Atlantis Venture – the Drone - Part 1

by Randy Gonzalez

Some time ago, the historic Fort Jefferson National Monument was purchased by the mysterious investment organization known as the MAGI-Group. Hardly anyone had any idea what the acronym stood for, let alone actually knew what an acronym was. In secrecy, the word hid an intricacy of layered consulting interactions throughout the vast U.S. intelligence network. Even so, within that matrix, MAGI existed in a world it continuously created, fabricated, updated and reformatted as global conditions warranted. Outside the reaches of politicians, pundits and the press, MAGI was invisible.

     From the outside looking in, if you were in a position to do that, MAGI-Group seemed like some kind of weird collection of white-collar computer geeks. The Multidimensional Analysis and Global Investigations group had been viewed as an elaborate think tank of egghead type lab-rat analysts. Naturally, such notions were effective in providing a smokes screen. Or, as the founders once conjured, something referred to as the mystical Legerdemain Protocols. Regardless, another reference could be in the direction of the ancient Magi, the plural of magus, magicians or alleged wise men and women.

     Nonetheless, among themselves, the key people involved considered they were the angels who keep the watch. That is, watchers and observers, who maintain a balance between good and evil, primarily to protect the United States of America. Believers in an ancient code of chivalry, the code of bushido, they were ronin by choice. However, there existed another reference in their mythic legerdemain. This nebulous notion pointed to places like Area-51, the Bermuda Triangle, and other paranormal possibilities. However, you would have to be way above top secret to get closer.

     Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Mexico, seventy miles west of Key West, the old island fortress became the main operational center for MAGI-Group. Formerly, a national park, and previously a federal military facility, the coastal bastion was sold after a never-ending national debt crisis. As usual, politicians clamored to downsize not only the military, but also certain national recreation facilities. In the face of mounting terrorist activities, global unrest, and elections, officials opted for electoral safety. But, the elusive CEO of the mysterious MAGI Group, Dr. Sterling Striffe, convinced those involved to buy the fort and set up home base at the fortress. They did excitedly that.

     The largest masonry structure in the U.S., the fort contained an elaborate command and control center. Manned by a handful of specialists, not counting, armed security personnel, the internal workings were fully automated. With the latest computerized techno-savvy capabilities, as well as other components, the citadel remained completely self-contained. If necessary, you would never have to leave for any reason. From the outside, one might mistake its looks for something historically archaic and antiquated. But, that was intentional, as on the inside, high-tech was the name of the game.

     Magi's fortress consisted of a three-tier design based on a hexagonal configuration. Distance from one corner to the next, along each diagonal wall, ranged from 325 feet to 477. Gulf waters surrounded the bastion. And, a protective walled barrier separated the sea from the walls and created the effect of a mote. A small island landing and docking area ran along the western side of the complex. Two helipads, one inside the fort, and one on the island, afforded the landing of various aircraft operated by Magi.

     "Incoming aircraft stand by for corporate staff arrival," an alert technician announced to others in the command center. "Helo One is on approach, be vigilant."

     "Helo One to Armada Base," the pilot signaled. Her bright blue eyes sparkled as her curly red struggled to remain contained under her pilot's helmet. Her freckles animated a facial expression that showed excitement. "We're approaching LZ-1 on the inside complex. Three minutes to arrival, are we clear for approach?"

     "Affirmative, Helo One, you are cleared," the command center radioed back. "Perimeter defenses are ready for your landing. You have green light."

     "Alright you two, hang on to your private parts," the feisty pilot said to her passengers. "I'm gonna do a fast run over the fort, just for kicks, okay?"

     "Rusty," Sterling Striffe, wealthy owner of the MAGI group, started to issues one of his playful warnings. "Don't wreck this chopper it's a prototype." His tone contained more jest than seriousness. "It's on loan and the board of directors'll be really pissed." Patiently, he commented via his headset microphone and glanced at his paramour partner. "What? She likes to race her aircraft. She's good at what she does."

     "Didn't one of these experimental things crash at the European air show last year?" The infamous Myla Trench, exotic operative extraordinaire retorted wryly. "Hmm you know, Sterling my darling, didn't our very own Rusty crash that one?"

     "I heard that," the pilot, Major Rose Petals, muttered amusingly to her paramour, Myla Trench. As a threesome couple, they enjoyed the jousting. "Correction, it was not one of these aircraft." She whipped around quickly and threw them both a nod. "Come on people, it's on loan for testing. Yes, it's a prototype. Last time, at the air show in a different aircraft, I might add. The turbine burned up on me. It wasn't my fault. The bird had major engine failure and we didn't design it. At least not at Area-51""

     "We had a lot of explaining to do to the U.S. Army," Myla added playfully. "However, I'm certain Sterling will find a way to reimburse any losses. Seems like he's good at covering things up," she teased without mercy and pulled no punches.

     "Well, that took some creative storytelling," Sterling laughed. "A few miffed colonels and majors were over-ruled by several appreciative generals." He cleared his throat and sucked in a breath. "Plus, with added incentives, investors picked up the tab."

     "See how things work out?" Rusty offered jokingly and then went on to another issue. "Okay, see that boat down there?" Rusty called their attention to a strange watercraft cruising near the fort. "That long grey thing moving slowly."

     "Yeah, Rus, very good, your visual acuity is excellent. That's a boat down there." Striffe said with growing interest. "An unusual vessel for these waters this time of day, I might add." He strained to look closer. "The configuration is that of a high-speed craft." He pulled out a pair of digital binoculars from an under-seat compartment. "Ease down there," his face grew more serious, while he zeroed in with the computerized three-D field glasses. "Be careful and be ready, I'm getting one of those feelings. It's the kind that annoys intuitive creativity and tugs at lethal perceptions."

