Night Missions, Night Visions

Chapter Six

Acid Dreams

 

Eight Years Ago

Jakarta, Indonesia

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?”

She nods.  

“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. 

 

Conrad Residence

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

Secret Service

Image courtesy of Encyclopedia.com

 

Chapter Five

Mister President

 

Oval Office

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

 

The White House is intended to be one of the most secure buildings on the planet. Common sense says it would have to be, considering that it houses the most powerful person in the Free World. Yet, two would-be infiltrators from the militia group, the National Freedom Alliance, have managed to infiltrate the Oval Office. The men, one of them armed with an H&K P-10 pistol and the other with a Mac 10 submachine gun, train their weapons on the back of the president’s chair. They think they have the president right where they want him.

The pistol-toting infiltrator speaks up. “All right, Mr. President, you’re gonna listen to our demands or we’re blowin’ this building sky high.”

No response comes from the man in the chair. The two men look at each other in exasperation, agitated by the president’s seeming disregard for the threat they pose. The second man reaches over to turn his chair around.

“Hey, listen to the man when he’s talkin’ to…you…”

The militia man’s voice shrinks to that of a preadolescent boy as he discovers that the person sitting in the president’s chair is actually Secret Service agent Terrell Morrison. The men stare at him dumbfounded. Morrison responds to their obvious shock with some levity.

“What? You were expecting someone a little lighter and thinner?”

They quickly compose themselves and fire their weapons. Before the first bullet can pierce his body, Morrison converts his six-foot, eight-frame from flesh into solid steel.

The bullets tear through his clothes but ricochet off his steel skin. Without hesitation he quickly grabs the submachine gun from the man closest to him, and flips it around to the butt end. He delivers a devastating blow to the infiltrator’s left temple. The impact knocks the man unconscious. The second man, being the wiser, makes a beeline out of the room, but not before letting off a few rounds as he retreats. When he reaches the exit, to his mortification, he’s greeted by three Secret Service agents. The agents waste no time tackling him to the ground and clasping handcuffs around his wrists.

Morrison converts his body back to its natural state, gleaming steel skin recedes to reveal warm flesh and blood. He frantically pats down his suit.

“What’s wrong?” his colleague Jeff Garner asks.

Morrison reaches into his right breast pocket and pulls out a gold wedding band with the engraving: “T&D.”

“There it is,” Morrison says with a smile.

He kisses the ring and puts it back on. Then he looks at the remains of his suit and laments. “I paid over two grand for this thing. What a waste.”

“Next time, you might want to leave the Dolce and Gabbana at home,” Garner comments.

Feigning shock at his friend’s lack of designer-brand savvy, Morrison says, “It’s actually Kenneth Cole.”

“Sorry,” Garner replies with eyebrows raised, as if to say, “Excuse me.”

Morrison smiles and quickly changes the subject. “Did you guys get all the audio on that?”

“Yes, we did. Those idiots won’t see the light of day for a long time.”

“What about the planted explosives?”

“We retrieved and deactivated all of them.”

“Good. Tell Stiles he can bring the president back in from the safe room now.”

“Copy that.” Garner taps his earpiece lightly. “All clear, let the eagle out of the nest.” He shifts his attention back to Morrison.

“So, are you ready for your big press conference today?”

Morrison lets the corners of his mouth betray a warm smile. “Yeah, but not until after I get a bite to eat. I’m starving like you wouldn’t believe!”

 

All characters copyright and trademark Paa-Kofi Obeng

Feds

Image Courtesy of Techjaws.

 

Chapter Four

Feds

Shadyside Café

Venice Beach, California

Agent John Arrowhawk is growing impatient, for good reason. He’s sitting alone at a wire-framed table covered by an umbrella shade waiting for arms dealer, Derrick “D-Tech” Sylvester. What kind of silly nickname is D-Tech, anyway? Arrowhawk wonders as he checks his watch. The arms dealer is more than thirty minutes behind schedule, and Arrowhawk fears that the deal may have already fallen through before it’s begun.

