The first thing that Chris Hodge did after he headed into his office at Langley was adjust the thermostat to sixty-four degrees. It had only been three days since he had left the mountainous north of Afghanistan and he had not yet adjusted back to the mid-Atlantic’s temperate autumn weather. The second thing that Chris Hodge did was check his email. The most recent message in his inbox had a subject line that read [Undisclosed]. He clicked it open and began reading. Hodge had accumulated significant TIC, or troops in contact, from his numerous deployments throughout the Middle East and North Africa. He had become normalized to the chaos and accustomed to operating in hazardous independent conditions long-term. After he finished reading this “invitation” to initiate action on an entirely different sort of operation, all Hodge could do was smirk. Was this a good response? Hodge thought.
Seconds after Hodge had finished reading the open email, a fist began to wrap against his door. The knocks were perfectly spaced, the sound resembling a metronome.
Daniel Keyes entered Hodge’s office. Upon joining the CIA, Keyes had been trained for wet work. He had engaged in more than a few ops on the ground. However, in recent years, his duties were far more strategic and managerial. Still, no one could describe him as a doughboy, like some of the analysts and others relegated solely to office work at Langley. “Did you check your email?” After Abbott Mazuski’s passing, Keyes had been appointed Hodge’s new handler at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hodge perceived that his former handler, despite his frequent obfuscations, viewed him as a protégé, and perhaps almost as a son. Unlike Mazuski, Keyes had not developed Hodge since childhood, and so his brusque mien and current lack of rapport were understandable. That, coupled with the fact that his relevance to the plan had recently been in question, reinforced to Hodge that he would have to prove his merit once again. He was up for the challenge. I understand their perspective. I made some errors in Afghanistan. They need to trust that I’m up to snuff and that my mind remains on our missions.
“I’m not much for small talk either,” Hodge quipped as he reflected on his actions several months ago in Afghanistan. He had jumped off a precipice, not realizing how high a fall it would be, in an effort to draw the Taliban away from his team and towards him.
Keyes frowned. “You’ve been requested to handle this.”
“Glad I know a thing or two about quantum physics.”
“Are you ready?”
“Roger.” Hodge moved his cane to the ground, out of Keyes’ view.
Keyes left the room without any further conversation. Hodge logged out of his account. Well, this is different. I wonder if quantum computers can recite Allahu Akbar. Hodge was quite prone to sarcasm. He believed it was a sign of intelligence. And in Langley’s high-stakes environment, Hodge desired to ensure that those senior to him remained steadfast in supporting his involvement in the plan.
Shortly before his last mission in Afghanistan, Chris Hodge had moved out of the studio apartment that he had called home since his sophomore year. His old place had been a rental in Cambridge near his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With the help of Mazuski, Hodge had secured the purchase of a house ten minutes away from Langley in Tysons Corner. It was a small single-family home that blended into its surroundings without attracting attention. The inside was as utilitarian as the outside. Both Hodge and Mazuski judged that level of anonymity as among the home’s strongest selling points.
It came as no surprise when Hodge found out that the handler who had judged him relevant had passed away. Mazuski had been afflicted with lung cancer since their first encounter at Landmark, Hodge’s wine bar of choice while attending MIT. In Hodge’s line of work, emotion could not cloud the pure rationality needed to complete your operations. He had seen many recruits eliminated from the plan because of an inability to control their emotions under extreme duress. Naturally, even those who were asked to leave or who resigned of their own volition were exceptional individuals. They would not have been invited in the first place if they were known to crumble when faced with physical or mental hurdles. Keyes had informed Hodge of Mazuski’s death at a mission briefing. It had been held prior to Hodge’s deployment to Afghanistan in a new capacity, leading teams from a desk at the forward operating base instead of in the action. Hodge received Keyes’ news with a simple nod. Inwardly, he said a silent prayer for the man who had revealed the truth behind his father’s passing in the Beirut barracks bombings, that same man who had given his life a greater purpose than the projected academic trajectory Hodge had assumed would await him after graduation.
