According to his Monday through Friday morning routine Stan Benkman would walk to work. He would leave his apartment, rain or shine, crossing Central Park and eventually end up on the corner of Lexington avenue and 78th street to grab a coffee and the Times at Empire Newsstand. On this dreary Fall, Tuesday morning, Stan arrived at the newsstand. He picked up a copy of the Times and got in line at the register. At the front of the crowded shop an elderly gentleman had accidentally dropped his change onto the floor and gathering it up the best he could. Right at that moment another gentleman entered the store and instead of passing by, he knelt down and helped the old man by picking up a few bits. For a brief moment, Stan thought the man helping gather the coins looked familiar but quickly dismissed the thought and began scanning the morning headlines of his paper. Then, realizing there was some connection with the face of the stranger, Stan looked up from his folded newspaper only to find the helpful man had vanished. The old man cheerfully walked out the front entrance with a small tote tucked under his arm.
‘Parks. Pools. Ponds,’ The words kept involuntarily percolating upward into the frontal lobe of Stans mind as the profile of the stranger shimmered in an alternate plane, a thin ethereal vapor on the horizon, between his eyes and the other side of the store. ‘Tongs. Tools. Tools? Schools? Sparks. Spool. Spoon? Spoons?….. SPOOKS!’ and suddenly the barrage of ramble found a home in the face of the stranger who had disappeared. ‘Spooks! That’s not the guys name but we called him that all the damned time,’ Stan surmised as he turned around, scanning the periphery. He twisted right then left but was unable to see where the stranger had gone. Someone behind him cleared their throat abruptly. He noticed that he was supposed to be next in line, nodded an apology toward the terse woman behind him, and approached the register.
“Times and a coffee regular,” stated the unshaven attendant, pushing a tall hot beverage cup across the countertop, a wisp of steam roiling up from the lid.
“Thanks, Larry. Have a good one,” Stan said as he dropped four bills on the counter.
Stan hurriedly walked toward the entrance, pushed the glass door open with a firm shoulder, and made his way out to the sidewalk. Immediately, he saw the gentleman thirty feet to his right, standing on the corner, waiting to cross the street. Still gripping the folded newspaper, Stan raised his left hand lightly over his head and waved it back and forth a couple of times which briefly caught the stranger’s attention and beckoned, “Hey, Spooks! It’s me! It’s Stan! Stanley Benk____”
The stranger looked away quickly, tucked down his head, and bolted in the opposite direction, rounding the corner on the other side of the building. Stan’s feet became anvils cemented into the sidewalk for a moment as the stranger disappeared. Then, he snapped to and began to follow, dodging his way through the crowd, rounding the corner after him.
Stan moved forward swiftly down the sidewalk raising up slightly on the tips of his toes every few paces to keep an eye on the back of the head of the dark haired man and his long, grey, town coat, the tails flapping behind him. With so many pedestrians on their way to work, matching pace with him was almost impossible. Stan realized that he might make himself late for work if he continued much further but he suddenly remembered that he was the boss, after all, and continued to see if he could catch up with the man he once knew as Spooks.
As he followed in pursuit, weaving quickly between the endless sea of pedestrians, his memories were piecing together like a puzzle. It was 1973 at the US Army installation at Fort Bragg and Stan Benkman was ordered to meet in a secluded and heavily wooded area of the base. He recalled a large brick, three story, administrative type structure. The name Rutherford Building was posted on a small wooden sign just before the guardhouse where two MP’s stood their post. Once cleared and instructed where to report inside the building, Stan found himself in a small conference type room with three rows of metal folding chairs with all seats taken except for one to his immediate right. He quietly took a seat and nodded a hello to the officer sitting to his left. This was the first time that he would meet private Edward Candler as they both shook hands.
Just then a heavily medaled and decorated man entered the room and the officers scrambled up out of their seats to salute and stand at attention.
“At ease, gentlemen,” he said to them all, motioning calmly with his hands to take their seats. He stood before them like an enormous brick wall nearing seven feet tall and built like a tank. The old bear looked over them from left to right without expression. His grand moustache entirely covering his upper lip, its wingspan out across its cheeks.
