Do you know what a secret is? Now, if you are reading this for research, perhaps you will write something that is kept or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others. But most of the time, they kept a lot more meaning. What this man is saying is that you will probably not believe the things he wrote down, but the operations described in these entries used to be secret. So don’t fret.
I was an identifier. I figured out who was being disloyal to the government and found out where they were hiding. But the trouble was, most of the time, I was wrong. Many of the janitors—the ones that did the actual killing—were really angry at me, because most of the time I picked the wrong people for the job. I was pretty much an inch away from getting fired. My best friend, Oscar, was a different story. He was pretty much the model identifier. Anyone he got, the janitors did the job without question. They praised him. Why would a guy like him want to be friends with a guy like me? I asked myself the same question.
He said, “You’re not a machine man.”
Machine man. That’s what identifiers call other identifiers that are too stuck in their work. There are a lot of them on Oscar’s level. They usually handled the big jobs, like figuring out where conspiracy organization headquarters were.
I never had the privilege of figuring out what these people did. I just did what I was told to do. Stay out of the way.
You never got money if you had a government job. You were given the stuff you needed. But, if you were good, you were given better, more luxurious stuff. I had a plain old house, and Oscar had a mansion. That was the way it was.
There were lots of identifiers bustling up and down the office when I got to work today. The D.O.C, the Department of Conspiracies, was where identifiers and janitors worked. The janitors were in their trucks, waiting for orders. That way, they didn’t rebel or know too much about things. Lately, there has been a lot of trouble from one organization in particular: The Truthseekers. They led violent raids on military bases and protested.
“Tell us the truth! Stop hiding!” they said. They wanted the government to “reveal their secrets to the public.” Whatever that meant. We identifiers knew everything, and we could have told those guys that there were no secrets that were out of the ordinary. Except for that thing where the president had a secret habit of collecting chewing gum. But surely, they didn’t want to know that, so what were they talking about?
Oscar, even with his prestigious rank, didn’t know either. “I don’t think they want to know that President Stevens collects chewing gum. They’re probably just spreading dumb rumors.”
-An entry from Miles Sanders’ journal-
Secret(n): something kept from the knowledge of others or shared only confidentially with a few
-The Merriam Webster Dictionary-
The next day, there was a huge worldwide protest. Janitors were deployed to subdue those who participated in it. Some of them were killed, overwhelmed by the sheer number of protesters. President Stevens made a speech, honoring those who were killed. He said that those who participated and those who organized the calamity would be punished. When, he did not say. He didn’t even say who organized the protests. Everyone was very angry about the protests. They started demanding the president do something about this. And when he was unable to give the public an answer, the people weren’t exactly pleased or impressed.
The president answered these protests by pledging that he would immediately arrest those who had organized them. He claimed that the majority of those who had participated were innocent people who were manipulated by the organizers. The government would try to rehabilitate them. Oscar and I were fully on board. The protesters had killed people. They had burned homes and destroyed statues. Was the truth that important to them? Were they willing to put themselves and their loved ones in mortal danger?
The next day, the D.O.C got really busy. Identifiers got to work, trying to figure out who the organizers were. I myself was part of the hoard, but, as usual, I just couldn’t find anyone. Oscar, on the other hand, identified five individuals. Janitors were dispatched immediately, and two hours later, news that five individuals had been murdered in a gas explosion reached our ears. Everyone cheered. Killing these five individuals was a major win for our war against the Truthseekers. They had lost five of their major players. That was worth fifteen janitors any day. There was so much triumph and happiness that even though I had a terrible record, I couldn’t help myself getting happy.
“Some day, eh?” I whispered to Oscar.
“Yeah, I hope the rest of them will be caught soon too. They’ve caused too much trouble,” he replied, and went back to identifying. I decided to get to work too. It had been some time since I had identified any enemies. Maybe I could get lucky this time.
Some research and hacking led me to this man, “Jerome Tanner.” Multi-millionaire. But here was the thing. No one knew where he got his fortune. That caught me, and Oscar agreed, as a little shady. Could this be one of the people who secretly fund conspiracy organizations such as the ones we were hunting? If I was right in this one, I had scored myself something huge. There was absolutely no chance that I would still be greeted with a frown every time I met a janitor outside of his truck. Surely, if this was the right guy, all would be forgiven, right?
Protest n/v: the act of objecting or a gesture of disapproval, especially : a usually organized public demonstration of disapproval
-The Merriam Webster Dictionary-
“Mr. Sanders, President Stevens would like to see you.”
I was filled with dread. It was not good news to be called to the President’s office. First, there was the long journey to The Building. Second, there was the actual meeting.
There were two possibilities if you went to The Building. Either you were going to be fired, or you were going to be promoted to a very prestigious rank.
But, considering my recent record, I was probably not going to get promoted.
I knew why. I got it wrong. I had accused one of the world’s richest people and almost got the government under some really hot water. Why had I been so stupid? I should have just played it safe and done nothing, as usual. But watching those conspirators get executed must have filled me with reckless pride. I felt like I could actually do something, like Oscar, and get something done, turn someone in.
Why was this bad? I could always get a new job. Yes, that was the case, except for the fact that this was not like other jobs. because this job was very secretive. So, for security reasons, if you were fired, you would be executed. If I was fired, I definitely would not be able to worm my way out of death.
We arrived at The Building. I was shaking all over. I entered President Steven’s office.
* * *
When I left the office, I was still shaking all over. Two soldiers in black, extra light armor escorted me to my waiting room. The execution would begin in two hours. I was free to eat whatever I wanted, and do whatever I wanted, as long as I stayed in my cell. A guard watched my every move as I paced around, too anxious to eat anything. I had never asked anyone in the office about executions. What would happen? How did they kill you? I sincerely hoped that I would be given a quick, painless death. No one knew the execution method. Anyone who asked would be executed.
