USA TODAY and BARNES & NOBLE #1 BESTSELLING AUTHOR • “A MASTER STORYTELLER” • OVER 800,000 BOOKS SOLD • OVER 3,000 FIVE STAR REVIEWSTHE VICE PRESIDENT’S DAUGHTER HAS BEEN KIDNAPPEDDELTA IS UNLEASHED ON THOSE RESPONSIBLE!Doctor Sarah Henderson, daughter of the Vice President, is kidnapped from an Ebola clinic, triggering an all-out effort to retrieve her by America’s elite Delta Force just hours after a senior government official from Sierra Leone is assassinated in a horrific terrorist attack while visiting the United States. As Sarah battles impossible odds and struggles to prove her worth to her captors who have promised she will die, she’s forced to make unthinkable decisions to not only try to save her own life, but those dying from one of the most vicious diseases known to mankind, all in the hopes an unleashed Delta Force can save her before her captors enact their horrific plan on an unsuspecting United States.Payback, the first installment of the new Delta Force Unleashed series based on the internationally bestselling James Acton Thrillers series, propels the Delta Force’s Bravo Team into its most challenging mission yet, where they face an enemy with an unknown agenda, and an invisible virus that threatens to kill not only them, but the ones they hold most dear.
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FROM USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR J. ROBERT KENNEDY
THE VICE PRESIDENT’S DAUGHTER HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED IN EBOLA RAVAGED SIERRA LEONE AND DELTA HAS BEEN UNLEASHED ON THOSE RESPONSIBLE!
Doctor Sarah Henderson, daughter of the Vice President, is kidnapped from an Ebola clinic, triggering an all-out effort to retrieve her by America’s elite Delta Force just hours after a senior government official from Sierra Leone is assassinated in a horrific terrorist attack while visiting the United States. As Sarah battles impossible odds and struggles to prove her worth to her captors who have promised she will die, she’s forced to make unthinkable decisions to not only try to save her own life, but those dying from one of the most vicious diseases known to mankind, all in the hopes an unleashed Delta Force can save her before her captors enact their horrific plan on an unsuspecting United States.
Payback, the first installment of the new Delta Force Unleashed series based on the internationally bestselling James Acton Thrillers series, propels the Delta Force’s Bravo Team into its most challenging mission yet where they face an enemy with an unknown agenda and an invisible virus that threatens to kill not only them, but the ones they hold dearest.
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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“People are still dying horrible deaths in an outbreak that has already killed thousands. We can't let our guard down and allow this to become double failure, a response that was slow to begin with and is ill-adapted in the end. It is extremely disappointing that states with biological-disaster response capacities have chosen not to utilize them. How is it that the international community has left the response to Ebola—now a transnational threat—to doctors, nurses and charity workers?”
Dr. Joanne Liu, Médecins Sans Frontières
Joeblow, Liberia is a town so small it doesn’t even appear on most maps. Yet if you were to Google it today, you would find hundreds of hits, for it is now a town that should never be forgotten.
A town where just recently, the last mother died.
Since the Ebola outbreak began in late 2013, early 2014, every single mother in the small town has died, it tradition that the women of the village take care of the sick, and without the proper knowledge or equipment, these caregivers inevitably contracted the virus themselves, again being cared for by the surviving women.
I wonder who took care of the last mother.
This book deals with difficult topics, with much of the imagery taken from actual accounts, photos and reports of the outbreak. It was difficult at times to write, and I am sure will be difficult at times to read.
But this virus cannot be ignored.
And discussing it must not be avoided simply because it makes us uncomfortable.
Howard University Hospital, Washington, D.C.
“I’m afraid it’s bad news.”
Command Sergeant Major Burt “Big Dog” Dawson felt his chest tighten at the words. To say he was surprised would be a lie. He had known all along what the answer would be, but until it was confirmed, they had all been in a holding pattern, waiting, wondering, helpless. He could hear the feet shuffling in the room, no one sitting, no one talking, everyone waiting, hoping for the best, fully expecting the worst.
And now that their worst fears were confirmed, it made no difference.
They were still helpless.
Their friend was still dying.
Dawson had known him for years—many years—and had never seen fear on his face until today. And he thought nothing less of him, none of them did. If he were to die today from what had happened, he would die a hero. History would decide whether or not their overall mission had been a success, but history could never question that this man had done the right thing, had put the life of others before his own, despite the fact he had a family, a son.
He tore his eyes away from his friend, a friend who felt a million miles away on the other side of the isolation chamber’s glass walls as he felt the tiny hand in his squeeze harder. He looked down at the little boy whose father lay so close yet so far away.
And the grip on his chest ratcheted another notch tighter as he saw the fear on his Godson’s face. He looked at his friend’s wife, Shirley, a woman he had also known for years, a woman he respected immensely, who had never questioned her husband’s career choice, his constantly being called away at the last minute, the nature of the job not only preventing him from telling her to where, but making it necessary for them both to lie to their family and friends.
