DEADLY VANTAGE
By Dr. Jeffrey A. Robinson (unpublished)

Chapter 1

       Paul Marshall lay back on the bunk of his cell, a smug, self-satisfied smirk on his face. Despite the overcrowding, it sure was nice of the Richmond police to give me a private room all to myself. As he scanned the drab gray walls of his tiny ten by ten cell, an arrogant chuckle broadened his smile even more. The magnitude and severity of the charges against him apparently warranted special treatment, even if it was in the high security section of the city jail. Paul felt singularly privileged.
       With his right hand, he gently touched his swollen lip. It stung and he nursed the split in his lip with his tongue. Reaching higher on his face, he carefully felt his eye. The stitches on his eyebrow were sharp, and his eyelid so swollen he could barely see out of it. It must look awful, he thought. God, I wish I had a mirror. He struggled to sit up and grunted as the weight of the cast on his left arm pulled him back down onto the cot. Finally sitting up, he scratched at the edge plaster encasing his arm, which stretched from his wrist to his shoulder and immobilized his broken elbow. Raising the rigid arm piece, he winced and mused that it looked far more serious than it really was. Lowering his arm, the pain returned to a dull, constant ache. It only really it bothered him when he moved. He headed to the sink and picked up a bottle containing only two pain pills and shook it annoyingly. He considered taking the last pills now, but knew he wouldn’t get more if he took these too soon. Assholes, he thought. The clinic staff wouldn’t give him any more medication, no matter how much he complained.
       Setting the bottle back down, Marshall chuckled and recalled the expression on the cops’ faces when they dragged his bloody body out of the back of their police car. His injuries were all self-inflicted, of course, and the two policemen, who’d brought him in, denied ever touching him, but his bruises and cuts were so horrible that officials at the station took his statement with all due process and treated him like a victim.
       The story he gave about how the officers had beaten his confession out of him was just plausible enough that both policemen had been suspended pending a formal investigation.
       “Hey, Marshall!” shouted someone down the hallway. “You’ve got a visitor.”
       A loud series of clanking sounds echoed along the corridor as hidden solenoids pulled back the deadbolts on the metal door at the end of the cellblock. More clanging and creaking followed as mechanisms within the walls pulled aside the heavy metal door to allow someone to enter.
        Paul Marshall rose from his cot and approached the front of his cell. Pressing his face against the bars, he tried to get a glimpse of his unexpected caller, but couldn’t see anyone far enough down the hallway. All he could discern of his guest was the faint rhythmic sound of footsteps along the concrete floor outside as someone unseen approached. Releasing the bars, he turned back to his bunk and sat on the edge of the thin dusty smelling mattress, waiting and watching the bars on the front of his cell.
       Soon a short man wearing neat gray suit, white shirt and tie walked around to the front of his cell and waited calmly with his hands crossed in front of him. The visitor held a thin black attaché case and watched Marshall in silence.
        Grinning involuntarily, Marshall recognized the man, and winced at the pain that accompanied the gesture. Along with his other injuries, Marshall had lost a tooth. His haughty smile looked all the more perverted, as if he were proud of the disfigurement. Imagining his own appearance and figuring his fresh bruises and wounds gave him a demonically evil look, he smirked even more. The visitor was his lawyer.
        “Open thirty-two,” shouted a distant guard.
       Seconds later, a loud buzzing sounded and the metal bars on the front of his cell moved aside. The lawyer took two steps forward and entered the cell. As soon as he was inside, the distant voice shouted, “Close thirty-two.” The loud buzzing sounded once more, and the bars slid back into place, locking them both in the tiny cell. The lawyer stepped over to the sink and balanced his briefcase on the narrow porcelain fixture, as he opened it.
       “I have some papers for you to sign, Mr. Marshall,” he said. “You’re going to be released this afternoon.”
       Ignoring the pain, Marshall smiled until the stitches in his lip pulled taut and threatened to tear open. Holding his grimace steady, he waited in silence and forced the attorney to speak again.
       His lawyer handed Marshall a stack of papers, then withdrew a pen from his shirt pocket and gave it to his client. “You need to sign these.”
       Marshall took the formed without looking at them. “So why are they letting me go, again?” he asked.
       The lawyer’s lips tightened against his teeth. “Your injuries give credence to your claim that your arresting officers beat you. The police are adamant you must have deliberately injured yourself, while your were in the backseat of the squad-car, which transported you here, but the district attorney convinced them that no jury would agree.
       “As a result of the doubt you’ve raised about the conduct of the arresting officers, the validity of both your confession and the evidence retrieved at your apartment have also been called into question. The police claim it was a clean bust, that they read you your rights, and that you freely confessed. However, the arraigning magistrate threw out the confession and all the physical evidence seized from your… collection of souvenirs.” The lawyer spit the words out as if they tasted bad.
       “All charges against you for the multiple murders, to which you confessed, have been dropped and the police don’t have anything else to arraign you on. The ACLU is screaming bloody murder and making some serious charges against the authorities. As the result of all this controversy, you’ll be released this afternoon at four.”
        Marshall noticed that the lawyer wouldn’t look him in the eye. The attorney stared at a point on the back wall of the cell, as he spoke.
       The lawyer continued. “Personally, I think you’re guilty as sin, but the law says we can’t keep you locked up anymore. It’s days like this that make me ashamed I ever became a public defender.”
       “No problem, counselor, you do good work,” said Marshall, chuckling softly to himself. He took the pen and casually shoved it into the end of his cast in an effort to scratch an annoying itch. No matter how hard he tried, however, he couldn’t quite reach deep enough to scratch the irritating spot properly and finally gave up. Then, pulling the pen back out and he stuck the end in his mouth, as he studied the papers in his lap.
        “So, what is this I’m signing?” he asked, looking up at the lawyer.
        Sighing, his visitor replied, “The first document is a standard release form, stating that the charges have been dropped without prejudice. That means the police can reopen them at some later time, if sufficient evidence can be found.”
        Fat chance of that, thought Marshall. As always, he had been meticulous and careful. Everything related to the whores he’d killed was stashed in his apartment. If the courts had banned that evidence, he was free and clear. Marshall signed the first form with a flourish.
        “The next form is an agreement that you won’t sue the police for your alleged beating, or for false arrest.”
        “Hey,” said Marshall, smirking. “Suing the cops is my constitutional right. Why would I want to sign this?”
        “Don’t push it, Marshall,” said the lawyer. “You’ve won this round. The police are trying to make a clean break. If you fight them, they may decide to go ahead and charge you, even though they’ll lose in court. They could do that as an excuse to keep you in jail without bail for a few a few weeks. They might also just decide to hold you as a material witness until they can find some other evidence to use against you. If they force the issue, they might be able to stall your release for a couple months. While it would cost the taxpayers plenty, the cops may figure it’s worth it, just to cause you whatever discomfort they can and keep you off the streets for a while.
       “Besides, if you don’t cooperate, they might just move you to a larger cell with, say, twenty or thirty other inmates, and turn their backs long enough for something fatal to happen to you. There are a lot of inmates who don’t like what you’ve done. Some of the girls you killed were the same age as their daughters. That would probably make everyone happier and be a lot cheaper, despite the bad press that would result.”
        Marshall went pale at the thought of jail-yard justice. Quickly signing the second form, he flipped through the rest. The other papers related to the release of his personal effects and were quickly dispositioned. When he was finally done, the lawyer collected the forms, retrieved his pen and placed them back into his briefcase.
        “The police will be taking you out the back of the station in an unmarked squad car. The front steps are swarmed with people, right now. It’s a circus out there. Someone leaked your release to the press and the courtyard outside is crowded with news crews and demonstrators protesting your discharge. There are a lot of people out there screaming for your blood. If you walked out the front way, the mob would likely tear you limb from limb before you reached the street.
        “Also, since a crowd’s formed near your apartment, the police will take you to the nearest bus station and give you a hundred bucks cash. From that point, you’re on your own. You can try to make it back to your place, if you’d like, or find someplace else to go.”
        The lawyer didn’t even try to hide the look of disgust on his face. “I’d recommend you disappear, or your body might be found on public display somewhere.” Without further comment, the lawyer turned his back on Marshall and shouted, “Thirty-two is ready!”
        The loud buzzing sounded again, and the bars slid back, letting the lawyer out into the hallway where he hurried out of sight.
        When the door slid shut again, Marshall pressed his face against the bars and hollered after him. “Hey, counselor. You didn’t leave me your card. How can I contact you, if I need legal representation, again?” Laughing at his own wit, Marshall was still chuckling, when the door at the end of the hall opened and closed a final time.
       Alone once more, Marshall congratulated himself. The cops had stopped him in connection with a liquor store robbery a couple blocks from his apartment. He’d run, thinking they’d somehow tied him to the chain of unsolved murders he’d committed over the past few years. His confession had been spontaneous, but he’d turned the situation around by telling the cops about his souvenirs in his apartment.
       In their enthusiasm, they’d entered his apartment without calling for backup. Securing the apartment, they had then loaded Marshall into their car. On the way back, he screamed and shouted at them until they turned their backs and ignored him. As he continued to shout, he’d managed to pound the shit out of his face and even broke his elbow on the door jam.
       Stumbling against them as they dragged me out of the car was a nice touch, he thought. It was hard to deny they’d beaten me when they had my blood all over them.
        Giggling with delight, he thought It’s the perfect crime. They can’t touch me, all because of some technicalities and rules they have to follow. Maybe, I should have confessed to all the other stuff, too. Then he wondered whether they’d let him go, if they knew about the others. A cold shudder shook Marshall and he decided he’d stretched his luck far enough. Perhaps the lawyer was right and he should just take his bus fare and disappear.
        As he started to lie back down on his cot, a motion out of the corner of his eye drew his attention. Turning his head, he saw a robed figure walk out of the rear wall of his cell and approach him.
        Marshall jumped up, screamed, and backed against the bars. Where the hell, did he come from?
        The eerie figure stopped and stood calmly with his hands at his sides. Strangely silent, the stranger wore a long hooded robe, like a medieval monk. While the hood partially masked the man’s features, Marshall could see his face, but didn’t recognize him. The figure stood as motionless as a statue, his gray robe nearly blending against the colorless wall behind him. After a few moments, Marshall started breathing again, since the man simply stood watching him and made no threatening moves.
        “Who the hell are you?” demanded Marshall, “and where the fuck did you come from?”
        The robed form remained immobile and did not respond. Marshall reached down to his bunk, grabbed one of his shoes and threw it at the intruder. The shoe passed right through the image and bounced off the concrete wall behind him. At first, Marshall’s jaw dropped and he stopped in fear, then he calmed down and smiled.
        “Ah…I see,” he said. “It’s a hologram, isn’t it?” Quickly searching the cell and looking all about, he shouted. “Hey, I’ve heard about these things. I’m not stupid you know.” Turning back to the stranger, he said, “You’re just doing this to scare me, aren’t you?” Then stepping closer to the robed figure, Marshall made took a few ineffective swipes at him. Just as he’d suspected, his arm passed through the visitor without resistance.
        “Ha,” he exclaimed. “You can’t scare me with 3-D images. You can’t hurt me either.” Marshall’s head darted left and right as he searched his cell. Finally he noticed a small black lens in the corner of his cell up against the ceiling. It’s a TV camera or a projector, he thought. They’re just playing mind games with me.
        Turning to the robed image once more, he shouted, “I’m not afraid of you.” Marshall tried to cross his arms, but couldn’t manage the gesture with the cast on his left arm, so he placed his right arm on his hip and tried to look as defiant as possible.
        The figure waited until Marshall was calm once more. Finally, the robed stranger raised one hand and held out a single finger. The stranger then slowly wagged it back as forth, as if scolding Marshall.
        While amused, Marshall was no longer frightened.
        The figure waited, as if expecting some reaction, but Marshall wasn’t going to perform tricks to entertain a watching audience. After a few awkward seconds, the robed man pulled a strange device out of his robe. The long silver tube extended about a foot and a half beyond the stranger’s hand and ended in a dull black glass ball.
        Marshall laughed, as the figure aimed the device and tightened the grip of his hand at its base. Before he realized what was happening, an incandescent dot flared briefly on Marshall’s forehead and vanished into a smoking, charred hole. The last fragment of thought to cross Paul Marshall’s mind was disbelief.

