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FROM USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR J. ROBERT KENNEDY
WHO DO YOU TRUST WHEN YOUR COUNTRY TURNS AGAINST ITSELF?
America is in crisis. Dozens of terrorist attacks have killed or injured thousands, and worse, every single attack appears to have been committed by an American citizen in the name of Islam.
A stolen experimental F-35 Lightning II is discovered by CIA Special Agent Dylan Kane in China, delivered by an American soldier reported dead years ago in exchange for a chilling promise.
Chinese Special Forces Officer Lee Fang overhears a conversation that sends her running for her life with information about a threat to America so great, it might be powerless to stop it.
And Chris Leroux is forced to watch as his girlfriend, Sherrie White, is tortured on camera, under orders to not interfere, her continued suffering providing intel too valuable to sacrifice.
From USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy comes a disturbing action thriller that will have readers on the edge of their seat as they try to unravel the truth along with Kane, Leroux and Delta Team-Bravo as they question their own beliefs, their own government, and their own country.
With over 800,000 books sold and over 3000 five-star reviews, USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy has been ranked by Amazon as the #1 Bestselling Action Adventure novelist based upon combined sales. He is the author of over thirty international bestsellers including the smash hit James Acton Thrillers. He lives with his wife and daughter and writes full-time.
"A master storyteller." — Betty Richard
"A writer who tells what we are thinking but sometimes afraid to say." — Bruce Ford
"Kennedy kicks ass in this genre." — David Mavity
"One of the best writers today." — Johnny Olsen
"If you want fast and furious, if you can cope with a high body count, most of all if you like to be hugely entertained, then you can't do much better than J Robert Kennedy." — Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer
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Find out more at www.jrobertkennedy.com.
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“Every step we take towards making the State our Caretaker of our lives, by that much we move toward making the State our Master.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower
“They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.”
The technologies described in this book exist. They are used on a daily basis to protect the United States and its allies from aggressors, both foreign and domestic. When dealing with those foreign threats, we are able to use all of the tools in our arsenal, however when dealing with domestic threats, the Constitution often hinders those who would protect the citizens of what many consider the freest country in the world.
What you are about to read raises an important question:
What happens when the domestic threat is so grave, that it can only be addressed by ignoring the very rights guaranteed to every American, the very tenets that built the greatest nation on Earth?
In today’s day and age of constant vigilance, of constant fears over terrorism, what would happen if the fight, now centered in lands so far away many can’t find them on a map, were to tomorrow suddenly appear on the streets of Detroit, New York City, or Miami? Would the average person cling to their liberties, guaranteed to them for over two centuries by successive democratically elected governments, or would they demand their government violate those freedoms, under the belief that “if you’ve done nothing wrong, then you’ve nothing to hide.”
If we were faced with an evil so terrifying, just how willing would we be to let our government violate our rights to save us?
1301 Second Avenue, Seattle, Washington
Peter Jackson pulled at his longish hair, slowly letting the strands slip though his fingers, the massaging action on the scalp actually a good stress reliever he had discovered in his youth.
But Marybeth does it the best.
He smiled as he remembered the first time she had sat behind him at his favorite watering hole and whispered in his ear.
“Hmmm,” he had nodded, his eyes half closed.
“Let me help.”
And she had stood in the middle of the bar giving him a scalp massage which included the pulling of his hair, something he had never experienced before, and it was wonderful.
No, it was amazing!
It was almost erotic in its delivery, her large breasts looming over him every time he looked up at her, she smiling down at him. But alas, it wasn’t to be. She definitely wasn’t his type, some new age Goth type, he a straitlaced hi-tech wonk struggling to climb the corporate ladder. Not to mention the fact her boyfriend Mike was huge. And a friend.
I wonder whatever happened to her?
He pulled his hair some more as the phone demanded his attention. He hit the speaker, his office door closed, his latest rung climbed garnering him a life outside the cubicle.
Life is good!
“Go for Pete!”
“Is this Mr. Peter Jackson?”
His heart leapt in his chest then stopped, the voice almost mechanical, robotic. Like something from the movies, yet something he had never heard in real life.
And it had to be one of his friends playing a gag on him.
“Mr. Peter Jackson of forty-two Seventy-Eighth Lane?”
He decided to play along as a smile spread across his face. “Yes.”
“You have a wife named Connie and a daughter Elizabeth?”
His eyes narrowed slightly. “Yes.” The smile was gone, the creepiness factor amping up. “Who is this? Is this Dave?”
His buddy Dave Brooklyn was a practical joker, one of the funniest bastards he’d ever met, especially once he had half a dozen brewskies in his system. But bringing his wife and kid into this was starting to cross a line he didn’t think even Dave would dare.