For no one could know they were Delta Force. Officially 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, they were America’s elite Special Forces, created in 1977 by Colonel Charles Beckwith as an answer to the growing threat of terrorism around the world. After an ignominious beginning in the deserts of Iran during the Iran Hostage Crisis—known as Operation Eagle Claw—they had served with honor and distinction, successfully carrying out hundreds of missions over the ensuing decades.
Their failures were few.
And despite his friend now lying in a hospital bed, dying, there was no way he was going to let anyone think his friend had failed, even if he himself had. Dawson blamed himself for what had happened. He had been too slow, their enemy far better prepared, far better connected than they had anticipated.
They had been betrayed.
And he should have anticipated it.
He exchanged glances with the rest of the team, all their faces impassive, their concern revealed only by their eyes and their silence. Shirley tried to speak but the words got caught in her throat. She turned to Dawson, her eyes beseeching him to take over.
“What’s the word, Doc?”
The doctor’s face was grim with a hint of fear, this the man who had taken care of his friend since the moment he had arrived.
And he, along with several others on Bravo Team, had all been exposed.
“The testing confirms Mr. Belme has Ebola.”
Shirley gasped out a cry and nearly collapsed, two of his men catching her and helping her into a chair. Bryson began to cry, more because his mother was crying rather than an understanding of what was really going on. He hugged Dawson’s leg, hard. Dawson patted him on the head as he battled to control his own emotions.
“What’s the prognosis? I’ve heard the fatality rate is up to ninety-percent.”
“With the massive dose he received, and the method in which it was delivered—I hesitate to guess.”
Dawson looked at his friend through the glass. He was asleep and hadn’t heard the verdict. He’d at least have a few more minutes of peace before the horror of his new reality would set in.
And Dawson swore he’d kill the man responsible.
The man responsible for infecting the best friend he had ever had.
Master Sergeant Mike “Red” Belme.
Across from the Norfolk Waterside Marriott Convention Center Norfolk, Virginia Four days earlier
“Let me take the shot, BD.”
Command Sergeant Major Burt “Big Dog” Dawson shook his head, peering through his binoculars at the scene across the street. He was prone on a rooftop across from the Norfolk Waterside Marriott Convention Center with three of his men and a sniper team from his unit. Sergeant Carl “Niner” Sung, the best sniper he had ever known, had made the request. A request Dawson so desperately wanted to approve.
“Negative. Kill him, the rest of the hostages die.”
“But I’d feel so good putting an extra hole in this bastard’s head.”
“You’ll get your chance before the day’s out.”
They had been training at the Unit just a few hours ago when word had come down the pipe that the Secretary of Defense had been taken hostage along with another twenty-two guests at a conference. Security had been tight but light, relying more on the small size of the conference, its rather contained location, and the fact no one knew he was going to be there.
But somebody had known.
And leaked it.
Their best guess was eight hostiles, the security team forced to stand down the moment a waiter serving drinks placed a weapon against the Secretary’s head.
It was a no win situation. If the detail of eight were made up of his own men, he would have taken the shot knowing full well that his team would eliminate anyone else that popped up.
But that was what they trained for, day in and day out, and on far too many occasions actually put into practice. They were all Delta Force operators, part of Bravo Team, led by him, though command structure in Delta was quite loose. They were all Non-Commissioned Officers, NCO’s, sergeants, the grunts of the trade. Officers might run the wars, but a soldier in the trench didn’t run to his Lieutenant for advice when his ass was under fire, he ran to his sergeant. Sergeants were the true leaders of men on the battlefield, experienced, well trained, and used to the trenches where the men they led suffered, not the command tents the officers usually found themselves in.
His men were Delta Force, the most highly trained group of soldiers in the world, and the only military unit in the entire US Armed Forces that could legally operate on American soil, the President having the sole authority to suspend Posse Comitatus if he saw fit.
Which was why they were legally present here today beyond just an advisory capacity. Local SWAT had been pulled back, and were none too pleased at first, but Dawson had assuaged their commander’s ruffled feathers fairly easily.
“If this turns into a Charlie-Foxtrot and the Secretary of Defense gets killed, do you want us to take the blame, or you?”
The man hadn’t replied, but Dawson could tell he was processing the words.
“If we screw up, we take the blame. If we succeed, we were never here, you take the credit. Either way, it’s win-win for you.”
The man pursed his lips then sighed. “You’re Delta, aren’t you?”
Dawson shook his head with a slight smile. “Never heard of them. Some kind of airline or something?”
The man had laughed, the ice broken. “I’m a former Ranger. So are some of my men. If Delta—or whoever—wants to take over, we’d be honored to back them up.”
With the majority of the Delta Force being made up of former US Army Rangers, support had been quickly garnered and local SWAT was now securing the perimeter, keeping the cameras out of sight. With today’s 24/7 live news coverage, one of the last things they needed were the terrorists inside watching a live feed of his assault on their building.
