Eight Years Ago
Under the cover of a moonlit night, an MH-60 Apache helicopter descends silently onto the rooftop of a skyscraper in downtown Jakarta. Four CCI operatives descend from the helicopter. As soon as the last person is clear, the helicopter ascends once more and disappears into the night. The top level of the building is the headquarters of former high-level Jordanian intelligence operative Omar Al-Khatib. He previously served as a Defense Intelligence Agency liaison until going rogue a few months earlier. Al-Khatib was in possession of the highly sensitive Missile Defense Protocol (MDP) discs. The discs outline the entire U.S. missile defense infrastructure, including launch codes, missile silo sites, and mobile units. This information would be invaluable to a number of American enemies abroad. Al-Khatib’s apparent duplicity has severely strained relations between Jordanian and U.S. military intelligence. And both the Americans and the Jordanians wanted him back, badly.
This CCI unit was specifically tasked by the DIA to retrieve Al-Khatib by any means at their disposal. Their strike team is small but lethal; consisting of Conrad, Blankenchip, and team leader Major Paul James, with support officer David Breslin. Breslin breaks away from the trio to the main building’s main circuit breaker to override the failsafe mechanism. The other three deactivate the roof’s cameras and motion sensors before quickly moving in to observe Al-Khatib’s office through the skylight.
Major James turns to Blankenchip. “Do we have visual confirmation of the package?”
“Affirmative,” Blankenchip replies as he peers through his night-vision-enhanced binoculars. “I spot four bogies–three security guards and Al-Khatib.
“Good.” Major James turns to Conrad. “Do you have the flash-bang grenades?”
“All right, the package is isolated.” He radios Breslin. “Lights out on my count.”
“Copy that, Major.”
The three of them strap on their AN/PVS-5 night-vision goggles in preparation.
James begins the countdown.
“We go in on three. One…two…THREE!”
Breslin cuts power to Al-Khatib’s office and the once brightly lit space is suddenly immersed in darkness. The trio bursts through the skylight with shards of glass dispersing through the air like stardust. Conrad reaches inside her tactical webbing to pull out three flash-bang grenades. She hurls them into the midst of the security guards, disorienting them. One of the guards draws his Uzi and shoots wildly through the smoke. Bullets ricochet off the walls and floor, with one of them barely missing Blankenchip’s head. He fires back with his Beretta M92F pistol, wounding the guard in his shoulder. Conrad dispatches the second guard by plunging her Night Force knife into his midsection before he can let off a shot. The guard collapses to the floor without an utterance. James shoots Al-Khatib’s last guard in the right flank and leg. After the chaos settles, he turns his pistol-mounted flashlight on Al-Khatib, who takes refuge behind an overturned desk chair.
“Put your hands up!” James orders.
Al-Khatib staggers to his feet as he gathers himself. Aside from some coughing from the smoke, he seems otherwise unfazed by the intrusion.
“So, this is the famed CCI squad? Hanahan and Davis must be getting lax in their recruitment standards,” Al-Khatib says with contempt.
Not at all pleased with his glib tone, Blankenchip gets right to the point. “Cut the crap, where are the MDP discs?”
“Now why would I want to give you that information? They have to be worth at least a billion dollars on the black market.”
“Look, we can do this the hard way or the easy way. The choice is yours,” James says.
“Way I see it,” Blankenchip chimes in, “he doesn’t have a choice.”
“I believe you’re right,” Al-Khatib replies, seemingly at ease with his fate.
He turns to the computer console on his bullet-ridden desk and types in his security password. Thankfully, the computer was still operational. The disc tray under the console opens and a rotating array of discs slides out. Al-Khatib removes the tray’s contents and walks toward them.
“Here are your discs.”
James grabs the discs from him and hands them to Conrad, keeping his eyes and weapon steady on Al-Khatib. “I want authenticity verification.”
Conrad inserts the discs into her mini-laptop. Within seconds the analysis program reads the discs to confirm that they are the originals.
