Three Brothers - Jörg. H. Trauboth - ebook

Three Brothers ebook

Jörg. H. Trauboth

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Marc Anderson and his two commando brothers are celebrated elite soldiers in the highly-secretive German Commando Special Forces, the KSK. Together with the American Navy Seals, they successfully rescue the crew of a downed American F-15 tactical fighter jet in the Hindu Kusch Mountains under a barrage of heavy fire against the Taliban. However, their next mission in Northern Iraq to save two German hostages taken captive by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ends in disaster for the Three Brothers in arms. The perfectly laid-out strategy of Operation Eagle is betrayed. Marc, Thomas, and Tim narrowly escape death. The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) begins its desperate attempt to uncover the double agent. The devoted commando brothers decide to leave the KSK and begin a new career together as security advisors with a large family-owned company based in Cologne. But the terrorist activities of ISIS continue to determine their fate. The brothers are faced with one of their greatest challenges when ISIS kidnaps company heir Johannes Ericson and his life companion Karina Marie and threatens the German government with extortion. It is a race against time to save the couple from assassination. Jörg H. Trauboth has written more than just an exhilarating novel. Three Brothers unites the current omnipresent threat of terrorism with the author's first-hand experience as a crisis manager and a military and terrorism expert. The result is an unrivaled political thriller. In this gripping novel, Trauboth foretells what the future holds in light of the rise of radical Islamic terrorism in our society.

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Joerg H. Trauboth

Three Brothers

Translated from the German by Leanne Cvetan

Cover image used with permission

© Smulsky - Fotolia.com #24723429

This book is protected under copyright. All rights reserved.

Originally published in Germany as Drei Brüder by ratiobooks

Copyright © 2015, 2016, 2018 by Jörg H. Trauboth.

English Translation Copyright © 2018 by Leanne Cvetan

Published in Germany by

ratiobooks • 53797 Lohmar • Danziger Str. 30

[email protected]

Tel.: (0 22 46) 94 92 61

Fax: (0 22 46) 94 92 24

www.ratiobooks.de

eISBN: 978-3-96136-030-7 (engl.)

PoD: 978-3-96136-031-4 (engl.)

Print ISBN: 978-3-939829-64-5 (German)

eISBN: 978-3-939829-77-5 (German)

Audio: GESAFA-Verlag ISBN: 978-3-943273-05-2 (German)

published by

For Martina

I WILL!

This thriller is a work of fiction and takes place against the backdrop of the current terrorist activity and threat of danger in Europe and the rest of the world. All characters and references to any persons, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination as long as they do not refer to any actual persons, living or dead, real places, or actual events.

Any similarity of the characters to any real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental, as is any similarity regarding the plot to any actual events.

There is a register of characters at the end of this book as well as a glossary of important terms.

In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.

Marcus Aurelius,Roman Emperor andPhilosopher (161 – 181 A.D.)

Table of Contents

THREE ELITE SOLDIERS

Afghanistan

Berlin

Hammelburg

Northern Iraq / Berlin

Berlin

THREE CONSULTANTS

Rhineland: Bonn / Hangelar Airfield

Berlin

Palma de Mallorca / Rhineland

JIHAD

Mosul / Eifel Region / Cologne

Rhineland-Palatinate, Büchel Air Base Tactical Air Force Wing 33

Cologne

Western Mediterranean / Berlin / Algeria

Berlin - Foreign Office

The Northern African Mainland

OPERATION RESCUE

Cologne

The Algerian Desert

Cologne

The Algerian Desert

Raqqa

Cologne

The Algerian Desert

Rhineland / Mediterranean

The Algerian Desert

Mallorca / Cologne

Cologne

Mallorca

The Algerian Desert

Berlin

The Algerian Desert

The Spanish Coast / Algeria, A Rocky Beach

Raqqa

Cologne

THE FLIGHT OF THE CRANES

Remagen

Calw

Rhineland / Berlin

Epilogue

REGISTER OF PERSONS

GLOSSARY

AUTHOR’S NOTE

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

MAPS

Fig. 1 – Operation Eagle

Fig. 2 – Operation Rescue

Three Elite Soldiers

Chapter 1Afghanistan

For the last five hours, a group of six men have been trudging through the dark, barren landscape of the vast Hindu Kush Mountains. The distant howling of a lone wolf accompanies them as does the cold wind, but the men don’t seem to feel the sting.

One of them stops abruptly. Marc Anderson, captain of the German KSK Special Forces Commando, raises his hand to his neck and decisively whispers into his throat mic.

“George, I see her. The nose of the aircraft is at eleven o’clock, the tail at two.”

George, the short, wiry Navy Seal One squad leader from Ohio, folds down the night vision lens mounted on his helmet.

For whatever reason, the fighter jet did not explode, but the debris is still smoldering.

“Copy that, I’ll inform Bagram Air Base.”

“Charlie Force from Echo Force – over.”

“Echo Team – go ahead – over.”

“We found the jet – now searching for the crew – over.”

“Roger Echo Team – we’re waiting for your response – over.”

As unorthodox as it is, the Navy Seals insisted on having German elite soldier Marc Anderson with them on the mission. He is one of the few soldiers who knows the area, located deep in the hinterlands of Afghanistan, better than anyone else on account of a number of earlier missions in the region. At only 27 years old, the tall, slender soldier from the southern German town of Calw has already achieved legendary status among the American and British Special Forces. Together with the Navy Seals, he has succeeded in rescuing and retrieving American soldiers from behind enemy lines, securing himself a formidable reputation as both a leader and a team player.

But Anderson refused to do the job on his own: “Only if I can take my commando brothers with me,” he told the commanders at Bagram Air Base. “Only with Thomas and Tim.”

“OK, Marc, agreed.”

The Seals know full well what “Band of Brothers” means. Elite soldiers throughout all the Special Armed Forces are not just comrades, they are brothers. On this mission – the search for a U.S. fighter jet gone missing along with its crew – the Seals have three German brothers. Nationalities play no role, however, only professionalism and unconditional trust. Marc also agreed to the mission since he and George have worked well together on previous missions.

Echo Force, made up of U.S. Seals One, Two, Three, and the German KSK soldiers Marc, Thomas, and Tim, had parachuted in during night. They chose a landing site six and a half miles from the F-15E Strike Eagle’s last known position in the hope of not being discovered by the Taliban. There were no exact coordinates of the crash site. What’s worse, they weren’t able to receive any location transmission from the crew. The pilot had only managed to transmit “No engine – Mayday – Mayday – Bailing out!” at the last minute as they lost altitude. A hasty final message, nothing more. Everything seems to have happened very quickly. The crew must have needed to abandon the aircraft immediately, there would have been no time for discussion.