Which was why Control back at Fort Bragg was monitoring every news feed whether over the air, satellite, cable or Internet, for any possible leaks. Cutting cable and power meant nothing nowadays. With cellphones and satphones there was pretty much no way you could guarantee your hostiles’ communications had been terminated.
So the press was kept back.
The shot rang out, a crack that echoed between the buildings, and yet another hostage crumpled to the ground, the terrorist saying nothing, merely turning on his heel and walking back inside, his back to the police, a final insult to law and order in this great country, knowing they wouldn’t dare touch him.
“Zero-One, Zero-Two. We’re in position, ready to breach, over.”
It’s about damned time.
He didn’t blame his second-in-command, Master Sergeant Mike “Red” Belme. Maps of the sewage system had been late to arrive, but as soon as they had, it had only taken fifteen minutes for Red’s team to get into position. Red was his best friend. Dawson had been best man at his wedding and was Godfather to Red’s young son, Bryson. He trusted Red with his life, as he did every single man on his team. They had been through hell and back over the years, and he’d die for any one of them.
But let’s try to avoid that today.
“Acknowledged. Control, Zero-One. We’re ready to execute. Advise of any flags on the play, over.”
“Zero-One, Control, you’re cleared for entry, over.”
“Roger that, Control. Bravo Team, Zero-One. Eliminating rooftop targets in three, two, one, execute!”
Two muffled but still loud shots could be heard, Niner’s M24A2 Sniper Weapon System firing a shot at incredible velocity across the street to the target rooftop. Before the report even registered the target was down, a moment later the second target dropped, taken out by another sniper team on the opposite side of the building.
“Control, Zero-One. Any sign of activity, over?”
“Negative, Zero-One, you’re still clear, over.”
Two down, six to go. Or more.
He rose, the sun low in the horizon behind them, at just the perfect angle to blind anyone who might be looking out the window of their target building. But according to Control they were clear. Sergeant’s Will “Spock” Lightman, Trip “Mickey” McDonald and Eugene “Jagger” Thomas stepped up beside him. “Ready?” he asked, already knowing the answer. These guys were the definition of born ready.
Spock cocked an eyebrow. “Aren’t we always?”
“Then let’s do it.”
He raised his grappling gun, took aim at the roof below them and fired, the hook sailing through the air dragging a coil of rope sitting at his feet. Three more fired beside him, the lines arcing gracefully and silently through the air, embedding with a thud into the concrete below, small puffs of pulverized concrete dust indicating the impact points.
They quickly tightened off all four lines and Dawson hooked his harness to the rope and stepped to the edge, the others doing the same. “Bravo Team, Zero-One, proceeding to target rooftop, over.”
He stepped off, leaning back in the harness and slid down the steep incline. This was always the exciting moment for him, his heart skipping a few beats as he eyeballed the hook at the other end, wondering if it would pull out. If it came loose before he was too far, he could brake then swing backward, hard into the building he had just come from, and depending upon physics, he would probably survive with a few broken bones, perhaps just some bruises.
But once past the point where the rope was longer than the drop to the ground, he was hitting pavement no matter what he did.
And those broken bones might never mend properly.
Which would mean he’d be out of the Unit.
I’d rather be dead.
He wasn’t sure if he actually meant it. There were enough men in Delta that had been injured seriously enough to never be able to return to duty, at least not Operator status. Some were able to go back into combat in the regular forces or command a desk, but Delta needed all of its personnel at 100%.
99% didn’t cut it.
He passed the point of no return, not that there was any possibility of return, gaining speed as he did so. He had his hand ready to pull his Glock 22 from its holster on his hip just in case he had to cut loose and shoot out a window in the hopes of sailing through it rather than being yanked back and onto the pavement.
He cleared the edge of the roof, a slight sigh of relief escaping as he braked, rapidly killing his speed as his feet hit the roof, running to a stop. He unhooked himself and quickly checked the two bodies confirming the kills as the others regained their footing.
“Bravo Team, Zero-One. We’re on the rooftop. Zero-Two, execute breach, over.”
“Zero-One, Zero-Two. Proceeding with breach, over.”
Dawson motioned for Spock and Jagger to secure the door leading to the stairwell when a cellphone began to ring. Dawson spun toward the hostile Niner had taken out and saw a cellphone flashing in the man’s hand.
“Control, Zero-One. One of the hostiles has a cellphone ringing up here. We’re about to be made, over.”
“This is Control Actual,” came Colonel Thomas Clancy’s voice over the comm. “Proceed at your discretion, over.”
“Roger that, Control Actual, proceeding, over.”
Now let’s just hope they assume we’re jamming their signal.
“What a wonderful stink we’ve discovered.”
Master Sergeant Mike “Red” Belme smiled at Sergeant Leon “Atlas” James as he tried breathing through his mouth, which while masking some of the smell threatened to overwhelm him with the taste. He wasn’t sure which was worst.
He switched back to his nose.
