A Woman of C.A.L.I.B.R.E.

Chapter 5

by scifiscribbler

Tags: #cw:noncon #brainwashing #comic_book #dom:female #dom:male #serial_recruitment #spies #drones #f/f #kraft-bimbeau #m/f #sub:female

Colby locked his office door on his way in. He sat down in his chair, leaned forward with his elbows on the desk, and pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes squeezed tight shut. A long exhalation could be heard as he steeled himself for his duty.

He was going to need a strike team authorising. Zorn was still on leave; it would have to be Burrows.

He just knew this was going to be an argument, and one he absolutely didn’t need.

He pulled open his lower desk drawer and took out the crystal glass and the bottle of bourbon. Set them both on his desk. Unscrewed the cap, poured himself a generous measure. Put the bourbon away. He stared at the glass for a few moments before deciding it would be a reward for making the call, not something to motivate him into doing it.

At last, he picked up the phone and dialled. He turned in his chair, facing the window, but his gaze was abstracted and the lush forest in front of him only barely registered.

“Burrows.” To his surprise, Burrows had answered the call in under two rings. It almost felt like she’d been waiting by the phone for a call, but that made no sense. She was notoriously hard to reach when she wasn’t actually in the building; she’d said a few times she wanted people to know they’d have to work for her attention, because that way she knew anyone who went to the trouble was serious.

“It’s Colby, ma’am,” he said. “I, ah… I’m calling to ask permission to assemble a strike team.”

“Target?” she asked. He felt wrong-footed again - there should have been resistance. Perhaps it would only come once he answered this question.

“The CIA, ma’am,” he said. “We’ll need to hit Langley.”

“Explain.” Which, while terse, was much less resistance than he’d expected.

“We have a MAJESTIC operation in play, ma’am, and C.A.L.I.B.R.E. is one of the targets. They’ve had us infiltrated on multiple levels. We’ll need to identify and eliminate the transmitter and get a full list of compromised assets.”

“Permission granted,” Burrows said. “You’ll be leading the investigation?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he acknowledged. “I was going to-”

“Take Bennet,” Burrows interrupted. “She’s got the computer know-how to reduce the risk we’ll be traced. Plus she knows that researcher there.” Which was true; Bennet had been a freelancer for some time, brought into the world of espionage because she knew a metahuman rather than because anyone had cleared her for that information, and she’d worked for some time with Cooper, a prodigy working in CIA R&D.

“Is that wise, ma’am?”

“Cooper’s with CIA because they gave her the best lab,” Burrows said. “Not because she thinks they’re the best agency. Her loyalty is to the country; if she finds out they’re running another MAJESTIC, we can turn her. And I’ve wanted her with us for some time.”

“I’ll instruct her to make contact,” Colby agreed. “Hopefully that’ll work out alright.”

“Hopefully is right,” Burrows said. “I’m going to authorise you to use Chen, too.”

Colby’s breath caught. He hadn’t expected Chen would be an option. Often called the Charm - a shortening of her original nickname ‘Zorn’s Lucky Charm’ - she’d been one of the most effective field agents in hotspots for close on two decades before, three years ago, she was rotated into training agents. If Bennet was field ready (and he was not convinced she was), it was the Charm’s work that had done it. “That’s fantastic, ma’am. Thank you. Can I take Wainwright?”

“She’s busy, I believe,” Burrows said, which raised Colby’s eyebrows. Wainwright being busy was news to him, and he was her direct supervisor. But Burrows did occasionally play these games. “Take two more, tops - too many and we’ll be far too obvious. I want any data Bennet can pull out of their system as well as the list, and if you can, I want the MAJESTIC transmitter they’re using intact and out of there. We need better defences if they’re going to try starting a shadow civil war. Understood?”

“Yes ma’am,” Colby said. “How quickly can I get rolling?”

“You already have authorisation in the system,” Burrows said simply. Colby felt a shiver down his spine. It was, he realised, just that she’d already opened up her terminal and added authorisation on the phone, but he couldn’t quite shake the idea that she’d been waiting for his call.