     "Uh huh, I'm getting that little twitch in the pelvis too," Myla perked up. "Could be something else I need. Then again on another level, there's that unusual craft near our fort," She said in agreement. With her binoculars, she joined the analysis. "You're right, tough guy, narrow beam, heavy engines and steep angles on the hull."

     "Looks fast, lots of thrust power," Striffe added to her notations.

     "Thrust power is good," Myla said while peering next to him down at the boat. She added with a more investigative tone, "I'm taking some pictures." She pressed a button the binoculars and began a series of snap shots. With her earpiece comm-link, she over-rode helo communications. "Armada you copy that transmission?"

     "Roger that, Helo One, transmission on secure link confirmed and we're on it," the command center reported to her. "We're monitoring the phantom craft, which changed course earlier. Navigational trajectory is currently being tracked." Silence interceded shortly, and then the command center added, "I.D. is unknown."

     "I could've told them that," Myla snarled and put up a frown.

     "Going in closer, we'll do a fly over and make an assessment," Rusty announced to the two of them. "Well that's certainly interesting, what's it doing?"

     "Helo One, shall we launch vessel interception?" The command center asked.

     "Hold in place for the time being, we'll advise," Rusty responded.

     "No particular markings of note," Striffe, aka Lancer Lovejoy, mentioned. "Not even a hull number for registration purposes, or any identifiable insignia. Nor is it flying any flag of registry. We could have the U.S. Coast Guard conduct an inquiry."

     "The fort is technically within the U.S. territorial boundaries," Myla clarified. "To summon a response will take time. That craft could disappear quickly and make it to open watch and to who knows where. I say we interdict and enforce no trespassing." She gave off a heavy sigh. "We're outside local jurisdiction, so it falls on us."

     "I like that idea." Sterling pulled out one of his expensive cigars. Unlit, he chomped down and continued, "Have base delay Coast Guard notifications."

     "Roger that will do. Standby people, closing on target," Rusty advised them. "Coast Guard intervention will be too late. If we're dealing with pirates, terrorists or whatever," she toyed, "we need to act now and find out who they are."

     "Instruct Armada Base," Striffe advised her, "to upgrade security status now."

     "Armada control," Rusty radioed. "Elevate status and secure the base."

     "Affirmative, going to Condition Red," the command center responded. In the background, a klaxon alarm sounded. With the press of a button, the technician put the island fortress in lockdown. "Helo One, we are in secure mode."

     "Copy that," Rusty answered. "We going in and assess the situation."

     "Affirmative, Helo One," control replied. "Scanners put the vessel near the tip of the northwest island. Off our shoreline approximately point zero nine eight seven nautical miles. Technically, it's trespassing." Static filled the temporary void for a second or two. "Watercraft analysis indicates the profile of a race boat..."

      "With twin diesel type engines," Rusty continued where the technician had started. "That's a roger on that. Commence a search of the trans-global registries for a possible match to the craft's visual profile, characteristics, etc., and standby."

     "Okay, so it's about two hundred yards out, so what? I hate to be sarcastic," Myla wanted to say sternly. "However, I already deduced that. Why is that information annoying to me, Sterling? It's redundant." She snarled, grew impatient and frowned in her usual readiness to for action. "We're wasting time. Rusty, take us down."

     "It's annoying because you want to be annoyed." He smiled appreciatively and nodded at Rusty. "My question is, since when did you not want to be sarcastic?"

     "You're gonna get it later, wise guy," she taunted and punched him in the ribs. He smirked at the lightly placed jab. "Smart ass," she added friskily.

     "Meanwhile, one of the boat's crew, after giving us the once over, has gone below. Can't say I like that idea," Sterling added. "Wait, that doesn't look good."

     "Onboard camera is now running; we'll do a fly by and get some pictures." Rusty angled the helo closer and the aircraft tilted to one side. "What's the guy doing down there? Close up on scan, projection on monitor." While she glanced at her console screen, Sterling and Myla watched the overhead monitor in the passenger compartment. "Geezus, Sterling, they got a rocket launcher down there. What the hell?"

     "Uh huh, it appears so, major," Sterling quickly answered. "Once again, you're right on target, so to speak. Certainly, looks like it's an old Russian version," Sterling went on, nodded slightly to the pilot. She wasn't looking at that moment. "Well this isn't gonna end well, unless we come up with really good evasive action."

     "Fuck that, I'm going close," Rusty blurted and sent the chopper into a steep attacking dive. "That's likely got a range of a thousand meters, and I'm too close to make a run for it. Hang on, goddamnit, looks like he's gonna fire at us!"

     "Brace yourselves, here we go, this'll be fun," Myla commented dryly. "We armed on this aircraft, Rusty? What am I saying, I should know that already?"

     "Ask the boss, he thought of everything," Rusty replied sarcastically.

     "No, my dear, we didn't equip the weaponry. The craft is for flight-testing only. With that, we might make a splash down." Striffe, adventurer, ex-spy, former U.S. Army Psyops Colonel, said steadily. "Did we get insurance on this helo?"

     "You wish, Sterling Striffe," Rusty called out. "Now sit still and let me play this out. All systems ready," she faked it. "The big 'O' is coming and we go in hard and fast."

     "Go for it, cowgirl," he encouraged her. "Sink that boat." He played along with her scenario and envisioned the craft exploding. "Light it up, baby."

     "Swooping down and going hot. Take that, clown boy," Rusty yelled at the assailant on board the vessel and took the chopper in a full speed. "Bam, bam, bam..."

     "You tell'em woman, go for it, honey," Myla yelled back affectionately.

     "Fascinating," Striffe muttered with an amused expression. He chewed on his cigar and enjoyed the foreplay between his two partners. "Nicely done."

     With her innate connection to Myla, Rusty sensed what her counterpart was about to do. In coordination with other, they swiftly synchronized their intentions. Rusty's tactic took a sharp dive and flat trajectory above the water. By evasive maneuvering, the aircraft became a strangely difficult object to encounter.

