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Devolution – A Sam Jameson Conspiracy Thriller – Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Arlington, Virginia.  Thursday, 12:32 p.m. ET.

Special Agent Samantha Jameson closed her eyes and let out a low moan. Air Force Colonel Brock James’s lips and tongue slowly worked their way down her midsection, finally arriving at the spot. Her hips rose to meet him. He sucked lightly, moving his tongue in slow circles. Her back arched, and her hands gripped the sheets by her side.

His erection brushed against the soft bedding as he slowly moved his tongue inside her. He loved how wet she became for him, and he was always amazed by her gorgeous body from his vantage between her legs. A thin strip of auburn hair pointed the way up to her well-defined abs, a sparkling belly ring, and beautiful, natural breasts. The line of her neck and chin, tilted back in breathless pleasure, was exquisite. She was perfect.

She felt a powerful wave of warmth and desire. She shook ever so slightly, and her breath became short. She pushed his head away, then pulled his mouth up to meet hers. “I want you inside me.”

He reached his arm around the small of her back and pulled her hard against him. She shuddered with pleasure as she felt his length and thickness. He had a magnificent cock—long and thick, but not too much of either. Her pleasure built with each thrust, and she wrapped her legs around his back.

Her breaths became gasps, and she pressed against him as he worked his full length into her. He kissed her, and inhaled her breath as their tongues touched. He felt himself approaching the edge.

She looked into his eyes and saw that he was fighting to delay his orgasm. “Come,” she said. Her throaty, sexy voice was more than he could handle, and his grip on her back became vice-like as he thrust into her with mounting desperation and abandon.

She came first. He felt her spasms ripple down his length, and he could hold out no longer. His breath stopped, his body tensed, and he drew her head to him in a desperate embrace. He throbbed inside her.

Each wave of his orgasm sent Sam into deeper and deeper pleasure. She came harder with each pulse of his manhood, and he felt deep satisfaction with each grip and release of her body around him.

The crescendo passed, and they lay together catching their breath. He moved gently inside her as he stroked her hair and tenderly kissed her face and neck, and she ran her hands down his trim, muscular back.

“I am so glad you exist.” He bit her ear tenderly.

“Thanks for stopping by, stranger. I thought I had lost you to one of your hookers.”  Her fiery green eyes held mischief.

He smiled, a hint of crow’s feet appearing near the touch of gray at his temples. “Cinnamon wanted to join us, actually, but I told her I wanted you all to myself.”

She laughed. A stream of warm liquid sex escaped her. “Uh-oh. Now you’ve done it. I’ll have to change the sheets before my boyfriend comes home.”

“When is he due? I’ll wait for him with a blunt object.”

It was a running joke about their hectic work schedules. They playfully accused the other of a parallel life, but even though they had found each other later in life after more than a few false starts in other relationships, there had never really been anyone else. Not even close.

Brock’s cell phone buzzed, and reality descended.  “Shit.  Looks like our lunch date is officially over,” he said.  “The boss is on the war path again, that little bastard.” He dressed hastily. They shared a long, wet kiss.

“I love you madly,” he said.

“I’m really glad you do,” Sam replied. “Otherwise I’d have to stalk you, and that could get awkward.”

Devolution – A Sam Jameson Conspiracy Thriller – Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Somewhere in the Adirondack Mountains.  Thursday, 10:24 a.m. ET.

The slight, athletic young man wasn’t particularly nervous, but the gravity of what lay ahead of him was never far from his mind. His training had been lengthy and thorough, and he felt confident in his abilities. Soon Chaim would prove his mettle.

He settled his cheek against his rifle, centered his attention on the target, and calmed his breathing.

He was a recent graduate of a lengthy and rigorous training syllabus. Throughout the yearlong course, he had focused on the martial aspects of his regimen, and as young men tended to be, he was quite oblivious of the more important result of his time at the training camp: he had emerged thoroughly indoctrinated.

Extremist groups and mainstream militaries have long known that the most effective indoctrination methods didn’t involve hours of dogmatic instruction or rote memorization of political or religious precepts. Instead of preaching, the most thorough indoctrination efforts merely provided skills training. When done well, the curriculum rarely, and only peripherally, addressed the ultimate purposes to which the newly acquired skills were to be employed. The ideology was taken for granted. It was counterintuitive, but remarkably effective.

