The next morning, the team was back on their plane heading back to Melbourne. It was clear the CSD was extremely well funded and resourced. Certainly, the payroll receipt that Smith had received in his email that morning was a pleasant surprise. As a member of the CSD, he was now earning four times the amount he previously had, and he had been very happy with what he had formerly earned as a data analyst for ASIS. It was a fortuitous turn of circumstance. His mother was now retired and the cost of living was hitting her hard. He would be able to assist her so she was at least comfortable and not having to stress about money. The thought reminded him to ring her. Otherwise, he’d receive a phone call from her that would make even a Haemocrat shudder.
When they landed, they were again met by the limousine. Smith was starting to like his new job. Previously, it was either an odorous taxi or a battered mini-van from the agency fleet pool of many battered vehicles. Unfortunately, he was going to have to work on his yuppie distaste as he found that their Melbourne offices were in the same building as the penthouse in the Docklands precinct they had visited only 24 hours earlier. His head began to spin. It only been a day since all of this had started. He was used to the slow and steady grind of governmental process and procedure which was glacial at best. To be going from recruitment to interview to mission in such a short time was anathema to everything he had experienced in the service thus far. It also excited him. It was clear that the CSD was dedicated to getting results and making a positive impact. More importantly, he could see the results of his new teams’ actions. They were tangible results. Unlike before at ASIS, where his analysis and contribution would then be handed off to someone else who then handed it off etc.
Eventually, they arrived back at CSD HQ (Oceania) and proceeded to a comfortably furnished conference room on the fifth level of their building. As they took their seats, the attendant from the plane appeared from a side door with a cart that was laden with a full coffee service. Smith could not help himself. He leaned into the attractive young woman.
“You pull double duty as the coffee chick?” He asked her sotto vocce.
The young woman smiled. “I go with the team. I’m here to keep everyone happy.” Smith admired the woman’s curves. She was certainly keeping him happy.
Thomas cleared her throat, calling the meeting to order. “I’d like to pool our results from yesterday’s task.” She looked first to Holfensteim. “Baroness?”
The Lycan nodded to her in deference before speaking. Smith noticed there was a lot of that. “During my search, I found the bag that was the delivery mechanism. It contained six storage vessels that had held the pathogen. The origin of these vessels is the cause for my concern.”
“Why’s that? Smith asked.
She looked him full in the face. “They are from my own laboratory.”
“That’d do it.” Smith replied in agreement.
‘It did indeed do it, Agent Smith.” Holfensteim countered. “The Pack’s Australian laboratory is heavily secured with only a handful allowed access.”
Smith frowned. “You don’t get sick. Why do you need a lab?”
“We use our labs for many uses; agricultural engineering, medical study and genetic research. These are our commercial ventures.”
Smith nodded. “You have to make money.”
Holfensteim inclined her head in agreement. “Exactly. But I know each and every individual who has access to that lab and I find it highly improbable any would have been involved in this.”
“How so?” Smith asked curiously.
It was Sara Roth who answered. “Both the Pack and the Haemocracy are dedicated to preserving life. It is the primary tenet of their cultural dogma.”
McCleod nodded thoughtfully. “None of our kind would participate in this.”
Holfensteim shifted uncomfortably. “Most of our kind.”
McCleod immediately looked to her.
The Baroness continued. “The Red Council.”
McCleod waved dismissively. “The Red Council has neither the resources nor the ability to conduct this level of experimentation.”
“So, we have been told.” Holfensteim added.
There was a palpable change of atmosphere in the room. Thomas leant forward. Her gaze locked on Holfensteim.
“Can you clarify that please?”
“Our Haemocrat cousins have held back information in the past.” She stated bluntly.
It was now McCleod’s turn to look uncomfortable. “We have not done that in many centuries.” He replied quietly.
Holfensteim cast a look of arrogance to him. “You have not been an active member of the Haemocracy for some time. How would you know?”
“That’s enough.” Thomas interjected forcefully. “That’s a discussion for another time.”
Both McCleod and Holfensteim went silent in acquiescence.
“Hamish.” Thomas requested.
The young man shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing. All status quo except for the dead people.”