“Not much longer,” he said. “According to the map we’ve got a hundred feet to go then we’re directly under the parking structure.”
In the loosely organized Bravo Team, he was considered second-in-command merely based on seniority, and the fact someone had to be. All of the men were essentially equals with their own area of highly specialized expertise. Their unit was top secret, their missions highly classified, and with them usually being undercover quite often, they were allowed to sport civilian haircuts and beards, privileges reserved for the Special Forces community.
Which was why he kept his hair completely shaved, his scalp kept clean with the blade of his prized Bowie knife. The guys always laughed at him when he would break it out in the field to take off a little stubble, but it was the sharpest blade he had, and its length meant fewer strokes.
It was just more practical than a shaving kit.
His son Bryson loved watching him perform the ritual, it necessary because his namesake red hair was far too noticeable and far too out of place in most of the locales he found himself in.
Shaved heads however were far more common, and often went unnoticed with a traditional keffiyeh covering his scalp.
“There it is,” said Atlas, the ridiculously muscled man’s deep voice echoing through the sewers they were now in. Red looked up and saw the access hatch above, highlighted by Atlas’ flashlight.
Red motioned and Sergeant Zack “Wings” Hauser rushed forward and unfolded a ladder, Sergeant Danny “Casey” Martin jumping up the steps, lighting a Broco cutting torch as he did so.
“Zero-One, Zero-Two. We’re in position, ready to breach, over.”
Dawson’s voice acknowledged and the all-clear was given by Control. Moments later the order they were waiting for came through.
“Bravo Team, Zero-One. We’re on the rooftop. Zero-Two, execute, over.”
He smiled, motioning for Casey to proceed. “Zero-One, Zero-Two. Proceeding with breach, over.”
Within moments Casey was cutting through the metal cover that would give them access to the conference center’s parking structure. As they waited updates came in over the comms and by the time Casey was through, Dawson and his team were safely on the roof, the two lookouts eliminated.
“I’m through.” Casey tossed the torch down to Wings then punched up with the heel of his hand, the metal hatch lifting up then hitting something. “Shit!” hissed Casey as he pushed the hatch, it again hitting something. He shoved his head up and peered through the several inches of opening. “There’s a goddamned car parked here!”
“What?” Red stepped forward, looking up at the hatch then the map on his tablet computer. “This isn’t a parking spot!”
“Well, somebody’s parked here.”
“Cut the hatch off, see if we can squeeze under,” said Red as he activated his comm. “Zero-One, Zero-Two. We’ve got a problem here. There’s a car parked over the hatch. Give us a moment to see if we can still make entry, over.”
“Roger that Zero-Two. We’re entering the stairwell now, over.”
The torch was relit and Casey made quick work of the hinges, now exposed with the hatch open a few inches. Within a minute he was handing the torch then the hatch down. He stepped up.
“No way we’re fitting under this,” he said. “But it’s on a bit of an incline. If I can cut the brake cables it might roll out of the way.”
Casey pulled a set of cutters and went to work, the snap of lines being cut indicating excruciating progress, this a delay he hadn’t counted on.
It would just mean a little more hustle on their part assuming Casey succeeded.
“Transmission’s engaged. I’ll need to cut through the driveshaft. Hand me the torch.” He reached down then stopped. “Wait a minute. Hammer.”
Atlas handed it to him. Tapping then the sound of something metal hitting the concrete was followed by a laugh. “Thar she goes!” said Casey as he stepped down. “The driveshaft was almost rusted through. That thing’s a deathtrap.”
Red looked up and smiled as the undercarriage slowly began to move, gaining speed, emergency lighting suddenly revealed as the way cleared.
“Go! Go! Go!” he hissed, motioning for the others to climb the ladder as Casey pushed himself through the opening. “Zero-One, Zero-Two, we’re through, over.”
“Copy that, report when in position, over.”
Red stepped up the ladder and raised his hands, Mickey and Wings hauling him up. There was a smashing sound, not too loud, to his left. He looked to see the car, a Jaguar XK-8 convertible, pressed against the far wall at the bottom of the incline, the front end a little crunched, but nothing too severe. He looked around. “What the hell was that doing parked in the middle of the lane?”
Casey shrugged. “It’s a Jag. Probably broke down right here.”
“Where’s the owner?” asked Wings as they headed for the stairwell, sweeping the entire area for hostiles.
They reached the door, Atlas checking the window. “Looks clear.”
Red activated the comm, about to notify Dawson when a noise behind them had them all spinning. He raised his MP5 submachine gun as something in the shadows rushed toward them.
“Halt and identify yourself or we will kill you.”
Shoes skidded on dirty concrete, the sound suggesting the smooth soles of dress shoes. Wings activated the tactical light on his weapon, aiming it at the new arrival.
A business suit filled with a terrified civilian was revealed.
Hands, trembling, shot up.
Unusual name. “What are you doing here?”
“Hiding in my car. I heard gunfire just after I parked and have been down here ever since.”
