Home :: Mystery/Thriller :: Glass Trilogy Book 2: A Glass Darkly by Max and Ariana Overton (Paranormal Thriller)

Glass Trilogy Book 2: A Glass Darkly by Max and Ariana Overton (Paranormal Thriller)

Glass Trilogy Book 2: A Glass Darkly by Max and Ariana Overton (Paranormal Thriller)
 
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A dead volcano called Glass Mountain in Northern California seems harmless - or is it?

This is the fascinating setting of this mesmerising epic, the second book of the Glass Trilogy. Andromeda Jones, a physicist, knows her missing sister Samantha is somehow tied up with the new job she has been offered. Federal forces are aware that something is amiss, so Andromeda agrees to go on a dangerous mission and soon finds herself entangled in a web of professional jealousy, political betrayal and greed.

She helps construct Vox Dei, a machine that ostensibly is built to eliminate wars. But what is its true nature? Who is pulling the strings?

The experiment gets out of control, dark powers are unleashed and the danger to mankind unfolds relentlessly. Strange, evil shadows are using the Vox Dei and Samantha to try to get through to our world, knowing the time is near when Earth's final destiny will be decided.

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ISBN/EAN13: 1922233595 / 9781922233592
Page Count: 294
Trim Size: 5" x 8"

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1 Most useful customer reviews (see all reviews):
Sara J. Waldheim
Mar 29, 2014
So far I have read the first two of the Glass House trilogy and cannot wait to read the third. Max Overton is a very diverse and talented writer. I have read most of his books and never tire of his stories.
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Sample Chapter

Chapter One

Coal black shadows slithered across the cool green marble tiles surrounding the massive fireplace. Its heavy carvings of satin-finished mahogany glowed dully in the flickering light. Blood red glowed uncannily from the dead eyes of gargoyles, caressing their snarling lips, animating them, and making them appear to move with the shadows in silent conversation. Tendrils of ebony oozed up the dark carved wood of the walls surrounding the fireplace, giving the shifting patterns the look of pale-veined nightmares brought to life. Roaring flames, barely contained by a firebox large enough to roast an ox, gave birth to a ruddy glare that fought to overcome the shadows. The light and heat pouring out from the fireplace barely made an impression on the cavernous room, seeming to feed the shadows instead of subduing them.

Deeply ensconced within a high-backed Victorian armchair, Morgan Turner sat quietly, long fingers laced over his lean torso, his gaze fixed on the ornate burgundy and gold pattern of an antique Oriental rug under his feet. Dark curling hair, shot with streaks of grey, spiraled around his head like a wild thicket. His broad chest barely rose and fell under a heavy velvet dressing gown while his head lolled. His long chiseled nose involuntarily wrinkled with distaste when the odour of moldering earth and leaves assaulted it. The room, full of heavily carved antique furniture, seemed to be watching him expectantly as he arrogantly occupied their space and drifted, deep in thought and oblivious to his surroundings.

When a timid scratching of fingers sounded through the thick oak door, only Morgan's restless brown eyes moved in response. "What is it, Ehrich?" The heavy whispering bass of his voice carried around the room in spite of its lack of volume.

The heavy door silently swung open, allowing a bright square of light from the hallway to intrude upon the room's gloomy interior. The shadows fled before it. Morgan continued to stare into the flames as an elderly man with a balding head glided soundlessly into the room and stood patiently behind the chair, waiting to be acknowledged. Steele raised one ringed finger, the ring's ebony facets flashing multi-hued arrows of crystalline light around the room.

"Mr Turner, it is time for your meeting with the scientists." The old man's freckled head bowed slightly but his thin body, encased in an old-fashioned black suit, remained ramrod straight and at attention.

"Give me fifteen minutes then bring them into the conference room. Tell Travis I want a word with him afterward and to bring his latest report." Turner's voice was barely above a whisper but the tone of authority was one of absolute command.

Ehrich left the room as silently as he'd entered. When the heavy door softly closed behind his retreating back the shadows resumed their serpentine dance upon the walls and furniture. Turner rose slowly and deliberately, like a wary prey animal surrounded by ravenous predators. "What do you want from me?" he ground out between whitened lips.

The dry rustling whisper of ancient and crumbling paper filled the room.

Free us. Bring us to your world. We can offer power...immortality. The barriers must be breached. Free us. Free us. Free us....

