Kelly and Captain Miller found an old trail and followed it out of the shrubbery and cactuses and onto a road, which they then followed east, expecting to find a sign of Dunstan Riley around two miles down. They heard only the constant buzz of insects and the occasional scuffle of a rodent or bird, and eventually Kelly disable her night-vision and relied on the waning moon to light the ground beneath her feet. Gravel turned to asphalt, which then turned to steel, a metallic clinking with every step.
Kelly reengaged her night-vision. The craggy desert terrain had miraculously disappeared, and heavy square shapes sprung from the ground.
“This area must have been under development,” said Miller, quietly. “Looks abandoned now.”
He kicked a rock and it clanged against a metal surface. Somewhere nearby a rattlesnake announced itself, pattering like the rain.
Miller continued to look around. “This place is a ghost town. What the hell is Dunstan doing out here?”
A little further down the road Kelly pointed out an old barn. Distinct cracks of light shined through gaps in the wood. No one else for miles around, this had to be Dunstan. A voice inside. Melodious. A young man humming a tune. Miller slowly raised a fist and Kelly stopped. They both listened for a moment. He was alone. He was most likely Dunstan. Miller signalled for Kelly to advance.
Kelly gave three heavy knocks on the door, which was followed by a gasp and a loud crash inside, then footsteps. The door groaned as Dunstan Riley heaved it open.
“Lieutenant Jade,” he exclaimed. “You scared the bajeezus out of me.” He saluted Miller. “Captain.”
Kelly glanced over her shoulder at the consuming darkness. She had an uneasy feeling. “Any suspicious activity around, Riley?”
Dunstan shook his head. “Other than all my communications going haywire – which I assume was the reason for your delay – no, I haven’t see a soul.” He gestured for them to come inside. The air within was significantly warmer.
Kelly and Miller sat down and Dunstan handed them each a cup of coffee. The hot drink and caffeine helped Kelly relax. She managed a smile.
“Anyway Dunstan, it’s good to see you. Stayed out of trouble?”
Dunstan Riley, CIA, ex-CSI, data analyst, was your typical computer nerd. His mandatory military training came to light when Kelly served with him in South Africa, though at first glance it was hard to believe he knew his way around an assault rifle. Not that Dunstan had ever confirmed a kill, he hadn’t even seen real combat, but combat wasn’t his job. Dunstan’s job was to gather and interpret information, not unlike the dataist cultists he was now investigating.
“Always,” Dunstan replied. “What happened out there? You overshot me.”
“We know,” said Miller. “Technical error with our navigation.”
“Were you hacked?” Dunstan asked.
“Not sure,” said Kelly.
If the equipment on their A400M aircraft was tampered with by hackers, Kelly couldn’t fathom what their intentions were. It could have been a sloppy job on the hackers’ part. Maybe this was a scare tactic, a way to say that even at 22,000 feet in the air the CIA wasn’t safe from the cult. The other question to ask was whether the hackers knew that Kelly and Miller were up there at all — maybe the enemy chanced upon an aircraft and decided to mess with it, not knowing that its purpose was to secretly deploy Special Forces operatives into the demilitarised zone. Either way, Kelly would find out the truth soon.
Dunstan rubbed his hands together and said, “Now that we’re all here what do you say we get going? I’ve been freezing my ass off in this barn. We got a safehouse about an hour North of here. The car’s out back.”
Outside the barn Kelly’s breath showed in their torchlights. Dunstan clicked a button on his keys. An engine hummed to life and blue-white neon headlights snapped bright. Dunstan climbed into the driver’s seat of a silver BMW, probably a personal car, based on the modified dashboard equipped with a computer for quick and dirty hacks, not to mention the burger wrappers and soda cups littering the floor. Kelly sat in the passenger seat. The car smelt like strawberry air freshener with a hint of cigarette smoke.
“Sorry about the mess,” said Dunstan
He swung the BMW out onto the road. “I’ve been tracking the cult for almost three months. They’ve got compounds all over this region, always on the move, you know, so my ride is basically my workspace. For a religion with a dogma of free access of information for all, they’re frustratingly secretive. Three months and I’ve basically got nothing. I do know this whole operation is definitely a family business, and I know Anton Harrell’s name has come up more than once, and his brother Marcus, but so far I haven’t had eyes on them or their family. Haven’t had clearance to make contact until now.”
“Who else are we dealing with?” Kelly asked.
“There’s a new Japanese cyber-drug that the cult are distributing to get an edge on potential new recruits — the street name is Hex. Then there’s Typhon, the private army headed by Gustav Lynwood, currently in the cult’s pocket. For the past three months I’ve watched these guys slowly move their pawns into place. Everything might look fine from outside but I can tell you they’ve already taken control of San Juan County in Utah, and who knows what else. The cult’s already bought or brainwashed most of the local police, the rest of them who wouldn’t play ball got the hell out of there. People have been waiting for help, can’t imagine they’ll be over the moon when they find out all the Pentagon sent was you.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” said Miller.
Kelly was suddenly glad that this was just a quick and easy recon mission. Just a few hours into the mission and already the cult seemed like a bigger problem than even Agent Connors could anticipate. She just hoped that the mission parameters didn’t change, and that all she was required to do was look.ns18.104.22.168da2