Red kept his weapon trained on the man, his skin a dark black just like all of the hostiles. He just couldn’t take the chance. He was about to have Atlas frisk the man when a shot rang out and Wings dropped. Red spun toward where he thought the shot came from as he dropped to a knee, the hard surfaces of the parking garage creating an echo chamber. Mickey fired, three rounds, toward the left. Red adjusted his aim, spotting the shooter coming down the ramp doubled over, at least one of Mickey’s rounds having found its target. Red squeezed the trigger, taking the man down as Atlas rushed toward the new arrival, weapon raised.
Something moved to their right. Red hit the ground, rolling once as he took aim at their civilian. Macaulay was reaching behind his back for something and just as Red got a bead on the man the grip of a Beretta was revealed.
He fired twice, both shots hitting the man in the center of his chest, his eyes bursting wide in shock as the wounds quickly stained his shirt. Red scanned the rest of the garage for other targets but found none.
Red didn’t look, instead continuing to cover their position as he activated the comm. “Zero-One, Zero-Two. Shots fired, I repeat, shots fired. Two hostiles down, One-Two has taken a hit, standby, over.” He watched Atlas give the thumbs up as he disarmed the corpse. “You okay?”
Wings moaned again. “Yeah, took one in the vest.” Red stole a quick glance and saw Wings push himself to his knees as he examined his body armor, wiggling the round free. He stuffed it in his pocket. “That one had my name on it.”
“Yeah.” He stood, sucking in a deep breath as he stretched out his chest. “Ribs are tender, not broken.”
“Good. Sort yourself out.” He pointed to Macaulay. “Get the body out of sight, check for intel.”
Casey quickly patted the man down, shaking his head. “Nada. Just a couple of mags and a cellphone.”
“Okay, take the cellphone and the weapon.”
Mickey nodded, shoving the weapon in a loop on his utility belt then dragged the body in behind a parked car, a bloody streak revealing the hiding spot should anyone really be looking. Atlas tossed his own man into the back of a pickup truck as if it were a sack of potatoes.
I’d love to see him arm wrestle Stallone.
One of Red’s favorite movies when he was a kid was Over the Top. He didn’t know why, it wasn’t that great a movie. But something about arm wrestling just appealed to him and he had exercised his right arm like a madman, challenging everyone he could, even mimicking the turn of the ball cap, a switch that transformed him from ordinary, skinny teenager, to full blown, musclebound action hero.
He rarely won.
It wasn’t until his late teens that he had his growth spurt, put on six inches in height and forty pounds of body weight and decided the Army was the life for him.
He had thought he was strong until he met Atlas.
The man redefined the word.
Atlas jogged back to their position, smacking Wings on the chest with the back of his hand. Wings winced, knocked back a step. “You good?”
Wings frowned. “I was until you hit me, Thor.”
Atlas grinned. “Sorry, sometimes I forget I shouldn’t bring the hammer down so hard.”
“Ha ha.” Wings shrugged his shoulders up and down a few times then back and forth, loosening himself up. “I’m good, let’s get back in the game.”
Red smiled, activating his comm, the relief he felt that his man was unharmed hidden from the others.
I’m not losing anyone on my watch.
Dawson rushed down the stairs as quietly as their soft soled boots would take them. So far they hadn’t encountered any resistance, but Red’s report had him concerned and his jaw was clenched tight as he held his tongue, waiting for Red to report further, his ‘standby’ request suggesting the situation wasn’t completely locked down.
They hadn’t heard the shots, which he hoped meant the hostiles hadn’t either, but they had to be expecting them since they had lost contact with their lookouts on the roof.
Which meant time was of the essence.
And delays in the parking garage could cost lives.
“Zero-One, Zero-Two. Two hostiles eliminated, One-Two tenderized but operational. We’re in position, over.”
Dawson exchanged grins with Spock who was just behind him as they continued their descent, coming to a stop at the door leading into the foyer. “Copy that, Zero-Two, we’re in position. Control, Zero-One. All teams in position. Status, over?”
“Zero-One, Control. Windows all clear. Heat signatures above ground show nobody outside of the ballroom except for your team. We have no intel on the parking garage except for what Zero-Two reported, over.”
“Copy that, Control. Zero-Two, proceed in three, two, one, execute!”
Spock yanked the door open and Dawson stepped through, immediately scanning left to right as Jagger covered right to left. “Clear!” he whispered, Jagger doing the same, the four of them breaking left and right, out of sight of the double-doors to the conference room just ahead. Dawson crossed the marble floor quickly, coming to rest at the far wall where the entrance to the room stood, Spock beside him, Jagger and Mickey on the opposite side.
They slowly made their way to the door, hugging the wall, and when in position he activated his comm. “Zero-Two, we’re in position, over.”
“Zero-Two in position, over.”
Dawson pulled a scope from one of the pockets on his vest and extended the telescoping stalk, activating the camera on the other end. The transmission was picked up by the tablet Spock was now holding, the video beamed back to Control. Dawson glanced between the screen and the end of the camera, making sure he didn’t tap the glass in the door.
