The plane flew east. The sun went down behind them. Jason knew none of the others on board. Nobody talked. It was a combination of anticipation and fear. About three hours later they landed in mountainous terrain. Jason guessed Western Pennsylvania, because so few lights dotted the landscape. A bus awaited their arrival at a derelict landing strip in a mountain valley. They had no sooner left the plane when it took off, leaving them with the bus. The bus was a typical yellow school bus—a nice disguise. There was a driver, and what appeared to be an armed guard, in civilian clothes. Jason had seen enough Secret Service agents to sense when someone was carrying. They drove off through the night. It had been planned that way so they wouldn't know where they were going. A blacktop road through forest and farm. Occasionally, he could see lights from farmhouses, but mostly it was forest. The bus driver stopped in front of an ordinary looking farm gate. The guard hopped out and opened it up. After the bus drove through, he closed it behind them and hopped back in. It seemed strange at a time when everyone had automatic door openers.
They could have been on a driveway to some farmhouse. But they were on a gravel road that wound up and down through the hills for a mile or two. There was another gate, and the guard followed the same routine. Within 300 yards they came to the side at a mountain. The bus driver pushed a button and a door opened up, allowing them to drive through. It was very dark, but it seemed to Jason that the door was almost invisible in the side of the mountain. Someone could walk or drive by in the daytime and probably not even see it. The perfect disguise.
Once inside, the bus rolled slowly along a downward sloping lighted tunnel until it came to a large opening inside the mountain. The bus pulled up by some other vehicles and let its passengers out. Just as Jason was the first one on the bus, he was the last one off. By that time, everyone was lining up at attention with their duffel placed neatly behind them. An Army colonel with many service medals stepped up to greet them. They all saluted. Jason was shocked to see his Uncle Jim standing there. After the talk they had back in the cabin, he thought it might happen, but he never really anticipated this. Seeing him made Jason quite nervous.
"Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to the Academy. I am Colonel James Forsythe. I have been asked by the President to lead the Academy. It is a work in progress and I am determined to make it every bit what the President expects. The Academy is the academic arm of a military operation like none the world has ever seen. You have been selected because you are the best and the brightest and the most capable to meet our country's need. You have completed your basic training and now understand military discipline. However, the Army you'll join will have no such discipline. It will all depend upon your individual strength, tolerance, and initiative. You are to become an army of good in a world of evil. Single-handedly, you will be expected to disarm evil without the benefit of military strength. Much you have to offer, and much will be expected. Tomorrow, you will not see me in my military uniform again as I assume my new role as a teacher and mentor. Tomorrow, you will begin studying human nature and what it takes to succeed against all odds. It is late and I don't mean to keep you up. Your room assignments are waiting. Breakfast is at the 06:00 and classes begin at seven."
Jason looked at the others and they looked at him. No one suspected. A man came out of the side tunnel and said, "Please follow me." Down a long corridor they came to a row of rooms with names taped to the doors. When he got to the door marked, "Forsythe", Jason ripped the name off the door and rushed inside. He kept trying to think of what to do when the others found out.
His room was austere but very practical. There was a foldout bed with cabinets overhead on one side and a large closet and workspace on the other. One side was painted with a mountain scene and the other with a tropical beach. Jason guessed that this was to keep him from going crazy in a windowless, featureless, underground environment. There was a state-of-the-art computer with a printer. The bookshelves were stocked with textbooks, novels, and reference manuals. Jason guessed that he wouldn't be spending much time reading them. He was right. The computer was on and a message on the screen said, "Click Me", so he did. Before him on the screen was a map of the Academy, his schedule, and everything else he needed to know to begin school. After about an hour of browsing this information, the lights dimmed signaling lights out so Jason threw his duffel in the closet and curled up to sleep on a bed that was much more comfortable than the cots in basic.
Before he knew it, Good Day, Sunshine, awakened Jason... like the astronauts were in space. After the Beatles rendering, a voice made announcements for the morning. Jason grabbed his towel and personal kit and headed down the hall to the shower. The first thing that he noticed was that it was unisex. There were individual shower stalls and not enough for everyone, so they took turns at the sink and mirror waiting for time in the shower. It was obvious that there was no luxury of privacy or time for lengthy bathroom grooming. At least everyone was polite and let the ladies go first.
Jason showered and shaved quickly and was soon back in his room. He was strangely excited. He grabbed what he thought he would need for the day, printed his daily schedule consisting of one class after another occasionally broken by physical activities like dance, gymnastics, and basketball. There was no personal, quiet, or study time. He was kissing high school goodbye. He was now going to do serious college time. A glance at the map told him where the cafeteria was.
