Much has been written about the turning of the age; the end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth. All of us who lived through those dark days know how much our world has changed and those born in our new age accept that the world they live in is much different than the one that came before.
But not as much has been written about how the change came about. About the Shadow War. About how the bees and the Filth returned. About the agents who fought the war.
I was one of those agents. And this is my story.
Prelude – Initiation
It started with a dream. Well, a nightmare. I had been having a lot of those. A lot of people had been having them, I suspect, since the “terrorist attack” in Tokyo. That’s what we thought it was at the time anyway; the Secret World was still secret then.
I had fallen asleep with the radio still relaying disaster reports which was probably why my sleep was disturbed. I “dreamed” (at least that is what I thought it was at the time) that I woke to find myself lying on a rocky beach. Strange planets floated overhead.
A voice echoed in my head. I could be a king or a beggar, it told me. I could rule or suffer. I could be with them… or against them.
A man and a woman appeared next to me. They both spoke, each saying substantially the same thing but both seemingly unaware that the other was there. I was chosen, they said, but I must choose because I was cursed with free will. A swarm of insects, bees and flies, appeared around me as one told me to listen to the voices while the other told me to ignore them. Then the insects seemed to fly into my mouth and I woke up, gasping and choking.
I sat in bed for a moment, coughing. Needing a drink, I reached for my robe…
…and flames shot from my hand.
I don’t remember much about the next week. I remember lying on the floor, waves of energy blasting from my body. Other times I felt like I was floating in the air before collapsing to the floor again.
Eventually I was able to get the strange energy under control. It was somehow inside me but I could cause it to appear, pass it from hand to hand and then return it to myself.
Once I had the energy under control I was able to see what had happened in the past week. My apartment was trashed, the uncontrolled energy releases had overturned and smashed furniture and everything electronic was burned out. My phone was dead and I wondered what the people at work thought had happened to me. I had just finished getting dressed in preparation of going out when there was a knock at my door.
I started to pick up some of the debris then looked around the remains of my apartment and shrugged. With a sigh I opened the door.
A man I had never seen before stood there, looking at me over the top of his sunglasses. He looked past me at the trashed apartment and whistled. “Someone’s been bad.” he said. “I approve. Mind if I come in?” Without waiting for a response he pushed past me and into the room.
“I work in talent acquisition for a special client.” he said, ignoring my stare. “A very special client. And from what I see,” he looked around the room, “you could be what I’m looking for.”
“Wait,” I started. “Who are…”
“Time is ticking!” he interrupted. “Tick, tock. But I’ll cut straight to the chase. My client is interested in persons with certain… talents. Basic thaumaturgy, altering the fabric of time and space and generally fucking stuff up. Your talent is obvious.” He gestured around the room. “But it’s raw. Untrained. My client can provide that training. As well as money. Power. The best parties in the business. Oh, and the opportunity to help rule the world.”
“Hold on.” I tried again. “What are you…”
He shoved an envelope at me. “You have an interview tomorrow afternoon in Brooklyn. I suggest you attend it. There’s no address. Consider that the first part of the interview.”
He started towards the door then stopped. “Oh, other parties will certainly have noticed your abilities as we have and they aren’t as.. accommodating as we are. Who knows, you may survive for a while on your own. Or, you may wind up dead. Don’t be stupid. We have eyes everywhere.” He smiled at some secret joke. “Later, ‘gator.” He slipped out the door and down the hall.
I stared after him for a moment then closed the door. I still had no idea what had happened to me but apparently this person, and the organization he represented, did. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but I needed answers.
I looked in the envelope, finding a plane ticket to LaGuardia and a subway pass. “Well,” I told myself, “I’m probably fired for absenteeism anyway. Guess I’m going to New York.”
The next morning found me exiting a subway platform onto a Brooklyn street. The subway pass I had been given had this stop number written on it but beyond that I had no idea where I was supposed to be going so I stopped and looked around. The bridge loomed almost overhead and the river ran nearby but otherwise the area seemed to be mostly warehouses and a few boarded up buildings. Police barricades blocked a few of the streets but those were becoming more common everywhere after Tokyo and there were still some pedestrians walking around, though no vehicle traffic that I could see.
The only business that seemed to be open was a laundromat across from the subway. With no better destination in mind I crossed the street and went in.
