‘Tell me what’s happening Captain Dreyfuss,’ says Noone, ‘What can you see?’
The mist starts to clear. I’m conscious of the fact that I’m describing aloud everything I see. I’m in a map room. Major Harvey Keen and I are being given a briefing. There are satellite pictures spread across a table in front of us. The man giving the briefing isn’t army, he’s CIA. He taps at the photographs, aerial pictures of a remote part of the Iraqi desert. The pictures have been taken at night in the infra red spectrum and he is showing us an anomaly, a hot spot in the middle of nowhere. There is no explanation for this and we are ordered to take a platoon to the location and check it out.
Then we are in a helicopter, a CH47 Chinook. It’s pitch dark outside. There are sixteen of us, Harvey Keen, me and a bunch of grunts. There’s a Humvee squeezed at the back of the chopper with all our kit inside and we’re all tightly packed in. The terrain is pool table flat other than a few dried up river beds, so the pilot has to drop us over the horizon from our target spot. He puts the Chinook down in a cloud of dust and in minutes we’re off and watching it disappear into the night, the whap-whap of its blades fading to a faint echo in the still of a moonless, cloudless desert night. Harvey and I agree to move the Humvee to within a couple of miles of the target spot. There’s a ridge in the dried up river bed that will screen it from sight if the target spot is occupied. It takes about fifteen minutes of slow driving, no lights, night vision goggles on. The river bed is perfect. We make camp for the night after putting four men on lookout at the top of the ridge, and wait for dawn.
Daylight brings nothing but a flat, featureless desert as far as the eye can see. The only thing distinguishing the target site from the rest of this nothingness is a derelict barn. It’s half collapsed on two sides and has no roof. It’s dilapidated and looks like it was abandoned decades ago. Also it’s about a half mile from the hot spot. Harvey wants to call for a drone low level fly-by to take some daytime aerial photos. These could be wired to the printer in the Humvee. I think it’s a bad idea, and after a bit of argy-bargy he agrees not to. I know the place looks derelict but if it isn’t, a low flying drone would alert whoever might be over there that we’re taking a look.
There are three logical choices. Go over to the barn under cover of darkness and check it out, hunker down to wait and watch for a few days, or call off the mission because there’s nothing suspicious. We agree to wait till dark then take a look.
It’s about an hour from sunset. We’re having some chow in the back of the Humvee when one of the lookouts scrambles down from the ridge. He’s seen dust being kicked up coming from the horizon. He thinks it’s a vehicle of some sort and it’s traveling fast straight towards us. Harvey and I lie side by side at the top of the ridge watching a plume of dust coming towards us. The men are dressed to receive visitors, fully armed and all locked and loaded. Harvey gets the first clear view.
‘It’s a stretched Limo!’ he says, half laughing, ‘What the fuck! What’s a Limo doing out here?’
We track the Limo’s progress. It looks like it’s heading straight towards us but it passed by the ridge about five hundred yards away. We can see the occupants clearly; a driver and a thick set guy in the front, both in Iraqi army uniform, and a guy in a suit sat in the back. We have a camera with a telescopic lens and high speed shutter, and we take a shed load of snaps as the Limo flashes past us.
The Limo heads straight for the deserted barn and rolls to a halt just short of it. It waits, engine ticking over. Then it moves slowly into the derelict barn out of our sight. We watch till it’s past dark but the car doesn’t come back out and there’s no signs of life.
Under cover of darkness and wearing our night goggles the platoon moves stealthily towards the barn. In the cold desert air we can make out something unusual through our goggles. About half a mile past the derelict barn an acre or so of the desert’s surface is glowing with a greenish white light. Something is generating heat underground below that patch. It takes a while but we sneak up to the barn undetected, spreading out around the barn. I’m the first to swing my gun round and look inside. My adrenaline’s pumping hard because I’m expecting the two Iraqi soldiers to be stood there with AK47s. But what I find instead is nothing, no soldiers, no Limo, just desert dirt. I know straight away we’ve discovered something big.