“I am Major Tanner and I welcome all of you here this evening. I am going to make this short and sweet, gentlemen. At the conclusion of this briefing you will all rise and follow Corporal Smythe through those large doors to your right. You will not be returning to your regular barracks as all of your things have already been relocated to a new facility just behind the Rutherford Building. Beginning tomorrow morning at Oh-six-hundred you will report back to this same room. From this day forward you are now involved in a highly classified and confidential special operations team that will be referred to from this moment forward as: Project Daybreak. Dismissed…”
During the first few days of the project there was little changed in the troops daily routines. This was mainly to allow cohesion between the twenty-five enlisted men, even if it was just a few exercises and meals that Stanley Benkman and Edward Candler experienced together within their new squad. Little by little, the officers were exposed to the fact that the reason they were invited to this special operations unit was that they all had exhibited, under extensive observation in the field, a very high threshold of mental acuity during times of extreme stress. They were later told that this level of mental acuity and stamina was perfect for this unit as Project Daybreak would begin training them in ‘Remote Viewing’; The power to harness paranormal or psychic abilities in order to view and report back on sensitive remote targets, most of them military in nature, sometimes half way around the world.
For the next six months Daybreak was in full swing. Once the daily calisthenics were performed and proper nourishment had been taken, every minute in between, until bunk down, was spent perfecting the dark arts of remote viewing and everything in between to boost their abilities. Stan was starting to come into his own among the group as a leader in developing these skills, often times reading sensitive documents that were kept in highly guarded vaults at the other end of the military base. Edward was also impressive to the squad and during some of his ‘Sessions’ random metal objects in the room would twist and disfigure themselves right before their eyes. But, over time, as the abilities of Edward Candler began to bloom, when coming out of a mnemonically induced trance state, he would begin to spasm from head to toe and shriek as if his fingers had been chopped away with a meat cleaver. Fort Bragg physicians pronounced officer Candler fit as a fiddle and mentally as tough as a bowling ball full of iron. But, due to these frequent and abrupt outbursts he quickly earned the nickname “Spooks”.
Project Daybreak had become a success for a handful of the enlisted men and their confidence had gone through the roof. But, things began to get tense in the barracks when strange, and unexplained things began to happen.
One evening on night patrol, Benkman was making his rounds and noticed faint sparkling blue flashes of light coming from under the door of the latrine, like someone was using a cigarette lighter in the dark. He slowly pushed the door open with the tip of his billy club and entered the long restroom, moving ghost quiet across the freshly mopped tile, until he saw more muted azure sparks coming from a shower stall at the end of the row. He stood absolutely still in the dark, only breathing slowly through his nose, and he was able to detect subtle crackling sounds that were definitely coming from the same enclosure.
After a brief moment the flashes subsided and hardly a sound except the low rumble of a few exhausted troops snoring in the barracks which was carrying down the hallway. Stan moved slowly forward several paces with his billy club raised above his right shoulder. He could barely make out the sounds of deep rasping breathing and then the rattling of someone undoing the latch-lock of the shower stall door. Stan froze instantly, club raised high, ready to strike, and waited until the silhouette of a head, then a body, protruded outward into the darkness.
“Who goes there!? Identify yourself at once!” Stan shouted at the dark, shadowy, figure.
“Shhhhh….. for Chrissake! I was just taking a crap,” grumbled the figure.
Stan recognized the voice instantly as that of Edward ‘Spooks’ Candler and lowered his weapon, “What the hell, man?” Stan whispered at him, pointing his finger at his nose, “You scared the hell out of me… And what’s up with all the crazy lights and sparks? What the hell was that?”
“Take it easy… Take it easy, ok?” Edward hissed back, “There’s a whole lot going on around here that you don’t know about. I’ve met some people….on the other side, and we need to be extremely careful from now on. Me and you, specifically. It’s cool and all to be one of the strongest in the group but sometimes that can come at a deadly price, Stan. And, I don’t know about you, but I plan on making it out of here alive.”
Stan shook his head and whispered back, “You aren’t making a damned bit of sense! I think that all this training, all the maneuvers, all the remote targets, the whole damned thing in general is starting to mess with your head. Now, what the hell were you doing in here? What is up with all those flashing lights and shit? Were you trying to light a cigar or something?”