The whispers faded, as if a great wind blew them away from Morgan's hearing. Morgan shuddered and quickly moved to turn on all the lights in the room.

I'm losing my mind. The sentence whirled around and around his brain until he grasped his temples with shaking fingers and clenched his eyes shut, praying that the litany would end. When it didn't, Morgan dropped his hands, ground his teeth and squared his shoulders.

But I won't let the bastards know it. I'm the king here. I'm one of the richest and most powerful men in the world. I can do anything...anything I want.

He threw his head back and stalked to the door. Hesitating with a death grip on the knob, he turned his face back toward the room, his eyes flashing like the black stone ring on his finger.

"Even you can't make me do what I don't want to do." He sneered, opened the door and left, slamming the heavy door behind him.

The shadows oozed out of the walls, undulating sensuously toward the portrait of Morgan Turner that dominated the wall above the fireplace. They converged upon the picture, caressing it with tenuous fingers. The low, brittle sound of contemptuous laughter echoed around the room, and then abruptly altered into something much worse. It permeated all, absorbed all colour and light from the room and reverberated through the walls like the muffled, desperate wailing of a lost soul buried deep within a cold, dark tomb.


 

Chapter Two

The winter dusk is short in the Colorado Rockies and the last light of the day was fading rapidly when the mouse came hip-hopping across the crusted snow from the sanctuary of the tumbled woodpile. The snow-caked logs abutted the end of a small, one-room rough-plank cabin, its single window closed and shuttered against the cold, the only signs of life within its walls being the thin wisp of smoke curling from its covered stove pipe and the butter-yellow light that oozed from chinks in the shutters.

The mouse paused, whiskers quivering, as it sat up and peered myopically into the shadows under the pine trees that clustered closely around the cabin. Nothing stirred and the only scents that carried to its twitching nose were wood smoke and the ubiquitous stink of humans that emanated from the cramped construction behind it. Finding nothing to alarm it, the mouse hurried onward onto the cold covering of dead pine needles littering the forest floor. Food was still available this early in the season, with a little diligent searching, and after a few minutes it found a small pine nut overlooked by the foraging squirrels. Grasping the treasure in its forepaws, the tiny rodent sat up and nibbled at the morsel of food, the whispering rasp of its teeth against the nut masking another sound a few feet away in the shadows of a fallen log. A puff of displaced air swept over the mouse and it dropped the nut, turning and gathering its muscles to leap for safety even as a sleek body swept it off its feet. It uttered a despairing shriek of terror as sharp teeth closed on it, its pattering heart convulsing as its neck snapped.

A feral cat crouched at the edge of the trees where the first faint grasping fingers of snow reached out from the deep blanket that covered the open space around the cabin. Its jaws held the cooling body of the mouse and a single drop of ruby blood fell from the rumpled fur of the victim to stain the pristine snow. The lean predator growled, yellow eyes defying a silent world, as it waited and watched, alert for any movement, any sound, that spelled danger. After several minutes, the cat dropped its prey, licked the congealing blood from its fur, and started to eat, chewing delicately and stopping often to look and listen. When no more than the tail, the skull and a foot remained of its meal, the feral cat sat back and started cleaning itself, scrupulously removing every trace of blood and hair from its face, sleeking down its own ruffled fur before yawning widely and staring across the open expanse of snow to the cabin.

Inside the cabin, a potbellied stove radiated heat into the small room, and a single fabric-shaded table lamp cast a buttery glow over the furnishings. A young woman, closer to thirty than twenty, sat on a threadbare couch near the stove, her feet curled up under her, and her head, framed by raven wings of glossy hair, was bent over a battered paperback. Minutes passed and the woman's long fingers turned the page, then turned it back again and her eyes moved back to the start, moving over the words without making sense of them. She fidgeted and suddenly threw down the book and sprang to her feet.

"Damn it, Samantha. Where the hell are you?" she muttered, pacing the length of the cabin, a dozen paces one way, then a turn and a dozen more, the heels of her cowboy boots loud on the bare wood. A scratch, no more than the whisper of a pine branch on a window on a breezy night, distracted her. Three paces took her to the door and she flung it wide, a bolus of frigid air and a small cat sweeping in before she could close it again.