I signal for the men to withdraw, and we regroup a couple of hundred yards back towards the ridge. The derelict barn is an entrance, but to what? We leave the men there and Harvey and I go back to check out the building more thoroughly. I figure if it’s got cameras and sensors we’d fair better without all those boots clomping around. We move slowly and carefully. After an hour we’re pretty confident there’s no security outside, no cameras, trip wires or alarms. They must have figured they were so well hidden they didn’t need all that crap. One little find I make is that the floor of the barn is constructed from steel sheets, thinly covered with a layer of sand and small rocks so it didn’t show up in aerial photos. It’s hinged at the entrance to the barn. I figure that the whole floor is a ramp, dropping away at the far end to the entrance to allow vehicle access. When we’re confident there’s nothing more to learn about the place we withdraw, taking the rest of the platoon with us back to our camp. We put two men on lookout duty and rest till sunrise.
I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of the Humvee, dressed in combats. Outside it’s blowing a hoolie, with sand and bugs battering against the windshield. I feel thirsty. I’ve been working with the men under my command outside in the desert. I open my flask and take a long pull on the warm water inside then screw the cap back on. Then suddenly I’m looking at a photograph fresh from the printer in the Humvee. It’s a head shot of the guy in the back of the Limo we took as it drove past. Harvey is sitting next to me. I look up from the photo into his face. He puts his hand on my shoulder and shakes it as if he and I are best buddies.
‘Only you and me know about this, Red,’ he says, his face deadly serious, ‘…only you and me.’
‘You’re not gonna call it in, are you?’
‘Nope, so keep your mouth shut.’
The man in the photo is on our most wanted list. His name is Dr Tariq Ahmed Sedani Aziz. He is described in our briefing notes as Doctor Death. He is the man responsible for Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction programme. Our orders are that under no circumstances is this man to be harmed, and to take him alive at all costs. No doubt the CIA would love to pick his brains.
We’re pretty sure we’ve stumbled upon an underground weapons manufacturing and storage facility, and Harvey intends to destroy it with everybody still inside. I think this is crazy. Fuck knows what we might let out into the atmosphere if it’s a chemical or biological weapons storage site. If it’s a contaminant with durability such as toxic radio isotopes with a half life of thousands of years the planet would be uninhabitable for homesteaders. Krillik would go nuts. The whole of Grow’s investment, the entire project fucked, and I could have prevented it. My life wouldn’t be worth a bucket of warm spit.
It’s hard work but eventually I persuade Harvey to let us try and get inside first to find out what we can. If it is just laboratories and there aren’t stores of Anthrax, Botulism or whatever shit Saddam has had made to save his hide, then we can torch the place and kill whoever’s in there. We can easily call it in afterwards as a hidden food dump gone rotten. That would explain the IR heat and justify us blasting the site. Harvey reluctantly agrees to try to gain entry after dark that night. We sit out the rest of the day in the Humvee, battered by the storm.
At about midnight we set off for the barn. The storm has gone and it’s a crystal clear, freezing cold night. We surround the barn then hunker down to bide our time and try to figure out a way to get inside. But we don’t have to wait long. The floor of the barn suddenly starts to move, the end furthest from the entrance dropping down to reveal a tunnel. I can hear a car approaching from deep inside. I whisper to two of my men to let it get a hundred yards from the barn then blow its tyres out and take prisoner anyone in the vehicle if they can. Seconds later the Limo appears, rolling up the ramp, the same three guys inside. As soon as it clears the ramp I signal for us to swing down into the tunnel before the ramp closes. It starts to move almost as soon as the Limo is off it but we all manage to get inside safely, except for the two guys left above to take care of the Limo.
Inside there is a long, straight tunnel wide enough for one vehicle only. It’s lit by strip light, one about very ten yards. The ramp snaps shut with a clang that echoes the length of the tunnel. Harvey and I look at each other and back at the ramp closed tightly above our heads.