^ ^ ^
Two hours passed. The guard came into my room and hoisted me up.
“Miles Sanders, you have been expelled from the class of identifier and due to security reasons, shall be executed. Method of execution: firing squad.”
Well, that was a relief. I had been thinking it would be something like a painful poison.
The guard walked me to a field where seven men were waiting. They wore elaborate uniforms, and all of them had the same exact expression—which would have been funny if I wasn’t going to be killed by them.
I was tied to a wooden pole. The men looked at me and raised their rifles. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth. One of them sneered at me. The men raised their weapons—and everything went black.
Conspiracy(noun)-a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful
-The Oxford Languages Dictionary-
A face loomed above me. It was familiar, like someone I hadn’t seen in a long time. I knew who it was. “Mom?”
“No,” said the woman lightly.
“Can’t you guess?”
“What–how–where–” I stuttered. It was Isabel. My sister. I had not seen her in three years, ever since I became an identifier. “Are you dead?”
“But I’m dead.”
“But they shot me. I felt it; the squad didn’t miss!”
“They did, actually. They missed your heart. You’re really lucky that I caught wind of the news just in time. They were about to dissect you and harvest your organs.”
“The government. The great heroes of the age. The uniters, the peace bringers, you know, them.”
“Okay…” I tried to move, but almost blacked out again from the pain.
“Easy now,” said Isabel. “You probably shouldn’t move yet. You just got past your surgery.”
“What? Okay, I got to go into hiding. So, it was nice meeting you, but I got to go.”
“Not so fast. You’re already in hiding.”
“Welcome, dear brother, to the Truthseekers’ safehouse.”
I stared up at her. The Truthseekers’ safehouse was destroyed. There was nothing left. But, she couldn’t know that. Besides, she wasn’t even part of the Truthseekers. Or was she? I hadn’t been in touch with her for a solid three years. Who knows what might have happened to her?
At this point, I had two options. Escape, or stay. My first impulse was to escape, but something told me that I wouldn’t be able to get far, especially if I’d just had a heart surgery. But I couldn’t stay. The Truthseekers were maniacs! They led violent protests and raids on government weapon stores, and sent death threats to various government officials.
Just then, the opening of a door brought me back from my reverie. The person who had opened it was a wiry man with a hooked nose and a suspicious expression on his face.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Sanders. I am agent Fox. I am here to check on you and your sister.”
“Who are you? Is everything Isabel said true? Is this really the Truthseekers’ safehouse?”
“Yes. Everything your sister said is true. But it is not true that your sister just got wind of the news. We have (on your sister’s insistence) been watching you for some time. We know that you were an identifier for three years. We know that your best friend Oscar is much better at his job, and we know that you have been expecting to be executed for the past three weeks.”
I was dumbstruck. I stared up at Agent Fox. “Why?”
“I asked the same question. To tell you the truth Mr. Sanders, a lot of our operatives and members are not fond, if not completely suspicious, that you are not all that you seem. Some of the members think that Miss Sanders over here edited the footage of you worrying for your life, not to mention your more than positive attitude toward the government.”
“What’s wrong with the government?”
“The government has been telling lies in order to move their plans into action. In the first five years of his presidency, Mr. Stevens has had 23 of his political enemies assassinated through various methods, making sure the killings wouldn’t be traced back to him. A man called James Bradbury was falsely accused and executed of these crimes. I’m quite sure you didn’t know about that.”
“No, no no no. Bradbury did commit those crimes. There was a bunch of evidence against him. He was there at every crime scene.”
“And who told you that?”
“The government. Why would they lie to their own officials?”
“Ah, that is indeed the question. Why would the government lie to you, one of their own officials, one of their spycatchers? Well, here’s the thing. The government knows everything about you. They know—and we know, because we have useful hackers of our own—that you and your sister weren’t exactly model students. The government also knows this. That is why they lied to you. Information is power. Information given to a misbehaving official that is bad at his job—no way. They don’t even fully trust the officials that behave. Every single person who has attempted to figure it out was executed. This is why they lied to you, Mr. Sanders, because they can’t trust you. And frankly, neither can I.”
Then, without another word, he left the room.
“He sounds like a sweetheart.”
Isabel smiled dryly. And when I looked into her eyes, I saw that things weren’t going to improve for me. Things were going to get much, much worse.
Half an hour after I had my conversation with Agent Fox, I passed out again. After sixteen hours of surgery, my bed was moved in front of Isabel’s room. There, we could talk privately and I could get a sense of what was going on. She told me I was in the Truthseekers’ headquarters, which was actually a utilized factory storage facility. The protest President Stevens had mentioned had been organized by Truthseekers and their funding corporations. But, recently, with so many of their donors getting arrested and executed, the organization was not doing very well.
“What else is the government hiding?” I asked, still not sure whether they were lying or not.
“We really don’t know, but there are some theories that the government is hogging some very strange documents, like ancient war weapons and files on long extinct diseases,” Isabel said seriously.
“I think your reading has gone to your head, Isa,” I said serenely.
“I’m serious. Our hackers have dug up some pretty disturbing stuff.”
“Like a strange report on the three plagues.”
“Excuse me? Those plagues are extinct. They’re not coming back.”
“I hope so too, but it looks like the government is trying to use the plagues as a biological weapon against enemies—specifically, us!”
At last I was starting to get a grasp of things. Isabel had been brainwashed into their cult of radicals and maniacs who wanted the times of war, starvation, and disease to return to us. We had lived in prosperity for so long, and now the Truthseekers’ were trying to get rid of all the effort we had put into creating a perfect society. When I told this to Isabel, she scoffed.
