The control room buzzed with activity like normal, filling my ears with the sound of government conspiracies gone wrong, and lives wasted.
Section Five was about doing dirty work for the highest bidder. Maybe once, it was a black ops outfit for the government, but what the United States government didn’t realize was that Section Five had moved on past them. Ryan Patterson sold his services to the highest bidder. He had no allegiances, no loyalty.
How many people had died because of what went on in this room? How many people were sucked away from their lives and put here to be puppets? Hate filled my chest in a way that was almost too much for me to handle. The pressure was intolerable.
One day, this place would burn.
I’d make sure of it.
When it was safe. Unfortunately, Ryan’s failsafe kept him alive for the moment, but his time was coming. When Section Five fell, there would be no use for his failsafe anymore.
It wasn’t safe yet, though.
This room—the control center—was the heartbeat of the machine that ruined everyone’s lives. Around me, the geek squad Ryan had recruited from the military and from colleges around the country worked tirelessly to ruin the newest life to Section Five, the girl heard screaming across the complex. They would systematically end her life, and erase any trace of her living from the world, then rebuild her into Section Five’s image.
We could all hear her screams. You’d have thought Section Five would invest in soundproof walls, but I had a feeling it was by design. Sonya loved it when the recruits screamed.
Sadistic bitch. She probably got off knowing we could hear it. No doubt Sonya was salivating, waiting to for the chance to play in a new recruit’s head. She loved the spirited ones. They were more of a challenge for her to break.
A chair rolling across the hard tile floor caught my attention, stopping inches from me. The bearded man sitting in it, frowned at the screen I sat next to. His expression was contemplative, but when he noticed I was sitting there, like I hadn’t been for the last thirty minutes watching them destroy a life, he frowned. “What’s shaking, bacon?”
I shrugged. “Chilling, villain.”
“Thought you were still on admin leave,” Zeke shrugged and shifted his focus to the screen.
Admin leave. Was that what they were calling losing your mind with misery? I called it a sucker punch. I knew I didn’t handle Kala’s death well, but how did anyone handle losing their family like that?
“No one gets time off.” My voice came out surprisingly flat and low. “Not ever.”
Zeke didn’t seem to notice the tone, or maybe he ignored it. He chuckled instead. “It comes with the job.”
“Yeah.” A job I’d never wanted. Never asked for. A job that was forced on me so they could control Daniel. And like Daniel, like Zeke even, I was just a trained slave. It amazed me that so many of the agents were thankful for Section Five giving them a new life.
Of course, it was the conditioning Sonya did, I was sure. Conform or die. The choice we all made. What kind of choice was that, really? What was worse than being held prisoner was not even realizing that they were a prisoner. How they lived day in and day out, accepting that this was their life… I couldn’t even fathom it. This place ate away at my soul, chipped away little by little at my humanity. I wasn’t sure either even existed anymore.
I watched them all work for a while. There was something magical about watching them. I’d watched them erase lives plenty of times. Maybe it was because I didn’t know computers like they did, but it seemed like they had special powers when they worked.
Except I knew enough about what they were doing to realize that it was taking longer than usual and was definitely more in depth than the usual erase and rebirth.
“Seems like that’s taking a little longer than usual, right?”
“It’s not a standard profile build,” Zeke replied. He glanced at me briefly. I wasn’t sure what it was, but something wasn’t right.
“This is a different acquisition than standard recruitment. Ryan wants this one ready to go pretty quick.”
“Why?” I frowned. Recruits took at least a year, sometimes longer before they were handed their first mission. Full immersion training and conditioning only progressed them so far. A lot needed to get physically ready as well.
“Tech experience, martial arts background, and she speaks four languages fluently. Ryan thinks she’ll be good for some open identities, and she has some experience already.”
It wasn’t until Zeke snuck a look at me that my internal alarms started really going off. Something just was not right here. I rolled my shoulders back, pushing away the wildness that wanted to push forward.
“That makes no sense. We have a dozen other agents already in the field that have that same setup. Put one of them in there.”