Candler leaned in closer, beside Stan’s cheek, and whispered close to his ear, “I’ve got a lot to tell you, man. But you need to listen to what I have to say and take it for what it’s worth. There’s still a whole hell of alot that I can’t explain.”
Right up until dawn, Stan and Spooks sat straddled on a wooden dressing bench in the latrine area, facing one another. Edward went on to explain the strange lights to Stan as ‘re-entry flare’ that would fire off and crackle once he was moving from one astral plane to another. He was sure the phenomenon was happening during remote target training but due to the lights used in the session rooms, unless they were dimmed super low, were just enough to keep the human eye from noticing their bizarre and delicate appearance. He also recounted the past three months worth of sessions; that his prowess for remote viewing has increased faster than he had ever imagined, how he was able to view and accurately notate the desired intelligence within seconds of entry, and use the next two to three hours on his own; mastering the mechanics of astral projection and advancing beyond that into parallel universe travel.
“What? We lay there, in a room, with cameras and the whole bit, with a timer. There is physical evidence that we don’t ever leave the session room. And, I don’t care what you say,” argued Stan, “We are there, doing our thing, and we don’t move for hours at a clip! What about all your screaming and carrying on when you come out of your…..your…. trance state?”
“I do that for show, Stan. Its all a load of crap,” Edward chuckled,“I have to come back in with a bang. And when I do, with pinpoint accurate intelligence, they don’t give a shit how long it takes me to get it! And what they don’t know, ain’t going to hurt ‘em. Our superior officers don’t have a clue about what’s really out there, man. And as long as they think their good little bitch, Edward ‘Spooks’ Candler, goes out and comes back with exactly what they want to hear, and keeps them in their polished brass and Cuban cigars for the next three years…., I’m going wherever the hell I want on my time…” he stated firmly and made a wide, sweeping motion out the window towards the myriad of stars above them; spread out like a celestial quilt over the sky at Fort Bragg.
On the top floor of an apartment complex, high above Murphy’s Jewelers, on the corner of east 79th street and 3rd avenue, the dark figure of a man has pulled back drawn curtains a few inches more in order to get a wider view up 79th toward Lexington. He makes a small adjustment to a tripod and then to the sights of an assault rifle mounted on top of a pea green Formica dining room table. From the folding wooden chair he is sitting he leans forward slowly and peers into the rifle’s scope which is trained on the crowded sidewalk below.
“Foxtrot bravo one. Foxtrot bravo one,” he whispers warmly and smooth into his bluetooth headset, “This is winter ivy. Bear cub is in the labyrinth. I repeat. Bear cub is in the labyrinth.”
“Winter ivy. This is foxtrot bravo one,” comes a crackled response a few seconds later into his headset, “Is ID positive?…. Is bear cub ID positive?”
“Affirmative, foxtrot bravo one. Affirmative,” he replies into his headset. He glances down at the tattered and open dossier full of scanned documents and long range black and white photographs laying on the kitchen table beside his mounted weapon. “Please advise. I repeat. Please advise.”
He quickly returns his eye to the scope, waiting on a directive from the other end of the line. He holds his breath for several moments of deep silence with crosshairs trained on the forehead of Stanley Benkman as he continues toward the building on the sidewalk below, Edward ‘Spooks’ Candler moving briskly ahead of him.
Spooks methodically weaves his way through the oncoming pedestrians, just past the halfway point up the block, with Stan Benkman starting to slowly close the gap from behind. The marksman tightens his finger ever so slightly on the trigger as he begins to inhale slowly, preparing for the final release.
“Winter ivy. This is foxtrot bravo one,” stated the faraway voice at the other end, “Bear cub goes down the hole. I repeat. Bear cub goes down the hole.”
The marksman high above the crowded avenue exhales, slowly removing his finger from the trigger, and eases back away from the assault rifle and back into his chair.
On the street below a white unmarked van swiftly rounds the corner of Lexington avenue, accelerates quickly up 79th, and screeches up to the curb just behind Stanley Benkman with five armed men jettisoning from the sliding door and onto the sidewalk toward him.