After a successful landing, they spent the next five hours systematically scouring the possible search site of twelve square miles at almost ten thousand feet altitude.

Marc was a true pathfinder in this unwieldy and perilous terrain. The Americans trusted him whole-heartedly, and with good reason, as he proved once again. He immediately found the wreckage of the F-15 in the pitch-dark of night and undetected in this hostile territory. They operate meticulously together, as though they have done this a million times before: Marc out in front, checking the terrain, giving signals, the other five men following, step for step, crouched down, secure, silent. The stillness of the dark magnifies every word and any misstep on the gravel is a potential giveaway for the Taliban.

While George now relays the coordinates to the American intervention force standing by, Marc scans the crash site with his telescope. The F-15 was not shot down but crashed due to technical problems. That seemed clear. However, the crash would have been heard all throughout the Hindu Kush Mountains. It was very possible that the Taliban has already taken the crew captive and were now waiting for the Navy Seals. That’s how it typically happened at least.

“Thomas, please report.”

“Left is clear.”

“Tim?”

“Right is clear.”

Slowly, and securing all sides, the spotter team moves toward the crash site.

“I’ll take it from here, Marc.”

“Okay, George, you’re in command.”

George leads the troop within 300 yards of the wreckage. The aircraft’s nose and cockpit are stuck in the ground like a giant arrow. Bent, but incredibly, still intact.

And exactly right there where there’s that tiny patch of earth, he thinks to himself.

“Can you see anyone in the cockpit?” asks Marc.

“Negative, can’t see anything through the glass, but the canopy is missing.”

“Thomas and Tim – the two of you to the wreckage and report back. The rest of you wait here,” whispers George into his throat mic.

The two Germans start to move. Just like the old comedians Ole and Axel, or like Laurel and Hardy, Marc thinks. Thomas, a tall, strapping blonde, built like the Hulk. Next to him, Tim, also in excellent physical shape, only considerably shorter and, who with his signature black goatee, looks like an Afghan.

They cautiously approach the front section of the wreckage on both sides. The rest of the group tensely watches every move their two German brothers make. It is absolutely silent, save for that wolf. The cold wind that tirelessly blows in this region goes completely unnoticed as they all lie on the ground and watch. The night is not just dark, it is black. Pitch-black. No stars shine, no light reflects off the ground. Barren cliffs, a few shrubs, no trees at this altitude. They see only whatever appears in their night vision devices. The little bit of light available is electronically magnified as a green image of the area. They are used to this artificial picture.

“Option one:” says George, “they are still strapped to their seats and then it’ll be a mess. Option two: one of them is still there and the other managed to get out. Or option three: they both made it out.”

“The only question is, why they aren’t answering,” Marc whispers in George’s direction. George whispers back, “which means option one.”

Thomas and Tim reach the nose.

“Thomas on Seal One: no one in the cockpit, ejector seats missing, the crew ejected.”

“Understood, good news, do you see their papers?”

They shine a light inside.

From the distance, the three Navy Seals and Marc are blinded as the light from the two KSK soldiers flash in their goggles like bright strike of lightening.

“Maps and a kneeboard,” reports Tim.

“Okay, take that with you. Thomas, you prepare an explosive.”

First Sergeant Thomas Heinrich, a six-foot tall ball of muscle and the explosives expert takes off his 80-pound knapsack which belongs to his profile as though it has grown attached to his back. His comrades have only ever seen him with either a heavy bag or on a bench press. And always with a combat knife under his pillow.

While he lays the explosive, his shorter friend Tim secures the immediate area surrounding the jet. Neither of them speaks a word to the other. They don’t need to. They know each other better than any old married couple. That’s also the reason George sent them to the wreckage site.

In less than four minutes, Thomas prepares the cockpit with explosives for remote ignition.

“Finished, George.”

“OK men, now slowly retreat.”

A few minutes later, the group is complete again. Six men, two nations, one team.

They hide between some boulders and use their night vision devices to establish any other possible reference points. Cliffs, ridges, gaps. Where could the parachutes be? And the ejector seats? At least the seats are big enough to spot, if they are here.

George waves to Marc to come over.

“What do you suggest?”

“According to the radar, the F-15 was flying on an easterly course. That means we need to look for the men to the west. The weapon systems operator shot himself out first, so we should be able to find him to the west of the wreckage, but the pilot should be here closer to it.”

George nods in agreement. The person in the rear always activates his seat first, otherwise he runs the risk of getting hit by the seat of man before him.

Marc refers to the digital map with a scale of 1:50,000. Mountains, rivers, nothing else. To these westerners, the unforgiving, cold Hindu Kush Mountain range is a barren and alien landscape.

“I think we should go this way”

“Okay, boy scout, you take over.”

“Affirmative.”

These standard procedures are the pre-requisites of a functioning team. One man takes the lead and the others confirm. It is the case in the cockpit and is no different in Team Echo Force, currently led by Marc Anderson.

He speaks softly to the group.

“Seals One, Two, and Three, you take the left side. Thomas, Tim, and I will take the right. I will be in the middle. Keep a distance of no more than 30 meters between you. Everyone has contact with his neighbor.”

They disperse.

“In position,” each of them confirms one after the other. They now stand in a line of approximately 160 yards across. Each one by on his own, but they can each see the soldier on either side of them. Their brothers in times of crisis.

Marc looks at his compass, 270 degrees. They start to move.

After thirty minutes they reach a long, narrow ridge.

“Down,” Marc radios quietly to the others. They lay flat on the ground. Marc slowly pushes himself against a bare cliff. He lifts his head, weighed down by a heavy helmet, ever so slightly to get an overview. In front of him is an open area with large, round boulders and steep cliffs, interspersed with deep cracks that he can barely make out in the almost non-existent light of night. The white glow he sees above it through his night vision device is the snow at twenty thousand feet.

Marc laboriously searches the area. Nothing. No ejector seat, no parachute. Only this sea of rocks and sparse vegetation. A wretched green world of artificial reality through the lenses of his night vision device.

“We can’t take the straight path, Gentlemen. There is a rift two hundred meters in. The end of the road.”

The group continues westward, securing the way as they go.

