The Bedford Project – Session 3
The shower didn’t do much to calm his nerves, and so Atwood maintained a careful watch out the window through a crack between the curtains. Every so often, he shot a disapproving frown toward the phone. It was about 7:30 PM when he saw the large black man, Kellan Dunn, leave his room and head down to his car. Atwood took a deep breath. He wasn’t crazy about the idea of leaving his room before the rest of his team made contact, but he needed to know what was so important about Bedford, Iowa that DARPA would send the Assistant Director. As Dunn backed his cherry red Lexus out of the parking space and began to drive away, Atwood quickly slipped down to his rental car to tail him.
Dunn was in no hurry, and there were few other vehicles on the street, so Atwood maintained what he hoped was a safe distance. He watched as the Lexus pulled into the parking lot of the HelpLink building and parked next to the white Honda Civic which happened to be the only other car in the lot. No surprise there. That building was the only one in town with a satellite dish, and those industrial air conditioning units on the roof were just big enough to make him suspicious.
He continued past the HelpLink building and was about to turn around when he noticed the red and blue lights in the rearview mirror. His heart skipped a beat, but that was okay because his lungs forgot to take a breath or two anyway. Should he make a run for it? That didn’t work out well for Badagian. He was near the center of town in a rental car anyway. No way was he getting away by running. Any other time, all the camera coverage would make him feel much safer.
Atwood took a deep breath and pulled over across from the diner. He kept his hands on the wheel and watched his driver’s side mirror. The deputy stopped near the back of the rental car and leaned like he was getting a better look at the license plate. Atwood heard the plastic of his taillight smash, and that seemed to confirm his fear. There was nothing routine about this stop. He rolled down the window as the deputy approached and shined a flashlight inside. The name on the deputy’s uniform identified him as L. Funderburk.
“Know why I pulled you over?”
“I have a few guesses.”
Atwood did his best to keep the snarl and fear out of his voice, but he wasn’t sure it worked. After handing over his rental agreement and driver’s license – his real identification since he didn’t have anything else – he waited patiently as Deputy Funderburk returned to his cruiser to run his checks. So that was it. They knew he was an FBI agent. That put him on the list. Now, the only question was whether they were going to try to kill him now or start calling him from random numbers until he killed himself.
That question was answered when the deputy came back with his license and a $150 ticket for a broken taillight. Phone tag, it was, then. Well, screw this town. They might get his money, but they’d never get the satisfaction of his death. He threw the car into drive and headed cautiously back to the motel. His heart and breath may have skipped earlier, but they were making up for lost time now. After locking the door to his room and barricading it with the dresser, Atwood decided he needed another shower and some very light sleep.
Porter was pretty light on sleep as well, and he’d gotten up around 4:00 AM, made some coffee, and started researching. By the time he got his first refill, he had a few relevant items of interest. The Capitol Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland had run an obituary for Captain Rush and a single paragraph a few days ago with the title “Body Found in Bay Believed to be Marine Recruiter.” The Kansas City Star had run only an obituary for Shelley Emmett with no surviving family members listed. The Ames Tribune had run a front-page story following Heathcliff’s arrest. It was light on details, but it promised more information as it came available. It seemed to sensationalize the story, but that was the only story the paper ever ran on it. It made national news, but even those stories seemed to die out after a few days, and nothing substantial was ever reported other than the obvious "tenured professor fired after arrest."
Then there was the Bedford Times-Press. It had a website, but only the day’s brief headlines were available. For a subscription fee of only $32 and an email address, however, he could have access to previous editions and receive an electronic copy of future editions for an entire year. The NSA spook was already connected to the internet through an encrypted chain of proxy servers which changed every five minutes. He also had a refillable gift card for just such an occasion. Now, all he needed was a new fake email address.
A couple of minutes later, Porter was browsing back issues of the Bedford Times. The website was clear and reasonably laid out, but it still had the feel of an amateur website. There were no ads or pop-ups, but there were also no flashy banners proclaiming headlines, and the pictures were all thumbnail size until clicked. Still, it served its purpose. The paper was published on a weekly basis, and the issues were relatively short. They dealt only in items of local interest - mostly bake sales and high school sports - and the articles were rarely more than a paragraph long. It had the feel of a school newspaper.