He had just bumped into an oncoming stranger, spilling some of his fresh coffee, and decided that maybe the stranger wasn’t Edward Candler after all. He shrugged, and decided to give up the chase. As crushing hands fell hard upon his shoulders and arms grappling around his waist, lifting him off of the ground, Stan began to shout loudly, flailing with his arms, hoping a free elbow would make contact with someone’s skull or nose. Then, in mid-air, bellowing all sorts of expletives and obscenities, he realized that those who held him off the ground had instantaneously become motionless. His screams were somehow echoing down the gridlocked street that had miraculously gone silent around him.
Stan had a look around and was shocked to discover that the entire world had stopped dead around him; taxis and buses motionless, pedestrians frozen in their tracks with smiles and smirks affixed to their faces. Everything had come to a halt. He observed that he was suspended off of the ground by several secret service type men, whose frozen arms and meathooks held him up like a derby swinging on a hat rack. Just as he had realized his predicament he noticed that Spooks was jogging up to him, just a few yards away.
“Stay still while I get you out of this mess,” he said hurriedly, and began to pry at their arms until Stan became free with his feet back on the ground.
“Spooks? Ed Candler? It is you, right?
“Yeah it’s me, Stan. And we need to get out of here as quickly as possible. I’ll tell you everything once you and I can move to a safe place. Now give me a hand!”
Edward stepped away across the sidewalk and approached an ice cream vendor, paralyzed in the impasse of time, and pulled his cart full of frozen treats away from his side. He quickly wheeled it up to the group of men who attempted to abduct Stan. He began to manipulate them around the cart, weaving their arms together, some of them going through the cart’s push handle, and called out to Stan, “Handcuffs! Handcuffs!”
Stan moved around the circle of bodies, reaching into their dark coat pockets, one after another. After frisking around them all, counterclockwise, he had six sets of handcuffs which he handed over to Spooks. Edward began cuffing the men’s interlocked arms together at the wrist until he had them all daisy chained into a circle around the ice cream cart.
“They’re going to love waking up to this,” stated Edward with a wink, “Let’s get out of here. Follow me.”
Edward took off across the street in full sprint and Stan took off after him, tossing his coffee cup to the side. They jogged up the middle of Lexington Avenue, dodging the occasional open door or pedestrian who became frozen while crossing the street, until they were at the corner of East 84th Street. Edward ducked into the front entrance of Mr. Perks coffee house and found a sofa in the back corner where it was dim lit and no one was seated. He motioned for Stan to sit down while he went behind the service counter for a moment and returned with two bottles of cold water. He tossed one to Stan who caught it in mid air, twisted off the cap, and took three huge gulps, draining half the bottle. Edward sat across from him in a lazy chair and caught his breath.
“Are you ready?” Ed asked
“Ready? Ready for what?” Stan gasped, still trying to catch his breath, “Did you do that out there? How’d you do that?”
Edward looked down at his watch and then back up at Stan. He smiled, leaned forward and clapped his hands right in front of Stan’s nose with a loud ‘Pop’ that made him recoil and blink.
Instantaneously, the world moved around them as if nothing had happened. Patrons hustled in and out of the coffee house while others read their books and tablets. The sound of the busy street beyond the walls spilled in each time a new customer entered the busy little shop from the sidewalk.
“We can only sit here for a minute or two, Stan. We’re about half a mile away from the target zone which is a larger perimeter than their amateur remote talents will allow them to access. Like I told you back at base, they have no idea how to get around out here. If they did, they would know that most places these days are completely under camera surveillance. If they knew they existed, in this particular time frame, they would realize that they could remotely view the entire grid of camera systems from wherever in time they happen to be. But, they are slowly starting to catch up. And that means we split as fast as we can and don’t leave them any clues.”
“Who are you talking about?” Stan insisted with a furrowed brow, he was completely confused and feeling displaced, “I have no idea what’s going on here. You have to tell me! Are they trying to kill you? How did everything just stop like that? Did you do that?”
“You need to keep your voice down,” said Edward with a chastising hard gaze. After taking a quick glance around the periphery he explained in further detail, “This is going to be a lot to swallow but I need you to listen and trust me. If you can’t you’ll end up dead. Period.”
Stan rubbed his temples, shaking his head in disbelief, and then finally looked up into Edward’s eyes and said, “Ok.”