     Choppy waves lapped at the underside of the helo, as salt spray leaped up. She zeroed in on the boat with what appeared to be an effort to ram the vessel. Now, three men on the deck appeared to panic, startled by the abrupt action. Apparently, they had anticipated the pilot would pull up, move away and make a better target.

     Fortunately, for Rusty and crew, they had underestimated her cunning capabilities. The one with the missile, stiffened by indecision, continued to hesitate and waved the launch tube carelessly in the air. A second later, he abruptly fired the weapon inaccurately into the water, just below the speeding aircraft. From the explosion, a funnel of seawater washed the bottom of the helo as it approached.

     Naturally, since she was inside the helo, the intruder remained completely oblivious to her defiant ranting. She pretended she had activated her weapons systems and opened fire on the boat. Her tactics had caught the deck guy by surprise. He froze for a few seconds longer after missing the chopper. Rusty counted on that.

     Meanwhile, as Rusty went into her descent, Myla pulled out her pistol from her shoulder holster. Quickly, she slid open a portal, set the gun to auto-fire, and angled her arm to shoot. Working together, and given the reaction of the assailant, the chopper smoothly adjusted so Myla could open fire on her objective. With an audible buzz, Myla fired the pistol and effortlessly put several bullets into the intruder.

     The shock of surprise, the terror of failure and the animated horror of finality etched the poignancy upon the assassin's stressed facial features. Death was demon possessed by the extraordinary powers of terminal freakishness. Hellish demise greeted the fateful journey of a life lived unwisely, or for that matter, any creature living at all. You could almost see the bloody clumsy handwriting in the air around him. As if to say, 'what the fuck?' while gasping wildly up at Myla. Next to the pleading script, one might add, 'what's the point?'. After all, no one knows what no one knows.

     "Yeehaw!" Rusty screamed and banked the chopper hard to circle the vessel. "Why butter my backside and call me a biscuit, that's some wild west shooten!"

     "Not a bad shot, my dear, well you have done, with a handgun no less," Striffe complimented with a relaxed tone. He nearly yawned with an expression meant to tease her. "What?" He noted her outstretched hand. "Hmm," he felt the helo swing around and realign for another attack. "Emptied your magazine, did you? Fire control discipline my dear? All fifteen rounds down range?" He annoyed her.

     "Shut up, or it'll be a cold weekend for you," she said mischievously.

     "Ah, that's not fair," he replied playfully. "And, where's your spare?"

     "I'm not going to comment on that at the moment." She frowned at him.

     "Uh huh, and what have I said about things like that?" He feigned correction.

     "Give it to me..." she said and flexed her jaw with a snarl. "Your magazine or I'll kick your ass right here in the helo, Sterling Striffe, my love." Myla grinned wickedly. "Let's go, fork it over, tough guy. Now, we're coming around."

     "See if you can hit the driver at the main console," he toyed and whipped out a spare magazine and handed it to her. "Good thing we're carrying similar weapons, huh?"

     "Of course, and yes, I noticed that earlier just in case," she played along. "Figured I could carry less baggage, because you always have extra contingencies." She leaned over swiftly and kissed him on the neck. "I suck your brains out later."

     "Why me?" He muttered fondly. "Why me?"

     "Coming around for another approach," Rusty advised. "I'm getting signals from base; the Coast Guard is taking an interest in our activities."

     "Well now, the feds have to get involved at this moment," Myla snarled. "Just when I thought I could get away with another kill, they wanna go lawful on us."

     "Alright, advise base to standby, confirm immediate tow operations," Striffe started to give instructions. Myla was already hanging over the side of chopper. Slapping wind currents whipped madly at her and thrashed around the hatchway. "Get the craft into our enclosed dry dock area a.s.a.p. Have security search and secure the vessel."

     "Roger that, it's already underway," Rusty told him cheerily. "Going in close."

     "I'm ready!" Myla yelled over the lashing airflow. She watched the towboat exit from a concealed compartment within the walls of the fort. "Closer," she yelled.

     "Wind turbulence, hang on spider woman," Rusty hollered back. "Geezus, these air currents just gonna dill my pickle." She pulled hard toward the vessel. For a second, she glanced over her shoulder at Striffe. "What the hell? Those clowns are gonna be as surprised as a mule chewing a wad of bumblebees. Forgot about that thing."

     "That's it, I know it's rough, but hold there nice and steady, as much as you can," Striffe calmly told Rusty. "I'll need a very fast side angle for about a split second." Quickly without notice, from an onboard storage compartment, he had assembled an AR-50 sniper rifle. "Yes, my dear, this classic will do a number on the engine compartment." He zeroed in on the boat. "Placement and penetration, that's the key."

     "We're coming in, here we go," Rusty announced with precision. "Cool, you're shooting between Myla's legs. She oughta like that, something big and powerful."

     "She never complains," he answered roguishly. "Three, two, one...boom!"

     As the same instant, Myla and Striffe came together in one act of focused and rhythmic unison. Multiple gunshots rained down on the speeding boat. Their firing sequence was so close it seemed like simultaneous exploding chatter. She dangled with one hand and fired with the other. Between her muscular spread legs, he put two detonating rounds through the hull of the vessel. Instantly, the vessel's engine housing and rear deck erupted flames. The boat's operator slumped over the console.

     "Nope, with you under me, I never complain." She'd swung back inside the helo and sat legs wide on his lower back. "Not bad shooting for a really big gun," Myla taunted him. "I mean how could you miss with that thing."

     "What can I say, you're good with a one-handed grip," he retorted with a grin. "Now, let's see what the survivors have to say about this little misadventure."

     "Well done," Rusty added. "More fun than chasing a greased pig."

