Authors: Robert Michael
Tags: #Jason Bourne, #Sidney Bristow, #james bond, #spies, #Alias, #assassin, #Espionage
“My news can wait,” he said.
He pulled his single action Smith &Wesson E-series 1911 and turned toward the Major in one smooth motion.
The report of the .45 ACP round was loud in the small confines of the room.
The Major’s head exploded, brains and bone splattering the wall behind him.
The energy from the bullet pushed him over. The chair splintered as his dead body hit the floor. Pieces of the legs and seat skittered across the floor and nudged the sole of his boot.
Lars looked away and stepped through the door, leaving his torture kit behind. He would not need it where he was going.
Violet joined him. She knew better than to talk to him.
A Badge of Courage
he rhythmic thrum of the helicopter’s engines almost lulled Jake to sleep. His body was rested but his mind was worn thin by the past week. He made mental checklists to keep himself awake.
He looked around at his team, noting their grim faces and body language that spoke of confidence and purpose. They all understood why they were here. No one was misled as to why each had been handpicked.
Vazquez, the communications expert, fluent in ten languages, fumbled with her sidearm. She was the closest thing to a rookie here, but had served with the CIA and with the UN. She was young. Too young.
Xin Lu Ming, the Singapore native, served as their explosive expert. He was lean and his eyes betrayed his distrust and discomfort. Jake understood that Xin was reluctant to join the cause. Jake ignored the angry glances. Xin’s expertise was crucial to this mission. Not only to place precise ballistic grade explosives in key areas and detonate them at specific times, but also to predict, locate, and identify counter explosive measures.
Nahum Amit, the former Mossad operative, was Jake’s counterpart. Rumor was that he had served as a counter-terrorist assassin within Kidon, a special black-ops unit that answered directly to the Israeli Prime Minister. His hard, angular features and deep, expressionless eyes belied his heart for his country and for humanity. Nahum was a special breed of human that was convicted that his talents could make the difference in conflict. His gaze was as sharp as the combat knife at his side.
Harrold Morehead, the UK MI-6 Secret Intelligence Service representative, picked his teeth with a steel pick from his multi-tool. He looked bored. Morehead was balding, about forty, and had an odd sense of humor. Jake guessed that the man was single, but not by choice. He was the team’s firepower. His big, gnarled hands were made to hold an assault rifle. The modified HK G36C battle rifle in his lap reflected the dull morning light.
Vazquez, Ming, Amit, and Morehead constituted his team. Four other teams just like this one were on course for Beijing. The Senator and his counterparts in Israel, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Canada, Sweden, Russia, and Japan had gathered their best operatives, team leaders, strategists, intelligence experts, and diplomats to form a global task force that operated outside of UN jurisdiction to stamp out the threat that the ViVeri Consortium represented.
At first, Jake had been tempted to refuse the offer to lead a team. Now, his decision weighed on him. He did not belong here.
The familiar P226 in a holster at his right thigh gave him almost as much comfort as the Spiderco Warrior combat knife attached handle-down at his left chest pocket. In contrast, the KRISS Vector .45 ACP submachine gun strapped to his back and the M14 EBR-RI in his hands were unfamiliar and, in some ways, intimidating.
Jake was an operative, not a soldier. He was a killer. He was a man with a badge and a job and a pension. He was a father and a husband.
And a son.
At first he had denied it. He had come to accept that some of what he was doing now was for his father. Others took it for granted. He had finally embraced it, knowing this was duty. This was his responsibility. This was expected of him.
That was why he felt so vindicated when they had come upon a satellite image of an ammunition factory in a little town called Tianjun in the Qinghai Province of China. Most of the munitions manufactured at the converted chemical plant were put on rail. However, several trucks would travel to an underground fortress built into the side of the mountains south of the town. These, the team suspected, were “dirty” nukes: small plutonium-based warheads that were being stocked under the mountain.
