It was early morning and Colin Harris had been blessed with sparse traffic on the Tom Landry Freeway. The sun was a soft white smear in a cloudless, pale sky and the neutral landscape of Fort Worth slid past the bubble of his grey Chevy Malibu. He was dictating notes into his phone and keeping an eye on his speed and his gaze hovered between the mirrors, blind spots and the road. His hands were light on the wheel and he kept to the center of the five lane highway.
He had a round everyman face, thinning blond hair, pouchy blue eyes, and a softly athletic build. Meeting people for the first time he was often told he reminded them of someone. He was average, forgettable, and it suited him fine to be forgotten. Being underestimated often gave him an advantage and one of his greatest assets was the extreme degree to which he is highly unremarkable.
Within two hours he’d board a flight to Detroit where he’d pick up a rental car and call his handler for directions. Their asset in Texas would guide him to the intrusion site and from there he’d pick up the trail of the new Visitor and bring him back to Texas for study and potential indoctrination. His work would be done and he could retreat back to his cabin in Alaska until the next job came along. It could be months, it could be years. He was paid to wait.
He liked working alone. Before the ministry he was in the Army Rangers and he often worked solo, with little direction or oversight from his government.
It was in Afghanistan that he learned a single individual with proper motivation and moderate financial support could be remarkably effective. Too often, he thought, terrorists missed the point of causing terror. Epic events might capture mindshare but the point of terror was to create a state of immobilization. Governments could absorb damage but a government people had a much lower threshold for discomfort. Action follows fear. In his experience it didn’t take much to push people towards action and a change in leadership. Small acts that fed a accumulating sense of doubt and insecurity didn’t require months of planning: small bombs under park benches, adding arsenic to drinks at a cafe or bar, killing pets, and discreet injections in crowded public places. These, and more, were the ingredients of fear.
Create doubt in small ways, everywhere, and whittle away a people’s confidence. It didn’t even matter if someone was hurt, its the fear that mattered. Cause a community to doubt their security and they will question their leaders and change will follow. One small act every day for a week was far more effective than a singular event. A dozen individuals causing one small act of terror every day was devastating.
The military had quickly recognized his talents and dismantled the filters that helped him repress his urges. They gave him order, they gave him focus and then they gave him permission to do things he’d always dreamed about but couldn’t do in the real world.
It took him four tours to realize sometimes we’re not meant to do the things we’re good at. Lying was easy but did that mean deceit should become the norm? Killing was effortless but what part of himself was dying every time he did the things that came so naturally to him. He loved the focus, the system, of military life but he realized they were the wrong set of rules.
He retired from the Rangers and moved back to his hometown of Badger, Alaska where his father helped him build a small cabin on his parents property. The Army offered assistance for former soldiers re-entering society but Colin had enough of their guidance. He craved structure and missed the sense of purpose but his time he’d work work for a higher order. He applied for a position managing a Fairbanks donation center for Mason Ministries which led to a similar position in Texas, near the ministry headquarters in Texas. He worked for Mason three years before the depth of his skills came to the attention of a curious Human Resources staffer.
Charity Garbowsky liked to kill time playing games and reading personal files during her lunch break. In Colin’s file she discovered a periods of unaccountability in his timeline, gaps in his Marine career where his location was missing. Weeks later he’d resurface with a new station. He appeared in Kandahar, Baghdad, Beirut, Xinjiang, Chile and Canada. There were no patterns and, as a lover of puzzles, she wanted answers.
She called her cousin, Paul, who was a Marine in Kandahar at the time Colin was serving in Afghanistan. Over drinks and pulled pork sandwiches she picked Paul’s brain about operations during that window of time. There were hints of stories that led to redacted files, more conversations and, eventually, a dead end. Stumped by a bureaucracy that exceeded her pay grade she bumped the file to her director, Peter Stathos, who took a similar interest in Colin Harris. Who was the mystery Marine coordinating their donation drives? Peter was limited to the same government databases as his subordinates but he had something that Charity didn’t. Relationships.
