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Shadow game (Chapter Seven)

THE night was unexpectedly cold. Lily shivered as she looked up at the thin crescent shape of the moon. Dark clouds swirled across the sky, dulling the sparkling stars scattered above her. The wind tugged at her clothes and whipped strands of hair into her face and eyes. Threads of white fog whirled in small eddies, curling through the heavy wire of the fences, reaching toward her like ragged claws. She could smell the storm coming in off the sea.

"Dr. Whitney! I thought you'd gone home for the night." A tall guard emerged out of the shadows. He was one of the older, much more experienced men. Looking at him closely, she wondered if he were military.

She feigned fright, jumping as if startled. "You scared me, I didn't hear you."

"What are you doing out here?" There was a trace of worry in his voice. She wasn't wearing a jacket.

Lily shivered in the icy wind. "Breathing," she answered simply. "Wondering whether to go home and get some sleep or go back and work so I don't have to face my father not being there." She raked her fingers through her thick hair.

"It's cold out here, Dr. Whitney. I'll walk you to your car." The note of concern caused tears to burn behind her eyes, to clog her throat. Grief welled up, sharp and clear and strong. She had shoved sorrow and the knowledge of her father's death aside all day, held it at bay with work, all the while meticulously planning the aftermath of the escape. Guilt fed her stormy emotions. If anyone should be harmed in the escape it would fall directly on her shoulders. Peter Whitney had told her what he wanted, what his last wishes were, but ultimately, it was her responsibility.

There had already been enough mistakes made by the Whitneys, and she was uncertain whether she was doing more harm than good. What if the men couldn't survive outside the conditions of the laboratory? Their escape would give Higgens the excuse needed to carry out any plan he had to terminate any who opposed him. It would brand any in the military as a deserter.

"Dr. Whitney?" The guard took her arm.

"I'm sorry, I'm all right, thank you." Lily was uncertain whether she would ever be all right again. "My car is in the parking lot over by the first guard tower. You don't have to walk me, I'm fine, really."

"I was heading that way myself," he told her, urging her in the direction she'd indicated, his larger body between her and the wind.

As they walked, something inside of her went very still. Knowledge blossomed, flared into full life. She felt the movements, the presence of the others in the night. Chameleons-GhostWalkers, they called themselves-phantoms moving, blending with any terrain, at home in the dark, in the water, in the jungle and trees. They were shadows within the shadows, able to control their heart and lungs, able to walk among the enemy unseen. Lily felt them, the vibration of power they wielded, as they moved through the high-security compound, keeping the guards looking the other way with the sheer force of their minds.

The plan had been for Lily to be far away from the area, her alibi indisputable, but she had lingered, drawn by guilt and fear. It was difficult to break into the facility, but much easier to break out. Ryland Miller and each of his men had psychic abilities to varying degrees. She knew Ryland had planned to lure Colonel Higgens to his cell so suspicion would fall directly on the colonel as the last man to be with him just before Ryland was able to escape. Ryland would free the others. The men would find safety in numbers at first, allowing their various skills to benefit everyone, but once out of the compound, it was far safer to scatter, going in twos or singly to their ultimate destination-her home.

She allowed her gaze to slide casually along the deeper edges of the buildings, the towers and equipment in the compound. Her chest was unexpectedly tight. She couldn't spot them, but she felt them. They were moving through the high-security compound like the phantoms they called themselves. A dog barked somewhere to her left, set her heart pounding. The animal stopped abruptly as if silenced by a command. Her guard tightened his hold on her arm, suddenly uneasy.

He swung his head in the direction of the dog. Lily stumbled, distracting him. "I'm sorry," she sounded more breathless than she intended as he caught her, preventing her from falling. "It's dark out tonight. The storm is coming in faster than anticipated."

"It's supposed to be a bad one. You should get home before it hits," he advised. "The gusts could reach a hundred miles an hour and your car is small."

She had purposely refused the limousine, knowing every car would eventually come under suspicion and a limousine could easily transport several escapees outside the compound.