George suddenly stops.

“Do you hear that, Marc?”

Their radios give off a faint screeching that intensifies and then fades again.

“The distress signal, George! Gentlemen, we have contact!” The troop knows that this is the signal pilots activate upon ejecting and is only transmitted for a few minutes per hour.

“Five minutes past each full hour, that’s right, just as we discussed. That’s our man, George!”

“What’s the bearing, Marc?”

“Eleven o’clock. The source is pretty damn quiet. He must be lightyears away.”

The men of Echo Force can feel their pulse quickening. They’ve made contact with one of the crew! They keep formation and continue their search. They still do not have the location coordinates. Unexpectedly, they are forced to stop. A dark and terrifying 25-feet-wide abyss stretches out before them, like a hungry, open mouth.

The tone of the distress signal abruptly increases its shrill intensity from one second to the next.

Startled, George turns down the volume.

“He must be right here.”

“Tim to Marc, I see a parachute in the opening, about 20 meters down.”

“Everyone, round up – go to Tim,” Marc whispers into his mic.

“George, you take over!

“Affirmative!”

They crawl over to him, very close to edge of the rift, and shine a light down. They can see something that doesn’t belong there. The remnants of a parachute hanging from the ledges of two cliffs. The laser device measures 23 meters.

There is something else. George gasps as he recognizes it in the green light. Not that someone is hanging lifelessly from the shreds of the parachute, but the never-ending emptiness that continues below. George knows at once it will be a challenge getting that poor guy out of there without him falling completely into the abyss.

“But is he okay?”

He shines his light at the figure.

“Are you okay down there?”

“Are you Americans?” answers a weak voice from the depths.

George beams. He’s alive!

“Yes, my friend, we will fly down from Heaven and get you out of there.”

“It’s about damn time! I’m freezing my ass off here!”

He seems to be all right, George thinks and calls into the cavern:

“Did you have to pick this one to fall into?”

“I love rifts, but even this is a bit too big for me!”

George proudly looks over to Marc.

“That is one cool dude hanging there. Talks like a real Texan. Let’s get him out!”

George looks at his team. He would likely need two soldiers down there. One to secure against any further falling and the other for the recovery. Navy Seal One knows that Tim and Thomas have the most experience in these kinds of rappelling situations, thus, the German friends are called to take over once again.

“Tim and Thomas, start the descent.”

A few moments later, the inseparable team descend into the darkness of the rift. The Navy Seals secure them from above. Marc and George direct light into the chasm to allow the two as much orientation as possible. But the light is quickly lost in the dark. They need to be careful not to touch the parachute or the straps. Still, the descent lasts less than sixty seconds.

“We have him,” radios Tim.

The Texan is hanging freely. Completely unhindered. There is nothing there he could have grabbed onto to slow down his fall. One false move and the shreds of his parachute would flatter behind him as he fell to his death at the bottom of this seemingly bottomless pit.

Once he had stopped falling, he cautiously reached for his flashlight with a haunting suspicion. A sharp pain in his upper right arm. What was wrong? He touched his shoulder with his right hand.

Intense pain.

Fear.

No false moves!

It took him a while until he finally got hold of his flashlight. What he saw underneath terrified him. He saw nothing.

The beam of light did not allow him to even faintly guess at the depth of the chasm below. It was like the secret entrance to Nirvana. Was it 50 meters, 1000 meters? He would try banging against the wall a few times and then…

Oh, my God…

He shined the light upward. The parachute seemed to be caught pretty good between two sections of rock. He had only gradually been able to convince himself that he can trust the anchoring above him. He talked to his parachute, gently begging it with loving words to hold strong. Something clipped his head. And again. A number of times.

Bats?

Doesn’t matter, don’t move!

This damn pain. The cold.

His torso felt like it was dying off under the tension of the straps. Would his rescuers even hear his distress signal?

As he looked up through the narrow window-like opening to the sky and saw a few stars, he started to find hope. They had practiced a rescue mission behind enemy lines a number of times. He knew that the CSAR team must be on their way. And here they are! Thank God! They were able to locate him in this godforsaken rift.

“Nice to meet you!” Tim calls to him and grabs his straps to latch him on to his own. But the Texan can only stare at Tim, whose fuzzy, black goatee sprouts out over the chin strap of his helmet.

“You are not an American, you’re a Taliban!”

Tim laughs.

“No, I am your friend Tim from the German Mountain Rescue Team!”

The American looked dubiously at Tim’s face.

Then Thomas joins in. “And I am Thomas, old friend! You can call me Tom, but just for today. Nice place you got here.”

“I’m going to free you now from the parachute,” says the suspected Taliban, “and then I’ll hook you to the elevator going up. Hold on to me. Are you ready?”

The American nods.

He jolts downward and lets out a scream so loud it must have woken up all of Hindu Kush.

“Fuck, something’s wrong with my shoulder, watch out.”

The burly Texan clings to Tim’s slender frame, his face is twisted in pain.

“Thomas on George, dislocated or broken right shoulder. No blood.”

Tim grabs him by the hips and uses his feet and back to repel off the walls of the cavern.

“Let’s go, Cowboy! Bringing you up to mama!”

The three arrive at the top only a few moments later. As Echo Force secures the area behind them, George and Marc welcome the rescued man.

“I’m George, Navy Seal. You are among friends. Are you the pilot or the weapon systems operator?”

“Les Miller, WSO. Have you found my pilot Buddy already?”

“Negative. How much time was there between you each ejecting?

“Two seconds at the most.”

George thought for a moment. Buddy was not at the wreckage, at least not in a direct line with Les.

“Then Buddy must be here in the vicinity. We need to search again.”

“Charlie Force from Echo Force. We have Les.”

“Copy that, Echo Force – we are standing by.”

“Can you run, Les?”

“How fast do you think you could run after having your balls crushed for the past seven hours?” He casts an eye at Tim: “Watch your Taliban there, I don’t trust him!”

He then pulls a clump of something out of his pocket and gives it to his new friend from the German Mountain Rescue Team.

“What is it?”

“Chocolate, Taliban!”

“How’s your shoulder, Les? Do you think you need a shot?”

“Depends on what you plan to do with me. I certainly can’t crawl on the ground.”

Buddy McAllen is not far away. In fact, they almost trip over his ejector seat. The wind fills his parachute, causing it to pull away from the long, slender body of the American pilot and then deflate again. Buddy is shaking. The right side of his head along with his short blond hair is covered in blood. George sees a large dark stain on Buddy’s olive-green flight suit just above his right hip and, underneath him, a rather large pool of dried blood on the ground.