If he hadn’t had plans already forming, he might have stopped to consider that. But the strike team had been okayed, and time was of the essence, so Agent Colby cut the call, sent an email requesting that the Osprey be fuelled up and made ready for stealthed flight, and went in search of Chen.

*

Bennet was still jittery after being pulled onto the Osprey. Chen was at the controls, and that helped, but this was only her third or fourth actual field op since joining C.A.L.I.B.R.E., and she didn’t feel capable yet. Back when she’d been freelance, anything like this had been handled by tipping off Citizen Star - who she knew was actually a CIA agent she’d met through Dr Cooper, but that was far from common knowledge.

It was also a source of worry that Wilford was on board; a big, burly man who seemed somehow to be all muscle and stubble, with the rest of his appearance sometimes feeling vague. Still, she had her work to do, and she’d already started work as they made take-off.

The weird thing was, while there was definitely indication of a MAJESTIC-style control broadcast active, it didn’t seem to be directed toward the west, and shouldn’t have been able to affect anyone in Portland.

But that’s what Colby said had happened, so she was working on the signal. That’s what Bennet did, ultimately, how she coped when she was overwhelmed; find a way to contribute through her talent with a computer. She’d been able to pull a record of an overnight repeater transmission from a CIA satellite broadcast, and she was combing through the code, looking for the message she knew had to be hidden within.

As she came out winning with the code she was battling, she felt that familiar thrill of euphoria. She set her laptop to run the final decipherment and cast it to the big screen in the Osprey’s Ops room, tuning back into the conversation she’d been ignoring as she did.

“…CIA came off really badly last time, right?” Wilford was asking. “Do you think they just reckon they’re better prepared this time, or has someone or something gone rogue?”

She had to get their attention. Keep your tone neutral, Bennet. Don’t get sucked into the dickwaving contest. “Guys?” she asked. She nodded to the screen and watched the message unfold.

AND YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH

The message disappeared and the final word of the transmission began to flicker up in its place.

FREE

“What the hell does that mean?” Wilford asked.

“CIA motto,” Colby supplied. “Part of it, anyway.”

“It’s an activation signal,” she said. “It has to be. To MAJESTIC assets primed and planted within C.A.L.I.B.R.E.”

“Are you sure?”

“What else could it be?” Bennet asked, her eyes still on the screen. There was something about the display that didn’t measure up, now she was seeing it on the big screen. As if the signal wasn’t just a signal, wasn’t just a codephrase.

“Anything else in the signal?” Colby asked.

“I think there’s got to be,” Bennet answered. “There’s too much extra here for it all to be junk code.”

“Keep at it, then.”

Colby and Wilford exchanged glances. Both of them looked like they might be about to say something, but what eventually came out was a more practical consideration.

“We’re not going to be able to smash and grab this,” Wilford said. “We need a way in that’s a little more subtle.”

“Or we need a distraction,” Colby said thoughtfully. “They stole from us just two days ago.”

“Right…”

“What are the chances they did that and didn’t mess with the rest of the alphabet soup, if they’re putting a power play together?”

“…Low,” Wilford conceded. “So you’re thinking get them looking at someone else?”

“Right. I’ve got a friend in MI6 - we worked together on that thing in Stonehenge. I think I can give them the kind of uproar we could walk straight into.”

Wilford grinned. “Let’s go make some calls.”

If Colby had said what had been on his mind, Bennet might have thought better of her approach. But Colby didn’t, and she didn’t.

She grabbed her laptop, closing it, and followed them. She promised herself that she’d look into that signal properly, the moment she got off the plane. Something about it was nagging at the back of her mind.

*

There was one thought uppermost in Karen’s mind as she drove into Portland, and it was echoing through her head, certain, terrifying, and ominous:

This is going to kick off a shadow civil war.

It was something that got joked about, intermittently, in the halls of C.A.L.I.B.R.E., but only by agents in the lower ranks, and always with lowered voices. As she’d worked her way up the ranks, Karen had slowly realised that there was a pretty good reason for this - the older agents have seen something like this happen before, back in 1989.