The guard's concern was nearly her undoing. She was wound much tighter than she realized, grief for her father swirling close to the surface, threatening to spill over. Distress for the knowledge she had been part of her father's scientific experiments. Guilt for the escape battering her conscience. Fear that someone would be hurt or killed gnawed at her until she was afraid she might scream. Tears shimmered in her eyes, blurred her vision. Were the lives of the men going to be any better on the outside where no one protected them? She had to tell herself at least they were safe from deliberate harm.

"You're shaking, Dr. Whitney," the guard observed. "Maybe you should go back inside and spend the night here." He stopped in the middle of the yard, bringing her to a halt beside him.

Lily forced a bright note into her voice. "I'm fine, just a little shaken up. I've had weeks to get used to my father's disappearance, but the thought of facing an empty house in the middle of a storm is daunting. We always talked together. Now there's just silence."

Without warning, lightning burst across the sky. The flare instantly lit the compound and surrounding area with a white-hot spotlight. To Lily's horror, the flash illuminated the dark shape of a man only feet away from them. His eyes were fixed on them. Focused. Steady. The eyes of a predator. His hand moved and she caught the glint of a knife. Kaden. She recognized him instantly. He was one of the stronger talents.

Lily threw her body between the phantom and the guard, knocking into the guard so that they both went down in a tangle of arms and legs. The flash of light was gone, leaving them trapped and vulnerable in the darkness. They both hit the ground hard, Lily bumping her head hard enough that a soft cry escaped. The guard swore, rolling to his feet, reaching to bring her up with him just as thunder clapped loudly, splitting the sky apart so that rain poured down in long drenching sheets.

"You shouldn't even be contemplating driving a car if you're this afraid of lightning," the guard warned, his hands holding her still for his inspection.

She realized he had been looking in the opposite direction. He hadn't seen the nearly invisible threat so close to them. For all she knew they could be surrounded by the phantoms. The idea sent a surge of adrenaline racing through her bloodstream. The rain ran down her face and soaked her clothes. Would it be better to go back to the building or go to her car? Where would the guard be the safest?

Lightning veined in the clouds, sizzling and crackling, zigzagged from ground to sky, shaking the earth beneath their feet and once again illuminating the compound. Kaden had melted into the night, but in the flash, she saw another face. A pair of merciless silver eyes raked her face, fixed on the guard still holding her arms. Ryland was close, so close she could almost reach out and touch him over the guard's shoulder. The brief flare was gone in the clap of thunder, leaving inevitable darkness behind.

Lily sagged against the guard, terrified by the striped, menacing mask on Ryland's face. He was highly skilled in hand-to-hand combat, in martial arts. He carried death in his large hands. She didn't know what to do, whom to protect. Whether to keep the guard's attention centered on her, or whether to warn him of the very real danger.

Relax, sweetheart. The voice drawled lazily in her head, played over her senses like a velvet glove. I'm not going to hurt your hero. And get out of the damned rain before you catch pneumonia.

Relief rushed through her. She raised her rain-wet face to the sky and smiled for no reason at all. You can't catch pneumonia from rain.

"We need to get out of this right now," the guard said, tugging at her arm to get her moving. "I'm taking you back to the building. It's dangerous out here."

"I agree," she answered wholeheartedly.

I have two more men who haven't made it out. Keep him away from the labs.

"But I can't face going to the labs again tonight. Let's head for the general cafeteria," she improvised swiftly.

The guard flung his arm around Lily in an attempt to keep the rain from her and together they sprinted across the long expanse of pavement toward the largest row of buildings. Lily was looking at the ground, her eyes straining to see where she was going, when the next bolt of lightning hit. This was much closer and it rattled windows and shook the towers, causing one of the guards to yelp in fear.

"Those men should get off of there," she yelled, just as the thunder exploded. The noise was astonishing, so loud it nearly knocked them down. Her ears hurt from the impact.

"The towers have lightning rods, they'll be okay," the guard assured her. But he sped up, dragging her with him.

