Chapter 1

October 1999

White, searing light had been Constance Lindbergh's only companion for longer than she could remember. How long had she been lost in the whiteness? It had certainly been weeks and more likely over a month. The room had ceilings, walls, and a floor made out of square panels of lights. She had initially laughed at them because they reminded her of a disco floor only with white lights. They hadn't seemed bright at first but now they were unbearable. She was practically snow blind. They were covered with some sort of silicone coating to soften them, not quite as effective as a padded room but it served the same purpose? The only thing that wasn't lit up was the door, a hole in floor which served as the toilet, two hoses that brought food and water in, and the video cameras all around the room. The ceiling was just high enough to put the cameras out of reach. She lacked the comfort of the room even being square, it was large and circular which provided little to no tactical advantage, so that when they came for her she had to fight them from three sides.

She had been given nothing, no clothes, shoes, blanket, cot, table, or mirror… absolutely nothing. The room was cold enough so that she was constantly freezing, but warm enough so that she wouldn't die. Noise was continuously pumped into the room at different times and volumes and whenever she fell asleep they would change it to keep her awake, or if that failed to work the men would come for her.

The men didn't come for her in any sort of discernible pattern, sometimes days would go by, sometimes just a few minutes. Men would come and take her from the room. Sometimes they would beat her; other times drug her, or interrogate her. Sometimes it was a combination of all of them. Once they locked her in a tank and filled it with water until she drowned, only to resuscitate her. Another time they locked her in a gas chamber and pumped it fill of different gasses for an hour.

Other times they would knock her out and perform surgeries on her. She thought that they had removed her tonsils and her wisdom teeth had definitely been extracted. She knew that a tattoo on her ankle had been removed along with several moles on her body. They had also performed some sort of abdominal laparoscopic surgery as well, and while this last one was terrifying in that she had no idea what they had done to her, they at least stopped beating on her for a few days after it.

She couldn't believe that she had volunteered for this. Sure there had been a very long legal agreement that she had to sign in regards to all of the dangers involved, but when she read the parts where it talked about some parts of the program being considered torturous she hadn't realized it would be actual torture. She was told that she could use any means possible to escape including killing guards who were being trained for other top secret jobs and knew the risks. She had thought they had been kidding; now she knew they were deadly serious.

The guards would mercilessly beat her, sometimes for hours. Every part of her body was bruised and broken except for her face, they were very careful to not damage her face; everything else apparently was fair game. Once she had overpowered one guard and almost took out the other, for which she was beaten for hours, the bottom of her feet took the brunt of the assault as they had beaten them with a piece of bamboo until they had turned black as coal and later a sickly dark green. Even though it caused agonizing pain, she had massaged them for hours trying to keep blood flowing through them.

The worst torture by far was the lie detector. It wasn't the detector itself that was terrifying, but it was the fact that they strapped her into an old electric chair and they electrocuted her if she lied or even if she told the truth. She found it infuriating at first, but slowly she came to understand how to trick the test or the test proctor. Also if she kept her answers generic enough, while still answering the question, it seemed to satisfy the proctor. But they also didn't want her to actually tell the truth. The interrogator wasn't in the same room as her nor was the machine, but the robotic voice came from and ancient looking speaker that reminded her of the one on Charlie's Angles and the machines needle gage appeared on a TV mounted on one wall. It took her several sessions to understand:

"What's your name?"

"Constance Lindbergh…" she replied honestly and the machines needle remained flat, but she was shocked anyway.

"Where were you born?"

"A hospital," she replied honestly and the machines needle remained flat, but she wasn't shocked. Perhaps vague answers were best?

"Where were you educated?"

"Brown," she replied honestly, but evasively. She didn't go to Brown University as the answer implied she had gone to Harvard. But she had attended Brown W Elementary School for one week, just long enough to take an IQ test and bury the needle; then she was sent elsewhere. The machines needle remained flat, but she wasn't shocked.

"What's your current objective?"

"To graduate," she wasn't shocked. Technically it was true, but obliviously evasive in that that was not her mission objective. They should ask better questions.