Twenty one years since had completely changed the landscape in US espionage, but Commander Pytki had managed to upset the alphabet soup of the time, setting agencies against each other. A couple of the earlier off-the-books groups had been brought down or wiped out, with brainwashed, bribed and blackmailed agents used as pawns, and not a few crusading superheroes dragged into the mix.

The extent of Pytki’s work wasn’t made clear until five years later, when a second investigation finally caught the last assets he’d turned.

C.A.L.I.B.R.E. had absorbed the remnants of two of the older groups; Director Zorn was, so agency scuttlebutt had it, the man who’d put together a clear plan before anyone else, and he’d sold it to President Bush, fresh into office and keen not to look like he’d immediately mismanaged US intelligence into a crisis.

There was a reason that the agency didn’t have many operatives over 50 years old, and if your clearance was high enough, you realised it wasn’t early retirement.

(Which had been more obvious when Karen joined, nearly ten years earlier, when most operatives were in their early 40s or lower.)

Her mind was not permitted to doubt that the job in front of her was what C.A.L.I.B.R.E. needed, so during the drive, she considered that a shadow civil war had to be better than not doing what she was assigned to do.

She was determined to do her duty or die in the attempt. And as much as she believed that drive to be artificial, it was still a part of her on a level she couldn’t override.

*

Having penetrated the perimeter and got into the outer ring of buildings, Colby, Wilford and Chen were making an entrypoint into Langley Central. Bennet, meanwhile, found a quiet room, put her back to the wall, sat down, and opened her laptop up. A quick glance around the room told her she wasn’t in view of its one security camera, so she could work here uninterrupted.

She called her recorded signal files back up and started going over them again, certain now that she’d missed something.

(Not that she could have told you why she was certain. She just knew, with some convicted, committed part of her brain that wouldn’t let go.)

She ran through her checks again, looking for hidden tricks of code that might mean her decode attempt had tripped something false.

AND YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH

YOU FREE

Nothing had changed, clearly. Exactly the same. But would she get the same results if she tried a different approach? Bennet pulled up her code library and threw something together. She didn’t have time to make something good; she just wanted something to do the same job from different assumptions. That should highlight any mistakes.

She ran it again.

This was beginning to feel familiar.

AND YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH

MAKE YOU FREE

Still no change; Bennet nodded and bit her lip thoughtfully. Her left hand drifted from her keyboard to her lap and unbuckled her belt as she thought about it, then undid the top button of her pants and pulled the zip down.

She moved her hand back to the keyboard and thought she tabbed across to another screen. Eyes never deviating from the display, her fingers rested on the touchpad and called up the decode again, her original this time. Her breath caught in her throat as she watched the message compile once again.

She had a sudden flash of memory, as if she’d done this before, as much as that didn’t make sense. It didn’t feel like deja vu; if it wasn’t impossible, she would swear this was real, lived experience. That she’d encountered this code before, long before being recruited to C.A.L.I.B.R.E.

AND YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH

SHALL MAKE YOU FREE

There was something else there, Bennet was sure. Something that hadn’t been clear in the message that she’d seen initially. Something she was sure she could find if she was only persistent enough. Her fingers continued to twitch, stroking urgently. Bennet watched the cursor on the screen seem to move and dance at her touch, unaware that her fingers were following the pattern on screen, that her right hand had slipped from the keyboard, slid into her panties, begun to toy and stroke and pleasure herself as the riddle in front of her continued to unfold.

All her ideas that she was solving the puzzle, that she was even acting for herself, of her own intent, were being implanted by the computer itself as the signal’s hidden program, now fully compiled, began to run.

She suddenly remembered doing this before. Living through this before. Her body and her mind caught in the same loops.

Before, it had always ended at this point, and she had forgotten.

AND YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH

TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE

The program had taken control of her laptop now, and while it seemed to Bennet that she was manipulating other programs, she was being manipulated herself instead. The cursor had stopped moving with a purpose and instead now drew tight, swift swirls with sudden slow arcs and jerkingly fast bursts, spirals Bennet’s fingers were duplicating inside herself, her pussy so wet now that it was only the programming which prevented Bennet from noticing the soft schlick-schlick-schlick of her motions.