“They’re legit. All the protocols and countermeasures are present and intact,” she replies.
“Any copies made?” James inquires.
“I checked the duplication history and it’s clean. No extra copies were made.”
“Good.” Major James turns to Al-Khatib. “Now, Mr. Al-Khatib, I think it would be wise of you to come with us without a struggle.”
Al-Khatib complies with the order. Major James pats him down for any weapons before turning him around. James pins Al-Khatib’s chest to the wall, and places handcuffs on him.
Conrad radios Breslin. “We’ve obtained the package. We’re heading up.”
“Copy that,” Breslin replies. “I’ll rendezvous at the extraction point.”
The quartet leaves by way of the stairwell; Conrad and Blankenchip lead the way, closely trailed by Al-Khatib and James, who are roughly fifteen feet behind them. The Apache helicopter is in clear view as they reach the rooftop. Just moments before entering the helicopter, Al-Khatib turns to look at James.
“You honestly thought that I would go this easily?”
Al-Khatib taps on one of the cuff links on his shirt, detonating the micro-explosives within the lining of it.
The explosion’s force hurls Conrad and Blankenchip into the side of the helicopter. Their ears ring so loud they can’t even hear each other. Blankenchip struggles to get to his feet as Conrad tries to make out any body through the thick smoke from the explosion. Her goggles were more of a hindrance than a help. She rips them off to get a better view and turns to see James lying lifeless on the ground just a few feet from her, his body burned to a nearly unrecognizable degree. She rushes to his side and starts to perform vigorous chest compressions, trying to bring him back. Ultimately, her effort proves fruitless.
Breslin yells at Blankenchip to get on the helicopter. He nods and runs to gather Conrad.
“We gotta go!” Blankenchip says as he pulls her away from James’s body.
“But we can’t just leave him!”
“He’s dead, Alicia,” Blankenchip says coldly. “PJ knew the risks when he signed up. Now let’s get the hell outta here!”
Blankenchip forcefully yanks her away from James’s body. As he does so, James’s dog tag is ripped from his neck as Conrad clutches onto it.
Silver Spring, Maryland
“Get up, Alicia,” are the words Conrad hears as she’s woken from her dream by her younger brother Cameron.
“What happened?” Conrad mutters as she shakes off the effects of sleep.
“You were screaming.”
“I was?” She’s still slightly disorientated.
“You were having a nightmare, Alicia.” Cameron’s concern for his sister is evident in his voice.
Even though he’s seventeen years younger than his sister, he takes it upon himself to assume the dual roles of watchful brother and man of the house. It’s an unnecessary burden, but nonetheless he’s chosen to accept it.
“I guess I was,” Conrad says, now settling down from being jolted out of her dream state.
He glances at the digital clock on her bedstand.
“It’s 12:45. Didn’t you say you had a meeting at two?”
“Yeah, but what are you doing home so early? I thought you had AAU practice?”
Playing competitive basketball has been in the Conrads’ blood for years. Their father, John Conrad, was an All-American during his high school years. Conrad herself was also an All-American at Springbrook High School, so it’s only natural that Cameron would follow suit. He’s been playing on the AAU team since he started middle school. He’s pretty good too, averaging sixteen points, ten rebounds, and five assists per game. Just like his big sister was, he was highly sought after by dozens of Division I colleges.
“We ended an hour early,” Cameron answers. “I called and left a message on your phone for a ride.”
Conrad picks up her cell phone from the bed stand and looks at the screen to see that she indeed missed Cameron’s call. She puts her head in her hand.
“I’m sorry, Cam. I was at a meeting this morning, and I crashed as soon as I got home.”
Cameron has sadly grown accustomed to being let down by his older sister. It always seems that affairs of work always take precedence over family for his sister. At least, that’s what it felt like to him.
“I figured as much,” he replies, the discontent clear in his voice.
The young man exits the room, leaving Conrad alone.
All Characters copyright and trademark Paa-Kofi Obeng