Chaim had emerged from his extensive training with an embarrassment of praise and accolades from his superiors. He had been handpicked for his upcoming assignment.

He adjusted his aim for both wind and gravity, exhaled slowly, calmed his mind, and slowly added pressure to the trigger with his index finger. The rifle’s report echoed off the far Adirondack hills.

He trained his sight back on the target and discovered that he had missed the center circle by a little more than an inch. Not bad for a 420-yard shot.

He was ready.

It was time for Chaim, now just over twenty years old, to live up to his promises to God. Over the past weeks, to prepare for his upcoming duty, he had learned of many atrocities committed against peoples of faith in Southwest Asia and North Africa. He had watched hours of grisly footage, and had seen countless grief-stricken survivors laid low in their misery. Bloody mothers clutched dead infants, and husbands tore at their hair in grief at the loss of their families.

Along with a more senior member of the Faithful, he had also flown to see the gruesome aftermath of one of these attacks with his own eyes. He saw the maimed and grotesquely disfigured children struggling to function normally, and he felt the seething rage of heartbroken parents helpless to remove the pain from their young ones’ lives.

He was Jewish, born in Tel Aviv. The disfigured child he had held was Arab, born in Iraq. It didn’t matter to him. Humanity was his family, Earth his home, as God had designed.

He was angry in his bones, stricken in his soul. The atrocities were ordered by men in suits and executed by men in uniforms under a banner of justice and freedom. He had seen the footage and aftermath of many attacks, but they were all linked by a common thread. The weapons that had both cruelly ended some lives, and cruelly failed to fully end others, were all guided by components made by a single company, Langston Marlin.

This company reported to shareholders and was run by a board of directors. Its employees lived in modest homes not altogether unlike the homes their products had decimated. For the moment, this company also had a chief executive officer, John Averett.

But it would not have one for long.

The young sharpshooter was not looking forward to ending a man’s life. The suffering that death wrought was all too real to him now, and he loathed bringing this suffering upon anyone’s wife, children, and grandchildren.

If there was another way, he had pleaded, it would be so much better, so much more righteous.

His superiors had not attempted to justify their strategy. They had merely invited him to help them find a better way, if one could be found. Together, they had worked through myriad ideas, each dashed by the same limitation the weak always had when they wished to stop the tyranny of the strong.

None of the other ideas had a prayer of working.

In the end, Chaim had concluded, it was simply a matter of mathematics. If he and his comrades did nothing, the mass killings on the other side of the globe would continue. But if he did something, a thing so significant, powerful, frightening, and serious that it couldn’t be ignored, then things just might change.

There was no guarantee that his efforts, his sacrifice, the rending of his soul with the guilt of murder, would bring about any change whatsoever.

But Chaim knew with a calm, bottomless clarity that he no longer had the ability to do nothing.

He had held the blinded and legless child in his arms, and through his own tears, he had promised God with the full force and depth of himself that he would expend everything, including his last breath, if need be, to stop the barbarism.

He would sacrifice the purity of his conscience. He would descend to savagery himself and cripple his own soul. This price he was willing to pay. He was already broken, indelibly altered, by the horrible things he had seen. There was no turning back.

He heard footsteps behind him and turned to see a familiar face. “I am told that Mullah has confirmed it. It is time, my brother.”

Devolution – A Sam Jameson Conspiracy Thriller – Chapter 1

Chapter 1

The Pentagon, Crystal City, Virginia.  Thursday, 9:46 a.m. ET.

A tall, lanky man left the Pentagon’s Metro entrance and ambled across the vast parking lot, beneath the highway bridge, and across Army-Navy Drive to his office building in Crystal City.

People knew him by several different names. His wife called him Mike. His friends from a twenty-year career as a fighter pilot knew him as Buster, a tongue-in-cheek homage to an episode involving an inadvertent sonic boom and dozens of broken windows. And he was Mr. Charles to the eight hundred people in the Department of Defense’s Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Warfare program office under his charge.

But in the most important circle, he was known simply as Stalwart.

Stalwart had left the Pentagon meeting deeply satisfied. Things in the Pentagon’s Mobile Anti-Satellite Targeting System Program were a mess. Nobody seemed to have any sense of what to do next. Nobody but he, that is, and he kept his thoughts to himself.