Smith felt the edges of his mouth turning up involuntarily at the macabre sense of humour. The kid was a riot.
The young woman shifted in her seat. She had only been with the team for a few weeks and was obviously still finding her place. When she spoke, it was diffident and somewhat shy, but her summary was to the point and insightful. “The shed where I was hit was obviously being used as a storage facility. Maybe even a brewing station. Trace elements were found there but nothing at quantities to suggest a second release site.”
“How are you feeling?” Marcos asked solicitously.
The young woman managed a half smile. “Like Hamish hit me in the stomach, but getting better.”
“Good to hear.” Thomas commented. “Agent Smith?”
“Your turn, Robbie.” Hamish teased.
Smith ignored him. “My only contribution is the complete lack of insects. Or was I the only one to notice that?”
“They would have died, wouldn’t they?” Marcos asked.
Smith shrugged. “Even if the resident population died, new flies and other insects would have come in to feast and breed on the remains. I haven’t been anywhere in the outback where there aren’t flies.”
Thomas agreed. “Now you mention it, it was strange. No moths around the lights. No roaches wandering into the mess tent. No flies in the sun. Why would that be?”
“I noticed an E.M.-field prevalent throughout the whole town.” Sarah interjected. “I thought it was just the local power supply, but it was constant throughout with no fluctuation. It didn’t feel right.”
“Have you encountered something like that before?” Campbell asked politely.
Sarah shook her head. “No. EM-fields usually fluctuate or taper off with distance. This was constant.”
“Can an E.M.-field be used to keep insects away?” Melissa asked.
Hamish shook his head. “Not that I know of.” McCleod also shook his head.
“But it doesn’t discount the possibility.” Thomas tapped a pencil on the desk in front of her. “The analysis is still being conducted. We should have results tomorrow.” She noticed the unhappy look on the vampires’ face. “Garreth?”
“We need to meet with the Haemocracy.” He said simply.
Smith raised his brow in surprise. “Are we allowed to do that?”
“No.” McCleod stated flatly. “But we can do it just the same.”
“They will not receive you.” Holfensteim stated with authority, but also with some compassion. Obviously, her relationship with McCleod was a complex one.
McCleod. “They will receive you though.”
Holfensteim nodded to the fact.
“And me. They have no reason to keep me out.” Hamish offered brightly.
“They will if they’re good judges of character.” Melissa offered sarcastically.
Hamish stuck his tongue out at her, and then continued. “Seriously. I’m blood. They have to let me in.”
McCleod was nodding slowly. “It’s true. He has automatic rights as a member of the democracy.”
“Democracy? Like an electorate of vampires?” Smith interrupted questioningly.
McCleod looked at the man. “We are a Democracy of the Blood, Agent Smith. Hence our title.”
Smith let it drop. Looking back to Thomas he spoke. “So where is this council? Transylvania?” He got some satisfaction from the stiffening of the vampire across the table from him.
Thomas shook her head. “Sydney, actually.”
Hamish clapped delightedly. “Yay! Sydney trip.”
Thomas smiled at the young man as she held up a finger chidingly. “But not before evaluations.”
The smile and exuberant look on Hamish’s face dropped and he slumped back into his chair. “Evaluations, boo.”
The next morning the entire team was taken by coach, along with a team of evaluation experts, to an unused aircraft hangar at Moorabbin Airport. Smith was surprisingly not surprised when he found it was merely a front. Inside, they entered what appeared to be a storage room, but was the top of an elevator shaft that descended some sixty metres down into the ground.
When they exited the elevator, they all walked into what appeared to be an observation room. Through the floor to ceiling length windows, one could look down into a square room approximately thirty metres in width, and some three stories high. Thomas informed Smith that scattered in the complex were changing and locker rooms, equipment maintenance bays, an armoury and even a communications room. Once again, the CSD was bringing the bling.
Smith had viewed the budgets of black ops departments and projects before, but the facilities available to the CSD were very impressive. The cars. The plane. The coach. The offices. His new apartment. Their communications centre. It absolutely reeked of serious money. And yet, he was still unaware of where the money came from. He was still adjusting to the fact that the organisation existed in the first place, not to mention the team that he was now responsible for. It was a readjustment of his world view that felt like a major earthquake.