“That doesn’t look good,” George signals to Marc, “he must have hit against that sharp rock in the dark.”

“Buddy, can you hear me?” George jiggles him. Thomas takes a water bottle out of his knapsack and carefully pours a fine trickle of water over his neck. The American does not move. Marc smacks him gently on the cheek and tries talking to him.

“Buddy, we are your friends, can you hear me, you are almost home. I will just take a look at that leg.”

“Charlie Force from Echo Team. We have Buddy – need a medic – ASAP!”

George reads off the coordinates from his mobile GPS and waits for confirmation.

“It’s our lucky day, boys! We have both men, secure radio communication, and Charlie Force will be here in fifteen minutes.”

He looks at Buddy, who is badly hurt, then adds:

“But we’ve got a real bad situation here.”

The troop is highly-visible from the front. There is no natural protection. Behind them is a hill with an unobstructed view of them from above. Buddy is sitting out in the open, propped up against a large rock as though he were a Thanksgiving turkey. It’s a miracle he hasn’t been discovered already.

The rest of the squad lays flat on the ground while Thomas attends to Buddy’s wounds. He inspects the deep wound on Buddy’s thigh, dresses it with a compression bandage, and wraps him in a thermal foil blanket. He’s lost a lot of blood and could suffer a circulatory collapse. Thomas is a medic, but Buddy needs more than Thomas has in his first-aid kit.

“His pulse is very low, George.”

“Buddy, don’t fall asleep. What is your wife’s name?” George asks.

Buddy opens his eyes slowly. For the first time.

“Linda…my girlfriend.”

“Where does Linda live, Buddy?”

“New Jersey.”

George’s face lights up. Buddy is pale, moaning, and breathing heavily.

“Tell her that I love her,” he whispers.

“You can tell her that yourself when you see her at Bagram, Buddy, do you hear? What do you think about that, Buddy? Buddy, say something!”

Buddy looks at George with blank eyes. His lips start to make a shape. George put his ear to Buddy’s mouth.

“Les…is he okay?”

George waves WSO Les to come to him.

“Keep him awake, Les, and encourage him.”

Les’ brawny stature leans over his pilot.

“Buddy, man, don’t give up, Linda needs you. I need you in our fucking F-15. You aren’t going to leave me hanging, are you, Buddy? How do you want your hamburger when we get back to Bagram, Buddy? How about a big Texas burger with cheese and peppers and Mexican toppings? Do you want mustard on it, or ketchup?”

Buddy opens his eyes again slightly and softly smiles. After all, Les, whom he has been flying with for the past six months just described his absolute favorite dish.

Then his eyes close again. Thomas and Marc nod to each other. His condition is critical. Buddy must get an IV within the next thirty minutes, or that’ll be the end of it.

Tim’s green goggles wander over the horizon from right to left, left to right.

“We are not in a good location, not good at all.”

“We can’t move,” whispers Marc, “Charlie Force is expecting us to be at these coordinates.” Marc additionally scans the area which appears more like the ugly landscape of an alien planet through the infra-red residual light amplifier.

Marc is not interested in the regular green hue of his night vision device. He is looking for a glaring green, the white of clothing, and black. People.

“Oh man, we are not in a good location, not at all. Like sitting ducks,” Tim repeats himself.

Marc shivers.

“Taliban at ten o’clock!”

In the telescope he could see the outline of a group of men approaching. Five, six? They seem to be searching for something and were gradually coming closer.

The faint lull of voices could be heard through the hazy early morning sunrise.

“Charlie Force – Tangos in the area,” George radios quietly to the approaching troop.

“Roger – Five minutes to go – Stay where you are.”

The Echo Force lies as flat on the ground as possible, partially protected by a handful of small boulders. Thomas pulls Buddy down, he groans loudly. It can start at any minute. The Americans are individually equipped with rapid-fire weapons from the Navy Seals’ secret weapons arsenal, the Germans with G 36KA2s. Encounters with the enemy are practiced a thousand times. But it still causes their blood to race through their veins, and their pulse to increase, the adrenaline runs high.

George sees one of the Afghans throw his arm in the air.

A sign?

Now loud shouts. More Afghans!

George contemplates when it’s the right time.

“Fire only at my command!”

He doesn’t like long-distance fighting. The others don’t either. They all nod to their leader.

“Two tangos at three o’clock, behind the rock, thirty yards,” Seal Two radios.

“Okay, I have him.”

“Four tangos at ten…,” adds Seal Three.

Suddenly, the cracking sound of a missile being shot from a rocket-propelled grenade breaks the silence. It misses Echo Team by only a few feet. George studies the situation. That was close. Really close! A moment later, Taliban fighters abandon their concealment positions and charge the men.

“FIRE!”

The elite soldiers systematically take aim at each individual enemy fighter.

Bull’s eye! A direct hit!

Dark, black blotches appear in Marc’s night vision goggles 20 meters out.

Blood. Blood is black.

Aim. POP!

Tango at three o’clock! The information is conveyed through hand signals and head movements.

Precision shots.

Short drumfire. The casings rattle out the right side like a waterfall.

Targets to the front, on the side, upright, crouching, jumping.

Just like in the training room. Only now with short screams. The team acts with clockwork precision.

The distance between them and the enemy fighters is becoming shorter and shorter. There are too many, many too many…

“Gentlemen, they want us use up all our ammunition,” Marc says. But a guy like Marc always has enough.

He, along with Tim and Thomas, are regarded as best sharp shooters in Calw, the hometown of the German Special Forces. And he never wastes magazine cartridges with sustained fire. Even if thirty men were attacking him. That would cause his G36 to overheat and lose accuracy.

Marc does not like inaccuracy.

One of the Taliban kneels against the side of a rock. He’s looking for a target. Through his night filter 80 attachment, Marc only sees the warhead of the bazooka. An ugly, spiked, green tube. About a hundred yards out.

Short artillery fire from the bar magazine. Directly to the head. The Afghan whirls through the air. In the green visor, black blotches. His head is gone.

George nods to him.

He knows that killing people is a very disconcerting legal problem for the Germans. Germans do not shoot to kill suspects. But this is a fight for survival! The rules of engagement are fulfilled – and they are alone among themselves.

Buddy groans and tries to sit upright. Thomas forces him back down.

