A Calculated Response: Prologue


18.5 minutes


“I’m a busy man,” came the voice from inside the room, “Come in and close the door behind you.”

A well-built man in a plainly cut suit carrying a briefcase and wearing a badge with his picture on it entered the large office. He had paused for a moment and looked around before entering, his gray eyes sweeping side to side taking in everything they could.  His escort had patiently paused with him expecting it, it was a reaction common to all first-time visitors to this place, it didn’t matter if you were a bureaucrat, a CEO, a rock star, or a state leader, it happened to everyone.

This room achieved its goal, intimidation.  The curving walls with three floor-to-ceiling windows framed a large desk with four flags set to its right.  Behind the desk sat the man he was here to meet who clearly he didn’t share the patience of his escort. Four doors led into the room next to each stood a man in a black suit and dark, impenetrable glasses; unmoving as statues, their very presence made it clear that nothing was going to happen in this room unless they let it happen. On the wall opposite the desk was a fireplace with a painting of a man in uniform above it. Two couches and several chairs made a comfortable meeting area by the fireplace giving a casual air to this most formal of offices.

He suppressed a small shiver when he realized the state of mind he was in, ‘I’m actually nervous’ he thought to himself, despite all he’d been through in his life, despite the time he spent to get here and the previous meetings with many other intimidating people he was nervous.  He took a deep breath and regained his composure, he needed calm and confidence now more than ever; he stepped into the office, his escort remaining outside and closing the door almost on his heels.  

Immediately another man in a black suit and dark sunglasses appeared at his right shoulder, he barely saw him come up next to him; he wasn’t even sure where he came from, ‘a variant perhaps’ he thought. Well he would find out soon enough and that might actually help make his case; this was going to be touch and go as it is and having a variant step up to guard against something I might do tells me he doesn’t trust anyone, not even someone coming with my recommendations. Not unexpected and it’s good to know now he supposed, but it made things more difficult. Turning toward the desk he took a deep breath and spoke, conscious of how he sounded and trying not to let his voice reveal his anxiety, “My name is Agent Brooks, sir.  Thank you for meeting with me under such unusual circumstances.”

A man with a large nose and sagging jowls sat behind a large mahogany pedestal desk.  Though impeccably dress in a well-tailored suit he somehow still looked rumpled.  He looked Agent Brooks over carefully before saying anything, his gaze lingered as if weighing him by sight alone.  “Several of my advisors have told me that I need to meet with you on a matter of the utmost importance and that it needs to be absolutely secret.  Now normally I wouldn’t accept requests like this but Don and Henry never agree on anything.  Both of them insisted I had to meet with you. I’m sure there’s a story behind that and maybe I’ll even care to hear it but for now say what you worked so hard to get here and say.”

Brooks smiled briefly, silently thankful for the favor granted from meeting with Henry, where he helped him find his missing glasses, which kept him on time for a critical meeting.  Still he was a bit surprised when after that Henry agreed to help him in return by arranging this meeting.  Pushing back the memory and wiping any trace of a smile from his face he answered back, “actually, it’s fairly complex,” he paused to choose his words carefully, “describing it as ‘of the utmost importance’ is in this case if anything an understatement; perhaps ‘the fate of the world’ would be a more appropriate term.”  The seriousness etched in his expression almost carried the statement, as ridiculous as it must sound.

A derisive snort escaped from the man, “I find that difficult to believe,” his words became clipped, revealing his annoyance.  “Everyone thinks their issue is the most important one there is.  When people start throwing around terms like ‘fate of the world’ well, it’s hard to take them seriously.  Outside of missiles flying there isn’t very much that the fate of the world rests on.  And frankly I doubt there is an issue I haven’t been briefed about which a minor agent in an unimportant division of the communication branch has detailed knowledge of.”  Brooks sighed inwardly, he knew this wasn’t going to be easy and maybe he overplayed it talking about ‘the fate of the world’ to start but the choice of words felt right.  The man behind the desk continued without pause, “So if that’s all,” he looked sharply at Brooks and then nodded his head toward the largest of the men in black suits, “I think we are done here.”

“Sir,” Brooks exclaimed before he could be escorted out, “I know this must sound like I’m a crazy man carrying a sign that says ‘repent, the end of the world is nigh’.  And I’m sure you also know that the people who told you that you needed to meet with me aren’t fools or easily swayed.”

With a nearly imperceptible shake of his head he stopped the nameless man in the black suit. “That’s true,” came agreement from the man behind the desk. “But, anyone can be misled, even me, and most definitely my advisors.”