Inside was dimly lit with an annoyingly loud rumble of machines. The front room had a few customers waiting on clothes to finish their cycles. Too few for the number of machines that seemed to be in operation and, as I looked closer, I saw that all of the machines were running but that most of them were empty. Odd.
None of the customers seemed to be paying any attention to me or to anything else. There were more machines in the next room and I wandered into it.
All the machines in this room were running as well but in the back of the room there was a desk holding a computer and a stack of papers and magazines. File cabinets lined the wall behind it. An overweight, unkempt man behind the desk saw me enter and hurried up to where I was standing.
“You’re looking for them, aren’t you?” he asked in a wheezing voice. “You aren’t one of them, but you’re looking for them. I’m right, aren’t I?”
“Who?” I asked, taking a step back.
“Them!” he said more earnestly. “The Illuminati.”
I paused for a second, trying to come up with a response for that. “What?”
He laughed. “I knew it!” he said. “I always know. They think I don’t, but I do.” He laughed, running back to his desk and waving some of the papers and magazines there at me. “I can see their signs. Their secrets. They think they can keep it hidden, but there’s always a trace. A trail. A sign that I can find if I look closely enough. It’s all there. The patterns. The signs. Enough to know what’s really going on.”
I looked from him to the door, debating if I wanted to keep listening or to leave. “What is going on then?” I finally asked.
He laughed again. “Oh, they want to keep us under control!” he said. “Keep us in the dark. Keep us from knowing what is really going on. That’s why they want us to watch their shows and read their books and play their games and eat their pills. Like Pac-Man. That’s all we are to them you know. Just a little head running around in a maze eating their pills and going nowhere. Gobble, gobble, gobble.”
“Uh-huh…” I said, taking a step towards the door.
“You’re wondering how I’m still here, aren’t you?” he said, taking a few steps towards me. “Why they haven’t disappeared me like everyone else.” He laughed and leaned close. “It’s because I’m too smart for them!” he whispered conspiratorially. “I publish everything I find in my newsletter and on my web site. If anything happened to me then everyone would know it was because they got rid of me. So they leave me alone but they watch me all the time. Always watching. That’s why I leave the machines running 24/7. But they still bugged the place.” He pointed to a security camera mounted near the door then leaned even closer to me. “They even replaced my girlfriend with an android.”
He gestured to an attractive woman sitting on a nearby washer typing on a laptop. She looked up at us, smiled, then returned to her work. I looked from her to him in surprise before deciding that her being an android might actually be the most reasonable explanation.
“You want to know the secret?” he asked. “Dungeons and Dragons. Keeps your mind focused. They can’t get to you then.” He looked around again. “I’m not saying any more.” He abruptly turned away and went back to his desk.
I looked from him back to the camera. “Eyes everywhere…” I thought.
I walked back outside and spotted a second camera mounted outside the laundromat and a look up and down the street revealed a third near the intersection.
“Ah-ha!” I thought, walking in that direction. “So that’s their game.”
I made my way down the street and around the corner, following a trail of cameras. I noticed one of them swiveled to follow me as I passed. Someone was watching.
The trail led to a warehouse. There were several workers on a loading dock but they went out of their way to ignore me as I walked in. I saw another camera above an arched opening and went to it.
Behind the opening was a maze. Old brickwork corridors and iron stairways, far older than the warehouse itself, led this way and that. Graffiti covered the walls but I soon noticed a trend towards eyes inside of pyramids and pointing hands. Following these led me down several levels below the street.
As I descended I heard thumping music coming from somewhere below. Had I stumbled onto a rave? But then I turned the last corner and stopped abruptly.
In front of me was an entrance through a surprisingly modern concrete and glass facade. Two guards in blue trenchcoats and holding assault rifles guarded the corridor. Both wore gas masks.
I stood for several moments but neither guard reacted to my presence. The pulsing music was coming from somewhere beyond the doorway.
“Oh kay…” I thought. “Let’s see what I’m getting myself into.”
I stepped forward and through the door. Neither guard seemed to react. I shrugged then continued towards the music, which I could now tell came from a large, open space ahead.
Abruptly, the lights flared red and an alarm sounded.I turned to look behind me and something struck a blow on the back of my head. I blacked out.