Sylvester supplies weapons to many in Southern California’s criminal underworld. He also has ties to many South and Central American drug lords. Posing as a rising cocaine trafficker in the L.A. underworld, Arrowhawk has arranged a buy with Sylvester. He’s been working on this meeting for weeks, with hopes of not only arresting Sylvester, but also obtaining his client list. Arrowhawk taps his earpiece.

“He’s got cold feet, the deal’s off-”

His field leader interrupts. “Hold it, we got him on surveil, he’s heading right for you.”

At that moment, a thin man with a close-cropped hair, and dressed in an Armani suit, arrives at Arrowhawk’s table. His appearance comes off more like a GQ cover model than an arms dealer. The well-dressed man pulls up a chair across from Arrowhawk.

“You got the money?” he asks calmly.

“No money till I see the merchandise,” Arrowhawk answers.

Sylvester nods and the two get up from their outdoor table and head inside the café. The pair walk past the various café patrons and into a side room just across from the kitchen. In the room are an oval wooden table and three chairs.

Sylvester places a two large metallic suitcases side by side on the table and opens them. Within the foam-lined cases lies an assortment of weaponry, including two Glock-36s, one Walther 9mm submachine gun, and an Uzi.

“This is just a sample,” Sylvester says. “I’ll take you to the rest once I see the cash.”

Arrowhawk looks at the weapons and then at Sylvester. He presses a button on his wristwatch. “Thanks, but that’s all I needed to see.”

The door is kicked open, and suddenly, Sylvester is accosted by a slew of café patrons. Unknown to Sylvester, most of the café patrons are in fact undercover agents. He slips his right arm free to grab the Glock from one of the suitcases. Arrowhawk closes the lid of the second suitcase and bats the gun out of Sylvester’s hand with it. He’s then slammed to the ground face-first with his arms pulled behind his back.

“You set me up!” a bewildered Sylvester blurts.

“Way to state the obvious, Tech,” Arrowhawk replies.

“I’ll get you! You ain’t seen the last of me!”

“‘You ain’t seen the last of me.’” Arrowhawk mocks. “Do you know how utterly unoriginal that sounds? You sound like a perp from a bad cop drama. Let’s be honest, you’re just mad ‘cause you got caught.”

He slaps Sylvester on the back of the head as he’s lifted off the ground by one of the agents.

“You gotta be slick, my man.”

Arrowhawk motions to the agent. “Get him out of here. I want him in interrogation within the next half hour. Also, make sure we get a team to the industrial park to recover the rest of his caché.”

“Right away sir,” the agent says. “But, I’m just curious, why didn’t you just zap him when he pulled the gun on you?”

“Because it would’ve been too dangerous in close quarters like this. I can’t risk one of our guys getting hurt.” As he turns to walk away, one of his colleagues pulls him aside.

“Samuels is on the line for you, John.”

He takes the cell phone. “Arrowhawk.”

L.A. office Special Agent in Charge Kevin Samuels comes on the line. Arrowhawk worked briefly under Samuels as his ASAC, but stepped down shortly after the Kerrington affair. The two still maintain a fun yet professional relationship.

“How did it go?”

Arrowhawk responds in his own slightly satirical way.

“As well as it could have. Some of these arms dealers aren’t that bright. They wouldn’t recognize a sting operation if it ran up and bit them in the crotch.”

“You know, I really could’ve done without that mental image, John.”

“Sorry.”

“Anyway, make sure you write up your field report before your hot-shot press conference.”

“The Vigil thing?”

“Yeah.”

“What time was it again?”

“Do I look like your secretary?”

“No, sir, but you are one of the most informed and astute people I know,” Arrowhawk responds.

“Enough with the brown-nosing. It’s at two o’clock, east coast time.”

All characters are trademark and copyright Paa-Kofi Obeng

 

 

 

 

Spy Woman Part 2

Chapter Three (continued)

Super Sleuth

SVR[1] Headquarters

Yasenevo 11 Kolpachny

Moscow, Russia

She reaches the roof, where her extraction team hovers above in an MH-60 Enhanced Black Hawk helicopter. Clemens motions for her to jump in. Just as she leaps for the helicopter, a bullet grazes the side of her right leg. Fighting Bull stumbles and barely grabs hold of a landing skid with her left hand as the helicopter begins its ascent. As she dangles from the helicopter she draws a black Sig Sauer P-225 from her shoulder holster and returns fire on the guard who shot her. The bullet pierces his chest, and his body crumples to the ground.

