The Last Oracle

Page 15

He stared again at the EKG monitor still connected to his chest by taped lead wires. And over in the corner stood a blood pressure monitor and an I.V. pole. So if he could name what lay around him, why couldn’t he remember his own name? He searched for a past, something to anchor him. But beyond waking up here in this dark room, he had no memory.

The smaller of the two boys seemed to sense his growing distress. The child stepped forward, his blue eyes catching the flash of the penlight. Monk—if that was really his name—sensed the boy knew more about him than he did himself. Proving this, the child seemed to read his heart and spoke the only words that would stir him from the bed.

The boy held up a small hand toward him, his fingers splayed, punctuating his need. “Save us.”


September 5, 9:30 P.M.

Washington, D.C.

“Chernobyl?” Elizabeth asked. “What was my father doing in Russia?”

She stared across the coffee table at the two other men. She was seated in an armchair with her back to a picture window that overlooked the woods of Rock Creek Park. They had been driven to this location after escaping the museum. Gray had used the words safe house, which had done little to make her feel safe. It was like something out of a spy novel. But the charm of the house—a two-story craftsman built of clinker brick and paneled in burnished tiger oak—helped calm her.


She had washed up upon arriving, taking several minutes to scrub her hands and splash water on her face. But her hair still smelled of smoke, and her fingernails were still stained with paint. Afterward, she had sat for five minutes on the commode with her face in her palms, trying to make sense of the last few hours. She hadn’t known she was crying until discovering her hands were damp. It was all too much. She still hadn’t had a chance to process the death of her father. Though she didn’t doubt the truth of it, she had not come to accept the reality.

Not until she had some answers.

It was those questions that finally drew her out of the bathroom.

She eyed the newcomer across a table set with coffee. The man was introduced as Gray’s boss, Director Painter Crowe. She studied him. His features were angular, his complexion tanned. As an anthropologist, she read the Native American heritage in the set of his eyes—despite their glacial blue hue. His dark hair ran with a small streak of white over one ear, like a heron feather tucked there.

Gray shared the sofa with him, crouched and sifting through a stack of papers on the table.

Before anyone could answer her question, Kowalski returned from the kitchen in his stocking feet. His freshly polished shoes rested on the cold hearth. “Found some Ritz crackers and something that looked like cheese. Not sure. But they had salami.”

He leaned to place the platter in front of Elizabeth.

“Thank you, Joe,” she said, grateful for the simple and real gesture amid all the mystery.

The big man blushed a bit around the ears. “No problem,” he grumbled as he straightened. He pointed to the platter, seemed to forget what he was going to say—then with a shake of his head, retired to inspect his shoes again.

Painter sat up straighter, drawing back Elizabeth’s attention. “As to Chernobyl, we don’t know why your father went there. In fact, we ran his passport. There’s no record of him visiting Russia, or for that matter, ever reentering the United States. We can only assume he was traveling with a false passport. The last record we have of his travels was from five months ago. He flew to India. That’s the last we know about his whereabouts.”

Elizabeth nodded. “He travels there often. At least twice a year.”

Gray shifted straighter. “To India. Why?”

“For a research grant. As a neurologist, he was studying the biological basis for instinct. He worked with a professor of psychology at the University of Mumbai.”

Gray glanced to his boss.

“I’ll look into it,” Painter said. “But I had already heard of your father’s interest in instinct and intuition. In fact, it was the basis for his involvement with the Jasons.”

This last was directed at Gray, but Elizabeth stiffened at the mention of the organization. She could not hide her distaste. “So you know about them—the Jasons.”

Painter glanced to Gray, then back to her. “Yes, we know your father was working for them.”

“Working? More like obsessed with them.”

“What do you mean?”

Elizabeth explained how working with the military grew into an all-consuming passion with her father. Each summer, he’d disappear for months at a time, sometimes longer. The rest of his year was devoted to his responsibilities as a professor at M.I.T. As a result, he was seldom home. It strained relations between her parents. Accusations grew into fights. Her mother came to believe her father was having an affair.

The tension at home only drove her father farther away. A rocky marriage became a ruin. Her mother, already a borderline alcoholic, tipped over the edge. When Elizabeth was sixteen, her mother got drunk and crashed the family’s SUV into the Charles River. It was never determined whether it was an accident or a suicide.

