Langley, Virginia

In a small corner of land officially allotted by the federal government to the CIA, the headquarters to one of the most mysterious secret societies sat unassumingly, just another building lost in a much larger complex. The concrete-and-mirrored-glass facade bore no sign or other indication as to what the building housed, as even the privileged few who were granted free reign to explore the campus of the CIA's headquarters were not allowed inside this building. Fewer than a dozen people in the entire country, not including the organization's operatives and staff, knew of the organization's existence or purpose. The clearance required even to set foot inside the building was exclusive to those specifically granted license by the Director.

Exiting from his black Mercedes sedan, a well-built Latino man, clad in a black double-breasted suit and sporting wraparound sunglasses, his dark hair shining in the sunlight, headed toward the small, two-story building. Though his head remained set on his shoulders, facing forward as he walked at a brisk pace toward his destination, his eyes swept from side to side beneath his dark sunglasses, scanning his surroundings as he always did. No matter where he was, no matter what he was doing. His job, Enrique Ramirez had found, was more than just a job; it consumed your whole life. Which, he realized, was fitting considering how his employer quite literally had taken his old life, as fire consumes the phoenix, and rebirthed him from the smoldering ashes of his staged death.

He climbed the half-dozen stairs to the front doors, his sweeping eyes noting the chewing gum stuck underneath the left-hand rail, and ticking off another day in his mind that maintenance had neglected to clean it off. Enrique was glad the maintenance guys weren't responsible for the more important parts of the operation. As it was, the Organizations fate, and thus the fate of the nation, was in much more able hands – hands like his.

As the only child of first-generation American immigrants from Honduras, Enrique Ramirez had a rough childhood. The inner city of Los Angeles and the cycle of poverty that afflicted so many of his peers plagued his upbringing, but it was his father, who he feared the most. When Enrique was fourteen, he had come home to another of his father's drunken rants, the paper-thin walls of the apartment ensuring that the family's dirty laundry was no secret to their equally despondent neighbors. His father was in the kitchen with Enrique's mother, Luisa. Normally, his mother would try to clam him down, to placate him somehow until he sobered up. To yell back would only infuriate him further, and that was when he turned violent, as both Enrique and Luisa had found out more times than they could count. On this day, however, Luisa neither yelled nor placated. The voice that Enrique heard as he entered the house was fearful, pleading as though for her very life. And as he discovered when he approached the kitchen, he realized this was, in fact, the case.

His back to the entrance to the kitchen, his father stood over the crumpled body of Enrique's mother. Luisa's blue housedress was splattered with the crimson that leaked from her nose and mouth. Attempting to curl into a fetal position, she was shaking with fear and with the onset of shock. And his father continued to yell, punctuating his hateful words with kicks to the shins, arms, and face.

Enrique didn't remember picking up the long cutting knife from the counter; it was just there, in his clenched fist, ready to help him dispense justice. His father was so consumed by his drunken fury that he didn't even notice Enrique com up behind him until the knife was already driven into his spine. The man whirled in response, flailing about to defend against his son, but Enrique stabbed him again and again. After his father had finally fallen to the ground in a bloody, dead heap, Enrique finally dropped to his knees beside his mother. She looked at Enrique through blackened eyes that were already beginning to swell shut. Her lips seemed to form the word "why" as she exhaled a soundless bubble of blood from her mouth. Whether that questioning word was directed at him or his father, Enrique never had been able to decide.

Luisa died from the internal bleeding on the way to the hospital. His father had been dead before the paramedics even showed up. Enrique Ramirez, fourteen years old, was alone in the world.

After an investigation into the affair, the authorities decided not to pursue charges against the teenager. Months of counseling and years of revolving door foster families followed for Enrique. Social workers and guidance counselors described him as somber, angry, and lacking direction. But the day he turned eighteen, he discovered the direction he was destined for: the armed services.

When Enrique joined the United States Army in the build up to NATO's invasion of Yugoslavia in 1999, he immediately stood out as a formidable soldier. Fearless and cunning, his instincts on the ground would often lead him to improvise changes to his missions – changes that always either granted surprisingly successful results or avoided the massive casualties that the ill-conceived original plan would have incurred. Even his senior squad members listened to his advice with an open mind, usually opting to follow the rookie soldier. But when one of his improvised missions took a turn for the worse, forcing him to separate from his squad and find his own way back through enemy lines to base camp, he got his first taste of operating solo. No squad mates' backs to watch, no predefined mission parameters, a license to kill, and a lot of bad guys to use that license on. Not only did he make it back to base camp alive, but he also managed to kill seventeen of the enemy by himself: with only an M4, a pistol, one extra clip of rifle ammo, and a knife. The last four kills, apparently, had been made after he had run out of ammo, and judging by stories that circulated later on, the families of the deceased would have had no chance of holding open casket funerals.