The most recent edition had a paragraph about the "tragic car accident" on IA-2 east of town, but it spelled Badagian's name wrong - Badaggian. It stated the time of the accident as approximately 9:35 PM. According to police, he was speeding and likely swerved to avoid oncoming headlights.
There were no articles on the other three deaths, but two other articles from past issues did pop out. Merle Vaughn, pastor of the Bedford Evangelical Church of God, hung himself in the church office in 2008. The paper speculated that it had something to do with the fact that he was recently outed as gay. The other article mentioned the fatal electrocution of Steve Gibbs, an Ameritech telephone repairman who was helping bring the town’s phone system back up after the 2010 flood. That could potentially raise the body count to six. Maybe seven if Atwood wasn’t careful. Porter decided that should probably be the first line of business for the day; finding Atwood and regrouping.
Dempsey agreed. Of course, he had just woken up and hadn’t had his coffee yet, so he reserved the right to change his mind before lunchtime. It was Sunday morning. Hopefully, they could get everything resolved today and get out of Iowa before the homecoming game and the Corn Queen Pageant.
Porter and Dempsey resisted the urge to grab breakfast a safe distance from Bedford, and they arrived in town about 7:00 AM. Atwood’s last communication had been the text reporting he was staying at the Skylark Motel. That was just before Dempsey’s burner phone became a literal burner phone. A quick scan of the Skylark on their first pass revealed Atwood’s rental car and a cherry red Lexus a few spots down from it. As they were in the other car provided by FEMA, Porter was okay with pulling up next to Atwood’s car.
Dempsey was about to get out and run up to Atwood’s room, but he didn’t need to. Atwood had apparently been watching. The FBI agent came quickly down the stairs and hopped into the backseat. The agents had no trouble on the way out of town, and while it was highly unlikely anyone could hear them, none of the agents spoke until they were a few miles clear of Bedford. Something about that town hit all the triggers for paranoia.
The first stop was to switch vehicles for the one Porter had rented on his own. Then it was off to the Denny’s in Hopkins. Each agent filled the others in on what he’d found, and then they discussed the situation to put everything in perspective. Porter didn’t like the thought of the Assistant Director of DARPA in Bedford. It didn’t help that he apparently had business to conduct at that HelpLink place. That’s where the answers were going to be. Whatever reasons were behind all the security, surveillance, and secrecy, they were in that building and Assistant Director Dunn’s head.
But how the hell were they going to get in there? It was a good bet there were at least half a dozen traffic cameras with a view of that place, not to mention the electronic eye on the front door and the keycard locks on the side doors. Stealth wasn’t an option. Maybe just walk in the front door during business hours and have a look around? Badges might get them access, but they’d almost certainly get them on the murder list.
Dempsey pointed out Atwood was already on that list, and Atwood pointed out that Dempsey could take this fork and shove it straight up … Porter slapped the table which spilled some coffee but seemed to diffuse the already overly-tense situation.
They all agreed no one was going anywhere alone in Bedford for the time being. Atwood was already on someone’s radar, and to be safe, they were going to assume his calls and internet use were monitored if not traced. The plan, then, was to head back to the safe house and put Gomez and his team to work digging up any and all information on Assistant Director Kellan Dunn and why he might be in Bedford. Anything he could get on HelpLink would be a plus as well.
The waiting was tough, but it was preferable to the paranoia of that damned town. It was after noon before Gomez got back to them with a brief email.
My sources can confirm Dunn had close association with MJ-6, Project PLUTO though details are hard to come by. No connection to Delta Green or any of our operations. I've got feelers out on his Project PLUTO connection. Will let you know what I find tomorrow afternoon. Recommend caution. If you disappear him, he'll be missed.
Porter growled. The other two had a bad feeling, but they were too new to realize the implications. MJ-6, Project PLUTO.