*****

As a gout of steam erupted from the hole and dissipated into the air, Marshall’s body spasmed once before slumping backwards and collapsing on the ground, a curl of acrid smoke drifting up from his head.
        With an eerie unnatural silence, the figure turned away from Marshall, whose annoying smile was finally replaced with a look of shock and bewilderment. Then, without a sound, the eerie figure turned its attention to the back wall of the cell and fired its weapon once more.

Chapter 2

       Rob Steiner met Bran Jacobs, as he approached the steps of the Pauli Institute. Rob hesitated as he approached his old friend. It had been more than two years since they had last seen one another. While separated by more than twenty years of age, they’d known each other since Rob’s early college days. Rob noticed that, since they’d last met, Bran’s age had started to show. A distinguished touch of gray hair adorned his temples, and the lines around his eyes had multiplied and deepened. While more distinguished looking now, but it seemed as though the last couple years had been hard on Bran.
       In contrast to his friend, Rob hadn’t changed at all. While just over thirty, Rob struggled to dispel the image of the tall lanky kid, who looked more like a farm-boy than an FBI agent.
       “I’m glad you came,” said Bran, extending his hand eagerly. “I know this is a terrible inconvenience, but I wouldn’t have ask, if it weren’t important.”
        Smiling, Rob shook his Bran’s hand and said “No problem. I’ve gotten buried in my job at the Bureau, and haven’t had a chance to stay in touch. I was delighted to hear from you.” While courteous, Rob didn’t care to rekindle the friendship that had died when he’d left the Institute two years before, since his departure had been awkward and unexpected.
        Opening the front doors of the Institute, Bran led Rob across the lobby to a small room on one side of the foyer. “I’m just glad you accepted my invitation,” he said. “I’ve always felt bad that you got laid off here. I wanted to explain everything back then, but I couldn’t. At the time, I hoped you understood.”
        “It’s okay,” said Rob as sincerely as he could manage. “I figured you couldn’t tell me more because of security reasons. Anyway, it worked out for the best. The FBI accepted me right away and I’ve actually gotten to use that psychology degree I earned in college. It’s been a real bonus at my new job.”
        “I know. They tell me you’re one of the most promising profilers they have on staff. Everyone’s quite impressed with your work.” Bran held the door to the side room open and motioned for Rob to enter.
       Stepping through the doorway, Rob surveyed the room. It was a small library with tall walls and impressive rows of books that stretched from the ceiling to floor. The hardwood floors were adorned with elegant rugs and several large leather sofas. Focusing on the books, he marveled at the impressive collection. With everything in electronic form nowadays, law libraries like this were genuine museum collections. Catching himself gaping, he quickly closed his mouth. Across the room were several strangers Rob didn’t recognize. Foremost was an older man with white hair and deep brooding eyes.
        “Rob,” said Bran. “I’d like to introduce you to my boss, Philip Hendricks.”
        Rob only knew Hendricks by reputation. The man was in his late sixties, but was one of those people to whom age came gently. While his hair was thin, his steel gray eyes were steady and clear. His back was straight, but his shoulders drooped, as if they had carried too much weight for too many years.
        “How do you do?” said Rob cordially, as he shook the older man’s hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you, but don’t believe we met back when I worked here.”
        Hendricks smiled. “The pleasure is mine,” he said. “I’ve heard excellent things about you. You come highly recommended by Bran here, amongst others. He’s one of my most trusted staff.”
        Rob was mildly surprised. Hendricks was a legend in Washington. As the founder of the Pauli Institute, one of the most renowned think-tanks and private intelligence organizations in the world, he wielded enormous influence in D.C. Strategically located just off the Beltway, the Institute was housed in a stately four-story building with tall pillars characteristic of classic Southern architecture. For more than three decades, it had been a model of the highbrow private concerns that settled near the Capital and handled tasks not properly under government control. While most such enterprises were lobbying groups, the Pauli Institute had somehow built a reputation for integrity and competence without becoming too closely aligned with any major political group. The Institute did research and contract work for the CIA, the FBI, NSA and half a dozen other organizations. They were, reportedly, the best independents in the world, and the envy of most government agencies. Many speculated that their success grew from some technological secrets that they had not patented, or the fact that they employed a small subset of ex-CIA agents, carefully selected after they had retired. Whatever the case, Rob mused, they had an accuracy rate that far exceeded any other agencies.
        For a few seconds, Rob waited to be introduced to the others, but then realized they were plainclothes security agents or bodyguards. They weren’t there to be introduced; they were just supposed to be there. His meeting was going to just be with Bran and Hendricks. Rob’s eyebrows rose.
       It could only mean one thing, but that couldn’t be. No one met privately with Hendricks. It was supposedly easier to arrange a private meeting with the President. As well as being one of the most respected men in Washington, he was reportedly also one of the most reclusive.
        “I’ve already cleared you through security,” said Bran. “If you’ll follow me, we’ll go where we can talk privately.”
        One of their escorts crossed the room and opened the library door. Rob followed Bran and the three of them, with the three plainclothesmen causally walked over to the security station across the expansive marled tiled lobby. Another guard stationed there nodded to Bran and Hendricks, as they approached.
       Bran placed the palm of his hand against a small black panel next to the door and, after a moment’s hesitation, the door opened with a loud click. Then Bran strode through the doorway and held the door open for Hendricks and the others. When they had all entered, Bran released the door and it closed again with another loud click. The heavy door sounded with an ominous finality, like a vault door closing behind them.
       The long corridor was featureless, without adornment of any kind. Ceiling lights were spaced quite far apart and the echo of their footsteps reverberated down the narrow hallway beyond as they traverse its length. The party moved repeatedly from regions of light to deep shadow, as they made their way down the long barren hall.
        Bran broke the awkward silence with an unsolicited explanation. “Right now, you’re being scanned by the best electronic surveillance equipment in the world. By the time we get to the end of this hall, you’ll have been searched for weapons, active or passive electronics, and all manner of recording devices. Even the number of fillings in your teeth will have been analyzed and verified.” Bran smiled pleasantly, but Rob knew it wasn’t a joke.
       The security surrounding the Institute rivaled anything he had seen before and he had worked with some of the best in the world. It explained a lot. Several government agencies had been trying for years to find out how the Pauli Institute managed all its intelligence with so little in the way of human intelligence networks. Perhaps without the bureaucracy that burdened the other, larger groups, they could operate differently at all levels.
        When Bran reached the door at the other end of the corridor, he once again placed his hand on a biometric panel and his handprint was verified for a second time. At length, the doors opened to reveal an elevator.
        Phillip Hendricks, Bran Jacobs and Rob entered with their escorts and, as soon as the doors closed, the elevator began its descent. Rob started counting so he could estimate how deep they were going, but was distracted when he noticed there were no buttons inside the elevator car. He blinked and decided that was because there was only one possible destination.
        After an unexpectedly long decent, Rob’s weight increased slightly as the elevator slowed and stopped. When the doors opened, their guards led the way down another dimly lit, albeit wider corridor, with doors along each side. The bodyguards stopped at an unmarked door on the left and the first escort held it open for the rest of the group. Hendricks entered first. Rob and Bran followed. The guards assumed positions near the door, but remained outside.
        Inside, Rob found himself in a large conference room with more than a dozen chairs. A large white screen was set up at the end of the room. The ceiling mounted projector displayed a blank blue light devoid of images or text. When everyone took a seat, Bran picked up a remote control and dimmed the lights with a touch of a button.
        “Before I explain what we’ve called you in for, Rob, I want to get your professional opinion as a criminal profiler.” He touched the remote again, and a black and white video was projected on the conference room screen. “Did you hear about the murder at the Richmond Courthouse, in Virginia?” Bran wore a poker face. He gave no hint whether this topic was important or just casual conversation. His body language, however, changed. His back stiffened and Bran’s eyes fixed coldly on Rob.
       Rob noted that Bran’s blink rate stopped almost completely. Bran was holding back something that troubled him terribly.
       “Yes,” replied Rob. “It was all over the news yesterday. If I got the story right, some serial killer was killed in his own cell. The press is claiming a police death squad killed him, because he was going to get off on some technicality.”
        “That’s right,” said Bran. “This is a video taken from a camera in the suspect’s cell. The cell was a special one, assigned to people who might deliberately hurt themselves, suicide risks and the like. It’s standard practice at the county jail. Anyway, this is a recording of the man’s last few moments alive.”
        Rob turned and faced the projection screen. A video flickered and began to play. The images were not of the highest quality, but Rob could clearly see a prisoner in nondescript grays overalls talking to someone in a business suit.
        “The man is Paul Marshall,” said Bran. “He was apprehended on a residential street for questioning in a nearby liquor store robbery. It soon became apparent that Marshall was not the suspect the police were looking for. Nonetheless, Marshall subsequently confessed to a string of unsolved murders in the Virginia/D.C. area. Unfortunately, the magistrate at the arraignment threw out the confession and all the evidence seized at Marshall’s apartment, because of some irregularities with the arrest.
        “The suspect claimed his confession was coerced, that the arresting officers beat it out of him. The police contend the confession was unsolicited and spontaneous. They insist that Marshall’s injuries were self-inflicted. When the courts threw out the confession and all of the associated evidence from Marshall’s apartment, the police had no option but to let him go.
        “The man you see speaking with Marshall is his court appointed defense attorney, giving him release forms to sign. The public defender was the last person to see Marshall alive.”
        Rob’s mouth curled up in a smirk. “Well, that doesn’t make sense to me. Why would the authorities let a confessed serial killer go? Even if the courts threw out the evidence, couldn’t the police come up with some reason to hold him?”
        Bran pursed his lips. “Apparently there’s been a running battle between the local magistrate and the Richmond police. The judge is a political activist and there is some bad history between the courts and the cops. Apparently the judge didn’t feel the police were cooperating with some of his earlier directives and decided to make a point by ordering Marshall’s release. Rather than get in a pissing contest with the judge, the cops chose to let him go and keep him under surveillance until they could find any excuse to go in and re-discover all the evidence the judge threw out. Unfortunately, their ploy failed, when someone killed Marshall in his cell.”
        Rob returned his attention to the video and studied the suspect. The camera clearly shows Marshall’s cocky grin, as he talked to his lawyer. Privately, Rob decided the suspect was guilty. Everything about the man literally screamed that he was gloating about getting away with murder. Marshall’s brazen attitude dared the attorney to do anything about it.
        “Isn’t there any sound?” asked Rob.
        “No,” replied Bran, “that would be a violation of his personal rights. The most the local police could do was based on the chance that his injuries were indeed self-inflicted. They declared him a suicide risk and placed him in a cell with a surveillance a camera, in case he tried to hurt himself.”
        Rob continued to study the video. After another minute, the cell door opened and the lawyer left. The prisoner grasped the bars and apparently shouted something down the hallway after him. Then the suspect sat back on his bunk and grinned to himself.