“He needs an IV, George, or he’s gonna die!”

“Tell him he’ll be on his way home to Linda in five minutes.”

Shots scream over their heads.

“Did you hear that, Buddy? We’re gonna be on our way in a few minutes, just hold on. Linda’s waiting for you.”

George and his two Seals fire to the front, the Germans cover the hill behind them.

They are surrounded. It’s getting pretty damn close!

George feels fear creeping up inside of him that his troop won’t make it out of this goldfish bowl. He has no solution. They need help immediately.

“CHARLIE FORCE – ECHO TEAM IS UNDER HEAVY FIRE!”

“ROGER ECHO TEAM – WE ARE…”

The sentence gets swallowed by noise. The sound of a helicopter! The most beautiful noise an elite soldier can ask for in a desperate situation. From out of nowhere, two AH-64 Apache attack helicopters appear in the sky over the valley. They are rather more heard than seen. Air-to-ground missiles whoosh out of the missile pods on either side of the helicopters at the small groups of Taliban fighters, followed by bursts of fire from the 30-millimeter aircraft cannon. George’s anxiety from a moment ago instantly disappears now that his fire-spewing dragons have arrived. Special night vision sensor, target acquisition system – don’t look directly at it or you’ll go blind!

A new roar of thunderous noise.

The long silhouette of a monster appears and comes closer. The Chinook transport helicopter hovers heavily some feet above the ground. Rattling bullet fire percolates from the behemoth. Fifty life-saving yards away from the elite soldiers. Each yard is one too many! There are still too many Taliban. The pull of the tandem rotors kicks up stones and dirt in the air.

Why always these huge machines? Marc wonders, I hope this works out.

The leviathan lowers itself to the ground, first landing on its rear wheels, then the front.

It hits the ground, bounces, and finally comes to a halt on the lightly sloping, rocky ground. Charlie Force troops immediately jump out of the Chinook equipped with their night vision devices.

They kneel on one leg and take aim.

The Apaches rotate toward the target like remote-controlled robots to provide Echo Force cover from the fire.

Marc flips onto his back and assesses the situation for the forces. Next comes the most dangerous endeavor among all this pandemonium for them and the helicopters as this is a potentially perfect opportunity for an extraordinary ball of fire from only one of the Taliban rocket launchers.

The three Seals carry Les and Buddy, who in the meantime has lost consciousness, to the Chinook amidst the fire from the Apache helicopters.

Mission accomplished.

The medic rushes to Buddy with an IV and oxygen mask in hand. Buddy now has a chance of survival. Hopefully.

One of the Americans outfitted with a wire waves hectically at the door of the Chinook.

“GET IN, GET IN!”

“TIM, TANGO BEHIND YOU!”

Marc can’t help him. His brother is standing directly in the line of fire.

As sprightly as a cat, Tim shoots from the hip. The Taliban throws up his arms as he falls to the ground. His AK-47 flies into the air like some grotesque circus act.

“Thanks, Marc.”

Tangos on all sides. Echo Force runs, bent over, toward the helicopters.

Look, assess, shoot, new magazine, go!

Each of them secures a radius of sixty degrees.

Six times sixty. No sector is left unsecured. One for all and all for one.

Only more ten yards to the Chinook.

Charlie Force and Navy Seals One and Two are in and give cover to George and the three Germans, with assistance from the two death machines hovering nearby.

Thomas kneels down under the protection of the helicopter and activates the mobile device. In the distance they hear a massive explosive and the entire valley quakes. The echo reverberates for a long time as though the entire Hindu Kush is about to burst.

Mission accomplished.

Anything that was hidden must be destroyed now. The U.S. jet fighter would be reduced to only a heap of metal shards.

“HURRY UP, HURRY UP!” one of the Americans was still waiting in the door of the Chinook, wildly waving his arm. The giant monster is in danger. It wouldn’t be the first time soldiers had to be left behind.

Tim and Thomas make it in with a powerful leap, George and Seal One are right on their tails.

Marc is still on the ground. As always. First his troops, then him.

The monstrous helicopter starts to ascend. George waves to him in desperation.

Marc throws his weapon over his shoulder and sprints to the door, George grabs hold of his arm and pulls him in. Half hanging in the doorway, Marc shoots his last rounds of ammunition in the direction of the muzzle flash from the ground.

The three helicopters with Echo Force and the rescued F-15 crew disappear through the hazy valley.

Seal One proudly slaps his German friend on the shoulder from behind in acknowledgment.

Marc Anderson is currently at the zenith of his career, albeit unaware that his biggest challenge still lies ahead of him and that his luck as an elite soldier has now, as of today, just run out.

Chapter 2Berlin

Also, on this day, the 17th of December, the barely legal exhaust pipe of a Harley Road King roars a little too loudly in the garage entrance of the German Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. The officers on duty at the local police station know right away: Rudi’s here. Dr. Rudolf Kürten is the man to call when German citizens find themselves in grave danger somewhere around the world.

“Good morning, Dr. Kürten.”

Rudi flipped up the visor on his helmet.

“I told you already to forget that doctor business!”

“Yes, sir, Dr. Kürten!”

Indeed, this man is rather atypical for an undersecretary of the Foreign Office sporting a leather biker jacket, a stud earring, a pointy goatee, and a ponytail.

His domain is the underground, high-security, twenty-four-hour Crisis Response Center. The finest in Germany. His people are experts from the Foreign Office, the German military – the Bundeswehr, and the various intelligence agencies. People whose résumés he himself has sometimes never seen. But Rudi has to rely on them completely. Any incorrect coordinate or time specification, any incorrect name, weather analysis, or political evaluation can be life-threatening. It’s Rudi’s job to save lives. He only wishes he could do it first-hand.

But he is not a soldier on the front line, his place is behind a desk. He is something like the nation’s chief crisis manager. Often enough, he finds himself at the helm of responsibility when the administration or even the head of state herself doesn’t want to make a decision.

Rudolf enters the Crisis Response Center via the steel vaulted door, a relic of Germany’s old central bank, the Reichsbank, that used to inhabit this site.

The location was a smart choice. The steel-reinforced, soundproof walls of the building are almost four feet thick and the two and a half feet thick steel window shutters are the best defense against anyone listening from outside. However, since the enemy could also potentially come from within, each participant of a crisis meeting is forced to lock their cell phone in one of the eighteen small lockers outside the entrance, including the ministers.

