Prologue

Despite his outward demeanor of beaten down acceptance; the man raged inside as he carefully negotiated the crowd in the airport concourse. He looked like an older man; white hair could be seen below the brim of an old-fashioned dress hat. His shoulders were stooped slightly, as if the weight of the world were resting on them. His shuffling walk explained the need for the cane, and his glasses were tinted enough that his fellow travelers couldn't see his eyes. That was fortunate, because anyone seeing his eyes would recognize the lie his appearance tried to hide.

Until recently, he had been powerful. Until recently, he had commanded men and women. His word had been law, and he had held the power of life and death. It had all been stripped away in a moment. Until a few days earlier, he had been Brigadier General Robert Branch.

That man was dead. He had died in the office of Lieutenant General Frank Key, Commanding General of the Arizona National Guard. His murderers were a has-been soldier and a National Guard Captain who was also a doctor with poor taste in men. A US Senator could share the blame for getting involved in affairs he shouldn't have. Frank Key, bore some responsibility, too. They would all pay. They would all rue the day they were born. Robert Branch was dead, but his ego was alive and well, and very angry.

Robert's mind drifted back, considering his life, as he began formulating plans for his next step. Several details were a given. The two men that he had killed earlier in the day, while escaping incarceration, would not be the last to die.

The man born as Robert Blanchard had become Robert Branch twenty-four years earlier. He joined the US Army as an officer with a college degree, though he had never even finished high school. Robert had learned how to create false identities while living in a commune. The members of that commune had once helped draft dodgers get to Canada, and provided identities for the violent protest groups that were active during and after the Viet Nam war.

Robert was very intelligent. In the four years Robert spent at the commune, he absorbed high school and college courses with equal ease. Becoming proficient with more esoteric skills: lock picking, creating false identities, using disguises, and self defense, including weapons use, was no more difficult.

Robert Branch killed his first person only ten days after leaving the commune. It was his mother. She was a whore, and blamed Robert for her place in life, until he ran away and began living in the commune. He considered her murder as his first step into his adult life. She was the first link to Robert Blanchard that he broke. The john who was with his mother just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Robert Branch joined the Army, breezed through Officer's Candidate School, and the Airborne Training that he volunteered for. Special Forces Training was his next goal, and like everything else in his life, he absorbed the knowledge 'like a sponge', nearly as easily as his body absorbed the physical hardships of the training. During leave times, while his comrades visited friends and families, Branch continued working on severing the ties with his past.

In the years that followed, members of the commune began to suffer apparent accidents. The first was an over-filled propane tank with a faulty check valve that killed seven of Robert's former mentors. A few members of the commune actually did die of natural causes, but those who didn't conveniently die within the first four years of Branch's enlistment were assisted by their former protégé.

The last were a husband and wife in their sixties. They had enjoyed using ropes when they took their pleasure from the boy. Their deaths were the only two that he did not make an apparent accident. They lasted nearly a week, and they didn't die easily.

Robert Branch wasn't the only false identity that he created. He also created Robert Sinclair and Gerald Fleming. All three names belonged to children who had died within days of being born. Robert had simply 'corrected the record' that had 'falsely' recorded their death. Judicious break-ins were used to insert false paper documentation at schools.

His years in the Army had been profitable for Robert Branch, but the monetary rewards hadn't flowed only to the coffers of Robert Branch. Deposits, withdrawals, purchases, tax returns and other transactions were also made in the names of Robert Sinclair and Gerald Fleming. The false personas were groomed over the years, so Robert could step into them at will. He did step into them during his annual vacations to further bolster their reality. A benefit of military service was thirty days per year for vacation, and Robert took full advantage to maintain and advance his alternate personas.

Robert Branch had parleyed his Special Forces credentials into a de facto position as the 'go-to' person for the CIA and Military Intelligence. Robert and his aide, Dick Denison, were used when incursions were necessary in dangerous locations. They had led teams into countries in South America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. They were especially in demand when an incursion might get 'wet, ' as in bloody.

On February 26, 1993, the World Trade Center was bombed, and Robert realized that Islamic fundamentalists were at war with America. It soon became apparent that it was a one-sided war, because America wasn't at war with Islam. He began grooming his Robert Sinclair persona as an Islamic sympathizer. He didn't know who would win the war, but he had no intention of landing on the wrong side of any conflict.

