Janice is suddenly jolted back to consciousness with a bucket of dirty, mildly hot water. The hot water stings open wounds on her face as the upward direction of the water going into her nose gives her the sensation of suffocating. She turns her head to the right to open her eyes as the water runs passed her stinging eyes. The sludge in the water leaves the taste of mud in the back of her throat.
As she opens her eyes, she sees Thomas five feet away, still tied up in a chair. His head is titled over his left shoulder with blood-tainted saliva dripping from his mouth onto the cement, which is drenched in blood that’s dripping from his seat. His intestines have been slightly pulled out of his stomach with a clamp constricting the exposed intestine. She notices a slight fluctuation in the light reflecting from the blood on Thomas’s chest. He’s still breathing.
Janice hears a door open in the distance, then voices, then heavy foot steps. If she hadn’t spent the last 24 hours with the real punisher, then this next 24 hours was going to be even worse. She can barely muster enough strength to get her head upright to face her adversary. She hears foot steps walk away and the door open. The door closes, and then she hear’s his voice.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Janice.”
Janice remembers that voice. It is special agent Paige of the CIA. She had just heard his voice for the first time two days earlier when she arrived in New Orleans. Thomas had played a recorded phone conversation between Paige and another member of the CIA who were planning her very abduction.
That conversation echoes in her head as she is jolted back into the current moment as agent Paige slides a thin, narrow, sharp six-inch blade into the base of her kneecap. The pain is excruciating! Her legs are taped tightly to the legs of the chair, which are bolted to the floor. The more she tries to move her right leg, the more painful the blade becomes, but she can’t help but move her leg; it’s reflex.
Agent Paige leaves the blade in Janice’s right leg and then walks back to the cart the other punishers have been pulling their weapons from for the last 24 hours.
“Janice, I’m going to tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about our programs. Most of it, you probably already know. We found a lot of data on your computers.”
Agent Paige picks up a pair of pliers like a mother pickups her infant child. Janice can see genuine love on agent Paige’s face as he admires the pliers and inspects their operation. He’s practically making baby faces at the pliers before he turns to Janice. The look on agent Paige’s face is demonic as he walks towards Janice.
“I love what I do, Janice. Protecting this country isn’t work at all when I love what I do as much as I do.” Agent Paige squats down to look Janice eye to eye. “Truth is… I always fancied myself an artist.”
He grabs Janice’s right wrist and grips a pressure point that forces her fingers to splay. He then places the pliers between her thumb and index finger and begins to squeeze tighter and tighter while slightly wobbling the pliers back and forth. Janice goes unconscious from the pain.
Janice has lucid dreams about the last 24 hours in New Orleans. Within minutes of meeting with Thomas, they both knew that someone was watching them. They decided to go to Bourbon Street to give themselves a large public space that would minimize the likelihood of the random “mugging gone bad” story they had discovered while researching the CIA. The story line was simple and always seemed familiar when they’d watch in on the news.
Thousands of people are killed in America on a daily basis, and rarely is it orchestrated. What gets reported in the national news is actually the covert killings orchestrated by the CIA. Janice thought this was absurd at first. How could the CIA kill people in broad daylight?
The evidence uncovered by Alex showed that the killings were real. The people were real. The motives and the news reported were not entirely real. The killings chosen to be reported on national news are carefully chosen by the CIA. The information “leaked” or publicly disclosed to news reporters, like her friend Thomas, were all carefully worded by an application that is part of Project PRIME.
Janice still doesn’t know the true origins of Project PRIME, but she does know it is an artificial intelligence developed for the CIA to utilize psychological priming and framing to condition the human mind. Through careful word choice that is only possible with AI, the CIA is able to craft entire sets of news stories that are completely factual while priming the human mind to be easily manipulated and open to suggestive speech.
It would usually involve two (often unrelated) news stories. The first performed the priming, and the second used psychological framing to produce a desired emotional outcome amplified by the priming that had just take place.
But the true gem in Project PRIME was the influence that could be affected with predictive text. As users type text into their phones, the keyboard makes suggestions. Project PRIME would hijack those word suggestions and create constant priming that could allow the CIA to influence hundreds of millions of people around the globe without them ever having a clue that this influence was taking place.
Project PRIME had been so effective in the last election. Every time a political conversation was detected, predictive text would analyze the text being typed and prime the user with auto suggestion words to make it easier to sway their political opinions towards the CIA’s choice for President; the current President! Project PRIME and the CIA had been instrumental in creating an environment where an unlikely candidate ended up winning the Presidential election, and nobody could possibly know they had been manipulated.