‘What the fuck do we do now?’ he says.
As he speaks we hear a burst of automatic gunfire from above us outside, then a short exchange ending in one long burst. I worry this will have been heard by any guards. It’s a long, smooth sided tunnel with nowhere to take cover. If there are soldiers down here we’re sitting ducks. Harvey tells the men to spread out, lie flat and expect incoming, but nothing happens. About a minute later the ramp starts to lower again. When it’s down I see both my men standing there with Dr Aziz in between them, his hands behind his head, thumbs snap-wired together.
‘He’s got a remote,’ shouts one of my men, ‘Like a fucking garage door.’ My guy holds up a bunch of keys in the air. They walk down the ramp half pushing Dr Aziz in front of them.
‘Where’s his driver and bodyguard?’ I ask.
‘Still in the car. They won’t bother us,’ says one of the men.
Aziz is agitated, babbling away in Arabic. I know what he’s saying but I’ve never revealed that I can speak every language on Earth fluently. So, I act dumb and call up the grunt that is our interpreter. Aziz is claiming his innocence and knows nothing about the place. Then he admits it’s a weapons storage facility but he doesn’t have anything to do with it. He was just a passenger in the car. Then his story changes again. He’s an important man wanted by the American government. He’s on the run from Saddam and claims to be seeking asylum. The story is embellished. Saddam has forced him to use his extensive knowledge of biochemical weapons production to enhance Saddam’s evil weapons programme. Saddam is his enemy. Aziz is a peace loving man forced to do evil things by Saddam on pain of death for him and all his family if he fails in his tasks. He’s all over the place like a mad woman’s shit.
I slap him hard. It’s against the Geneva Convention but who’s going to snitch? I put my gun against his head and we start to get a version I can just about believe so I cut through the snap-wire tying his thumbs together and release his hands from behind his head. By the time he’s finished telling his story through the interpreter he’s practically pulling at my sleeve to get me to look at what’s at the end of the tunnel. So we go.
This story is that the place is a chemical and biological weapons development laboratory, production unit and storage facility. It’s built on one level about fifty feet underground. When we get there we pass a huge diesel fuel storage tank and a bank of power generators and refrigeration compressors. Then we reach the facility. It’s different to all the others I’ve seen in briefings. It’s small, mostly offices. It’s contained in a sealed, airtight reinforced glass capsule with airlock doors. He swears on his life it’s safe to go inside, and I believe him. So, the doors swish open and we all go inside. The place is deserted. There are technical drawing and design sections that must have once been busy but now lay unused and bare. He’s keen to show us something and takes us through the office section at the front towards the small laboratories at the back of the room. These are double air locked and tightly encased in a steel framed reinforced glass cube. Whatever is in there is beyond dangerous. He points at a glass rectangular display case on a plinth in the centre of the laboratory. Again Aziz is agitated but this time there’s an element of pride in his protestations. Inside the glass case is the body of a naked man, long dead, His skin is black and severely puck marked as if every inch of his skin has formed boils, and these have erupted. His body is twisted into an inhuman shape. The poor bastard must have died in agony.
Aziz turns to me and says in perfect English, ‘A subject of our tests. This one lasted an hour.’
He presses a button on the console outside the laboratory and to my surprise the inside of the glass rectangle bursts into flames. In a few moments the incineration is over and virtually nothing is left of the poor bastard in the case.
Aziz smiles and says, ‘Fire is the only thing that kills them. If just one single spore of what was in that case ever escaped into the air outside it would mean the death of every human being on the entire planet. I’m sure your president will want to know what it is and how to protect yourselves. Take me to safety please and I will help you.’
The de-briefing of Aziz takes place in the laboratory. Harvey is in no mood for fun and games and gives Aziz a hard time. After about two hours we’ve knocked the cockiness out of him literally, and he’s convinced we’re going to kill him there. So, he opens up a little more. He tells us about the Revelation project, the spores and what they can do. He fires up a computer and shows us a database with everything the ordinary Joe would want to know about making biological weapons. This includes the Revelation production process, and vaccine production.
