Authors: Douglas E. Richards
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Thriller, #Mystery, #Suspense, #Adventure, #Fantasy
she really pull it off?” he asked
is as difficult a genetic engineering project as there is, but if anyone in the
world can do it, Kira Miller can. She's that good.”
the expected casualties?”
on how efficiently her designed virus can insert the genes, and how efficiently
the pork-specific organic chemicals can trigger them. Worst case, hundreds of
millions around the world. Best case, given the high quality of medicine in the
West, maybe a few hundred thousand.”
color drained from Desh’s face. This attack had the potential to be more costly
in human lives than a nuclear bomb set off in a population center. And the very
nature of the attack would unleash a raging wildfire of irrationality and panic
that could have an incalculable effect on civilization. “And this would be only
the beginning,” he whispered to Connelly.
right,” said Connelly. “People would fear they had other Trojan Horses buried
in their genetic material, primed to go off with one wrong bite. No one would
know what foods to trust. Rumors would race around the world. Fear would be at
a fever pitch. Economies would collapse. The most ordered societies would
degenerate into chaos and devastation almost overnight.”
knew this plan could set civilization back hundreds of years—which is exactly
what the Jihadists wanted. No wonder Kira Miller was so wealthy. If she could
convince Al-Qaeda she could execute on this plan, she could name her price. Death
and devastation on a vast scale wouldn't trouble a soulless psychopath like her
in the least.
some point, we may be forced to issue a warning not to eat pork,” said Connelly.
“But this wouldn't buy us all that much. The warning itself would incite some
of the panic we're trying to avoid. Many wouldn’t get the message and still
others would ignore it, believing it to be a government conspiracy. And we
believe the Jihadists have a contingency version ready to go, with a different
trigger. So sounding the alarm would just push them into plan B. The terrorist
leaders would still know which foods to avoid, although since they’d only risk
sharing this secret with a select few, they’d lose far more of their followers
under this scenario.”
shook his head in disgust. If it came to that, the need to sacrifice scores of
their followers for the cause would not give them the slightest pause.
placed the photographs back inside the folder and reinserted it into the
accordion file. Before arriving at Fort Bragg he had already felt dead inside. Being
on the grounds, a reminder of a past he so desperately wanted to forget, had
made things worse. And now this. He felt ill. He needed to conclude this
meeting and get some air. “So tell me,” he said pointedly. “Why am
sighed deeply. “Kira Miller has been off the grid since her brother’s murder—for
about a year now. She’s vanished. Like magic. We have reason to believe she was
in San Diego last November, but she could be anywhere now. Only Bin Laden and a
few others have been the subject of bigger manhunts, and we’ve basically gotten
nowhere. There are those who think she must be dead, but we can’t make that
ask again,” said Desh. “Why am I here? Plan B? Send in a solitary man when
entire armies fail?”
me, we didn’t wait until now to try the Lone Ranger approach. We’ve been
sending in individual agents for several months. The best and brightest. They’ve
what am I, then,” remarked Desh. “Plan E? What do you expect I can do that your
first choices couldn’t?”
of all, you
have been my first choice had you remained in the
military. You know that, David. You know my opinion of your abilities. I didn’t
think I could get authorization to recruit a civilian, so I never recommended
looked confused. “Then how am I here?”
up the food chain realized your value and asked me to recruit you. I was
thrilled that they did. Not only are you unequaled as a soldier, you found more
top-level terrorists on the lam than anyone when you were in the service. No
one is as creative and tenacious on the hunt as you are. Kira Miller has a
knack for gene therapy.
have a knack for finding those who are off
leaned forward and fixed an unblinking stare on Desh. “And you’re someone I
trust absolutely, someone outside the system. This woman has massive amounts of
money and is quite persuasive. I wouldn’t put it past her to have found a way
to monitor us, or to compromise some of our people.”
you think you have a mole?”
. . . no. But with the stakes this high, why take chances?”
nodded. He couldn’t argue the point.
failed as an organization. The individuals who have tried have also failed. There
could be many other good explanations for this, but now it’s time to try
something different.” He rubbed his mustache absently. “You have a singular
talent for this and you don’t report through military channels. Let’s keep it
that way. Use your own resources, not ours. In the file you’ll find the reports
of your predecessors: all the information they gathered on Kira Miller.”
assume it will also detail their attempts to locate her?”
no,” said Connelly. “We don’t want you to be polluted with what came before. You’ll
be starting with a clean slate. And don’t communicate with me. I don’t want to
know what you’re doing. You’ll find a contact number to use when you find her. The
person at the other end will handle the rest. Follow his instructions from
there on in.”