     "We really need to get her back to the farm," Myla whispered to Striffe.

     "Probably a good idea. For now, let's have an interrogation," Striffe replied.

     "Of course. By the way, I'm not heavy sitting here, am I?" Myla teased.

     "Don't answer that, quick deflect to something else," Rusty warned.

     "Not at all my dear," Striffe quickly answered. "You feel light as a feather. Have you lost more weight? You know, I've noticed how thin you're getting and..."

     "Oh, shut up, smartass." She swung off and slapped him once on the butt.

     "No way to win something like that." Rusty comfortably worked her controls.

     "Find out how many guests we have on board the phantom boat," he requested of Rusty. "I would like the boat searched from bow to stern, and port to starboard. Plus, ask control to negotiate the usual benign response with the coast guard."

     "Uh boat went cloaked on us, high speed suspicious craft, unknown origin, headed for Cuba?" Rusty played along with Striffe's hint. "The usual deception, standard procedures and all that special kind of ruse?" She hovered over the fort's helipad.

     "Yeah, that sounds good." Striffe released his seat belt upon landing.

     "We do this the hard way," she started to ask. "Or, the easy way?"

     "Easy way, let's save some time before other feds get wind of this," Striffe casually explained his thoughts as they exited the chopper. "How many?" He asked a female aide who rapidly walked up to him. "And, where are they?"

     "Three, total, sir." The aide nodded warmly to Myla. Myla winked in return. "One alive and in the interrogation chamber, sir," the aide answered him confidently, clad collar to boot in navy blue battle dress. Dark skinned, fit and trim, her jet-black hair, like Myla's, was pulled tight to the back of her head. "The two dead ones, one at the helm and the other on the rear deck are being taken to the lab."

     "Good job, you guys are working hard," he said with a slight bow. "I very much appreciate your efficiency and attention to detail. Okay and what else?"

      "We're continuing to search the vessel." The aide smiled at Rusty and discreetly nodded again. Rusty smiled at her with a sly nod. "So far, sir, we have found nothing aboard the craft that would indicate usual information. No I.D.'s, no passports, except three prayer rugs, plenty of explosives, ammunition and several types of weaponry."

     "Clowns," Myla said sarcastically. "Interesting situation."

     "We'll find something, ma'am," the aide added. "Techs are combing the vessel in the secure dry dock, under the east wall complex." Over her shirt jacket, she wore a snug black nylon shoulder holster with a black pistol. "Comm-center is conducting trans-global traces on everything. As you requested, the coast guard is now heading to the territorial waters off Cuba and searching the Gulf of Mexico."

     "Make sure, once we've gleaned everything possible, that boat vanishes," Striffe instructed her further. "No trace is to be found anywhere near the U.S."

     "In fact, why don't you leave it on a beach in some wealthy tourist enclave, like Cancun?" Myla joked. "We can fabricate the blame on one of the cartels."

     "I kinda like that idea," Rusty agreed with a slight chuckle.

     "Well, we could do that, but," Sterling cautioned. "Yet, someone somewhere may have it on satellite. On second thought destroy the craft completely."

     "Affirmative, sir, we're on it," the aide answered quickly.

     "Excellent. Have the bone doctor fire up the lab," he said to her, as they all walked under an old historic portico toward a red brick wall. "I'd like a complete autopsy on the two decedents as soon as possible. We'll interrogate number three now."

     "Roger that, sir, the room is ready and the subject is being prepared," she responded and clicked her booted heels. As they moved toward the solid wall, she went on to say, "Oh, there is one thing, sir." She turned slightly to meet Striffe's gaze.

     "Oh, do tell, and what might that be?" Sterling held her stare. A moment passed, the eye-to-eye contact in the silent seconds annoyed Myla. Rusty let out a sigh. When the aide blinked and recovered herself, Sterling added briefly, "And..."

     "We found this piece of cloth," she told him, pulled a plastic baggie from her pocket, and handed him a torn fragment of smooth stitched fabric. "Feels silky, sir, uh, yet maintains a cotton-like touch of medium grade material."

     "Silken but more like cotton, yet the texture is of a higher grade," Striffe said, while he dangled the plastic envelope up close to his face. "Ladies?" He showed what appeared to be the ripped remnant of uniform patch to Myla and Rusty. "What?"

     "I'll tell you what," Myla offered him a twinge of a snarl. She gave him a look and then gave one back to the aide. He knew she wasn't jealous. Instead, with Myla, there was a wicked sense of territoriality. "It's ripped from a uniform."

     "Like the overalls the three stooges were wearing on the boat," Rusty confirmed. "They were wearing the black jumpsuit things, you know?" She wheeled around to Myla for the point she wanted to make. "Looks all too convenient. Back on the farm, if the dog doesn't hunt, it ain't a day to go hunting. You can't plow with a lame mule."

     "Let me work on the metaphors for a while." Myla grinned affectionately at her protégé. "As such, you're saying it looks contrived to you?"

     "You betcha, sweetie, this look like a pig in a poke." Rusty met her grin.

     "Well, sir, ma'am's," the aide stuttered looked confused by the commentary. "We will continue our analysis and research every aspect for all the details."

     "We'll want the film footage from the helo analyzed," Sterling commented to her and skimmed a sinful gaze a Myla. Their connection spanned time, continent and ideology. "So," he continued, looked down at the artifact and assessed the fabric inside of the baggie. Sterling drew in a breath. "Quick work on the part of the recovery team. Thank you for that. Much appreciated. And, the partial inscription looks Arabic."

     "Duh, the suspects all look Arabic, act like terrorists, hang around with terrorists, and shall I say, terroristic tactics and weapons too. Of which, the same appear to be from the Middle East, so go figure my dear the implications," Myla snarled.