        “This next part is what I want your opinion on,” said Bran. “Watch carefully.”
        Rob waited and withheld his surprise, as a figure appeared to walk right out of the back wall of the holding cell. He watched in amazement as Marshall threw an object at the figure and waved his arms.
       The conference room was hushed. In eerie silence the robed figure waved a finger in Paul Marshall’s face, paused and then pulled out a long metal rod from the sleeve of his hooded robe. A brilliant flash from the device generated a glare that overloaded the camera for a moment. When the video images stabilized again, Paul Marshall lay lifeless on the cell floor, as a gray plume of steam or smoke rose from the corpse. The mysterious figure then turned the device to the cell wall behind him and proceeded to burned letters into the concrete blocks on the back of the cell wall. When he was finished, the robed man simply walked back through the wall and vanished the way he’d arrived.
        The video ended and the screen went dark. The room lights gradually rose, but Rob stared awkwardly at the blank screen processing what he had seen. Bran and Hendricks looked at one another and gave Rob a few moments to collect his thoughts.
       After an awkward pause, Bran spoke. “One of the reasons we requested your help from the FBI is because of your work there as a profiler. You’ve had experience analyzing information and building psychological profiles of criminals. You also worked here at the Institute for nearly a year and know something of what we do.”
        When Rob did not reply, Bran asked, “Do you want to see it again?”
        Rob shook his head. “No, I want my work with my first impressions for now. Are you recording?”
        “Yes,” said Bran, gesturing to the small microphone in the center of the conference table.
        “Okay. For starters, the camera didn’t show the killer’s face. That’s probably the whole purpose of the hood. Marshall, however, was close enough that he must have gotten a good look. Still, there was no sign of recognition, so the robed figure was a stranger.”
        Rob paused. “It’s not the cops. They’d never do anything this elaborate. They’d just arrange for the guy to have a nasty accident and it would definitely have occurred off camera. Something less dramatic would have been a lot easier and raised a lot less suspicion. No, if they were going to bump Marshall off in jail, it wouldn’t have been videotaped and would not have had such a theatrical appearance. Still, the whole event looked staged.” Looking up Rob asked, “What did the autopsy show? How did Marshall die?”
        Hendricks hesitated. “Paul Marshall was killed with an industrial laser. It burned through his skull and cooked half his brain before he hit the floor.”
        Rob’s eyebrows furrowed. “I didn’t think portable lasers were powerful enough to do that.”
        “They’re not,” interjected Hendricks. “All our experts agree that the laser that was used was a special type. It’s very expensive and only two places in the world manufacture them. It was a liquid, pulsed laser. The liquid helps dissipate heat more effectively. The laser fires a short intense pulse six hundred times a second, each burst of light lasting less than a microsecond. By compressing the beam into tiny pulses, each one is ten thousand times more intense than a continuous beam would be. The difference between this type of laser and a continuous laser of the same power is like the difference between a jackhammer and a shovel both attacking a piece of asphalt. These devices are very expensive and very rare. Also, they’re not portable.
       “A laser of this type requires a power cable the size of your wrist and would need to be connected to a very large power source. In order for it to be portable, you’d need a generator so large, you’d need an eighteen-wheel truck to move it around.”
        “Whatever killed Paul Marshall wasn’t portable,” Hendricks said scowling.
        Rob considered this new information. There’s something they’re not telling me, he thought. They know more than they’re revealing. The killer’s appearance through the wall doesn’t seem to surprise them at all, so they must know how this was done. They’re also not interested in the method of Marshall’s murder. They already know about that, too. They want to find the murderer. Rob studied Hendricks and Bran as intently as he had analyzed Marshall’s killer. Well, if they’re not going to let on everything they know, then I won’t either.
       “Let’s see,” said Rob. “At first I thought the image was a hologram. You saw how a solid object passed through the image. Whatever was there was immaterial, but holograms can’t kill, so there must be some other technology involved. Whatever killed Marshall wasn’t a hologram.” Rob read their body language as Bran and Hendricks looked at each other. Bran maintained his stoned-faced expression, but Hendricks’ eyes showed alarm. “Go on,” said Bran.
        “Okay. I didn’t hear about the message that was burned on the wall, so that information wasn’t leaked to the press. What did it say?” asked Rob. “I’m not sure I read it correctly.” Rob remembered the words, of course. He simply wanted to see Bran’s reaction when he said the words aloud.
        Bran’s lips grew tight and his fingers clenched as he said, “The words were FINAL JUSTICE.” Bran’s teeth tightened and he tried to appear nonchalant, but he quickly changed the subject away from the message content. “We used the depth of the burns to verify the type and size of the laser the figure used. The laser itself only weighs about twenty pounds, but the power supply you’d need would weigh more than three and a half tons.”
        “Okay,” said Rob again. So the motive bothers you more than the method. You’re comfortable with technology, but not the man who wields it. Rob therefore turned the discussion to the mysterious stranger. “You can’t see the killer’s face, so you can’t do any kind of matching. That’s why you need me.”
       Rob’s eyes darted quickly as he considered possibilities. “From the body type, movements and the view of the stranger’s hands, I’ll assume the figure is a male, but I can’t guess his age. He could be anywhere from twenty to fifty. The robe might have religious significance, but it was probably worn just to mask physicals details.
        “Since the prisoner showed no recognition, we can assume the killer was unknown to Marshall. So a stranger killed the perp. In light of the publicity on Marshall, this could indicate a revenge killing of some kind. Presumably, the killer wanted to be seen, since he could have killed Marshall anywhere. This is confirmed by the epithet he left carved into the cell wall. He wanted others to know this was done deliberately.”
        Rob’s face grew determined. “There are several possibilities. The killer could have been a friend or relative of one of the victims, or someone who identifies with one of the victims. In this case, we’d be dealing with someone who’s highly intelligent and probably working alone. I didn’t see a wedding ring on the hand that held the laser, so the guy’s probably single with no immediate family. This would also match the profile of a revenge murder. Most are single males. Still, he’d need special resources to obtain a weapon like you’ve described. This means your killer has money, time and brains.”
        Rob inhaled loudly before offering initial conclusions. “Look for someone in his thirties or forties, relatively wealthy, and well educated. He’ll live alone and probably work in some technological field. He’ll have some connection to one of Marshall’s victims or some other serial killing. It’s also likely, that he’ll have no previous criminal record. However, there’s still a small chance the killer could be a member of the police force, but he would be retired. Perhaps even ex- military or special ops, but I’d still look for someone matching this profile and with a connection to the Marshall murders.”
        Bran smiled at Hendricks. “Didn’t I tell you this guy was good?” A quick grin flashed across Rob’s face, but he set it aside and turned his attention back to the case. “Was there any physical evidence? Hair, fingerprints?” he asked.
        “Nothing,” replied Bran. “The technology he’s using wouldn’t leave any.”
        Rob raised an eyebrow. Bingo. They do know how it was done. “So you know what technology was used.”
        Bran and Hendricks stared at one another, alarm clearly visible in their eyes.
        “And the cops don’t know, do they?” continued Rob, squinting sharply. “All right, what aren’t you telling me?”
        Bran sighed and turned to Hendricks. “Phillip, we’ve taken this as far as we can without telling him. It’s your call.”
        Phillip Hendricks studied his hands for a moment, lost in thought. For a moment that man seemed far older than he had seemed moments before. His fingers twisted themselves into a white, knuckled knot as he sat silently staring down at the table in front of him.
       He doesn’t want to tell me, thought Rob. But he’s backed into some kind of corner. Bran is pushing him to do something he doesn’t want to do.
       After a few moments, Hendricks straightened his hands and placed both palms flat on the table. Straightening his shoulders he looked up and said, “All right, Rob.” His eyes drilled into Rob’s. Neither of them so much as blinked.
       “You’ve got a top secret clearance, so we know you can be trusted. We re-checked your background before you came today. You’ve an exemplary record that goes back before you worked here analyzing photographs for us.”
       Hendricks’ glare intensified. “Before I explain, I want you to know that I was the one who had you dismissed from the Institute.”
       Rob blinked in surprise. The famous Phillip Hendricks personally had me fired? I wasn’t even aware he knew who I was.
       Hendricks’ hands worried themselves and tightened once more into a mass of interlocked fingers. “You see, I have a policy of personally approving candidates for our highest security access. We were about to clear you on all this three years ago, but that’s when the problems with your divorce began.”
        Rob closed his eyes momentarily, gritting his teeth. Yeah, that was messy. His divorce had been an ugly one, and he’d had a lot of a difficulty dealing with it all back then. He’d almost resigned at the time just to get away from the situation.
        “I’ve found that people going through that type of personal crisis often become unstable. At my insistence, you were rejected as a candidate for our final security clearance and I had you discharged. I want you to know, however, that I tried to make it up to you by giving our highest recommendations to contacts at the FBI.”
        I always wondered how everything had worked out the way it did, thought Rob. The FBI job had come along before he could even worry about being unemployed. It hadn’t been what he’d planned but, all in all, things had gone pretty well since then.
        “What I’m going to tell you can’t go out of this room,” Hendricks said solemnly. “You can’t even tell your colleagues at the FBI. If you agree to these conditions, you’ll find yourself transferred back to us, and you’ll no longer work for the Bureau. You’ll be a civilian again, but you’ll have joined our inner circle here at the Institute. You will share our greatest secret, information that only six other people alive today even know about.”
        Rob stiffened, trying to suppress any outward physical reaction. He’d heard Hendricks had this kind of political influence in Washington, but was amazed to be on the receiving end of it. He thought carefully, and nodded. After all, this is what I wanted back before I joined the FBI, anyway. It’s just a shock to have everything turn around so unexpectedly.
        “You’ve got yourself a deal,” Rob said and then gestured at the blank screen. “I’m hooked on this one, anyway. I couldn’t walk away from it, if I tried.”
        Hendricks faced Bran and said, “Tell him.”
        “Rob,” said Bran, “Marshall was killed using a classified technology that’s only used by, and known to, a special department here at the Pauli Institute. It’s probably one of the best-kept secrets of the last century.”
       Pausing, he added, “However, there are several problems. One, no one outside our organization knows or even suspects this technology exists. Two, all the people who’ve ever known this secret are on a very short list, and they’ve all been accounted for when his murder occurred. Three, only a few installations of this technology have ever been built, and the only design schematics have remained untouched in a vault since they were completed.”
        Bran inhaled through clenched teeth. “We believe the killer you saw used this technology to walk through the prison walls and appear as he did. We want your help to find out who he is, so we can stop him before he compromises the technology.”
        Phillip Hendricks leaned closer and added, “There’s one more thing, Rob. We’ve always operated under the assumption that this technology was safe and that it couldn’t be used to kill. Since its creation, it’s been used solely as a passive espionage tool. Its secret is the basis for the Pauli Institute’s operations.”
        Rob leaned back and thought. “If this technology’s never been used to kill, how did this individual figure out how to do so?”
        Hendricks and Bran looked at one another and then turned back to Rob. Bran said, “We don’t know. That’s something else we were hoping you could help us answer.”