“Mr. Jackson, your identity has been confirmed. You have been drafted by the Caliphate Restoration Army of Mohammad. You are now under our command. If you want no harm to come to your wife Connie or your daughter Elizabeth, you will follow our instructions exactly.”
Jackson’s chest tightened as he stood, staring at the phone. “Okay, listen, whoever this is, this is no longer funny. I’m hanging up now.”
He reached for the button when the monotone voice replied. “If you terminate the call, we will execute your wife and child.” Suddenly the voice changed and he paled, dropping into his seat as he grabbed the phone from its cradle.
“Daddy? Is that you?”
“Yes, sweetheart, are you okay?” Tears filled his eyes as he realized this was no longer a joke, no longer a prank that had crossed the boundaries of good taste.
His daughter’s voice disappeared, replaced by the mechanical monster that had kidnapped his family. “You are about to receive a package. You will sign for it without indicating to the delivery man that anything is wrong.”
“Now.” There was a knock at his office door and he jumped in his seat, nearly shitting his pants. “No tricks, Mr. Jackson, we know everything you are doing. Put the phone back on speaker.”
“No tricks,” he repeated, activating the speaker phone and returning the handset to its cradle. He wiped his eyes dry and took a deep breath. “Come in!”
The door opened and a FedEx driver stepped inside. “Good morning, sir, I’ve got a package here for you.” He lifted it off the dolly and placed it on the corner of Jackson’s desk. Jackson took the handheld computer from the driver and signed, all the while his eyes flitting between the large package and the man, trying to get a sense of whether or not he was in on it.
But he’s our regular guy!
Jackson had no idea what his name was.
Johnson. It’s on his name tag, you idiot.
He knew he had seen Johnson on dozens of occasions, if not hundreds. An office like this had FedEx coming almost every day, and he was their regular deliveryman.
“Careful, it’s marked fragile,” said Johnson with a smile as he closed the door behind him.
Jackson stood by the box. Nothing too large, perhaps the size of a case of bottled beer. “I’ve got the package.” His voice was subdued, broken. Everything up until the arrival of the package had made the entire experience almost surreal with the possibility it could still be a joke, one that his wife had enlisted their daughter’s help in playing.
But knowing exactly to the moment when a FedEx package would arrive?
That made it real.
Unless they’re in the office?
“Open the box, very carefully.”
Jackson retrieved a letter opener from his top-right desk drawer and cut the tape sealing the box, all the while looking out his office’s large, glass walled windows to see if he could spot someone watching him.
And when he folded open the lids, he realized immediately that this was no joke.
And he was in desperate trouble.
“Take off your suit jacket and put on the vest. Carefully. Whatever you do, do not press the red button on the detonator.”
Jackson was shaking now, his entire body barely clinging to reality as his world threatened to collapse around him. He pushed the box away from him, stepping back as his arms stretched out, looking for something to support himself with. He felt the smooth, cool finish of his office door and pushed back against it, wedging his shoulder blades into the corner as his eyes fixated on the open box perched on the corner of his desk.
A suicide vest!
He had seen them in the movies, on TV shows, and of course on the news.
But never in person.
And never had he thought he’d ever have the opportunity.
Not in America.
Not in his home town.
This is insane!
“Remove your jacket, Mr. Jackson.”
His eyes tore away from the box, settling on the phone for only a moment, then returning to the impossible, the unbelievable.
“I won’t ask again, Mr. Jackson.”
How can they know what I’m doing?
He pulled his left arm out of its sleeve, shrugging the jacket off his shoulders, his entire body shaking freely now. Hanging the jacket on the back of the door, he approached the box and looked inside. Suddenly his blinds all closed, sending him to the corner again. He looked at the panel on the corner of his desk, one of the coolest features of his new office. It allowed him to open and close the blinds, dim the lights, control his Bluetooth connected iPhone, it playable through the speakers in the ceiling.
And now it was being used against him.
Which meant they had full access to the corporate network somehow.
Who are these people?
“Now gently remove the vest from the box. Be careful not to touch the red trigger.”
Jackson approached the box, arms outstretched as if he were a zombie and the box contained brains. He gripped the sides, his head held high so he wouldn’t have to look inside, then, taking a deep breath, he looked. And again felt his chest tighten like a vise.
Reaching inside, he carefully picked up the vest, it literally that. No sleeves, open at the front. It looked like something hunters might wear as an extra layer to keep their torso warm but their arms free to shoot. Sewn into the front and back were long red tubes, taped in place, the thread securing them, and at the top of the tubes were wires all leading to a cluster and a rectangle hidden by more black tape, stitched in place. From the rectangle a single wire, rolled in tape disguising whether or not it was actually a single wire, stretched for about two feet, ending in a tube with a red button at the end.