Smith had been given a ringside seat from which to watch the exercise. He was very keen to see the abilities of the team tested in such a way. Even the Greek boy, whose abilities were hardly tactical in nature, would be required to take a turn in the ‘Tank’ as it was referred to by all.
First in the Tank was the witch. Unlike her usual style of dress, in the Tank she wore a plain body hugging unitard. Now that it wasn’t hidden by the usual long flowing dresses she wore, it was a very pleasant body to look at. She was fit and lithe, with a body very similar in proportions to a ballet dancer. Smith also noted the absence of a hat or scarf on her head and he was now able to see the back of her skull in some detail. The entire back of her head was distended slightly from the crown and just behind the ears down to the top of her neck. Veins and blood vessels that sat just beneath the skin were clearly visible, adding to the unusual appearance. Referring to her file, he read that she had approximately fifty-percent more brain matter than the norm – in effect, an entirely separate and unique lobe – that acted as an amplifier of her neural energy. It also enhanced the active amount of brain processing she could utilise. Most humans only ever used approximately thirty-percent of their active brain. The witch, per the report he was reading, could bump hers up to eighty-percent or more.
One of the agents conducting the test was providing instructions to her over a comm-system and asked if she was ready. She replied she was. Almost immediately after that, a haze that was her neural energy enveloped the woman. It was similar in appearance to the way heat waves reflecting off a road in summer would distort the image of the horizon. Smith jumped slightly as the test started with an almighty bang.
Two doors slammed open on the side of the Tank opposite from Smiths vantage point. From within, a hail of small projectiles raced towards the woman. She was ready for them. She extended both hands and arcs of white-hot electricity shot out from the air around them to instantly incinerate the small munitions. As the smoke of their destruction dissipated, Smith was stunned to see a look of implacable resolve on the witch’s face. Until now, she had always seemed so serene and calm. To see such a look was somehow upsetting to Smith. For some reason, he found it rudely out of place on the otherwise gentle and caring woman.
Next, small compartments opened at random around the room and fired either bullets or small metallic spheres about the size of a person’s fist. Compartments seemed to be opening at random and with such speed that Smith could not quite follow it. The witch had simply dropped her arms to her side. Her aura of neural energy, however, began to oscillate. The bullets and spheres appeared to get trapped in the aura. Director Thomas leant back and explained to Smith the properties of the aura. The witch was in fact entrapping the projectiles by modulating the magnetic properties of the energy at her command. In this fashion, she could mentally reach out and ‘grip’ the metallic objects. Director Thomas explained that whilst not actual telekinesis, the ability was a described in the file as a type of ‘neuro-magnokenesis’. In short, the Witch was amplifying the naturally occurring electromagnetic properties of the brain and reaching out with them.
When the compartments had completed emptying their wares at her, there was a spinning ring of metal. The witch brought all the objects together in a tight ball in front of her. With a nod, she flexed her talent and destroyed them all simultaneously, causing Smith to jump slightly.
Smith was finding that he was both simultaneously excited and terrified. These were people whose gifts were completely beyond his capability to neutralise. Now he understood why there were kept hidden. If the public knew that people like this existed, there would be mass hysteria. And these were just the ones he knew about. Clearly, there were many more Lycans and Haemocrats out there, but how many other genetic anomalies were roaming the streets? People like Melissa Benton, an otherwise normal looking girl – perhaps a little too thin, Smith thought – who could do the most abnormal things. How many people could claim a friend who could jump six stories straight up? Or easily beat the world’s long jump record by fifty metres? Smith briefly imagined what would happen if someone like the witch decided to join the wrong team. It was a most scary prospect indeed.
His attention was drawn back to the Tank. Small access ports had popped open on the floor. Miniature nozzles had risen and were now belching forth concentrated flame not unlike an acetylene torch. Smith put his hand to the glass observation window in front of him and was surprised by how much heat was now in the room. Even now, Sarah did not sweat. Smith surmised that the neural haze that surrounded her must have afforded the woman a level of insulation.
With a curious flicking motion, the witch sent tiny little bursts of energy lancing out at the nozzles. Each small explosion of energy was enough to extinguish the flames. When she had extinguished all of them, one lone red light in the tank turned to green, signalling the all clear and the end of the session.