He loved opacity. Fog was so much more useful than clarity. It allowed him to declare confident certainties to the murmuring bureaucrats who were castrated by their own timidity. Forever in search of decisiveness, an exotic bird in the fatuous forest of any large organization, the pencil pushers fell all over themselves to fall in line behind him. He was guidance and shelter.

But that was not to say he was a charlatan. Quite the opposite, really. A natural strategist, he could easily see and articulate simple connections between complex things.

He stood out enough already, but a confusing environment – and military weapons development programs were anything but straightforward – made him appear godlike next to his counterparts, whom he dubbed the self-herding sheep. Many such sheep worked for him. And he worked for a few himself. The latter provided nearly endless entertainment as they struggled to masquerade his trademark clarity and vision as their own. The former were a bovine nuisance. He delegated only those things he didn’t care about. If a task was important, he did it himself.

In this way, he manipulated the Machine. When he chose to advance a cause, major or minor, his skill and personality allowed rapid movement through layers of grinding bureaucracy. But there were many serious issues that he simply allowed the befuddled bureaucrats to bludgeon with their ineptitude. He did this because the system deserved it, and so did the system’s perpetrators. Even the sheep.

Especially the sheep.

He was a patriot in the truest sense. He had long ago taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The Constitution, he believed, represented man’s highest organizational attainment, the best mechanism yet devised to balance the benefits of collective effort with man’s innate freedom. It wasn’t perfect, but Stalwart believed it was worthy of defense.

But the Machine had manipulated and twisted that oath, slowly substituting loyalty to an insipid self-serving organization in place of loyalty to the liberties enshrined in the Constitution. He had the vision to understand the difference.

With that vision came the clear belief that the great governmental bureaucracy, the lumbering parasite of public treasure, was itself functioning at odds with the Constitution. This was a hard realization, from which there could be no retreat for a man like Mr. Mike Charles, Co-Director of the ASAT program.

His adoption of this belief was a byproduct of his insatiable curiosity, which took him to the dark corners of the institution; there, buried beneath bromides and false assumptions, he found gleaming fragments of reality. He gradually pieced these fragments together.

What he learned had demanded action.

The final piece of the puzzle had been the hardest for Stalwart to place. Something had nagged at him, a vague, inchoate perception that something significant was amiss. He had the sense that it was right in front of him, maybe even clubbing him over the head, yet he couldn’t quite place it.

He was right. It was something enormous, glaring, pervasive, and with a prominent public face. Yet it was also absolutely secret.

It started to click into place for Stalwart when he accidentally heard a sentence uttered on television by a thoroughly marginalized congressman and erstwhile presidential hopeful. The hapless politician meant well, but was relegated to crackpot status because of his predilection for publicly disagreeing with what the mainstream considered to be self-evident economic truths.

The politician felt that many of the commonly revered economic precepts most people believed weren’t in fact true, and were, instead, little more than unexamined dogma. The poor fellow just couldn’t speak in public without harping on currency inflation as an insidious and dishonest method of wealth redistribution. His time on the national stage was brief, and since his decisive defeat in the most recent primary, every picture shown of him seemed to have captured his face in a strange, cartoonish contortion. His name didn’t help:  “Arvin Duff” didn’t roll off of most tongues without a snigger.

Stalwart made it his practice to studiously ignore the politics staged for public consumption in the news media. But he was trapped in a clinic waiting room, his ears assaulted by loud, compressed audio from a cheap television tuned to the “Inside Washington” segment of the high-pitched right-wing daily news agency.

He felt his annoyance growing with each salvo of anti-left invective that invaded his senses. He wasn’t annoyed because he leaned left—he was long past picking sides in the Kabuki Theater otherwise known as American politics, and he thought there were sufficient idiots in both camps to make “None of the Above” the only viable choice. He was just irritated because he was forced to listen.

At half past one, Stalwart had asked the receptionist sardonically whether she knew what time his one o’clock appointment would begin. He had smiled at her to take the edge off his sarcasm, and she muttered an officious apology for his inconvenience. Politely, he had made it clear that they were within ten minutes of losing his appointment and his patronage. He didn’t have anywhere in particular he needed to be, but he had decided that he was finished waiting. Life was short.