Sure, there were the usual stories of voter fraud, campaign finance violations, corruption, and foreign adversary influence, but the only thing the investigations uncovered was rampant tax evasion. No election meddling could be proven. People legitimately voted for the unlikely candidate. They just didn’t know they had been swayed by Project PRIME.
Janice breathes in a pungent odor and wakes up like she just had a double shot espresso in Italy. She can feel the pliers still on her hand and looks down at her right hand. The pliers seem like they are invisible. She can’t see them, but the excruciating pain that went all the way up her arm and into her head is still there.
Looking back at Janice over his left shoulder, agent Paige smiles at Janice, “I’ve crushed your median nerve just the perfect amount to keep you useful and to give me pleasure.” Agent Paige laughs, “Which is also useful.”
Janice looks over at Thomas who she can tell is now sitting lifeless in his chair. A tear rolls down her cheek.
Agent Paige begins telling Janice everything she ever wanted to know about all the programs the CIA has in place to manipulate the global news cycle via disinformation and Project PRIME. He confirms everything she’s already read from the troves of data that Thomas has been receiving from his source.
“The beauty of this whole thing is that you guys go about your days believing…” Agent Paige pauses. “KNOWING! You know you are making your own choices. You are presented with all the options, and you make the choice that we want because you know it’s the best choice. It really is the perfect democracy, and I’m going to protect it from adversaries like you and Thomas at all costs.”
Janice looks at agent Paige with disgust and a scowl. “What’s the point of telling me all this? Isn’t this the moment where James Bond comes to save me? Or is this the moment where you tell me you expect me to die?”
“Oh, you most assuredly will die, Janice. I guarantee you that the next light you see will not be the sunrise but the light we all see right before death. And James Bond is already here.” Agent Paige steps closer to Janice to ensure she hears his next words clearly. “I am James Bond, Janice. I am the hero of this story. You…”
Agent Paige slowly reaches inside his coat as Janice is left hanging on his words. He pulls out an unusual looking gun and pulls the trigger. Janice hears nothing and doesn’t see any flash. Then she feels a sharp object pierce her stomach and feels her legs disappear. She looks down at her legs, but they are still there. She tries to move her legs, but all she can see moving is a stain of blood soaking its way through her light-colored blue jeans.
“…are the enemy, Janice. And this whole charade of killing time before I kill you serves a very important purpose. You see, I have an addiction to the chemicals my body produces when I torture someone. But, like any addiction, I need a greater and greater fix.” Agent Paige begins to shout, “There’s got to be something more to life than causing you pain, watching you grimace and then pass out, and then waking you up to do it all over again. Isn’t there?”
Agent Paige crouches down and pulls out the blade from Janice’s right leg. With her lower spine severed, she can’t feel the blade being removed, but she watches in horror as the six-inch blade is removed from her knee.
“Look at me!” Agent Paige says softly to Janice.
She knows that even if James Bond came through the door and killed agent Paige right in front of her… She’d rather be dead anyway. She looks up into agent Paige’s cold blue eyes.
“That’s the look I’ve been waiting for.” Agent Paige’s eyes roll back slightly in his head as he closes his eyes and places both hands on each of Janice’s knees. He lets out a big sigh.
“I told you everything so that you know that knowing everything doesn’t make any difference. You…” Agent Paige pauses purely for a sick, dramatic effect. “…are going to die knowing everything you ever wanted to know. You’re going to die having uncovered what you spent your entire life working towards! And the best part is, Janice.” Agent Paige adjusts his position to better see Janice’s slowly dropping head.
“The best part is that you now know your cause completely dies with you. Your entire life is completely meaningless, Janice. And I get to see you give up right before my very eyes! There it is.”
Janice feels her eyes drying out. She tries to blink, but her eyelids do not respond. A slight glaze is starting to form over her vision, and she feels her body weakening. She has sudden sensations of her body jolting and her head jerking, but neither her head nor body are moving. She feels a cold grip surround her entire self.
There’s a glow emanating from agent Paige’s chest. Paige was right about the light. The glow becomes brighter as agent Paige reaches into his coat and pulls out what looks like a glowing orb and lifts it to his ear. Agent Paige smiles, practically from ear to ear. His voice is filled with joy as he answers his phone.
“Hello. Special Agent Paige here.”
Agent Paige looks at Janice’s face and smiles even wider as he can see Janice’s face begin to go lifeless with her relaxed forehead, wide eyes, and slightly ajar mouth.
“This is Alex.”
Janice smiles. Her vision fades to nothing as she witnesses the corners of agent Paige’s smiling eyes squeeze tight. His nose flares, and his smile turns into a snarl of rage.