Director Thomas leant into Campbell and spoke to him quietly. The young assistant took several notes. The two then turned their attention back to the Tank. As they did, Sarah Roth appeared in the observation room clad in a light bathrobe with a towel now wrapped around her head. She jokingly chided the test crew for the torches, mentioning how the heat dried out her hair. This drew a good-natured laugh from most of the agents. Looking at her now, Smith was stunned at the difference. Back in place was that serene quality she radiated effortlessly. Gone, was the implacable look of a warrior who commanded the properties of her unique brain. She sat in the vacant chair next to Smith and gave him a playful pat on the hand. It was as if she knew what he was thinking.
Next in the Tank was the Lycan. This was one member of the team that Smith had been looking forward to. To date, he had seen nothing of her abilities, and was keen to see how close to reality the werewolves in his novel were to the aristocrat who now stood in the tank below.
Again, a ready signal was given. Instantly, Holfensteim flashed into her hybrid form. Smith jumped slightly. He would extensively revise the characters in his novel later. Sarah put a comforting hand on his wrist. She had obviously chosen to sit next to him for a reason. Oddly though, he found the touch to be having a tangible effect. He would ask her later if she had consciously done anything.
Doors banged open on all four walls and a dozen men raced in brandishing weapons, all pointed at the Lycan. What happened next was a type of combat that Smith could easily have called ballet in motion, if he had been able to make out any of the details. It was amazing. Grinning like a feral maniac, the Lycan suddenly became a blur. The men, armed with paintball guns, truly did try their best to hit her, but it was pointless. It took only seconds for her to not only disarm the men, but have them all on the floor in various states of pain next to their now discarded weapons. Smith saw Thomas checking a stopwatch.
“New record.” Was all she said in response to Smith’s questioning look.
With a final look, and a mysterious smirk on her face, the Lycan, now back in full human form, sauntered out of the tank. She seemed almost pleased with herself. The men, many with openly embarrassed expressions, were gingerly assisted out of the room.
“She’s always short and sweet.” Sarah commented to Smith. He wanted to respond but couldn’t. It was becoming all too much. Given that he was experiencing one of his depression related bouts of insomnia, his composure was anything but assured.
Benton was next. Like the witch, she too was dressed in a full body unitard, and appeared just as prepared as Sarah had been. Smith glanced down at his file; Benton was tested the similar way each time. Guns firing paintball rounds would pop out of hatches in the walls to randomly fire at her. It was her job to dodge these and not get hit. Thing was, they were all equipped with thermal tracking. Once they locked onto Benton’s own heat signature, they followed her around the room. Benton signalled she was ready, and the green light flashed to red.
Initially, it appeared like a simple test of reflexes. A single gun would fire a single paintball and Benton would evade it. Gradually, the number and frequency of rounds increased over time. What had started as simple dodging and ducking was now a display of agility and athleticism that Smith could not tear his eyes from. Her ability was virtuosic in its execution.
She vaulted; somersaulted; twisted; ran; leapt; dived; rolled; rebounded; all with a level of skill that would make gold medal gymnasts weep in envious horror. The room was splattered with paintball impacts and yet Benton’s unitard retained the pristine white as it was when she entered.
She even changed her strategy from evasion to offence. She started using the guns to her own advantage. Knowing that they would track her, she began using one gun against another. If one shot, she would evade it then race into the line of sight of another. After a time, the guns were shooting at each other rather than Melissa. When a gun was hit by a paintball, it would go offline. Once she started the offensive strategy, it took only four minutes for her to take them all out. And, a couple of sweat spots notwithstanding, she walked out of the ‘Tank’ as pristine as she entered.
“Isn’t she amazing?” Sarah asked Smith with an almost maternal note of pride. All he could do was nod as the sprinkler systems in the room washed the paint out and down into drainage grills set in the floor.
Next was McCleod. Smith was now expecting the unexpected. Surely, even he was going to give a demonstration that would add to his already pole axed feeling. The vampire walked in wearing a shirt and pants of what looked like cheesecloth. It was loose and flowing. Smith thought it was a peculiar choice given that the evaluation was essentially a combat analysis. Oddly enough, Theonakis walked in from the other side. It was clearly a double test. This was common in other forms of combat so Smith accepted it readily. He did think it a strange pairing though. The two could not have been more different.
