Authors: Basil Sands
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Espionage
A novel by
©2010, Basil Sands
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The knife was razor-sharp. Shock morphed into terror as Michael realized first that he could make no sound, then that he could not breathe. There was no pain, but he knew something was very wrong. He reached up to grab his throat. When his hand touched his neck, his head flopped at an awkward angle. Blood jetted upward in two powerful streams, spattering against the ceiling and walls with rhythmic pulses that left abstract patterns, symbolizing his quickly draining life.
From Nikola’s perspective, Michael stood upright for a long time, longer than he had thought possible. He had slit many throats in his life. Most grasped their throat and collapsed, or just crumpled and died. Nikola stared back in amusement.
“Don't look at me like that, Michael. You killed yourself,” Nikola said. “Did you actually think I would let you lead the infidel here, then just allow you to walk away?”
Michael's lips moved in a soundless response.
“Sorry, I didn't hear what you said.”
His eyelids fluttered in rapid spasms. Blood spurted in a final massive geyser. The dying man's eyes rolled back and at long last he collapsed to the floor. Blood continued to ooze from his half-severed neck, soaking into the fabric of the old carpet. Seconds later, red and blue strobes of police and FBI vehicles flashed on the street outside. Nikola called out to the other men in the house.
“Now is your time, brothers!”
The response came with the sound of shattering glass. A moment, later a burst of automatic weapon fire exploded from upstairs. Nikola glanced out the window toward the
of police cars. An officer rose from behind a patrol car to shoot. His skull burst in a cloud of red, spraying goo on the men behind him. His body tumbled backward onto the pavement. A medic ran to the downed officer, and all hell broke loose on the house. Every weapon in the
of police officers and FBI agents exploded to life at once.
Nikola reached for a black box on the coffee table. He picked it up and set it on the dead man's chest. With two flicks of a finger, he armed the high-explosive magnesium bomb. It would leave almost no trace of the bodies, and incinerate everything it came in contact with. Wood, flesh, glass, even metal. The houses on either side would likely also be destroyed. In sixty seconds, the other men in the house would join the legions of martyrs who had gone before them, whether they realized it or not.
Nikola stepped into the kitchen and entered the pantry. He yanked a metal handle on the floor and lifted the crawl space access, then ducked into the darkness. Dust and dryer lint scratched at his throat and forced a sneeze out of his nose. He scurried toward the outer foundation wall on his hands and knees. The gravel surface cut into his palms. He found the small escape tunnel and slithered in on his belly. The narrow space was barely wide enough for his thick frame. He fast-crawled ten meters until reaching the Seattle sewer system access tunnel. The air flew from his lungs as a jolt of hot compressed air shot him out of the tiny tunnel, slamming him against the far
of the sewer. His ears screamed against the blast of sound.
Heat waves seared his clothes as he sprinted through the barely lit tunnel. He scrambled up a ladder, loosened the access cover, and climbed out onto a seldom-used bike trail, then vanished into the evening twilight.
East of Fairbanks, Alaska
“Damn! When it gets dark out here, it’s dark as death.”
Eugene Wyatt drove as fast as conditions allowed down the Richardson Highway in his beige Ford F250 Crew Cab pickup, with the Tanana Valley Electric Cooperative logo emblazoned on the doors. It was only four in the afternoon, but the late December sun had already long descended, leaving the land in total inky blackness. His three-year-old Golden Retriever, Penny, sat on the passenger side of the wide bench seat. She turned and stared out the window apparently not into the conversation. The dog’s breath shot a burst of steam onto the frigid glass a few inches away every time she exhaled. Her tongue hung limply over the teeth of her open mouth.
On any typical evening, there would have been brightly lit signs atop tall poles in front of the gas stations. He’d usually see neon beer advertisements pulsing blue, red, and yellow from within the windows of busy bars as he passed through the small city of North Pole, then the even smaller town of Moose Creek. Tonight, only the glow of candles and oil lamps flickered dimly between the curtains of the scattering of homes along the highway. The power was out, everywhere.
Eugene looked at Penny, who stared transfixed out the truck window. The frost from her breath created a ring of ice crystals on the glass she appeared to be studying. The weather had warmed up significantly in the past few days after an unseasonal cold snap that held the land at negative fifty for several weeks. The red mercury line on the thermometer now hovered at a livable zero degrees Fahrenheit.
Eugene remembered the line a comedian had used on TV the night before.
If it’s zero degrees, does that mean there’s no temperature?
The humor of the line dissipated fast. There had never been an outage like this in Eugene’s thirty years in Alaska’s electricity business. At first, the authorities thought it was a local failure within the Tanana Valley Cooperative area. It wasn’t long before they discovered it was much bigger.
The phone company went out at the same time. Cellular towers failed. The whole of the Interior region of Alaska, an area the size of New York State, was thrown back into the 19th century in an instant.
The only places that had not gone completely dark were the hospitals, airport control tower, and the Public Safety Emergency Operations Center. Those systems had automatic physical disconnect from the main power lines, taking them completely off the grid until the main power returned.
Once the Tanana Valley Electric Cooperative technicians had gotten established with satellite phones and were able to communicate with public safety and the other electrical utilities throughout the state, they were surprised to discover that the outage covered nearly a third of the land mass of the state. Every city on the shared power grid had gone dark at about four-thirty that morning.