His message delivered, Stalwart had been on his way back to his seat in the waiting room when Arvin Duff, the crackpot anti-inflation guy, appeared in a television interview. “In 1933, the US government banned the ownership of gold. It was punishable by ten years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine,” Duff’s nasal voice squawked.

Could that be true? The US had banned the ownership of gold? We—the United States of America—had forbidden American citizens from owning . . . gold? Assault weapons, vicious animals, and nuclear weapons he could understand. But gold?

One might expect something like that from Stalin’s Soviet Union or Mao’s China, but never in his life would Stalwart have guessed that the United States government, bastion of truth and justice, would ban the ownership of a precious metal. It seemed so . . . out of character.

His curiosity was piqued, and Stalwart had turned to his smart phone for answers. As he waited for the browser page to load, he found himself thinking that someone must have lost his mind temporarily and instituted this bit of one-off governmental quackery, only to be corrected by more clear-thinking successors. How could it be otherwise?

But he was wrong. By executive order number 6102, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had banned the ownership of gold and ordered that all bullion, coins, and gold certificates be surrendered to the US Treasury no later than May 1, 1933, for which citizens were to be compensated $20.67 per troy ounce.

Eight months later, Congress passed the Gold Reserve Act of 1934, which outlawed the ownership of gold by any US citizen anywhere in the world. This law also arbitrarily raised the price of gold to $35 per ounce, almost doubling the value of the confiscated gold that by now had accumulated in enormous quantities in the national treasury.

The government had taken all of the citizenry’s gold, and then, months later, had arbitrarily declared the gold it had confiscated to be almost twice as valuable.

In effect, Stalwart mused, the government had scooped up all the gold, then declared the dollar to be half as valuable by comparison. A chilling thought.

The law remained in effect until 1977. Forty-three years was too long for temporary insanity, Stalwart thought.

That realization just over a year ago had marked an inflection point for Stalwart. Over the following year, he had slowly gained the insight and resolve that would ultimately lead to action.

His fellow bureaucrats had a name for the kind of action he took.

Treason.

The elevator took Stalwart to the top floor of the mid-rise office building. He stepped past the secretaries and into his large office, with its incredible view of the Washington Monument, and settled in for a long afternoon of meetings.

He also prepared for some other activity, the kind that could never be put on a calendar at work.

Devolution – A Sam Jameson Conspiracy Thriller – Prologue

Prologue

Crystal City, Virginia.  Wednesday, 3:47 p.m. ET.

A gloved hand pressed hard against the priest’s mouth and nose. He felt a fast tearing sensation rip across his neck. Jets of deep crimson flew in front of his face as his own blood splattered to the floor.

His vision began to dim. He didn’t feel his knees buckle, but felt the cold tile flatten his cheek as his face slammed into the floor. Shallow, frantic breaths caused ripples in the growing pool of red.

It was over in a few seconds.

The killer watched as the priest exhaled his last breath. Via con Dios, Monsignor.

_____________

A phone rang on Capitol Hill. Senator Frank Higgs picked up the receiver.

“Curmudgeon has been retired,” said the disembodied voice on the other end of the line.

Senator Higgs was struck dumb. “What?”

Silence.

“Fucking retired? How? Who?”

“You know better than to ask. The usual time and place, please. No mistakes.”

The dial tone interrupted Higg’s reply.

_____________

Somewhere north of Las Vegas, Nevada.  Wednesday, 10:58 p.m. PT.

“Clear the line!” the laboratory safety chief bellowed with far more force than necessary. His amplified voice exploded from a dozen loudspeakers spaced out over the eight-mile expanse of the Nevada desert.

With the exception of the fifteen officials and technicians gathered in the control room with the safety officer, no one heard the announcement. The weapons test range was in one of the most desolate locations in the United States, and every person involved in the test that evening had gathered in the control room to either conduct or witness the event.

Large high-definition monitors displayed infrared, ultraviolet, and low-light versions of the same image, an automobile. Sensitive to temperature differences, the infrared images clearly showed the exhaust escaping from the tailpipe and the deep red outline of the engine, warm and idling.