On the heel of his words was a loud explosion as the tower took a direct hit. Sparks rained down, fire in the sky, bursting like gems in the air. Lily was looking around her frantically, shielding her face, wanting one last glimpse, one last look, but the shadow figures were gone and she was left alone in the raging storm.

She felt bereft. The emotion drained her as nothing else could.

The guard's arm propelled her into the main building just as the alarm sounded. "It's probably nothing," he said. "The siren's been going off regularly with no explanation-a glitch, or maybe it's the storm, but I have to go. You stay here out of the rain." He patted her arm in reassurance and took off.

Lily stared out the window, oblivious to her rain-drenched body and soaked clothes, praying she had done the right thing. Ryland was gone, slipping away with his men. It was up to her to find a way to help them live in the world again. She had no idea how she was going to do such a thing. She had no idea if the water on her face was rain or tears.

She leaned her forehead onto the glass pane, staring sightlessly. How would the men survive in a world filled with raw emotion, with violence and pain? The overload of stimuli could send them into madness. It was insanity to think they would all make it to her estate without mishap. How would Ryland Miller survive without her to shield him from the rest of the world, even for a short period of time? It would be so easy for him to be separated from the others. He would send the weaker men with Kaden and protect their backs. She knew that, accepted it. Ryland would guard the others before he would think of his own safety. It was that trait in him that appealed so strongly to her.

If she'd left them in the laboratory the men would have no hope of finding peace. They would be used, observed, treated eventually as lab rats, not humans-she had already noticed the guards and techs were depersonalizing them. Colonel Higgens obviously wanted them dead, and she believed he was arranging "accidents" for them during testing. At least she could provide money enough to find a place to live in freedom, in seclusion maybe, but still living. They would be safe. And both Peter Whitney and Ryland Miller had thought the risk was worth it. She had to be content with that.

When the ferocity of the storm had eased, she headed for her car. The compound was in an uproar, guards scrambling in all directions, lights shockingly bright in the night as they swept continually along the shadows of buildings, seeking prey. The drizzle of rain couldn't mute the shocked shouts and blaring noises as the word spread that the GhostWalkers had escaped. The cages were empty and the tigers were out. Fear spread like a disease. Lily could feel waves of it shimmering off the guards as they scurried around her. The post was on lockdown and there was no way for her to leave.

The emotions running so high were overwhelming. She could only hope Ryland and his men were safely away. As it was, her own barriers were flimsy, battered by the high levels of fear and adrenaline broadcast by the guards and technicians. She waited it out in her office, her hands over her ears to muffle the sound of the screaming sirens. She was glad when, after a time, the noise stopped abruptly. The sudden silence was a mercy to her throbbing head. Lily took a long shower in her private bathroom and put on a change of clothes she kept for the many nights she spent working.

She was not surprised when two guards asked her to accompany them to the office of the president to meet with a military liaison and the executives of Donovans. With a small sigh conveying her reluctance, she complied. She was drained physically and emotionally and was desperate to hide from the world.

Thomas Matherson, aide to Phillip Thornton, was waiting to fill her in. "General Ronald McEntire happened to be here tonight visiting the compound. He called General Ranier, Colonel Higgens's direct commander, and insisted on being brought on board." The aide opened the door for her and gestured for her to precede him.

Lily couldn't believe her good fortune. A general who had no knowledge of the experiment. If she could find a way to talk to him alone, she could tell him her suspicions about Colonel Higgens. The terrible knots in her stomach began to ease.

The large room was dominated by the enormous round table. Every chair was filled and all heads swung to look at her. Most of the men half rose when she entered, but she waved them to their seats.

"Gentlemen." She spoke softly, her voice filled with her usual confidence. She knew her expression was absolutely serene, she'd practiced it often enough.

It was a measure of his upset that Phillip Thornton performed the introductions himself. He nearly always left what he considered menial tasks to his assistant. "Dr. Whitney has just agreed to take over where her father left off. She's been siphoning through his data, trying to make sense of it for us."

Barely acknowledging the introduction, the general glared at Lily. "Dr. Whitney, fill me in on this experiment." It was an order, sharp and clear, the general's eyes betraying his anger.