“Perfect society my foot,” she sneered. “Is it a perfect society if people are still protesting, if some are still poor? You live in a one room house! How is that a perfect society? Huh? It looks like your idea of a perfect society is very different from mine!”
“But then…” I said, struggling to change the subject, “do you even have any evidence for these claims of yours? Even if these are true, how are you going to prove it?”
“Actually, the organization has plenty of evidence. We hacked into their database and replicated some of the files that we could access with the equipment we had. What we found were some pictures of the president holding about twenty packs of bubble gum and wearing a pair of furry purple pj’s, a blueprint for some kind of world-ender, and an encrypted document titled “Three Plague Plan.” So, how much proof is that for you?”
I had to admit, it was more on-field proof than I’d expected, and I was shocked that Oscar hadn’t told me any of this. He was my best friend, and he probably knew all about this stuff, what with him having top clearance to everything and all that. This enemy organization knew more stuff than me, and I was one of the government’s employees. Well, ex-employee, anyway. They thought I was dead, but with all the surveillance in the world, it wouldn’t be long before they found out I’d survived.
A few months had passed since I came to the headquarters of the Truthseekers, and I still hadn’t been able to leave. Agent Fox and numerous doctors came to check on me regularly, to make sure I was healthy, and in Agent Fox’s case, to make sure I didn’t run away. Security always seemed to be an issue within the organization. Espionage agents and soldiers were constantly moving in and out of the facility, making sure the place was always busy. Isabel and I shared the same room. I think it was to make sure that I didn’t escape, because Isabel was a lot better at fighting than I ever was. But one morning, Agent Fox came to my cot with a look of suppressed triumph about him.
“What’s up?” I asked tentatively.
“Major-General Sterling would like to see you,” he said, and after that, in a whisper, so that Isabel wouldn’t hear, “Nice knowing you.”
In a moment he was rolling my cot out of the room and down a long corridor, where everyone seemed to know who I was. Apparently, the walls were pretty thin down in the facility. They whispered as I passed, and one of them gave me a strange look. Was it sympathy?
My reverie was broken by Agent Fox knocking on a door. The sign read, MAJOR GENERAL NATHANIEL STERLING, and under that in smaller handwritten letters, DO NOT ENTER WITHOUT PERMISSION! A voice from inside the room barked, “Who is it?”
“Agent Fox, sir. I have the patient you requested.”
“Bring him in, and please don’t eavesdrop.”
“Yes, sir,” Fox said through gritted teeth. He opened the door. Inside, I saw a man in his forties or so, with a seemingly permanent scowl across his face. Medals gleamed on his suit. He looked up from the paper he was reading and stared at Fox.
“And what are you still doing here?” he asked, his voice dripping with fake niceness.
Fox turned stiffly, and left, shutting the door behind him.
“Well, Sanders, now that you’re here, I want to tell you: there’s no turning back now.”
Sterling looked at me through cold gray eyes.
“I think it’s time to clear the air.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I would like to tell you what the rest of this place thinks about you.”
“Uhh… Go ahead, Major-General, sir.”
“Oh, please. No need for that. Call me Starling. Starling Sterling. But anyway, everybody except for your sister and I are very skeptical about you. They think you might be some kind of sleeper agent, or someone who was posing as dead so that you could sneak into our headquarters. Fox is one of those people. Isabel thinks of you as someone who deserves a second chance. I think that you are not a sleeper agent, but a brilliant asset.”
“You heard me. You’re from the government. You know things. Even though you were terrible at your job,” he said as I tried to speak, “your friend Oscar has passed you a lot of information that you never had access to.”
“So you’re saying that I have information inside me, I just don’t remember it?”
“Worth a guess. We could try something out. But I warn you, the methods and technology our doctors are going to use to extract this information are very experimental. So for your sake I hope you get some rest tonight.”
“Good, then you can go back to your room. And try not to panic when the doctors come and get you.”
I left. There was a lot hanging over my head. For one thing, I seemed to have to become some kind of lab rat to extract information about the government. When I told Isabel about these worries, she just kind of shoved them away and didn’t talk about it.
The next day, two grim looking doctors knocked on the door. They rolled my gurney outside and into a surgery room.
“Can you sit up?” one of them asked.
“In that case, we’ll just have you put this on in your gurney.”
They handed me a kind of metal bicycle helmet. When I put it on, it hummed a bit, and they hooked the helmet up on their computer.
“This machine will search your brain and display the images on a computer. Only the information extracted will be displayed.”
Then they turned it on.
It felt like my brain was being probed and prodded as electrical signals searched through it. Images flashed through my head. Oscar telling me something, something about a weapon, me searching through a computer, janitors begging me to tell them something about the plan, who they were killing, and why. I never saw them again… A high pitched noise filled my head. The voices of Oscar, Isabel, and the young janitors blurred together. I was losing consciousness. What was I doing in a gurney? Where was I?
“Enough. ENOUGH!” roared one of the doctors. The machine turned off, and my head stopped aching. I breathed deeply, and the doctors said, “We have the information. We are very sorry for the pain. You may go now.” They rolled me out the door, and back to my room. The experimental method had gone quite smoothly, and it looked like they had all the information they needed.
* * *
Fox was looking more sour than ever as he came to visit everyday, which made me think that he was getting chewed out by Starling Sterling more often these days, and was being more and more horrible to me. I hoped that, by the time I could get out my gurney, he would become a lot nicer.