That must be the detonator.
“Put it on, now.”
He nodded, to whom he did not know, but he was certain he was on some sort of camera. With the blinds closed, it had to be something in his office.
Unless they have some sort of thermal camera!
As he eyed the room around him, looking for anything out of the ordinary, he gingerly pushed his right arm through the hole in the vest, then carefully pulled it up to his shoulder. He slowly reached for the detonator, and held it securely, making certain his thumb was nowhere near the button. Sliding his other arm into the vest, he breathed a sigh of relief, grabbing the edge of the desk for support. His knuckles white, he lowered his head and took several deep breaths.
He needed to figure a way out of this, but he was at a loss. His mind was barely processing anything now, fear gripping him completely as if he were slowly being wrapped in a roll of cellophane from chest to feet, with each layer fewer and fewer options remained for escape.
“Now remove the ski mask from the box and put it over your head.”
This is really happening!
He opened his eyes and looked back in the box. A black ski mask sat face up, staring back at him, the hollow eyes seemingly peering into his very soul.
Are you really going to let them kill you? To kill others?
At this point he didn’t care about himself, he only cared about his wife and daughter. He knew where this was heading. They were going to send him out into public and force him to detonate the vest. Which could kill dozens of people. Innocent people. People who had wives and daughters of their own.
You can’t do this!
“Now, Mr. Jackson.”
He reached in and grabbed the mask, gently letting the trigger dangle at his side as he quickly pulled the oppressive wool knitting over his face. He adjusted it so he could see and breathe through the holes provided.
But it still felt claustrophobic.
He could feel his hair, matted in place, already beginning to sweat, the beads of salty discharge trickling down his neck, then his spine. He wondered if it might short circuit the vest if he were to get too sweaty. His heart skipped a beat, wondering if that meant it just wouldn’t work, or if it could go off on its own.
“Very good, Mr. Jackson. We are almost done. Now take the sign from the box, and place it around your neck.”
Another look and his eyes filled with tears as he realized what exactly he was being drafted into. What had they called themselves? His mind raced, trying to remember the words spoken only moments before, the entire conversation a mere fog of memory. Caliphate Restoration Army of Mohammad. They were Islamists. That much was now clear as he retrieved the cardboard sign at the bottom, a string tied off on the top two corners through holes that looked like they had been punched through with a knife and a twist.
The text on it, three simple words, sent chills up and down his spine.
DEATH TO AMERICA.
It was a slogan he had heard a thousand times, a popular refrain from the brainwashed masses of the Muslim world as they burned American flags and effigies of whatever American president happened to be in power at the time, at whatever perceived affront their religious leaders had told them America had committed yet again. Before 9/11 he had paid it little mind, the Iran hostage crisis before his time, the news and world politics a boring thing his dad paid attention to. But after 9/11 he had been enraged like everyone else, cheering the troops on as they exacted our country’s revenge on those who would attack us so brazenly.
Then he had grown numb to it like most others. The wars dragged on, the original intentions questioned, the missions changed, and as each Islamist outrage around the world continued to be perpetrated, he tuned out unless it was on home soil.
And there had been too many of those, even if they were all home grown.
It’s terrifying to think that our own citizens would want to harm our country!
And yet here he was, fitting a sign with those three hateful words around his neck. He retrieved the detonator with his right hand, and stood trembling by the desk side, wondering who they intended him to kill, and why he had been chosen. He wasn’t political, he barely kept up with the news. He and his friends sometimes chit-chatted about what was wrong with the country, he taking the side sometimes that not only the country but the entire West had become too complacent, too politically correct to speak up and face the problem that it was now enveloped in. Muslim immigration wasn’t compatible with the Judeo-Christian Western world. Most Muslims were perfectly nice people who wanted to live in peace with those around them, but they wanted to live in peace in a culture that matched theirs.
A reasonable aspiration, he thought. Americans love America. Why? Because it’s the greatest country the world has ever known, built with the blood, sweat and tears of pioneers who left their homes, crossed an ocean, and helped create the greatest democracy and military power in history. But if our country turned to shit for some reason, and we were forced to leave, would we immigrate to other countries and live with the locals, or would we seek out other Americans, and try to set up America-Town or some equivalent. Most likely we’d try to do that if we moved to Mexico, where the culture might be too different for some. But if we moved to Canada, would we really try to set up our own communities, or just blend in with a local population so similar to ours.