Rudolf quickly peaks into the Lombard Room, the control center of the operation.

“Good morning, everyone, anything special happen?”

What a dumb question he thinks to himself. Every night there is something that happens that the night shift, under the command of the employee on duty, takes care of. Kidnapped persons are recovered, family members are called and consoled, paramedics and social workers are arranged, and they are constantly on the look-out for all the German citizens reported missing, who, very often, just reappear on their own. Nothing special. For those in the know, there is a distinction made between incidents and special events. Special events are the kinds for which those on the nation’s night watch would pull him out of bed.

Those on duty sit in front of four telephones, one of them is marked “Caution: possibly tapped.” Not really necessary anyway, thinks Rudi, my people are naturally confidential. They also only use the encrypted devices and only say the minimum amount necessary. Preferably only: “Understood” – “Roger” – “Over” – “Out”.

The entire outside world is packed into this single room. Nine clocks marked with the names of the various capital cities are identical to those of the current crisis areas and their time zones. On one wall hang maps and the private and cell phone numbers of the ministers and state secretaries. Sensitive information that must be concealed in case an outsider enters this most sacred of rooms. Reports come in around the clock from agencies via picture and text, as well as the German Federal Intelligence Service, the BND, and the German Federal Criminal Police Office, the BKA, plus those of the more than two hundred forty German Consulates and Embassies. They are still called “wires” even though they have been electronic now for many years. Television screens flicker all over the room, there are ten specifically designated for the various news channels. A file exists for almost every country. There is almost nothing here that wasn’t thoroughly thought through.

Every morning, Rudi arrives and is amazed that it doesn’t stink to high heaven here in this room with round-the-clock operation divided into three shifts. When things get really busy in the ministry, he has a back-up reserve of two hundred fifty trained government employees to man the phones. Everything goes through Rudi. He is a geek of a very special kind.

His office, though, is not a drab basement dungeon. On the contrary, it is just like all the other offices on the same level as the other department heads and directors and those on salary grade B 6 and is furnished according to the usual standards. A mahogany desk, heavy rug, conference corner with refined black chairs, an oil painting of the current foreign minister.

The man in the painting, the head of the Foreign Ministry, George von Rüdesheim, has a pleasant, friendly face.

Ministers come and go. And with them, the oil paintings. All that remains is the little black nail stuck in the wall. Decades long. It has also achieved a sort of ministerial status. A nail like the ideal governmental employee in this ministry – unseen and never failing.

Rudi has a sign fixed to the wall in his office that will, in contrast, never be removed and reads:

Failure is not an option.

Rudi lives his life according to this principle. It comes from NASA and is the phrase connected to the Apollo 13 crew in space that needed to be rescued. Avoid catastrophes by avoiding mistakes. This applies to his motorcycle just as much as to the crisis center. For Rudi, there is no room for error.

He enjoys working with the thirty-eight men and women of Department 04 in the secretive crisis reaction center – and they like him. Dr. Rudolf Kürten is not like the typical, slick-as-an-eel government employee. He is easy-going, heartfelt, and highly competent. He got his first taste of crisis management along with his first post as an Ambassador to Kenya, which included responsibility also for Somalia and Burundi. No one else in the bureau understands the delicate and vexatious issue of piracy as well as he does. At fifty-two years old, he has also come to learn that a casual work environment is the best guarantee for success.

His experience on the front and cooperative leadership methods are one thing, however. Rudi is by no means naïve. Here in the nation’s crisis management center, analytical and emotionless expertise is the key to success. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Rudolf has come up with and internalized a certain concept for solving complex situations.

It was four years ago, during a briefing for the top economic executives at the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College in Hamburg Blankenese. He can still see the colonel standing before him: his left arm in a sling, a scar above his right eye, and a very severe look. Reminiscent of World War II resistance fighter Graf von Stauffenberg who was executed on July 20, 1944.

“Before you make your decision, Ladies and Gentlemen, please follow these four steps:

1. Analyze the situation:

List all the factors of the situation without any evaluation. We soldiers call this ‘your own situation and your enemy’s situation.’ For you economics experts, this could be a product range and your competition, for example. For the ladies and gentlemen from the Foreign Office, your country’s political framework and the political situation in the troubled land. Understood? Okay, moving on.

2. Assessment:

Now use your analysis to evaluate your situation and that of your opponent. But please, no emotions! Remain objective. You will find it easier to evaluate according to factors. I can see, you are looking at me with questions in your eyes, what are factors? Very simple. For example, the ability of one’s own or their opponent’s resources, the market situation, the political situation, depending on where you are working. For us in the military, the weather can be a factor for example. The more you can break down the factors you are evaluating, the easier it will be to make a decision. Is that understood? Now, this brings me to:

3. Objectives:

You think you are ready to make a decision now? Sorry, Ladies and Gentlemen, but you are wrong. At this point, it is typically still too early and can result in making the wrong decisions. Take things down a notch. Look inside yourself and ask yourself: what do I want to achieve with my actions in this situation? What are my objectives? Your answer will determine the course. Do you perhaps want to win the big battle or prefer to satisfy the media at this point? In the case of the latter, your actions will be directed toward crisis communications options. You can see how quickly one can take the wrong path. And as such, on to the final point.

4. Conclusions:

Now, you can make your decision. Perhaps you already had one in your pocket. Very good, at least that confirms things. But perhaps after this assessment, you have come to a completely different decision. But be careful, Ladies and Gentlemen – there are usually many options! Make a list of them and chose the decision that best fulfils your goals and objectives. Weigh your options. But always keep in mind your means and possibilities and stay realistic.”

The colonel drew four letters.

“We call these the Leadership Process SAOC,” he points to the first letter from Situation Analysis, Assessment, Objectives, and Conclusions.

“This is the classic leadership strategy of the Special Forces. Wars are won this way, or at least avoided. Many of my comrades are now colleagues of yours in the world of economics and use this tactic with great success. Train your staff to use this process. And when the situation changes, you can adapt SAOC and reevaluate.

Last but not least: Don’t forget to take control. Any questions? Thank you very much.”

Rudi could have gone home afterwards, but that was something special! Sometimes things just simply click in life. And it sometimes helps to have a sympathetic and guaranteed authentic man in a uniform delivering the message.