"What's your most heartfelt desire?"

Damn, she thought… She paused long enough that she was afraid of getting shocked for not answering. Then she imagined that robotic voice, the voice she had come to hate and despise and what she wanted to do to the person on the other side of the glass, "To give you a Colombian neck tie." That sounded like reciprocity to her.

There was a very, very long pause this time to which she applauded herself, but kept from smiling. She knew the persons hand was on the button debating on whether or not to shock her and seeing her derive pleasure from her response would definitely tip the scales.

"Good. Please escort yourself to your room. You will be afforded eight hours of uninterrupted sleep; make the most of it." There was a click and a buzzing and the metal restraints on the chair unlocked and she jumped up and ran to the door, wincing in pain with each step. There were four other doors in the room, but she knew they would be locked. She walked back to her room, expecting a trap. She saw other doors along the hall, doors like hers. There was another room at the far end of the hall, she knew it was the way out and knew it was locked, but it was very hard not to go to it.

Looking into her room she saw the lights were dimmed and there was a large piece a cardboard on the floor, from a refrigerator perhaps, and a small pile of food was on it. It was too much to resist, she ran in and greedily ate the banana practically whole and even debated eating the peel. For weeks she had eaten nothing but cold pea soup or some such gruel that came through the tubes once a day. She heard the door close, but didn't care. There was a ham and cheese sandwich, an apple, a Styrofoam coffee cup of French onion soup and plastic orange juice cups with peel away lids. She ate it all and placed the trash by the door. The only thing she kept was one of the OJs; she placed it next to the cardboard, and laid down on it, realizing its purpose.

She realized that the temperature had been turned up and the lights were slowly dimmed until the room was pitch black except for the light coming from under the door. They piped in the sound of a light rain fall, but she never knew it. She was sound asleep almost immediately upon laying down. Weeks of sleep deprivation had taken their toll on her mind and body, but the heavy dose of tranquilizers her captors had added to her meal certainly didn't hurt.

Later she woke up in the dark and felt like it had been longer than eight hours, a lot longer. She drank her juice and saw that the trash by the door was gone. She laid back down in the darkness and continued creating a whole false life for herself, something that she had started weeks ago but was holding back until it was ready. She invented family, friends, skill sets, as many basic things as she could think of and repeated them over and over and over, especially her new name. She fell asleep thinking about her new life and woke up to the sound of the door clicking open.

"Proceed down the hall to the right and have a seat please," said the robotic voice, they had never spoken to her before, nor had the guards. She knew one of the many guards felt badly for her sometimes though, after an exceptionally brutal session he would lower her to the ground instead of hurling her into her room.

She nervously walked down the hall and voluntarily sat in the electric chair, with more than a little bit of trepidation. She was surprised that the restraints didn't lock by themselves.

"What's your name?"

"Whatever you want it to be…" she quipped, using a line from one of her favorite movies, Pretty Woman.

"What's your name?" the voice insisted.

She sighed in exasperation, "Nicolette Parsons, you can call me Nicky…" she rolled her eyes, the machines needle remained flat.

"Where were you born?"

"A hospital in Boston," she replied and the machines needle remained flat, but she wasn't shocked.

"Where were you educated?"

"Brown," she replied honestly, but evasively.

"What's your current objective?"

"I'm not sure what you mean? Why am I here?" she wasn't shocked.

"What's your most heartfelt desire?"

"To have a baby," she cooed. It was an outright lie, there was no way she was going to let a child ruin her career, there would be time for that later. She was leaning on her maternal instinct, hoping her body's biological clock felt more strongly about the prospect than her mind did. The needle twitched more than normal, but didn't spike.

"Where is your base?"

She said in a slightly dumb voice, "Oh, wow! My bass…? I sold that thing years ago; I went through a total grunge phase…" She really had owned a bass guitar, but how would they know that.

"Who are you working for?"

"First and foremost, the Lord, we are all his children," this was also a lie. She wasn't sure which she would be shocked by first, the chair or the bolt of lightning. She was raised with a strict Roman Catholic upbringing and was vehemently anti-religion and anti-God now.