From what I’d heard, and based on her screams, that girl wouldn’t be ready for training for weeks, even if Sonya was able to dig deep into her head with those claws of hers.
“Ryan gave pretty specific orders, man,” Zeke replied. Guilt crossed his face for a moment, only a flash, but I caught it. “I gotta use her.”
I grabbed the monitor next to me and flipped it to face me.
Shit. It started making sense then.
My entire body grew cold as I focused on the head shot there. My feet and legs felt like lead encased in concrete and thrown to the bottom of the ocean.
The resemblance was ridiculous.
“Jet—” Zeke’s voice was almost a warning, but it faded out as thoughts invaded my consciousness and drowned out everything else.
The girl was the same age as Kala, according to the info sheet Zeke was using. But it was the eyes that drew me, so similar to Kala, but deeper and darker. My body shook with restrained rage all over again, the wounds I was trying to heal from my sister’s death ripping open all over again.
This girl could have been her.
Zeke tensed in the corner of my eye, and suddenly, I realized I was losing it. I dialed it back, beating back the rage I felt. There would be time later. I cleared my throat and covered up the crazy inside.
“Who is she?” I asked.
“Some petty thief from the west coast. They picked her up four days ago.”
“A criminal.” I didn’t know why I said it. Of course, she was. Everyone here was.
“Like everyone else, bro.” Zeke sighed.
“Jesus, she looks—” I stopped that thought before I could speak it and cleared my throat. “How did you get her?”
“She was hacking bank systems, moving money around.”
“So, she’s a geek like you,” I said.
“Kinda. She has the technical know-how, but not enough for what she was doing. She sent up dozens of red flags.” Zeke pursed his lips. I didn’t think he actually liked it when I called him a geek, but we all did. Zeke the Geek. It was just who he was. “We traced her to a coffee shop. Extraction team waited for her to leave and nabbed her on the street. Ryan had her delivered here under sedation.”
“Daniel’s her intake coordinator?”
Zeke nodded. “I’m just setting up the final story of her demise now, and then I’ll put her in a new build.”
I wondered if Daniel saw the resemblance. There was no way he couldn’t. I couldn’t stop looking at the screen, at the picture there. It wasn’t a mug shot. It didn’t look like she’d ever been arrested from her file. She was smiling in the picture, head tilted like she knew the picture taker. I wondered if the one taking the picture was a boyfriend or family, or maybe just a girlfriend.
How had they found her? Someone who looked so much like a dead girl?
Kala had been so good at this life. Not like me. Like Daniel, really. Putting a rookie into her open identities was risky. I didn’t know why Ryan would risk open operations by putting a girl with no training in them, but I had a feeling it had to do with Daniel. More ways to control the one guy that could bring down Section Five on his own.
I knew Daniel scared Ryan. That much was obvious. Ryan subscribed to the “keep your enemies close” philosophy. Conditioning wouldn’t work on Daniel, but basic manipulation definitely would. That was why Kala was dead now. To remind Daniel that he was not the one in charge.
Ryan had replaced Kala with a look-alike. He’d risked an open operation to do it.
This was yet another mark against him, one more item to add to the list of crimes that I would make Ryan Patterson pay for. Every fucking cent Ryan had sunk into Section Five, every cent he’d conned out of the United States government… I would take from his hide, cent by cent, bit by bit. Like Ryan had done to me. Like he was doing to Daniel.
My family had been torn to pieces by this place. Daniel had been converted, forced by coercion and manipulation to conform. Kala was dead. David… well, I hoped he was dead for his sake, wherever they’d taken him. The alternative was so much worse. I’d make both Pattersons pay for every sin they had committed against my family, against me.
“Jet, bro. You good?” I blinked and looked at Zeke.
How long had I been staring at that picture?
Zeke looked wary, like maybe I was going to blow up the control center again. That was months ago though. I had a better way to get their attention now.