He had bet on the latter, which his friends hadn’t really argued with. His point had been that when Muslims were forced to leave their countries because of war or other intolerable conditions, they came to America or Canada or the United Kingdom and wanted to live in peace. But when they found the country they had moved into so dramatically different than anything they could have imagined, they moved into enclaves with other Muslims, trying to set up their own “Mini-Iran” as Axel Rose had so delicately put it years ago.
And with those enclaves, a bubble quickly formed blocking out the reality of the culture they were living within, inspiring leaders to step up demanding the West change its laws and ways to permit their backward ways of thinking if looked at from a Western perspective where we are in some cases centuries ahead. And when a new generation of youth, born into these enclaves, citizens of their new country, are preached to day in and day out that their own country, the adopted country of their parents, hated them and their ways because they refused to let women be covered head to toe, refused to allow Sharia law, refused to change zoning for a Mosque, refused to condemn Israel for defending itself, these children quickly learned to hate. To hate those different from them, to hate their own country.
He had thought it so blatantly obvious that he found it impossible to believe that his government hadn’t come to the same conclusions. Western Europe certainly was noticing it, but was it too late? New citizenship tests and courses in the UK, right wing anti-Muslim parties winning more and more seats, Holland repealing multiculturalism, France banning the burqa. These countries were beginning to fight back, but was it too little too late when millions lived within your borders, many born there with the full rights of citizenship.
The discussion with his friends over beers had been prompted by the outrages of Boko Haram and the kidnapping of the several hundred girls, and had been one of the more spirited ones, all of them arguing passionately about the same thing, even their buddy in London joining in over Skype missing his morning “Tube” as he called it.
Jackson sighed. That was the most political he had ever gotten. And he wasn’t even sure how political it was. It wasn’t a Republican or Democratic thing, it wasn’t Left of Right. It was preserving our way of life against an enemy determined to end it. It was Capitalism versus Communism, the good old days of the Cold War. Two fundamentally different visions for the world, determined to wipe out the other.
And now here he was, turned into a pawn of the enemy.
His cellphone rang in his pocket.
“Answer your phone.”
He reached in and answered the call. “Hello?”
“Hang up the phone on your desk.”
It was the same voice. He complied.
“Now listen carefully. You will walk out of your office, walk to the center of the floor, stand up on a desk, and yell ‘Allahu Akbar’ three times, each time thrusting your free hand into the air. Then you will press the detonator. We will then release your wife and daughter. Repeat these instructions.”
Tears poured down Jackson’s face as he carefully repeated the instructions, his shoulders slumping, his chin dropping to his chest as he realized he had only moments to live, and it was his friends and co-workers who he was to kill.
And those who survived would think he did this to them, not the madmen on the other end of the phone.
“Very good, now proceed.”
He sucked in a deep breath.
“You will proceed or we will kill your wife and daughter, starting with your daughter.”
“I won’t do it, not until I’ve spoken to them. I want to say goodbye.” His voice cracked on the last word, the tears blinding him, his entire world a blur as if looking through a water feature wall, rivulets of pain and anguish trickling from the top to the bottom, then escaping and burning hot salty streaks down his cheeks down to his neck and chest.
“Peter, is that you?”
The voices of his two most precious possessions killed him. There was no doubting they had them both, and there was no doubting if they were willing to have him kill dozens or more, they wouldn’t hesitate to kill two more innocents to attain their goal. But just hearing their voices seemed to make everything okay, everything normal again for just a brief instance.
“Yes, it’s me. Are you two okay?” It was everything he could do to control his voice, to portray the strength he felt he needed to as a man, as a father, as a husband. He knew they must be terrified, and it was up to him to save them.
“Just scared, honey. What’s going on?”
He could hear the fear in his wife’s voice, but also the forced strength as they both tried to shield their daughter from the horror around her. “Have you heard the conversation?”
“No, we’re in a room. Somebody’s with us and they just told us you were on the phone.”
“Okay, Lizzy darling, Mommy and I have to talk about your birthday, okay, so Mommy’s going to cover your ears.”
His heart almost broke as the excitement in her voice over the prospect of her birthday wiped away all fear that might have been in the little six year old’s heart.
“Okay, go ahead.”
“They’re forcing me to wear a suicide bomb vest—”
“Oh my God!” His wife’s voice cracked, her spirit breaking as his own control slowly lost grip.
“They want me to blow up my office or they’ll kill you and Lizzy.”
His wife was sobbing now and behind it he could hear the innocent gentle humming of his daughter as she tried to do her part in not hearing the conversation, a tune, a beautiful simple tune he had heard a thousand times before breaking through over the gasps and cries of his wife, finally sent him over the edge as he realized he would never hear the song again.