"How much do you know?" Lily was cautious. She wanted to be careful, feel her way with him. To stall. To give the men time to find their escape routes and use them. Surreptitiously she glanced at Colonel Higgens, raising an eyebrow in inquiry.

His nod was slight, almost imperceptible, giving approval.

"Let's say I know nothing."

Matherson pulled out a chair for Lily close to the general and across from Phillip Thornton. With a grateful smile to the aide, she took her time seating herself. "I trust that everyone in this room has the proper security clearance?"

"Of course," snapped the general. "Fill me in on these men."

Lily's gaze settled on his face. "The men were drawn from all branches of the service. Dr. Whitney, my father, was looking for a particular type of man. Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Special Forces, Rangers, men highly skilled and able to endure in difficult circumstances. I believe he pulled men from the ranks of law enforcement also. He wanted men of superior intelligence and officers who had come up through the ranks. He wanted men who could think for themselves if the situation demanded it. Each of the men had to test high for a predisposition for psychic ability."

The general's eyebrow shot up. He glared at Colonel Higgens. "You knew about this nonsense and you approved it? You and General Ranier?"

Higgens nodded. "The entire experiment was approved from the beginning and it had merit."

There was a small silence while the general seemed to take it in. He turned back to Lily. "And how would they test them for psychic ability?"

Lily looked at Higgens as if for help. When none was forthcoming she shrugged. "The screening part was easy enough. Dr. Whitney, my father, that is, developed a questionnaire that highlighted the tendencies toward the clairvoyant."

"Such as…" General McEntire prompted.

"The ability to remember and interpret dreams, frequent dij` vu, the sudden urge to call a friend, just when he's in trouble, even the tendency to accept the idea of clairvoyance because 'it feels right' is positively associated with the talent."

The general snorted. "Utter nonsense. We dropped those programs years ago. There's no such thing. You took good men and brainwashed them into thinking they were superior to the rest of us."

Lily tried to be patient, wanting the general to understand the enormity of what had been done to his men. "Of course, there's a lot more we don't understand about the neurobio-chemistry of clairvoyance than we actually know, but recent advances in neurobehavioral psychology have strengthened some hypotheses. We know, for instance, that the capacity for clairvoyance is genetically determined. We all have heard of a few individuals doing remarkable feats in the paranormal sphere. These are psychic geniuses." Lily groped for a way to make him understand. "Like an Einstein in physics or a Beethoven in music. Do you understand?"

"I'm following you," the general said grimly.

"We know that most master physicists are not geniuses, nor are most concert-level musicians child prodigies. My father put together a program to screen potential candidates for an aptitude for clairvoyance, then he developed a program to train and enhance their potential. Think of a bodybuilder. He is a result of genetic potential, strict training, and…" She trailed off, hastily censoring the "probably designer drugs." The less they got into that part the better.

She had no intention of being specific with any of these men, least of all Philip Thornton and Colonel Higgens. Her father had been meticulous about not allowing his formula to fall into anyone's hands; she wasn't going to give it away to the very crowd she suspected of his murder.

The general heaved a soft sigh and sank into the chair behind the desk. Rubbing his temples, he looked at her. "This is beginning to sound too plausible. How did he get it to actually work? They've tried this type of thing in every country for years and had nothing but failures."

"Dr. Whitney used more than one route." She tapped her foot, trying to think of a way to explain in layman's terms. "Every object above 273 degrees Celsius or zero degrees Kelvin emits energy. Biological organisms tend to focus on certain frequencies, while screening other frequencies out. That requires energy." When the general frowned, Lily leaned toward him. "Think of a refrigerator. One often doesn't even notice the motor is running until it shuts off, then suddenly it's a relief. These 'filters' are guided by the autonomic nervous system and commonly thought to be out of conscious control. Am I making sense to you?" When he nodded, she continued. "However, there are several examples of stunning control of the autonomic nervous system. Biofeedback techniques can lower heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Zen masters and yogis are legendary. Even prolonged sexual performance by males is an example of somatic intervention over the autonomic nervous system."