Fighting Bull loses her grip, but before she can fall too far, Clemens snatches her left wrist and pulls her into the cabin. Their gunner returns fire with two mounted 7.62mm miniguns as the pilot releases burst flares from the M-130 flare dispenser, disorienting their attackers and covering their escape.

Fighting Bull hands the jump drive to her operations officer. 

“That was too close, Cynthia,” Clemens comments.

“I know,” Fighting Bull counters. “It won’t happen again.”

“You said that in Sarajevo, and in Kandahar before that.”

Fighting Bull nods contritely. Deep down, she is not truly penitent. The fact is that she thrives on episodes like this. To her, the rush of being on the precipice of death is akin to being high on cocaine. One could rightly assert that Cynthia Fighting Bull was an adrenaline junkie with no intention of ever going into rehab. Competent though she is at her job, her love of excessive risk-taking is her one major flaw as an agent.

Clemens inserts the jump drive into his laptop’s USB port and begins transferring the encrypted files to Langley’s server. The on-board medic bandages Fighting Bull’s leg wound. Thankfully for her, there is just superficial damage with minimal blood loss.

With the release of superhuman growth hormone from her anterior pituitary gland, she transforms from the Andropov identity back into her original slim five-foot, five-inch frame. Her protean ability is both amazing and unsettling to witness, best described as wax melting, with Andropov’s visage liquefying away to reveal Fighting Bull’s true face. Clemens looks up from his laptop to catch this process.

“No matter how many times you do that it still gives me the creeps,” he comments.

 Fighting Bull smiles and ties her long, light brown hair into a pony tail as she takes a cabin seat. She grabs the duffle bag with her change of clothes from the side of her chair and places it in her lap. An unfortunate downside to her ability is that she can’t transform her clothes whenever she does a shape change. Thus, she is constantly required to have a change of clothes on hand to fit her original body frame.

“Cynthia, you want to grab something to drink before we head home?” the pilot asks.

“You know she doesn’t drink Barton,” Clemens says. “Just worry about getting us home.”

Fighting Bull nods at Clemens then looks down at her phone. She notices the time and sees that she is almost late in giving her video debrief to her handler. She touches the overhead flat-screen monitor above her, agent Tony Dickson appears onscreen.

 “How was it?”

            She responds with a smirk. “Smooth as a baby’s bottom. They didn’t have the slightest clue that I was even there.”

          “Yeah right, and there’s a bridge in New York that I’d like to sell you. I saw your little fiasco from the SATVID.[2] Next time, leave when Clemens tells you to!” Dickson chides.

 “Now where would the fun be in that?”

 “It’s all fun and games until I’m reading your eulogy.”

 “I understand. I won’t make that mistake again, sir. So when’s my next assignment?”

 “You won’t have one. You have a press conference to go to, remember?”

 “Uh, no. When did this come about?” 

“Didn’t you get the memo about being sanctioned into that new special task force?” Dickson retorts matter-of-factly.

 “No, sir.”

 “You sure?”

 “Positive.”

Back at Langley, Dickson clicks the Microsoft Outlook icon on his computer screen and retrieves the errant e-mail. He pauses as he reads.

            “On second thought, scratch that. There’s no way you could’ve gotten that memo because I’m staring at the copy that I was supposed to e-mail you. Sorry, I must’ve forgotten to send it. My bad.”

“‘My bad?’ Sir, isn’t it you who always reminds me that this CIA stands for the Central Intelligence Agency, not the Center for the Inept and Amnesic?”