‘There is no vaccine,’ he says to me, ‘We have tested the spores on over two thousand subjects but none have survived longer than an hour. Without the antibodies from a survivor there is no starting point for the vaccine.’
For ‘safety’ Harvey copies all the files onto a data disk, and puts it into the front pocket of his combats in case the computers are all linked back to Saddam’s base. If he discovers we’ve found the place and have his top guy in captivity he might be able to remotely trash the hard drives.
Aziz is agitated again. He wants to show us something. He opens the laboratory doors and goes into the airlock. We don’t feel comfortable with him going in there alone so we send the grunts back outside the laboratory, back up top to stand guard. Meanwhile we suit up alongside Aziz, head to toe protection, chemically scrubbed before we enter. The door hisses closed behind us. He takes us through another air lock at the far side of the laboratory. Inside is a steel safe with a digital lock and retina recognition security system. He presses the window of his face mask against the scanner and the safe opens. Inside the safe is empty apart from a rack that contains ten sealed glass vials. He turns and looks at me bursting with pride.
‘The Revelation spores,’ he says, hardly containing his joy at being beside enough biochemical horror to destroy every living person on the Earth several billion times over.
‘Amazing,’ says Harvey, picking one of the vials up in his hand and holding it up to the light, ‘The man that has this has the world by its balls.’
‘Better put it back then,’ I say, taking the vial delicately from Harvey and turning towards the safe. Then I feel a stinging blow to the back of my head and everything goes dark.
I have no idea how long I’ve been out of the game but when I regain consciousness my protective suit has been ripped and my head shielding removed. I feel like death. I’m lying flat on my back on the laboratory floor. I can hardly breathe. My head is pounding and my blood feels like glue running through my veins. I’m drenched in sweat, ice cold and desperately need to vomit. With all my effort I manage to roll on my side just as I start projectile vomiting, retching till there’s nothing more to lose, and then some. Lying beside me on the floor is the body of Dr Aziz, his protective clothing ripped and headgear removed. He is in the same sorry state as the dead guy in the glass case, his body twisted all out of shape and his head and exposed skin puck marked with tiny black volcanoes. Apart from us the room is empty, no sign of Harvey. I turn my head towards the safe. The door is wide open. I can see eight vials. Harvey must have taken one then burst another on the laboratory floor just before he left through the airlock and decontamination unit.
‘Count them again,’ says Noone.
‘Yes, eight remaining, I’m sure.’
‘Go on,’ he says.
‘I don’t have the strength to move for what must be a couple of days. I just lie there battling the infection, clinging to life. But gradually I start to recover, slowly but definitely getting stronger. Eventually I have enough strength to get to my feet. I go over to the safe and pick up the remaining vials, then make my way to the airlock. I strip naked and step into it carrying the vials. The chemical scrub tears at my flesh and it is excruciating agony for several minutes, and I think I’m going to collapse. Eventually the ice cold rinsing process kicks in and is a merciful release. The airlock hisses closed behind me sealing in the spores that had been released by Harvey. I stagger through the office and head towards the ramp. As I pass the diesel storage tank I position the eight vials directly beneath it.’
‘When I reach the ramp it’s daylight. I drag myself up the ramp, and once outside head towards the Limo. The two dead Iraqi soldiers are lying in the front seats, their bodies starting to rot and stink. The driver has been shot in the head, but the passenger, the bodyguard, is riddled with bullet holes. He’s the one who has what I want, an AK47. I pull it out of his hands and head back down the ramp just far enough so I can see the diesel tank. I send a burst of gunfire into the tank and skedaddle as quickly as my pain racked body can carry me.’