“To put it simply; the US Army wants us dead. We are, right now, experiencing your present life here in New York City. And, in about fifteen minutes, in 1973, back in the session room at the Rutherford building at Fort Bragg, you are about to be handed a manila envelope labeled ‘Manhattan Target’. If the US Army is successful, you will remotely view this moment in time from the Fort. They will be waiting, they will kill you in both timescapes, simultaneously, and I will escape back to where I reside safely in the future. Lucky for you, I’ve viewed, reviewed, and rehearsed this fragment of time. I’m here to save both of your lives.”
“A couple of minutes ago you said that the Army lacks the smarts to track us down?” asked Stan worriedly. His mind was reeling from all that he had just heard.
“That’s just it, Stan. The Army of the past can’t do a damned thing. But, the Army that will likely appear twenty to thirty years from now could be the most violent ever seen on Earth. If the present course of time continues without much alteration they are likely to bring the entire planet under their control. If their future troops of cybrid humans are trained beyond the level that we have discovered on our own, they could easily send the world into its darkest days. But, I can tell you this; if we can prevent the Army from eliminating us both, and at the same time allow them to erase Project Daybreak from the memory of time, no one will ever have to bear witness to the absolute hell that is waiting just around the corner. I need you to trust me, Stan. I can’t stop them alone. I need you to come with me…”
Both men sat looking straight into each others eyes without uttering a word. From the negative body language of Stan Benkman this appeared to be a stalemate until he suddenly came to his senses and connected the dots in the dark recesses of his mind.
“Alright then….Let’s go,” Stan announced as he stood up from the sofa tucked away in the back of Mr. Perks coffee house. Edward stood to face him. He placed his right hand firmly on Stan’s shoulder and both men vanished without anyone noticing.
“At ease, Officer Benkman. Please have a seat,” said Major Tanner from behind his large mahogany desk, motioning toward a cozy leather chair with the nod of his head, “Officer Benkman, what I am about to tell you will probably come as a great surprise. But, I need to alert you that whatever is said right here, right now, is confidential, highly classified and a matter of national security with global implications. Am I making myself clear, officer?”
“Sir. Yes, Sir.”
“Good,” replied the Major with a quick wink and continued on, “Officer Benkman, from the moment you arrived at Fort Bragg you have served the US Army with great courage and pride. Your contributions to this special operation and, most importantly, US intelligence as a whole are monumental, to say the least. But, it has been determined recently that Project Daybreak has suffered a massive breach of security and must be dissolved at once. However, there is one final mission that must be carried out by you and your fellow Officer Edward Candler. Completion of this final mission, which will assist us in closing this security breach, will mean serious rewards for you both. You will both be flown to an undisclosed location for debriefing, given a hefty pension for retirement, honorably discharged and set free to do as you please. Is that understood, Officer Benkman?”
“Sir. Yes, Major Tanner, sir.”
“Good,” said the Major and handed a sealed manila envelope across the desk to Stan.
Stan accepted the large yellow packet and opened its confidential seal. He pulled out the paperwork from inside which in bold typeface in the center of the cover sheet read ‘Manhattan Target’.
“Officer, Benkman. It has been a pleasure serving in the United States Army with you and for that I am very proud. Report to your normal remote session room immediately and let’s save this God blessed country of ours one more time, shall we?”
“Sir. Yes, sir,” said Stan as he raised out of his chair to salute Major Tanner, “I won’t let you down, Major.”
Benkman spun on his boot heel and left the Major’s office forthright, closing the large oak door behind him. He paced up the short hallway with burgundy carpet until he came to a large stairwell at the end and headed downstairs with the manila packet gripped tightly in his hand. Six floors underground, at the bottom of the staircase, he was met by two heavily armed MP’s guarding the entrance to the sub-level assigned to Project Daybreak. They checked his ID badge as he filled out and autographed the daily entrance log. With that completed the larger MP, with the mashed up nose like a boxer and thick Brooklyn accent, signaled for the day’s match phrase by posing the statement, “Little Miss Susie walked into the woods.”
“Three bees in her bonnet,” replied Stan and the guards stepped aside to let him through the large steel doors.
