The Government had so many layers hidden so deep that no one could keep track of it all. There was State. Deep State. And there was Ops, Special Ops. Black Ops. At the bottom of all this, credited with holding the entire system together, was Black Hole Ops.
Black Hole Ops was so well hidden that no one knew how to contact them. Not the President. Not Turner. Not anyone. And no one knew how they were funded—although it was widely assumed that they were somehow responsible for the trillions of dollars mission from the Pentagon’s annual budget.
When an agent got sucked into Black Hole Ops, they were generally never heard from again. It was as if they dissolved under the pressure of keeping all those secrets.
If a Black Hole Ops Operative ever surfaced, it was because they sensed a situation displaying, as they liked to put it, “intense gravitational pressure.”
Which is why Turner wasn’t terribly surprise when his cellphone rang immediately after stepping out of the Oval Office.
“Turner,” he answered, perhaps a bit too quickly.
“B’hole.” The connection wasn’t the best.
“Butt Hole?’ Turner scratched his head with the hand not holding the phone. In this case, it was his left.
“Black Hole Ops.”
“Good timing. I knew you guys would be pulled into this orbit.”
“Goddess on the loose?” The connection, stronger.
“…with agents down.” Turner whispered as he walked down the pristine marble floor of the White House.
“She’s not working alone.”
“Oh. News to me.” Turner was eager for any information.
“You got Jesus Christ on the rampage?”
Turner coughed. Sensing he had been left out of some important communications loop, he didn’t want to ask, but he did. “Jesus Christ?”
“Our code for Bass. The President.”
“Yeah, yeah. Of course,” he responded, trying not to voice his embarrassment. “Everyone thinks they’re Jesus Christ these days.”
“We found your missing agents. We’re texting you images now.”
Turner pulled the cellphone in front of his face and stared at it as he walked. He was careful, because he’d embarrassed himself once by staring at his cellphone and walking into a telephone pole, knocking himself out.
Tapping rapidly, he saw strange images labelled “evidence” come across his screen, with an agent—face redacted of course—holding small bags which were approximately the same size, shape and dimensions of what someone might be holding at dog park.
“Dog shit?” Turner asked. “They turned my agents into dog shit?”
He pushed the phone hard into his ear, waiting calmly for the answer.
There was a long pause on the other end of the phone. A pause that was a beat too long for Turner’s taste.
“Ashes.” The reply finally came. “They turned your agents into ashes.”
Shaking his head from left to right, Turner scrolled through the images and saw an unrecognizable figure holding up what he was still convinced were pooper-scooper bags.
“Those are my agents?”
Turner envisioned a disembodied voice nodding an unseen head in agreement. “These ashes were found within a 45-minute walking distance of the Berkeley Campus. That’s our ground zero. There is no doubt these are your agents.”
“How did my agents get turned into ashes?” Turner finally continued. “Was some sort of incendiary device used?”
Turner felt disembodied shoulders on the other end of the line shrugging. “No incendiary devices have been found.”
The silence was longer this time. Finally, the voice continued: “The religious symbolism hasn’t escaped our notice, that’s why we’re involved…”
“Symbolism? What symbolism? They turned my agents into ashes!”
“Ashes have deeply religious meanings,” the voice continued. “Think fire and brimstone. Burning in hell. Satanic Rituals. Human sacrifice. …that kind of thing.”
Lightbulbs exploded in Turner’s brain. He was walking towards the exit, now yelling into the phone. “What about simple Christian religious symbols? You know, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”
The voice ignored him. “Burning also purifies. We think whoever did this is sending us a message that we’re a disease that needs to be purified from the body. Cleansed, if you will.”
Turner scrolled through his phone once again. Held in the palm of someone’s hand was a clean pile of ashes: no bone chips. No teeth. No skull fragments.
“Cleansing would be an apt description.”
“We’re obviously dealing with some new, lunatic fringe, apocalyptic, religious extremist group. Those are the worst kind.”
“You mean a new threat to democracy?” Turner couldn’t contain the smile creeping across his face.
“Yes. We think turning agents into ashes represents the deepest level of threat.”
Turner was getting excited: eager to hear what he and Bass were up against this time. “You mean symbolism representing total annihilation of the human race via nuclear war or some other fantastic thread of dystopian fiction?”
“What could be worse?” Turner’s voice turned into a high-pitched squeal.
“Religion is the single most effective weapon against the masses,” the voice responded calmly. “We think this is the beginning of a new and dangerous cult. A cult which must be eliminated like cancer. We feel it’s a cult that could result in complete and total destruction of “the system.”
Turner stopped, pulled the cellphone screen in front of his face and yelled. “How did you guys get involved? No one even knows how to get in touch with you guys.”
There was an eerie laughter, like an echo, coming from the other side of the phone:
“We’re involved,” said the voice slowly, “…because that’s what Black Hole Ops does. We keep the system together. We protect, perpetuate and maintain the system. Otherwise, the center will not hold.”