But Elizabeth knew who deserved the brunt of the blame.

From that day forward, she seldom spoke to her father. Each retreated into their own world. Now he was gone, too. Forever. Despite her loss, she could not discount a burning seed of anger toward him. Even his strange death left so much unanswered.

“Do you think his involvement with the Jasons had anything to do with his death?” she finally asked.

Painter shook his head. “It’s hard to say. We’re still early in the investigation. But I was able to discover which classified military project was assigned to your father. It was called Project—”

“—Stargate,” Elizabeth finished for him. She took some satisfaction from the man’s startled expression.

Kowalski sat up straighter by the fireplace. “Hey, I saw a movie about that…had aliens and stuff, right?”

“Not that Stargate, Joe,” she answered. “And don’t worry, Mr. Crowe. My father didn’t breech his top secret clearance. I’d heard my father mention the project by name a couple of times. Then a decade later, I read the declassified reports from the CIA, released through the Freedom of Information Act.”

“What’s this project about?” Gray asked.

Painter nodded at the pile of papers on the table. “The full details are there, going back to the Cold War. It was officially overseen by the country’s second-largest think tank, the Stanford Research Institute, which down the line would help develop stealth technologies. But back in 1973, the institute was commissioned by the CIA to investigate the feasibility of using parapsychology to aid in intelligence gathering.”

“Parapsychology?” Gray raised an eyebrow.

Painter nodded. “Telepathy, telekinesis…but mostly they concentrated on remote viewing, using individuals to spy upon sites and activities from vast distances using only the power of their minds. Sort of like telepathy at a distance.”

Kowalski snorted his derision from across the room. “Psychic spies.”

“As crazy as that might sound, you have to understand that during the darkest days of the Cold War, any perceived advantage by the Soviets had to be matched in turn by our own intelligence. Any technological gap could not be tolerated. The Soviet Union was pulling out all the stops. To the Soviets, parapsychology was a multidisciplinary field, encompassing bionics, biophysics, psychophysics, physiology, and neurophysiology.”

Painter nodded to Elizabeth. “Like the work your father was performing on intuition and instinct. The neurophysiology behind it.”

Elizabeth glanced at Gray. From the wary look in his eyes, he seemed hardly convinced, but he continued listening silently. So she did the same.

“According to reports by the CIA, the Soviets had begun producing results. Then in 1971, the Soviet program suddenly went into deep-black classification. Information dried up. All we could ascertain was that research continued in Russia, funded by the KGB. We had to respond in kind or be left behind. So the Stanford Research Institute was commissioned to investigate.”

“And what were their results?” Gray asked.

“Mixed at best,” Painter acknowledged.

Elizabeth had also read the declassified reports. “In truth, there was little success with the project.”

“That’s not entirely true,” Painter countered. “Official reports showed that remote viewing produced useful results fifteen percent of the time, which was above statistical probability. And then there were the exceptional cases. Like a New York artist, Ingo Swann. He was able to describe buildings in fine detail when given mere longitude and latitude coordinates. His hits, according to some officials, rose up to the eighty-five percent range.”

Painter must have read the continuing doubt in both their eyes. He tapped the stack of papers. “The Stanford Research Institute’s results were replicated by testing at Fort Meade and at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory. In addition, there were several prominent successes. One of the most cited cases involved the kidnapping and rescue of Brigadier-General James Dozier. According to the physicist in charge of the project, one remote viewer ascertained the name of the town where the general was being held, while another described details of the building, all the way down to the bed where he was chained. Such results are hard to readily dismiss.”

“Yet it was,” Elizabeth said. “From my understanding, the research stopped in the mid-1990s. The program was dismantled.”

“Not entirely,” Painter added cryptically.

Before he could explain, Gray interrupted. “But back to the beginning, what does all this have to do with the Jasons?”

“Ah, I was just going to get to that. It seems that the Stanford Research Institute, like the Soviets, had begun to broaden the parameters of their research, extending it into other scientific disciplines.”

“Like neurophysiology,” Gray said. “Dr. Polk’s work.”

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