Touchdown. The Gulfstream's landing gear screeches on the tarmac as it arrives on solid ground. The Carrier looks up from his Thinkpad and out the plane's window to see a beautiful sunny day.

The warm sun glistens off other planes already moving about the small airport outside. As his plane taxis off the main runway and towards the hangars nearby, he catches a glimpse of his ride.

Two dark SUVs, both with men loading gear into them and looking to his plane as he passes. One man in particular he notices.

His old friend...

Play

The Carrier grips his metallic briefcase tightly as he exits the plane.

The case's contents have come a long way to end up in his hands. Its importance could not be understated. It is a great responsibility and honor to transport such valuable cargo for the Alliance, the organization he serves.

The organization he owes so much too.

"Glad to see you've got my back today." The Carrier shakes Walker's hand as the two old friends meet on the tarmac.

"Piece of cake, sir." Walker smirks as he escorts The Carrier towards a group of dark SUVs. He holds a small communication device, tucked in his jacket cuff, up to his mouth.

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"Asset on the ground."

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The two converse as they make their way around a set of hangars to meet other members of the convoy. Walker lets The Carrier into the back of one of the dark SUV's.

He turns to a fellow escort.

"Stay close."

The escort pats Walker on the shoulder.

"You got it, Wally."

Walker cuts him a look of mild annoyance.

"What's our ETA to the Conclave?" The Carrier asks as Walker gets into the SUV next to him.

"Should take no more than 45 minutes, sir. We've got a secondary route picked out that avoids traffic and gives you a nice ride through the countryside."

"Ha. That's why you're the best escort Alliance has to offer, Walker." The Carrier pauses. "Good to see you, old friend."

“Last stop. Westminster Station.”

The train hisses and squeaks as it slows to a stop. The passenger doors open to reveal The Traveler standing ready to exit.

He steps onto the platform and surveys his surroundings before moving with haste.

It has been 72 hours since the mountains. The crash. The markers. His journey has been a strange one, but a necessary one.

If he is to join The Alliance.

Play

His handler was very clear with instructions.

- Move from waypoint to waypoint until arriving at his final destination for pickup.

- Use the provided SIM cards to communicate his position within the route.

- Avoid detection and apprehension.

- Protect his cargo at all costs.

"WAYPOINT 2. GREEN. MOVING."

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Every camera, every stranger, and every passing vehicle is suspect to him. It’s as if a massive game of hide and seek is under way, and he is the target. He can’t help but feel watched.

Hunted.

A fire crackles in the corner of Dixon’s office. 

He sits at his desk reading a text on his phone while sipping on a glass of scotch.

The office door cracks open to reveal a slender figure standing in the light.

“Sir, a Mr. Rhodes is here, unannounced, to see you.”

Dixon slides his phone back into his jacket pocket and looks up to the door. 

“Let him in.”

Play

Mason Rhodes slides into the room with confidence. He carries with him a briefcase. A large bloody hand print smeared across the front of it. The case looks beaten up. Dirty. It’s seen action.

“I figured you’d see me.” Mason announces as he plops down rather childishly in the chair opposite of Dixon’s desk.

Dixon takes a slow sip from his scotch.

“Given today’s events.” Mason glares at Dixon, trying to show strength and power.

Dixon isn’t buying it.

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Mason opens the case with a clumsy fumble as Dixon takes another sip of his scotch, quietly observing Mason‘s excitement and nervousness.

"I've waited three years for this!" Mason proclaims.

Dixon sits, unphased.

"Three years I've watched you pompus Chapter figures sit around at your Concord. Moving peices on a chessboard like gods. With all your trading, voting, controlling. All your 'Alliance Rules'."

Mason's emmotions begin to get the better of him. His voice climbing in volume as he speaks. He rushes his point, eager to make his move and surprise the power figure sitting across from him. 

“Well, I control the Karns assets now!”

Mason hisses as he pulls a smaller electronic protective case from the briefcase.

"I just took my seat at the table, Dixon!"

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He punches a sequence of numbers into the case, opens it, and slides it across the table to reveal its contents to Dixon.

Three triangular, metallic, Markers lay nestled inside the protective case. They glisten with orange light emitted by the fire that crackles in the distance.

The three Markers are all of the same shape, but all forged out of different metals.

One silver in tone.

Another matte black.

Another brass like.

Dixon glances to the markers then cuts his eyes up at Mason in a piercing fury, yet his tone and demeanor do not change.

Mason sits proud, smirking. As if he's just beaten the master at his own game.