"Hi Pi," she greeted the cat. "Come in for some food, have you?" She bent to stroke the small creature but it bared its fangs and backed away. As soon as she straightened, the cat darted in again, rubbing against her jeans-clad legs. "Okay, Piwacket," she laughed. "Food it is." Crossing to her kitchen alcove, she took a small box of dry cat food from a cupboard and poured a half cupful into a bowl and set it on the floor. Piwacket rushed in, pushing her hand aside and started feeding, a rough, coughing rasp of sound indicating contentment.

She stood and watched the cat for a while as it ate, a smile on her lips, remembering the first time the starving feral kitten had arrived at her cabin. Normally, she was only in the cabin for one or two months in the year and fortuitously, her visit three years ago had coincided with the arrival of a vicious spitting ball of fur. Recently abandoned, the kitten was emaciated and torn from a struggle with a larger predator. At considerable expense to the skin on her hands and arms, she had nursed the tiny kitten back to health. Scarred by its experiences, it never allowed a human to get close to it but would, on sufferance, allow food and warmth to be provided at times of its own choosing. When she left after that first visit, she was sure she would never see it again, but six months later, it returned, lean and battle-hardened to demand food and a place by the stove on cold nights. She called it Piwacket, after the witch's cat in a movie of which she had forgotten the name, though it never came to her call. Despite this, she came to look forward to its infrequent visits.

Piwacket finished eating and stalked over to the woollen rug in front of the stove and started to clean itself. The woman made herself a cup of coffee and took it over to a small table where a laptop computer sat, its screen blank in standby mode. She connected to her server and downloaded her emails, hoping for something from Samantha. "Come on," she muttered. "Where the hell are you?" She grimaced when the last of the messages popped up without any from her sister, and set about dealing with them. The last was from a friend and it was short and to the point.

"Andi," it read, "Call me. Marc." A phone number followed.

Andi made a face and looked across at the old black Bakelite land phone that had evidently been installed when the cabin had been built. She eschewed the use of a mobile as being invasive and demanding, content to have people leave a message that she could answer at her convenience. Picking up the handset, she hesitated, and then quickly called the number, letting the old-fashioned dial rotate after each numeral.

"Marc? It's Andi. What's so important it can't wait another month or so?" She engaged the speaker-phone unit connected to the old machine and stepped back to her desk and her coffee.

"I'm very well, thank you for asking," the voice from the phone crackled. "How are the mountains? Snowed in yet?"

"Have you heard from Sam? Is that why you're calling?"

There was a long silence from the other end of the phone. Only the continuing crackle of static told Andi the line was still open. "I've been remembering things," Marc said quietly.

"What sort of things?" Andi could almost hear the shrug from Marc. Jeez, girl, she thought. Do you know him that well?

"Nothing definite," Marc hedged. "Shapes in the forest, scary shadows, and some really ugly people."

"You're not living in Arkansas are you?"

Marc laughed bitterly. "Fuck you too."

"I'm sorry, Marc. My people skills are a bit rusty at the moment. Why did you want me to call you?"

"Do you want a job?"

"What sort of job?"

"Right up your alley. Physics with an electromagnetic flavour."

"Really?" Andi's interest was piqued. Those sorts of job were few and far between. "Who's it with?"

"A strong research element, I gather, but a bit of military involvement that'll bring in the big bucks."

"Who's it with?"

"Northern California, so the climate will be a bit better..."

"Marc! Stop dodging the question. Who is the job with?"

"Now don't get mad. It's Morgan Turner, but there's..."

Andi strode across to phone and hung up, cutting Marc off, then removed the receiver to prevent him calling back. She sat on the couch, letting the warmth from the stove envelop her, sooth her. Damn the man, she thought, uncertain whether she meant Marc or Morgan. Unwillingly, she let her mind slip back four years.

She had just graduated with a PhD in physics from M.I.T. and had taken a temporary position at a Minnesota laboratory working on a Defence research contract, while she looked for a university position. The research contract seemed far-fetched to her, involving an adaptation of the Tesla coil that, if successful, could deliver a blast of coherent, aimed electrical current at a target miles away. A year of testing had not moved the project any closer to success and though her own ideas were listened to, as far as she could tell, none of them were implemented.

Then, just as she contemplated quitting, one of the financial backers of the project had turned up, Morgan Turner, CEO of Turner Enterprises. He had listened attentively to the scientists involved with the Tesla weapon, watched a series of disappointing tests, and spent several hours ensconced with the military and the project leader. Emerging from the meeting, Turner had talked with every one of the research employees, arriving in Andi's lab just as she was packing up to go home.