The general had a scowl back on his face.

"The point is that the energy that is important to paranormals is usually filtered to pathetic levels in adult humans and these filters are under autonomic control. Dr. Whitney found a way to decrease the filtering system, using mind-body control techniques taught by the Zen masters."

The general rubbed his hand over his face, shaking his head. "Why am I beginning to believe you?"

Lily stayed silent, willing him to understand, wanting him on the side of the men. She thought of Ryland and the others out there in the storm. She sent up a silent prayer that they were all safe.

"Please continue, Dr. Whitney." The general began to tap a pencil on the desk in agitation.

"Using PET scans of working clairvoyants, my father found that the areas in the brain most important for clairvoyance were the same areas responsible for autism: the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the neocerebellum. He found other links as well. There is a higher level of psychic ability in autistics in comparison to the general population. Moreover autistics are on sensory overload; they probably have a filtering defect. Reducing the filters, then, just gives you noise, like an untuned radio. You don't produce psychics, just autistics."

"So there were problems I take it."

Lily sighed with regret. "Yes, he encountered problems. At first the men were housed in regular barracks together to promote unity. The idea was to form an elite unit that could use their combined skills for certain high-risk jobs. The unit was given field training as well as lab training. They went far beyond anyone's expectations. Most of them proved capable of telepathy on some level."

"Elaborate for me."

"They had the capability of speaking together without speaking aloud-sending thoughts to one another, for lack of a better way to explain. Dr. Whitney hooked them up to the scans and the actual brain activity was unbelievable. Some of them had to be in the same room to communicate that way while others could be completely across the compound." Lily glanced again at Colonel Higgens. "You can see how such a talent would be useful on a mission. Others were also able to 'hear' thoughts of people in the room with them.

"The variety of skills is documented, sir, videotaped and recorded if you care to see for yourself. Some of the men were able to hold objects and 'read' them. The talents were varied. Psychometry. Levitation. Telekinesis. Telepathy. Some only had one, others tested strengths in several to varying degrees."

Lily took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "The problems that were encountered were not foreseen and Dr. Whitney couldn't solve them." There was real regret in her voice. Lily cupped her hands around the warmth of the teacup that Matherson had placed in front of her. "There's a reaction called tachyphalaxas. The body senses too much action at the receptor and down-regulates them. Suddenly the radio is nothing but static again. There were some who experienced unrelenting seizures from hyperstimulation. One went insane-autistic, really. One other died of cerebral hypoxia, or intracranial bleed, from head injuries." That wasn't exactly the truth; she felt there was another explanation for the intracranial bleed but wasn't going to venture a hypothesis.

"My God." The general shook his head.

Higgens cleared his throat. "There were psychotic breaks, sir. Two became violent. Uncontrollable. Even the others couldn't help them."

Guilt ate at Lily's insides, churning her stomach. "As soon as Dr. Whitney realized what the problem was, he attempted to create a calming atmosphere that was soundproof, a place that could insulate the men from the constant torment of people around them. He regulated the atmosphere, used lighting and soothing natural sounds to relieve the continual assault on the brain."

"Can these men really give suggestions to others and force obedience?" General McEntire demanded. "Could these men have given your father some kind of posthypnotic suggestion? His car was found down by the docks and there's been some speculation that he's at the bottom of the sea."

Lily gasped. "Are you implying these men had something to do with my father's disappearance? He was the only one capable of helping them."

"Maybe not, Dr. Whitney. Maybe you are," Colonel Higgens pointed out. "It could be that Ryland Miller figured that out. He heard your answer when I made the mistake of asking you in front of him if you could read your father's code."

A shiver shook her frame as certain knowledge blossomed. The moment she had answered in the affirmative, she had sentenced her father to death. She remembered how Higgens had suddenly changed, how he had ceased arguing with her father and looked at her with speculation instead of hostility.

"I'm sorry this is necessary, Lily," Phillip Thornton said. "I know you're grieving and you've been up long hours trying to figure this out for us."