“Mason.” Dixon speaks with calmness, his face barely moving as he speaks.

“What did you do?”

“Contact Rear!”

One of the convoy drivers yells as incoming fire riddles the rear vehicle of the convoy.

The trap has been sprung.

A rather ingenious ambush renders the convoy immobile.

Walker does his best to organize an offensive while keeping The Carrier and his cargo secure.

Alas, the attack is well planned. The convoy never really had any chance.

Play

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A mysterious figure vigorously scours through the wreckage of the convoy until arriving at The Carrier’s case, still in The Carrier’s possession. A true protector to the end.

The figure takes the case with excitement and clicks in the combination to reveal its contents.

Inside are various files pertaining to Alliance, the Karns Chapter, Concord and a single smaller electronic protective case.

The figure removes the smaller case and examines it. 

This case change everything. 

Alliance rules state that ‘any holder of a Chapters' Markers will thus be recognized as the governor of said chapter by the sitting members of Concord.’

Mason smiles while holding the case. 

The Karns Chapter, whom he had briefly served before serving Dixon's Chapter, is now his.

He has taken his seat. 

The Traveler approaches his final waypoint.

His journey is nearly over. From the mountains to the city, from planes, to trains and presumably automobiles come next. He has worked hard to earn this opportunity to join The Alliance.

His mission, moments from success.

His sponsor will most certainly be pleased. While he doesn’t quite understand the events that have unfolded, he is eager to see the bigger picture and learn of the role he has played.

He slips into a dark corner of the parking garage and removes the final SIM card to send his last message.

Play

“Waypoint 4. Green. Waiting for pickup.”

He takes one last sip of his coffee and surveys the garage for a sign of what the next move may be.

Is he to pick up a car? Is someone coming to get him?

He checks his text again. The message shows “Read“. The only connection he has had with his sponsor over the last 72 hours, is that simple little word. “Read“.

He assumed his sponsor was, in fact, the one that was reading his messages but he couldn’t be sure. So many questions, and he was very close to getting answers.

A dark SUV rolls around the corner and slows as it approaches him.

This is it, he thought. Finally a face-to-face meeting.

The dark SUV rolls to a stop in front of The Traveler. The window rolls down to reveal The Driver.

“Dangerous to go alone.“ The driver utters in a low voice. 

The Traveler thought for a moment on the corresponding passphrase. He was told to remember it and to use it should he be challenged.

“Never alone when strangers are near.” He replies.

The driver responds immediately. “Get in.”

The Traveler opens the door and tosses his bag onto the floorboard as he gets into the passenger seat. He moves to click his seatbelt but catches a glimpse of light reflecting off a dark object in the drivers left hand.

Before he can get a good look at the object a single sound erupts in the car.

A soft 'POP'.

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The Driver leans over and pushes The Traveler out of the passenger side door.

He slides his suppressed pistol back into his coat pocket and begins to search through The Traveler’s backpack.

He digs around amongst candy bars and a change of clothes, finally coming to a small canvas sack. As he removes the sack the contents jingle like metal shards clinking about inside.

The driver opens the canvas sack to reveal three metallic markers.

One brass in color.

One matte black in color.

One silver in color.

Dixon glares at Mason, who sits with a smug grin on his face.

“I’ve done what no other has done, Dixon. While, I admit, I may have broken a rule or two, those same rules bind me to what is now rightfully mine.”

Dixon takes another sip of his scotch.

“All the remaining Karns that could run the Chapter died in that plane crash.” Mason explains.

“Their loyal dog recovered the Markers and was bringing them to Concord, for what? To be voted in as the Governor Apparent of the Chapter?”

He balks “No.”

“You asked what I did? I took the initiative.”

Dixon has heard enough.

Play

In one fluid motion he flicks his glass, splashing scotch onto the Markers. Mason jumps in his seat, startled.

The Markers begin to dissolve instantly. Fizzing and bubbling as they turn from solid to liquid.

Dixon smiles as he witnesses Mason facial expression change from confidence to horror. Watching his hope vanish away in the blink of an eye.

As the Markers fizzle into nothing, Dixon removes a small canvas sack from his coat pocket. He opens it and slides the REAL Markers across the table in front of him.

“You see, Mason. I had to give Alliance a villain in this story.” Dixon speaks calmly as he stands up from the desk.

Mason is in complete disbelief. He’s been played. Again. 

“You are right, you see. We do move pieces on a chessboard.”

Dixon walks to his collection of Scotch as he continues to speak.

