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Sandbox - Episode 2: Apple Man (Part 1)

Sandbox - Episode 2: Apple Man (Part 1)

A covert intelligence officer discovers that our universe is not what we imagined it to be.

Episode 2: Apple Man (Part 1)

Felix investigates his first case where he meets a strange apple-eating man and discovers a hidden dimension.

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Scene I

The old, weathered Parliament building in Ottawa towered over the majestic Gatineau River, weaving gracefully between the hilly landscape. In drastic need of major repairs, the building had undergone only minor cosmetic touch ups throughout its long history. Decades have gone by since the wafer-thin copper sheets, lining the facades of the rooftops, took on a greenish patina. Over time, both residents and politicians chose to embrace the characteristic green colour as an inherent quality of the building rather than attempt to fix it. The latter option was simply more convenient. Rust oozed from various other parts of the building while the stony exterior was cracked in several places. Looking at it from afar, these defects were barely noticeable. A much closer look revealed a structure worthy of being called nothing more than a historical relic, slowly decomposing in Earth’s embrace. A small flock of greyish pigeons flew across the centre block, splattering a few drops of poop across the corner of its watch tower.

It was midday when Felix arrived at the CSIS National Headquarters to report to Deputy-Director Miller, carrying a small, black leather briefcase containing his computer and notes. Approaching the designated waiting area, a secretary sat nearly motionless, typing away silently at a computer. He was young, French-Canadian with a strong facial physiognomy and muscled build hiding underneath the well-tailored, dark-blue suit, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. Though looking more as a simple data-analyst and appointment-setter, he was an elite bodyguard in a suit and executed both roles perfectly.

“Good afternoon,” spoke Felix as he walked up to the secretary’s desk. “I am Officer Soris, here to see Deputy-Director Miller at his request.”

The secretary turned away from the computer screen and looked up rigidly at Felix. “May I please see your identification.” uttered the secretary with an emotionless face.

Felix handed over his ID swiftly looking at the latter straight in the eyes. The secretary verified the document and handed it back before motioning him to extend his hand. “As per our new security protocols, you will need to be logged with a fingerprint scan of your index finger prior to being allowed in. It is a simple formality.”

Placing his finger on the scanner on the edge of the secretary’s desk, there was no indication or alert of confirmation, until the secretary motioned him to take a seat.

“The Deputy-Director will see you, but please keep in mind the wait could take a while. I am sure you can understand.”

Taking a seat, Felix waited for what felt like hours, until the secretary stood up and motioned him inside the office, closing the bullet-proof doors from behind.

The Deputy-Director was a stereotypical white male, aged approximately over fifty years old with a thick set of jet black hair and a clean-cut face, his eyes staring pointedly ahead, like a fox targeting its prey behind a bush, cleverly using the Earth’s magnetic field to its advantage. It was a face of a man who was used to handling sensitive information, but the air of a man who loved giving orders from the comforts of a soft office chair. He was a conservative man that valued the traditional ways of doing things, preferring the cloak and dagger to the mouse and screen but was under no illusions concerning the evolving nature of espionage. Years behind the desk had slightly dulled his sense of reality concerning field operations, but a knack for selecting the best operatives remained sharp as ever. There was not a single piece of paper on his desk, and the computer screen remained completely hidden from view. There were no decorations or any other items that would give the slightest hint into the man’s personality or personal tastes. All was minimal to the extreme. Except for a small bookcase, a printer and a desktop phone, only the computer and a small notepad were visibly present. A large window remained shrouded by a cheap set of adjustable, white blinds.

“Welcome, Officer Soris,” said Miller with a standard professional amiability and a hint of urgency. “We have much to discuss, so please have a seat as we might be in for a long chat.”

As Felix quickly took a seat directly in front of Miller’s desk, the Deputy-Director started briefing him on the reasons he was invited.

“Now as you are aware from our last conversation…” started Miller, speaking slowly, but clearly so as not to miss any details. “…I mentioned pieces of information which I assume you understand to be highly confidential. Now I am fully aware that you are aware of this fact. What I want to and will tell you now is slightly above top secret. Now you will want to ask me how something can be above top secret. Go ahead, ask me. I know you want to, who would not.”

Felix focused his stare directly at the Deputy-Director, acknowledging his undisclosed curiosity. “Sir, I have another question entirely, though I am interested of course. But, I feel I need to get this out of the way first if I may?”

“Of course, Officer Soris, why not.” replied Miller without the slightest hint of expected frustration.

“I find it strange that the physicist I met in Kiev, Ukraine by the name of Bogdan, called his theory a virtual sandbox…” Felix started explaining. “…And shortly thereafter I was informed that I am to head a confidential operation codenamed Sandbox. It seems highly coincidental, considering the nature of the operations we conduct.”

