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The Cassandra Compact



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“No, I sold the place. Too many memories.”

On the back of a card he jotted down his address in Bethesda, along with a phone number that he was actually listed under.

Handing her the card, he said, “Don't be a stranger.”

“I won't,” Megan replied. “Look after yourself, Jon.”

“You too. It was good to see you, Megan. Good luck on the mission.”

She watched him walk out of the overhang and disappear into the drizzle.

“I'm at loose ends…”

Megan had never thought of Smith as a man without purpose or direction. She was still wondering about his cryptic comment as she walked over to Sophia's grave, the rain drumming on her umbrella.


The Pentagon employs over twenty-three thousand workers ― military and civilian ― housing them in a unique structure that covers almost four million square feet. Anyone looking for security, anonymity, and access to both the world's most sophisticated communications plus the power centers of Washington could not ask for a more perfect venue.

The Leased Facilities Division occupies a tiny portion of the offices in the Pentagon's E block. As its name implies, Leased Facilities oversees the procurement, management, and security of buildings and land for the military, everything from storage warehouses in St. Louis to vast tracts of Nevada desert for an air force testing ground. Given the decidedly unglamorous nature of its work, the men and women in the division are more civilian than military in character. They arrive at the offices at nine o'clock in the morning, put in a dutiful day's work, and leave at five. World events that might keep their colleagues at their desks for days on end have no impact on them. Most of them like it that way.

Nathaniel Fredrick Klein liked it too ― but for altogether different reasons. Klein's office was at the very end of a hall, tucked between doors that were marked ELECTRICAL ROOM and MAINTENANCE. Except there were no such service rooms behind those doors and their locks could not be opened even with the most sophisticated key card. That space was part of Klein's secret suite.

There was no nameplate on Klein's door, only an internal Pentagon designation: 2E377. If asked, the few coworkers who'd actually seen him would describe a man in his early sixties, medium height, unprepossessing except for his rather long nose and wireframed glasses. They might recall his conservative and somewhat rumpled suits, perhaps the way he would smile briefly when passed in the hall. They might have heard that Klein was sometimes called before the joint chiefs or a congressional committee. But that would be in keeping with his seniority. They might also know that he was vested with the responsibility of checking the properties the Pentagon leased or had an interest in throughout the world. That would account for the fact that one seldom saw him at all. In fact it was sometimes difficult to say who or what Nathaniel Klein really was.

At eight o'clock in the evening, Klein was still behind his desk in the modest office that was identical to all the others in the wing. He had added a few personal touches: framed prints depicting the world as imagined by sixteenth-century cartographers; an old-fashioned pedestal-mounted globe; and a large, framed photograph of the earth taken from the space shuttle.

Although very few people were aware of it, Klein's affinity for things global was a direct reflection of his real mandate: to serve as the eyes and ears of the president. From this nondescript office Klein ran a loosely knit organization known as Covert-One. Conceived by the president after the horror known as the Hades Project, Covert-One was designed to be the chief executive's early warning system and secret response option.

Because Covert-One worked outside the usual military-intelligence bureaucracy and well away from the scrutiny of Congress, it had no formal organization or headquarters. Instead of accredited operatives, Klein recruited men and women whom he called “mobile ciphers” ― individuals who were acknowledged experts in their fields yet who, through circumstances or dispositions, found themselves outside the mainstream of society. Most ― but certainly not all ― had some military background, were holders of numerous citations and awards, but had chafed under structured command, and so had elected to leave their respective services. Others came from the civilian world: former investigators ― state and federal; linguists who were fluent in a dozen languages; doctors who had traveled the world and were accustomed to the harshest conditions. The very best, like Colonel Jon Smith, bridged the two worlds.

They also possessed one factor that disqualified so many Klein looked at: their lives were strictly their own. They had little or no family, few encumbrances, and a professional reputation that would stand up to the closest scrutiny. These were invaluable assets for an individual sent in harm's way thousands of miles from home.

Klein closed the folder on the report he had been reading, removed his glasses, and rubbed his weary eyes. He was looking forward to going home, being greeted by his cocker spaniel, Buck, and enjoying a finger of single-malt scotch followed by whatever dinner his housekeeper had left in the oven. He was about to get up when the connecting door to the next room opened.


The speaker was a trim woman a few years younger than Klein, with bright robin's eyes and graying blond hair done in a French twist. She wore a conservative blue business suit accented by a string of pearls and a filigree gold bracelet.

“I thought you'd gone home, Maggie.”

Maggie Templeton, who'd been Klein's assistant for the ten years he had worked at the National Security Agency, arched her neatly sculptured brows.

“When was the last time I left before you did? Good thing I didn't, too. You'd better have a look at this.”

Klein followed Maggie into the next room, which was really one large computer station. Three monitors were lined up side by side, along with a host of servers and storage units, all driven by the government's most advanced software. Klein stood back and admired the dexterity and proficiency with which Maggie worked her keyboard. It was like watching a virtuoso performance by a concert pianist.

Besides the president, Maggie Templeton was the only person familiar with the entire workings of Covert-One. Knowing he would need a skilled and trusted right hand, Klein had insisted on Maggie's being involved from the get-go. Besides having worked for him at the NSA, she had better than twenty years experience as a senior CIA administrator. But most important to Klein, she was family. Maggie's sister, Judith, had been Klein's wife, taken by cancer years ago. Maggie too had had her share of tragedy: her husband, a CIA covert operative, had never returned from a mission abroad. As fate would have it, Maggie and Klein were the only family each had.

Finished on the keyboard, Maggie tapped on the screen with an elegantly manicured fingernail.



The two words pulsed in the center of the screen like a blinking traffic light at an empty intersection in a country town. Klein felt the hairs on his forearms push against his shirtsleeves. He knew exactly who Vector Six was; he could see his face as clearly as if the man were standing next to him. Vector Six: the code name, if it ever appeared, was to be construed by Mein as a panic signal.

“Shall I pull up the message?” Maggie asked quietly.


She touched a series of keys and the encrypted message of letters, symbols, and numbers shot up on the screen. She then repeated the process with different keys to activate the decryption software. Seconds later, the message appeared in clear text:


Dîner ― prix fixe ― 8 euro

Spécialité: Fruits de mer

Spécialité du bar: Bellini

Fermé entre 14–16 heures

Even if a third party somehow managed to decode the message, this menu of a nameless French restaurant was both innocuous and misleading. Klein had set up the simple code the last time he had met Vector Six face to face. Its meaning had nothing to do with Gallic cuisine. It was the call of last resort, a plea for immediate extraction.

Klein didn't hesitate. “Please reply as follows: Reservations pour deux.”

Maggie's fingers flew over the keys, tapping out the secure response. The single sentence bounced off two military satellites before being sent back to earth. Klein didn't know where Vector Six was at that moment, but as long as he had access to the laptop Klein had given him, he could download and decrypt the reply.

Come on! Talk to me!

Klein checked the time stamp on the message: The message was less than two minutes old.

A reply flashed across the screen: Reservations confirmées.

Klein exhaled as the screen faded to black. Vector Six would not stay on-line any longer than was absolutely necessary. Contact had been established, an itinerary proposed, accepted, and verified. Vector Six would not use this channel of communications again.

As Maggie shut down the link, Klein sat down in the only other chair in the room, wondering what extraordinary circumstances had prompted Vector Six to contact him.

Unlike the CIA and other intelligence agencies, Covert-One did not run a string of foreign agents. Nonetheless, Klein had a handful of contacts abroad. Some had been cultivated during his days at the NSA; others were the results of chance meetings that had blossomed into a relationship based on both trust and mutual self-interest.

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