“Yeah,” I said, trying to flip the emotions back to zero. The last thing I needed was Zeke to think this news had made me unstable and call Sonya in. Not that Zeke had any love for Section Five either. I didn’t think any of us really did, but he had nowhere else to be. Plucked right out of college, he’d been provided with a very nice retirement plan. Because no one left Section Five. Not ever.
He also hadn’t lost enough yet, not to the point where he wanted to torch the entire complex and kill everything in it. That was where I was. He didn’t have any family to lose. At least, I didn’t think he did. He never talked about anyone.
“Sure?” He asked.
“All good,” I replied, clearing my throat. “Just another recruit. There will be another in a week, just like her.”
Zeke frowned. “Yeah, but they don’t all look like this one.”
“No big,” I said, leaning back in the chair. “Just a girl.”
“You know I have to do this, right? I don’t have a choice.”
I tried to push away the crazy storm swirling inside me. I couldn’t let on what I felt like this. I needed to put a lid on it, keep it close to the vest. “No worries, geek. I get it.”
Zeke frowned, quiet as he studied me, but then he must have been satisfied by the answer because he returned to his work.
Kala was nothing more than a broken cog in the machine they needed to replace. She had retained too much of her humanity and been punished for it. But the real target here was Daniel. My heart was broken now, shattered into a thousand tiny slivers of aching loneliness where Kala had once soothed the rough edges of my pain.
That was when it occurred to me. They were so intent on using the new girl for a weapon against Daniel that I could flip it on them. She was too green now, but three days of conditioning and she was still not broken in? She was too independent. I could use that.
Daniel had to have known. He’d seen her file. He’d seen her brought in. But he’d not said anything about the likeness to Kala when I’d last seen him. No doubt, he was probably protecting me again. As he always did. I’d make that easier for him soon.
Ryan had his hooks deep into Daniel, especially holding David over him. He needed to keep Daniel close. That was probably the only reason I was still alive after I blew up the control center last month. Daniel might have thought he had more freedom than the recruits he indoctrinated because his door didn’t lock at night, but Ryan and Sonya knew just how much to tighten his leash.
Daniel had a soft heart, not like me.
I stood up, not willing to watch them destroy another life anymore. I had things to do now. It was time to set the next phase of my take down into action. This was the last straw.
Zeke glanced up. “You out?”
“Yeah. See ya, Geek.”
As I left the control center, it was timeliness that the new recruit was being moved to Sonya’s office. It was the only room past the control center from the interview rooms, so it was a good guess that it was her.
She was out cold now, probably injected beyond belief with sedatives. Even unconscious, the resemblance was uncanny. Jesus. In person, it was worse. How had Daniel not said anything? He had to have known.
Daniel trailed behind the gurney, slow and uneasy, and stopped not far from where I stood, even as the gurney kept going. A few seconds later, the door to Sonya’s office slammed shut so loud both Daniel and I flinched.
God, I hoped the girl survived Sonya’s treatments. That bitch was a rough task mistress on the best of days. I fingered the tip of the knife up my sleeve as Daniel’s striking blue eyes met mine. His face was pale, the blood gone like he’d seen a ghost.
It would be so easy to end him right then, to put him out of his misery. Daniel was the good soldier. He followed orders and took care of his team. He’d do as he was told by Ryan, and eventually, he would send that girl out to be killed for the good of the mission.
But I couldn’t do it. He was my brother.
As his eyes met mine, a hard wall slammed down between us. He knew who she looked like. He wasn’t going to talk to me about it.
“Daniel…” I swallowed. I didn’t even know how to broach the subject. I knew Daniel was under a lot of stress. This could be what broke him too.
I could have ended him right then. I could have put him out of his misery.
Daniel shook his head, still not saying anything
It would have been the decent play, if not the smart one, because then Ryan would not be able to hold anything over us. We were a distraction to each other, really. Remove the distractions, remove the weaknesses. We were each other’s weak link. Wasn’t that exactly what Section Five had taught us in the early days, when they turned us into killers?
Daniel turned and went back the direction he’d come.
I sighed, after he’d disappeared from my vision.
I could be the good soldier too.
To protect my brother from his own misery, it would be all too easy.