[1] Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki—Russian Foreign Intelligence Service

[2] SATellite VIDeo

All characters and story trademark and copyright of Paa-Kofi Obeng 

Red Tape

Image Courtesy of Photoaltan

 

Chapter Two

Bureaucrats

 

Interstate 495

The Washington Beltway

Conrad navigates the perpetually congested Washington Beltway in her late-model Ford SUV, with the intent of getting to her Silver Spring home before lunchtime. Although her eyes are fixed on the road, her mind drifts back to the meeting with Hanahan. The thought of being active again is both appealing and honestly quite frightening—How would she transition back to active duty? What would she do to keep them all on the same page? These thoughts run through her mind just before the ringtone of James Brown’s “The Big Payback” from her cell breaks through her fugue. She looks at the caller ID and sees that it’s Maurice Hodges, case officer with the Montgomery County Department of Child Welfare Services. Hodges has been a constant thorn in her side since the beginning of her custody case with the county. Her disposition immediately changes as she lifts the phone to her ear.

In a flat voice she answers, “Conrad.”

            Maurice Hodges’s voice is the perfect amalgam of the character Steve Urkel from the 1990s television show Family Matters and comic actor and economist Ben Stein.    

“Yes, Ms. Conrad, this is Maurice Hodges from the Department of Child Welfare Services.”

She can’t help but grit her teeth every time he opens his mouth.

“Yeah, I know who you are. What exactly is it that you want?”

“Just calling to remind you of your pending court date.”

“Yes, I do remember, Mr. Hodges. Is there anything else you would like to waste my daytime minutes on?”

Hodges is put off by the curt response and pauses a moment to gather himself before responding.

“No, nothing else, but I have to say, your tone and manner are quite rude, considering that you’re one of our decorated servicewomen—”

She interrupts him mid-sentence. “Look, I’d love to listen to your diatribe on proper phone etiquette, but unlike some people–such as yourself–I use the air I breathe to do work that actually matters. So if you’ll excuse me…”

She presses the “End” button on her phone and flings it into the lap of the passenger seat. The absolute nerve of him…he seriously needs to invest in getting a life. I promised mom that I’d keep us together. There is no way they’re taking Camille and Cameron away from me.

Conrad turns on her multimedia player and plugs it into the center console audio-input jack. Her SUV is suddenly immersed in the sounds of James Taylor’s Fire and Rain. Little did she know how prescient that song title would be.      

 

Characters copyright and trademark Paa-Kofi Obeng 

Spy Woman Part 1

 

Chapter Three

Super Sleuth

SVR[1] Headquarters

Yasenevo 11 Kolpachny

Moscow, Russia

The Cold War has been over for decades, but the CIA still has a penchant for keeping tabs on its Russian sister agency. This provides covert operations officers like Agent Cynthia Fighting Bull a world of job security. Her current assignment—retrieving files on former Soviet nuclear scientists from the SVR archives—is going smoothly so far. Her ability to shape-shift is no doubt helping this along.

She operates under the guise of SVR Security Chief, General Anatoly Andropov.

Her operations officer, Dalton Clemens, talks to her over the radio earpiece, addressing her by her call-sign.

“Chameleon, your exit window closes in thirty seconds. Have you secured the package?”

“That’s affirmative; I’m almost done,” Fighting Bull responds.

After downloading the file, she pulls the jump drive out of the computer’s USB port and tucks it into her coat pocket. Clemens comes back in her ear.

“Chameleon, infrared is picking up movement in your direction.”

She taps her earpiece before responding. “I’m leaving now.”

As she proceeds to the exit, much to her surprise (and chagrin), she bumps into the genuine General Andropov. Mutually stunned by this encounter, they both pause.  

“What the hell?!” Andropov blurts out in his native Russian.

Fighting Bull hesitates briefly as Andropov reaches for the H&K P-10 pistol in his left shoulder holster. Regaining her mental bearings, she kicks the pistol out of his right hand and follows through with a forceful roundhouse to the chest. The impact knocks the wind out of Andropov. He loses his balance and tumbles to the ground. She sprints out of the room just as the back of his head hits the floor.

A trio of security guards walks by to find one Andropov sprinting out of the archive room while another is sprawled on the floor. The guards are understandably confused by what they see. The real Andropov, struggling for air, orders the guards, “G-get him.”