     "Why Myla, my darling," Sterling soothed her reactivity. "That sounds like profiling. You know how we feel about such things. Just the fact, ma'am, just the facts."

     "Oh my god, don't get him going on that issue," Rusty chuckled.

     "Yeah, oh please. Anyway, at this moment," Myla retorted sternly and dug the toe of her boot into the brick pavement. "We got the audio intercept down in command and control will confirm the dialect from that region of the planet," Myla grumbled. "The fucking inscription on the uniforms, jumpsuits, whatever you wanna call their drab looking dress code. It's all looking Arabic in nature."

     "Not to mention their telltale tactics on the boat," Rusty supported the assertion.

     "Why, contessa, my dearest, and Rusty," Sterling said with a smirk, detecting instantly Myla was annoyed by an historic aggravation. "That's profiling based on a bit of skin level superficiality at this moment. However, I'm not in disagreement but would like confirmation." He cautiously measured her intensity. "I want facts my dear."

     "I got your profiling, my love, right here." Myla stabbed him with a finger.

     "A certain three letter federal agency loves their profiles," Sterling said calmly to the three of them. "We deal in cold, gut wrenching blood spilling evidence." He gauged their collective body language. "We don't do guesswork around here."

     "Yeah, yeah, I know by that Sterling Striffe expression. We'll talk later. But, and here's my but on this issue. See that?" She stabbed her finger this time at the plastic container and sucked in her high boned cheeks. She dug in her heels. Her dark complexion seemed darker. "That's a derivation of Arabic lettering."

     "Alright, we'll get immediate confirmation," Striffe went along. "Let's see how quickly the cyber system put's it all together for us. Okay?"

     "Of course, my darling. Know what though?" Myla insisted. "Wait; let me ask this, why is the patch torn? Hurriedly, perhaps in haste, reattached to a jumpsuit? Hmmm? That little tidbit I want to know and I want to know who did it." She huffed. "That tiny element links to a broader picture of complicity and conspiracy."

     "Yes, my contessa, I realize you do want to know that." he answered softly. Their eyes met with ready acceptance. In all likelihood, he knew how often her hunches proved to be right. "Later, I want your best preliminary theory of all the connectivity."

     "KGB and Global Insurrection Zodiac?" Rusty whispered to Myla. "Giz."

     "You gotta it, sister," Myla answered confidently. "GIZ has many tadpoles in the stream. They are fully funded by former members of the KGB."

     "We don't have all the dots connected yet," Sterling reiterated his point.

     "To the interrogation room, please," Myla demanded to Sterling.

     "Ah yes, a place under the sea, is where I want to be," he answered.

     The aide pulled a small hand set from her pocket. With the tap of a button, the heavy red brick wall, with simulated ancient construction, separated down the middle. Two huge panels of the outer façade split apart, made metallic noises, followed by a gush of air. Instantly, the action exposed an entry into the walled fortification.

     The sliding movement of the doors opened instantly and made little noise across the inner tracks. Plenty of room through the portal afforded easy interior access for the four of them. They stepped inside an armored transport system. With a sophisticated flare, Sterling Striffe adjusted his collar and tugged the sleeves of his windbreaker. Once on the elevator platform, the lift system took them three floors down below sea level.

     "I want first crack at cracking the suspect," Myla again instructed Sterling.

     "We'll hold on that for now." He wheeled around and caught her steely gaze. A slight smirk curved at the corners of her lips. The elevator vibrated slightly. "Let's try a more unconventional methodology first. So, standby, here we go,"

     "For now, since time is of the essence, I suppose," she snarled and stood in the back of the lift unit. "I would prefer a good water boarding to those chems you like."

     "On good occasion, they work," Sterling said to the rest of them. The elevator stopped abruptly, the doors whipped open, and he directed them down a dimly lit corridor. "Ah yes, Interrogation Room Number 3. This'll be fascinating."

     "Sir, may I proceed with follow-up operations?" The aide said to Striffe. "I'm getting signaled by the command center. The coast guard is making inquiries."

     "By all means, please see to that very efficiently," Striffe told her.

     "Hello...," Myla hummed wickedly and stretched tight leather gloves over her hands. As she pulled them very snuggly, the material etched an eerie screech in the air. Cracking her knuckles, she approached the suspect, ignored the doctor, and surveyed the suspect tied in a medical examination chair. "Hi there. This will not be fun."

     "I will not talk, bitch," he said with a terse tone and spat at Myla.

     "Seriously?" She slanted to one side and avoided the flying clump of spit. After which, in a split second, she punched him in the side of the head. "Naughty boy." Myla gently grabbed him by the throat, slammed him back in the seat, and spun the chair around once. On return to the original position, she punched him again. "Doctor?"

     "Uh, nice to see you too, Ms. Trench. And, thanks for that." Annoyed, the doctor wiped the ooze of spitball from her starched white lab coat. She went on to add, "Sterling, Rusty, always a pleasure to welcome you back to the fort."

     "Thank you, likewise," Sterling greeted her with an inviting smile. Myla huffed from behind the suspect, where she steadied the chair. "Chemo ready for injection?"

     "Affirmative, Ms. Trench," the doctor answered and approached a prep table.

     "Let's try the Crimson Cobalt," Striffe noted as the doctor retried an auto-syringe. "Our people at Area-51 assure me this is the latest cerebral inducer."

     "Hmm, last time I tried a little taste, I was lit for days," Myla told Rusty.

     "Tell me about, it was more potent than an aphrodisiac," Rusty answered.

     "That's correct," the doctor said with a chuckle. "It affects people in different ways. But, with men, for instance, it works in an opposing fashion." She grinned and reached for a vial with a blue-gloved hand. The red fluid inside the capsule rested quietly, suspended in a clear jelly-like fluid within a steel tray. "This version," she wanted to explain to Striffe, "as you know does cause cerebral burning sensations." Sterling nodded in response to her. "The brain will seem as though on fire."