“I see where you are going with this Soris,” Miller replied bluntly, but with an air of concern. “It is quite possible that this Bogdan you spoke with is a Russian FSB agent not yet on our radar, attempting to verify intelligence about our operation. I will need to look into this personally and find more about this Bogdan of yours. The Russians have been known to pose their agents as almost anyone imaginable; as a church pastor, scientist or school teacher, they have their people infiltrate all possible social spheres. I know that you know this. And though it is quite impossible that our Russian friends could have obtained specific details about this operation, what concerns me is that there are always whispers going around. Perhaps a whisper of a name and nothing more could have been picked up, prompting them to use it to obtain more intelligence. Using that name, they used it to try and extract some more crucial pieces of the puzzle from you. I want to urge you to be wary Soris of our Russian friends. They call us partners, we call them friends, no one really gives a damn either way.”

Deputy-Director Miller paused for a few moments, staring at Felix in silence, before continuing. “Moving along, Soris I want to summarize my thoughts. As it stands, we are now aware there is a possibility the Russians have gotten a whiff of one word about our operation, this is unacceptable, but also presents an opportunity to give them a false scent, hopefully leading them over a cliff….” Miller then paused again and kept talking. “…This is also the reason for the coincidence you have mentioned. Now, that we have gotten that out of the way, I want to iterate my previous statement about certain details being above top secret. You were also about to ask me just how above top secret this is.”

“My main concern, Sir…” spoke Felix almost just as bluntly as Miller. “…Is my responsibility concerning this information.”

“Well put Officer Soris, a very good response indeed,” replied Miller with a slight smile. “As you are aware, the new government setting up shop in Parliament has made a promise to take steps to reverse a controversial anti-terrorism bill and tighten our mandate as much as possible. They have already made moves in that direction. Their main concern, of course, is that the CSIS would start monitoring and gathering compromising intelligence about members of Parliament, the Senate or any politician in this country, making it more difficult for them to remain accountable. Regardless, this bill they want to ax was passed to give us the unrestricted right to detain any person suspected of terrorism for as long as necessary, to monitor any phone calls, internet data or any other communication channels for the interests of national security. What no one except a handful of individuals know, is that whether that bill is scrapped or our mandate is officially limited, makes no difference to our surveillance operations. Unconstitutional one might say, but under a special state directive, the CSIS will continue to operate in the dark as long as necessary. Now, I need a verbal acknowledgement from you Officer Soris, that what I have told you now and will tell you next stays in this room, so help you, God, unless you are authorized to do so otherwise. If you mention this to anyone without my express permission, this matter will be settled outside of the judicial system. Do I make myself clear?”

“Deputy-Director, I acknowledge that I understand the confidential nature of this matter as well as the consequences should I disclose them without prior permission.” replied Felix unwaveringly.

“Good, then we can continue.” continued Miller. “According to a special directive, known only by its codename as DUSK, passed shortly after Confederation and embedded into the heart of the government after the Canada Act, the Director of the CSIS is tasked with undertaking any measures deemed necessary to protect government institutions, the nation-state and officials of high importance. The Director of the CSIS has no obligation to share this information with any state body and declare it a state secret at any time, rendering any investigation or inquiry null. Furthermore, this directive allows the CSIS unrestricted rights to surveil, detain or interrogate any person either domestically or internationally. Any material associated with this directive is designated a state secret, indefinitely. The Americans do it, the Europeans do it, everyone does it, and so do we to put it shortly.”

“Sir, why am I being informed of this, at this time, and so suddenly?” spoke up Felix with a growing sense of urgency.

“A good question and I am getting there Officer Soris,” replied Miller with a slight hint of impatience. “Now where was I… According to the DUSK directive, Operation Sandbox was set into motion by the Director some time ago with the task of assessing the potential threat to not only national security but to global security. The basis of this perceived threat is a series of bizarre cases over the span of several years that remain unsolved and unexplained. An example being the case file I had referred to you directly. What are your thoughts on this Officer Soris? If you have any questions, now is the time to ask.”

“I do have a concern that I would like to voice.” began Felix. “Why I have I been chosen to conduct this operation? Though I feel honoured by the trust, I objectively feel that I am under-qualified for such as task given my experience solely in foreign intelligence operations and for a brief period of time.”

“You have been selected by the Director himself to head the Sandbox operation.” replied Miller.
“The Director selected me himself?” reiterated Felix. “May I ask why I was selected?”

“According to our internal assessment, you were deemed capable of undertaking such an investigation, specifically due to your proven ability at gathering intelligence and assessing risk and I quote “imaginative thinking” that stems from your manner of reporting to be sometimes untraditional in nature. Though some of us did voice concern over your selection, there being other experienced candidates, it was ultimately the Director’s sole decision you be selected. A string of officers has been assigned to this operation in the past, each without any significant breakthroughs. The Director believes that your insight may help us shed some light on the kind of threat we are facing here.”