“I don’t know what the hell Project PLUTO is, but MJ-6 is bad news. It’s … It was
a section of Majestic-12. But those bastards were infiltrated and dismantled, and their assets were reallocated. They were Above Top Secret U.S. black budget just like us. DARPA and Majestic … son-of-a-bitch. This ain’t good, gentlemen. Whatever he’s doing there, and whatever is in that building, you can be sure nothing good is going to come from it. Gomez is getting us more information tomorrow, so I say we hit up a liquor store and drink to the dead tonight. We’ll probably be seeing ‘em soon.”
Atwood nodded solemnly, but the Irishman wasn’t convinced. In fact, the way Dempsey saw it, that whole town, HelpLink, DARPA, and whatever the hell PLUTO was could all go screw themselves somewhere very uncomfortable. There was no reason for any of them to die tomorrow. Except maybe Atwood. He was on the list, after all.
No. Porter was finishing the job. So was Atwood. Dempsey sighed and declared none of his team was dying in that hellhole tomorrow without him. On one condition, of course: The Irishman does the liquor shopping. None of this Budweiser swill those Americans like to drink. It was going to be Bushmills 21-Year-Old. Straight. There was a nod of agreement from Porter. Atwood wrinkled his nose, but he agreed as well. He’d much rather have the Budweiser.
With nothing more to do but wait until tomorrow, the agents shared the Bushmills and old war stories while they played poker for pretzels. Morning came early.
Delta Green work aside, Porter’s life had become rather comfortable in recent decades. Whereas he had been somewhat of a risk-taker as a young field operative, his promotion to case officer capped off his gradual conservative slide. With that promotion came the comfort of a nice house, two cars, and a couple of ex-wives. He slept well any other time, but never on a Delta Green Op. When the Program activated him, he knew he was in for light and broken sleep for the duration. He was always the one to make the coffee because he was always the one awake at 4:00 AM.
Dempsey was up in time for breakfast, but the Bushmills had done a number on Atwood. The FBI agent was dead to the world, and it looked like he might be in that condition until noon or so. Porter and Dempsey decided to head out for breakfast, and when Atwood still hadn’t rolled off the couch several hours later, they headed out for lunch, too. The Irishman decided if they survived and worked together again, he and Porter would split the good stuff, and Atwood could have all the Budweiser he liked.
True to his word, Gomez sent an encrypted email just before 3:00 PM. It contained some useful information that Porter immediately wished it didn’t.
MJ-6 PLUTO evaluated all scientific and technological information received from Extraterrestrial Biological Entities. It had a host of sub-projects.
ARC DREAM was a sub-project of MJ-6 PLUTO which handled biotechnology transfers from an alien intelligence known as the Greys. ARC DREAM primarily served a management and bureaucratic function for its own sub-projects.
Sub-Project BOUNCE was designed to develop Super-Soldiers based on alien DNA and anatomy. The goal was to make "clean" soldiers who were immune to CBR/NBC warfare.
Sub-Project CATALYST handled the main body of ARC DREAM research and had become more of a production house which occasionally spun off further sub-projects. Catalyst had perfected the accelerated growth of human embryos and fetuses to adulthood in a period of several weeks. However, the more growth factor used to accelerate development, the greater the risk of biological failure.
Sub-Project CORE had the greatest potential for drastic, world-altering effects. If each experiment is taken separately, CORE simply altered microbes, animals, and biochemistry. Viewed as a whole, CORE provided the advent of a new global ecology; an ecology based on genetic engineering and alien science.
Sub-Project RECOIL had been producing physiologically altered NRO DELTA and MJ-5 BLUE FLY personnel since 1993. The test subjects had been given enhanced strength through the use of advanced steroids and specially designed adrenaline-producing organs. The musculature had to be nanotechnologically enhanced in order to prevent injury from the increased biochemical strength. One RECOIL test subject had even been given a musculature which had been wholly replaced by extra-dimensional myomers. The skeletal structure had also been regrown and gradually converted into a diamond matrix by nanotechnology in order to bear the great weights and stresses imposed by enhanced strength. All this caused great agony in RECOIL subjects which was partially cured by neurosurgery and painkillers.
