N Key & E, LLP, London
“Chess is in the box,” Margaret muttered as Peter Fleming stepped into the empty elevator. As the doors slid shut, the engineer noticed that the secretary said the same meaningless phrase every time; why she did that, he hadn’t the slightest idea…
Elsewhere in the building, a switch was flipped. The puzzled expression of Peter Fleming disappeared off of the brunette’s face. Lips thinned; blue eyes hardened.
Downstairs, James Davy stepped out of the lift. Engineering company and engineer alike left behind, Davy sought out his superior.
“What’s the mission?”
“It was you,” Henry Spivey exclaimed, realization dawning on his features as he stared at the rogue agent that was currently holding a gun on him. “You’re the one that broke the chip in our head!”
“I had to,” Davy glowered. “I didn’t sign up to live Peter Fleming’s life!”
“I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what you signed up for,” Henry contradicted him, “when you joined—what is it called again?”
“Usmu,” Chess replied, naming the British equivalent of the Janus program.
Both intelligence programs worked essentially the same way—under the premise that the best cover a secret agent could have was one that kept the agent’s identity a secret from himself. Each operative had a computer chip implanted into his/her brain, a device that allowed for the creation of an alternate personality that could be switched on and off at will. It was ingenious.
It also gave new meaning to not having a life. Usmu operatives were only allowed to be themselves while on missions; the rest of the time, their faux personas were in charge.
Davy had been 19 years old when he was recruited. He’d been in jail, awaiting trial for the murder of his stepfather (which he found ridiculous, as he’d only done the world a favor) when he’d gotten a visitor from the agency.
He hadn’t been close to anyone at the time, nor had that seemed likely to change. So when he was told he had skills that they wanted, told that they could get him out of prison, make the charges disappear, he accepted the offer.
One lengthy brain surgery later, Peter Fleming was born.
On the whole, James hadn’t regretted his decision—not until 1991. That was the year that Peter’s wife died.
Either James had been sloppy or his adversaries had been extraordinarily clever. Either way, they had tracked him back to Fleming’s home, where they found Danielle, restrained and tortured her.
James woke up once she was dead. The problem was that no one had woken him up; he’d regained awareness on his own. The microchip was broken.
There was no longer any predicting when he or Peter would be the one in control. For Peter, this meant discovering for the first time that his existence and most of his memories were the product of a covert government organization’s experiment.
For James, it meant he would have to help raise
Peter’s their three-year-old daughter.
“No, the deal was for Peter to live his life,” James corrected Henry. “I’m not the one that got married. I wasn’t the one that decided to become a father and yet somehow I got stuck driving to ballet recitals. Not to mention the little detail of the company could have killed me.”
James wasn’t stupid. Though there had been no discussion of the possibility of the chip ever malfunctioning, he knew what the protocol would be. Just as the technology had been used to create Peter, it would be used to erase James altogether. As that was unacceptable, he took matters into his own hands and, eventually, persuaded Usmu that James’ personality had already been destroyed. After that, it was fairly simple for Peter Fleming to leave the company and the country behind.
But not having the threat of extinction over his head wasn’t good enough for Chess. He wanted the chip fixed and though he couldn’t figure out how to do it, surely someone could. He just had to provide the proper motivation.
Fixing the chips was beyond his abilities, but breaking them was another story. Five years ago, he had broken the chip that Janus had surgically installed into Edward Albright’s brain.
James cocked his head, and watched as Henry looked like he was coming down with a headache. Moments later, the headache was gone, and his posture, his facial expression, and aura all shifted in dozens of subtle ways.
“So that’s what the change looks like,” James remarked.
“Explain something to me,” Edward Albright glowered at him. “If you broke us just so someone could figure out how to fix us, why the hell did you kill Tony when he was on the verge of a breakthrough?”