“Now,” Fairburn said. “I understand that none of you are here by choice, but all of you have the exact set of skills that is needed for this job. In addition to allowing you to live, I will reward you each for the successful completion of this task.”

“Reward?” Sexton said, his ears perking up. “This is the first I’ve heard of a reward.”

“That is because your psychological profile indicated that it would not be useful information up to this point,” Fairburn said. The phone, featureless, nevertheless seemed to glower. “Your reward will be monetary, of course. Capt. Kunstler will be allowed to walk free with his record expunged. Mx. Appleby will be inked to a dual recording/film contract with a monopolistic player in the entertainment industry.”

Fox’s hologram shimmered. “What could you possibly reward me with?” she said.

“The data has already been transmitted,” said Fairburn, airily. “Review it yourself.

A pause. “I’m in,” Fox replied.

“Good. As to the substance of your assignment: there is a sealed laboratory deep beneath the Mojave Desert Proving Grounds, a top-secret base nominally controlled by the government but in reality controlled only by itself. A nest of secrets, black ops, wetwork, and plausible deniability. You will access it for me.”

“Are you…are you asking us to break into Area 51?” Sexton said.

“Of course not. Area 51 is an urban myth that has nothing to do with reality or its supposed location. The place I want you to break into is real.”

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