The problem, the technicians agreed, was somewhere in the Tanana Valley area, since the outage had started there. Anchorage, four hundred miles to the south, went dark nearly five minutes after the lights turned out in Fairbanks, the Golden Heart city.
Eugene scrunched his eyebrows in contemplation as he went back over the details for the hundredth time that day.
Every city on the grid goes out all at the same time, and we can’t find a single point of failure. The talk radio guys are going to eat us alive on this.
The previous summer, several of the most popular AM talk radio hosts had “prophesied” that just such an event would occur if the state went through with connecting the “Electrical Intertie” system. Now they had fodder to boost their ratings for the next six months. Such talk would no doubt fuel massive amounts of legislation and investigation, and probably lawsuits without end.
Penny turned and looked at Eugene. She cocked her head sideways, as if she was trying to read his mind. Then, in apparent exasperation at the enormity of it all, she sighed and lay across the seat, putting her head on his lap.
An unusual number of consecutive disasters had wracked Alaska in the past year. A late spring thaw meant that crops were not put in until the end of June, resulting in a scant harvest by the time September’s temperatures dropped back to freezing. A particularly busy forest fire season in July was followed in August by a major flood along the Tanana River. Then there was the Halloween earthquake.
A 9.1 on the Richter scale, it was centered about one hundred miles north of Salt Jacket. That massive tremblor had turned the ground into Jell-O for almost thirty seconds while kids were out trick-or-treating on Halloween night. Buildings swayed as far as Japan and Siberia. The shock waves rocked seismographs in Chile and South Africa. A few weeks after the earthquake, there came an unexpected deep freeze, which gripped the Interior in its icy fingers six weeks earlier than usual.
Eugene gently stroked Penny behind the ears. The dog’s golden brown hair shimmered reflectively in the pale green glow of the dashboard lights. He spoke his thoughts aloud in hopes that something he heard himself say would make sense.
“All systems were fine. No icing anywhere. No lines down. No surges reported anywhere on the grid. No earthquakes or abnormal aurora activity. Not even a brown-out. The crazy thing just turned off. Well, puppy, I have no idea.”
The whispery soft sound of the dog’s breath drifted quietly from the seat beside him. She had fallen asleep. He continued to the small wilderness community of Salt Jacket, forty miles east of Fairbanks.
Although sparsely populated, Salt Jacket was home to one of the largest, most powerful electrical substations in the Interior Region. It transferred electricity that powered huge sections of the pipeline and funneled thousands of watts to a series of military training facilities at the backside of Eielson Air Force Base.
Even though two other TVEC crews had checked it earlier in the day, as maintenance chief for the second largest power company in the state, Eugene felt obligated to recheck each of the four largest stations himself. More than anything, the drive to the last station in Salt Jacket gave him time to think things over again.
Eugene turned north from the highway onto Johnson Road, a bumpy, twisting chip-and-tar paved road which wound back nearly thirty miles until it abruptly ended in the vast wilderness of the Eielson Air Force Base training area. The substation was only seven miles up the road, near the pipeline’s Pump Station Eight.
A mile past the pump station, a chain link fence marked the end of the civilian-owned portion of Johnson Road. Signs restricted access to the back section of the Air Force Base. It was not much of a restriction, though, as the gate generally stood open, frozen in deep piles of plowed snow.
As Eugene rounded a sharp bend in the road, a sudden bright flash of headlights blinded him. Another vehicle straddled the centerline of the road, barrelling toward him. He pulled the steering wheel sharply to the right to avoid hitting the oncoming truck that lurched hard to the other side of the road. Penny leaped up in surprise from his lap and slid uncontrollably to the floor in front of the passenger seat.
In the split-second when the side of the other truck crossed in front of his, Eugene saw the Tanana Valley Electrical Co-op emblem on its side and a large black number 48 on the fender panel just in front of the driver’s door before the truck sped off into the night.
“Whoa! Good Lord!” Eugene exclaimed, his face reddening as he processed the knowledge that he was nearly killed by one of his own employees. “Who the hell was driving that thing?”
He considered chasing down truck number forty-eight to fire the driver on the spot, but decided it would be wiser to find out who it was first. He reached for the satellite phone that hung from a peg on the dashboard and hit the speed dial for his main office. A young man’s voice answered, “TVEC control center.”
“This is Chief Wyatt. Who the hell is driving number forty eight?” he shouted into the receiver. His Oklahoma drawl was still strong after three decades in the North. “That idiot almost drove me into a snow bank out here on Johnson Road.”
“Uh, sorry sir, I don’t know who’s driving forty eight. Give me a second to look over the log real quick.”
There was a pause on the line. The young man came back.
“Sorry, Chief, nobody’s driving number forty-eight. It’s still right here in the yard, according to the logbook. No…wait…there’s a note here that says it’s at Magnuson’s Body Shop, getting some work done on it.”
“Who is this, Franklin?”
“Son, you’d better check on that thing and make sure it’s still at Magnuson’s. And if it ain’t, call the police and report it stolen, because I swear, it was number forty-eight that almost hit me head on just now.”