As he lined up to grab breakfast from a buffet of fruit, cereals, and various traditional breakfast entrées, Jason was glad to see that he also left basic training food behind. Trying not to take too much, he filled his tray and headed out into the open room already filled with Academy students. This is a regular United Nations, he thought to himself. It reminded him a bit of his Reston high school, but there was even more diversity here. He picked a table and sat down.
"I haven't seen you before, did you just arrive?" The Asian guy sitting across from him asked.
"Yeah, just got in last night. Am trying to get my bearings."
"Quan Nguyen. I've been here about two weeks. When I arrived, there were just a dozen of us. We had a great time that first day while they were figuring out what to do with us. We became buddies right off. You are joining in elite group."
"I've never been an elitist. I just got here and sat down to eat. Do you want me to leave?"
"No, no. I was just playing with you. We've all been having breakfast together since that first day and there was always that one seat open. Every day several new people arrived and always sat at other tables. We started laying bets to see who would finally sit here." He smiled a big smile. His teeth were bleached white and straight as an arrow. "Like I said, the names Quan, Quan Nguyen, I'm from LA." He offered his hand over his scrambled eggs.
Jason smiled. "Forsythe, Jason Forsythe is my name." When the thought struck him, he almost took it back -- but he couldn't. Everyone at the table turned and looked at him at once. They all had that same curious look on their faces.
A beautiful blonde with piercing blue eyes narrowed them at him and blurted, "That's the Commandant's name!" They widened a bit in a sly smile crept out of the corner of her mouth, "You wouldn't be related to him, would you?" Everyone at the table obviously had the same question in mind.
Jason, facing his first accusation, wasn't quite as prepared as he would've liked to be. "I... well... I guess my name is the same, but that's just a coincidence. There must be hundreds of Forsythe families in the United States. No, I'd recognize him if I was related to him. " He looked down, trying to avoid all the eyes staring at him. He was saved when the PA system suddenly came on.
"All cadets please report to the assembly area." Jason hadn't eaten a bite. The others got up and left while he shoved a few mouthfuls down and followed it with a chug of orange juice. He was one of the last to return his tray and throw most of the food that he had picked up into the trash. He followed the others down a corridor that opened into a large amphitheater. It was only about one third full when the cadets were seated. There was dead silence while they waited what seemed to Jason to be a long time, but it was only about five minutes.
A door opened at the side of the stage in front and Jason's Uncle strode out onto the stage. He was dressed in khakis with his Special Forces beret and didn't look as imposing as he had the night before. Once at the podium, he looked over his audience and then spoke. "For those of you who have been at these morning briefings before, I apologize for the repetition. However, we are putting together the finest Academy that the world is ever known, and I will need your utmost help to turn it into what we expected to be. We are assembling the finest professors the United States has to offer to serve as your mentors here. There will be no tests. We're not about a competition proving--who is the best and brightest. You already are that. What we are looking for is a process that will turn you into a weapon of freedom and justice. Hopefully, the Academy will prepare you to operate anywhere in the world without assistance totally on your own in the service to the United States of America.
"Each of you will receive a college education and perhaps a master's degree or two. Each of you will also receive a tailored education that will best prepare you for your expected assignment. Look about you. You will see every ethnic origin in the world here. That is on purpose. Those of you skilled in language and ethnic cultures will be sent to those parts of the world. There is no job description for what you'll do. That is why here at the Academy we must prepare you for almost anything. That is my talk for today. Before I leave, I must talk to you a bit about names. I am very proud of my name. Those of us with the Forsythe name trace a military history going back to the Revolutionary war. However, to serve in the kind of world we now live in anonymously with a name like mine is suspect. If your name is Nguyen, Jones, Mohammed, or Chow in some cultures, you are practically anonymous. Last night, we received a new cadet with the same name as mine. Young Mr. Forsythe, and anyone else in the room with the name related to your famous father, uncle or, just by coincidence the same as someone who will link you to someone familiar, like Kennedy or Lincoln, I ask that you to seriously consider changing your name so that you will blend in with whatever assignment you choose to undertake. The sooner you change your name, the sooner you'll be able to assume the life of the individual you are expecting to be. Are there any questions?" The room was silent. "Okay then, will talk to you again tomorrow."
