on you and then say, “O.K. let’s get to work!”’
Sonti followed the others into a large area that seemed to be the social area of the staff of His Own Army. Bradley led them down a corridor that spoked off the social hub to a section containing the private rooms they would ‘live’ in while at work here.
The room they stopped at was near the intersection of two major corridors. The hallway stretched for about 200 feet before it ended at a rock wall. Several doors led off this hall into dorm rooms. There were no numbers, Bradley explained, so they had to memorize the location of their rooms. Besides, you can’t get into a room that you have not been cleared for. Entry was gained by ‘palming’ the interface pad on the wall next to the door. Sonti noticed that, even though this room was assigned to someone else, Bradley had no problem entering. She guessed that he had clearance to all the living quarters. Looking at Bradley when that realization hit her made her shudder. His smile could not hide the coldness that lay just beneath his thin layer of sincerity.
As they entered the bare room, the new recruits got their first look at their room, or ‘cell’, as Bradley called them. First looks were deceiving. That seemed to be the norm here, though. The dimensions were barely more than 9 feet by 9 feet. No bed, no desk, no doors that could be seen. Bradley gave them each a short tour of their room.
‘These cells contain bed, refresher, privacy, and your AI connection.’ Sonti took the room in as she listened to Bradley. No carpet, or visible lights. And, until they were opened, using the AI interface, no visible bed or refresher unit.
The AI interface was just inside the door. The cells were equipped with the latest in wireless technology which let them sign in and then, with the signal generator enacted, direct all computer based activities from anywhere in the room. This was a practical item, it turned out, since everything – the bed, the desk, the intercom, the entertainment console, and the refresher unit were computer activated. You couldn’t reach any of these items while palming the interface at the door.
This palm unit was similar to several Sonti had used before. It had an adjustable band that you placed your hand through. The name, palm unit, was a misnomer, since the palm had nothing to do with connecting to an AI. The connection was made at the back of the hand, which touched the top of the band. This was, of course, for those who had the connection implant on their hands. Those that had the forehead version simply engaged the wireless unit as they passed through the door. Because of the increased connectivity experienced by those with forehead connecting implants, no palming was needed in the cell. The entertainment console was designed to give the forehead connections the fullest experience technologically possible. And a lot was possible.
Bradley ran through the list of items in the room, explaining how each one opened up, pulled out or pulled down through the AI, then walked out, assigning the room to Dan. “The rest of you will follow me” he barked. And the little troupe filed down the hall to receive their cell assignments.
Sonti spent several hours in her cell. She was allowed time to settle in before beginning the orientation regimen began. The bulk of her time was spent investigating the AI.
She soon discovered that the huge computer was designed with a great deal of innovation and creativity. The standard format that had risen from the discovery of the cubic processing system was developed well beyond the standard use Sonti had seen before. And even though she had not been educated in the AI sciences, Sonti had been in and around enough computers to know genius when she saw it. She saw the processing hub set up with not one or two, but three cubic units. This was unheard of in the outside world. Even the techies she had known said that one cube was the max possible. It had something to do with the speed of transfer and redundancy failure times. Nothing was fast enough to support more than one cube.
But Sonti saw three cubes working individually at some times and in parallel at others. What could be in that machine that would allow it to process so fast? The ‘black box boys’, the elite ‘secret’ military scientists had leaked information about human tissue computers, and the speed and volume they had handled data. Some had said that they had used tissue from aborted babies to create their computers, and in fact had a small but growing industry that supported this area of their ‘research’. Sonti found it hard to believe that one. But she wondered if this huge computer was based on tissue.
Her ‘down time’ came to an end when a soft voice spoke in her head from the computer, ‘Sonti, you are due at orientation in 5 minutes. Please use the map I have downloaded to you. Do not be late.’ Sonti saw the map in her head and closed down her cell. Walking through the door and turning right to join the other recruits in the hall, Sonti wondered what she would learn at the orientation. She wondered if she wanted to know.