His last operation, prior to his retirement from the Army, had been on American soil. An object had been spotted in space that had changed course and speed. General Branch was tapped to secure the landing or crash site. The mission was to ensure that news of extraterrestrials didn't leak to the press and general population. The fear was that markets would collapse and governments would fall if news of actual extraterrestrials reached the general public. The US military also hoped to glean knowledge from the craft that would give the US a technological advantage over other countries. The ship crashed onto a campsite in Arizona. No humans were badly hurt, but all of the extraterrestrial passengers had been killed. The wreckage of the ship was still a valuable technological resource for the United States.

The civilian at the campsite was stunned, but didn't seem to be badly hurt. He was just scorched, and had some cuts and bruises. He was an investigator for some department in the Arizona State government, and seemed to be of no consequence beyond that.

The Army doctor assigned to the General's team interested Branch. She interested him a lot. Unlike previous females that he had amused himself with, he couldn't use shackles or a knife at her throat to gain temporary compliance. Branch devised a plan, a variation on holding a pistol to a son or daughter's head, to gain the woman's cooperation. Dick Denison, Branch's long time cohort, would kidnap the doctor's daughter under the guise of working for the civilian from the camp site, Caleb Connor. The whole plan went horribly wrong.

Dick kidnapped the wrong girl, and shot her boyfriend. Robert had no idea how that could have happened. Dick had seen the daughter as she left for school, and knew what she looked like.

'He probably never even looked at her face, ' Branch thought angrily, as he continued shuffling through the airport.

Dick Denison seldom noticed anything above the neck of a woman.

Unfortunately, the boyfriend who had been shot was a key witness to a state investigation and the girlfriend was the last link the civilian had to wrap up the case. Plus, witnesses had seen the kidnapping and identified the van and Dick Denison. Branch hadn't learned about Dick being identified until the next day.

Branch had found Dick and the two men working with him in a warehouse they were using. The two men were unconscious, and naked on a bed. Dick Denison's dead body was naked, and lying beside the bed.

Robert would never forget the expression on Dick's dead face. It was a caricature of terror, horror, and agony. Robert had seen Dick face-off against drug runners in Columbia, and terrorists in Iraq. Robert had seen him shot, and not even utter a whimper. The man was fearless in the face of danger, despite his totally amoral character. Whatever had killed him had caused unimaginable pain, and frightened him so badly that it frightened Robert even to think about it.

The two men who had been with Dick didn't remember what happened. They remembered a girl, and bright lights, but nothing else. Robert had used the men to dig a deep grave in the desert under the guise that the hole was for Dick. He shot the two when the hole was deep enough. Leaving them in the grave, he pushed Dick's body into the hole on top of them, and buried all three.

The Commanding General of the Arizona National Guard had called Branch to his office the following day. The doctor had filed harassment charges against him, and the civilian wanted to talk to Dick about why he had killed his witness. Branch could still have successfully extricated himself from the situation with little more than a bruised ego, if that damn Senator hadn't shown up.

Branch had endured four painful days of questioning about the location of the girl. The Senator had promised that he would be questioned for twenty-four hours, to satisfy the civilian, but they hadn't stopped. He had stopped them on the fifth day. He killed two guards while escaping.

The first thing Branch had done after escaping was to execute an emergency, but preplanned, transfer of funds. The former Brigadier General Robert Branch, who should have retired as a respected Army General, was now a man on the run. He had several throw-away identities that he could use until he was safe. Then he could slip into one of his prepared identities for the long term.

Robert had revenge to contemplate before he got comfortable, though. He had to decide if he could complete his retribution more effectively with throwaway identities, or with one of his prepared identities. A National Guard General, a Senator, an Army Captain, and a Civilian owed him a debt, and they would pay it with their lives.

Unfortunately, Robert Branch hadn't learned that the entire story, about the wrong girl kidnapped and her dead boyfriend, was a lie. A boy had been shot, but had been healed. The right girl had been kidnapped, but General Branch and his unlucky Master Sergeant hadn't known what they were dealing with.

How could they have known there was an ethereal survivor from the spacecraft, and it was living in the head of the former soldier? How could they have guessed that the combination of the survivor and human emotions could open a portal in the Fabric of Creation, allowing other ethereal beings to cross the boundary to reside in other humans.

Robert Branch, or whatever his name was to be, didn't have a clue about what he was dealing with. Eventually, he would find out. Surviving the discovery of that knowledge could be problematic.

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