Lily forced a smile and waved his concern aside. "I don't mind doing what I can to help, Phillip. This is, after all, my company too." She owned a large block of shares and wanted to remind him of the fact. "Have you any idea how this could have happened? I spoke with Captain Miller at great length this morning. He appeared quite cooperative and even was considering the possibility that one of the side effects of the experiment might be paranoia. He spoke so highly of Colonel Higgens, then would suddenly become hostile toward him. I pointed that out to him and he definitely was considering the possibility. He has a quick, logical mind."

"He did ask to see me," Colonel Higgens admitted. "I went to speak with him and he did say something along those lines." He rubbed his forehead. "The cage was securely locked when I left that room. The cameras will bear me out on that."

"The cameras were on the blitz again," Thornton said.

There was a sudden hush in the room. All eyes were on Colonel Higgens. He sat back in his chair, glaring at them. "I'm telling you the cage was locked. I wouldn't have unlocked it with or without an armed guard present. In my opinion Captain Miller is a dangerous man. With his team, he is nearly invincible. We're going to have to send everyone we have against him."

"I hope you're not implying that we should terminate these men." The general stared hard at Higgens.

"We may have no choice," Colonel Higgens replied.

"Excuse me, gentlemen," Lily interrupted. "There is always a choice. You can't abandon these men because they did something in desperation. They were under tremendous strain. I think we need to step back from this situation and try to figure out how we can help them."

"Dr. Whitney, do you have any idea how long they will be able to survive without insulation from the noise and emotions of people around them?" Phillip Thornton asked. "Are we sitting on a time bomb?"

Lily shook her head. "I don't honestly know."

"What will happen if these men turn violent?" the general asked. He was twisting a pencil in his fingers. He tapped the lead on the table, the pad of his thumb striking the eraser, as if that would somehow stop what he was hearing. "Is that a possibility?" He looked around the faces at the table. "Is that a viable possibility?"

Lily twisted her fingers together tightly. "Unfortunately these men are highly skilled in combat conditions. They have had every advantage the military could give them through special training. There was an incident the first year of field training involving one of the men. I viewed the training tape." She took a cautious sip of tea.

"I don't think I'm going to like what I'm going to hear," General McEntire said.

"One of the trainees became disoriented during a mission in Colombia and along with the targets, he went after some of the innocent populace. When Captain Miller attempted to restrain him, the trainee turned on Miller. The captain was given no choice but to defend his own life and protect the other members of his team. They were friends, close friends, and he was forced to kill." She had watched the attack on the film and it had been gory and grim.

Even worse had been the tapes of Ryland Miller afterward. Although she was watching film she could almost absorb his emotions. The guilt, the frustration, the anger. He had been despondent, hopeless. "You have to understand, sir, paranormals are subject to and respond to different stimuli than we can sense. They live in the same world, but in a different dimension, really. So, the line we draw between clairvoyant and insane is very thin and sometimes nonexistent. These men are unlike any soldiers you've ever trained. You have no idea what they're capable of."

Lily took another sip of tea, savored the warmth as it settled in her stomach. The general couldn't conceive of the power the men wielded. But she knew.

"Why would they want to leave if they knew the risks in leaving?" The general scowled at them all, his eyes raking the room. "What conditions were they living in?" The implication of abuse was there and Lily fought down the urge to blurt out the entire story to him. How the men were isolated, even from one another, cut off from their command, studied like animals in cages. Subjected to continual tests.

The pencil between the general's fingers snapped in his fingers, one end sailing toward Lily, the other still in his hand.

Lily caught the end of the pencil before it rolled off the table, her thumb sliding over the eraser, automatically absorbing the textures, absorbing the heavy emotions. She stiffened, her gaze sliding to touch the general, then away. She wasn't telling him anything he didn't already know. He was tamping down his fury that Ryland Miller and his team had escaped. There was money to be had. Ryland stood in the way.