     "I know," he acknowledged expertly. "Metaphorically speaking, it will blow the subjects mind and dissolve any pretext to a belief system. It gets primal."

     "Yes sir, some do not survive the mental breakdown," the doc answered.

     "We're always testing, evaluating and simulating." Striffe smiled in response. "However, the technique is more effective and cleaner than physical torture." He glanced fondly at Myla. "Time to turn up the heat, so to speak," Sterling replied with a serious tone. "Well, on the inside of the brain that is. A blaze you cannot imagine."

     Stark, sterile and silver whiteness reflected the surrounding circumference of the lab. Lights overhead blazed like surface sunlight on a cloudless day. Stainless steel reflections mirrored the polished cleanness of personnel obsessed with any hint of contamination. The smell of disinfectants hinted the persistent processes of decontamination. As they gathered, all three, like the doctor, put on white protective garb.

     "Very well then, let's proceed." The doctor loaded the auto-injector.

     "Hold on a second," the suspect started to say. "I said I will tell you nothing." He sweated heavily, swallowed hard and blink in rapid succession. "Kill me!"

     "Now, now, none of that is necessary," Striffe encouraged with a sinister hint in his voice. "Don't be in a hurry to die. When the lights go out it gets very dark. There's nothing on the other side you really want. Trust me, I've there. I'd rather be here."

     "He's right," Myla whispered from behind and tapped the suspect on the shoulder. "I went with him. It's the darkness that tears at your psyche. The shadows move and take on hideous forms and shapes. They haunt every horrid memory you've kept."

     "Ms. Trench, would you do the honor please?" The doctor invited Myla to assist. "Brace our test subject for injection. I want to get the right dose."

     "Wait!" The suspect immediately yelled. "No, this is illegal abuse? I protest and demand my rights under U.S. law. I want my lawyer now!"

     "Sorry, sir, you're technically on private property," Rusty commented matter-of-factly with a casual hint in her voice. "We're not the government and you're outside the U.S. territorial enforcement limits." She sighed comfortably with a big grin on her freckled face. "Why back where I come from, up yonder," her southern drawl intensified, "Ya'll look like a few miles of bad road on a stormy day and a flat tire."

     "Where does she get these things?" Myla asked Sterling.

     "Hey, don't look at me, you're training her." Sterling shook his head.

     "I demand my rights!" The suspect complained, jerked up and down, and struggled against his straps. The exam chair swiveled and rocked side to side. "Help!"

     "Oh please, don't be such a sissy," Myla snarled very darkly. Looming presence alone could be very intimidating to most people. "We could cut off body parts." Immediately, she gripped his head and slammed him down with a forceful thrust. "Not the same is it, when the tables are turned. You're gonna wish you were beheaded, dick head."

     "Do it," Striffe instructed the doctor, glanced at Trench, and pointed. "Myla, brace his shoulders and tighten the straps." Striffe ensured that the chair's bindings were securely in place. He fastened the shoulder harness. "Use the ball gag, let's keep his mouth shut," he told her. "I really don't wanna listen to this clown whine and complain."

     "Woo, kinky, now we're talking," she answered him excitedly. She quickly fit the gag piece on the suspect. "Wish I'd brought my black leather outfit."

     "Surprised you didn't, you usually dress in black," Rusty chimed in and helped.

     "And, any complaints?" Myla toyed with Rusty in their usual antics.

     "Nope, none whatsoever, my dear," Rusty added.

     "Put it in the carotid artery," Striffe said to the doctor.

     "Roger that, doc, incoming," the doctor aimed for the side of the neck.

     "Hold that head very still," Myla advised the suspect after security his mouth. She firmly twisted and angled this head for the injection. "There we go, not bad."

     "Alright, the juice is in." The doctor looked at Striffe. "Ten seconds." Gently, she retracted the auto-injector and placed with the other instruments. "With a sterile pad, I'll clean up the sight. There's a little spillage of blood fluid. It was a potent shot."

     "Ten, nine, eight, seven," Striffe continued while checking his watch. "Fascinating, the neural networks are starting to respond. He's in an altered state."

     "Wow, that's fast," Rusty said softly with rapt attentiveness. Her red curls seemed to bounce on the top of her head. "Well, butter my backside and call me a biscuit."

     "Pardon me, Agent Petals?" The doctor inquired.

     "You don't wanna know," Myla discouraged the doctor from further inquiry.

     "It's surprising how fast the potion worked. Much quicker than when I did it, oh say, months ago." She noted his features strained, the body had stiffened, and the subject appeared in a state of shock. "His eyes are wide open and the pupils are pinpoints. Geezus, he went under fast, you know, like a frog's tongue on a firefly."

     "I'm not sure what that means," Myla teased and nodded with amusement. "However, I will go along with those quaint colloquialisms, as with the rest of your observations." She arched one dark eyebrow and smirked. "He's in the psychic alternet."

     "Psyche synthesis," Striffe added. "Essence, being, and the fusion of separate identity beyond the material realm. Mysteries of what some call the mind."

     "He looks like a cadaver," Rusty described. "A living dead guy."

     "A zombie of sorts, who, in all actuality, he already was," Myla sought to elaborate from her special perspective. "And, not unlike the rest of drones out there."

     "Stupidly adherent to a belief system," the doctor entertained the idea.

     "Unevolved, regressive intentions toward extinction," Myla persisted.

     "Yes, there's that, as with the majority of the human species. Most will resist change. And, the lights went out quickly," Sterling added with a reserved posture of scientific curiosity. "Our individual quests are many faceted and cover an expanse, physical and non-physical, conscious and unconscious. He's in dream state."

     "The eternal depths of sepia tinted shadows," Myla murmured further.