At backyard barbeques and golf courses he started asking questions. He bought drinks for low level government officials and shared a pitcher of beer with a Senator who was a former roommate and fellow Aggie from Texas A&M. Slowly the details of the Colin Harris’ past came together. Not all of the details, but enough that Peter knew he’d found a candidate for a very specific job.
Colin’s office was a satellite removed from the main ministry campus, a warehouse on the southeast edge of the city, just south of Lake Arlington. It was a clean, renovated space but lacked the in-house kitchen of the other ministry facilities. To compensate, the breakroom at his facility was catered every day. It was Thai Tuesday and he was enjoying a green curry when Peter Stathos walked through the door, sipping an iced coffee, and said there was a position available in the Ministry for which Colin was uniquely qualified. Would he be interested?
They put him through a battery of psychological evaluations, paperwork and background checks before an official interview was officially scheduled. He was given the greenlight and he was subjected to a paid week of behavioral interviews with ministry staff from across disciplines. He was grilled on accounting, scripture, crisis management, technology, world politics, and even the proper way to field dress a deer. He was required to defend spiritual views he didn’t share and he was asked whether he seasoned his food before tasting it. His former colleagues from the Corps, those that were still alive, were called. He was subtly deprived food, water and toilet breaks then offered indulgent meals and drinks, a night out on the town. He politely refused all excess. He sipped Diet Coke and ate packed lunches. He addressed questions, and the questions within questions, directly and with humility. He was smart, personable, flawed and eager. He had a quiet passion and a gift for on-the-fly prioritization. He was an independent thinker and willing to be molded. He was exactly what they were looking for.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon he found himself sitting on a park bench in the shady corner of the ministry’s main campus. Behind him loomed a great, red mulberry tree. Beside him on the bench sat a tall, lean man in a tailored suit. Shadows pooled in the deep lines and creases of the man’s face and his silver hair flashed in the dappled sunlight. The Reverend Mason Phillips. His smile was wide and genuine, revealing big, square teeth that were unnaturally white. They spoke briefly and the reverend stared into his eyes, holding his gaze uncomfortably long before they shook hands and Phillips welcomed him aboard. Then he stood, dusted his pants and walked off, taking long, easy strides across the green.
Colin was hired and, a week later, he learned what it was he was expected to do. It took him another week to figure out it wasn’t a joke.
Colin’s headset beeped and he routed the incoming signal through the car speakers. “Harris.”
“Colin,” his handlers baritone was edged with a note of urgency that was out of character, “you got the message?”
“Yes, Sir. I’m en route to DFW as we speak. I should arrive in Detroit by 3:45pm where I’ll pick up supplies and proceed to greet the Visitor.”
“Good. Will you need assistance?”
“Unclear, Sir, but I know some people in the area.” Colin wanted very badly to collect the Visitor without assistance but if the need arose he’d swallow his pride and make the call. The last Visitor arrived two years previously and it took Colin months to track her down. In that time she became quite gifted and he underestimated her resourcefulness. Their ultimate encounter was untidy and there was little left of her to take home. The opportunities to prove himself were too few to allow for mistakes. He wouldn’t let another black mark mar his record.
“And are they clean?” asked the handler. The note of doubt irritated Colin. Years of impeccable service and his record had been reset by single mistake. No one was perfect. His entire career was built on standards of excellence but you couldn’t put someone in the field with so many variables without something going south eventually.
“Yes, very clean, Sir.”
“Good. Keep me posted.” The connection was cut.
Colin hung up, reviewed the conversation in his head then nodded with satisfaction that nothing incriminating had been said. A sign announced the exit for the Dallas/Fort worth airport so he checked his mirrors and blind spots then slid slowly into the right-most lane. He touched the cross hanging around his neck and whispered a little prayer for his own success. Normally he’d never pray for personal gain but this prayer isn’t entirely selfishly motivated. The work he does will help everyone, whether they know it or not.