It was a few minutes to noon on Saturday morning. Hodge had been awake since 0600 reviewing information on quantum computing. He had taken only two small breaks to prepare and eat his breakfast and lunch. Quantum computing, like most intellectual pursuits, fascinated him. Over the course of two decades, Hodge’s broad knowledge base had been secretly cultivated by Mazuski. Hodge had developed proficiency in multiple foreign languages, expertise across many STEM fields, and a vast understanding of history, philosophy, and the arts, among other topics. The evolution of computing was a specific fascination for Hodge, one that exceeded most others. Computers had once needed whole rooms at research facilities. Today, the processing power of those early computers was exceeded by a budget laptop. Quantum computing, with its basis on the concepts of superposition and entanglement, presented an exciting new frontier, albeit one with dangerous implications on the geopolitical stage. Unlike traditional binary code, which must either have a value of zero or one, the qubits that formed the basis of quantum computing existed in both states simultaneously. This was entirely different from when a person flipped a coin, for example. In that instance, there are only two possible results: heads or tails. However, the principles underlying quantum computing mandated that both sides needed to exist in order to have the other side. Unlike with a coin flip, quantum computers don’t produce heads or tails results, but both, with each still needing the other in order to have both sides. The fluidity of this state had the potential to revolutionize the world and push mankind to new frontiers. It also had the potential for devastating outcomes if used without ethical mooring.
Hodge placed one of the research reports on his desk when he heard his doorbell ring. It was Mark Mitchell, one of the East Coast’s top physical therapists and a regular tapped to help many at the Agency who had developed injuries in the line of work or elsewhere. Mitchell was physically fit and halfway through his thirties. His standard choice of attire was a polo shirt and cotton pants. He looked like the type of man who had vacationed in Cape Cod with his parents every summer. If Mazuski’s hidden hand had not cultivated Hodge since his youth, that lifestyle would have seemed a far cry from Hodge’s formative experiences.
“How’s the ankle treating you? How bad is the pain when you put pressure on it?” Mitchell had Hodge perform an assortment of strength and stretching exercises during their sessions. Their work together was designed to increase Hodge’s mobility. Today, Mitchell had added more resistance bands and secured them to the wall. This was done as a way to assess Hodge’s progress and advance his recovery.
“I’m fine. I can still move like a running back.” Somehow, I have a feeling this guy wouldn’t confuse me with LaDainian Tomlinson. But the last thing I want is Markie boy telling Keyes that my progress has slowed or halted. Although Hodge’s response was short of the standards of factual accuracy, it was true that the injury he suffered in his first deployment to Afghanistan seven months ago had healed at a much faster rate than even he expected.
“Sure. And I’m President George W. Bush,” Mitchell scoffed. “Look, you need to understand that this will be a process. If you work your regimen—as I know you will—if you do your stretches, yoga, and weightlifting consistently, then maybe, maybe, you’ll almost feel like yourself again.”
Hodge grinned. “Is that so?” Mitchell’s words had increased his own inexhaustible drive to reach one hundred percent again. I smoked a few ragtag Talis and that uncivilized traitor on a bum ankle. And I wasn’t even on one of the teams. If my ankle is in as bad shape as this trainer thinks it is, then, when it fully heals, they should sic me on the Tall Skinny Guy, the one whose flunkies killed almost three thousand Americans. Osama wouldn’t stand a chance.
Keyes entered Hodge’s office at 0800 sharp. Hodge had already arrived at Langley one hour earlier. For the last hour, he had pored over several white papers and theoretical papers on various methods used to construct qubits. Hodge had learned that there were multiple approaches. One way was through trapping a few dozen ions of rubidium or ytterbium in a vacuum chamber by time-varying electromagnetic fields. Another possibility was to keep lithographically-patterned superconducting circuits at millikelvin temperatures inside dilution refrigerators.
When Keyes looked up from his files, he did a double take. “No cane, Hodge?”
“I’m better than ever,” Hodge replied.
“That was a brave move, but was it a necessary move?” Hodge shrugged in response to Keyes’ question. “Research coming along?”
Hodge nodded. “This topic is paramount for the future of mankind. And that is an understatement. But, like so many pivots in history, this needs true world management and a joint cohesive strategic plan.”
“Oh, is that all? I thought you’d like it. Something to keep your brain from getting dull.”
Hodge suppressed a smile. “To that regard, should I fax over some copies to certain members of Congress?”
“Funny. Except it would hardly be a laughing matter if the Russians reach their objectives before we do. Imagine the dissemination of this technology to their rogue proxies in Syria or Iran, or in alliance with China.”
“I’m fully aware of the implications, sir.”
“Good.” Keyes paused as he scratched his forehead. “What do you think is going to be done with Guuce Duale?”
“That’s not answered yet.” Hodge had withstood an attack from the Taliban little more than a few weeks ago. He had disposed of a number of Tali fighters during this mission in Afghanistan, including his former asset Guuce “Blackbeard” Duale. Hodge had once viewed his asset as a friend. That was before the drone strike that killed Duale’s wife and son. That was before Duale displayed his utter lack of civilization. That was before Duale killed his teammate in Fallujah. Duale was now in Guantanamo Bay, aka Gitmo. In Hodge’s opinion, that was a fate far too kind for such a man.