The emotions swirled together, a mixture of violence and impatience over a thwarted plan. General McEntire was up to his bushy eyebrows in deceit and treachery. Lily folded her hands carefully on the table, looking as serene and confident as she could when she wanted to leap at McEntire and brand him a traitor to his country and demand what he knew of her father's death.

"The living conditions, Colonel Higgens: Why would these men feel they needed to escape?"

"They were isolated from one another." Lily forced her voice to work.

"For their own good," Higgens snapped. "They were growing too powerful together, they could do things we didn't expect. Not even your father expected their combined powers to be what they were."

"That was no excuse for forgetting dignity, Colonel. They are human beings, men who were giving service to their country, not lab rats," Lily objected coolly.

"Your father was solely in charge of this experiment," Colonel Higgens shot back. "He's responsible for the results."

"As far as I can ascertain," Lily said calmly, "my father, Dr. Peter Whitney, conducted the experiment in good faith. When it had become apparent it was harming the men, he immediately called a halt to enhancing the rare talents, immediately trying to find ways to help them cope with the repercussions. He sought ways to make the men more comfortable. Unfortunately, no one listened to him. I read your direct orders, Colonel Higgens, and Phillip Thornton signed those orders, insisting the men continue. On your say-so, Colonel, Captain Miller ordered his men to follow your command and he and his men did so. Your orders, sir, were to continue training under a variety of conditions and the men, being who and what they are, followed orders despite knowing they were deteriorating rapidly, their control unraveling even as they grew in power and ability. It is well documented that my father objected, that he laid out the repercussions, and that when you ordered the men to be isolated from one another he told you they would have a much more difficult time. You ignored everything he said and you have the results of your own foolish decisions."

"Your father refused to provide me with the data I needed." Colonel Higgens turned bright red he was so angry. "He wanted to reverse the process and throw out everything because of one or two acceptable losses."

"My father tried to find a way to restore filters and deactivate the part of the brain he had stimulated. He could not. And there were no acceptable losses, Colonel; we're talking about human life."

Phillip Thornton held up his hand. "This is a discussion best left for later when we all have cooler heads and more sleep. Right now we have to find a way to contain this situation. Dr. Whitney, you've given us quite a bit of information, but we really need to know exactly what was done to these men. We have access to some of the greatest minds in the world to help us, if we knew exactly what your father did, and how he did it," Thornton pointed out. "Can you explain it, step by step, to us?"

"I'm sorry, sir, I can't. I can't find his original data. It wasn't in his office here or at home. I tried both computers and I'm going over his reports now to see if I can spot anything that will help me to figure it out." Lily allowed her extreme fatigue to show, pushing her hands through her hair. "I've given you all the information I know at this time, but I'll continue looking."

Higgens snorted his disgust. The general shoved his coffee cup across the table, splashing dark liquid onto the highly polished surface. "Who knows about this?" The general continued glaring at those in the room.

"It's classified, only a few people," Colonel Higgens answered. "Aside from those of us in this room, General Ranier and the techs here at the lab."

"Keep it that way. We need to contain this and mop it up as soon as possible. How the hell could this happen? Can any of you tell me that? With all the security, how could they have pulled this off?"

There was a small silence. Again it was Higgens who responded. "We believe they've been testing the security, setting off the alarms, shutting down the cameras, and manipulating the guards, practicing for the last couple of weeks."

The general exploded with rage, his hands curling into two tight fists. "What do you mean manipulating the guards?" he roared, his face so red Lily feared he might have a stroke.

"I've already explained it, sir. It's part of their standard training," she explained patiently, "planting a suggestion to look the other way. Very useful when infiltrating enemy and terrorist camps and in hostage situations. They are capable of unbelievable feats. They use their minds to coerce the enemy without the enemy knowing."

"And these men are out there somewhere right now? Walking time bombs, men who very well could become mercenaries or, worse, who could go over to the other side?"

Lily lifted her chin at the man. "These men were chosen for their loyalty, their patriotism. I can assure you, sir, they will never betray their country."

"Their loyalty became a question the minute they became deserters, Dr. Whitney, and make no mistake, that is just what they are. Deserters!"

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