“I’m seeing six hostiles,” reported Spock. “Two in front of this door, two at the front of the room with the Secretary, two walking among the hostages.” He paused. “Shit!”
“What is it?” asked Dawson, looking at the screen.
“They’ve got half the hostages on their feet.”
Dawson cursed. “Okay, did everyone copy that? Four hotel-tangoes in the clear, two among the hostages. Zero-Two, your team take the two by our door and the two on the stage—you should have clean shots from your entry point. We’ll take the two in the crowd. Watch for additional hostiles pretending to be civilians. When in doubt, wing them. We’ll sort out the lawsuits later. Acknowledged?”
The confirmations came through the comm and Dawson took one final look at the screen as Jagger and Spock crouched down, gripping the handles of both doors. “Teams One and Two, proceed in three, two, one, execute!”
He did an additional three count then nodded, Wings and Spock pulling open the doors as he and Jagger advanced. Across the room he could already see Red’s team entering, the two hostiles by his door down, the two on the stage collapsing as he watched. He got a bead on the first hostile on the left, spinning toward the stage in shock. “Federal authorities, everyone on the ground!”
Screams erupted as those standing among the hostage takers realized it was do or die time, most not reacting fast enough. He squeezed his trigger, taking out the first hostile as he heard Jagger’s weapon fire beside him. He scanned the crowd, not for weapons, but for faces. The civilians would be panicked, the enemy not necessarily. They’d be more likely to remain standing for just a moment longer, looking for where the threat was coming from, whereas the civilians wouldn’t care.
They’d just hit the deck once their brains and bodies realized they should.
Someone made eye contact.
He fired, nailing the man in the shoulder. He spun around then dropped to the floor as both teams advanced, Dawson motioning for Spock and Wings to secure the Secretary. Another shot was fired, this time by Red’s team, another person among the hostages dropping with a cry. The mix of men and women were crying out in panic, some screaming, others simply confused.
The sexes were equal today, the screams and cries of panic a mix of low and high pitches.
“Everyone on the ground, face down, hands on your heads, now!” he shouted, the same order being repeated by Red from the other side. “I want to see hands clasped behind your heads or you will be shot!”
The orders were quickly obeyed as he reached the man he had shot, pushing him over onto his back with his boot. A gun was raised toward him.
Dawson put two shots in his chest, the question of whether or not the man was innocent settled for eternity. He scanned the crowd, now all on the floor as his eight man team trained their weapons on them. Jagger stepped on the hand of the man he shot then reached down and yanked his jacket up.
“Control, Zero-One. Hostages secure, seven hostiles dead, one wounded. Have SWAT secure the foyer, we’re going to start sending the hostages out one at a time, over.”
“Copy that Zero-One, SWAT moving into position now.”
Dawson pointed at Red’s team. “Begin searching them, one at a time. When they’re confirmed clean, send them out the doors for processing.”
“Yes, Sergeant Major.”
Jagger hauled the wounded hostile to his feet, the man yelping in pain.
“Cuff him, search him, then hand him over. We’re out of here in five.”
Jagger nodded, binding the man’s wrists with a zip tie. Tight.
Dawson walked over to the Secretary of Defense. “Are you okay, Mr. Secretary?”
He nodded, then motioned toward a body nearby, a black man who looked like he had been dead for some time. “They were after him, not me.”
Dawson’s eyes narrowed. “Are you sure? Who is he?”
“Vice President Okeke of Sierra Leone. He was here for a security meeting to discuss our Ebola response in West Africa.”
“What makes you think they were after him?”
“They shot him first then secured the room. It was as if he had to die and they couldn’t risk not succeeding.”
Dawson frowned. “What about their demands? They wanted quite a bit of money to let you go.”
The Secretary of Defense shook his head. “Smoke screen. At least that’s my opinion.”
He looked toward the door where several suits were rushing in, clearly a Secret Service detail and some aides.
“That’s my ride, I guess.” The Secretary extended a hand. “I have a feeling I know who you are. Thank your men for me. You have my eternal gratitude.”
Dawson shook the man’s hand, pleased the person responsible for managing his line of work for the Executive Branch had a solid, dry handshake. “Thank you, sir. I’ll pass it on.”
The Secretary left immediately with his escort as the room filled with G-Men. Dawson activated his comm. “Bravo Team, Zero-One. Stand down, repeat, stand down, we leave in two, out.”
Dawson watched as the last of the hostages left, nothing but law enforcement and bodies remaining.
And wondered why the Vice President of some small, poor Ebola ravaged country would be worth so many lives.
Murray Town Barracks, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Major Adofo Koroma sucked in a deep breath then nodded to his driver. The transport truck, signed out by him that morning from the motor pool, lurched forward. He had to admit he had butterflies. Not from fear but anticipation, fear drummed out of his psyche months ago after watching his wife and son waste away and die from Ebola, turned away from the only treatment center hundreds of miles from his village.