Chapter 3

        David sat in the large recliner in the large dark living room as the evening news droned on. Sipping a cold beer, he waited and listened to the latest stories on the mysterious courthouse murder.
        “…and despite demands by citizen oversight groups, the police still refuse to provide more details about Paul Marshall’s death. A Grand Jury, earlier today, sealed the results of the autopsy and they can’t be opened without the authority of the U.S. Attorney General who has, so far, declined comment.
        “The only facts the police will verify is that, approximately twenty minutes before his scheduled release, Paul Marshall, who had confessed to more than a dozen brutal homicides in the Virginia area, was murdered in his own jail cell.
        “The police seem baffled at the murder and claim to have no leads at this time. However, the American Civil Liberties Union and several other activist groups have demanded an independent investigation into the slaying and some groups accuse the police of murdering Marshall themselves.
        “Speculation continues that someone related to one of the victims of Marshall’s grizzly murders might have managed to get into the jail to murder him before he could be released on a string of technicalities. The police, however, stand fast on their assertion that no such breach of security occurred.
        “Unconfirmed sources suggest that several national agencies, including the FBI, have taken over the investigation, but the police will not confirm this report.
        “If this was indeed a vigilante killing, it’s one of the most spectacular in history and has roused the attention of every law enforcement agency on the East Coast.
        “Since it’s not yet clear, who’s in charge of the current investigation into this latest murder, no one is available to give us any more in depth information. However, we have received some details about the evidence, which the courts declared inadmissible in the arraignment of Paul Marshall.
       “Now that he’s dead and privacy issues are no longer relevant, the police released information about the evidence found in the serial killer’s apartment. Apparently, he kept a collection of souvenirs from his victims, which included everything from jewelry to body parts.
       “While the police won’t discuss details of Marshall’s murder, we have contacted some of the relatives of the thirteen known victims of his serial murders.
       “In our next hour, we’ll have interviews with…”
        David hit the mute button on the television remote, and drained the rest of his beer. Setting the bottle down on the silver tray next to his elegant leather recliner, he watched the silent images flicker across the large high-density television screen. Shadows danced across the room, as pictures flashed noiselessly on the flat luminescent display.
        He was scum and deserved to die, David thought. Despite his attempts to hold back his anger, its burning heat warmed him and brought a brief comfort, but a pang of guilt washed it away, and was followed a second later by the cold chill of fear.
        Have I tipped my hand? he wondered. They’re looking for me now, for sure. I’ve stayed hidden for so many years, there’s certainly no way they could find me after all this time.
        His attempts to reassure himself, he knew it were mere rationalization, wishful thinking at best. Who am I trying to kid? His intervention had been stupid. He could easily have killed Marshall without leaving any evidence, but, at the time, he’d wanted everyone to know Marshall had died for his crimes.
       Damn! David grabbed the nearby bottle to take another swig of beer, but found it empty. Raising his arm to throw it across the room, he paused and stopped. Slowly setting it down on the elegant end table instead, he left go of the bottle and folded his hands in his lap.
        Was it wrong to kill him? David searched deep within himself trying to find sympathy for the serial killer.
        No! The asshole had no pity for Debra when he killed her. Why should anyone have pity for him?
       David fought against the pain that welled within him, his eyes clenched tightly shut. It’s not fair. After all the years he’d spent alone, he’d finally found someone special and Marshall simply selected her at random and killed her. A mental image Debra’s face involuntarily flashed before him and unbidden memories accompanied it.
       Debra and he had met more than two years before on an Internet chatroom, designed for lonely singles. David had only logged on to see what kind of people would be there. Most of them were quite strange, not the type of people you’d want to meet in person. Debra, however, wasn’t like any of the others. She wasn’t an insecure airhead, or a capricious thrill seeker. She was smart and intelligent, well read, and confident. It seemed she too had merely been exploring the site to see what types of people frequented them.
       Debra taught history at a local community college. David told her he was an engineer at a local aerospace company. The first night they talked online for hours, late into the night. Over the next several weeks, they chatted and corresponded regularly. They spent hours talking to one another and discussed everything from politics and religion, to humor and literature. Over the course of the next few months, they became close friends. Frequently, they stayed logged on till dawn, telling each other their deepest secrets and darkest fears.
       David, of course, hadn’t revealed who he really was. Paranoia nurtured for decades was not so easily overcome. Nonetheless, as more weeks passed, david and Debra grew closer.
       When they finally decided to meet one another, they’d chosen a location at a small café downtown. He’d showed up first and was as nervous as a schoolboy on a blind date. She’d entered the café carrying a book she wanted to show him. He was the only one there. In an atypical romantic gesture, he had brought a single red rose to give her. But as she approached he felt stupid and awkward holding it.
       Without saying a word, she took it from him and smiled and then took the seat across from him. She was just as he’d imagined, and she didn’t seem to mind that he was completely different from what he’d described. He quickly discovered that her smile was infectious. Soon he was at ease, his apprehension gone. If anything, they got along better in person than they had on the Internet. They talked until the place closed, and then they went and sat in the park and conversed till dawn. After buying her a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and coffee, he walked her home and kissed her at her door. His heart raced and later, he couldn’t even remember how he got home.
       For the several weeks their romance grew. They both continued to meet and their relationship became stronger and David felt like he had always known her
       Still, it was three months before David finally decided to tell her the truth about himself. Taking her to an elegant restaurant, he treated her to an outrageously expensive dinner and after dessert he took her hands and told her who he really was. She didn’t seem surprised at all. He had always been secretive about his personal life and she must have suspected he was hiding something. But when he told her some of the more serious details about his past, she grew alarmed.
       After dinner, he took her home and worried all night about whether he had done the right thing in telling her. He didn’t sleep at all that night and wondered what her long-term reaction would be to his life story. When he called the following night, she didn’t answer. At first, he figured she just needed time to adapt to his situation. But no matter how often he called, she never returned his messages. All David’s efforts to contact her failed. She never logged on again and didn’t even reply to his emails.
       Finally, David concluded that she had changed her mind about him and rejected him. He was devastated. David was in love, but he couldn’t tell her that as long as he kept his past a secret. He’d known it was a gamble to reveal the truth but when he revealed his secrets to her and she shunned him, his self-confidence crumbled. David stopped showing up to his work and drank heavily for several days. Passing out drunk at least spared him from the nightmares that plagued him when he was sober. Gradually he reconciled himself to her rejection of him.
       Then, more a week later, the police found her body. The newspapers described in horrifying detail how badly cut-up she was. Whoever killed her, apparently tortured her for some time before letting her die.
        David cried for days. He withdrew and became even more reclusive than he’d been before. Gradually, however, things returned to normal. Over time, he forgot the pain and grew numb to his feelings. Slowly he shoved the thoughts of Debra’s death out of his mind and returned to the regular patterns of his solitary life. When all else failed, it seemed habits remained. Returning to his job with excuses of a severe illness, his life, such as it was, continued.
       While not normal, his life assumed some normalcy. Two years passed and most of the time David could pretend nothing had ever happened. His pain was carefully locked away, safe and secure. That is, until Paul Marshall was arrested and confessed to all the killings.
        As David recalled the newscast that announced Marshall’s capture and arrest, a new warm wave of anger washed across his body. In a vivid flash of memory, he briefly re-experienced the rage he had felt when the television new station reported Marshall’s imminent released. Citing some sort of technicalities, despite his confession and the evidence the police had seized, David lose the self control that he had always prided himself in.
        When he’d decided to kill Marshall, he had been in a mindless fury, but when he’d actually aimed the heavy laser and fried Marshall’s brain, he’d been as cold and as unfeeling as ice.
       No, what’s done is done, he thought. There’s no sense worrying about it now. It’s not something that can be changed. Still, he couldn’t ignore the nagging worry about whether he’d jeopardized everything he’d built over the years. Ever since his uncle had died, he had actually felt safe. That security was gone now. Was it really gone, or was his solitude turning into rampant paranoia. Maybe I can find out just how much damage I’ve done.
       David reached for the remote and turned off the TV. Then he stood and strode across the silent, empty rooms of his uncle’s mansion, stopping before the basement door. Typing in a code on the security keypad, he entered his workroom and turned on the lights. As he walked down into his lab, the heavy metal door closed behind him. But solid wall and metal doors, he knew, offered no security or protection.