“I’m sorry, hon, but I can’t think of anything to do, anyway out of this. I asked them for a chance to say goodbye and they agreed. Once this is over with, they’re supposed to let you two go free.”
“Oh, Pete, I’m so sorry! I don’t know what to say! My mind is a mess!”
“Just say you love me, and you forgive me.”
“Of course I love you, and forgive you for what? You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Yet.” His chest heaved as the tears flowed and his sinuses began to clog. “Today I’m just a normal guy, tomorrow I’ll be a villain, hated by everyone. You need to make sure they know I was forced to do this.”
“I promise you, Pete, they’ll know. No one will ever believe you did this willingly. Not your parents, not your friends. No one.”
“I love you, Connie, with all my heart.”
“I love you too.”
“Put Lizzy back on.”
“Oh, God, Pete. Please don’t let this be the end. Please!”
“I’m so sorry.” He sucked in a deep breath and held it, trying to build up the strength to say goodbye to his daughter.
“Hi, sweetie. Listen, Daddy has to go now, and I just wanted you to know that I love you, okay?”
“I love you too, Daddy!”
“Good. Now you listen to your mother, and you be good for her, okay?”
“Okay. What are you getting me for my birthday?”
A sob erupted from him as he pictured her sitting at the kitchen table next week, her party cancelled, her mother a mess, her life collapsing around her as the world vilified her daddy.
“It’s a surprise, honey. Now Daddy’s got to go, okay?”
“Okay, bye Daddy.”
“Bye sweetie.” His finger hovered over the trigger, part of him wanting to end his pain now, but he knew he had to follow their instructions to the letter. “Good bye, Connie. I love you. Forever.”
The conversation was cut off, the mechanical voice, emotionless, replacing the tortured voice of his wife. “You have said your goodbyes. Now do you remember your instructions?”
“Y-yes,” he gasped. He glanced over at the clock on the wall, just his eyes, and noted it was almost noon. The floor would begin to empty out if it wasn’t already, as the staff headed for lunch. If he could just delay things he might save lives. “Just give me a minute to compose myself.”
He carefully let the detonator hang by his side as he blew his nose several times, clearing his sinuses as best he could, tossing the tissues in the trash. A few draws from his bottle of Diet Pepsi moistened his rapidly drying mouth, then he suddenly dropped to his knees, ripping his face mask off as he retched into the waste basket, he watched in horror as the trigger bounced off the floor, the red button touching the carpet as it hit at an angle, the button not depressing.
He grabbed for it, securing it in his hand as he rid himself of his breakfast, then wiped his face clean.
“It is time.”
He nodded. “Give me a second, I just vomited.”
“No more delays.”
“I’m not delaying.” He took another large swig of his pop, swished it around his mouth then spit it into the garbage can. He checked himself in the mirror, confirming he had no vomit on his clothes or face, then pulled the face mask back in place as he eyed the clock roll 12:01. “I’m ready.”
He sucked in a few deep breaths, his hand gripping the knob of the door, then slowly opened it, peering out to see if anyone had noticed him yet, then peaked around the corners. And almost smiled. As he had hoped, the hallways were filled as people rushed out for lunch. No one paid him any mind, even those going past him, their minds in another world as they debated what to have for lunch, and where.
He walked down the aisle, following the flow, then turned toward where his old cubicle used to be, the phone still held to his ear. Suddenly his buddy Jake Davidson popped up from his chair and grinned. “Hey, is that you Pete? What’s with the ski mask? I was just about to come see you, see if you wanted to go slumming. A few of us are going to Molly’s for l—” Davidson’s eyes bulged. “Oh my God!”
Jackson looked at his friend but said nothing, using every fiber of his being to try and convey the only message possible at that moment.
Davidson stood frozen, then finally comprehended what was happening and tore out of his office, sprinting to the far wall where he had a direct line to the stairwell.
“Run! There’s a bomb!” he screamed at the top of his lungs as soon as he reached the wall, “There’s a bomb!”
Screams erupted as Jackson climbed on the desk of his old cubicle, giving the others a focal point to run away from. He raised his fist in the air and shouted, “Allahu Akbar!” More screams erupted as those not paying attention jumped from their desks, realizing whatever was happening wasn’t a joke. He slowly lowered his hand then pumped it in the air again, each precious second he delayed as he followed his captors’ instructions to the letter, saving lives. “Allahu Akbar!”
A beep emitted from the vest, and he realized he had gone too far.
The pain was intense and instantaneous as Peter Jackson of 42 78th Lane erupted into a ball of flame and terror, the first draftee in a new army determined to fulfill the goal first chanted by crowds of believers in 1979 Tehran.
