“In a surprising turn of events, Congress has passed a bill that will increase the taxes across all tax brackets by 1%. This bill, introduced two months ago, gained significant hostility due to its negative impact on every single member of the American population. Normally, bills like this will never make it past Congress. Why such a great number of Senators and Representatives agreed to such a bill is unknown.”
“Angela Lockwood, reporting from Capitol Hill.”
The sound of the television echoed in the background, but no one was paying any attention.
Caity Hunter watched quietly from above the stairs.
A man and a woman in black suits and ties were standing in the living room of her parents’ house. Both their dress code and the stern look on their face reminded Caity of government secret agents in poorly designed movies. She remembered laughing about how hilarious those ‘secret’ agents were when she watched the films. Not anymore.
Caity’s parents, Lee and Randy Hunter, protested quietly, making sure to not let Caity hear what they were saying. They waved their hands to reinforce their argument to the two intruders, but the man and the woman didn't budge an inch. At one point, Randy snapped out his phone and called a number. He put that phone down in less than a minute.
“This is illegal!” He cried loudly. This, Caity could hear her father.
The woman said something. Caity could hear her words, but judging from the defeated look on her parents’ face, she would say it wasn’t in their favor.
In the end, Lee Hunter turned to her daughter.
“Caity, please come down.”
Caity walked down from the stairs. She was a typical high schooler in the States. Tall. Blonde. Her body was quite mature for a 16-year old. Her steps were slow and hesitant as if she wanted to make this trip take as long as possible. But all four adults stood and waited quietly. Finally, she had no choice but to confront the man and the woman in black, for even the longest trip had an ending.
“Yes?” She asked, almost praying she wouldn’t get an answer.
Mr. Hunter pointed at the two.
“These two people are FBI agents. They want to take you away for a trip.”
“A trip? To where?” Caity snapped around, giving voice to the same question her parents were asking mere moments ago.
The woman was the one who answered.
“I am afraid that’s top-secret, Ms. Hunter, but I can assure you, you will be back here, safe in your house, in half a day. That is, if you want.”
“What do you mean?” Caity tried to hide her fear. “You can’t just come into our house and claim to be FBI agents…”
Her father cut her off. “I have confirmed their identity with the FBI Headquarter. They are who they say they are.”
“Fine! Even if you are FBI...wait! It’s not about the car I grazed in that mall parking lot two weeks ago, is it? Cause if it is, I swear...”
“You are not being arrested for any crime, Ms. Hunter.” The man in black cut her off. “We just need to have a private conversation with you.”
“Well, I don’t want to have a private conversation with you! You can’t force me to go with you!”
“Actually, we can. This is a matter of national security. There may be massive consequences if you fail to comply.”
“I am reporting you to your superiors.” Mr. Hunter declared quietly, not as a threat but as a mere statement. “My daughter is a minor!”
“Be my guest. In the meantime,” The woman in black gestured at Caity. “please.”
Caity glanced at her parents one last time, trying to find a way out, but she was disappointed. Eventually, she had no choice but to go out of the door. There, a black SUV was waiting.
Caity climbed into the back of the car.
Caity’s eyes snapped open.
She was sitting in what could only be described in an office meeting room. There was a circle of chairs around a long meeting table. At one end of the table sat a projector. Caity recognized the device. Her high school teachers used them to project information on the white room wall.
Just moments after she was taken into the car, Caity was forced to put on a blindfold. She protested, but just like before, her protest turned out to be useless. She might as well be singing to the deaf or dancing to the blind.
She didn't know how long she spent in the car without the ability to look at a clock. All she knew was that after an especially bumpy ride, she was taken off the SUV. Even then, she wasn’t freed. Someone held onto her hand and led her through at least several minutes of walking like she was some sort of child.
Finally, she was sat down in a chair and her blindfold was taken off.
As the girl was looking around, the office door was opened, and the pair of agents that brutally ripped her away from the comfort of her parents and the safety of her house walked in. The woman was holding onto a mug, which she rested in front of Caity.
Caity looked down. It was coffee, or so she thought.
As the agents sat down across the table, Caity silently pushed the mug to the side. There was no way she was eating anything these shady ‘agents’ were giving her. If it meant she would be dehydrated, then so be it.
The agents were fine with that. The woman nodded as the man, who started.
“Ms. Hunter, before we begin, I would like to remind you that what we are about to tell you is top-secret information. If this information gets out into the open, a full investigation will be launched, and it will not end until every party involved is punished accordingly and severely. Therefore, for the sake of everyone in the room, I hope, whatever your reaction is, that you keep the said information to yourself.”
Caity couldn’t help but gulp. It was that serious, huh? Well, in that case, I don’t want to hear it and I’ll save us all some time! But she wisely kept that to herself. All she let out was a single nod to show the agents that she understood.
The man continued.
“First of all, my partner and I are not agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We are members of a top-secret government agency known simply as Sector X.”
Caity tilted her head in confusion.
“It has been apparent since a long time ago that our world is not alone. Since the middle ages, there have been records of external beings, entities not of this world. Demons. Angels. Witches. While most instances have been the results of ignorance and superstition, a number of those records have been proven to be true.”