Chapter 4

        After admitting Rob to their inner circle, Phillip Hendricks left Bran and Rob, ostensibly to arrange for Rob’s transfer back to the Pauli Institute.
        Bran led his old friend out of the briefing room, where they’d viewed the video of Paul Marshall’s murder, escorting Rob through a maze of corridors to a guard station at the end of another long half darkened hallway. Both of them had to sign a logbook before the guard admitted them to the locked room. The guard spoke into a microphone headset and the door was opened remotely.
        When Rob stepped inside, he found himself on a narrow walkway that stretched out before him and extended into the center of a large spherical room. The room was a good thirty feet across and the walls dropped away to form a gently sloping floor more than fifteen feet below.
        Bran approached the chair and small console at the end of the walkway and explained. “What I’m about to show you is the ultimate spying device. It was actually developed by accident in an experiment in quantum mechanics more than thirty years ago. The experiment failed, but the inventor inadvertently discovered a way to open a hole across space. At the time, no one understood what he’d done, but now we believe he managed to create a wormhole through other dimensions. While matter can’t traverse the wormhole interface, energy can. Thus,m through that window, we can see things that are very far away. No one outside the Institute knows, or even suspects, this device’s existence. In fact, one of the only reasons it works is that it’s still a secret.”
        “Why is that?” asked Rob.
        “Because the technology that let’s us see through walls is easily blocked. If people knew of the device, they could protect themselves against it, and it wouldn’t be useful anymore. Remember, everything you see here works only because it’s remained a complete secret.” Gesturing further down the ramp, Bran said, “Come on over here and have a seat.”
       At the end of the flying bridge that extended out into the center of the room, there was a single chair and a low console that barely reached the height of his knee.
        Rob carefully walked to the chair and sat down. Glancing down, he noticed a belt dangling from the seat and a worried looked crossed his face. “Do I really need a seat belt?” he asked.
        Bran laughed. “No, not really. It’s just that some people can get a bit of vertigo when images flash on the walls. The belt gives them a little sense of security.”
        Rob worried for a moment, but then he reached down and buckled the belt across his lap. What have I gotten myself into, he wondered?
        Bran walked up and stooped down beside the console in front of Rob. When he pressed a button, a small eyepiece popped up. Bran leaned over and placed his eye up against the reticle.
       “This console uses a retina id for security and requires a personal password,” he said. “When we get back upstairs, we’ll set up your access for the device.”
        Bran straightened up and typed his password quickly into the console keypad. Then he stepped back.
        The lights illuminating the room promptly dimmed and a deep low drone rumbled across the room. There was a flash of blue light, and a sharp smell of ozone in the air. A glowing disk slowly appeared and floated in the air about ten feet in front of them. It sparkled and twinkled, the air around it shimmering strangely.
        “All right,” said Bran. “We’ve opened a portal, but we’ll have to wait a moment. The system is still initializing. Basically, we’ve already created a wormhole, but a powerful electron beam needs to charge it up to a high electro-potential so we can control the other end.
        “It used to take gigantic magnets to stress space enough to generate the wormhole. Now we use superconductors. They’re much more effective. Watch the disk change as electrons are pumped into the distorted region of space.”
        In the center of the spherical room, the disk began to glow with a bright blue glow. As it brightened, it expanded from a tiny point of light to a small sphere and then it grew steadily. Rob instinctively leaned away from it, as its edge approached.
        “Don’t worry, it’s not dangerous,” said Bran.
       The sphere expanded, but Rob felt nothing as the shimmering field passed him to fill the chamber. Still, the hairs on his neck rose and he shivered momentarily. Eventually, the sphere stopped growing, the shimmering subsided and it seemed to disappear. Once again, Rob sat in the middle of a large, empty, spherical room.
       “The inventor,” said Bran said, “a scientist named Dr. Bernard Chandler, first created the wormhole while conducting experiments in quantum mechanics back in the late 1960’s. He called his discovery a quantum mirror. That’s two sets of paired particles that interact with each other over great distances. Unfortunately he was years ahead of his time and, no one had theories yet to explain what he’d done.
        “Anyway, Chandler played around with his new invention for some time after he discovered he could make two different regions of space coincident by manipulating the two sets of paired particles.
       “Modern theories suggest that he used quantum tunneling to create a wormhole across space. The closest model we have to what he created is called an Einstein-Podolsky-Bohr wormhole and the interaction of particles on either side are called quantum entanglements. Unfortunately even those theories don’t completely predict behavior like what you are about to see here, so theory still hasn’t caught up to Dr. Chandler’s work. In any case, you don’t need to know the physics to understand the importance of this invention.
       “As I was saying, when Chandler realized what he’d done, he thought he’d discovered a way to teleport objects across space, but all of his attempts failed. Contemporary models of space-time propose that space consists of eleven different dimensions, but that only three of them extend any appreciable distance. The others dimensions are smaller than the tiniest atom, on the scale of 10 to the minus 33 centimeters. A wormhole that connects two points in space across these dimensions is too small for matter to pass through. It was obvious, however, that energy somehow crossed the wormhole interface. Watch.”
       Bran reached over and manipulated the joystick in front of Rob’s chair. There was a sudden and unexpected illusion of movement. Rob had the sensation he was rushing upward through the ground. There was a flash as he passed through the walls of the buildings above him and, when the motion finally stopped, he found himself staring down at the city far below him.
        “What… where are we?” Rob stammered.
        “We’re right where we started,” answer Bran. “You haven’t moved at all. We’ve adjusted the electromagnetic charge on our end of the wormhole and driven the other end further away. Right now, you’re sitting comfortably a hundred feet underground at one end of a wormhole while the other end is located several thousand feet overhead. Since the two regions of space are effectively the same, light that enters the other region, emerges here and you see what you would see, if you were out there.”
        The scene before him showed an aerial view of the nearby Washington, D.C. area. As his eyes adjusted to the light, Rob could make out more minute details. Indeed, the light around him seemed to come from a perspective far above ground.
        Bran continued his explanation. “As you can see, light is coming in from the other end of the wormhole. That’s one reason we’re sitting in the dark. If the lights were on, people out there would see the two of us sitting down while apparentl floating in the sky.”
        Rob instinctively gripped his chair and leaned forward to look below him. The reason for the spherical room now became obvious. He had a three hundred sixty degree view from a vantage point nearly a mile over the city. Goose bumps grew along the length of his arms as he looked at the ground far below.
        “Wow,” Rob said. “This is incredible.”
        Having worked in the Air Force Intelligence before coming to the Institute, Rob have spent considerable time analyzing aerial photographs. Despite all the time he’d worked with high altitude photographic surveillance, he’d never suspected he had a fear of heights. Rob’s hands tightened on the chair beneath him and he tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry. All his attempts to act nonchalant were in vane, since his knuckles grew white as he held onto his chair and he sat half paralyzed with a uncontrollable fear that he would fall any second.
        “You haven’t seen anything yet,” said Bran. “Just watch this.”
        Bran moved the joystick and the illusion of movement on the walls gave Rob a wave of vertigo. As the images zoomed to one side in a wide sweeping turn, Rob leaned instinctively to his left.
        “Remember,” said Bran. “You’re not really moving. You’re just changing your perspective. The movement is an illusion. You’re just seeing images from a different viewpoint that’s shifting rapidly.”
        As he spoke, Bran played with the controls and stabilized over downtown Washington D.C. The image paused and then slowly settled down toward the capital dome. They seemed to pass effortlessly through the walls and came to rest just above the gallery overlooking the Senate chamber.
        “My God,” exclaimed Rob. “Is this real?”
        Then with a moment of terror, Rob slapped his hand over his mouth. Searching his surroundings he saw people not far below him. Whispering softly to Bran, Rob asked, “Can they hear us?”