“And I have just played your last move.”

A dark figures enters the room behind Mason, a suppressed pistol in hand.

“Alliance will be very grateful for what I have done, bringing them the traitor responsible for the loss of the Karns assets.”

Mason replays the events of the last 72 hours over in his head. He turns to plead with Dixon.

“DIXON, you can’t….”

The dark figure moves closer to Mason.

Dixon raises his finger to interject.

“Alliance isn’t something you just request membership to Mason. Nor is it something you simply take.”

Dixon pours a new glass of Scotch.

The dark figure raises his arm behind Mason.

As Dixon sips on his new glass, a sound pierces the room.

A soft ‘POP’.

Tragedy has struck the Alliance.

One of the oldest Chapters in Alliance, the Karns, has suffered a terrible fate. The last remaining members of the Karns family have perished in an apparent plane crash, caused by inclement weather, high in the mountains.

With no remaining family members to take the Governor’s seat of the Karns Chapter, Alliance must mobilize to take possession of the Karns’ Markers. Whomever holds the Markers holds the right to claim the Karns Chapter, as voted on during a Concord.

This turn of events has shaken Alliance.

But where there is calamity, there is also opportunity.

Play

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The Traveler climbs through the evergreen forest, battling elevation, debris, and melting snowfall.

Dixon told him it would be tough, but then again, all Alliance initiations are.

He checks his watch, it’s been a 7 hour trek so far, but he is making good time. Staying ahead of the inbound Asset Containment Team that is sure to be on his heels shortly.

He takes a deep breathe and continues to climb.

BEEP…..BEEP…..BEEP.  

The GPS tracker in his hand begins to chirp as he crests a ridge line.  Below him the snow covered trees transition to a dark black, burnt forest. He’s close.

His pace quickens as he drops down into the burnt woods. His tracker now chirping at a rapid pace.

He’s found the crash.

The Traveler begins to comb through the wreckage, lifting razor sharp shards of metal twisted about like a freshly crushed soda can. The wreckage is intense.

‘No way anyone survived this’, he thought.

After a few attempts at searching various parts of the downed aircraft, he sees it. A small electronic case.

He checks his watch again, 8 hours in. He must hurry.

Remembering the key code Dixon gave him, he punches in the number sequence on the case and opens it to reveal the Karns’ Markers.

As instructed, he removes the Markers and places them into a small canvas sack. He then slides the sack into his backpack. While doing so, he also removes a new hardcase from his pack. He must be careful now, following his instructions to the letter.

He opens the hardcase to reveal three identical Markers then proceeds to replace the Karns’ Markers with the copies.

One final check on his watch.

“Time to get off this mountain” he whispers to himself.

His journey has just begun. He's got a long way to go.

“Alliance control, this is Icarus three-one, we have eyes on, confirmed..plane is down. No sign of survivors. It’s in some rough terrain; boys are gonna have a hard time getting back there, especially with this storm front moving in. Icarus three one is RTB.”

“KARNS Flight AC2014 confirmed down.  Begin Asset Recovery.”

“Copy that, team is standing by, ready to roll.”

“GostActual to Gost1 - what’s your status?”

“Gost1 to GostActual, eta 10 minutes to waypoint alpha, Davis wasn’t kidding about the terrain.”

“GostActual to Gost1- we have you on Blacksky, looks like you’re coming up on the wreckage now.”

“Thirty seconds out.....point has reached the wreckage. Commencing search.”

“Gost3 to Gost1: you need to see this.”

“Gost1 to GostActual - Andy KARNS confirmed deceased. Assets secured. Beginning exfil- looks like the weather is clearing up.” 

“Copy that. Be advised, comms possibly compromised, relaying teams to switch to Cornwell.”

Mason looks up from his keyboard as the transmission he was listening in on goes quiet.

He smirks and begins to click away at his keyboard to find the new channel.

Play

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Mason had been tracking nearly every Chapter of Alliance over the last 3 months. Looking for an opportunity to make his move. After 3 months of monitoring, the Karns finally gave him that opportunity.

All he had to do now was find out where the Karns’ Markers were and intercept them before they got to Concord.

“Walker copies. Monty, I want to setup two routes for the Convoy. One direct, one indirect.” - Mason perks up as his hack grants him access to the new communications channel.

‘Walker.’ Mason thinks to himself. ‘The good little soldier. So predictable.’ Their paths had crossed briefly while Mason served Concord. It was not a pleasant experience for Mason.