We’re full, sorry.
The cities were being paid attention to while those in the north, traditionally not supporters of the government here in Freetown, were being ignored.
Silence us all through death.
He had been a loyal soldier, and still was in a way. He loved his country, believed things were getting better, but more for those who were in the cities. The rural areas were left to their own devices to solve their problems. He understood that the Ebola treatment centers had to be placed where they were most needed, but to completely abandon the rural areas was inexcusable.
They had to at least provide them with supplies, some aid workers to at least provide advice.
But his village had been abandoned, even the local government representatives leaving to stay at a military base to avoid the virus and the questions.
And now his daughter was sick.
Five years old.
Already devastated by the death of her mother and brother, she was too young to understand what was going on and it tore at his heart. Enough so that he was here today, committing what in most people’s eyes would be treason.
Unless they had been placed in an impossible situation like he had, and had the resources he did at his disposal.
And that was men.
Men that were willing to die for their cause.
And eleven already had.
One thing about living in a poor country with traditionally large families was that it was almost guaranteed you had relatives in the United States. Over the past twenty years many from his village and the surrounding area had given up and emigrated, most to America. Almost anyone who had managed to get an education was gone. It was a brain drain that the great Western democracies refused to acknowledge. They sought out those with skills they needed, and took them from the poor countries that needed their expertise even more.
It should be a crime against humanity to take a doctor from a third world country.
The only advantage of losing the youngest and brightest from their poor communities was they sent money home. That hard currency gave their poor relatives, unlucky enough to not have the skills that the West desired, a chance to buy the essentials of life.
But nothing could buy the care needed when Ebola struck.
Treatment centers couldn’t be bribed, not with Western doctors controlling the intake process, and there just wasn’t enough room even if they could.
The situation was desperate, especially in his village where nearly a quarter of the population was either sick or caring for someone who was.
His wife and son were among the first to die.
And it was all so unnecessary.
The West had the money and the expertise to solve this. But because it was Africa, because they were black, and because they didn’t have oil, the reaction had been slow. Sure there were now British and Canadian troops along with dozens of aid organizations setting up new facilities in his country, but it had taken six months to get a reaction.
Thousands had died, tens of thousands more would still die.
All because it hadn’t been an interesting enough story for the news stations to cover.
And someone had to pay.
It was a decision he hadn’t come to lightly and today was the second part of his plan, the first part carried out last night in Washington by his brother and several others from his village and the surrounding area who now lived in the United States.
Vice President Okeke was now dead.
And so were his brother and friends.
But they died for a purpose, a purpose no one in America knew.
But when his plan was complete, it was a purpose no one in America would ever forget.
Then maybe they’ll pay attention.
They rounded the corner, the vehicle bouncing over a large pothole, jarring his entire body painfully. He pointed ahead. “There it is.”
His driver nodded, the dockyards just ahead.
Dockyards loaded with medical supplies from a slowly awakening America.
Hastings Ebola Treatment Center, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Dr. Sarah Henderson shoved her knuckles into the small of her back and kneaded the sore, aching muscles. She had only been here three weeks and had planned on an eight week tour, but the physical toll was already making its presence felt.
But it was nothing compared to the mental one.
She had seen death in her line of work, too much death. As a volunteer for Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, she often found herself in war zones. She tried to give two months out of every year to the organization founded in 1971 by a small group of French doctors who had worked together during the Nigerian Civil War, it now a widely recognized and respected organization she was proud to contribute toward both monetarily and with her time.
But this was something different, something she had never dealt with before.
Every day in the treatment center where she was volunteering dozens died, dozens more were brought in to fill the freed up beds, and even more were refused at the door, there simply not enough room.
Which meant those infected were sent home to die, and worse, to infect their loved ones.
It was heartbreaking.
Entire families were being wiped out, quite often because one of them made the uninformed mistake of helping an infected neighbor take a family member to a treatment center, exposing themselves to the deadly disease.
Fear was the enemy, fear was one of the greatest causes of the spread.
If only anyone who thought they or a loved one might be infected told the authorities, and quarantined themselves, they might actually break the back of the pandemic, but there was little hope of that. People were terrified of what their neighbors might do to them if they revealed one of their own was sick, so they kept them hidden away, but without proper protocols, they too were almost guaranteed to become infected.
Thousands were dead, thousands more were dying, and if things continued unchecked, the Centers for Disease Control was predicting over a million cases within months.
And if it hit those numbers, there was no hope in saving these people.
She feared the solution, should it reach those proportions, would be for the Western nations to completely pull out then isolate the countries so the population would simply die off, the disease’s incredible mortality rate its own greatest enemy.
But for now she was here, on the frontlines, doing her duty as a doctor, fulfilling the Hippocratic Oath she had so proudly taken just ten years ago. She was trying to stem the tide against overwhelming odds, working sixteen hour days to save those brought in early, to comfort those who were too far gone. She cried herself to sleep the first week, but now she was becoming numb to it all.