I find her?”
find her,” said Connelly with absolute conviction. “I’m certain of it.”
two questionable assumptions you’re making,” said Desh. “The first one is that
I’ll agree to take the job in the first place.”
said nothing. The silence hung in the room like a thick fog.
was torn. There was a significant part of him that just wanted to walk away. Connelly
would find a way to solve his problem—or he wouldn’t. But the world would keep
revolving, with or without Desh on the case. There were other talented men
outside the system. Let someone else be the hero. He had tried the hero
business and had failed.
the other hand, what if he really did have some special quality that would turn
the tide? If he walked away and the attack succeeded, how could he live with
himself? He beat himself up every day for surviving the operation in Iran when
his men had not. Guilt and loss were eating away at his soul already, but would
pale in comparison to the question that would torment his every waking moment—what
if he really had been the only one able to find, and stop, Kira Miller?
even though he had wanted to clear his head and put distance between himself
and anyone he had known from his past life, his relationship with Connelly had
been very close, and almost certainly would be again someday. There were few
men he admired as much as he did Jim Connelly.
stared long and hard at the colonel. “Okay,” he said wearily, a look of
resignation on his face. “I’ll help you.” He shook his head bitterly, and it
was clear he was annoyed with himself for being unable to refuse. “I’ll give it
my best,” he added with a sigh. “That’s all I can do.”
David,” said Connelly in relief. “That’s all anyone can do.”
colonel paused and now looked somewhat uneasy. “Now that you’re on board, I
need to insist that you don’t go after her yourself, under any circumstances. Your
job is to find her. Period. The job of the person at the end of the telephone
number I gave you is to reel her in.” He paused. “Before you leave, I have to
be sure you’re crystal clear about this.”
stared at Connelly in disbelief. “I’m clear on it, all right, Colonel. What I’m
not clear on is why. What if I found her and was in the perfect position for
capture? I need to be able to strike when the iron’s hot. By the time I call
someone in and they arrive, she could slip through the noose. She’s too elusive
and too important to allow that to happen.” He shook his head in disbelief. “It’s
an idiotic strategy,” he snapped.
colonel sighed. “I couldn’t agree more,” he said. “But those are my orders. I
made all the points you just made as emphatically as I could, but I didn’t win
the day. So this is what we’re left with.”
then,” said Desh in annoyance. “I’m just a civilian now. If someone up the
chain of command just had a frontal lobotomy, there’s nothing
the bright side,” continued Connelly, pressing ahead, “I
able to win
one important argument with my superiors.” He smiled slyly. “I convinced them
it wouldn’t be easy to entice you back. They’ve authorized me to pay you two
hundred thousand dollars upon initiation of the assignment as a draw against
expenses. It’s all set to be wired into your account. You’ll have access to it
within the hour.” He leaned forward intently. “There’s another
eyes widened. A payment of this magnitude would dramatically change the course
of his life. It would allow him to leave the violent world he had known behind
and immediately start down whichever new path he finally chose for himself. “Thanks,
Colonel,” he said. “That’s a hell of a lot of money.” Desh paused. “But you do
know I agreed to help because of you, and because of the nature of the threat,
and not for the money.”
twinkle came to Connelly’s eye. “I know that,” he said. “Notice that I only
brought up the money
you had agreed.” The colonel smiled. “Considering
the bounty for Bin Laden went as high as twenty-five million dollars, and
considering the devastating consequences of failure, you’re the biggest bargain
the government has ever had.”
smiled. “Well, as long as the
is happy,” he said dryly,
spreading his hands in mock sincerity. He paused for a moment in thought. “What
about Fleming Executive Protection?”
worry. We’ll make sure your calendar is cleared for the next month and you
remain in good standing with them.” An amused look crossed Connelly’s face. “And
rest assured, we’ll do it in such a way that won’t hurt your career, or your ah
. . . reputation.” He smiled slightly at this and then added, “Do we have an
nodded. “We do.”
I’m sorry to have to pull you back in for one last mission, David, but I know
you’re the right man for the job.”
rose from the chair and prepared to leave. “I hope you’re right, Colonel. As
always, I’ll try not to let you down.” He eyed Connelly suspiciously as
something he had said earlier finally registered. “You said the wire transfer
of the two hundred-K is ready to go?”
just need to give the word and it’s done.”
how is it exactly,” said Desh, his eyes narrowing, “that you happen to have the
wire transfer information for my account, without me having given it to you?”
raised his eyebrows. “I don’t suppose you’d believe it was a lucky guess?” he
said with an innocent shrug.
allowed a bemused smile to flash across his face. He opened his briefcase,
placed the accordion file inside, and stood.
also rose from his chair. He reached out and gave Desh a warm handshake. “Good
luck, David,” he said earnestly. “And be careful.”
won’t be eating any pork products anytime soon, if that’s what you mean,” said
Desh wryly, trying to hide his anxiety.
that, David Desh picked up his briefcase and walked purposefully out the door.