“Sir, you need to hear what I have to say and see what I have to show you.  And as ready as you are to throw me out, I still have one more request.  Before I continue, I need you to have all of your guards step out of the room. I assure you I mean you no harm but what I have to show you is well above their pay grade.”

If the man behind the desk was surprised he hid it well.  “Martins, he’s been through the security checks?”

“Yes sir,” nodded the large man, Martins, at Brook’s shoulder; he finally was able to pin a name to him.  He tried to focus on what Martins was going to do if this turned bad but the dark glasses hid any glimpse of his eyes and prevented any attempt to read his intent.

“He has no weapons?  There’s nothing dangerous in the briefcase?”

“We didn’t open the case, it has a secure seal.  It went through screening and there were only a few files inside.”

A noise halfway between a hum and clearing his throat came from behind the desk as he weighed the options in his mind, “alright everyone out except you Martins.”  The man behind the desk turned to face Brooks as, other than Martins, the security detail cleared the room.  He leaned back and put his feet up on the desk resting them against the glass. “Martins stays, if I can hear it so can he. If this isn’t on the up and up…” the rest was left unsaid, the implication clear. “You’ve taken up five minutes of my time, for Don and Henry I’ll give you fifteen more to convince me I shouldn’t have you thrown out with the IRS paying you a visit that will make you wish not only that your parents had never met but that your grandparents had never met as well.”

He let the threats both stated and unstated wash over him.  Placing his briefcase on the desk, Agent Brooks opened the case to reveal several file folders.  Instead of reaching for the folders he grasped the right latch of the case and turned it clockwise and suddenly the contents shifted, the folders were gone and the base of the case was a glossy black sheet with squares engraved on it and the lid contained a reflective glass sheet.

“Sir,” Martins began in a monotone which almost made it seem that transforming briefcases were everyday occurrences in this office, “that briefcase went through X-ray and all that was in it were a few files, nothing like what’s in there now.”

“Yes it’s designed to look that way under X-ray.  To anyone who just opens it the actual contents are disguised with three dimensional projections,” Agent Brooks said answering the next question before it was even asked. “That’s part of the whole fate of the world issue I came here to discuss.”  The reflective glass sheet showed a slightly irritated man sitting behind the desk and clearly about to end the meeting until Agent Brooks reached over and turned the left latch on the briefcase.  Suddenly light came from around each square on the glossy black part of the briefcase and in the center of each was a letter laid out like a QWERTY keyboard.  Light came from the screen and after a few seconds the words, “Enter Password” appeared followed by a blinking square.  A few deft motions at the keyboard and the screen now changed its display.

“Good morning Agent Brooks….”

“New security reports are available.”

“17 new internal communications are pending.”

“National power grid is intact.”

“National communications grid is intact.”

“National and international news review reveals no new variant activity.”

“Internal sources state no new variant activity has been reported since last log in.”

“Please enter instructions:” followed again by the blinking square.

“What is that?” asked the gruff voice from behind the desk.  Almost everyone in the world would recognize with their eyes closed but few would have recognized uncertainty it now held.

“It’s called a portable computer Mr. President.  That briefcase represents more raw computational power than each and every piece of electronics the government owns put together, including the ones in Iron Mountain, Area 51, and Base 6.  It makes the rooms and rooms of tubes and tapes which helped send us to the moon look like a kindergartener doing his first math problems.”

“Impressive, but it hardly invokes ‘the fate of the world’.”

“The computer isn’t the issue; it’s just a sign of the problem, in a decade or two everyone will own something like this, in three or four decades they will be small enough to carry them in your pocket.  There’s more to see, and there are much more urgent issues.”  Brooks turned away and began to rapidly type again, Activate voder/vocoder: Process via voice match.

“Vox-mode active,” came a new tinny mechanical voice from the briefcase, “Good morning Agent Brooks, it’s nice to speak with you again.”

“A phone in a briefcase?” asked the President. “You know, we have those already.”

“No Mr. President, that’s the computer speaking to us, not someone on a phone.  Think of everything you’ve seen on TV shows looking at the future, or in the movies looking at other planets. Think about everything written by Verne and Wells, by Asimov and Heinlein, all the technology that sounds like magic but truly represents scientific advancement orders of magnitude beyond the present day. It’s all here now, or soon will be.”