An ARC DREAM researcher, one Dr. Brian Cherry, is confirmed to have a daughter, Allison, in Bedford, Iowa. He went underground after reappropriation of Majestic assets. Fortunately, ARC DREAM has been shut down, and Dr. Cherry has not resurfaced. Dr. Cherry may have sought out his daughter. If your group finds evidence of ARC DREAM activity, eliminate it covertly. There are elements in governments worldwide which would love to get their hands on Dr. Cherry's research.
As Porter read the email aloud, Atwood opened his bleary eyes and tried to focus on the ceiling. The FBI man swung his feet around and stood up.
“So, we’re talking aliens and genetic engineering? Okay. Let’s forget for a moment that Gomez is suggesting aliens are real, and our government has supposedly been dealing with them like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Whatever the source of the genetic engineering, that’s got to be why DARPA is there. That Assistant Director Dunn guy is in charge of some messed up stuff. I mean, neural implants on soldiers, using plants nuclear threats, remote-controlled insects … Aliens or not, that’s some mad science.”
Porter agreed. He confirmed that aliens were, in fact, real. And genetic engineering for super soldiers was not something he was going to let happen. ARC DREAM was shut down for a reason, and if this Dr. Cherry was continuing his research in Bedford, it was going to stop.
“If we find evidence of ARC DREAM activity … Atwood, you said there was something off about those cheerleaders you got the tickets from, yeah?”
“If you call color-shifting eyes and bee summoning ‘something off,’ then yeah. But I’m not eliminating cheerleaders, covertly or otherwise.”
Dempsey had no such moral dilemma. The Irishman announced he’d be happy to off a couple unnatural athletic supporters as long as it turned out they really were unnatural. But first and foremost, the mad science needed to stop. And to that end, some not-so-mad science might help. He suggested rigging the Brewster Holdings dirty bomb to take out the HelpLink building, but Porter didn’t think it would be enough. The air conditioning units on the roof screamed multiple sub-basements, and what they were after was most likely at the very bottom.
Okay, then. How were they going to get down there? The sheriff had said the police investigation would be on hold until Tuesday if it didn’t wrap up by Sunday night. He’d suggested the whole town would be at the game. If that was even close to accurate, the HelpLink building might be empty, or lightly guarded at worst. Sure, the traffic cameras would probably pick them up entering the building, but as long as no alarms were tripped, they might make it in and out and be long gone before anyone even thought to check the tapes. And if they were really cautious, there might be no reason for anyone to check the tapes at all.
Atwood was on their radar – whoever the hell they
were – and he was expected to be at the game. Then again, he’d bought three tickets and said he had a couple friends in town with him. Score another one for Atwood. Dempsey grumbled.
Well, they couldn’t all go to the game. In fact, Porter said, all three of them would be needed for the HelpLink raid. But what if someone noticed they weren’t there? The tickets had RFID chips. That was it, then. Porter suggested they all attend the game long enough to ditch their tickets at the stadium. They might even do a little recon while they were there. Then they could leave the game and head to HelpLink. Anyone tracking their tickets would think they were still at the game.
Kickoff was at 6:30 PM, but Atwood said the cheerleaders would be getting the crowd pumped up by 6:00. Just in case things went pear-shaped, the agents decided to each take a different car. Porter would drive the car he rented, and Dempsey would drop Atwood off at the motel to pick up the other car. Then they’d caravan to the game, ditch their tickets, and caravan to HelpLink.
The agents headed out a little before 6:00. It was breezy, and storm clouds from the southwest followed them all the way to Bedford. The wind steadily picked up the closer they got, and by the time they arrived, all of Bedford was blanketed in the dark clouds.
The streets seemed deserted. Local businesses were closed, and the few vehicles to be seen were parked in private driveways with two exceptions: a cherry red Lexus RC coupe with Maryland plates and a white Honda Civic were parked next to each other in an otherwise-empty HelpLink parking lot. That was something. Assistant Director Dunn and … probably Dr. Cherry were there, but the building looked deserted. The raid might go smoothly after all.