Death to America!
Site 10, U.S. Air Force Plant 42
The Skunk Works
Three days later
Major Jason “Ticker” Miller gave the thumbs up to the Crew Chief and pushed the throttle forward on the F-35B Lighting II, one of the world’s most advanced Fifth Generation fighter aircraft. Taxying to Runway 07 he received clearance from the tower and pushed the throttle forward hard, the single engine shoving him into the back of the seat, a feeling he would never tire of, and a feeling he knew he would never experience again.
For today was the day he knew he would die.
As he cleared the runway, gaining altitude, he banked hard to the right, pushing it full throttle as he hugged the deck. Disabling his transponder, he turned off the radio, the tower already protesting and instead spoke into his mike, knowing the cockpit voice recorder would tape everything and that someday his family might hear why he was doing what he was doing.
He checked for threats but the display showed clear as he rapidly chewed up the two hundred miles to the Mexican border.
“This is Major Jason Miller, United States Air Force. This message is for my family, friends and fellow servicemen. What I do today I do not do willingly. I love my country, I love my job, and I love the American way of life. I would never do anything to hurt my country, nor anything that might lead to harming my country. But today I have no choice. My wife and two sons have been kidnapped by Islamic terrorists, and I have been coerced into stealing this aircraft. If I do not, they have assured me they will be killed in a most gruesome”—his voice cracked and he sucked in a breath, trying to keep it together—“and horrible manner.”
He paused as he noticed two Raptors being scrambled toward his position. He ignored them, the border only two minutes away, and the Raptors behind him with no hope of catching him. He wished it wasn’t so. To be splashed by two of his comrades, taken out of the game while he betrayed his country, would be a far more preferable way to go, but he had followed the instructions to the letter, not willing to risk his family being killed for his failure to deliver.
He just prayed the United States Air Force would be able to retrieve the aircraft before it was handed over to some foreign power like China or Russia. He had wondered why a terrorist group would want the plane. Using it would be almost impossible since it was unarmed and they would need to be trained on it. The thought had crossed his mind that they would force him to train them, but it would still be unarmed. Then, last night as he gripped his baby son’s teddy bear in one hand and his Glock in the other, he had figured it out.
They were planning on selling the plane to raise funds for their cause.
He was certain the Chinese or Russians, hell, even the North Koreans or Iranians, would pay hundreds of millions for the plane. A fully functional Fifth Generation fighter jet, one of the most advanced aircraft in the world, would fast-forward any country by years, and for backwaters like Iran, decades.
If they could figure it out.
He had some doubt of that, but was also pretty certain if there was a bidding war, the Chinese would win.
And they could definitely figure it out.
Under any other circumstances he’d have reported the phone call he received last night, but it was his family. His wife, his sons, Jimmy Jr. not even a year old yet.
He knew he was betraying his country, and it broke his heart, he a true patriot. But he also knew his country better than most, and knew the capabilities of its military and intelligence resources. They would find the plane, they would retrieve it. Of that he had no doubt.
Which gave him a slight amount of comfort that in the end the damage to his country would be minimized.
I wonder if anyone will ever know.
Something like this would be hushed up for certain, but the way the press were nowadays, they didn’t give a second thought to what was good for the country, they were merely obsessed with the scoop, the rush to be first to broadcast the latest government gaffe or tragedy.
He just hoped somebody would get this recording someday so his name might be cleared.
I just hope Dad forgives me.
He felt himself begin to choke up as his thoughts moved to his father, a proud Air Force man who had been prouder still the day his son had received his wings. And he knew he’d be torn apart by the stories that would be told of him should he not succeed in freeing his wife and children by sacrificing his own life.
They’ll tell their story, then everyone will know.
“If anyone should find this recording, and is able to, please let my wife and children know that I love them, and that I did this to save them. And to my parents, I’m sorry. I hope you understand why I did this, and find it in your hearts to forgive me for what I’ve done. And to any American military who might hear this.” He paused as he struggled to control himself, the Mexican border whipping past, the trailing Raptors breaking off. “Avenge me.”
He punched the GPS coordinates into the onboard computer and turned slightly west, toward the coast, and minutes later was over the coordinates he had been given.
And his heart sank.
He had images of some amateur-hour Islamic group with a flatbed truck. Instead what he spotted from the air was an entire convoy of transport vehicles of varying sizes, all disguised with bright advertising, everything from Coca-Cola to Old Spice about to make off with pieces of his aircraft.
Which means they’ll have to hack it apart so at least it will never fly again.