Isabel cared for me everyday, telling me stories of the outside world, that the cleaners had killed more people in a desperate attempt to find the head of the organization. So far, they were unsuccessful. Oscar was trying to find me. He had resigned. He couldn’t believe that I was dead and was trying to find me. Sooner or later, he would end up here, she said. I didn’t doubt it. He was a very skilled hacker. Sooner or later he would find out about the Truthseekers and connect the dots. Or he would call the government and try to kill all of us. I sincerely hoped that, out of friendship for me, he wouldn’t do the latter.
I was resigned to the fact that I probably wasn’t going to be able to run long distances, as the bullet had almost penetrated my lung and cut through a couple of veins. But I could stand up straight and walk, so I got rid of my gurney and started to cook my own food. There weren’t many options on the menu in an old factory, but I managed. Fox wasn’t treating me as meanly anymore. The information that I gave probably changed my mind about him.
* * *
Oscar found us. He came through the door, looking very tired and ashen-faced. A few security guards helped him to his feet. “I’m… here to see… Miles Sanders.” Then he collapsed, and was taken to the doctors so they could check on him.
* * *
After he got his check up, Oscar came to Isabel’s room, where he talked to me about the situation. “There are rumors,” he said, “about an identifier that survived an execution. I knew it had to be you.”
But other than the heartwarming friendship conversation we had, suspicion within the organization was rising. If people had been suspicious of me before, it was nothing compared to the treatment Oscar was getting. Fox never addressed him and spoke only to Isabel and me. Sterling was the only person who treated him like a person in the organization. Then again, Sterling was a little different than the other people of the organization. But I liked him. He was the only person in the organization that would look me and Oscar in the eyes when he talked to us.
“In order for the people here to like you,” he told Oscar, “you need to give them a present. What would they like?”
“Chocolate? Organic food?”
“No, think a little harder. Deduce using that identifier brain of yours.”
“Exactly. You just have to give them information that would be useful in taking down the government. What could be useful for that?”
A smile grew on Oscar’s face.
* * *
The next day, excitement buzzed around the organization. There was a rumor that the newest member had told Sterling a bunch of information, and that the hackers of the organization had confirmed the news. This was going to be very beneficial to the organization, and only Fox was looking unhappy.
When I asked Sterling about Fox’s attitude these days, he chuckled and said, “Don’t mind him. He’s a spy too, and he’s just sour that you and your friend gave more information about the government than he did in his 20 years of working against it. He’s been around since this place was born, and he hasn’t found nearly as much as you guys poured out.”
That was certainly something, as now I knew why Fox was always so angry all the time. Oscar laughed with satisfaction when I told him this, and it felt like we were in high school again, before the government had come into our lives. But it wouldn’t be long until this happiness would come to an end…
A few weeks had passed since Oscar had come through and introduced himself to the organization. And there was still a lot of skepticism rolling around. Fox was tailing us wherever we went, hoping that we would do something stupid and get in trouble. In fact, everyone was so suspicious that we were hooked up to lie-detectors eleven times.
Meanwhile, Oscar himself was getting bored out of his skull. It made sense. He hadn’t been allowed to leave, and neither could I. It wasn’t safe for me to go out, because if the government saw me—and they most likely would—they would kill me this time. It was a horrible prospect.
Oscar couldn’t go out because new intel from the best spies indicated that he had been marked traitor and various janitors were out looking for him. One of them, possibly the most infamous janitor of all, was Jason Stone. Recognized for his athletic achievements, he had been trained and turned into a ruthless killing machine. If Jason Strong was out to get him, Oscar stood no chance the moment he walked out the gates.
It also turned out the leaders of the Truth Seekers had been right in thinking that everyone would overlook the abandoned factory the organization had taken refuge in. Fox was gnashing his teeth and pulling out his hair. Sterling said he was kind of unstable, which might explain the random temper tantrums that he threw some times. But the biggest issue was the ever increasing surveillance of the government, which was making it even harder and harder for spies from the organization to get intel about future government plans. And since the organization pretty much ran on intel from their spies, this was terrible news. People started to whisper that Oscar and I were curses.
Us being here was causing the problems. We needed to go.
And now, they would have the perfect excuse.
No one was expecting it. The broken down old factory was probably the safest place to be. And that day had started out no differently. But then, at noon, right after lunch, they came. It was probably the most horrible thing I had ever seen. A couple of things happened to make the entire thing even worse:
First, the streets outside were cleared. A couple of police cars came.Officers stepped out, talked to the people that were clearing the streets, and walked off.
Then, two hours later, an old hawker knocked on the door. When no one answered, he walked away. The people in the old building waited with baited breath to see if anything would happen.
Then, two more hours after that, the hawker returned, this time with janitors holding guns. Trucks followed them. One of the janitors knocked on the door. When no one answered, he called his friends and bashed the door with a battering ram.
At this point, everyone was gearing up with weapons for a fight. They hit again, and more janitors were streaming out of the trucks, each with their own weapons; swords, or guns, or stick grenades, they had them all. Every single one of them had the same expression, kind of bored, kind of grim. The battering ram struck again, and this time, the gates gave way. They came in, and no one was there.
General Jason Stone stepped through the gates, took one look around, slumped to his knees, and screamed at the top of his lungs. Screamed until his throat was raw. Screamed until he couldn’t scream any longer.
One of his henchmen asked, “Are you all right, sir?”
The general took one look at him, and punched him in the stomach. The soldier doubled up, wheezing, and the general said, “No.”
After twenty SUVs had pulled out of the driveway and sped off into the wheatfields of Kansas, Fox turned on me and Oscar.
“What was that?”
“Obviously an attack.”
“I meant, how did they know? HOW DID THEY KNOW?!” His voice reverberated around our car.