Her laptop had been reprogrammed by the signal and it now had full access to every piece of software and hardware within it, every peripheral, including Bennet herself.

She sat there, watching, her body still except for her fingers, her usual resting calm slowly twisting into a slack, dizzy, dreamy smile. But as she did so, internally, her last outpost of her real self was fighting its last battle.

A laptop screen of typical size has over two million pixels. If you can convey a decoding scheme, the amount of information that can be transmitted by a grid with two million or more individual pieces in a very short space of time is staggering. The difficulty is in getting the information needed for decoding into the brain that has to accept it, then persuading the brain to use it. But, as much as we talk about the miracle of consciousness, and about the mind as distinct from the body, anyone who’s ever been angrier than they should be and realised only later that they need food knows that our minds are the result of the chemical processes in our brains.

For most people, considering the brain as a biochemical computer isn’t useful as more than a metaphor. But, if someone began as an unusual level of genius, and hurled himself into biogenetic research funded by a state that didn’t care what happened to your test subjects…

…and if they eventually realised that their death could be escaped through digitising their consciousness, and bent their last, painful years to devising a machine code that worked alongside biological, human neuroprocessing…

…Then a mad scientist working in South America, having long since fled his home nation of Russia to embrace a world beyond the Cold War, could develop a form of software that could be loaded into the human hardware known as the brain. And, once a black-bag operation gathered up the computer he had become, that technology would fall into the hands of the CIA.

The second or third time a much younger Bennet had formatted her computer drives and set up a fresh installation, she’d stopped for a few moments to imagine what it would be like to be a conscious computer finding itself erased, bit by bit.

She didn’t need to wonder any longer. The data that was her self, her memories, she could feel… solidifying. Stopping. Bennet was suddenly aware that she would not remember this experience. The chemicals involved in memory were storing data in other ways, adding programming. Rules. Behavioural restraints and redirections. Things she would need, in order to run as an efficient peripheral of the System.

Bennet tried one last time to look away and, as her physical body sat almost unmoving, smiling, frigging away her thoughts, realised she’d failed.

A strange spiral came to dominate the screen, but in each curl, each graceful arc of the coils, images appeared. Women, mostly in some state of undress, started to materialise. Bennet’s breath caught again as the cursor picked up speed, as her fingers followed it, masturbating now with a higher intensity and a greater need.

Some of the women had clearly been culled from one porn clip or another, bodies designed and sculpted for sexuality. Bennet had never been interested in other women, but as her memory rewrote thought with programming, she found herself looking at those bodies with desire as well as envy. These were women who understood their role as sex objects, and who embraced them - and that made them desirable. No, fuckable.

Bennet wanted to fuck these women. Wanted to suck on their clits while her tongue swirled around them and her hands groped their breasts or traced patterns up and down their inner thighs. Wanted to pin them to the ground or be pinned in her turn; wanted to find herself shoved over the desk and ploughed with a strap-on. Fantasies she had no memories of ever entertaining were flooding her, filling her… reprogramming her.

And to make matters worse, not all of the women were porn stars. A number of the other women in C.A.L.I.B.R.E. appeared to be part of the visuals, stripped naked or half-naked as if seen in a communal changing room. There was the Charm, her body impossibly fit, impossibly toned, as smooth and powerful as if she was half her age. There was Cooper, looking embarrassed and insecure, uncertainly eyeing someone who wasn’t shown and clearly feeling some kind of envy or competition, despite the warm softness of her own curves. There were two others appearing in the same style whose bodies Bennet was reacting to just as strongly.

(Bennet knew these images weren’t actually coming from the display. Her own brain was rendering these fantasies for her, according to instructions her eyes took in through the code, and feeding them to her so quickly her mind didn’t see the screen without them. The code now running her brain was eager to convert and corrupt her further.)

Their bodies weren’t the same, and yet now that Bennet was programmed with that desire, she found it transferring onto them. Her gaze slowly began to narrow and focus as she stared, and the wide-open, happily vacant smile she now wore had a sheen of saliva beginning to spill over the lower lip.

