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The strategic military outpost was such a closely guarded secret it didn’t even have a name, only a number—site 243.
It sat in a rugged, windswept valley far away from cities and centers of industry. Its architecture was minimalist; a cross between a high-end refugee camp and a low-rent university. Tents, trailers, and a handful of cheap concrete buildings made up its “campus.” The only outward signs of modernity were the Pizza Hut, Burger King, and Subway mobile restaurant trailers which made up the outpost’s “food court.”
It was just after three a.m. when the attack began. Lightweight Predator SRAW missile systems took out the fortified entry control point along with the watchtowers. Mortar rounds blanketed the campus, obliterating key infrastructure and force protection targets. When the heavily armed assault teams breached the perimeter, the outpost was in complete chaos.
The well-trained soldiers tasked with 243’s security were no match for the men who now overran their positions.
Dressed in black, with specialized night vision goggles and suppressed weapons, the professional combatants appeared only long enough to engage each soldier with an economy of surgically placed rounds before slipping back into the darkness, often before their victims’ lifeless bodies had even hit the ground.
At the main concrete structure, a detachment from the assault team used a shaped charge to blow open the fortified door. As they rushed in, they heard the high-pitched whine followed by the thump of a limited EMP device being detonated. It was part of 243’s emergency protocol meant to destroy the facility’s data. The men in black, though, didn’t care. Their superiors already had a copy.
With night vision goggles impervious to electromagnetic pulse, the men swept through the rest of the building, making sure they killed every occupant. From there, they moved on and cleared two more buildings while their teammates took care of the remaining tents, trailers, and concrete structures.
Fifteen minutes later, three helicopters landed and the team was extracted. As they lifted off and disappeared back into the ink-black sky, not a single member of military outpost 243 had been left alive.
A man in a blue linen blazer pushed away the hand of his subordinate. “I know how it works,” he said, placing the tiny bud into his ear and activating the video on the smart phone.
His liver-spotted hands cradled the chrome device in his lap as he watched the scenes from Mongolia. It had been the most expensive and dangerous undertaking of his life. Though his club was actually a haven for members of the espionage community, he also sensed the presence of some of history’s greatest sociopolitical figures around him at this moment. Had he looked up to see the smiling ghosts of Lenin, Stalin, Marx, or Mao, he wouldn’t have been surprised. Great men who change the world shared a bond that transcended time, and he was on the verge of becoming just that, a great man who would change the world.
Though they were alone in the club’s library, he kept his voice low. “We’re confident that all of their data was destroyed?”
The subordinate nodded. “We have the only copy that remains.”
“And the personnel?”
“Everyone associated with the program has been terminated. The Chinese have gone berserk trying to figure out what happened. They have no idea who hit them.”
“Excellent,” said the man in the linen blazer. “Let’s keep it that way. Now, what about our network?”
“The network is fully intact and ready to go operational.”
This was an incredible moment, the man thought as he plucked the bud from his ear.
He removed the SIM card from the phone and handed the device back to the subordinate. “I want you to initiate stage one as soon as possible.”
“So I have your permission to activate the network then?”
“You do. And whatever happens, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.”
Alison Taylor hadn’t planned on going out drinking after work, but it was a gorgeous summer night, the sales presentation was pretty much complete, and everybody else in her department was going.
It was supposed to be only one drink at RL, but as things often go, one drink led to another and then another. The party worked its way south hitting Pops, Shaw’s, the Roof bar atop the Wit Hotel, and finally some seedy dive bar just west of the Loop. Before any of them knew it, it was four a.m. and their presentation was in less than five hours.
To counteract the heavy volume of alcohol they had consumed, someone had suggested the nearby 24/7 pharmacy for charcoal tablets and caffeinated beverages, but the idea was put on the back burner when they noticed that the tiny burger joint across the street was still serving. “There’s nothing like grease to absorb the alcohol molecules in your system,” one of them said.
After cheeseburgers and fries, they conducted an unsuccessful search of the pharmacy for charcoal pills, loaded up on energy drinks, and then headed for the subway.
Since two of the women lived in the suburbs, Alison invited them to stay at her apartment where they could borrow clothes and head into work with her in a few hours. The fact that one of the women was five inches shorter and the other seventy-five pounds heavier was lost on all of them in their drunken state.
They spent the subway ride cursing the bright lights of the train compartment, downing Red Bull, and wondering how much sleep they could grab at Alison’s before having to leave for the office.
At Division Street, they stumbled up the steps from the Blue Line platform and out onto the sidewalk where they began to head east. It was in the crosswalk at Milwaukee Avenue that the unthinkable happened.
A taxicab came flying around the corner and slammed into Alison. Her friends watched in horror as she was tossed into the air and then landed, headfirst, fifteen feet away.
All of it had happened so suddenly. Everyone was in shock. As the taxicab sped away into the night, neither of Alison’s friends had even gotten its number. The only thing they would be able to remember was the color of the vehicle, and that its driver appeared to be Middle Eastern.
© 2010 Brad Thor