Jason's first class was mathematical analysis followed by psychology of behavior, followed by computer architecture, and so on. Everything was fast-paced and designed to challenge the bright minds assembled at the Academy. There was just enough time between classes for him to go to the next one. He didn't have to carry any textbooks. All of those books were on computers that were readily available in the classrooms and his room. Most classes were small and taught in a seminar mode, hands-on. Everyone worked together to solve problems related to the subject. There were some strong egos in the room, but cooperation was encouraged. Leadership was already there. It was followership that had to be practiced. Professors emphasized that, while in the classroom, they were doing things as groups with the minds of everyone working on solving the problems, in the real world, each one would be on his or her own without the benefit of fellow cadets’ minds. They would have to learn to work with the enemy in a way that would help them further their cause. For this, the psychology courses were the most benefit. Jason particularly liked role-playing. Armed with the psychological underpinnings of what they were doing, he and his classmates often played out scenarios that they might expect in the real world. For example, the planning and execution of a terrorist strike on a target. They simulated this activity repeatedly with everyone changing roles and tried to come up with ways to sabotage the attack without making it look like it was intentional -- only an accident. They not only acted out all the roles, they studied the chemistry of infections, poisons, bombs, and other agents used for individual or mass destruction of human life. Knowledge of these things was essential to thwarting them.
Because they were in a windowless underground world, the cadets knew no night or day. Their lives were wrapped up in schedules and routines that helped them pass the time quickly. Even their recreation was scheduled. There was no pool, so Jason missed swimming. However, he ran almost daily and worked out in the gym. That, coupled with the fine food in the cafeteria put him in the best shape he'd ever been in. There was no social life built into the Academy schedule because everyone knew, that, on assignment, they would never be in touch with their classmates again. Still, they were all of the age when their hormones were raging. The sheer intensity of their work brought them together, even though there was no time or place for intimacy between the sexes.
That second night, even though Jason was near exhaustion from his first day of regimen, he never expected the light knock on the door. "Who is it?" He called out from his bed. A glance at the clock on the computer told him that it was 3:45 a.m. There was no answer, just more knocking, lighter this time. Jason slipped out of bed and went to the door. There was no peephole, so he put his ear to the door and listened. The knocking came again, so light that he could barely hear it with his ear to the door. Finally, his curiosity got the best of him, and he opened the door. When he saw his Uncle Jim in the opening, he opened the door further, and the Colonel slipped in.
"Sorry about the time of night. I thought it necessary to explain. I'm going to have to erase the digital record in the hallway after a get back to my quarters. You know, we don't allow fraternizing among the cadets, let alone family. I hadn't realized, until I saw you in the new recruit lineup last night, that you are coming. That little talk I gave about names this morning was meant to disarm any thoughts these young Turks might have about nepotism. I don't believe you would have gotten into the Corps without my pull and special request to President Knox. These are some very bright people we've got here. Most of them know two or three languages and have cultural skills that you could never learn born an American. They are mostly valedictorians from their high school classes and in super physical shape. I didn't want to complicate things by having them know that you are linked to me. I think it is best that we change your name as soon as possible. In 20 years, when you come out, you can, once again, resume the Forsythe legacy. Until that time it is best that you become someone else." There was a somber look on his face and he shook his head in regret as the realization of what he was saying set in.
"I understand, Uncle Jim. From here on out I will develop a name and persona that does not lead me to you." Colonel Forsythe's look brightened. They shook hands. The Colonel slipped out of the room. Before Jason fell back to sleep, names kept popping into his head. Jason Jones. John Jones. Buster Jones. John Jacob. It all boiled down to a nickname -- JJ -- that's it, he thought -- JJ Simpson -- something like that. No, too familiar, sounds like O.J. Simpson or the Simpsons. It must be more anonymous. Familiar, but not something people would remember for its novelty.
The morning came too soon. He rushed through the bathroom so that he could have time to eat. When he got his tray, he headed directly for the same table where Quan Nguyen sitting again with his breakfast club. Once again, he placed his tray directly across the table from Quan. Reaching out his hand, he said, " Good morning, I'm JJ Olson from Houston." A big smile on his face.
Quan looked up, a bit puzzled for a moment, and then he smiled too. He took JJ's hand. "I've got cousins in Houston. What part of town you from?"
Jason hesitated for a moment, and then said, "Northwest -- the Woodlands." Jason remembered visiting friends in the Woodlands who moved there from Reston when he was about 10.
"The Woodlands, huh? I've got friends there. We'll have to talk about it sometime." It was the blonde with a piercing blue eyes speaking, about to sit down next to Quan. "I didn't introduce myself yesterday. I'm Dina Milos."
Another guy had arrived with Dina. "And I'm Ali Rasheed from San Jose. My friends call me San Jose. We're pleased to have you join our little breakfast club. What did you say your name was?"
"JJ Olson from Houston,... ah... the Woodlands actually."
There wasn't much time to talk. They were called to assembly in fifteen minutes. Jason began eating with the elite group regularly. When he saw their performance in class, he began to realize why they considered themselves elite.