Since then, SAOC has become ingrained in Rudi’s head just like shifting through the gears on his bike. From first, to second, to third, to fourth, and to fifth as he rides his motorcycle from the Spreewald to the ministry. Nevertheless, he has long given up trying to teach the SAOC method to his subordinate – Deputy Assistant Undersecretary of the Crisis Response Center Dr. Hartwig Bloedorn. He just can’t seem to get through to this man, or there is simply no chemistry between them.

Rudolf looks at the board on the wall. Twelve kidnapping incidents paired with various hand-picked crisis teams depending on the country where the incident happened. He knows every case in detail. Every circumstance. Every person. Every family.

But one case is different. One kidnapping incident has been dragging on for more than two years now without any new developments. Two men are being misused as human shields against permanent military threats.

In the meantime, the Federal Criminal Police Office has dismissed the team that was helping both families in Germany to cope. Yet, these families truly need psychological support most of all. To compensate for this, Rudi has access to a twenty-four-hour hotline that guarantees him a crisis intervention team available in almost every German city.

And for the last eight weeks, the ministry has been worried about two German company employees, Helmut Weier and Josef Fischer, who, despite the ministry’s travel warning, have gone to work in Northern Iraq. Thankfully, at least the two men registered with ELEFAND, a free, electronic registry of German citizens abroad. The Federal Intelligence Service fears they are in the hands of the Islamic State, a rapidly-growing group of militant Muslim terrorists that has long surpasses al-Qaida in its reputation world-wide. So far, however, there has been no indications from any side.

The crisis team Weier/Fischer, internally abbreviated to WEFI, has to rely on the reports from the intelligence agencies for any new developments. And, in fact, the CIA recently reported that two Germans were taken hostage and presumed to be in Northern Iraq. All efforts from Team WEFI are being spent looking into these reports.

Rudolf is aware that the relatively comfortable times of when kidnappers were only interested in a ransom are now over. Since Germany has become more involved in the fight against international terrorism, the number of cases of political extortion have sharply increased as the chances for the hostages have dramatically decreased. On his way to the crisis center, he sees Dr. Bloedorn approaching him frantically.

“Dr. Kürten, I’m so glad I found you! We just received a YouTube video with a threat from the Islamic State with an ultimatum. They are threatening to behead Weier and Fischer on December 25th if Germany does not cease its support in the fight against ISIS!”

For a moment, Rudolf forgets that he is no fan of this eellike Dr. Bloedorn. The man is an expert at talking for twenty minutes without ever saying anything remotely meaningful. The top of the class at the school of diplomacy. The ministry has actually only parked him here in the crisis center. He even starts to hyperventilate in crisis situations as though he’s having some kind of a crisis orgasm. Unfortunately, more due to blind activism than out of true concern for the people involved.

It is those people whom Rudolf is now thinking about as his eyes scan the situation room, passing over the computers, fax machines, and encryption machines, before coming to rest on the nine synchronized railway clocks quietly ticking on the wall.

Northern Iraq is two hours ahead. When are they supposed to be beheaded? On December 25th, nine days from today! That allows a little bit of time at least. Every hour is now precious. They need to switch to full speed.

“Mr. Bloedorn, call the WEFI Crisis Team for a meeting at 4 o’clock local time. And inform the executive level.”

Rudi rushes into his office, the unforgiving ticking of the clocks still resonates in his ears.

“Sandra, call Silverlocks to come here and give me my blazer, please.”

His secretary Sandra knows that when he trades his Harley jacket for his blazer, then it’s serious. And she also knows, of course, that Director of the German Federal Police Office Hartmut Busch, a.k.a. “Silverlocks,” is the top expert on Islamic terrorism and a shrewd negotiator as well.

“I wanted to tell you that both Weier’s and Fischer’s wives have just called. Chief, they are each at the end of their ropes.”

“Are we able to contact them?”

“We are.”

“Please tell them both, I will call them after the meeting.”

He knows how terrifying it can be for the families to hear about threats of beheading in the news media and even to potentially witness such beheadings somewhere on the internet.

He then immerses himself in the reports on the situation. What do we know? What will the assessment be?

It’s already clear to him that this could be the first beheading of a German citizen this year. Somehow, the RAF was more predictable, he thought, we knew who the enemy was then…

“Sandra, I think we will be getting an important visitor today.”

“Do you really think so? She has been here only one single time in the past two years and then it was only an official visit to commemorate her inauguration.”

The Chancellor’s Office

When Susanne Ehrlich, the administrative assistant to the German Chancellor, hears the strangely reserved voice of Federal Foreign Minister Georg von Rüdesheim on the telephone, it was clear to her that it was urgent. She suspected there would be no positive highlights on her boss’s schedule for today.

“Is the Chancellor available? She’s not answering her encrypted cell phone,” inquired von Rüdesheim.

“It’s possible she’s on the other phone, Minister.”

“These encrypted cell phones are extremely impractical,” he retorted curtly.

“May I assume that she’s in Berlin? I need to speak to her urgently.”

“May I ask what it’s about?”

“You may,” answered von Rüdesheim, a bit more sharply.

It irked him that all the office assistants in this world have as much power as he does.

“ISIS seems to have the two German hostages Weier and Fischer in their possession. They have made clear threats to behead them if we don’t withdrawal.”

“I’ll put you through, Minister. Is your encrypted cell phone activated?”

“Of course, that’s what I am calling you on.”

German Chancellor Henriette Behrens is on the way from her residence in the southern part of Berlin to the Chancellery, accompanied by security agents in the car in front of her and behind.

Henriette enjoys being the Chancellor. She was born in to a diplomat family and lived in Rome for a number of years studying political science, history, and philosophy. The topic of her thesis was the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. She is well-liked in her country for her compassionate nature and her objective politics. Her political views are transparent, just as she herself is transparent and authentic. She can be tough, but she is predictable. The German Chancellor says what she wants and keeps her word. She is trustworthy, both nationally as well as internationally.

However, she cannot stand the leader of the opposition party, but recognizes her need for him to ensure her power as Chancellor. He is a necessary evil. And she needs to hold on to this power as she is now leading a brand new, complicated three-party coalition government and is surrounded by political opponents who are all just salivating for her to make a mistake. After all, the goal of every opposition is to overthrow the leaders.

Henriette had picked out her white silk blouse and a dark blue pantsuit to wear today, along with a subtle string of pearls and small diamond earrings. She doesn’t like to wear any more jewelry than that. For the past two decades, the forty-nine-year-old can easily be identified by the delicate scent of her favorite perfume, Ypsilon. In the meantime, it has become more difficult to find the perfume anywhere on the market.