He clicks away while listening in on the conversation, making notes of routes and GPS coordinates.

Mason loathes the outdoors. He’d much rather be behind a screen. The modern world is controlled by key strokes and mouse clicks. However, today he makes an exception.

He strolls down the snow packed mountain road scanning the upper edges of the ridges above him. Mason had been monitoring Walker’s mission planning folders for some time now and this was the exact spot Walker had pinned on his laptop.

48 hours from now, Walker, Monty, Portman, and the rest of the Convoy will be barreling down this road.

All Mason had to do was intervene. 

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He observes a small peak breaking up above the tree line to his right.

“This looks promising.” He mutters.

After climbing up the peak he observes the road below him.

“Perfect.”

"This is where it will happen."

The Driver tucks his suppressed pistol back into his jacket as he looks to Dixon.

Dixon takes one final sip of his Scotch.

“I assume that was the last lingering challenge, then?” Dixon asks as he turns to face The Driver.

The Driver nods with a hum as he glances down to Mason’s body then back to Dixon.

“Good.” Dixon replies to The Driver with a quick response as he begins to walk across the room. His demeanor changes. More relaxed, singularly focused, and excited.

“See to it that Dominique and the rest of Alliance find their blame for today’s events stopping on Mason, here.” Dixon points his empty scotch glass to the floor.

“That will buy us sufficent time with these Markers.”

Dixon moves to a nearby shelf as The Driver stands, listening.

“Have you attempted the Markers on The Cube yet?” The Driver asks with a genuine curiosity.

Dixon turns from the shelf cradling a large, porous, stone cube, roughly the size of cinder block, in his hands. It’s hefty weight obvious as Dixon struggles to transfer it from the shelf to the table. It sets down with a dense ’thud’.

Dixon looks up from the cube to The Driver in an obvious gesture of ’not yet’.

“Shall we?” He asks The Driver, who steps forward.

Three sides of the stone cube contain triangular cutouts, all pointing to each other. Within the triangular cutouts more geometric shapes protrude, as if a key hole turned inside out.

Dixon picks up one of the Karns’ Markers and examines the back of it to find similar geometric shapes as seen on the cube, only inverted. He shifts the cube around to find a matching cutout and forces the Marker into it.

‘CLICK’. The Marker locks into place on the cube.

Dixon works meticulously as The Driver watches.

He places another Marker. ‘CLICK’.

The final Marker. ‘CLICK.’ However this click echoes inside the cube, as if more than one locking mechanism was just released.

Dixon glances up to The Driver, who watches with an intense focus. He feels around the cube for some sign of an opening. As he does he manages to shift a panel of the cube open. The precise manufacturing of the cube reveals no visible seams, yet somehow, the cube can now be slid open in various segments.

Dixon continues to manipulate the cube as segments slide open and lock into place. It no longer resembles a cube, but more so an abstract piece of art.

As the final segment locks into place a thin wooden plank suddenly projects out from the top center of the cube. Dixon takes a moment to observe the cube’s behavior. He then gently pinches the plank and removes it from the cube.

The wooden plank is incredibly thin. Dixon observes a single hole bored through it, close to one of the corners.  Curving lines are burned across both sides of the surface. On one side of the plank, a faint and weathered Alliance insignia. Dixon runs his fingers over the curving lines and the insignia almost like they were illustrating a story written in brail.

Dixon has a moment of realization. ‘They are topography lines.’

He reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a small, folded, piece of paper. He waves it to the Driver.

“Remember this one?” He asks.

The Driver smirks, recollecting a previous adventure.  “One to never forget.”

Dixon unfolds the paper to reveal a small, very tattered, map. The edges brown and (creases wearing thin from being repeatedly folded and unfolded over time. ) blackened from being burned, perhaps in a fire at one time. Across the face of the map are more topography lines and an Alliance insignia.

Dixon lays the map flat on the table, then places the plank on the map. He moves the plank around the surface of the map, twisting it in various directions, as if trying to fit an unplaced puzzle piece into a gap on the puzzle board.

After a few attempts, he finally aligns the lines on the plank to match lines on the map. He rotates the plank to mirror the map lines perfectly. Dixon observes the hole in the plank and the area it reveals on the map.

The Driver steps forward to see what Dixon sees.

Dixon removes the plank and circles the spot on the map. He then turns to the Driver, map in hand.

“Merrick.” Dixon glances up at The Driver.

He stretches his arm out to Merrick.

“I have another assignment for you.”

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The story continues Spring/Summer 2021...