The days and weeks passed quickly and Jason learned all he could. In the middle of the night though, even though his schedule made him sleep deeply, he would often awake with dreams of Shauna, and Elizabeth, and Dina. There was something about Dina that drew him in. When they were doing simulations, no matter how well he played his part, she always played better. Her insight into human behavior was remarkable. She was the strongest woman he ever met. He wanted to be dominated by her. He fantasized about it while masturbating. He knew he couldn't have her. It was too risky. He knew she was going to Eastern Europe because of her heritage. He probably would never see her again. Besides, she seemed to favor Ali. Now, there was another sharp one. Jason had never seen a guy with the insight that Ali had. Ali had vast technical knowledge stored away somewhere in that huge brain of his that could solve technical problems in unique ways like that old TV show, McGarver. Ali was also very physically capable. Jason was a good skier, soccer player, runner, and had done a little East Coast surfing. But nothing to compare with Ali's mountain climbing, hang gliding, and big wave surfing off Half Moon Bay. They formed a friendship, Quan, Dina, Ali, and he, forged from the pressure of friendly competition. An admiration of each other's unique and powerful capabilities. His sexual fascination with Dina had nothing to do with it. It was just his hormones again. A young man's urge to continue the human race. A primal urge that few young men escape.
Dr. Abrams, the instructor was very precise. "Okay, JJ. Let's just say because of your fair skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes, you have managed to become a high-ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan. Unbeknownst to you, one of your buddies in the Klan buys a Powerball ticket in your name, JJ Olson, at the local Quix Stop. There are four winners, and you, JJ are up to split the $433 million pot. What would you do?"
"Well, Dr. Abrams, that's a tough one... If I come forward and take the money I will have blown my cover. My picture will be all over the Internet and my name will be well known. If I got $108 million and I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, they would want the lion's share. They could do a lot of harm with that much money. I could take the money and quit, but the Ku Klux Klan would probably be after me and I might reveal the Corps. No, I think I'll take that buddy aside and tell him that I'm not interested in the money. I'd tell him that the Klan should not get that kind of publicity. I would threaten him with death if he ever revealed my name or used my name again. In his presence, I'd burn the ticket. And when people would come to me about buying it I would deny that I ever saw the ticket."
"JJ, that was the good and right move. The Klan does not want publicity. If you keep it between you and your buddy, and deny everything, your cover isn't blown and the Klan is weaker. By threatening your buddy, you seal the bond you have with him. Keeping secrets from the others makes him trust you more. Does anyone have any other ideas about this?"
"Dr. Abrams, I think that JJ wouldn't have to threaten death to get when he needed done. All he would have to do is explain to the buddy that the ticket was tainted; that it would reveal the Klan and what it was about. I would use the threat of death only as a last resort." Dina had a way of being forceful with her expression.
"Yeah, and he would have to be serious about that death threat or it wouldn't come across." Quan always had to get his two cents in.
"You’re right Quan. And so are you Dina. If one uses the threat of death on someone else, they must be capable of carrying it out. Make no mistake about it. You are going to be involved was some of the most dangerous people in the world. People who think nothing of killing you. To stay alive you will have to know when you are a target. I can't help you with that. You will have to develop a way to sense it in the way people speak to you and behave toward you in your gut. Likewise, when you make a threat, you must be capable of carrying it out -- at least in the mind of the person you are threatening. Learn how to have an edge about you that earns you respect. When the opportunity arises, demonstrate your ability to carry out your threats in small ways that will give you that respect. Otherwise, you won't last. You'll be found out as the weakling you are, and either you'll be used as a slave, tossed out, injured, or even killed. This is serious business. Learn how to read people like a book. Learn how to be devious. Learn how to be so threatening that others will back down. Train physically so that you can prove it. Hopefully, with your physical training and what you learn here, you'll come out unscathed."
There was a silence in the room that was palatable. JJ understood, for the first time, that he had to be good, very good, to do the job before him. He vowed to himself that he would learn all he could to be prepared.
Weeks turned into months and JJ learned how to make nuclear bombs, mix a lethal dose of pathogen that could kill thousands, mix many poisons for many purposes and their antidotes, make explosives of both small and large varieties with sophisticated electronic and not so sophisticated manual means of detonation, and all the parts of the human body that were vulnerable to various means of attack. He learned the chemistry of materials so that he could quickly discern the validity of drugs, explosives, and poisons. By the time the academy was over in two years, JJ and the other cadets were well-equipped to teach in most of the colleges and universities in the country. Instead, they would use their knowledge for good. There was no graduation. That would have to wait. Instead, like the night he came. He and five others he didn't know very well were asked to take their gear and meet a bus at 23:00. Reversing the way he came in the night, JJ and the others boarded another Hercules C-130 and took off into the night over the brooding mountains, south.