“Wait, true?” Caity suddenly leaned forward in her seat. Her interest completely brought up. “So there are Angels and Demons?”
“We will never know for sure, but across the centuries this nation is established, there have been multiple sightings of external beings in our world. Here in America alone.”
The man pressed the power button on the projector. The image of a creature formed on the white wall. It was a humanoid female, but it didn't take much to see she wasn’t a normal human being. What was the first giveaway? Her eyes were pitch black.
“This individual, code-named Il201, killed four police officers with the snap of a finger. Our government didn't have any information on her. We didn't know where she came from. We didn't know who her parents are, or even if she had any. All we knew was one moment, she wasn’t there, and the next moment, she was intruding into our world, slaughtering our people with powers our scientists couldn’t even hope to comprehend.”
Caity gulped. This was not how she expected her day to go. Before the agent could continue, she reached for that mug and poured all its contents into her mouth. She drank for a full ten seconds. When she was finally done, she has had some time to think, and with thinking came questions.
“I don’t understand…” Caity started again. “how does this have to do with me? Am I related to that...thing?”
“Not quite. Please, sit back and let me explain.” The agent tapped another key on the projector. The picture of Il201 disappeared, replaced by something pitch black. It was a screen of some sort.
“This gate appeared a week ago in the deserts of Nevada. Our researchers in the field say it is a portal of some sort.” He glanced at Caity. “A gateway to another world. As unoriginal as it is, we simply call it the Portal.”
Caity nodded slowly.
“Our initial attempt to investigate the Portal didn't go well. Our elite soldiers simply couldn’t go through. It’s almost as if there is some sort of invisible barrier barring them from entry. We tried all the methods available, but we have no way of pushing through.”
“But you can accomplish what we have failed. You can cross the Portal.”
“Wait, what?” Caity suddenly snapped forward. Her hands pressing into the table in front of her. “What...how did you know?” She really didn't believe it. How was she brought into this? She was just a student: she binged Netflix on the weekends and did homework the night before. What could possibly be special with her?
The woman took out a device that reminded Caity of a radio. As she brought the radio closer to Caity, the device started to vibrate intensely. Only when he pointed away did that vibration slow down.
“I am not very clear about all this science stuff,” The woman shrugged. “but this device is designed to pinpoint the individuals who are able to cross through the portal. You, Ms. Hunter, are one of the said individuals.”
Caity collapsed back in her seat, her mind filled with a thousand different thoughts. Will I be conscripted into the military? What will happen to my school work? Will I die on the other side of the portal? What happens if I try to cross and fail? What if I can’t come back?
All of those doubts ended up in a single inquiry.
“What will happen to me?”
The woman tilted her head in assurance.
“If you don’t want anything to do with this, nothing.”
“What?” Caity couldn’t believe her ears. “I am the only one who can cross this mysterious portal of yours, and you’re letting me go?”
“First of all,” The man started. He and his partner had a brilliant system worked out where only one of them was speaking. “you are not unique, Ms. Hunter. There are hundreds of other individuals who we have already recruited into the program, with countless more we haven’t discovered yet. Secondly, the U.S. government will never push someone into such an important position when it is not their intention.”
“Loyalty is important with what we are doing here.” The woman finished.
Caity nodded slowly. That made sense. If the government could only send a number of units over the portal, they definitely didn't want to send over the disgruntled.
When all that needed to be said were out in the open, the man took out a piece of paper from his bag, along with a signature pen. He laid both out in front of Caity. Caity briefly scanned through the paper. It was a contract with several openings for her to sign her name. The top of the paper read ‘Project Phasewalker’.
“So, what happens if I say no? Do I just leave?”
“If you say no, we bring you back the same way we brought you here. You and your parents better forget about everything that happened today. Otherwise, if you as much as text this to your friends, there will be consequences.”
Caity nodded. “And if I join?”
“If you join Section X, we will train you to the full extent of our ability to be a soldier. A survivalist. A spy. A leader. Anything and everything that may come in handy on the other side of the portal. As long as you join, no matter what happens, your parents will get a monthly payment of $5,000, tax-free. Eventually, yes, when the time comes, you will be crossing the Portal.”
Caity sat back. For the briefest moment, she wanted to give it a hard ‘no’. Monsters and alternate dimensions and mysterious portals? What did all that had to do with her? This was the work of the government and the military and all the politicians that were elected into office! She was just a student and she intended on maintaining that status!
But her thoughts gradually flowed to her parents. Her dad was a self-employed author, and most self-employed authors don’t get paid well. Her mom had to balance taking care of Caity and going to work in a hospital as a nurse. Several times already over dinner, Caity has heard her parents argue about family spendings.
$5,000 a month. That was $60,000 a year. For a lower middle class family, that was a huge sum of money. That was enough to buy some time for her dad to work on his new science fiction. That was enough for her mom to take some time off.
Was it enough to buy her life? Maybe.
Caity glared at the man and woman.
“If I sign this contract, can I still back out later?”
That brought a frown to Caity’s face, but that wasn’t enough to stop her.
With that declaration, Caity grabbed the pen and signed her name on the contract. When she was done, the woman held out her hand.
“Welcome to Section X.”
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