Morgan Turner was – and probably still is, Andi thought – a tall, powerfully built man in his early forties with a shock of unruly black hair and an engaging smile. Impeccably dressed, he displayed few of the obnoxious traits so common to rich men used to getting their own way.

"I do apologise for getting here so late, Dr Jones," Morgan had said. "But I really would like to get your take on the project."

Andi nodded and started to take her street coat off. "Certainly, Mr Turner. What would you like to know?"

Morgan had hesitated, for a few moments appearing unsure of himself. "Look, I've been on the run since six this morning and I'm starved. I have to fly down to St Louis first thing in the morning, but I really do want to pick your brains. Would you consider having dinner with me this evening?"

"Thank you, Mr Turner..."

"Morgan, please."

"...Morgan, but I already have plans for this evening."

"Break them. I really need to talk to you."

Andi's eyes flashed ice. "I'm sorry, Mr Turner, but I couldn't do that."

Unexpectedly, Morgan nodded and smiled. "A pity. Your section leader apprised me of some of your ideas – yes, the ones he never implemented – and I'd like to pursue them. Unfortunately, I'm only in town for tonight and I was hoping to find out..." He shrugged and moved toward the door, then hesitated with his hand on the knob. "How about drinks before dinner? I'll only take an hour of your time."

Andi, who had been planning to curl up with a good book that evening, relented. "Okay."

Morgan glanced at his watch. "I'll pick you up at seven."

Andi shook her head. "Where are you staying? I'll meet you there."

Morgan nodded, studying Andi's face. "I'm at the Retzinger. I'll meet you in the bar at seven then."

Andi decided ten minutes was long enough to make him wait. She had considered longer but he was her boss – sort of. She did not want to get on his bad side, but neither was she planning on advancing her career by way of the bedroom, which unless she missed her guess, was his intention. Murmuring something about the traffic, she slipped quickly into the booth in the Retzinger's bar, taking her seat while he was still rising to greet her.

Sipping a vodka and orange juice, Andi listened absently while Morgan made small talk, but perked up when he switched to her work. He was well-informed and had a good working knowledge of electromagnetic field theory. On his prompting, Andi talked about her ideas of resonance and the use of a super-cooled crystal array to focus the energies before beaming them up into the ionosphere. Morgan listened attentively, prompting her when she flagged or strayed from the topic, leading her onward, and deftly turning the discussion away from the control of the raw energies of the atom and into the delicate realms of human brain wave manipulation.

"You've heard of Persinger's work in Canada?" Morgan asked.

Andi nodded. "He alters perception by fitting his subjects with a helmet wired up to stimulate the sensory parts of the brain."

"Mind you, that's only possible because his electrodes are almost in contact with the brain. If you tried that from even a foot or two away, the drop-off in stimulus would be too rapid for..."

"Nonsense. You've totally forgotten that the stimulus needed is...what?" Andi frowned at the amused expression on Morgan's craggy face.

"I believe it is more politic to say 'I think you might be mistaken', especially when talking to the person who controls the purse strings."

Andi flushed and looked away. "Sorry," she muttered. "I thought this was a government project."

"It was," Morgan said softly, "But we've passed from the Defence contract into other realms of possibility. I want you to come and work for me."

"I've already got a job."

"Not for much longer."

Andi stared at the older man. "You're firing me? For getting carried away and being rude?"

"Hell, no. I said I was offering you a job, not taking one away. Your project leader is the one who wants to get rid of you. I think he's a fool, but I want to take advantage of his stupidity."

"But you don't know anything about me."

"The hell I don't. You think I make offers like this to any pretty girl I see? Dr Andromeda Jones, I'm offering you a top position in my organisation."

"Doing what?"

"Whatever it takes."

Andi stared and then laughed. "You'll have to be a damn sight more specific than that."

"I'm sorry, Andi, but until you're mine, I can't tell you."

"Until I'm yours? What's that supposed to mean?"

"Professionally speaking, Andi. If you join me you'll be signing a whole slew of non-disclosure documents. I really can't tell you what you'll be working on but I can promise you it'll be right down your alley. The pay's good too. We can discuss it but we're looking six figures here."

"I...I'd have to think about it."

"Don't think too long. I'm putting my team together right now."

"Who else have you got?"

"You'll find out when you sign." Morgan stood. "I'd offer you dinner, Andi, but I respect your prior engagement. I'd like an answer tonight though. You can call me here at the hotel or come up and see me," he added softly. He reached down and lightly touched the back of her hand. "Room six-oh-six." Turning, he strode across the room and disappeared into the hotel lobby.