He had risen quickly within the ranks, being put on special assignments, and eventually, due to his loner tendencies and his ability to make operational magic happen when given a long leash, he was assigned solo assassination missions: taking out high-profile or tactical targets as a splinter cell – for the United States neither condones nor partakes in assassinations of foreign leaders… officially, at least – backed up only by minimal reconnaissance and intelligence members with whom he rarely interacted, save for the occasional radio contact. He came to like it that way. Just him and his target. His guidance counselor back in high school would have said that he was channeling his anger at his dead father toward these surrogates, the enemy combatants he so efficiently dispatched, but Enrique didn't buy into that. He was simply good at killing people who needed to be killed. Very, very good.

Enrique slid his plain white entry card through the reader next to the door – a door that, like the rest of the building, appeared to be made of mirrored glass, but was in fact constructed of two inches of steel, with the glass merely covering its exterior. Entering the building, Enrique removed his sunglasses and glanced at each of the five closed circuit cameras. On the keypad to the right of a heavy steel door, he punched in the 8-digit code, prompting the pad to slid back into the wall, then up, revealing another console with a small camera lens, a microphone, and a large LCD touch-pad. He pressed his right palm to the touch-pad, a read light-bar recorded his fingerprints, handprint, and pulse – in case someone might try to use the hand of a dead agent to gain access. He enunciated his agent identification number into the microphone, and centered his left eye in front of the camera lens, which image-captured his retina.

When the security computer had checked the pass codes and biometric data against the agent files in the system, verifying that he was indeed supposed to be in the building, a small green light lit up. A buzz emanated from the door indicating it was unlocked, rushing to push open the door before the lock reactivated – and before he had to go through the whole process again - Enrique entered the brightly lit headquarters of the Illuminati.

Some people found the security measures to be a bit overkill, but not Enrique. He was glad for anything that would protect this great nation of his from the treacherous subversives who would see its downfall. And he was proud to be an important cog in that powerful machine. He turned a corner, walked to the end of the stark, tile-floored, white-painted concrete hallway and stopped. Lingering, he stared at the gray steel door, which displayed a copper nameplate bearing the single word: Director. He had always relished being summoned before the man who held this office. Harrison Greer was the father he never had, the mentor and leader he had always needed, and Ramirez had always been his golden child. But things with Greer lately had been… different somehow. Ramirez took a breath and knocked twice on the door.

"Enter," came the gruff reply from within. Ramirez did so.

Enrique had heard that you could tell a lot about a person by the way they decorated their "space," be it their home, office, or even the interior of their car. The centerpiece of the office was a shiny aluminum desk about the size of a pool table; a desktop computer, a legal-sized pad of paper, a pencil cup, and a Civil War-era cannonball, were all that graced its top. Three framed pictures hung behind the desk. Other than the portraits, the walls were whitewashed and unadorned. No nonsense, no superfluous distractions. Ramirez liked that dedication, that single-mindedness that Greer, as his mentor, instilled in him. The only features in the room other than the desk were the two filing cabinets located on the left wall, and a three-foot-long bomb shell that stood in one corner behind the desk. No one within the organization, save Greer himself, really knew if it was a real, live bomb or not. When Ramirez had once inquired, Greer told him that it was a reminder of the explosive nature of the secret they were sitting on. Like the bomb's unknown danger potential, each subject slated for elimination, given time and freedom to pursue things further, might never discover enough to really pose a threat. But, Greer would finish the metaphor, is it really worth the risk?

Harrison Greer was hunched over his desk, flipping through some documents in a manila folder. His piercing gray eyes turned toward the door. His tanned face sat on a muscular neck. His thick head of brown hair belied his forty-eight years of age, the salt-and pepper at the temples and the wrinkles around his eyes the only indication of his age. His body was that of a weightlifter, tugging at the seams of his gray suit.

"Ramirez," Greer said as he placed the file on the desk and stood up. Being five inches shorter, Ramirez, had long foster the joke, privately of course, that Greer was someone he 'looked up to'. "Have a seat."

Ramirez eased himself into the chair opposite the desk. The director adjusted the folder on his desk, folded his hands, and fixed Ramirez with a stare.

"Ramirez, last night's mission," Greer pursed his lips, as if the next words held an acrid distastefulness. "It may have been premature."

Ramirez raised an eyebrow but remained silent, his hand folded in his lap.

"I don't want to say anything else until I know more, but that's where I need you again." Greer took a deep breath. "Apparently Drake had a journal that he kept at home. He may have kept his most sensitive discoveries there."

"I never saw a journal when I was there, or I would have grabbed it." Ramirez made a face. "Why didn't anyone pick up on it before?"

"Apparently he made elaborate steps to hide it. Cautious, I suppose, especially after he realized what he'd stumbled across. The fact of the matter is I need you to get that journal. Find it and bring it back."

"Sir, permission to speak freely?"

"Granted."

"Are you okay?" Ramirez tilted his head to the side "I mean, you seem a little-"

"Distracted?"

Ramirez nodded. "Perhaps."

Greer leaned forward over his desk. "You know the feeling you get when your lottery ticket matches the first five numbers in the Mega Lottery? Your incredulous at your luck and tingling with anticipation, waiting for the Powerball to come up?"

"Not personally, but I can imagine."

"We may have a winning lottery ticket on our hands, Ramirez." Greer jabbed a finger at the Intel lying on his desk, still locking eyes with Enrique. "And this journal may be our Powerball. Go get it."