“Sir, if I may be frank.” started Felix. “The case of this couple first dying and then coming to life seems to be a case of nothing more than crude mischief. Why would the CSIS even consider allocating resources to this case when it is obviously a hoax? Is it even worth investigating?”

“You pose concerns that members of DUSK have voiced as well. Your main goal will be to determine what we are dealing with. The main view of previous officers assigned to Sandbox was that the CSIS is dealing with a well-funded, possibly terrorist group, whose goal is not to conduct grisly shootings or mass bombings, but destabilizing society with elaborate scientific experiments. We believe that the case of the re-animated couple was nothing more than a taunt aimed squarely at the CSIS. They know we are on to them but have no evidence. So far we have been unable to pinpoint a single member of this supposed group despite evidence this shadow organization exists.” explained Miller with a ramble of information.

“Sir, forgive me for pointing this out,” said Felix. “But, it seems you have avoided the question of whether the case of the couple was indeed a hoax?”

“Officer Soris, the couple is currently detained for scientific analysis at one of our secured locations,” explained Miller. “The evidence suggests that there was no foul play involved, and yet our top experts remain puzzled. The DNA recovered from the bodies found matches those of the couple, all down to the individual organs, suggesting that it could not have been planted. The images depicting the dead couple are authentic, and there is video evidence from the morgue showing their reanimation. This seems impossible, and yet it is all the more imperative that the sooner we find this shadow organization, the sooner we will have more answers.”

“Deputy-Director, you have just told me that there is proof that two individuals have recovered from death unscathed,” said Felix. “With all due respect, I would like to know more about this, to see the files of this case and perhaps find a clue important to this investigation. If there is such a possibility, then this would be a revolutionary scientific breakthrough.”

“Yes it would,” said Miller. “It would also cause a mass hysteria among the populace worldwide! Imagine Officer Soris, that there was a way you could be revived from death, with no side-effects. Do you perceive the way in which our society and the human race would use it? Never mind the profits massive conglomerate corporations would seek to make from it, but mind the inequality that would result. It would cause a revolution. Whereas now people are more or less contained in a never-ending cycle of debt and low-paid jobs, I feel that things could turn nasty once it’s a question of the unequal deal of life versus death. This is precisely something we believe this shadow organization is trying to instigate. The entire case along with evidence thereof will be liquidated after a period of investigation is complete. Your current duty, Officer Soris, is to find us concrete evidence and solid leads. You can only build trust gradually. It’s the same person to person, and it is the same with you, me and the CSIS. Find us something Soris and we will share something in return. That’s an order.” For several moments, Miller waited to see if his message had sunken in. After Felix’s curiosity had subsided into a look of determined obedience, the Deputy-Director asked a climactic question. “If you are willing to accept the task of heading Operation Sandbox, you will be assigned to it immediately.”

“If I choose to accept this assignment,” asked Felix slowly. “My main duties will involve active data collection, assessment and reporting?”

“Assignment to the operation also grants you automatic authority to request any information deemed necessary from any person or institution. You will also be granted the right to arrest or detain any person or persons you suspect in involvement. You will report directly to me. Our cyber division has developed a special program that automatically filters data received from all our domestic sources based on selected criteria and forms it into a case file. Using this program, you may pull select a case to investigate. However, there is a condition upon assignment. If no results are obtained within six months, you will be immediately re-assigned with no questions asked. Also, just to get this out of the way, no pay raise is being offered for the period of your assignment. I also require an immediate answer here and now Officer Soris. Either yes or no.”

Felix delayed his response for several moments, lost in a moment of rumination, before replying. “Yes.”

“Good, then it is settled,” spoke Miller with a more cheery note in his voice. “Your office will be located in our Communications Security building, room number SC-26. You are to report directly to me. However, there is a catch. We are working in the dark, so you must keep up a legitimate appearance here in the CSIS. We cannot have anyone raising suspicions even internally. As such, you will have to balance tasks assigned to you by Tytus J. Sikorski, who as you know is our Chief Information Officer. You will be provided with authorization to carry out your duties in full, but must for all appearances sake, stay on good terms with Sikorski. And just something off the record, he’s one sly son of a bitch, so I do not want him finding something out and coming with it to me. Is that all understood?”

“Yes, Deputy-Director. All is understood,” replied Felix.

“You may go now,” replied Miller. “Report to me on a case by case manner and I hope to hear something promising from you in the nearest time.”

“Thank you Deputy-Director. I am confident I will obtain the intelligence you need,” replied Felix firmly and turned around, briskly walking out the door.

Felix left with a heavy heart, an excited state of mind and an endless spider’s web of unanswered questions. There were disastrous moral implications, an intricate puzzle to crack and many things unknown ahead. Yet there was also nowhere else to go, nothing else to do, no one to turn to. The job demanded his total compliance or complete termination. This was beyond a simple desk job, this was a desk job with potentially unsavoury consequences.

Continued in Part 2...

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