“I know what you’re thinking. You think it’s us, but it’s not. We haven’t had access to the computers or anything at all, really. We couldn’t have done it!”
“I never said it was you. No one’s saying it’s you. But everyone’s thinking it.”
This was true. There were only two people here from the government—us. It made perfect sense that everyone would think that we had leaked some information to the government’s side, which had immediately sent troops. Sterling was speaking to an old man, who was looking amused.
“Who’s that?” asked Oscar.
“Don’t try to change the subject. It won’t work.”
“I’m not trying to change the subject. I actually want to know who that person is.”
“Fine. That’s Lloyd Booker. He founded this place ten years ago.”
“Thanks for letting me change the subject. You are so gullible.”
“If you think I’m gullible, it most definitely is you being tricked! HA HA!”
Two months ago
“General, you are out of your mind,” the council member protested.
“I’m serious. He may still be alive right now. Maybe they’re planning to recruit him. Let me send a squad to look for him. We have ways of covering our tracks.”
“We are not willing to waste a squad on a man who is most likely in the hands of God!”
“Miles Sanders was shot and killed by a firing squad, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, he was.”
“If that is so, why didn’t we burn his body? All executed people’s bodies are burnt. Why not his?”
“If the only kind of evidence is that the body was not burnt, I am not sure why this council is listening to you.”
“You never found it, did you? You never found his body. He was killed, and you couldn’t find his body. Just as though it suddenly decided to escape,” rumbled the general, his voice steadily rising. “Let me send a squad, and I’ll find him. I have been very well informed anyway.”
As he sat in the back of the lead truck headed back to the Department of Conspiracies, General Jason Stone had a flashback. The ministers doubted him, the president scoffing, just because they couldn’t see the truth: Miles Sanders was alive.
Somehow, his body had been spared from protocol procedure 247: all executed bodies shall be burnt. Somehow, he had escaped. But no, the government was going to stay blind, so the General had disobeyed orders and taken a squad to go and find Miles. He was the key to destroying all the government’s problems. His father, Sergeant Nolan Sanders had been a janitor. Miles Sanders had to return to the government and serve his purpose. It was his purpose, like his father, to serve as an official in the DOC.
I looked at the new place we had settled in, the garage of an old farmer. He was nice enough, giving us a bit of his food, but in the meantime, we honored the memories of those who had died while trying to stall the government's troops. Jason Stone was there. Sterling said that there was only one thing that could be drawn from this. They knew that I was alive. They knew that was why Oscar had gone off the radar. No way was this a coincidence.
Jason Stone was ruthless, insane, murderous. He would hunt us to the end of the world. But for now, finding the mole was the main priority. If we were being accused of being traitors, maybe we could catch the actual mole and get our names cleared?
Fox was looking like Christmas had been canceled. He had probably been looking forward to us getting kicked out so he would be the top agent again. We had given away a lot of information about the government, and we were closer than ever to stopping them. But then this invasion basically crushed our chance at getting rid of President Stevens.
Everyone was intent on finding the mole. Fox was probably the most zealous. Everywhere we went, he tailed us. There was a lot of suspense in the old garage because the leaders of the organization had gotten more reclusive over the past couple of days. It looked like they were debating over something. What, I did not know.
“You're getting worse. The tumor has spread to your brain. As it has just reached it, you still have about nine months to live. I suggest you try to achieve all your life goals in short order and make a bucket list.”
“Doctor, there is only one goal I want to achieve.”
The doctor shifted in his seat. As the most successful doctor and psychiatrist in the world, it was natural for people like Jason Stone to come and pay him thousands of dollars. But Jason Stone had never been a conversationalist. “What is that?”
“It is to kill Miles Sanders.”
The doctor shifted uncomfortably in his seat some more. “You mean that identifier who’s already dead?”
“Not dead, doctor. Not dead.”
“Are you suggesting that he somehow survived the execution?”
“It’s a theory.”
“A theory is formed based on evidence. You, on the other hand, have none.”
“The supposedly dead body of Miles Sanders has managed to worm its way out of Protocol Procedure 247.”
“All executed bodies must be burnt.”
“It says here that the computers are being used at night, when no one should be using them.”
“This has got to be the mole.”
Oscar and I were looking at the computer log. There was some strange activity going on. The mole was switching computers. This meant he knew that all the computers had the same information stored inside them. There weren’t a lot of people who knew this, because if they had, everyone would be trying to get classified information. We only knew because Sterling had told us.
“Hey,” said Oscar one afternoon, “You think it’s Fox? He might be framing us to keep himself in the organization.
“Fox,” I scoffed, “He’s so loyal.”
Eventually we decided that we would patrol the computer room every night to catch the mole. We would arm ourselves with handguns in case the situation became dangerous.
For the first week or so, we found nothing. But, on the ninth day, we saw him. The mole was there. We were looking around when we saw a hunched shadow in front of a glowing computer screen. We immediately dropped to the floor and looked up at him.
“Who is he?” I whispered.
“I don’t know,” Oscar hissed back.
“Maybe he’ll turn around and we could look at him.”
“Yeah, or maybe you’ll never look at anything again,” said a gruff, callous voice.
Oscar and I leapt up and found ourselves facing Fox. We raised our laser guns. Suddenly, two goons stepped out of the shadows, holding laser guns, too.
Fox raised his own weapon. “You have two minutes to tell me what you were doing and why you were doing it.”
“Spying on you. Isn’t it obvious?” asked Oscar.
“It is, but I want to know why you were spying.”
“Why are you doing this?” I exclaimed.
Fox gave a very sinister laugh.
“Put down your weapons, and we can talk.”
“Why would we put down our weapons if you’re not going to do the same?”