Desh exited the grounds of Fort Bragg and drove to a nearby shopping center. He
parked the Suburban at the outer edge of the sprawling lot, becoming a lone
island of privacy cut off from the dense mainland of all other parked vehicles.
He pulled out the dossier on Kira Miller and began a careful review. The
five-hour drive back to D.C. ahead of him would be the perfect time to digest
what he was now reading and plot out his initial strategy.
a little more than an hour he returned the dossier to his briefcase and began
his trek home. Her file hadn’t given him much to go on, nor had he expected it
to. If the girl’s background would have led to an obvious approach, others
would have found it by now.
Miller had been able to hide her true nature quite well. From a very young age
she had been extremely talented, ambitious, and competitive. When she set her
mind to something she had accomplished it. This didn’t always win her a lot of
friends growing up, and being jumped ahead in school several years did nothing
to help her social life.
as an adult she tended to make few friends, always keeping her eye on the ball;
be it setting the record for youngest ever molecular neurobiology Ph.D. at
Stanford or power-climbing up the corporate ladder. In college she had dated
some, but she never managed to sustain a relationship for more than eight or
nine months. Desh knew that most men would find her brilliance intimidating.
file elaborated quite extensively on everything that Connelly had told him,
laying out her communications with terror groups, how these communications had
been found, the airtight evidence gathered against her for the murders of
Lusetti and her brother, and the Ebola gene therapy plot.
the murders, the police investigation had revealed she had spent an inordinate
amount of time in NeuroCure's animal labs late at night, but had managed to
hide this activity. The employee badge she'd been issued to unlock the door after
hours was designed to record the holder's identity and time of entry in the
main computer, but she had ingeniously altered the software to prevent this
had also found that Kira had ordered far more rodents from suppliers than the
company had needed for experiments. Since she was responsible for inventory,
this hadn't been caught earlier.
was clear she had been performing secret animal experiments almost every night.
In retrospect, this made sense—chilling sense. She must have brought the
Jihadists some evidence that she could execute on the strategy she was
proposing to get them to pay her the substantial sums of money she was known to
have in banks around the world. An animal proof of concept, as it were.
and USASOC had vast resources at their disposal, both human and otherwise, and
yet they hadn’t come close to finding this girl. Only someone extremely careful
and extremely clever could possibly elude a government-sponsored manhunt for
this long. And that was really the rub on this one. The prey was far smarter
than the hunter. Desh didn’t feel any macho need to downplay his own
intelligence, which was considerable, but it was undeniable that hers was in
another league. So how to catch someone smarter than yourself?
was all in your attitude. You didn’t plot a strategy designed to catch her
making a mistake. This is what the others probably focused on. Instead, you
counted on her
making a mistake. You counted on her doing everything
exactly right. This was the answer.
much as he had come to hate the endless violence with which he had long been
associated, puzzling out the location of a dangerous adversary intent on
eluding capture was a task he found completely absorbing. It was the ultimate
challenge. His task was to locate a single human being among the more than six
billion inhabitants of the planet, one who could be hiding almost anywhere on
the incomprehensibly large surface of the Earth. So how to narrow this down?
shot by an eighteen-wheeler as if it were standing still, completely lost in
thought. His foot was heavy on the gas pedal by nature, and when he didn’t
actively control himself, his default speed was usually twenty miles per hour
over the posted limit. Despite conscious efforts to contain this impulse, he
was beginning to feel he was beyond hope and desperately in need of a
twelve-step speedaholics program.
are you Kira Miller?
he said to himself as he changed lanes once again,
blowing past two cars and returning to the left lane where he rapidly began
pulling away from everyone behind him.
she living in a cave somewhere? Maybe. But not likely. He would start by
assuming she was still in the States, hiding in plain sight. She was attempting
a breathtakingly complex feat of genetic engineering. The report he had read
was clear that, at minimum, she would require specialized equipment, cloned
genes, ultra-fast DNA sequencers, biological reagents, and genetically
identical experimental animals. A terrorist camp in Iran or Afghanistan, or
even the best equipped labs in these countries, for that matter, wouldn’t be
able to readily fulfill her evolving needs in this regard.
decided that regardless of where she was hiding, he would begin by focusing on
her computer. No matter how much she may have given up of her past life to
elude pursuit, he couldn't believe she'd swear off the Internet, especially
given her need to tap into an ocean of biotechnology literature as her research
progressed. But there were ways to use computers and the Internet without
leaving a trail, and she had already shown an alarming degree of facility with
computers when she had modified NeuroCure’s security software. Finding a single
laptop among untold millions, and then having it happen to be in the lap of Kira
Miller when it was found, was like finding a needle in a haystack the size of
frowned as he realized this analogy fell short. The reality was that the
particular needle he was after was not only lost in an enormous haystack, but
was also mobile, and would be sure to dive even deeper into the haystack if it
sensed someone coming.