The men pull out their Kalashnikov rifles and begin firing on Fighting Bull, as they chase after her. She deftly navigates a myriad of corridors and stairwells. Shattered pieces of plaster splatter across her face as bullets pierce the walls, just narrowly missing her.

[1] Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki—Russian Foreign Intelligence Service

Characters Trademark and Copyright Paa-Kofi Obeng 

Just Another Taste

Images Courtesy of Stars and Stripes

Chapter One

Where All My Troubles Began 

July 3rd

Office of the Secretary of Defense

The Pentagon

Arlington, Virginia   

 

Secretary Charles Hanahan is a middle-aged man with a shaved bald head and mid-sized frame. Even though he’s gained a little weight over the years, he’s still quite fit for his sixty-three years. With the demands of his role as defense secretary, he has to be. He pulls a stack of manila folders from the file cabinet behind his well-worn leather chair and plops them onto his already cluttered desk.

“Well, Captain, here’s your team.”

            Captain Alicia Conrad cuts an imposing figure, even seated across the table from Hanahan. With a five-foot, nine-inch frame and athletic build, she’s a formidable sight. Although possessing the defined physique of a soldier, Conrad still maintains her hourglass figure.

She has been an army officer for over ten years and comes from an esteemed military pedigree. Even with the expectation of constant readiness that military service fosters, Conrad still does not appreciate short notices. When she received a phone call the previous day from the Secretary’s office, all that she was told was, “You have a meeting with SecDef at 0800 tomorrow at the Pentagon.” No further elaboration, no courtesy, just an abrupt “click.”  Given all this, it is no surprise that she responds as she does.

“Come again, Mr. Secretary?”

“You’ve been selected to lead a group of superhuman operatives under the jurisdiction of the United States government,” Hanahan responds.

“Selected by…?” The ergonomic chair creaks ever so slightly as she leans forward to hear Hanahan’s response.  

“The whole NSC[1]: DNI[2] Norton, Joint Chiefs Hoppert, Secretary Nichols, both POTUS[3] and the VP, and of course yours truly.”

            Conrad smiles. “A unanimous decision, huh?”

            “Yup.”

            “I’m curious, who else was on the NSC’s short list?”

“A few senior-level Marines, a guy from the NSA, and a couple of others who aren’t worth mentioning,” he says flatly.

“What about Blankenchip? I know he’s been dying to get his own special ops team for the longest time.”

            “Are you serious?” Hanahan responds incredulously. His attitude is somewhat expected given that he and Lieutenant Aaron Blankenchip are not exactly on the best of terms. “We need someone who can manage a mix of egos and personalities—not a hard case like Blankenchip. Don’t worry though; he’s also on the team.”

“I see,” Conrad responds, her tone of voice barely masking her dejection.

“Why are you so worried about that anyway? What matters is that we picked you.”

“I understand, and I’m thankful for the opportunity, sir.”

Sensing the hesitance in her voice Hanahan probes further. “But?”

“I just don’t want it to seem like you picked me because of my dad.”

Hanahan and her father, John Conrad, were best friends and served in the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne together. They continued to maintain a close bond even after their respective retirements. Their friendship was so close, in fact, that Hanahan was named as Conrad’s godfather when she was born.

“Please, it’s not like nepotism wasn’t alive and well in this town long before your family showed up,” Hanahan responds. “Look, it has nothing to do with that; we picked you because you have what we need.”

“That’s reassuring, sir,” she says, her voice lightening up a bit.

“Besides, I couldn’t have you languishing behind a recruiter’s desk. That was supposed to be temporary while you got yourself together.”

Conrad nods in acknowledgement.

Hanahan continues, “You were always meant for greater things, Alicia.”

“Thanks.”

“What did your dad used to say when you were a kid?”

She glances down and quietly responds, “Be better than yourself.”

“Exactly. Your dad, God rest his soul, knew how great you could become.” He reaches over to grab a framed picture of him and John Conrad and gazes upon it. “He trusted me to watch over you and the twins. There is no way I’m going to allow your potential to go to waste.” 

Growing somewhat uncomfortable with the direction the conversation is going, Conrad quickly shifts back to topic.

“So, why this? Why now?”