Andi thought about the offer for the rest of the evening, sitting alone in her small apartment, nursing a glass or three of cold Australian Wolf Blass chardonnay. At midnight, she reached a decision and picked up the phone to call Morgan at the Retzinger Hotel.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," the hotel clerk said, "But Mr Turner checked out an hour ago."

Andi thanked the man and placed the receiver back on the hook. She felt let down and a little relieved at the same time. The job offer had been intriguing, and the pay would have been very welcome, but Morgan had also disturbed her. There was a hunger there, hidden mostly, but it had emerged briefly during their hour together – once when he'd referred to human brain waves and again when he'd touched her hand. She shivered and decided it was for the best – she would not try to find him by calling Turner Enterprises in California.

Morgan had not called her, and a month after his visit, Andi was let go from the project. She found work as a physics teacher at a high school in Aspen which allowed her to enjoy the mountains. It was here that she met Marc Lachlan, a freelance photographer holidaying on the snowfields, and found that he knew her half-sister Samantha Louis.

Andi sighed and picked up the phone again. "Marc, answer me one question. Why would I want to work for Morgan Turner?"

"To find your sister Sam."

"What? How are they connected?"

"I don't know, but he's looking for her. Not her specifically, you understand, but her husband James and, get this, exactly where they were in the Blue Mountains and Glass House Mountains. He even set a team of private detectives to follow up on their disappearance."

"But why? Why would he be interested?"

"I don't know."

"And he's offering me a job? How would you know about it?"

"Well, he's not exactly offering you a job, but there is one there for you, I'm sure. Wouldn't you like to be back in physics research, investigating electro-thingumy whatsits?"

Andi laughed. "Electromagnetic fields, moron. But how do you know that's my field? I certainly never told you."

Marc sighed. "We don't all live hidden away in a little cabin in the mountains. Some of us have real lives to live and we get to hear things. I do work for some big papers and magazines, you know, and one of them knows all about you and enough about Morgan Turner to be intrigued."

"And what's he heard about Turner?"

"He has a facility in Glass Mountain in northern California, near Medicine Lake. He's gathered quite a team of physicists, the US Army, and a pile of cash together, wrapped them up in Fort Knox and is building something."

"What?"

"Likely to be something nasty, but nobody knows for sure."

"Then how come you know so much?"

Marc hesitated. "If I don't tell you, you can't spill the beans."

"If you don't tell me, I'm hanging up."

Marc was silent for a long time. "Okay," he said at last, "But please don't let on where you heard this. Bob Gerhardt, Science Editor of the Mid-West Science and Technology Gazette, is a friend of mine. He came across a snippet of information that reveals Turner is building some sort of mind control device with unofficial elements of the US Army. I can't tell you what the information is, because I don't know. Bob wouldn't tell me."

"And where do I come into this?"

"Bob wants you to join the group at Glass Mountain and find out what's going on."

"You are kidding me. How am I supposed to do that? Does this Bob friend of yours have some sort of 'in' with Turner?"

"Nothing like that. There's an advertisement out for technicians with advanced bio-electromagnetic expertise at Turner Enterprises, and you fit the bill. The closing date is tomorrow so you need to get on board immediately."

"Marc, it doesn't work like that. This isn't some job I can just rock up to the front door about and get hired straight up. These things take weeks of detailed preparation."

"All done," Marc said with a satisfied tone. "Your resume, together with an application and glowing references, has already been submitted. My guess is you'll get a call for an interview by the end of the week."

"This is a load of crap!" Andi slammed the receiver down and stood staring at it, her mind churning. "Something doesn't add up here," she muttered. She turned at looked at Piwacket snoozing by the stove. "What do you reckon, Pi? Where does he get off putting in an application for me without telling me first? And why is he so damned interested in me getting this job anyway? What's in it for him?"

Piwacket's only comment was to stretch and yawn widely before going back to sleep. Andi smiled and picked up the phone again.

"Okay, Marc, put it on the line for me. Why are you doing this?"

"You're a friend, Andi. I hate to see you wasting your talents stuck..."

"Bullshit."

"And you'd be doing me a favour. There's a big story in this."

"How did you get hold of my resume?"

