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©02 The Media Desk

The Challenge of theHunter


     I had plenty of stuff to do at my day job after having been gone for a couple of months.
     But I also had a lot to think about as I did it.
     One thing kept bothering me about the whole recent incident. Hover, or anyway, the fake Hover.
     She seemed to know an awful lot about our operation, and other operations, and spoke with conviction about the 81's that had to come from more than just being one.
     And there remained one crucial question about the 81's that nobody had answered yet.
     Where did they get that energy weapon?
     I still had what was left of the woman's weapon. But I couldn't make heads or tales of it. From what I could tell, it was simply a battery of some type, with a trigger. It had been seriously damaged by the Bishop's shotgun blast, but there was quite a bit of it left.
     Mulie had had one like it. And he had fired it repeatedly, and I don't think he had time to reload during the chase, how many shots did they hold? The 81 that had fallen off the mountain after having met Hover didn't have one on him when I got to him, but that doesn't mean anything, it might be a standard issue from someplace.
     My brain kicked into high gear. A memory surfaced.
     One of the serious technology geek types that dabbled in game design had been working with a plasma energy storage device for somebody back when I first strated here. A battery if you will. That terrible bolt of energy that these weapons put out might as well be called plasma as anything else. I couldn't remember his name, but I remembered the game he had worked on most recently. In a few minutes of delving through the archive, I had a name and his work phone number. Then I got his address.
     Friday night I drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway on my way to see one Clifton Algerson.

     I simply went up to his door and knocked Saturday morning.
     The man from his picture in the game portfolio answered the door. The sound of cartoons floated out the door, a child peaked around his leg then ran off.
     "Hi Cliff, I work for Aurrora Games once in awhile and had some questions about something. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?" I showed him my work ID with my second alias making my name Jimbo. A name I had picked off of an on line soap opera because it was ridiculous.
     "Ahhh, sure, but I got the grandkids, come on in, we got coffee."
     We sat in his kitchen and discussed the latest in virtual reality and super 3-D graphics for awhile. Then he remembered that I had wanted to ask him something.
     I looked through the dining room at the kids laying on the floor watching TV. Then I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out the small paper bag.
     "What do you know about this?" I said as I handed it to him.
     He shrugged and opened the bag and glanced inside.
     Then in disbelief he looked again.
     "This doesn't exist." Cliff said.
     "They sure do, that's the second one I've seen, the first one was aimed at me. This one worked fine until it had an accident while shooting up a log cabin."
     He shook his head. "They never built the prototype." He poured the contents on the table. "But this looks just like version three, Garrison and them worked on it."
     "How many versions were there?"
     "I don't know, it was years ago. My team collaborated on a couple of schematics and a test model. But they all failed in simulation. They never put a working version together."
     "Somebody did. Who did you do the research for?"
     "I don't think I can tell you."
     I reached into my wallet and got out my other ID. "You can tell me, or you can tell my boss. Your choice."
     He looked at it and shrugged. "I'm not part of the team any more. They pulled the project out from under us, and to tell the truth, they still owe me money from back then."
     "They who?"
     "The Pentagon, that National Security outfit..."
     Shivers ran up my back. The Pentagon had been part of the 81 project too. Plus the National Security Agency. Wonderful. It just kept getting better. I finished my coffee in one swallow.
     "So how would this thing work if it was in one piece?" I asked him.
     "Simple really. This is the storage bottle, magnetically sealed, for a state of matter known as plasma. It's what the sun is made of."
     "I know... but where do you get it, and how did they keep it in there?"
     "That was the problem, once it cooled, you ended up with what we referred to as gunk."
     "What came out of that thing wasn't gunk. It looked like a fireball."
     "It was. All the weapon did was discharge a small amount of the plasma through a focusing device, in our case it was a man made crystal. But we could only store our charge for a matter of an hour or so, then it cooled into gunk."
     "Somebody perfected the design."
     "So I see."
     "Any ideas who could make one of these? If they knew how that is."
     "With today's technology? Any university high energy physics lab, government labs, a few independents."
     I shook my head, the list was too long. "How about people?"
     "Anybody from my team, and the others, given a good lab and a lot of money. And that doesn't even count other researchers, grad students..."
     He wasn't helping.
     "OK, let's say my man had one of these five years ago, maybe ten, where could he have gotten it then?"
     His face got tight. He thought long and hard for awhile. "Was your man tied in with the CIA or somebody?"
     "Eddington." He said, "Eddington and his project." He looked at me, "You didn't tell me about who had this."
     "You're right."
     "Let me guess, he had red eyes and real dark red blood."
     His face blanched, the hand holding his coffee cup started shaking. He looked around as if he expected somebody to be looking in the window. "We got to talk."
     "Kids! I'll be right back!" He said and almost ran out the back door.

     He stopped out in his back yard under a big tree. He was shaking his head and repeating, "They did it."
     "What did they do?" I asked Cliff.
     "Those damn Deep Men. They were working on that then, they brought one around to test our models. One of the requirements of the weapon was that nobody else could fire it. The trigger had to be pulled with a pair of pliers. Until they brought this guy in, he squeezed it like it was nothing. But I saw under his sunglasses that his eyes were red and when the model pinched his finger, his blood was real dark red.
     "When was this?"
     "Jimmy Carter." He said. "Late seventies."
     "So the weapon was developed with them in mind." I sighed. "And you called them 'Deep Men', that was their job. Deep cover."
     "That's all we were told. Back then it was all real hush hush. The only reason I was there that day was to make adjustments to our model based on their decisions. I was sworn to secrecy and they weren't kidding."
     "Where did the model end up?"
     "I have no idea. When the project was closed, they took everything. Even my coffee cup. We were strip searched in and out, and told to forget everything. The building we worked in was even torn down awhile back."
     I nodded. "Well, they're back. And they got these." I held up the bag with the wrecked weapon in it.
     "Yeah. And your job is to stop them."
     "No. Right now, all I want to do is find them."
     Cliff looked back at his house. "I wish I could help. But I don't know anything about the guys. And I didn't even work on that model Bastor."
     "Yeah, that's what we called it. We figured if it was ever used on anybody they'd need basted like a Thanksgiving Turkey."
     "You were right." I laughed.

     I left Cliff to his cartoons and drove home.
     Now I knew what the gun was, and some more of what they were. Instructions from the Bishop to let it lie or no, I wanted to know more about the 81's and what they were about before the next one showed up with his gleaming red eyes and purple blood...
               ...and another Baster...

end 35 challenge

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