     "Uh huh, he's crossed over with the help of the Crimson Cobalt," Sterling explained what they already knew. "Near death, eventual death, eternal sleep for a short time. When we sleep, we go there and find explanations about many things."

     "Time?" The doctor inquired of Sterling. "Ready for the helmet?"

     "Yes, one minute more and then encase his head." Sterling looked at her.

     "Got it," the doctor said. She went to one side of the instrument table and grabbed a rolling framework. Attached to it, there were connecting cables linked to a white helmet. From the headgear, wiring reached out to a monitoring console. "Helmet ready."

     "Please proceed, doctor," Sterling concurred. "We'll be entering the collective unconscious. Inside, the hunt continues beyond the mask of sanity."

     "Embrace the darkness and find the truth," Myla said. "All his defenses are down, and we're going in there to ferret out the bullshit he's hiding." She chuckled. "Who would've thought such a thing was possible, in spite of all the shrinks with their kinks."

     "Precisely, my dear," Sterling said with a special flare.

     "Helmet attached, monitors on, we have telemetry," the doctor replied. Rapidly, she reviewed the screens, controls and the output data. "We have stability and he's reached the necessary level of stasis for the time being. We're good to go."

     "Will he die?" Rusty asked in a whispering hum. Seemingly, her tone had a hint of remorse, maybe regret, or perhaps sympathy. She was like a bumble bee attracted to a fresh flower. Curiosity with detachment, but not without feeling, she wanted to know more. "Will this fry his marbles and cook him senseless?" She drawled distinctly.

     "Probably," Striffe answered tersely. "There's a ninety-five percent probability he will not survive this. And yes, if you're thinking about it, we are torturing him. What we're doing, my dear Ms. Rusty, is a unique form of psychic torture." He slowly turned to her and looked deeply into her eyes. "You okay? You've been through a different version. Not unlike the rest of us, although somewhat a milder form, yet we lived."

     "It's okay, my dearest," Myla spoke soothingly to her. She too glanced at her scuba chronograph and noted the time sequence. "We pretended we're the celestial kingdom, the pantheon so to speak, and simply listen to the babblings."

     "Yeah, yeah, I get it." Rusty sighed and blew out a long breathy hiss. "Naw, I'm fine, we need to do this. Other ways are imprecise, ineffective, or not even possible," Rusty reasoned aloud. "Heck, we'd never get a confession otherwise."

     "This is more humane than I would've done," Myla whispered ever so comfortably. Her echo had an eerie quality. "Yet, my hammer approach could be distracting."

     "Aside from that," Sterling started. "I'm not looking for a confession in a particular sense. I'm not interested in punishment so much as I want information. Sometimes, medieval methods have their place." He gave a smirk of a glance to Myla. "On the contrary, I just want to listen to the internal complicity, the thinking process." He drew in a meditative breath. "Let's get the giz flowing, shall we?"

     "Psyche genesis in psyche synthesis," Myla uttered with a rich tone of skilled ability and experience. "When the darkness recedes, there's a lot he sees."

     "We need to record it and analyze on multiple levels," the doctor added.

     "Roger that," Sterling said to her and commenced to explain more to Rusty.

     Sleep raptures and captures the body, but mainly seduces the brain's manifestation often called the mind for a more profound adventure. As the physicality undergoes the needed paralysis of repair and rejuvenation, the invisible nature of the mental capacity travels to mysteriously distant places. A trilogy unfolds in very realistic patterns, forming archetypes of inventive creativity. Themes evolve to explain experiences.

     "Experience is important," Rusty muttered as she paid rapt attention.

     "Experience is virtually everything," Sterling agreed with her. Together, they watched their captive slumber deeper and deeper. "A few more moments, he'll be making a psychic filmography of his life's exposure to a range of interactivity."

     "Some have theorized, Sterling my dear as present company included, that this could be called a kind of forensic theology." Myla smiled as the suspect twitched uncontrollably in the chair, as though electric shock had been applied. "An ideology of personal mindfulness, as one tries to make sense of the physical world."

     "Yet, in the world of the mind, that's not so easy once you exit the physical realm." Sterling winked at Myla. "He's nearly there. Furthermore..."

     In captivity of oneself, the blackened environs constrained the physical in order to unleash the metaphysical. Shafts of light shot from shadowy places, crimson flares flashed, while sepia draped landscapes exposed shaded intentions. As the fright of the journey unfolded, the sensation of terror slid closer. Quiet, ever so quiet, the traveler entered the sphere of self-created minions of thought.

     Only the mental manifestations were welcomed in this place. Pure thought, good and evil, were directed to enact the psychodynamic stage play of worldly experiences. By willful neural instigation, all is planned and all is forged in an effort to understand. Of major significance is the strenuous necessity to watch, listen and comprehend. As to the selfishness of fat, bloated and gluttonous selfishness, the atonement has been set in motion. A recompense for the expiation of overcoming the frailty of failures was in the moments that got nearer. Grasping the primal nature of oneself was at hand.

     "I believe we have contact," the doctor added with her smooth comfortable tone. She inclined slightly toward Sterling and seemed to invite his attention. "Dr. Striffe, we've reached into the state prior to the preconscious fringe."

     "Excellent, and our patient is still gripping his stiffened catatonic state," Striffe said to her and brushed her shoulder with his hand. He followed that with a congratulatory pat on the back. Of which, Myla immediately noted. "Nicely done, we're inside."

     "Thank, sir, we want to, don't we?" The doctor replied pleasantly.

     "Clever move," Rusty whispered under her breath to Myla.

     "Hmm, fascinating, Sterling," Myla intoned with an elongated hint on his name. She spotted swiftly his hand on the doctor. Her jade green eyes shot him a glance. "Well done, doctor, your expertise is fully noted," she hoisted with a slight tincture of annoyance. "The expression on the patient's face, will that change?"