This made him smile as he began a vertical landing on a clearing off the highway ringed with men and equipment, one guiding him down visually. He felt the jolt of a poorly executed landing, his nerves getting the better of him, and before he had finished powering down someone was tapping on his canopy. He finished his checklist as he opened the canopy, the shouts of a couple dozen voices quickly surrounding him as he manned up, pushing his emotions aside. Unbuckling himself, he climbed out of the aircraft and down to the ground.
Immediately he was flanked by two men, led away to the road he had spotted off the clearing. As he looked around him his mind began to reel. A couple of dozen well organized men were swarming the aircraft, tools as advanced and appropriate as any he had seen at the Skunk Works deployed, dismantling his state of the art plane, parts already being loaded into the back of a waiting truck.
But these weren’t terrorists. At least not Middle Eastern terrorists.
What the hell is going on here?
A gun was shoved into his hand and before he could think it was removed, the gloved man slipping it into a Ziploc bag and running toward a landing chopper, a civilian job with US registration tag on its tail. It was airborne within seconds, heading north, for what purpose he couldn’t imagine.
“What’s going on here?” he asked.
“Exercise,” replied a man whose bearing suggested senior officer. “Major Miller, I presume.”
“And you are?”
“Need to know, Major.”
Miller’s eyes narrowed. “You’re military. American. Why would you do this? Why would you steal an F-35? Why would you kidnap my family?”
“No idea what you’re talking about Major,” replied the man as the first truck pulled away. Miller looked over his shoulder at the plane and his jaw dropped at how much of the fuselage had already been removed. There was no doubt these men knew exactly what they were doing, and had been trained in their task.
Which meant reassembly and deployment was entirely possible.
The man in charge pointed to a waiting car then walked away, leaving Miller to wonder what the hell was happening. He was marched to the car, placed in the back with Military Police precision, then on his way north. Two men were in the front seats, a divider between them and him preventing any conversation.
He didn’t bother trying.
What is going on?
The car suddenly stopped, the two front seat occupants climbing out. His door was opened, nothing said. It was apparent they wanted him out so he obliged, looking at the driver’s face, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses, his face a chiseled specimen right out of any seasoned army platoon.
With no emotion.
A gun was handed to him by the passenger. “It has one bullet. Fire it in the air.”
They’re going to kill me. They’re going to make it look like suicide.
And he couldn’t have that, he couldn’t have his family thinking he had killed himself.
“What’s going on here? You guys aren’t Muslim terrorists. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re Special Ops. American Special Ops. You promised me you’d free my wife and sons. Where are they? I want to see them.”
“Take the gun, fire the one bullet in the air.”
“Not before I talk to my family.”
“Follow my instructions and we’ll let you talk to your family.”
Miller realized he had no options here. He was going to die, of that there was no doubt. But he wasn’t willing to die on their terms, or at least not completely on their terms. He reached forward with his left hand, taking the gun. A momentary debate had him trying to shoot one of them but the driver’s gun was suddenly placed against his left temple from behind.
“Fire the gun, Major.”
Miller sighed, then raised the weapon in the air, squeezing the trigger. The shot startled him slightly, the desert-like expanse he found himself in nearly silent otherwise. A few birds took to the air in protest, and before he had the satisfaction of getting away with his little deception of leaving the powder burns on the wrong hand, he felt the driver’s gun press a little harder against his head, the slight movement as the trigger was squeezed leading him to close his eyes, and pray to God his family would be safe.
Kunlun Mountains, China
Three days later
CIA Special Agent Dylan Kane lay completely still, his breath steady as he stared through his binoculars, the digitally enhanced image giving him the best view any American had yet of the massive Kunlun complex built into the side of a mountain. It was China’s Area 51, unknown to the world except to those with the highest of security clearances in both the Chinese and American spheres, including a few black ops specialists like himself.
He had been observing the top secret facility for two days now, more on a hunch than anything solid. An F-35B Lightning II prototype had been stolen three days ago, the event hushed up so barely anyone in the Pentagon knew about it, let alone the press. The plane had been flown by its pilot across the border to Mexico, then it vanished without a trace, the pilot’s body found on the side of a lonely highway the next day, a single gunshot to the head.
The file had been sent to his tablet as part of the emergency flash traffic, all agents to be on the lookout for any hint as to where the priceless aircraft had been taken. The preliminary file had it a murder-suicide, the pilot’s wife and children, including a ten month old baby, were found shot to death in their home with his personal weapon, his service weapon used to kill himself with after he had stolen the aircraft.