‘I’m just clear of the ramp when an enormous eruption occurs sending me flying backwards as a huge sheet of flame belches out of the tunnel. The heat is searing and the underground fire burns the rest of the day and into the night. When I feel strong enough again I go back to the Limo and strip the dead driver of his clothes and put them on. I make my way back to the ridge where I find the dead bodies of the remainder of my platoon, all except one. Harvey is missing, as is the Humvee. The grunts have all been shot. Harvey must have opened up on them when they were off their guard, gathered around the fire eating. I sit down on the sand exhausted.’
‘Who are you now?’ asks Noone.
I don’t know! I strain hard to remember but it’s all a fog. I start to feel panic and the scenes in my head swirl away from me in a grey mist. Suddenly I’m back in that room, in that chair. My head is splitting wide open with pain. I scream, long and hard, my body shaking uncontrollably.
‘He’s coming out!’
Patel steps over and starts pulling my lids up and looking closely into my eyes with a pen torch.
‘Do something,’ says Noone from behind me, ‘If he dies…well, I hardly dare think about the consequences.’
The doctor works fast to pump more of the drugs cocktail into my wrist and in moments the pain eases and I’m back in the desert.
It’s night time. I’m determined to survive. I’ve put together sufficient kit stolen from my dead compatriots, sufficient to last a couple of weeks, and I’m on foot heading in the direction of the first rays of the dawn.’
‘Who are you?’ asks Noone, his voice out of nowhere in my head as I march.
There is no hesitation before I say, ‘Sergeant Jake Redwood, 3rd Infantry division…and I don’t know where the fuck I am or what the fuck I’m doing here.’
‘That’s good enough. Bring him round, please Dr Patel,’ says Noone, and the doctor starts to work his magic.
In minutes I’m back in the room with the three of them. I feel utterly exhausted and nauseous. My head is spinning and I have the taste of sweat and blood on my lips from the nightmare I’ve just been through. Jane wipes my face with a cold, damp cloth as Patel starts to remove the needle from my arm, then the bands around my wrists and legs. Noone eases the skull cap off my head and unclips the metal band from across my forehead. Jane and the good doctor take off their masks and gowns and lay them across the tray of instruments, as Noone switches off all the electrical crap he has set up on his desk.
‘You survived, Jek,’ he says almost jovially as he turns his attention back to me and busies himself cleaning up the cuts on my head where the metal band had dug in, ‘You survived because your body is different to that of a human, only slightly, but just enough. Our resistance to infection is greater than that of the human body. You didn’t escape Scott free though. You paid a penalty. The attack on your defensive system caused you to invert to protect your brain from damage. The side effect from this is that you lost all recollection of being one of us, burying all the memories of who you really are deep inside your brain. You’re back with us now, I hope, Jek.’
When my head is once again free to move I turn it towards him and say, ‘Who the fuck is Jek?’
It’s just as I speak that the cell door is suddenly snatched open and the first grenade rolls into the room.
The shock from the stun grenade knocks the air out of my lungs and rattles my brain inside my head and I switch off like a light. When I come round I’m out of the chair and flat on the floor on my stomach with my hands cuffed behind my back. A heavyweight FBI agent in full Ninja kit is kneeling on my spine, and four of his buddies are pinning my shoulders, head and legs to the floor. As my head clears I can see Jane, Noone and poor bewildered looking Dr Patel have been given the same convivial treatment. There are at least twenty Ninjas cramming into the room all cussing and shouting, and threatening that terrible things will befall us all if we dare to move even an eyebrow. A suit is watching from the doorway. He’s wearing a grin right across his smug face, a grin that says mission accomplished, I’ve got the bad guys. This day is just getting better and better.
The Ninjas drag Noone to his feet, guns trained on him at every stage. I’m sure he was as surprised as the rest of us when a few stun grenades suddenly rolled into our little torture chamber, but his eyes look clear enough now. So why doesn’t he plant a vision in their heads and walk right out of here? When he looks at me I can see he knows what I’m thinking.
‘It’s an express ride straight to Krillik,’ he says above the cursing and threats, ‘Let’s see what happens next.’