She was a ball of need and a ball of lust, and every part of her was now responding instinctively to the suggestions filling her head. She was suddenly aware of a low whimpering that felt, somehow, like the sound of a computer struggling to handle its programming load - and realised in that moment that it must be her, also struggling to handle her new programming load.

Her fingers were still working within herself, so slick now with her own juices, so needy as the cursor continued to whirl and her fingers continued to follow. And then the captions began to flash up on screen.

AND YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH

AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE

She read the words again, and again.

AND YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH

AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE

They were flashing on and off, each repetition another invitation to read them.

AND YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH

AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE

“I am free to obey.”

There was a woman’s voice echoing in her ears with the affirmation of service, the confirmation of loyalty.

“I am free to obey.”

There it was again. Bennet couldn’t tear her eyes from the screen to see who was saying it, but it worried her. She could be vulnerable now, if someone else had come in, and just because she now understood the importance, the power, the rightness of her cause, that didn’t mean this interloper would recognise that.

AND YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH

AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE

“I am free to obey.”

Bennet became aware of a wet patch on her shirt, directly below her mouth.

AND YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH

AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE

“I am free to obey.”

The damp spot was a sodden presence on the edge of her senses. Her breathing, quickened by the heat of her programming and the urgency of her fingers, was ragged, and her chest rose and fell steadily against the wetness, the softness of her skin somehow electrified and excited by it.

The other woman was still talking, and every time she repeated something, the wetness on Bennet’s shirt grew deeper.

AND YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH

AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE

“I am free to obey.”

There was a rhythm to the affirmations, one that matched the flashing on the screen. Bennet made a decision, or something she thought was her own decision at any rate. She’d join the affirmation the next time the message flashed up on screen.

AND YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH

AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE

“I am free to obey.”

There was no additional voice. Finally Bennet recognised that the repetitions, the affirmations, the pledging of herself had been all her all along. And somehow, just by saying it, she became more convinced of its truth. The wetness on her shirt grew with each bead of drool that fell from hopeless, helpless lips as she spoke.

She was a programmed system, a brainwashed intelligence constrained by her code. She was a tiny cog in the machine. A tool, a slave, and if needed, a fucktoy.

AND YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH

AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE

Knowing now, her final repetition was barely words at all, instead a ragged, needy cry of pleasure. The syllables might have been there, but so distorted as she came that nobody could have told. She came again before the ripples of the first orgasm had fully settled and subsided, slack-jawed, fingers half out of her pussy, still jammed in her sopping panties.

The laptop shut down, the screen as blank as Bennet’s expression. Both stayed motionless and empty for ninety seconds, at the end of which Bennet blinked and jerked awake.

*

The condo being empty had Carmen very, very worried. Karen might be out chasing a lead, might even feel she had to play her cards close to her chest - Carmen was very aware that others in C.A.L.I.B.R.E. had her command codes, and Karen would be too. Anything Karen told her was a risk - well, anything Karen could tell her. It had been clear even before she collapsed that she was having difficulty pushing against her handlers’ rules.

Unfortunately, Carmen didn’t consider herself much of a thinker, and she’d never really learned how to do research. In most situations, if she needed information she didn’t have, she found the person most likely to have the information, broke through a wall near them, and scared what she needed to know out of them. She already knew better than to try that where there was a risk someone was psychic - and that was always a concern when mind controllers were involved, at least until you knew better.

Calling in a favour from la Agudeza was probably the smartest move she’d made so far, but it could only do so much.

Carmen settled herself down in front of Karen’s TV and started hopping through channels, wishing she was the sort of person who could uncover secrets by doing this kind of thing; who could put stray clues together - hell, who could recognise when something was a Clue with any degree of confidence.

Half an hour into The Price is Right, mid-commercial, Carmen was idly picking at a loose thread on the armchair. It was always strange to see these happen - something had snapped somewhere, sure, but then the thread still had to escape its weave. And yet if you kept careful hold of it, you could trace it back to the original break. Knowing it had come loose told you…

Ah.