Smith looked to Roth with a question in his eyes. She simply smiled radiantly and, again, patted his arm. And, again, Smith was comforted by it. What was the woman doing to him?
The two signalled that they were ready. Theonakis adopted a ready posture like one in karate. McCleod simply stood and waited. Like with Holfensteims time in the tank, men in tactical black ran screaming into the room. Most of them were targeting McCleod, but a couple went at Theonakis. Smith wasn’t expecting much of the former model. There was little in the way of defensive training in his file. Indeed, when he did engage one of the men who was running towards him, his movements were somewhat clumsy and far more at home in a pub-fight than a special ops team.
Smith was impressed by the physicality of it. This was no simple ‘block and rebound’ type of bout. This was a genuine attack. Theonakis was clad in a t-shirt and shorts, whilst the attackers wore minimal body padding. They were obviously meant to feel some pain.
Smith was impressed. Theonakis, though receiving the odd battering, was holding his own. He had dispatched one of his attackers with a well-placed uppercut, and was now defending himself from the second. He was having a harder time with the second attacker who clearly knew a thing or two about martial arts. Whilst Theonakis could block most of his opponents’ thrusts and kicks, he didn’t seem to be able to find an offensive opening. Smith, a black-belt himself, could identify several. But Marcos just seemed unable to spot them.
McCleod on the other hand could not have been more different. Whereas Theonakis looked as if he was putting a lot of energy into it – wide sweeps of the arms, copious sweat and clear signs of exertion – McCleod utilised an efficiency of movement that was minimal at most. One agent would run at him and McCleod would move to one side exactly as much as needed and no more. He evaded punches by movements that could probably be measured in millimetres. In this way, he could evade and attack one target, whilst another was almost on top of him. He lashed out with lightning strokes, all of which connected. He sent one agent flying into a wall whilst disabling another by simply grabbing the hand that was attempting to punch him and squeezing. Another was sent to the ground by the simple expediency of McCleod planting a foot on the other mans boot, grabbing the man’s arm and tossing him off balance. The agent rolled around on the floor clearly winded by the impact.
The only time McCleod moved more than a centimetre was when two men rushed him side by side. He bent at the knees slightly and back flipped up and onto the wall, adhering to the surface as he landed. Smith had read about the ability of course but to see it was astonishing. It was a huge advantage tactically. Adhering to the wall with his feet, McCleod simply reached out to smacked the men’s’ heads together. They both sank to the floor unconscious. Next to him Sarah simply shook her head with a resigned sigh.
Keeping his position on the wall, McCleod looked over to Theonakis, who by now had simply grabbed his attacker by the shoulders and head butted him into unconsciousness. Smith couldn’t help but smile. It was a ballsy move, totally something he himself might have done.
The thing that was disconcerting was that there were now seven men in various states of injury lying on the floor moaning. McLeod dropped to the floor and began assisting Theonakis in grouping them all together. Smith noticed that at least one limb of an agent was draped over another’s, effectively joining them in a collection of injured men. Theonakis then knelt next to one man and put both hands on the injured man’s chest. The young model took a deep breath, as he let it out, his face softened into a look of concentration that was almost ethereal, as if the models mind was now out of his body.
Smith turned to Roth. “What’s he doing?”
Sarah motioned for him to return his gaze to the Tank.
Smith looked down and for several minutes noticed nothing. Then, almost as if it was evaporating, Smith saw the blood trail from one agents’ broken nose start to disappear. Then, the nose straightened itself slowly. Other wounds were also apparently healing themselves. Smith now realised that Theonakis had sent out the medi-nanites to heal the injured combatants. By draping limbs over one another, Theonakis was making bridges of tissue that allowed the nanites to get to all the agents. It took almost a full fifteen minutes, but even still, Smith was stunned. When Theonakis removed his hands, all the previously injured agents could stand, and all were completely healed. One by one, they shook his hand then departed the room.
Next to him, Sarah stood. “Now it’s Hamish’s turn. Come on.”