"How did you lose your virginity?"

She said in a very proper tone, "I am saving myself for marriage, thank you very much!" If any lie she told could pass a lie detector test it was that one, Lord knows she had used it enough. No, she wasn't a tramp; nuns ask entirely too many personal questions.

"What is your favorite Bible verse?"

She almost laughed, they thought they had her trapped, "Mark 13:35…"

"What does it say?"

"Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight or when the rooster crows, or in the morning…" She couldn't keep from smirking; no verse in that damn book fit her situation better than that one.

There was a buzzing sound and a click of one of the doors behind her opening. She watched in the reflection on the TV that the lie detector needle was broadcast over and waited for the guards to get closer, when they were four feet from the chair she sprung into action. She lifted up from the chair and spun around, she stepped up into the seat of the chair and then vaulted off the back of it; the chair was bolted to the floor. The net effect was that it looked like she was running up massive steps. The two men were about four feet apart and had been approaching each side of the chair, and they both looked stunned that she was flying through the air and she realized that either they hadn't known she wasn't shackled down, or they had forgotten.

It appeared to everyone, the guards and the observers, that she had gravely mistimed her jump as it was taking her to the left of the guard on the right. She wasn't going to hit the guard, but was also not close to the door that the guards came through, that was between them both. As she flew by him, she grabbed his head and used him as a pivot point, carrying her back around to the other guard. She pulled back and twisted as she spun and heard a satisfying crack and some grinding of bone as the man's neck broke. She flung her feet up and tried to grab the second guard with her feet as she went, but came up short merely kicking him in the back propelling him forward, off balance.

She hit the ground hard, right in the middle of her back and the back of her head hit the ground with a jolt. The dead or dying guard fell halfway on top of her and she scrambled to her feet and grabbed his unused nightstick. She got to the other guard just as he got his night stick out, he swung as she charged and hit her in the ribs hard, and she kept eye contact as she swung in order to not telegraph her target and hit him hard in the knee cap. He howled in agony and came down on the knee causing even more pain, she hit him on the back of the head hard, but not as hard as she could and he dropped to the ground silent.

She grabbed his key card and clenched it in her teeth, due to her lack of clothing and with it pockets and grabbed his other night stick as she ran through the door and up a flight of stairs. She swiped the card and was then completely stunned by the stark contrast of the room beyond. Instead of the metal and white glass prison which seemed very hospital like, the room beyond had thick red carpet, luxurious wooden floor to ceiling bookcases which were evenly interspaced by either doors or on the opposite side floor to ceiling windows which rose to the lofty twenty foot ceiling. It looked like a hallway or possibly a former formal dining room. There was a massive fireplace which was roaring but did little to heat the massive room. It looked every bit like a Library in an English Manor house. The sudden change in environment made her feel very modest.

"Congratulations, Ms. Parsons your interview is complete. My name is Margret, let me be the first to welcome you," a female voice said softly. The woman who spoke was walking from behind a desk at the far end of the room and was holding a stack of clothing. She looked very matronly and spoke with a proper English dialect. "Here Nicolette, let me help you," she helped her dress in sweat pants, a cotton t-shirt, robe and slippers. "Those aren't the normal slippers; I bought those for you myself. I know your feet must be the cause of much anguish. I knew you would graduate, they weren't so certain."

Margret was an older woman who served as the house mother for the female recruits. She very much reminded her of Margret Thatcher and wondered if they had chosen the name Margret for her as a joke or maybe she picked it herself. Her hair style, while out of date was very proper and her platinum hair went nicely with the blue blouse and pearls she was wearing.

The slippers felt like they had Tempurpedic foam in them and felt exquisite on her mutilated feet. "Oh wow, they are magnificent! I feel like crying they feel so good… Thank you so very much."

