Nina sat opposite Timothy in the limousine; the older man was between the goons that Black had sent with her on the retrieval operation. Dr. Harte didn’t seem like he was going to make trouble; as darkness brightened to day during their ride, he had appeared indifferent to the heavies on either side of him, as if he were the aging autocrat of a third world nation, and they his bodyguards.
She flipped through the book that she had removed from Timothy’s library on Black’s orders. The title was innocuous enough: Ontology and Perception. It was by Harte himself. According to Black, this was one of only two copies in existence after his organization had quashed the book’s publication; the other, of course, was owned by Black.
The portion to which Nina opened was written in classic Harte style:
The empirical evidence thus suggests that the vast majority of human beings, while in a waking state, perceives a continuous infinity that I will designate with a symbol taken from mathematical set theory: aleph-one, or א1.
However, א1 (which colloquially, and inaccurately, is often referred to as the “real” world) is not the only level of abstraction that the human mind is capable of observing. The most common example of perception at an abstraction greater than א1 occurs in the dream state, where events originally perceived and internalized in א1 are processed by the sleeping mind in a primarily symbolic language. This next level of abstraction, which I designate א2, represents a distinction of infinite cardinality from א1, inasmuch as each point in א1, when viewed in א2, is capable of conveying infinitely more information in the symbolic mode...
It went on like that for a while. Nina flipped ahead.
The results of these experiments show, moreover, that the direct perception of א2 cannot be distinguished experientially from existence in א2. This poses an apparent paradox, for abstraction to א2 necessarily entails the elimination of detailed distinctions between א1 locations and features via a process of superordinate categorization. For example, every red house in א1, stripped of its detail, might become a single red house in א2. But how can it be that a perceiving individual attuned to א2 can see all red houses simultaneously by virtue of this abstraction, when any individual in א1 has a fixed location?
The apparent paradox derives from the common misunderstanding discussed above that א1 represents the “real” world, and that all other levels of perception must have a foundation in this “base reality”. In fact, there is no evidence that א1 holds any greater merit or importance than any other level of abstraction, apart from its apparent status as the default setting for the human mind. Thus, an individual’s perceptions in א2 need not make logical sense in א1.
Indeed, to the extent that an individual in א2 is by definition existing and perceiving on a level inconsistent with the ontological and physical laws of א1, that individual will no longer be perceptible in א1...
Nina closed the book, and put it down. “Does this actually mean anything?” she asked Timothy. He ignored her, and watched the road roll by.
He’s probably forgotten that he’s a prisoner, Nina thought with an internal smile. She shrugged, then extended the gesture into a stretch, enjoying the soft leather of the seat against her shoulders. Nina appreciated Robert Black’s attitude toward the comfort of his employees; the limousine was just one example of how Black’s apparently inexhaustible budget was used to create a pleasant working environment. She could definitely get used to this; there was no question that freelancing had been the correct career move when she left the CIA after that ugly period at the turn of the millennium.
She honestly wasn’t sure if Black’s operation was government or quasi-government (or, for that matter, which government it was, quasi- or otherwise). Black had made clear she was not supposed to ask. She didn't even know the name of the organization, or if it had a name. Regardless, it was obvious that Black had more pull, better equipment, and deeper funding than the Agency.
Certainly, Black’s primary research facility was the most advanced installation that she had ever seen. And, oddly, the most stylish. The man probably had interior decorators on retainer. The overall effect was that of the secret base of a Bond villain, if Dr. No had decided to move his operations from Crab Key to rural New Jersey. Presumably the property values were better in the Garden State.
Not that Nina considered Black, or herself, to be a mustache-twirling villain. Timothy’s arrest was as much for his own good as it was for the good of Robert Black’s project. Black’s team had been working in the same field for decades, and had been content to let Timothy pursue his research in academia (with employees such as herself keeping tabs on him) while they continued behind the veil of secrecy. Now, however, Black said that the good Doctor Harte had reached a point where his work was becoming dangerous.
The limousine turned off of I-80; the facility had been built into one of the abandoned iron mines in that area of the state. They would be stopping shortly, to be met by a vehicle more appropriate to unpaved roads that led to the base. Then she could hand Timothy over, pick up her bonus check, and leave this part of the operation far behind.
“The nice part of the trip is almost over,” she told Harte, while she poured herself another diet cola. The other, much more expensive bottle was untouched. She wouldn’t be opening the good stuff until the job was done, her own personal rule. “Last chance for a drink for while.”
“No, thank you.”
“Suit yourself,” Nina said, and sipped.
* * *
Chavez knew something wasn’t right when, except for “Agent Packer,” the DEA team was gone within fifteen minutes.
Forensics should have been crawling all over the room, turning it upside down for evidence, photographing the ten by fifteen room from every angle. This team hadn’t even bothered to open a single drawer.
And Packer didn’t seem inclined to start an interview anytime soon, either. He just checked his watch every couple of minutes. What’s he waiting for? Chavez wondered.
“What office are you guys out of?” he asked.
“I’m not supposed to answer any questions,” Packer replied gruffly.
“Mind if I get a drink of water before we start?” he asked. Packer nodded, and Chavez went into the bathroom and turned on the tap.
“So, is the forensic team following behind you guys?” he called out over the sound of the faucet.
“The forensics team.”
“Oh, right. They’ll be here soon.” Sure they would, Chavez thought. To take away my body, I expect.
“Be right there,” Chavez said. “Just letting it get cold.” Then he turned out the bathroom light.
“Hey - get out here!” Packer said. Chavez heard him moving, and stepped into the bathtub.
He tensed as the agent’s shadow fell across the floor, the blunt shape of a pistol in one hand. Chavez, pressing himself into the corner of the tub, grimly noted the silencer on the weapon. So, a quiet bullet for me, he thought. Come on, one more step, you bastard...
Packer flipped the light on as he stepped into the bathroom, saw Chavez in the mirror, and whirled around...then kept going as his feet went out from under him in the slick of water and shampoo that Chavez had spilled across the tile. The gun went off in Packer’s hand, shattering the mirror; his head whacked the side of the tub on the way down, and he sprawled across the floor.
Chavez scooped the pistol out of the shards of glass, and leaped on the agent before he could recover his wits. Pinning the dazed man’s arms with his knees, Chavez slapped Packer’s face.
“Come on, wake up.” He waited for Packer’s eyes to focus, then planted the pistol under the man’s chin. “Now, where have you people taken my friends?” Chavez asked.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 15.4]