Smith wondered why Hamish wasn’t being tested in the Tank like the rest. Truth be told, he was just too overwhelmed to care about asking. He was led by Sarah, who in turn followed Thomas and Campbell, into a separate chamber that was roughly the same size as the Tank. Standing in the middle of the room was Hamish. Smith rolled his eyes. The little exhibitionist was wearing the smallest and tightest pair of bike shorts Smith had ever seen on a man. Socks and sneakers, coupled with a broad smile and the numerous tattoos, were the only additions to his ensemble.
“Hey Smithy.” Hamish greeted him with a broad, genuine smile and an enthusiastic wave.
For the life of him, Smith could not understand why the young man had decided to take him in hand, so to speak. But, it seemed that the kid had decided to be friends with the agent, and that, apparently, was the end of that.
A compartment in the wall opened, and a treadmill slid out on coasters. Smith could not help but notice that it was heavily reinforced, and looked more like something a car might be tested on, rather than a single, compact male.
“Industrial issue?” Smith asked Thomas curiously, pointing at the piece of equipment.
Thomas smiled. “Hamish weighs some three hundred kilos. When we first tested him on a regular treadmill, it lasted four seconds before crumbling apart from the vibrations.”
Smith stared at the young man. He was extremely well muscled, with the figure of a championship bodybuilder. His physique was perfectly symmetrical and proportioned however; having avoided that grotesquely imbalanced physique those other builders had fallen prey to.
“Try and pick me up.” Hamish challenged him.
Smith held up his hands in declination. “I trust you, mate.”
Hamish simply chuckled as he climbed on the apparatus. “Speed or endurance today Penny?”
“Speed, please Hamish.” Thomas walked over and spoke into an intercom set into the wall. “Thirty second warm up and then go to speed please.” She instructed. There was a reply of confirmation, followed by the noise of the treadmill activating.
Hamish began jogging in a leisurely motion. On a display screen above him, his speed was displayed along with his heart rate, oxygen saturation and step count. Even though he only had the appearance of a brisk jog, the display showed his speed as seventy kilometres an hour. At full speed, an Olympic sprinter might manage forty-two, and even then, only for several seconds at most. A tone sounded, and the treadmill began to speed up.
“Here we go, boys and girls!” Hamish exclaimed enthusiastically as he began to run faster. Smith was dying to see where the kid topped out.
For the next thirty seconds, the treadmill sped up with Hamish increasing his own pace to match. Eventually, the display reading topped out at four-hundred and six kilometres an hour. Hamish was pumping his legs and arms at a shocking rate, but it seemed he was doing so with no ill effects. Smith was certain that the human body was not meant to move at such speeds, certainly it wasn’t designed for it, and yet the kid was pounding away with glee. Mind you, the kid hardly had a standard human body.
Smith turned to Thomas. “Is that his max?”
Thomas nodded. “Improved by four per cent.” She replied as the treadmill began to power down. Hamish jumped off before it came to a full stop and retrieved a towel handed to him by McCleod. It was the first time that Smith had noticed them interacting in any way. He wondered if their relationship was acrimonious, or simply one of interaction as needed. Hamish wiped off the sweat and tossed it back to his father. As he did so, Thomas spoke.
“Heads up, Hamish.” She instructed him, pointing at the ceiling.
This, of course, meant Smith looked up as well. Sections of the ceiling dropped open, and hanging above the young man was a medium sized four door sedan.
“Aw, hell!” Hamish exclaimed unhappily as he saw what was about to happen. With a metallic clang, the car was released from the cradle above it and dropped down, right over Hamish. Extending his hands above his head, Hamish caught the car, but not without being driven to one knee by the impact.
“Lady, I hate you.” He grunted as he held the car over his head.
Smith was stupefied. In front of him was a real man holding a real car over his head. It was not a scene of CGI trickery from a movie, nor was it an old fashioned special effect from a TV show using cranes and pulleys. This was an actual man, holding an actual car, over his actual head. Smith felt the room spin.
“You okay, Smithy?” Hamish asked with concern whilst still holding the car over his head.
In reply, Agent Robert Smith, newly recruited Team Leader of the CSD special ops ‘Theta’ team, fainted.