        “No,” said Bran. “Remember, no matter can pass across the wormhole. Sound is energy transmitted by vibrating molecules. Since air molecules can’t cross the interface, neither can sound. The sounds you’re making are nearly fifty miles away from the Senate chamber you’re observing. Only light can pass back and forth across the interface.”
        Rob scanned the crowd in the gallery. “This is amazing. Can you go anywhere?”
        Bran shrugged. “Almost,” he replied. “We can manipulate the other end of the wormhole by changing the electric charge at this end. The greater the charge we pump into this end, the further away we can push the other. You see, the electrons at the other end are, in one respect, miles away, but they’re still very close because they’re connected across the wormhole. We can push the other end around by changing the electric fields here, but that also limits us tremendously.
        “For instance, we can’t force the other end near places with high static electric charges. That means we can’t get near power stations and thunderstorms literally shut us down. That’s what I meant when I said this technology could be easily blocked. All people would have to do is place Van de Graff generators nearby, and we’d never get close to them. The only reason this spy-eye works is because people don’t know it exists.”
        Rob nodded stunned at what he was experiencing. Collecting himself, he laughed and countered “Most people anyway. Don’t forget our robed friend.”
        Now it was Bran’s turn to go silent.
       As Rob looked down at the people in the Senate gallery, below him, he saw a young boy look directly at him. The boy pointed at them and tugged at his mother’s arm sleeve.
        “Can that boy see us?” he asked. “Oops,” said Bran as he quickly tapped the joystick. Their viewpoint immediately shifted and stabilized beneath the gallery. Rob was now about a dozen feet over the Senators.
        “No, they can’t see us because we’re in the dark. There’s no light radiating from us to be seen. However, since light there does enter our region of space some of it doesn’t return and we would technically appear to as a dark spot, like a floating shadow. That’s probably what the boy saw, a shadow floating in the air. If someone passed through the field, they’d experience a slight chill, like a cold spot, but as long are you remain in the dark, no one can see you.”
        Bran nudged their viewpoint until they were tucked up under the balcony of the spectator gallery in the main Senate chamber.
       “Here in the shadows beneath the balcony, we’re less likely to be noticed. Out in the open, you’d look like a giant shadowy sphere and would attract considerable attention. Don’t worry, we’ll show you all our tricks on how to stay out of sight. Now watch, I’ve more to show you.”
       Bran touched the controls and Rob’s viewpoint shifted once again. They seemed to pass through walls and quickly zigzagged through corridors, until they stopped suspended high above the floor of a small chamber somewhere in the Senate building.
       The scene before him was of a closed-door meeting of some legislative committee. From a vantage point high in the corner to the room, Rob had a perfect view, as clear as if he were sitting there. Bran reached under the console and pulled out a small apparatus. It looked like an adjustable lamp, but it ended in a small metal rod instead of a light bulb. Bran carefully aimed it at a water glass near one of the senators and adjusted a knob. Voices promptly came out of speakers at the console’s base.
        “This is a trick we got from the CIA. The device is an infrared laser that’s focused on the glass of water near the chairmen. Sound in the room causes vibrations in the air and that in turn causes the water in the glass to vibrate. If you can get a clear focus on the surface of the water, the reflected laser light can be used to reconstruct the original vibrations. The tiny Doppler shifts in the reflected laser light are converted to audio frequencies and we can eavesdrop on everything that’s said. We use IR lasers because, if we used visible light lasers, people could see a visible dot.
       Rob listened as the Senators debated the benefits of placing tariffs on Brazilian steel.
       “This is fantastic,” said Rob. “I can see why the Institute is the most successful private intelligence agency in the world. I also understand why you need to be so secretive about your operations. But, how does this fit into the murder of Paul Marshall?”
       Bran frowned. “We think whoever killed Marshall, used this technology to translocate into his prison cell, and then used an industrial laser to murder him.
        “The problem is that there are only three of these chambers in existence and none of them were in use at the time. Also, there’s no power access in these chambers that could have been used to operate a laser that powerful.
        “We’re afraid someone else has this technology and is using it to kill. We need your help as a profiler to help us identify that individual and find him before they compromise the technology or use it again.”
        Rob paused before he asked the next question. “Bran, tell me honestly. Have you ever used this device to kill people?”
        Bran’s face grew red. “No, never.”
        “Why not?” asked Rob. “It must be a powerful temptation. It must be very hard to avoid using such power.”
        Bran nodded to himself. “You’re right. The abuse of power is one thing we’ve worried about ever since Hendricks took over. It’s the reason he set up the Institute, to control the use of this technology. But frankly, the main reason we never used it to kill is because we never thought of it. Lasers powerful enough to kill didn’t exist back when Chandler invented the wormhole. We only used it for intelligence gathering, snooping, and spying back then and its applications have been… deliberately limited since.
       “Over the years, we’ve come to think of it solely as a spying device, a magic, all-seeing eye. We simply never thought of using it differently than those who used it before us. To be honest, we were shocked when we found someone had thought of a way to turn it into a murder weapon. It’s something we should’ve thought of years ago.”
        Rob considered Bran’s comments. I don’t believe you never thought of using it this way. Either you’re lying to me again or you’re hiding something else. He smiled politely and decided to play along. “All right, then. If what you’ve said is true, it means someone else has built an installation like this one. Someone has the knowledge, the money, and the motivation to recreate what you’ve done here. That also takes time. We need to think in terms of information leaks that occurred years ago.
        “So who else knows this secret? We need to start tracing the information from there.”
        Bran grimaced. “That’s another problem. There are only six people alive who know what this device really is. There’s Hendricks, three other operators, me, and, now, you. We have others who maintain the equipment and run security, but they only know pieces of the operation. We’ve created elaborate cover stories for the others who work here. The Institute’s even developed very sophisticated, high-altitude remote-control drones as part of its misinformation program. Most people think we get our information from these UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles, and secret bugging devices. And part of that is true. A significant part of the Institute designed, builds and plants such devices, but that is only our cover story. This is where the real intelligence comes from.
       “Think about it, Rob. You worked here for nearly a year at one of our highest security levels, analyzing photos and recordings. Did you suspect anything?”
        “No,” said Rob shaking his head. “I would’ve never imagined a setup like this.” Indeed he must have analyzed thousands of pictures he’d assumed had been taken by the Institute’s stealth drones. In fact, it was his Air Force photo recon experience that had led the Institute to hire him in the first place.
        Rob pursed his lips in thought. “How many others have ever known the secret? And when did you say thigs thing was originally invented?”
        Bran said, “It was first created in 1968. The McCarthy witch-hunts were over, but Kennedy had been assassinated a few years earlier and it was the height of the Cold War. The people who built the first versions of this device were thus extremely paranoid and were very good at keeping secrets. Unfortunately, there were some serious abuses of the spy-device before Hendricks took over the operations. A lot of things happened in the early years that no one is proud of.”
        Rob nodded, but replied. “You didn’t answer my first question. How many people total have ever known about this device.”
        Bran sighed. “Twenty-seven,” he said. “But only the six I told you about are still alive.”
        “Okay,” said Rob. “We’ll have to start with all those except the current six, and assume it’s not one of the current operators for now.”
        Bran reached over and flipped a switch. There was a flash and the images on the walls vanished. The only evidence that anything had happened was a lingering odor of ozone on the air. The lights slowly brightened and Bran walked back along the flying bridge toward the door to the chamber.
       Rob, however, had to struggle for several seconds, in an unsuccessful attempt to stand, before he realized he was still strapped to his chair.