The President had already regained his composure; he wouldn’t have made it to where he was today if he couldn’t recover quickly.  “That case is a nice toy and the voice thing a great party trick, but as to that last part. Well science fiction is still fiction as far as I can see.  No ray guns or spaceships, no warp drive or X-weapons.”

“No, not warp drive at least Mr. President,” Brooks carefully avoided the subject of X-weapons and thought about some of the other demonstrations Jesse had suggested to him.  “But some of those things…” Brooks reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small silver gun.

Martins instantly lunged forward placing himself between Brooks and the President.  His gun, this one an ordinary semi-automatic, was pointed straight at Brooks’ right eye, his body was angled such that Brooks couldn’t possibly get a clear shot at leader of the free world.

“It’s all right Mr. President,” Brooks said, obviously placing the gun down on the desk with over exaggerated movements, “it’s not active. Please ask Mr. Martins to lower his weapon and please don’t hit the alarm button your finger is no doubt hovering over, I’d hate to have to start again and waste time.”

“Stand down Martins,” came the quick reply from the President, “if he could sneak that through security and he wanted to use it he would have.” The President looked at the gun now lying on the glass top of the Wilson Desk; “your ray gun, I presume?”

“Yes Mr. President,” Brook answered, “or more precisely two guns, a neural disruptor and a physical disruptor.  The neural disruptor is a stun gun, it incapacitates in a wide arc by interrupting the electrical signals of the brain.  The physical disruptor isn’t so non-lethal.  It breaks the bonds between the atoms in matter.  Short range only right now but with it, well I could turn everything in this office, including the people, to dust.”

“Impressive,” noted the President. Brooks could sense the President about to reach for the disruptor gun, he could almost see the thoughts in his head and hear the words ‘North Vietnam’ echoing into the room before he had a chance to speak again.

“It is that, though it’s not perfected yet and only good for a few shots before it needs to be refitted, the cost is too high for military applications,” added Brooks before the President could go too far down that path.  

“How did you get it through security?”

“That’s a little complex, as I understand it; the gun isn’t actually there until I want it.” He saw the obvious annoyance on the President’s face, “I’m not trying to be obtuse Mr. President, I don’t have half of the intelligence it would take for me to understand, let alone explain, what all of these ‘items’ do.  I’ve been taught to use them and I know how to demonstrate them without making them explode.”

“Does that mean you plan to give a demonstration?”

“Yes sir, but not of the gun,” he moved the conversation away from that topic, “the gun is the least of what I came to show you.”  Brooks turned to the briefcase once again and said, “Computer, scan mode, detect and analyze variant humans.”

An antenna rose from the briefcase and a beam of light was transmitted from its end then slowly began to rotate around the room.  When it got to Martins it pulsed.  “Variant detected.  Increased skin density, increased muscle density, highly increased nerve conduction, high likelihood of hyperstrength, hyperdurability, and greatly enhanced speed and reaction time; no unusual characteristics noted, predicted threat level 4.”  The beam continued scanning the room, it had nearly gone full circle when it stopped again and began pulsing at the air next to the series of flags to the right of the desk. “Second variant detected, no cessation of visible light, heat source is noted but dulled, sound emissions cease propagation, high likelihood of invisibility, audio-null, unlikely intangible or undetectable, predicted threat level 2.”  The President maintained his gaze on Brooks, not even turning slightly toward the flags; a bodyguard then, not a spy, at least that’s good, thought Brooks.  

“Where did that thing come from?” asked the President.

“A variant made it sir.  A variant much like Mr. Martins here or your guard over by the flags,” again the President didn’t flinch when his unseen guard was mentioned. “This variant however doesn’t have super strength or invisibility, he has a mind that makes this computer look like the same kindergartener I compared it to before.  We call the power technical brilliance and it’s the ability to look at technology and simply understand it, improve it, make it do tricks.  That is a matter of global security.  Imagine the man who built these were from North Vietnam or the Soviet Union or Communist China,” Brooks said hoping he wasn’t making a mistake bringing up China.  “These tools are ours to use now and the inventor is fairly certain similar creations aren’t anywhere else in the world right now, but he’s equally sure they will be. His shortest estimates are on the order of one year from now, his longest are on the order of one century for now but he’s betting in the next two decades.  Of course how long we can keep this to ourselves depends greatly on the outcome of this meeting.”

“Yes, I can see the potential danger there.”  The President stopped talking for a minute, the quiet became palpable. “So why come here now, obviously you want more than to just show me these toys, as you called them, what do you want to me to do?  What is the outcome of this meeting you are hoping to achieve?”