As the bright lights over the Bedford High School football field come into view, the reason for the empty town was confirmed. Nearly every available parking space for a half-mile around the school was taken. It would seem the entire county had shown up for this game and the Corn Queen Pageant to follow it. Kickoff wasn't for another 20 minutes yet, but true to their word, the cheerleaders could be heard leading the crowd in various chants.
Despite the distractions created by the lights, music, and chanting, the agents were quick to notice the Taylor County school bus with the Taylor County Cornhuskers logo emblazoned on the side. A stocky man leaned against the large front tire next to the door. His face was shrouded by the bill of his trucker hat, but the orange dot of a cigarette shined out from the shadow. On the bus and near the back seats, another man seemed to be yelling angrily into a cellphone and pacing very tight circles in the aisle. The only available parking space within a half-mile happened to be right next to the bus.
Dempsey pulled into that spot while the other two circled the lot and headed off to find somewhere else to park. The smoking man put out his cigarette and approached Dempsey’s car waving his hands in a shooing motion, but the man on the bus calls to him from a window.
"Don't worry about it, Jim. Let him park there. Coach Anderson's not gonna make it anyway. Neither is Cody."
Jim just shrugged and headed back to the front of the bus as the other man stepped out into the parking lot. The Irishman thanked Jim in a tone that was smart-assed even for him, but Jim just narrowed his eyes, spit, and lit another cigarette. The man who had been on the phone continued talking to the smoking man.
"Damnit, Jim. What the hell am I supposed to do now? Kickoff is in twenty minutes. Somebody knifes Cody's tires and keys his car, so he catches a ride with Coach Anderson. Then the coach ties his car around a tree. Now I gotta go out there and coach this team on my own without a damned quarterback? Fuck! I hate this town."
Jim just listened along and made small grunts of agreement. It sounded to Dempsey like the smart money was on the Bulldogs, and maybe someone had made a point of ensuring that. Once Porter and Atwood walked up, the Irishman joined them, and the three headed toward the stadium entrance.
The stands on both sides of the field were packed with supporters of each team. A quarter-mile track of asphalt divided into six lanes encircled the chain link fence containing the football field. The teams were warming up at opposite sides of the field, and each school's cheerleaders were bouncing, swishing, kicking, and cartwheeling on the track in front of their respective team's stands.
A cheerful young man with thick glasses and a Bedford High School Academic Team sweater passed their tickets below a scanner which beeped happily. Just on their left as they entered was a concession stand selling hamburgers, hot dogs, pretzels, nachos, and sodas of all sizes. Atwood took the tickets and dumped them in a trash can, and after Dempsey finished buying a pretzel and a Dr. Pepper, the agents walked back out to the parking lot. The kid in the glasses and sweater called after them as they exited.
"Make sure you have your tickets with you so you can get back in!"
While the parking lot was full of vehicles, it seemed to be devoid of life. It was an odd realization, but it was one that couldn’t be denied. There were no people or animals anywhere around, the trees had all long since lost their leaves, and the agents were alone in the middle of it all. Everyone in town seemed to be packed into the stadium.
The wind picked up even more in a sort of escort as they made their way back to their vehicles. It looked like storm clouds were still rolling in at a frantic pace, packing them more and more densely together. They were churning and swirling directly over the HelpLink building. In fact, as they pulled their respective vehicles into the HelpLink parking lot, they could see a vortex directly above the building. The only electrical activity in the sky was around the vortex, and it caused the dark clouds to light up periodically. Between those times, the agents could make out a clear, starry sky in the eye of the maelstrom of roiling clouds.
As the agents got out of their vehicles, the lightning flashed around the vortex again, and all three agents had their eyes drawn to the sky. As the clouds lit up, they could make out the contrast of something – a ball, a meteor, a van … Something big and dark streaked from the stars directly through the hole in the clouds and into the HelpLink roof. They didn’t have time to comprehend what they’d seen much less take action before it hit.
The sheer force of the impact knocked them flat on their backs from 50 yards away, and it shattered the glass doors and windows of the building. It took a minute or two before the agents could regain their senses and stand up. By that time, everything was quiet again. All that could be heard was the wind and a football game in the distance.