The chancellor is often viewed critically by the other female ministers, but receives overwhelming admiration from her male colleagues, especially from her Italian counterpart. Not merely for her affinity for Italy, but because she is young, single, and extraordinarily attractive. A picture of Signora Henriette has stood on his desk in Rome ever since his wife has left him.

Her black, shoulder-length, layered hairstyle was deemed the Henriette look. Handbags and shoes have taken on her name as their trademark. Her choice of clothing is an ongoing topic in the boulevard press. The Times ran a front-page story entitled “Germany’s Best Brand” about the overwhelming charm and brains of a one-of-a-kind phenomenon among European Heads of State.

What in the world should I wear later to receive the Emir of Qatar, she mulled over the event to herself. Von Rüdesheim stressed to her that Qatar is very rich and is becoming increasingly more important for Germany, and now is the right time to strengthen political ties with them.

She looks in the mirror and runs her lipstick over her lips, presses them together, and carefully inspects her mouth.

At least with the Emir, she doesn’t run the risk of getting hugged.

Henriette hates it when any man anywhere in the world hugs her. They see it as a good photo-op for themselves to hug the first woman to lead Europe’s most powerful country, and a beautiful woman, at that. Just about every one of them wants to. Physical touch, like a hug, is also a way of demonstrating political power in a way that words can’t convey. Not even the short men shy away from wanting to hug the five foot seven inch tall, slender Henriette.

There are all sorts of men who are open to giving public displays of affection. The confident, reserved type, and others who act more like roosters. During her trips to Brussels, for instance, she is subject to a barrage of peck on the left, peck on the right. She has come to develop her own sort of defense strategy of blocking it early. But it doesn’t always work.

I would really prefer to freshen up and change clothes before the mid-day conference with the Emir, she thinks.

What is the plan for the day? First off, she has an hour-long meeting with the bank representative in a little while and then a two-hour meeting with the unions and the representatives from the churches.

She looks at the papers she has spread out next to her on the back seat of the car. Henriette does not like the special folders that government officials are supposed to use. Whenever possible, the papers need to be readily accessible and easy to find. Just like the ingredients in the kitchen, that’s how she cooks best.

She counts. Sixteen important phone calls are planned for that afternoon, including one with the President of the Federal Republic of Germany. He wants to discuss some complex proposed legislation.

An urgent letter from Mrs. Weier and Mrs. Fischer is also in the pile of papers. The wives of the two kidnapped German hostages are desperately asking for her assistance.

Both of their husbands were coerced into moving their construction company from Hanau to Iraq, despite the danger surrounding the area, in order to participate in some business ventures there. Both women fear for the lives of their husbands and are panic-stricken that they did not stop their husbands from going in spite of all the warnings from colleagues and also the German Foreign Office.

The letter is beautifully written. Henriette shares their anguish. She will be soon be briefed on the matter more closely before she is finally allowed to put her feet up at 8 o’clock this evening. Henriette Behrens has a discreet meeting that only her secretary and long-time friend, Susanne Ehrlich, knows about.

The number of German Foreign Minister von Rüdesheim appears in the display of her encrypted cell phone. The Chancellor is more than careful around him. Her coalition partner managed to push him through for an appointment during the formation of the new administration causing him subsequently also fulfill the position of her vice-chancellor. She can only guess what happens behind the scenes. She sometimes finds herself faced with the only remaining option of overruling him, which is then immediately portrayed in the media as a conflict between her and the foreign minister. Von Rüdesheim keeps tabs on her and is wary of her, especially because of her noticeably good relationship to the defense minister.

“Mr. Rüdesheim, is there a problem?”

“There is indeed, Madam Chancellor.”

He goes on to tell her about the extortion video.

“There is one more thing you should know: the threats come from a terrorist who speaks very good German. And you, Madam Chancellor, are named as the addressee of the message and are also heavily threatened. It’s already all over the media with the usual speculation of what our reaction will be. Undersecretary Dr. Kürten is preparing a meeting with the WEFI crisis unit for today in the situation room.”

Henriette thinks for a moment.

Option one, I delegate as much of this as possible. Option two, I make this an executive issue and actively take control. Both options are open ended. Option two is not something I can afford timewise, and it’s also politically more dangerous…”

She knows that she is sitting on the hot seat regarding this delicate subject. Two German hostages could potentially be beheaded by this terrorist organization. It is not her style to wait things out. She was elected to act. She takes control in the cabinet and in Brussels, and now she has to take control in the crisis center! Henriette decides on option two.

“What time is the crisis unit meeting?”

“Four o’clock.”

“I will be there. Please also have Interior Minister Dr. Bauer and Defense Minister Voss there as well – and of course anyone else we will need for coming up with a solution.”

“Will do, Madam Chancellor.”

He is such an idiot, thinks Henriette. When will he figure it out that I prefer just to be called by my name among the cabinet members?

She then calls her secretary and has her shorten the length of the day’s meetings with the banks, churches, and unions. This will help her get in some phone calls. I can forget changing my clothes, she says to herself while grabbing a few files.

“To the Foreign Office Crisis Response Center!”

“Normal or with the blue light?”

“Normal. I’d like to be able to take a nap in peace before war breaks out.”

Her favorite driver radios the details to the car ahead and smirks. He is proud to be her driver. Not only is she damn good-looking, she also feisty, and has her wits about her.

Everyone is already assembled in the situation room. The main screen is still black. Tense silence fills the room. This is the first time the chancellor herself will be taking part in a session.

Armored cars have been arriving since 3:30 p.m. The drivers jump out and open the door for the ministers. There is little need for body guards here as they are in a secured area. Defense Minister Paul Voss is accompanied by an army general. Internal Minister Dr. Siegfried Bauer by one of the high-ranking officials of the GSG 9 elite anti-terrorism squad of the German Federal Police, and the man of the house, Foreign Minister Georg von Rüdesheim, arrives alone.

Dr. Rudolf Kürten greets each of the guests with a handshake. It’s a big event today. During crises like this one, Rudi typically turns quite pensive, much calmer than his usual self.

The men are politely, but firmly, asked to turn in their cell phones before entering the situation room. This is not only for security reason, but it also upholds Rudi’s general rule. His motto is: Brains before technology.

Rudi glances around the room. It is exactly the way he has always wanted it to look. Empty tables lined up to form a long oval, corner to corner. A writing pad, a pen, and nothing else.