Brooks didn’t answer right away; he turned and faced the briefcase, “Computer, initiate maximum security scan.”  The beam lanced once more out and circled the room again until it encompassed the desk itself. “Warning recording device detected, security is compromised.”

“I’m afraid that will need to be erased Mr. President.”

“And why is that?” President Nixon asked.

“Mr. President,” Brooks said hesitantly, “I’m not sure the full impact of what I’m showing you has hit you yet;” he had to tread lightly here, he can’t imply that this man is stupid or can’t see the big picture. “You obviously have variant humans in the Secret Service.  I know, from having seen the reports, that you had variants in Vietnam.  Not all of that damage was done by Agent Orange or napalm, unless you count the two variant soldiers who started using those names when they went crazy and lost control.”  The pictures of what those two did, thought Brooks, will haunt his dreams for the rest of his life.  Seeing those pictures put him on the path to meeting Jesse and learning what he had built in his garage, and meeting Jesse put him on the path to this very meeting.  

“Right now variants are scattered here and there in the armed forces and in various government agencies.  Most of the public is enamored of the whole idea of heroes and the Hero Certification Program.  When people think about variants, they envision people who can throw a car or fly through the air, they aren’t picturing people who can calculate Pi to the ten thousandth digit in their head or design a better skyscraper or create a storm which could wash out all the farms in America’s breadbasket.  The person who designed this portable computer and the disruption gun has many other inventions, none of which have been seen by the public.  He’s not the only one with the power to create out there, not by a longshot.  Go back a hundred years and Edison and Tesla were probably supers with this exact power, limited by the technology and manufacturing that surrounded them.  They changed the world and brought about new technologies and new manufacturing which their successors used.”

He gave the President some time to let that sink in and then, before he could recover, brought the speech home. “Less than 50 years ago, Einstein was almost certainly one of them, nuclear weapons and all they represent emerged from that batch of hyperintelligent supers.  What technologies will the next batch create? What social and political changes will they cause? What wars will start or stop because of their actions and their discoveries?”

“That’s why we have the HCP,” the President answered, finally finding his voice again in the onslaught of Brooks’ impassioned speech, “and Force Ops too I suppose.”

“People with this power aren’t out on the streets building giant robots to conquer the world, they aren’t taking down super villains and you might never see one in the HCP, I hope we will never see one in the HCP because they effectively have no limits and if we see one in the HCP that means that others are out there as villains.  These supers are in their basement labs developing technology that will change the world, some are probably at NASA or DARPA or the NIH, and I would lay odds that most of them work for or own companies bringing the technology to market.  These supers are no less common than strongman or fliers, or even invisible secret service agents,” he added glancing toward the flags.  “Someday soon we will need to deal with the fallout of these powers and other much more destructive or applied much more destructively than we have ever before seen.”

He was getting there now, his message was clearly received and for the first time Nixon looked shaken, a bead of sweat formed on his temple, now to bring it home.  “Right now Mr. President you need to turn off that recorder and erase what you taped, because right now we plan how to deal with people with super powers who aren’t in the HCP or your direct service. Right now we are going to discuss super powers, global security and how to keep America ahead of the power curve. We are going to plan how to keep America and its citizens safe and protected when the next petty dictator doesn’t have to have a missile because he has a soldier who is a missile, when he doesn’t need an army because he has a death ray, and when a single person has technology that can end all life on this planet.  Like I said Mr. President, I’m here to discuss the fate of the world.”

Nixon rallied again, shaken but not yet admitting that this was what he had to do, or maybe thinking ahead to what the ultimate ramifications would be, it wasn’t likely he could accomplish all he needed to and stay in office, too many radical shifts would need to be covered up. The President stood up and came around his desk, he looked Brooks right in the eye, “Why you?” he asked, “you aren’t a bureau chief, you aren’t a cabinet member, you don’t even have that high a security clearance.  Why are you the one bringing this to me? Why are you the one I should trust? And how did you put all of this together?”

“It had to be someone Mr. President; I was just in the right place at the right time.”

Nixon nodded slowly, he weighed the options and he made his decision, he reached into his desk drawer and flipped a switch.

“Recording device inactive,” reported the computer.

“Thank you Mr. President,” said Brooks.

“Alright Agent Brooks, there are still one or two minutes left in the time I had allotted to you.  Before I have to change my schedule which will raise all sorts of red flags to everyone in the West Wing, tell me what you think we need to do next.”