"Oh, I have contacts," Marc said vaguely. "Does it matter? You have a good opportunity to do some serious work in your field and help me on my way to a good story at the same time. It's a win-win situation."

"I'd only be a techie, Marc. That's not what I call doing serious work."

"You'd start as one," Marc admitted, "But when Turner finds out you're there, I'll bet he takes you on as a researcher."

"And what's it going to do to my career if I blow the lid on my employer? Always supposing there is something to blow."

There was silence from the other end of the phone, but Andi thought she could hear somebody talking in the background.

"Is there somebody there with you, Marc?"

"No...er, it's just the TV...why do you...hang on." There was silence again for about thirty seconds before Marc spoke again. "Someone wants to talk to you."

"Who..."

"Ms. Jones?" an unfamiliar voice asked. "Dr Andromeda Jones?"

"Who is this?"

"You don't know me, Dr Jones. You can call me Ted. I need to talk to you."

"Put Marc back on."

"Dr Jones, I need to talk to you, right now, so..."

"Put Marc back on or I hang up. I need to know he's all right."

There was a short pause before, "Andi?"

"Are you okay? Are you in danger?"

"No, I'm fine."

"Can they hear me at the moment?"

"No."

"Are you in danger?"

"No. Talk to him, Andi. Please."

Faint muffled sounds told Andi the receiver was being passed back to Ted, confirmed a moment later when he spoke again. "Satisfied, Dr Jones?"

"For the moment. What do you want?"

"Just to talk to you for about half an hour."

Andi shrugged. "Okay, go ahead."

"It will have to be in person. I am sending a helicopter to your cabin to pick you up so please be ready..."

"I'm not going anywhere, buster."

"Then I will come to you. My name is Ted Collins. Please ask to see my identification when I get there."

"ID can be faked," Andi said.

Ted paused. "It is a federal offence to fake this identification."

"Only if you're caught. I don't imagine that would stop you. You'll have to come up with some other form of ID."

A longer pause. "I will bring Marc Lachlan with me. He will vouch for my identity."

"Except I suppose he only knows you as Ted Collins because your possibly faked ID says that's who you are." Andi sighed. "Why do guys get off on playing games? Okay, come on out, and bring Marc."

"We will be there within an hour, Dr Jones." Ted rang off.

Andi frowned and looked around her small cabin, wondering what she should do to prepare for the mysterious Ted Collins. She had a shotgun tucked away in a safe place, and a box of shells, but she was not at all sure she wanted to go down that route. Collins had mentioned it was a federal offence to fake his ID, which implied he was a federal officer. That could mean anything though, from a tax official to an FBI agent or an officer of Homeland Security. In the end she decided to wait and see, putting on a fresh pot of coffee and breaking open a fresh pack of plain oatmeal biscuits.

She heard the whup-whupping of the helicopter blades fifty minutes after Collins had hung up. Piwacket was awake in an instant and raced to the door, scratching to be let out. When she opened the door, the cat raced for the shelter of the forest as a sleek black helicopter came racing up the valley before dipping and hovering above the field in front of the cabin. Powdered snow flew up in a blizzard, almost obscuring the aircraft and it settled, breaking through the thin crust and rolling forward a few feet. The engine idled back, the blades slowing and a door opened, allowing three men to jump out and run toward the cabin, bent over, and coats flapping. Andi recognised Marc in an instant, and saw he was flanked by two young men in dark suits and overcoats.

"Dr Jones?" the man in the lead said. Andi recognised the voice but let him introduce himself. "I'm Agent Collins and this..." he indicated the other suited man, "...is Agent Kowalski." He took a black leather billfold out of his pocket and flipped it open to reveal a picture of himself, his name, and the letters 'FBI' embossed on the half facing the photo. The other man revealed a similar billfold.

"They look like something you could pick up in a toy store," Andi said sourly. "Never mind, I guess I'm going to have to take you on trust."

"Thank you, Dr Jones," Collins said. "Could we go inside and talk?"

Andi stood aside to let them pass, and they entered the tiny cabin quickly and quietly, their eyes swiftly searching and passing on. She leaned close to Marc as he passed.

"What the hell have you got me into?" she hissed.

"Not his fault, Dr Jones," Collins said from inside the cabin. "We've had you in our files for some time and we approached Mr Lachlan for his assistance. We didn't really offer him a choice."

"Like you're not going to offer me a choice either," Andi said, following Marc inside and closing the door. "Coffee?" She indicated the pot on the stove.