As he stepped into the long, white, overly sterile hallway, he noticed Edward Candler entering his session room at the far end of the hall accompanied by his assigned field medic. He smiled down the hall at Stan and signalled with a strong thumbs up before disappearing behind the door. Stans heart rate picked up slightly and small beads of sweat began to form all over his scalp.
Another field medic was waiting halfway down the hall for Stan who saluted once he was face to face. At the same moment, Major Tanner appeared at the end of the hall. He stopped in the doorway of Edward Candlers remote session room to bid him farewell and good luck.
“And good luck to you as well, officer Benkman,” said the Major as he approached, “Now let’s get in there and take care of business.”
“Absolutely, Major,” replied Stan with a firm salute.
Stan and the field medic entered what was his personal remote session room for the better part of this year. He dimmed the lights to where you could barely see, rolled up his sleeves, and loosened his tie. The medic prepared the ECG machine and other diagnostic consoles that surrounded the specialised recliner in the center of the small room. The medic also toggled the record button on the camera system, one mounted in each corner of the room at the ceiling. Stan began by doing a series of standing yoga stretches while adjusting his breathing and repeating a series of mantras over and over again. After several minutes of quiet meditation, Stan removed the paperwork from his manila envelope and read the simple coordinates and instructions for the Manhattan Target. Once he absorbed the material into his memory he approached the document shredder and feed in the entire envelope and its contents. The machine made quick work of processing its meal into miniscule paper flakes that fell into a wire catch basket below.
Stan sat down and then reclined into the ultra cozy chair that ‘wooshed’ when he lay back. The medic prepared the ECG tabs and then affixed them to Stan’s temples and chest. Once ready, he and Stan exchanged nods signifying that he was ready to close his eyes and enter trance state.
For approximately twenty minutes the medic quietly observed as Stan’s alpha wave readings increasingly sunk lower and lower on the graph. Once the pre-REM motions of Stan’s eyes began flicking noticeably behind his eyelids, the medic nervously reached across the controls and stopped the camera system from recording. Then, he quietly raised from his chair and stood motionless by the door. For several seconds the medic stood trembling trying to regain his composure with his eyes closed, taking long, deep breaths. Finally, he reached into his coat pocket and produced a small hypodermic needle with a clear liquid neatly loaded inside the syringe. He slowly removed the cap from the needle and silently approached the recliner, reaching down slowly for Stan’s arm, ready to injection the payload.
Stan was just about to make his entry point at the exact coordinates of the Manhattan Target when suddenly gunfire rang out in the hallway, just beyond the session room. The medic, reacting quickly, tossed the syringe behind him into the far corner of the room and stepped away from the recliner. Stan came awake, startled from his trance state, gasping for air, sweat beading up on his forehead, his eyes wide and dilated.
Just then, the door was kicked open with a loud slam as it made contact with the concrete wall and Edward ‘Spooks’ Candler entered the room wielding a large Browning semi-automatic pistol drawn and aimed directly between Stan’s eyes.
“I’m sorry it has to come to end like this, Stan,” announced Edward as he approached the recliner.
“Spooks? What the fuck, man…? No… N-n-no…. P-p-please…” Stan sputtered, pleading with his eyes as he curled up into his recliner, shielding his face with his shaking hands.
Then, with his eyes and pistol locked on the frightened face of Stan Benkman, Candler quickly swung the pistol ninety degrees to his right and emptied three rounds into the head of the medic who crumpled to the floor with a plume of blood erupting from the back of his head, painting the concrete wall behind him with hot red splatter.
“We did it, Stan. Now let’s get out of here,” said Edward as he reached down, placing his hand on Stan’s quivering shoulder. Three seconds later, both men vanished within a sudden flash of faint blue sparks in the center of the room.
Note: This is a piece that I originally turned in to my fiction writers group at nearly one third its size, close to 1200 words. Later we were challenged to turn in something that we had already submitted for critique that needed expansion and at that time I turned it in at around 3000. Then, a good friend of mine who is a skilled editor, took a read and she suggested some more changes to be implemented and here we have it at about 5200 words and evolving. This subject is so cavernous, and the story can have so many threads, that I’m keeping it as a candidate for a full-on novel in the future – You know, when I don’t need to worry about feeding myself and family and can concentrate on it. Ha! - SMR