Chapter 5

        Detective Reggie Barrosa and Sergeant Alberto Salazar were still packing up the contents of their desks when Special Agent Les Wallace hurried into the command center of the now disbanded Virginia State Police/FBI Task Force. Actually, the cardboard boxes on their desks were only half-filled, as Rej and Al relaxed with their feet up on the desks. Both of them looked over at Wallace, but neither moved or rose as their boos entered the room.
        Rej turned away from the FBI department head and ignored him, apparently to resume his conversation with Al.
        “All right, where is everybody?” Wallace demanded, searching the near empty squad room for the two dozen task force members he’d expected to find.
        Rej blinked in surprise as if noticing Wallace for the first time. “Uh, they went to Murphy’s Bar for a going-away party. They’ll probably all get drunk and stay till the bar closes… besides what can you expect after they wasted twenty-two months chasing a serial-killer who got released because of a screw-up by local cops?”
       Al nodded silently, and watched both Rej and Wallace closely. The two had always had something of a confrontational relationship. Some of their arguments were the stuff of legend to the rest of the task Force.
       The members of the VSP and the FBI who had worked on the string of unsolved killings, known as the Virginia Beach Murders, had developed some strong friendships in the two years they’d been on the Task Force. Marshall’s apprehension and unexpected murder had rendered the team’s efforts futile.
        Special Agent in Charge, Les Wallace, clenched his fists and looked around, but, of the twenty-odd members of the team, only Rej and Al remained in the squad room.
        “Say,” said Rej, “you want to join us? We were going to head down to Murphy’s soon ourselves. We’ll even let you buy us a round.” Rej grinned broadly showing his crooked front teeth.
        Wallace looked confused. “Damn it,” he said. “Go get them and bring ‘em all back here. I have an announcement. The team’s not breaking up after all. We’ve got a new assignment.”
        “What?” said Rej, taking his feet of the desk and almost falling out of his chair. “The Virginia Murders have been solved. Marshall got caught, confessed and was snuffed. We worked for nearly two years running down leads and the case got closed without us. These guys have been working eighteen-hour days for the past six months and they deserve some time off. What could the idiots uptown possibly have that’s so urgent that they want us on such short notice?”
        The SAIC blinked in surprise and his face darkened.
       Al sucked in his breath and slowly backed his chair away from Rej and Wallace. Oh shit, he thought. I think Rej is talking to one of those idiots, now.
       Wallace was used to having his orders obeyed without question. Rej’s response bordered on insubordination. Agent Wallace stiffed his back and scowled. The Chief Detective, however, simply responded with a glare of his own, one that could make children cry.
        The FBI agent explained through gritted teeth. “Detective, we’re still going to be working on the Marshall case. Even though you guys didn’t get credit for the bust, the brains at HQ figure you’re still the best ones to follow through on the case.”
        “What do you mean, we’re still on the Marshall case?” protested Rej. He stood up and shoved his chair several feet behind him. “And what follow-up could there be? Marshall’s dead and the murder cases of all his victims are closed. My guys worked their asses off and when they’d narrowed down the suspects to Marshall and the mystery boyfriend of victim number three, some local rookies blow the whole case with a bad bust.
       “I promised everybody some long deserved vacation time, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to interrupt the first happy hour they’ve been authorized in months without a fucking good reason.”
       Al scurried backward to get out of the way of Rej and the SAIC. Rej was the Task Force leader, but Wallace was technically his boss. The real problem was that Wallace was FBI, but Rej was VSP. He’d heard plenty of stories about how the two of them had periodic face-offs, when they discussed their different jurisdictional issues and personal perspectives, but this is the first time Al had ever witnessed one in the making.
        Wallace looked like he was going to pop the collar button of his clean white shirt. He rarely visited the team and left all the real work for Rej, but he was accustomed to at least the pretense that he was in charge. Rej was the only one who ever gave him grief.
        Why is Rej pushing Wallace’s buttons? thought Al, half expecting Wallace to explode.
       Wallace, however, lowered his voice and spoke slowly. “Barrosa, all the murders aren’t closed or didn’t you get it that someone killed Marshall inside a secure police lock-up. His murder’s generated more bad publicity for the Richmond Police and the Bureau than Marshall’s previous thirteen murders.
       “Everyone from the Attorney General and the Governor to the ACLU is up in arms. The press is even suggesting that there are police sanctioned death squads waiting to kill anybody they can’t beat to death.”
        Rej shook his head and shrugged his shoulders he didn’t care. “Too bad,” he said. “Not our jurisdiction. If you’ll remember, this Task Force was an FBI operation. Marshall’s murder is strictly a local issue. They blew the bust and let someone knock off Marshall while he was in their custody. It’s a tough break, but it’s their problem. They made the mess; let them clean it up.” Rej grinned maliciously.
       Then he crossed his arms and asked, “Besides, by what stretch of the imagination do you figure we’d get sucked back into it?”
        Wallace smirked and held up one finger. “First, we’re going to assume Marshall’s murder wasn’t a police hit and follow it up as vigilante killing. The Richmond crew may be incompetent, but they’re not stupid. Marshall’s murder was captured on their own video cameras. We figure the killer probably had a grudge, or was related to one of the victims. Since you guys have more data on the victims than anyone else, you’re the logical candidates to work the Marshall killing.”
        He smiled even harder as he held up a second finger. “Second, the video tapes show that someone broke into Marshall’s cell block and killed him using, get this, a high-power industrial laser. We haven’t figured how he got into the facility, but we’ve narrowed down a list of possible commercial lasers that could have done the job. Since none of them are made or sold in Virginia, and they require special licenses, this becomes a Federal crime, the interstate transport of weapons.”
        God, that’s a stretch, mused Al. Since when are lasers licensed weapons?
       “Three,” he continued, “while it’s not a solid lead, the a video of Marshall being snuffed gives us a solid starting point. Some think-tank in D.C. is analyzing it now and they’re working on computer enhancements of the killer for possible identification. With that and the data you’ve got on Marshall’s victims, your team has more info on this case than anybody else. Do you really want this turned back over to the Richmond police?”
        Rej continued to stare at Wallace few more seconds, before he softened and chucked. “Actually,” Rej said, “That’s a damn good idea. We do have more data on the victims than anyone else and it’d save months if we handled the case.” Rej turned around and glanced at Al, winking wickedly.
        Turning back to face Les Wallace again, Rej paused as Wallace and crossed his arms across his chest.
        “Tell you what, Les,” Rej said. “Why don’t you go down to Murphy’s? We’ll lock up here and meet you there in a few minutes. Then we can break the news to the team together.”
        “All right,” said Wallace arching his back proudly and gloating over his dominance over Rej. “But don’t be long.” He turned and walked back down the hallway to the elevators.
        After he’d left, Al said, “Say Rej, why’d you give Wallace such a hard time? You know everyone was already wondering why we were being reassigned instead of following through on the Marshall homicide.”
        Rej smiled wickedly and replied, “Because Wallace is such an asshole. For the last two years, he’s never spent any time with the team, but he always seemed ready to take credit for their work. Then, when things went sour, he was conveniently too busy to take the heat. Now, he’s back, taking charge again.
        “Besides, I’ll bet the idea for us to take over the Marshall investigation didn’t come from the FBI at all. They haven’t the brains to reach a logical conclusion like that. I figure the Richmond cops hounded them to get us involved. Wallace is just taking credit for their ideas, too.”
        Al stifled a laugh and followed Rej out of the squad room. Rej hit the lights and closed the door as they left.
        “Come on,” said Rej. “We’d better hurry before Wallace says something that will embarrass himself, or before someone on the team accidentally spills beer all over him again.”