“’Cause we clearly have the upper hand. Three of us, two of you. You kill me, and they can still carry on. It’s simple math. And remember, the more time you give me, the more you’ll stay alive.”
“Fine.” Oscar and I put down our weapons and sat down. Fox did the same, but still had his weapon pointed at us.
I saw no way out of this. Everyone else was sound asleep. We were two guys with not enough weapons, and Fox’s goons could still carry on.
“I could rant on for hours on why I decided to turn on you people, but the short answer is this: I am not needed here anymore, but the government always needs new spies. When I first joined, I was part of the founders, with me being the best agent in the organization. I took down janitors, stole information. I was the star. But then the government became more careful. Smarter. I couldn’t compete with the minds of so many people who always had new backup plans.
“I slowly became obsolete. New agents joined. They soon became the center of attention. I was jealous. Eight years here and I wasn’t getting the recognition I deserved! And then there was Sterling. The ultimate thorn in my side. He never let me get promoted to more than one slot at a time. He said there was something about me that he didn’t like. Something about me he couldn’t afford to feed too much information. He discouraged me. The model soldier! Pah.
“Then, two years later, you two came. Popped up straight into my life and immediately began to belch out information I couldn’t ever have figured out. For me, that was the last straw. I couldn’t afford to be obsolete any longer. I decided that if I was going to be a spy, I would rather be a spy for the side that actually needed me.
“You guys didn’t need me. I was obsolete. I was the guy that hung around but did absolutely nothing. So I contacted old Major-General-Commander Jason Stone. Word on the street said he was getting desperate for information. So I became his full time informant. You people are so stupid. Just because you’re from the government everyone started to pick on you. Well, here’s the deal. I WAS THE MOLE!!!”
“So,” said Oscar, “you turned traitor because you were jealous? You are one seriously messed up guy.”
“Shut it!” snarled Fox. There was a look of pure insanity on his face as he inspected us.
“So, should I kill you here, or should I take you into custody? I made quite a fortune from selling all that information, and Jason Stone really wants to meet you, Sanders.”
“Yeah, he sounds like a total pleasure.”
The two goons looked at Oscar and kicked him in the chest. He doubled over, wheezing. They laughed a trollish laugh. They looked at me, and were about to start bullying me when there were two flashes of blue light, and they fell over. Isabel stood in the doorway, holding a blaster and looking grim.
Fox quickly got to his feet, but not in time. She shot him in the arm then in the leg. He fell over again, his hand clutching his arm. His leg flopped around limply as he writhed in pain.
“You,” she said, “are in big trouble.”
Fox was handed over to guards, who sent him to Sterling’s room for interrogation.
“What was that?” she asked us in our room.
“We kind of knew there was a mole, and we figured that we could find him by patrolling the corridors at night. We really didn’t expect it to be Fox though,” explained Oscar.
“I know that. But why do that? That’s so dangerous. You might have been mistaken for the mole.”
“We know, but we wanted to prove that we weren’t the moles.”
“Exactly, everyone was being really suspicious and paranoid, and we wanted to stop any more blame from coming to us, but now it looks like there won’t be any blame to roll around. Fox was captured, and you killed his goons.”
Jason Stone screamed. Rumor had it that the new government mole, agent Fox, had been apprehended, along with two accomplices. Now Jason had nothing. Nothing! He couldn’t prove Miles Sanders’ existence right now because Fox hadn’t sent him any pictures. And Fox must have been apprehended right before he was going to send new information, because Fox hadn’t gotten any of the information that was promised for three days now. There was now only one choice left. To go and look for Miles himself.
Sterling called us to his room some time after the interrogation.
“I just wanted to thank you,” he said in his gravelly voice, “for capturing him. I was always suspicious, but I didn’t have anything to prove it.”
“But really, how did you catch him?”
“We snuck out at night.”
“We patrolled the corridors, and we found him on our eighth stakeout.”
“We were outnumbered. I guess he knew someone was on to him.”
“Eh, he was always pretty sharp. Unstable, but sharp.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“He told us that he became obsolete after some time, with all the newer agents outshining him.”
“In the early days, he was all right, scoring us lots of information. But then he changed. With each newer agent he became more and more sour, getting more and more sloppy on his assignments, and losing focus. We held meetings about him. I think you two coming here finally set him off.”
“We’re sorry. We didn’t mean to cause all this.”
“Don’t beat yourselves up. You’re not to blame. Fox is, for being so unstable and insecure.”
After our talk with Sterling, I decided that it was all coming down to this: either I could hide out here, or I could go and face Jason Stone. The first option sounded cowardly. The second option sounded suicidal. I couldn’t just stay here. Everyone in the organization would be in constant danger. But if I went and faced Jason Stone, I would die, and everyone would still be in danger.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” The General screamed. Fox had been captured. The last thing the General needed was for his informant to be captured. Surely they would interrogate him. Surely they would get the information he had been about to send. To go look for Sanders was a lot easier said than done. The General would have to look for the organization all over again. His captives had died in custody, and now the government thought he was insane. Everything was now coming down to this: he would either go looking for Sanders himself, or Sanders would come and visit him. All he had to do was wait.
To say that I was going to look for Stone was one thing. Actually doing it was another. I didn’t know where Stone lived, but apparently he had all the latest security to protect himself. It was a side-effect of being so paranoid. Apparently, he had made himself a lot of enemies with various other organizations and actual criminals. There was no denying that I was going to die. I stood no chance against him, but if word on the street was true and he always kept his promises, I was hoping that he would be willing to negotiate.