     "Yes, colonel," Striffe added with a particular notation as to her rank. He knew her question was completely meaningless in that she already understands the process. With a smile, he touched her elbow. "He's going to scream in a moment."

     "Uh huh," Myla's started and gave Sterling a glance. Those emerald eyes could stare through steel plates and melt holes to other side. "And, his demons will surface?"

     "Oh yes, that's where they wait, along with other kinds of wicked creatures," Sterling hinted. "Alright, here we go, he's relaxing, and then we get..."

     At once, the suspect screamed beyond the capacity of his lungs to absorb the volcanic eruption of anxiety. Fear based tremors raced through his cerebral conduits and exploded over a cascading psychic landscape of macabre horrors. Minions of his mind rushed forward to capture his essence of thoughts and spin the tales he had long created. Murders, rapes and tortures formed the motif of his creativity.

     "Help!" The suspect pleaded; his voice ricocheted off the white sterile tiles of the laboratory. "I killed them for the sake of the mission! I did holy work!"

     "And, I'm going to kill you for the sake of my mission," Myla murmured as she loomed menacingly behind Striffe. "Well, that is if you survive this."

     "Wait for the moment, here it comes," Striffe told them. "He'll want to confess his sins and receive absolution. Then again, his brain might implode."

     "We're right on the unconscious vortex," the doctor advised.

     "Death to infidels!" The suspect cried out and arched violently upward, only to be contained by his restraints. "Long live the Glaucus Atlanticus!!"

     "Ah yes, a pathway to a revelation of sorts," Striffe uttered. "Just when I thought we might be on the road to atonement, we get a battle cry for conquest."

     "How typically male," Myla said with a sly smirk. "Oh, and how symbolic, a frigging water slug?" She snarled. "Geezus, that's the archetype? A sea creature?"

     "Ain't that called the blue dragon or something like that?" Rusty hinted.

     "Very good," Sterling answered gently. "My ladyships, you are both correct." Striffe took a gander at the console. "His vitals are quite elevated, this may not last long."

     "An Atlanticus, huh?" Myla reminded. "Related to the Atlantic."

     "A species of blue sea slug, yes indeed," the doctor added excitedly as well. "A small salt water mollusk that feeds on poisonous creatures, like the Portuguese man o'war. We've used the venom for tranq darts and so forth back at Area-51."

     "Fascinating," Myla mumbled in the direction of the doctor and caught a sharp glance from Sterling. "So, that's very interesting. What's the correlation?"

     "The allusion is to the others, more or less anyone outside the normal scheme of things in their perception," Sterling started to explain further. "A tiny entity, a group, a faction, fighting a much larger enemy is somewhat the nature of the mythology."

     "The small blue slug attacks and feeds on the massive jelly-like blob," Myla said her incursion into the discussion. "Yeah, it's a simplistic egotistical illusion. The so-called infidels are the gluttonous bloated ones. Which, to them in turn, are seemingly over-sized colonies of unbelieving parasites feeding off their right to exist, or whatever."

     "Or, at least something foolishly misguided along those lines," Rusty joined in with her southern styled inflection. "Like a bunch flies hanging out in the barn, just plain annoying until set up some fly traps. Know what I mean? That's certainly one point of view. Like opinions and body parts, everybody's got one."

     "I guess that sums it up," Myla added with a gracious grin to her friend.

     "Uh huh, and what's with Atlanticus?" Striffe questioned. "We've not heard of that group. He tapped his wristwatch, and said to it, "Control, get me everything you find, dig up or otherwise uncover on a group called 'Glaucus Atlanticus', roger that?"

     "Aye, aye, sir, we're on it," the control center answered.

     "Scientific references aside," Striffe told the operator. "I just want an organizational list and any information about anyone associated with it. Copy that?"

     "Affirmative sir, standby, we're conducting a search," controlled confirmed.

     "Atlanticus be praised," the suspect droned on, now much calmer.

     "Why Atlanticus?" Rusty wanted to speculate further on the assertion.

     "The alleged lost continent of Atlantis? There is some ancient reference in middle eastern lore about the mythical island," Myla added to what Rusty said.

     "Hmmm, one our continued fascinations back at our Groom Lake facility," Sterling said with an introspective sigh. "If so, it could suggest a metaphorical bridge between the continent of Africa and North America." He looked at Myla. "I'm guessing here. A linkage that could suggest something far more sinister."

     "Yes, Atlantis," the captive murmured and stared straight up at the ceiling. "The kingdom will rise again and the sacred ones will rule the cosmos. Slaves!"

     "What the heck, Sterling, he's talking like a child," Myla countered.

     "Well, in a sense, yes, metaphorically speaking, maybe," Sterling answered. "Hmm, Atlanta, Atlantic, Atlas, and Atalas, all stem from the root basis of Atlantis."

     "So, doc, it's speculative at best, and evidence deficient," Myla argued as was her customary practice with him. Both understand the counter balancing process helped them think more deeply. "There is no proof for the existence of Atlantis."

     "You are correct my dear," Sterling conceded. "Nonetheless, although physical evidence is lacking, opinionated conjecture is potentially convincing."

     "How big a piece of farmland we talking about?" Rusty chimed in.

     "Oh, some legends put the land mass in varying configurations," Sterling started to elaborate while the suspect's blathering continued. "From a few hundred miles off the coast of Spain, to a hundred or so miles off the Bermuda Triangle. Could be a good-sized island, say about three thousand miles long to about seven or eight hundred miles wide."

     "How much per acre you figure?" Rusty teased them. "Ah, just messing with ya."

     "Stupid infidels!" Their captive yelled. Atlanticus to rise, Americus demise!"

To be continued in....

Atlantis Venture - The Drone - Part 2 - A Short Story

Based on the Novel - Angels Keep Watch

By Randy Gonzalez

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