The Ninjas bundle the four of us upstairs and out the front door. There’s more Fibbies than can fit into a phone box outside, hundreds of them. There’s even a small tank parked on the lawn. Hovering above fighting each other for air space must be at least six choppers, most of them from news channels. There’s a media circus behind a line of cops at the end of this exclusive tree lined suburban street. Camera crews and pretty ladies with microphones jostle for position as the suit goes over to tell them and the rest of the world what a smart guy he is.
Meantime we’re bundled towards a meat wagon parked up just outside, but well within range of the cameras. Patel is siphoned off separately and won’t be joining us. They know he’s CIA so they’ll be taking him straight to them for debriefing. The Ninjas act tough and jostle us along but slow enough so the news guys get decent pictures and they each get their brown envelopes later that month.
Inside the wagon there are two long benches that run the length of the vehicle. We’re invited to sit, two Ninjas pushing us down hard onto the seats then sitting either side. Me and my two minders are sat next to Jane with Noone and his two goons directly opposite. As soon as we’re sat down the wagon fires up and we’re off to our new destination, wherever the hell that is. There are no windows in the wagon. So away we go at speed, rattling through the suburbs, a snake of vehicles in front and behind all with their sirens wailing and lights flashing, screaming for the road ahead to be cleared.
‘It’s okay.’ says Noone to me, ‘We can speak freely. The men in here all believe they are listening to their favorite music through headphones at full volume.’
‘What the hell just happened?’ I say.
Jane gives a little laugh.
‘What?’ I say, turning to look at her.
‘Are you a detective or what? Think it through.’
Noone jumps in, ‘We expected this to happen, Jek,’
The bastard is still calling me Jek!
It’s Jane’s turn, ‘Why do you think we sent the guy that owns the house back there to deliver the bomb then go strolling off down the street with a suitcase in his hand?’
Then it’s as clear as day to me. The bomb in the RV goes off and it kills Krillik. Game over. But what if it didn’t kill him? What if he survived? The FBI would come looking for the perpetrators, and the starting point would be the sucker that drove the RV. He would be picked up on security cameras all over the place. It wouldn’t take the Fibbies long to identify the guy, find out where he lives and send in a SWAT team. But why? Why hang around for Krillik to catch up with you? Noone is looking me in the eyes and can see I’m struggling with the whole mess. He seems to know exactly what I’m thinking.
‘If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, Jek,’ he says, ‘… it’s time for a showdown.’
The meat wagon rolls to a stop and I can hear activity outside, a lot of shouting and barking as the goons get things ready to off load their precious cargo. After a couple of minutes the rear doors open and there stands the suit, the same guy that was back at the house. He’s still wearing the smug, self satisfied grin on his face as he steps inside the wagon and says, ‘Welcome to your new home, ladies and gentlemen.’
The Ninjas pull us to our feet and bundle us towards the back doors of the wagon. There are three steps down to a concrete floor that’s all polished, like lino. We have a welcoming committee, a ring of Ninjas surrounding the wagon. All are in macho poses, lying flat, kneeling or standing, all pointing nasty looking weapons straight at us. When we’re all off the wagon the fussing starts. The suit wants a photo for his album, ‘the day I caught the meanest guys on the planet’ snapshot, one for the Grandkids. The guy’s a moron. A few of the Ninjas want to play so we stand there all trussed up while these goons make memories.
I look around. We’re in a vast, echoing aircraft hanger. The floor is streaked with black tyre tracks, and I suspect the hanger was recently packed full with aeroplanes of some sort. I reckon the place has been cleared out especially for us. Right at the centre of the hangar is what looks like some sort of temporary building made from three metal shipping containers all butted up against each other. There are power cables and other wires leading across the floor to the little complex. When the ego fun time stops the suit turns to me and whispers in my ear.
‘Welcome to Joint Base Andrews, you murdering bastard. This’ll be your new home for a while. Boy, have we got a nice surprise waiting for you.’
End Of Part Eleven