Jason Stone was a patient man. Extraordinarily patient. When he was young, he would sit and wait for hours without entertainment, without bothering anyone. His friends had been very impressed. But now his patience was waning. He could feel it, feel the frustration bubbling up inside him as he sat and thought at his desk. With his stomach cancer getting worse and his increasing paranoia and bipolar disorder, he was running out of time. His psychiatrist had also said that there was a chance of dementia now. The last thing Stone needed was to forget about his life’s goal. Two more months at least. Most likely two and a half.
The General (20 years ago)
Jason walked with Nolan down a corridor. Both aged 42, Nolan’s son Miles had just had his third birthday party. They were going to the room where they would plan their next mission. Vanessa was already waiting for them. She kissed Nolan on the cheek before sitting down.
There was not much talking the next evening. Not even in my room, which was usually always filled with conversation. The news that Fox had died in custody had just reached us. There was nothing to be done. General Jason Stone’s patience was surely thinning. I had to find him before he went berserk and sent troops after everyone. What was I getting myself into? I was slowly regretting not dying back in the sunny field. One of those soldiers couldn’t have been older than me.
There was no time. I had to find him.
There was nothing this painful. In all his life, he had never felt so broken. Only 62, and he was dying. He was in the worst situation possible, and was impatiently waiting for Miles Sanders to find him. Today, he’d forgotten his guard’s name. The one he saw every day. This was only the start of dementia. The doctor had recommended that he write a diary so he wouldn’t forget important things.
I told Oscar. Of course he protested. But, in the end, he decided to help me. Help me to find Stone and prevent the deaths of everyone in the organizations. I owed them that. They’d put up with Oscar and I, even though they’d been suspicious. Especially Sterling. I knew that somewhere inside him, he was also suspicious. But he laid down his trust for us, and I couldn’t thank him enough.
At the end of the day, you are only left with two things; your pain, and your diary. His stomach was killing him. And he was forgetting things more and more frequently. The way to the doctor’s, his guard’s name… Once, he couldn’t even remember Miles Sanders’ first name.
Jason Stone finished his soup and started writing in his diary. What was his name again? Oh yeah, Miles Sanders. The name brought anger to him, and for a second, he couldn’t remember why. Oh yeah, Miles was a traitor. Jason wrote it all down. He had been able to remember writing it for a week or so now, but his dementia was getting worse. This was something that the doctor had described as ‘inevitable.’ His dementia had to get worse. All he could do was to hope that Miles Sanders was on his way.
Oscar and I searched for a week and a half. Hacking into dark web chatter, searching neighborhoods. Nothing. There was nothing to be found about Stone’s location. There had been a couple of clues, but not enough to get his exact location. Even though this was not going to end well, I knew I could find him. In time? That was another thing. There was not much time. Stone was losing patience and would soon send troops to our old barn to try to kill us again. We had to find him soon.
What was his name? Jason Stone. Yes, that was his name. String? Stone? Stone. It was clear that he was losing this fight against dementia. He was struggling to remember his own name, how to read the time, and what water tastes like. Strange, because water tastes like nothing. What he needed was more time. The doctor suggested that he write his journal more specifically. If Jason forgot how to read, that would be inevitable. But the doctor said that that was likely not going to happen in the near future. The appearance of strange people he did not recognize in his dreams made his paranoia even worse, and he had more fits and seizures than ever.
We set off. Finally, we found him. Living in a house in a neighborhood just a couple of days away (by car). We couldn’t go by plane. People would recognize us. We stole a car from the garage and went to find him.
Jason Stone collapsed on the ground after having a fit. His bipolar disorder was getting worse, and he was having splitting headaches. His guard walked into his room.
“Are you all right, sir?”
Jason Stone looked up at him, mildly confused. “Who are you? What are you doing in my house?”
“I asked you: Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“I’m your guard, sir. Don’t you recognize me?”
“I’ve never hired a guard. I’m perfectly capable of defending myself. I’m Jason Stone. The most formidable janitor ever.”
“You were, sir. You were. But you retired, and you are now suffering from paranoia, bipolar disorder, dementia, and stomach cancer.”
“That would explain the stomach ache and why I don’t remember you. But how do I know you are not trying to trick me?”
“We could visit the doctor if you like. The doctor that gave you your diagnosis.”
“Then let’s go ahead and do that.”
Forty-five minutes later, Jason stood outside a building he had never seen in his life. A plaque beside the door said, “Doctor Bill.”
“This is the doctor’s office,” Jason stated.
“Will he recognize me?”
“Yes, sir. Remember, you’re the only one with dementia.”
After taking the elevator to the doctor’s office, they encountered a nurse.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“No,” the guard said, “but we have to see the doctor now.”
“Why is this?” asked the nurse.
“It’s regarding General Stone’s dementia.”
“I’ll call him right away.”
They waited in the room for about an hour and a half after the nurse had escorted them into the doctor’s office.
“Doctor, he forgot about me,” the guard said.
“We’ve been over this,” the doctor said, “He’s forgotten your name before. It is going to happen more frequently.”
“No, you don’t understand. He forgot the fact that he even had a guard and thinks he’s back in his 40’s.”
“I am 42,” Jason said. “I was going to go to buy Miles’ present today, but you stopped me!”
“I see,” the doctor said. “This is quite unexpected. His dementia has sped up at a rate I’ve never seen before.”
“This means that…” the guard started.
“I can’t do anything for him. All we can do is watch and keep him out of trouble. From now on, we are going into very uncertain territory. I cannot guarantee that anything good will happen. But starting from now things will mostly go downhill.”
“Excuse me sir,” said a police officer outside of our stopped car. “You’ve exceeded the speed limit. Could you roll down the window and sign this ticket?”
