In fact, both Lieutenant Commanders Joseph Carter and Mike Mendoza had been watched closely—followed, even, from San Diego to Seal Beach. The Agent in Black was slightly surprised that they hadn’t been aware of it. At least, they hadn’t given any indication of knowing that they were being tailed, other than nearly missing their freeway exit.

The agent sipped his coffee, and glanced at Carter’s untouched water. “You thirsty?” he asked.

“No.”

Silence.

“What did you do when you reached the fallen object?”

Carter sighed. “Like I said, we got to it and...we looked around to see where it came from. It just fell out of the sky. We didn’t see any aircraft, and no, the wind wasn’t blowing, and no, the thing wasn’t hot, and yes, it looked like a round rock. Gray in color, but that impression might have been due to the moonlight.”

While the agent watched him closely, the lieutenant commander stood and crossed over to the room’s only window. The guards watched him closely, too. Carter tried to close the blinds just a little more, but couldn’t seem to make the damn things work. Blast it! The light was just too damn bright.

“What happened next?” the agent calmly asked.

Frustrated, Carter gave up and faced the Agent in Black. “I...I don’t remember. Wait. Yes, I bent down to touch it. I know, I know, I know I wasn’t supposed to. I was just so curious, you know? So, I touched it. I’m sorry. I touched it and a piece broke off in my hand. I showed it to Mike.”

“Lieutenant Commander Mendoza?”

“Yes.”

“And he touched it, too?”

“Yes.”

“And that’s when you decided it might be time to report the incident?”

“Yes. I called my commanding officer from my cell phone.” But you dicks showed up first, Joe thought to himself. Aloud, he said, “You know the drill from there.”

The Agent in Black knew. His CREW had tracked several such “Incidents.” Over the past two days, small objects had landed on various military sites worldwide. The CREW was on the spot in most locations before anyone else. Lieutenant Commanders Carter and Mendoza were two of the six in the world who’d seen the landings firsthand. As well as these two LCs, three witnesses in Mexico City and one in Istanbul were being interrogated.

There was a knock on the door.

“Excuse me.” The Agent in Black left Carter with his own thoughts.

Carter and Mendoza got a glimpse of the goon in the hallway and exchanged glances before the door closed.

In the hall, the agent met with what could have been his clone. “You get anything?” he asked.

“Not much. Same story.”

The Agent in Black nodded. These two unfortunate LCs knew next to nothing. Neither had top-secret clearance. Even if they had, they wouldn’t have had any access to The CREW’s intelligence information. “What should we do with them?”

The clone spoke. “They don’t know anything.”

“They’ve seen the crash.”

The clone nodded. “True, but they aren’t aware of anything else.”

The Agent in Black’s first priority was to contain this information. No matter what.

The clone read his mind. “Any additional attention to this could be catastrophic.”

The Agent in Black nodded and considered the whole picture. These two had spotless records. Obviously, they were potential “lifers” for the Navy. Containment of these events also meant silence. The Agent in Black had the authority to lock them up. Hell, he had the authority to make them disappear, too. Few knew the agent’s real name, and he liked it that way. He was known simply as the Agent in Black, a name that struck fear in those he crossed paths with. Fear was a good thing in his line of business. He and his CREW were above Top Secret; that is, they didn’t officially exist. Indeed, few knew of the CREW’s existence, including the president. A cabal of intelligence leaders had created the CREW, along with other shadow agencies, to clean up messes just like this one.

And it’s a helluva mess, thought the Agent in Black.

But their disappearance would attract attention. Families didn’t need to know, but military colleagues would wonder, even in private. Besides, both men looked ill. Additionally, both men were supposed to be on leave.

He sighed and made his first mistake. His biggest mistake. “Have them sign a confidentiality agreement. Then they can go.”

The clone hid his disagreement. He would never contradict his superior. Or so he thought at the time. “I’ll draw up the papers.”

Chapter Three

Anna Carter focused her left eye into the great telescope atop the Griffith Observatory. Her right eye, trained over the last year, phased out as she scrutinized the night sky. Her hands automatically found their way to the attached laptop, adjusting the lens.

Nothing else existed for Anna in this moment except for the view into another galaxy. She didn’t feel the chilled night air, and she didn’t hear the music blasting from her iPod. She connected with the dark matter, billions of miles away—and tried to shrug off the fog coming up the hills of Los Feliz.

Out of frustration, she’d kept herself away for nearly two weeks. The astronomical changes were so slight that they couldn’t be tracked every day. Now, she gasped at the dark matter’s miniscule structural development. Pen in hand, she took notes.

Anna knew she had it pretty good compared to most kids, but her project at the Griffith Observatory meant more to her than almost anything else. Her time was usually divided between home school, working with her father at the Los Angeles Zoo, and here at the observatory.

Recently, she’d made a few friends her own age. Her father didn’t like it, she knew. He’d been particularly alarmed that one of her new friends was a boy. He constantly immersed Anna in conversations of “getting older” and making “good choices.” Anna took it all in with the normal impatience of a fourteen year old. She was getting pretty good at rolling her eyes.

These thoughts flickered in and out of her concentration as she alternately entered data on the laptop and took hand notes. The dark matter she’d been tracking over the last six months was changing in both size and shape. She knew they were changes that only a handful of people on Earth would be able to discern. Few public telescopes equaled the observatory’s strength.

Her stomach rumbled; this she did notice but chose to ignore it. Just a few minutes more, that was all she wanted. She didn’t really need more time. Her data was recorded, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the sky view.

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