Hanahan pauses briefly before speaking. “The Minneapolis event.”  

Three years prior an al-Qaeda operative named Mahmoud El-Hayek leveled the Mall of America single-handedly. This was accomplished not with a bomb but with his superhuman ability to generate localized nuclear fission reactions. He single-handedly unleashed the equivalent of a megaton yield nuclear bomb. The death toll exceeded 50,000 and left the rest of Minnesota virtually unfit for living due to the residual radiation.  

“We live in a post-human era now, Alicia,” Hanahan continues. “Since the beginning of the space race, people with unbelievable abilities have popped up all over the world. Some are harmless, others pose a threat.”

“Like me?” she jokingly responds.

Hanahan smiles. “No. You are our best asset in dealing with this emerging threat.”

“You’re being too generous, sir.”

“It’s true. You’re probably the best investment ever made in military research.”

“I see.”

“Any threat to our security must be dealt with swiftly and lethally,” he says, his tone becoming noticeably grimmer. “I figure when you’re in a fight with a pit bull you get your bigger, meaner pit bull to deal with him.”

“So…I’m America’s attack dog now?” Conrad says sarcastically.

“No. It’s just an analogy, Alicia.”

Taking the opportunity to display her vocabulary acumen she counters, “It’s actually a metaphor, sir.”

“Same difference,” he snaps back.

She smiles. “Okay, so what have we got?”

            “First things first. The name of the team is Vigil.”

“Vigil?”  

“Yeah, it’s the only thing we could agree on at the NSC meeting.”

She raises her eyebrows. “Okay.”

“It’s essentially a task force created for the sole purpose of protecting U.S. interests and allies.”

            “So, it’s like a super-powered CCI squad?”

The Crisis Conflict Intervention unit—or CCI for short—was a sub-division of the Army Special Forces. Several top Green Berets couldn’t even meet the strenuous requirements for membership. Their original intent was to perform, for lack of a better term, politically gray missions. For all intents and purposes, CCI was essentially a black-ops division of the Special Forces. Both Conrad and Blankenchip are former members.

 “Not quite,” Hanahan responds. “CCI was strictly covert ops; this’ll have more of a public face. And we’re pulling in civilian agencies as well.”

            “I see.”

            “It’s one of the most ambitious interagency initiatives like it since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.”

He notices that Conrad’s attention is drawn to one of the files. “Still with me?”

She looks up. “Yes, go on please.”

“These people aren’t ordinary—much like you.”

“Thanks, sir, didn’t know you cared.”

“You know what I mean.”  

She flips through the pages in one of the folders. “Okay, Cynthia Fighting Bull, formerly Cynthia Sorrell… Codename Pseudo.” She pauses to make an editorial comment. “We’re using codenames?”

“For now.” Hanahan replies.

“The NSC was really into the whole superhero motif hungh?”

He responds peevishly. “Maybe a bit.”

“Maybe a bit too much.” Conrad continues reading. “She’s a CIA agent in the Directorate of Operations’ Spyscape division. Age twenty six, genetic endowment: metamorphosis. Genetic endowment? We have genetic mutants on this team?”

            “I believe the politically correct term is ‘Variants’,” Hanahan admonishes.

“Whatever.”

“There are two, as a matter of fact.”

            “Who’s the other?”

“FBI agent by the name of John Arrowhawk.”

“The one who cracked the Kerrington case?”

“Yup–one of the youngest ASACs[4] to crack a case of that magnitude.

“Isn’t his brother some kind of eco-terrorist or something?”

“Or something.”

“I see. So, what’s his power?”

            “He’s essentially a human power cell. He can absorb, convert, and manipulate all energy forms. You name it: nuclear, electrical, kinetic, whatever. He’s your heaviest hitter in terms of raw power.” 

            “Hmm, and this one?” She picks up a 4×4 inch photo of a large-framed man.

            Hanahan takes the photo from her hand and draws it closer for a better look. “He’s a Secret Service agent by the name of Terrell Morrison.” 

“I’ve never heard of him. What’s his story?”

