15: Closing the Book

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When It Happened (Chronicle Time): December 9, 2002 - January 13, 2003

Who Was There: George Phillapoussis (Storn), Jonathan Wertham (Matt), Mark Donovin (Eric), Nemura Kentaro (Chris), Yukio Ohta (Bob)

What It Was

After a tense stand-off, the Aces meet with the heads of security and research in the secret underground laboratories of the Wilhelm Reich Institute. The Aces already know the Institute has an orgone engine, but in-depth questions have to wait until they deal with Curtis Book. Mark spots one of Book's men as the Aces leave the complex, and a car chase through the streets of Ann Arbor soon leads to a brutal showdown.

The Full Horror

While George waits under guard in a nearby lounge, the other three Aces freeze. The two security men have the drop on them, and after a tense moment, Mark tells Jonathan and Ken to stand down. Their weapons taken, the three men are escorted to a lounge where they join George.

Through an open doorway, the Aces can see offices, including a slightly larger room with bunks, an X-box, and a very grad-student-looking young man just waking up from a nap as they pass by.

Shortly after they are left in the lounge, an older man joins the three younger security men. He is in his early fifties, with silvered hair, and in excellent shape except for a bad back, perhaps from a past injury. He introduces himself as Bill Anderson, head of security for the Reich Institute.

Anderson gets right to the point. Addressing Mark as 'Sergeant Donavin', he says: "I don't know what Sloane told you. I don't know what he paid you. But I can tell you right now, he can't have paid you enough to die for."

The Aces manage to convince Anderson that they are *definitely* not there on the DSI payroll. At that point, Ken Inada, the head of research, comes into the room with an odd scientific instrument. He tells Anderson they've been getting strange readings from the room, and when he passes the instrument in front of George, Ken, and especially Jonathan, he seems stunned by the results.

Anderson is still cautious, but the Aces seem to be making a good first impression, and Inada clearly has questions he wants to ask them. Anderson insists the Aces must keep the Institute secret. There are known groups and individuals out there who would pose a serious threat to the Institute. If the Aces betray the very serious trust Inada and Anderson are going to put in them, there is no doubt that great harm will result. Secrecy has been a crucial concern for the Institute ever since its founding by Theodore Wolfe.

Anderson says they think someone in the ACO hired Sloane's mercenaries to find "the Michigan group," and that Sloane put Book in charge of that operation. (Anderson did a background check on Mark after seeing his run-with Book during the orgone-engine demo in New Jersey.) Anderson also knows that Book has been beating information out of people ever since New Jersey, and if the Aces have found the Institute, that probably means Book is close behind.

Anderson does not volunteer much information about the Institute itself, but Ken Inada makes repeated and earnest requests that the Aces come back later. Inada seems to think there is much to discuss, and not just with Jonathan. George promises they will.

In the end, Anderson says he will trust Mark and the other Aces to deal with Book (perhaps because he lacks the resources to do it himself?). He gives Mark a disposable cellphone and says call him if they need backup.

Anderson escorts them back to the elevator, punches the up button-and starts cursing when the elevator doesn't respond. Fortunately, Jonathan is there to fix it again, and the Aces return to the first-floor hallway, where they find remarkably resourceful Yukio looking for them.

Yukio's Ten-Step Plan

As soon as the Aces left on December 7th, Yukio started planning a rescue operation. To raise cash fast, he told his agent to sign a contract from Kodansha for a book of poetry (possibly losing money on the deal), and then chartered a cargo plane--with maximum insurance(!).

When Mark called to say they just lost contact with George and were going in to find him, Yukio immediately boarded the plane and flew to Willow Run Airport. Having made arrangements for a rental car and hotel room while in flight, Yukio touched down at 3pm. By the time the Aces emerge from the elevator at 5pm, Yukio is there to greet them.

As it happens, they have no problem finding Book. As the Aces exit East Hall, Mark notices a man with binoculars watching them from the same parking garage where they left their van. Taking the wheel of Yukio's rental, George stomps on the gas, and the Aces head up the parking ramp-only to pass the man speeding out. The chase ends at Packard and State when Jonathan kills the electronics in the DSI agent's car--though not before the man makes a cellphone call. The car slams into Moe's Sports Shop, and the agent tries to run, but the Aces quickly take him down while Jonathan distracts a crowd of startled pedestrians with the scream, "Alpha Kappa Pi rules!!" Within seconds, the Aces have the agent in their car and out of the area.

While George drives the rental to a secluded area off North Main, the other Aces retrieve their van from the parking garage across from East Hall. Mark calls Anderson and asks for two men. Paul Ramirez and Reg Wallace are waiting at the van by the time the Aces arrive to pick it up, and they all convene at the North Main location. By then, Mark has convinced the agent that the only thing he'll get from Book now is a bullet in the skull, and the agent gives Mark the address of Book's base of operations at Cambridge Condominiums. The Aces leave the agent tied to a tree, where Anderson has him picked up before the police can find him.

A Bloody End

A quick check of the internet gives the Aces the layout of Book's condo, and they plan an attack from all entrances-Mark from the front balcony, Ken from the back balcony, Jonathan and Reg from the front door, and George, Yukio and Paul from the garage.

The garage team find a Humvee II, and George breaks off a key in its ignition-then realizes he used the key Alexandra gave him to her room. But any regrets are forgotten when he hears a blast of gunfire from upstairs.

Book is down to only one agent, but that's serious enough. A vicious gunfight breaks out in the front room between Book and Mark, while Ken wields his tai-chi sword against the other agent in the back room. It's a damn tough fight, forcing one Ace to roar, "A fucking crippled squirrel could be kicking our ass."

The struggle only takes 45 seconds, but Mark is nearly killed, and Ken is in trouble until George sneaks up the rear balcony and clocks the DSI agent on the back of the head with his pistol. Ken takes off around the corner to attack Book. George stays behind, and in a fit of battle rage and anguish, executes the fallen agent with a shot in the head.

After taking a tremendous amount of punishment, Book falls at last, a bloody mess. The Aces beat a fast retreat. (The fight was brief, and the Ann Arbor police are still distracted by the car crash.) Paul and Reg return to the Institute, while Yukio takes off from Willow Run, and the other Aces head back for New York in the van.

A few days later, the Aces find themselves on the beach at Coney Island, now gray and desolate in the frigid December winter.

Dealing with Book has left many scars. The mission has left Mark feeling like a soldier again, and that worries the other Aces, especially Jonathan, who feels a special responsibility to his 'employee.' Jonathan asks him if this is going to happen again-will he be forced to take on another mission some day? Mark says never again-the Aces, by going with him, went beyond the duty of friendship, and he won't allow his past to put them in harm's way like that again.

George says the Aces would go through it all again for Mark's sake, but he thinks Mark should leave the life of a soldier behind him. Mark isn't a soldier anymore. He's a 'protector', the one who shields them all from harm, and that's a very different thing. Mark seems deeply moved by that.

But George is feeling pain of his own, and on Christmas Eve, he vows to leave the 'way of the gun' behind-no more playing 'cowboy'. That leaves him uncertain about his role in the group, but the other Aces support his decision.

For his part, Yukio says the example of Book has convinced him that some people are indeed evil, and that sometimes the only option is to put them down.

On January 13, 2003, a headline: former Colonel Gregory Sloane is killed in a standoff with federal agents out west. Defense Solutions, Inc. is described as a homegrown 'terrorist group', and its defeat is called 'a major victory' for the new department of Homeland Security.

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