Next to the sedan was a table, which looked exceptionally out of place in the middle of the desert. On the table’s surface were four television sets, arranged in a line from front to back. All four television sets were on, with images flashing in the darkness.

“Let’s zoom in on the engine compartment.” Art Levitow’s basso resonated in the small room over the hum of machinery. As the director of Senior Quantum, an unacknowledged government program that had consumed just shy of three billion dollars over the past seven years, Levitow’s was a voice that commanded respect. His deft political leadership was matched by equally impressive technical and scientific credibility. Despite the stakes, he wasn’t nervous in the least.

The same couldn’t be said for the technician operating the cameras, whose initial attempt to zoom in on the car’s engine compartment resulted in a close-up of the desert floor.

The Vice President of the United States chuckled. “Now you look like me, hunting geese.”

Secretary of Defense Bill Pomerantine grinned. “No, sir, that’s not quite true. He’s still aiming in the right county.”

Vice President Arquist’s chuckle turned into a good-natured laugh. “Bill, if you keep that up, you may be the first man in history to go from Secretary of Defense to coffee barista in a single night.”

Laughter tittered through the room as the technician slewed the cameras in the target area over the engine compartment of the late-model sedan.

“Let’s expand out just a little bit. I’d like Vice President Arquist to see the dashboard electronics as well.” The camera operator zoomed out slightly in response to Levitow’s request.

Levitow continued.  “Mr. Vice President, as you know, three years ago we made the breakthrough that enabled us to reliably and consistently demonstrate the fundamental physics, but the major technical hurdle has been to project and localize the effects. In other words, we had to figure out how to shoot the beam, and how to aim the shot. That problem has consumed the bulk of our effort, and it didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped. But we’ve figured out how to do it.”

Arquist smiled. “I was relieved when Bill told me the news, and the president insisted I go see for myself.”

“We think you’ll like what we’ve put together, sir. Keep your eye on the engine compartment, and we’ll begin the demonstration. Go ahead, Amber.”

An attractive technician moved a mouse pointer over an icon, clicked the button, and answered “OK” at the warning that popped up. The lights dimmed in the control room, and a deep, throbbing hum rose above the usual computer noise.

Ten meters to the south of the control center, in a drab two-story concrete structure surrounded by concertina wire, an electric current began to flow through large coils of copper wire. The coils were attached to a circular array of six small dish-shaped antennae, all aimed in the same direction, parallel with the desert floor. The air around the antennae crackled for a brief second, and had anyone been in the vicinity of the apparatus, they would have undoubtedly noticed the unmistakable odor of ozone in the air.

“Keep your eye on the infrared monitor,” Levitow instructed. The small crowd in the control room saw numerous bright spots appear inside the sedan’s engine compartment and dashboard. A bright flash appeared on the ultraviolet display monitor, adjacent to the infrared monitor. The flash dissipated in less than a second.

Seven miles away, the idling vehicle suddenly stopped.

“Mr. Vice President, you’ll notice that the exhaust is no longer coming out the tailpipe, and no lights are on inside the car. We’ve completely disabled the vehicle, but despite the brief infrared and ultraviolet emission, there is no fire or other noticeable physical damage.”

Arquist raised his eyebrows and let out a low whistle. “I’ll take a thousand of ’em.”

“We’re not finished yet. Alice, let’s move on to the second part of the demonstration.”

The technician’s mouse raced across several screens, and a crosshairs appeared on the main display. The cameras showed a grainy picture of the four television sets, all arranged in a row, one behind the other. All four flat screen televisions were powered on. The technician slewed the crosshairs, and they came to rest on the third television from the front.

Levitow continued his narration. “No sports addict would ever arrange his televisions this way, with three TVs hidden behind the front one, but we’ve set things up to show you just how precisely we’ve been able to refine the targeting solution. Keep your eye on the third television screen in line from the front. We’re going to pass the beams through the first two televisions without any effect whatsoever, disable the third TV, and leave the fourth one completely alone. Go ahead, Alice.”

Two clicks later, the third television began to glow and spark on the infrared camera. A brief, bright light flashed again on the ultraviolet monitor, and the visible spectrum monitor confirmed that the third TV went dark. The adjacent televisions droned on, completely unaffected by the weapon.