And it scared her.
Would this experience change her so much that she no longer was affected by the death of her patients? She was an Emergency Room surgeon in Los Angeles which meant she was constantly faced with death from gunshot wounds to stabbings. But back home there was always somebody to blame.
Here there was no one.
It was a disease.
And the only real way to save someone was to throw everything modern medicine could offer at each individual patient.
Which was simply too expensive.
The individual cases in the United States that had been treated—and not all successfully—cost over one million dollars each on average. An insane figure that would overwhelm even the richest of countries should it face tens of thousands of victims like these poor African countries were dealing with.
And yet she did her small part.
She knew in the grand scheme of things it made little difference, her efforts merely a finger in the dyke. But tens of thousands of fingers could make a difference, especially with the right equipment and facilities.
They didn’t need modern hospitals, they needed beds, manpower, and isolation equipment. They needed locals to properly dispose of the bodies, to provide the nursing efforts, to properly transport the sick to the quarantine centers.
Which meant they needed to be trained, and paid well for the risks they were taking.
Money was beginning to pour in, but money was of little value without manpower and supplies. Experimental vaccines and treatments were fantastic, but if there were only a few thousand samples in existence, what good was it?
She bent over, touching her toes, not an easy task in her personal protective equipment. She felt the tension slowly ease from her muscles, knowing that soon the pain would be back, and worse.
“Are you okay, Dr. Henderson?”
She turned her head, still bent over, and looked up at Doctor Tanya Danko, her voice muffled from her suit. She smiled as she straightened up. “I’ll live.”
Tanya looked at the long line of beds, all full.
“I’m afraid few of them will.”
Tanya was a short-timer. She was due to leave in two days, returning to her native Ukraine only to probably deal with more carnage.
But at least there they had someone to blame.
And that was what she hated so much about this disease. There was no perpetrator, no weapon with a human at the end of it.
And it didn’t choose its victims because they were from some ethnic group, some political leaning.
It didn’t care whether or not you were a doctor or a dock worker, a mother or a child, black or white.
It just killed.
Sarah stood for a moment, watching the nurses administering to the patients, shaking her head. “I’m afraid you’re right.”
“If only we could get more people who’ve been cured to donate their blood, we might be able to stop this.”
Sarah nodded. Tanya was right, though it would be a slow process. It was at the moment the most effective treatment. Take the blood from those who survived, and give it to those who were sick. The transfusions would transfer the antibodies built up in the healthy survivor into that of the infected, and quite often cure them.
Which meant their blood could then be used.
But each survivor could only donate so much blood, and it took time for those cured to recover enough to actually provide the blood.
Eventually the treatment would win out as a critical mass of people survived.
But how many tens if not hundreds of thousands would die first?
“There’s just too many,” she said, her shoulders slumping. “We’ve got two hundred patients here and only four getting transfusions.”
Tanya motioned toward the four who were nearest them. “Those four will hopefully survive, and provide blood for four more. The four who provided blood for these four will also provide more. Those eight will then provide blood and so on.” Tanya placed a gloved hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “Don’t lose hope yet, Sarah, you’ve only been here a few weeks.”
Sarah shook her head. “I don’t know how you’ve kept your optimism through all this. Eight weeks!”
“I was like you when I first arrived. Overwhelmed. Completely. I lost track of how many tears I shed. It’s the children dying that I think get you the most. If I could, I’d stay here until it was over, but I have a family back home and I miss them.”
Sarah sucked in a deep breath then sighed, her eyes filling with tears as she pictured her husband, Steve, and their little boy, Tommy. Tommy was twelve, old enough to claim to understand why she had gone, but she wasn’t convinced he really understood. He hadn’t cried at the airport, but his lip had trembled and his eyes had watered.
But he hadn’t sobbed.
Steve told her after she had cleared customs and given them a final wave before heading to her gate, that Tommy had cried the entire way home from the airport. Only a trip through the McDonald’s drive thru had settled him down.
And then only for a few minutes.
A tear rolled down her cheek.
“I miss my family too.”
“Don’t you start crying otherwise I will too, and there’s no blowing our noses in these infernal outfits.”
Sarah laughed, sniffed hard and rapidly blinked her eyes clear. “You’re right. Don’t we make a good pair? Better not let the men see us or they’re going to think we’re the weaker sex.”
“Bah!” cried Tanya, batting her hand. “I saw Jacques heaving this morning. They’re not tougher than us.”
Sarah chuckled. “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”
Tanya punched her gently on the shoulder. “Sarah!”
Sarah shrugged. “Sorry, but that guy’s an asshole. There isn’t anything with a heartbeat and a vagina around here that he hasn’t hit on.”
Tanya snorted, bending over slightly as she stifled a laugh. “He hit on you too?”
“I think wedding bands just attract the pig.”
“Too true, too true.”
Sarah looked at the clock on the nearby wall. “Looks like our shift is over. Dinner?”
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