"You deserve them dear. Please don't cry now, you have not cried once since you arrived. Very few people can boast that. Here you are, this is your ID card, please keep it with you at all times." The badge had a photo and Nicolette 'Nicky' Parsons on it. It was still hot. "Dr. Hirsch will see you now, please follow me…"

She led her into the office of Dr. Albert Hirsch, he was typing as she entered and without looking up he said dismissively, "thank you Magpie… You may leave us now." Margret turned and left closing the door. Nicky looked at some of the awards, commendations, and diplomas on his wall as he finished writing she saw that he held double Doctorates from Harvard, both in Medicine and Psychology. She read his name and realized that she knew it.

"Please have a seat Nicolette…" he said gruffly. He was around sixty five years old and didn't look or sound as if he was in the best of health. "It's nice to meet another Harvard Alumni."

She walked over and sat in the chair across from him and smirked because the chair was slightly lower than his, a subtle yet intentional mark of his dominance."I do apologize, but you must be mistaken I attend Brown…" she said innocently, he wouldn't get her that easily.

He smirked, "Quite right. There is something you would like to ask me," he said it as a statement not a question.

"Dr. Albert Hirsch, I believe I have read several journal articles by you about PTSD and Stockholm syndrome amongst others."

"You did far more than read them dear girl, you wrote a rather scathing rebuke for your capstone…"

She fidgeted in her chair, which was getting even smaller by the second, despite her efforts not to let it get to her. She had completely and totally shredded his theories apart and it was done in a less and nice way.

"No need for that," referring to her shifting, "your work was well thought out, concise, and truly showed what a brilliant mind you have. It was of course completely baseless and utterly naïve, but I would have given you top marks. I applaud your effort and truly look forward to seeing a critical review of your own work ten years from now once you've seen these conditions in real life. I chose you largely based on that paper; I need someone who thoroughly understands what it is I do here, to be my eyes and ears abroad. Someone who is willing and able to look at things with a critical eye could prove useful."

"Thank you sir, it will be an educational collaboration to be sure," she offered diplomatically.

Margret's voice spoke up from the speaker, "Sir, candidate number eight has finished his interview as well, what should I do?"

"Let him in and we will be out momentarily," he said to the mic before returning his attention to Nicky. "I do apologize; we have never had two people finish at the same time before. Usually I prefer to spend some time with you to ensure the proper transition. You seem stable enough, nothing a night in the infirmary won't fix. How do you feel?"

"I am nearly blind from the lights. I have some broken ribs I think…"

He instantly sounded concerned, "From when?"

"Just a few minutes ago…"

"Oh, quite right," he obviously thought that it had been from weeks ago. "We will look at that immediately. Your eyes should adjust within a day or two, some recruits have reported headaches but usually only after long exposure; you should be fine but let me know if you experience it. Welcome to the program… You are dismissed; Margret will show you the way."

"Sir, what kind of surgery was done to me?" she asked more rapidly than she should have, not really expecting an answer.

He looked up and took his glasses off, "That usually it goes unnoticed by most subjects. I performed a tubal ligation. I usually wouldn't divulge that to a normal patient, but you do routinely use five separate types of birth control, often simultaneously. Six if you count the pull out method. Any sane person would consider that overkill. I figured this will save you from five different problems. The ligation should suffice, you are to cease using the others," he put his glasses back on and went back to his work.

There was little about her sex life she would call routine, except for her maniacal use of birth control. How did they even find this stuff out? Did they interview every ex-boyfriend she ever had, that was a fairly short list; at least it was of the guys they could possibly know about. What had they told them, that they were from the CDC or something? Oh, God… how embarrassing… that had to be it. They probably told them she had a new STD or something: Constanceitis Crotchrottus. Tell someone that and they would spill the beans about everything. That lie would be reinforced by her overzealous birth control use, as well as her aversion to semen. 'I am really not going to the High School reunion' she thought bitterly.

Something he said just dawned on her, "You performed the surgery?"

"Yes. You are one of the most valuable people on the planet to me Ms. Parsons. I wouldn't trust you to some common butcher. There was a full surgical team of course."

"Of course…" she muttered as she turned the knob and left."Damn," she muttered, "look at what these people make you give."