Arquist turned to the Secretary of Defense with a smile. “I like your new toy, Bill. When’s Christmas?”

“We think we’ll be ready for Santa’s sleigh by October of this year.”

“Good. Don’t get behind. I think you’re all probably aware that there’s a great deal riding on this program.” Vice President Arquist rose and extended his hand to Levitow. “Damn  fine work, Art. Thank you.”

_____________

Vice President Arquist motioned for Levitow to join himself and Secretary Bill Pomerantine on their long walk through the weapons-testing bunker, back to the waiting helicopter that would take the two officials and their Secret Service agents to the relative civilization of Las Vegas.

Arquist spoke over the click of heels on concrete. “As you know, Art, there is no shortage of naysayers. Now that you’ve shown me the magic, I want you to help me understand how it works. I’ve got to put my salesman hat on when I get back to DC, and I want to be able to explain just a little about what the hell this thing does.”

Levitow’s eyes sparkled. Arquist was reminded that despite his cold administrative efficiency, Senior Quantum’s director was a scientist and teacher at heart, and he felt himself responding to Levitow’s genuine enthusiasm for the minor miracles he and his team had pulled off.

“When you boil the geekery down, it’s really fairly simple,” Levitow said. “Electrons are lazy. Inside an atom, they hang out in the lowest energy state possible. It takes energy to move away from the atom’s nucleus, and like my teenager, electrons need a very good reason to expend any energy at all.”

At the tail end of the small entourage, a large, fair-skinned and blue-eyed Secret Service agent, known as Whitey in the most important circle, extended two fingers on his right hand. His fingers held a small white piece of paper. As his right arm swung forward on the next step, a tall, young, lanky scientist named Jonathan Cooper surreptitiously retrieved the piece of paper from the Secret Service agent.

Then, while his right hand scratched his nose, Cooper’s left hand deftly placed the small strip of paper into his lab coat pocket.

The exchange had been carefully planned so that Whitey’s bulk blocked the nearest security camera’s view. The next-nearest camera, at the far end of the long concrete hallway, was blocked by the mass of people, including the Vice President of the United States walking down the hallway in front of the two spies.

It was a seriously ballsy pass, one that Cooper was certain would be talked about for years to come. It had gone off without a hitch.

_____________

The small entourage wound its way through the labyrinthine network of low concrete hallways. Levitow’s voice echoed up and down the narrow corridors, as the vice president listened intently.

“The electrons’ laziness is important,” Levitow said, “because chemical and physical properties of every atom are determined to a large extent by how many electrons are in an atom’s outer layer, and how close that outer layer is to the atom’s nucleus.”

Vice President Arquist nodded. A former college professor himself, he was no dunce.

“Electrons that are a long way away from the nucleus,” Levitow continued, “escape from the atom much more easily than electrons closer to the nucleus. And escaping electrons are what make all electronic devices function.

“It turns out that when you slam an atom with a magnetic field, you can change how far away all of the electrons sit from the nucleus. With a strong enough magnetic field, you can temporarily stop a circuit or device from functioning. Or, by reversing the magnetic field, you can free up so many electrons that you fry critical connections within every semiconductor. It’s a handy trick.”

“Sounds pretty simple. What’s the catch?” Arquist was used to playing the straight man, which was also a subtle way of letting people know that he was following along closely and they should skip as much fluff as possible.

“There are two major problems. First, it takes a ton of power to make this happen. More importantly, at the beginning, we could only have these kinds of effects if we placed the target object inside a specially built magnetic field generator. That obviously doesn’t work well in a weapons application—if we can get our hands on the object, we may as well just stomp on it with our boot heel. It took us forever to figure out how to affect targets that were some distance away from the field generator.”

As the heavy concrete door opened into the hot desert night, Arquist gave a Levitow a warm smile and extended his hand. He spoke loudly, but was barely audible over the whine of the helicopter engines. “I’m interested in learning how you ended up cracking that nut. Join me for dinner out east. My chief of staff will be in touch to set things up.”

Levitow’s reply went unheard as the vice president walked quickly onto the helipad. He felt Pomerantine’s pat on the back, and watched as the rest of the group made their way to the aircraft, ducking instinctively to avoid the rotor wash.

Seconds later, the helicopter was out of sight.

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