To prepare nine pounds of weapons-grade plutonium, it takes a massive chemical plant capable of extracting the Pu-239, purifying it, compressing it, and preparing it for fitting in a warhead. This whole process is considered simpler than preparing Uranium-based nuclear bombs. One side benefit is that Plutonium is considerably lighter. Yet, the process is dirtier. The remote location guaranteed covert operations and lower collateral damage.
It was unclear so far if these nukes were being stockpiled for use by the ViVeri Consortium or by China. The possibility that a third party was involved also existed.
Their mission would necessitate quick, effective action.
The hunt for Chen had proven time-consuming.
They suspected that the Chinese were working with the ViVeri Consortium. Their goal was to find out why. Since Chen’s location was difficult to ascertain, they decided to pursue a secondary Chinese target: Fin Zhou, a multi-national terrorist with ties to religious insurgents, left wing guerillas, and right wing militias. His services were available to anyone with enough money. According to his file, he lacked political affiliation.
Jake recognized the man. He had been both a client of Galbraith and a target.
Zhou had fled to his native country and had presumably been hired by the Consortium. They had determined this more through process of elimination than actual facts. The reason they were pursuing him was that they had an exact bearing on Fin Zhou.
He was surrounded by a large security force in a ten story building on the outskirts of Tianjun. His factory, which had produced ammonia nitrate and other fairly combustible chemicals during the last few decades, had been converted to produce ammunition, weapons-grade plutonium, and possibly even biochemical components.
Where it was once the sole source of employment for this small town, now it was a fortress. It would prove to be a difficult nut to crack. That was why they had assembled this team.
“Have we confirmed our flight plans?” Jake asked their pilot, Carlos Vienci, an Italian RIS—military intelligence—operative.
“We have a green light, but Beijing wants to accompany us. They have a strike force ready to roll and escort us in.”
Jake raised his eyebrows. The Senator would find this information interesting. It wasn’t exactly a firm denial, but it was at least evidence that maybe they would have an ally here after all, however implausible that might seem.
“They know it is Tianjun, not Tianjin, right?”
“Yes. They have a flight of twenty-man AS 532 Cougar transport helicopters ready to pick us up at Nanjing.”
“Two WZ-10 attack helicopters alongside and a pair of J-11 fighters overhead.”
“That will do,” Jake said.
“Mr. Monday, we are attacking what essentially is a large Mafia stronghold.”
“Don’t underestimate them,” Jake warned.
“When can we expect our escort?”
Carlos glanced at some instruments.
“We are ten hours out, Mr. Monday.”
No titles here. No ego. Just performance.
As team leader, Jake was tasked with acquiring Fin Zhou. The other teams would provide distraction, infiltration, and assist with the exfiltration of the target.
The “help” of the Chinese government would make their assignment both safer and more difficult. Jurisdiction and extradition were touch-and-go between agencies of the same nation, let alone tenuous allies. Getting Fin Zhou out of China might include a daring escape. Tougher to pull off with an escort.
Jake focused on the job ahead, trying to put thoughts of failure at the back of his mind. To him, there was only the protection of his team, the capture of Zhou, and the safe return home to his family.
The wound left by a dead president and a world torn apart by the feeling of impending doom had kept them busy for the past weeks. Now it was time for them to act.
Although they were all from different places, they were connected by fear. Fear for loved ones, fear for their respective countries. What had transpired in Washington was just the beginning.
Their response had to be precise, violent, and controlled. If his instincts were accurate, they needed to watch their backs.
Hours later, having met up with a cadre of nervous, reluctant Chinese military personnel, their helicopter veered off from the formation, coming up over the final rise at a blistering pace. Carlos seemed unnerved by their escort. The radio chatter had been polite but terse. Their Chinese friends were tagging along, but only providing air superiority. The aggressive, alien design of the WZ-10s was intimidating. The speed and precision of the J-11s a vivid reminder of whose airspace this was.
Low clouds obscured their vision of the land below. They rose low over lonely mountain ranges. Occasionally, the clouds would part to reveal large expanses of fields dotted intermittently by paved roads and small villages.