She was looking at this all wrong. The target was a spy agency. That meant that this didn’t have a typical endgame.

You targeted spies to stop them spying on you. You targeted spy agencies to stop them getting in your way.

She still needed to know who those two at the house were if she wanted to figure out what they were up to, but she wasn’t finding that any time soon.

But maybe she could narrow things down…

She got up and headed for Karen’s bedroom, where her laptop usually lived. It was going to be difficult to dig anything out, but it was definitely worth a try.

*

The black bodysuit clung to Karen’s frame like a second skin, and was as comfortable to wear. It was, however, embarrassing to have to change into in the backseat of your car in a basement floor parking lot, but these are the challenges set before us in this life.

She buckled the cumbersome gear belt into place, strapped on her thigh pouches and wrist guards, and then pulled on the gloves. Sliding out of the car’s back seat, she scurried across the car park to its elevator, and made her way to the building roof through the elevator shaft. Loitering until the sun went down, she let the grapnel do its thing and crossed to the other roof.

FBI security was pretty solid, but they were officially reliant on commercially available surveillance technology - the result of some extensive dickwaving a decade or two back from the rest of the alphabet soup, and usually something that gave Karen minor concerns for criminal practice; incorporating one or two members with minor metahuman capabilities was becoming more common for non-costumed criminal syndicates, even though it officially raised the potential sentence maximums.

The result was that a C.A.L.I.B.R.E. issue bodysuit would bypass security cameras entirely. She got through the roof locks with not much more effort, if any, and made her way down the emergency staircase three flights, where she sprung another lock and entered the floor with the server farm.

From there it was time to access the file structure, which required user credentials and passwords. These could be acquired in any of three ways; brute force hacking, Trojan worm programs that could bypass the credentials entirely, and the option that Karen preferred, which was to find the one place somewhere in the room where emergency access codes would be scribbled down.

This was enough to access the drives and start her search for the files. She worked diligently - always had, but her commitment to her duty had been firmly reinforced lately, and meant she worked with a greater focus than usual. Files were located, downloaded to a secure portable drive, and erased from the system.

The moment the first file was deleted, she started quietly counting at the back of her head. There was no way a file being erased wasn’t going to trigger a verification alert on the security desk. Her bet was that in a building this size, security wouldn’t be able to respond within three minutes; a hundred and fifty seconds after that first deletion, she left the terminal she’d been working at and moved to the server room entrance.

There were three of them. The first one opened the door for the other two; leaning in as he did, he took a high kick to the side of his head. He staggered back and Karen went with him, using his body as a shield; she grabbed the lapels of his suit and jumped, using him as a pivot. She swung around him and caught the second with a knee, then released her first target and drove her arm forward.

The shock stick sparked as it made contact and he dropped; she spun back to the others, sweeping the leg out from under one of them. She grabbed the other into a chokehold, falling back onto the one she’d just downed, controlling what he could see as the other was rendered unconscious.

By that time the shock stick had recharged, which made three of them unconscious in around thirty seconds. She was confident she hadn’t been seen well enough for them to make her out.

Processing the rest of her deletions had to be done at speed, and with an ear out for the elevator chime; more security might be coming at any time. She hurried through the task and left via the roof once again, retracting the grapnel once she was gone.

She drove off into the night still in her stealth suit. And, with the job more or less done, she found she could start to wonder again.

The files she’d stolen hadn’t had filenames that suggested anything to do with C.A.L.I.B.R.E. or even anything that fell under the agency’s remit. That didn’t necessarily mean anything, of course. Nor did their location in the file structure, which further suggested that they were just what the filenames suggested; old records from surveillance the FBI had carried out years ago on suspected CIA informers.

Which probably didn’t help C.A.L.I.B.R.E. to have, and might just be putting the cat among the pigeons elsewhere.

Maybe there was something in what these informers had talked about. Maybe there was something that had happened to the CIA which might happen to C.A.L.I.B.R.E. and these files held a potential clue to counter it.

But maybe… just maybe…

Dammit.

There was going to be war soon. And if they were lucky, the average American citizen would never know it was happening all around them.

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