"Thanks." Collins accepted a cup and passed it to Kowalski before taking another and sipping appreciatively. "Do you love your country, Dr Jones?"

"That's an odd question."

"Not really, we live in troubled times. Would you answer the question please? It's quite simple."

Andi frowned. "I have found that questions people describe as simple are often the most complex. I could ask you to define love." She held up a hand as Kowalski opened his mouth. "I am an American born and bred, I believe in the Constitution and the rule of law. I did not vote for our current President, nor do I support his war in Iraq and Iran, however, I will obey any legal command that comes from him. I pay my taxes, I obey the laws of the land, I am polite to policemen and I help little old ladies across the street. I do believe America is the best place to live, but I've never been outside its boundaries, so I can't really be sure. I think democracy is the best way to live, but we are not the only democracy in the world. So you tell me, do I love my country?"

Collins smiled thinly. "I think we can accept you are not an overt security risk."

"So what's this all about?"

"We have reason to believe the facility at Glass Mountain is manufacturing a weapon of mass destruction that will not be used in the best interests of the United States."

"So step in and stop it. You're the security people."

"It is not that simple. Morgan Turner has friends in high places – very high places – and our hands are tied unless we can show evidence of action against our country."

"Un-American activities," Marc quipped.

Agent Collins turned and stared at Marc until the young man dropped his eyes. "You could say that. I take a threat to my country very seriously and see no reason for levity."

"Sorry," Marc muttered.

"As I was saying, Dr Jones, neither we, nor the Department of Homeland Security can step in without the evidence. That is where you come in. We want to put you into the project so you can report back to us."

Andi raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Whose damn-fool notion was that? I'm a physicist, not a secret agent."

"Exactly. A physicist is what we need. We must have somebody that can properly evaluate what they see."

"And you don't have any physicists of your own?"

"Several, but you are known to Morgan Turner already. We know he tried to hire you three years ago. Dr Jones, this is perhaps the last opportunity to get someone into Turner's organisation. He is looking for a handful of trained technicians. You are more highly qualified than any of the other candidates and he knows you. I think you are our best bet."

"What would I be looking for?"

"I don't know. A weapon system of some sort. Something out of the ordinary. We will have to leave that up to you."

"And when – if – I find it? They're not going to just let me phone you."

"Don't worry about it. That can be arranged."

Andi smiled ruefully. "You want me to take a well-paying job, spy on my employer and ultimately bring my job to an end. What do I get out of it?"

"The satisfaction of having served your country."

"Oh, well in that case, do I have any choice?"

"No, not really," Agent Collins said. "But if it will help decide you, you may find out something about your sister, Samantha Hay."

"Sam? What's she got to do with all this?"

"We don't know, but Turner Enterprises is looking for her, or rather, for where she might be. She and her husband, Professor James Hay, disappeared under unusual circumstances in Australia. They are believed to be in the vicinity of either the Blue Mountains, near Sydney, the capital city..."

"Canberra," Marc said.

"What?"

"Canberra is the capital city; Sydney is just the largest one."

Collins gave Marc a long hard look before resuming. "Near Sydney, or else in the Glass House Mountains. Either way, Turner is looking for them and we don't know why. Do you have any idea, Dr Jones?"

Andi shook her head. "It doesn't make any sense. They've never met nor had any sort of contact."

"Then maybe you could find out what that is about at the same time," Collins said softly.

"Okay, say I decide to do this, how do I even know I'll be given the job?"

Agent Collins took an envelope out of his inside jacket pocket and handed it to Andi. "This came for you. You have an interview at ten tomorrow morning at the Turner building in Oakland, California. We will fly you out of here this evening, and arrange for an overnight flight to San Francisco. A driver will make sure you get..."

Andi turned the envelope over in her hands. "It's been opened." She looked up at the two agents. "Isn't tampering with the US mail a federal offence?"

"Unless you have a court order."

"And you have one?"

"I can have one here within three hours – backdated to cover that letter."

"Shit," Andi muttered.

"Dr Jones, I really do not see what your problem is." A touch of impatience crept into Collins' voice. "Your country is asking you to perform a small task, for which you will get paid, and through which you may find some answers concerning the disappearance of your sister. Is that too much to ask?"

"You could have just said 'please'."

Agent Collins stared, the corner of his mouth lifting a fraction. "Dr Jones, will you please help us?"

Andi grinned. "Okay."

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