This was bad. If I rolled down the window, they would recognize me and shoot me. If I didn’t, they would try to break the glass and shoot me. There was a very slim chance that I would survive either situation. I looked at Oscar, and he nodded. I opened the car door, and stepped outside.
“Okay great, now sign here… Wait, Sanders?! It’s Miles Sanders!”
Without a moment’s hesitation, I held my weapon and pulled the trigger.
That was probably my closest shave while we were moving. On the other hand, we did end up getting stuck in a car chase, with the police racing right behind us. We had to evade the police and get to Jason Stone before he launched an all out assault on the organization.
An officer rolled down the window and fired his handgun. He missed. I fired my weapon and missed as well. More police cars were pulling up in front of us. Oscar was panicking behind the wheel. As even more police cars pulled up, he swerved to the right and we crashed into a lamppost…
Jason Stone was staring from the guard to the doctor, with a confused smile on his face. Then he doubled over, and threw up.
“It looks like his stomach cancer is getting worse as well,” said the doctor. “Since he won’t take the radiation treatment, all we can do is wait. I cannot force something upon a patient who is already this confused. It is against the law.”
“All right then, we shall go. Let’s go, general,” the guard said.
“Don’t you order me around! I still don’t know who you are.”
“I already told you, I’m your guard.”
“And I already told you, I don’t have one.”
“No, you do,” said the doctor firmly. “He will take you home and you will be safe there.”
The police cars were moving so fast that they smashed into each other. They couldn’t swerve in time! But neither could we, as we had crashed into a lamppost, and the road around us was littered with police cars and debris. We weren’t going to get past that, even if we could get our car going again. We were going to have to use public transportation or rent a car. We hadn’t even gotten halfway to our target and our car was smashed and probably not working. We had to figure something out.
Jason Stone looked at himself in the mirror, shocked by what he saw.
“I look like I’m 60!” he exclaimed.
“That’s because you are,” the guard explained.
“No, I’m 40, just like you.”
“Actually, I’m 35.”
“I don’t care.”
“I just want to know, how could this happen? I must have been taking the wrong lotions or something. And why does my stomach hurt so much?”
“You have stage 4 stomach cancer, yet you decided not to get treated.”
“Why would I not take the treatment?”
“You have work to do, apparently.”
“This is a lot to take in. I’m still not sure how I believe you. I’m the great Jason Stone, you know, the sharpest janitor to exist. I can sniff out lies easily.”
“Those days are over for you.”
What was this? As the subway pulled up to New Hampshire, I felt dizzy. I guess my body knew what was going to happen to it soon, and was trying to pull me back. This wasn’t the type of nervousness you got when you were about to do a school play, this was about 10 times worse. It was perhaps the worst thing a mind could take in. But I had to move on. I knew it. With my death, everyone in the organization would be safe from Stone’s wrath, as I was his target.
Jason Stone woke up from a nightmare. A boy looking about twenty and a man he
knew as Nolan Sanders was swimming in his mind. He knew Nolan Sanders. They were best friends, but who was the boy? Why did he look so much like Nolan? What was going on? His waking thoughts were jumbled as he always came to dwell on these confusing dreams. At night, he was stuck in a vortex of familiar and unfamiliar faces alike, and they all eventually came down to those two people. He would wake up feeling very angry for no reason, and have a splitting headache. When he asked his guard about this, the guard answered, “That boy is your sworn enemy.”
What was he talking about? Jason Stone knew no such person. Why would someone he had never met be his enemy?
Oscar and I walked down the street, trying to find the general’s house.
“Remember, look for an old mansion,” Oscar said for the tenth time.
“I am looking. It’s just that I haven’t seen a mansion yet.”
Of course he lived in a mansion. Everyone knew Jason Stone’s legacy. Of course the government would supply him with all the best stuff, unlike me, because I had been a mediocre worker.
“Gah! This is taking forever!” Oscar screamed in exasperation.
“We need to keep looking. If we don’t, everyone in the organization will die.”
We lowered our heads as a police officer walked by. We didn’t want another close shave. As we walked around, a house caught my eye. All its shutters and windows were curtained off and closed, as if the residents there lived in the utmost secrecy.
He was eating his lunch. His guard had gone outside to get the groceries. His stomach still ached, so he was eating porridge, like a little boy.
Oscar and I exchanged glances. Taking deep breaths, we walked up to the house. The door had been unlocked, strangely. We silently crept inside.
He heard a noise. He ignored it. He heard another noise soon after. This noise was like whispered voices. He got up from the table, and walked downstairs.
We heard someone coming down the stairs.
He walked down the stairs, and saw the boy. The boy from his dreams. The General fell to the ground in agony.
The General looked like he was having some sort of seizure. He collapsed, clutching his head, and screamed in pain. This continued for about thirty seconds. Then he got up, and coughed.
The General looked dead. Even looking at me seemed to drain energy from him. Even as we looked, his eyes were dimming.
“Are you okay?” I asked, despite myself.
“Come to kill me now, have you?”
“No, I thought you were supposed to kill me.”
“I’m in n-no c-condition for that.”
“How—what—what happened to you?”
“You didn’t know, but I was dying even before you came here. I have bipolar disorder, dementia, and stomach cancer. I already know that I am going to die today.”
“What? I came to see you die?”
“You came to see me kill you, probably thinking that I wouldn’t attack the Truthseekers afterward, but I can’t kill you. That I have acknowledged. Therefore, there is also no point in attacking the Truthseekers as well. I am not going to kill you, but I warn you. Now everyone knows of your existence and your escape. You have been painted in the worst light possible for anyone. If you walk out, your life will change. There will be a broadcast that will be all about how terrible you are. Mark my words, you will not make it back home…”
The General retched, and after a couple of seconds, vomited, and collapsed.