Chapter 6

        Bethany Swayne wasn’t getting anywhere at the Redneck Bar, so she logged off the BillyBob account and entered the Anarchist Hideaway as NoIWon’tJones. She had dozens of fancy handles and aliases that she used when she surfed the Internet Chat Rooms and Bulletin Board Systems while researching a story.
        She grinned privately. Once upon a time, investigative reporters spent most of their time driving around the city chasing people down to pick up tips and rumors, but times change. Bethany took great pride in the fact that she was one of the best information sleuths in the business, yet she rarely left her apartment.
        All she had to do to get information, nowadays, was to loiter around these public chatrooms and gossip with whoever showed up. Despite all the time she’d spent on sites like this, she still found it amazing how many people frequented them. Some of those who surfed these electronic coffeehouses were bored; others were just curious. Almost all of them were more anxious to talk than to listen. If you hung around long enough, you could find out the most amazing things.
        Bethany had several dozen favorite locations she logged into to find out what was going on in town. People opened commonly opened chatrooms to discuss specific topics. All she had to do was find one with the right conversations.
       As soon as she entered the chatroom, text began to scroll by on her screen. There were about thirty people logged into the Anarchist Hideaway and everyone seemed to be talking at the same time. There was an argument going on of some kind. Someone named CrazyJake was flaming about government interference. Someone else, with the handle Anon-emouse, was relating an involved story about government conspiracies. Bethany eventually found three main threads of conversations going on simultaneously, but none of them were on the topic she was looking for.
        She logged off the NoIWon’tJones account and scanned the available chatrooms again. There were more than three hundred different ones on this server alone, and there were more than a hundred servers available that hosted public or private chatrooms like these. Some discussions were on standard topics; others were more dynamic and were created and closed as people wandered around from one cyber-place to another. Once created, a chatroom would remain active as long as at least one person was logged into it.
       Each electronic conference had two numbers by it; the first indicated the number of people in it and the second displayed how long it had remained active. Once a chatroom remained active for more than ten days, it became semi-permanent and would remain even if everyone logged out.
        Bethany sorted the chatrooms by subject and quickly scrolled down the results. She right-clicked on most of them to hide them and filter them out of her list. Nearly half of them were for singles, lesbians or gays. Several others were video chatrooms for cyber-sex and voyeurs. There were even a few set aside to make arrangements for wife swapping or group sex.
        When she’d eliminated those, she proceeded to filter out the hobby groups, including bikers, racecar enthusiasts, computer gamers, music discussion groups, and sci-fi fans. She narrowed down her search to a few possible candidates, but after another half hour gave up.
       Bethany was trying to find out if anyone knew anything about the Paul Marshall killing at the courthouse. It had been a hot topic the day before, but discussions had been scattered and difficult to find.
        Well, she thought. There’s more than one way to get Mohammed to come to the mountain. I’ll just make a molehill of my own. She clicked on her browser’s taskbar and opened a new conference of her own. She named the conference Crime-and-Punishment and assumed the alias, NotMourningMarshall.
       Within minutes, others joined and she initiated conversations with them. She played the role of a Right-wing Libertarian who admired the killer and cheered his actions. Some people agreed with her; others didn’t. Arguments soon followed.
       After a while, it became obvious there were two points of view. Either the police killed Marshall, or it was a vigilante killing. Only a minority of the chatroom participants felt his death was an injustice. The others quickly shouted these people down. Most people believed Marshall got what he deserved, even if it did bypass official procedures.
       Bethany turned on a text capture utility to save these discussions to a file she could read later, and then she launched a search on general newsgroup discussions regarding Marshall’s murder.
       When the news originally broke on the jailhouse killing, there had been immediate protests from the ACLU who blamed the police. Their complaints had been followed by a backlash from women’s groups, since all of Marshall’s victims had been single women. They claimed Marshall’s killer delivered justice that would have otherwise been delayed or denied. Official response by police and city authorities followed promising that Marshall’s killer would be found and punished. However, these official condemnations were ignored.
       Bethany’s on-line search indicated that public sentiment agreed with the discussions on her new chatroom. The majority of the general population approved of the Vigilante’s activities.
       The latest news was that a large number of e-mails from anonymous web sites were flooding the governor’s office, recommending that a medal be awarded to whoever fast-tracked the criminal justice system by eliminating Marshall. In fact, so much e-mail was flowing into City Hall, that government offices were having a real problem with SPAM mail. Since they couldn’t identify the senders, and couldn’t handle such widespread criticism, they were turning on the anonymous websites and were threatening to shut them down.
        The real question, thought Bethany, is who killed Marshall. Somehow that issue was getting lost in second and third order issues. Focus. Focus, she reminded herself. Remember where the real story is.
       There had to be some way to get a lead on the killer. She thought a moment, and then opened two more browser windows and two more chatrooms, as well.
       She called the first one Police-Death-Squads and the other Common-Law-Justice. As before, she created aliases in each of them and kicked off discussions with those who logged in.
       In the Police-Death-Squads chatroom, she used the account name PleaseDontKillMe and pretended to be a paranoid ex-con, who claimed the police were now killing the worst criminals to save money on court costs. In Common-Law-Justice, she created a persona called VigilanteFan and asked people whom the Vigilante should kill next.
       Soon she had three screens of text scrolling past and was pleased with the activity she had initiated. All I have to do now is sit back and wait, she thought.

 

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