The red flags in the intelligence community were several fold. One, he was right handed, but shot himself with his left. This made no sense, so the thinking was he was trying to send a message that he hadn’t done this willingly. Two, the fact he shot himself, or someone made it look like he had, meant the airplane had been landed safely. And three, the fact they couldn’t find the airplane anywhere near where he was found suggested someone had been waiting to take it.
To Kane it was clear that poor Major Miller had been the victim of extortion. Give us the plane or we kill your family. The question was who had done it? Russians, Chinese, North Koreans? They all had the resources and will to pull off such a heist. Iran, Islamic terrorists? He doubted it. Iran couldn’t risk being caught. They’d be bombed back into the dark ages since there was little they could do to retaliate. Russians, Chinese and North Koreans could risk it because they had enough of a military deterrent to not have to worry about military retaliation, and terrorists could risk it since they had no real country, but their capabilities were limited.
When the flash had arrived, he had been “in the neighborhood” so had popped into Shanghai using his well-established cover as an insurance investigator for Shaw’s of London. He quickly made his way to the Kunlun region where a supply drop was waiting for him including the ghillie suit he now wore, the custom fitted camouflage often used by snipers allowing him to blend in with his terrain.
His hunch was that if the Chinese were involved, they would take the plane here, their most secret of facilities. He was less than a hundred yards from the entrance, the terrain left to seed so as to help conceal the true nature of the installation, it allowing him to blend in easily and slowly advance upon the entrance.
There was little hiding the massive runway nearby that allowed any size aircraft to land with room to spare, however between flights camouflage netting would automatically deploy, disguising it from eyes in the sky. And the two times he had seen the runway used so far, he had noted they were timed to occur when the known eyes in the sky weren’t overhead.
Unfortunately for the Chinese they weren’t aware of all the birds the various intelligence organizations of the United States Government had placed over the planet.
And it also ignored the fact the latest satellites could look at extreme angles across massive distances, straight into that hangar door that Kane noticed was now opening.
Grinding of gears to his right had him turn slowly as a convoy of trucks appeared, at least twenty strong with a large military escort. He was on the edge of the road now, the sun low on the horizon, the mountain containing the Kunlun facility casting a massive shadow over his position, and he was confident this was what he had been waiting for. He stuffed his binoculars in his pocket and fired a piezoelectric transducer at the main doors of the complex, the first half of a transmitter designed to bridge data streams between opposite sides of thick steel. Holstering his weapon, he straightened himself parallel to the road, then waited as the first half dozen vehicles went by. He spotted a large eighteen wheeler.
Pulling a hook from his utility belt, he rolled quickly onto the road and under the truck, reaching up and grabbing on to the undercarriage with the hook. He was suddenly jerked along at nearly twenty miles per hour, his body bouncing on the ground as he pulled another hook from his utility belt and reached up, securing it to a part of the undercarriage near his waist. Pulling back and forth on a ratchet attached to his belt, he was slowly drawn up off the ground and was soon hugging the undercarriage as the sound of everything around him changed.
As the vehicle rolled into the complex, a complex no American had ever seen before, he swung himself 90 degrees and fired the second half of the transmitter at the door, both halves designed to decay within twelve hours, leaving nothing but a stain behind. The piezoelectric transducers would use ultrasound to transmit his data through the steel doors when they were closed, allowing his transmissions to still be received.
He pressed the inside of his watch band three times, activating extremely sensitive audio and video surveillance equipment, everything streaming to his phone then sent on a special carrier wave to transmitting equipment he had set up outside that would beam the data directly to a satellite stationary overhead. Langley would be already receiving his signal, which meant if he didn’t survive, at least they’d know where he died.
The convoy rolled deeper into the complex, slowly now. He lowered himself a couple of feet so he could see out the sides. The walls were rock, the tunnel bored through years before. Along the sides lay piles of neatly stacked supplies, massive amounts of tinned food and water, as if the Chinese were expecting to have to hole up here for a while.
Do they know something we don’t?
All he did know was that he had to get out of this convoy otherwise he’d be stuck in some secure area, hopelessly trapped.
He unhooked the first rope he had used, reeling it back in some, then hooked it as far to the right as he could reach. He unhooked the second line and swung over. The tunnel was dark, the Chinese obviously observing protocol while the convoy entered and the doors were open to prying eyes. Only dimmed headlights, filtered from shining up, lit the area, and fortunately for Kane they were doing a bad job of it.
Kane saw his moment ahead, a gap in the supplies. He reached up and grabbed the release on the hook. Squeezing it, he hit the ground and rolled, years of training and experience having it timed perfectly so he slid into the gap he had spotted. He remained still, listening for any shouts or change in the vehicles’ speed indicating he might have been seen, but heard nothing.