Jake adjusted the visor on his lightweight helmet. Checked his communication equipment. Tested his heads-up display on his orange-tinted visor. Everything worked flawlessly. He was connected to each member of his team through comms and a readout that gave him information on their heart rates, breaths per minute, and anaerobic threshold. He felt the thin disk at the top of his abdomen that relayed the information via Bluetooth technology. Their outfits were equipped with fabric electrodes that gathered the data.
Everyone seemed calm and ready.
The factory was just ahead. Jake swallowed hard. So much was riding on the success of this mission. He knew that his position as leader was mostly as figurehead. Each of his teammates knew precisely what their assignment entailed. He was determined to make this a quick infiltration with no casualties.
“Target on approach. Prepare for landing,” Carlos intoned as he flicked switches and maneuvered their craft toward a large concrete pad on the north side of the building.
The waning sun shone from a hundred dark, reflective windows. The parking lot was half-full of personal vehicles. The complex was more than just one building. It was a fortress; a modern four-story main laboratory and manufacturing facility, gated parking, with several low buildings to the south that housed materials, barracks, equipment, and additional troops. Two towers flanked the west entry into the compound, one facing north, the other facing west.
Only a handful of guards were evident as they approached.
Jake saw the mounted turrets. The men operating them taken by surprise.
“It doesn’t look like they were expecting us,” Morehead noted.
“Swing away and approach along the east lot,” Jake ordered.
The engines whined as the craft swayed and caught an upstream current. Carlos expertly pulled out and they lifted up a hundred feet in the span of a second. The air was cut by the chopping rhythm of fifty-caliber chain gun in the north tower.
On cue, the WZs flew in, their 30 mm Bushmaster auto cannons spitting death at both guard towers. Wood, metal, bones, and flesh destroyed in a fraction of a moment. The roof of the tower exploded in a rain of metal. The Chinese attack helicopters continued past the factory and swooped around like deadly bugs, raining death on the troops below.
Jake caught Ming pointing toward a metal hut to the south of the factory. Two low vehicles exited, lumbering through a dark layer of smoldering wreckage. The other tasks groups had laid smoke to cover their entry. The pair of Type 88 Main Battle Tanks rolled through the billowing smoke headed towards the main gates. They seemed oblivious to the two transport choppers hovering directly to the south compound, emptying Special Forces units to the ground.
“Look,” Ming said.
“Yes. We are prepared. Watch,” Jake returned.
A loud screech echoed off the mountains around them, loud enough for Jake to hear it over the engine.
The J-11s streaked from above so quickly, he barely could note their trajectory.
In the next moment, two bright flashes lit the pre-dawn sky and the tanks exploded. Steel shrapnel, ignited ordnance, and fuel exploded, showering the lot with molten metal and deadly fire.
Ming raised his eyebrows.
“Good to have friends,” Jake noted.
“Maybe Zhou will wish he had friends like ours,” Morehead quipped.
Jake smiled. If the Chinese were working in concert with Sinegem and ViVeri, would they have sacrificed these assets? He felt better about their chances.
“Touch us down over there, Carlos,” Jake commanded, pointing to a small patch of uncut grass. A concrete wall and the diversions to the south and west shielded their approach to the East entrance.
“Gotcha,” Carlos said.
Jake turned and looked his team in the eyes.
“Amit and Morehead, take the lead. Go fast and stay low. Only engage if it is necessary. Speed and precision. Body mass shots, or legs.” He watched for their nods. Morehead chewed gum, and his wink was his assent. Amit just slowly closed his eyes. He seemed almost bored. “Vasquez and Ming, take up the rear. Vasquez, keep the channel clear, keep your HUD on so our feed is live to Carlos and HQ.”
She nodded and flipped down a small glass from her helmet with a miniature mic attached. She looked like someone out of a science fiction adventure. Technology would not save them, but it certainly would keep them ahead of their enemy.
Ming shouldered his bag wordlessly.
Jake held up his hand, thumbs up. He glanced at Carlos.
“Now would be good,” he said.
Jake motioned and Amit pulled the side door open. The frigid mountain air hit Jake like a wall. He squinted, the cold freezing the water on his eyes, blurring his vision and taking his breath away.