“He was caught in the Houghton Biomedical Research Lab accident and was exposed to a synthetic Duritium-based reagent. As a result, he can take on the physical properties of any substance he comes into contact with.”

Conrad points to the final photo. “And the last one’s good ol’ Blankenchip. Is he the only complete normal on this team?”

“He’s not so normal, with that Battle C.A.T.[5] suit he designed.”

“Tell me about it. How much did it cost to design and manufacture that thing?”

“About fifty million.”

            “And they say we have a national debt of over 20 trillion.”

            “Hey, it’s one of the perks of being in the service for as long as he’s been.”

            “When I get twenty years of service can I get my own high-tech body armor?”

            “Why? It’s not like you need it.”

With a smile that could melt the fiercest of hearts, Conrad replies, “That’s why you picked me for the job, right?”

“That, and you have one of the best military minds I’ve ever seen since your father,” Hanahan adds.

“You really know how to flatter a girl, sir.”

            “I try. There’s a press conference at the Pentagon at 1400. I’ll see you then.” 

            Taking this as her cue, Conrad salutes the secretary, gathers her beret and briefcase, and promptly leaves his office.

Hanahan puts the manila folders back into the rusted file cabinet. As he clears off his desk, he glances at the ominous headline on the front page of the Washington Post that reads, “Turmoil in Lemalia continues to send world stock markets into tailspin.” Hanahan folds the paper in half and throws it into his desk drawer.

[1] National Security Council

[2] Director of National Intelligence

[3] President of the United States

[4] Assistant Special Agent in Charge

[5] Cybernetic Armor Technology

All Characters copyright and Trademark Paa-Kofi Obeng

Media Blitz(er)

Image courtesy of: Google Images

Prologue Two

June 3rd

CNN Headquarters

Atlanta, Georgia

 

“How are things on the ground in Lemalia, Giles?” Wolf Blitzer, anchor of “The Situation Room,” asks foreign correspondent Giles Woodbridge.

Reporting from Delohar via satellite, Woodbridge responds in his unapologetically thick British accent.

“The unrest here has been rampant since the assassination of the newly elected president, Mohann Aldessa of the moderate People’s National Democratic Party. His opponent, Emerante Legaud, seized power shortly after the assassination, claiming the presidency by default.”

“As I understand it, Legaud is a well-known hard-liner from the New Revolutionary Party.”

“That’s right Wolf. He has called for the expulsion, of all foreigners from the country as well as the immediate nationalization of all foreign and domestic business interests.”

“That’s a pretty bold step, considering that he wasn’t the one elected to office,” Blitzer retorts. “What’s been the U.N.’s response?”

“The United Nations Security Council ratified a resolution condemning the assassination,” Woodbridge replies. “The secretary general has issued a statement saying that the U.N. will not formally recognize Legaud’s presidency.”

“So what’s their next move?”

“It’s believed that economic sanctions will be levied against Lemalia.”

“Is that wise, considering the fact that Lemalia provides the bulk of Duritium to the global market?”

“It seems the Security Council has decided to take a harder line since Legaud’s rise to power, at least for now,” Woodbridge answers.

“From what we’ve gathered so far stateside,” Blitzer adds, “the White House has not released a statement concerning the recent turn of events in Lemalia.”

 

 

 

 

 

Just a Taste…

Since I created this blog I’ve often teased that I was working on a novel. Well here is just a sample of things to come. All comments are welcome. Enjoy!

Image Courtesy of Shuttershock.com

Prologue One

June 1st

Delohar, Lemalia

Three bullets. Three bullets are all it takes to throw a nation into chaos and set the world on fire. With just three bullets a president’s life is snuffed out.

            Mohann Aldessa was the newly elected leader of the small island nation of Lemalia. The country is located in the eastern Mediterranean, nestled between Crete and Cyprus. As a nation it is as much a melting pot as the United States, with ethnic origins in Europe, North and East Africa, and Southeast Asia. Its population numbers just over ten million. Today is inauguration day for the country’s first democratically elected president in over fifty years. Sadly, what is meant to be a joyous occasion devolves into chaos.

            As onlookers react in horror and disbelief to what they have just witnessed, Aldessa’s security detail immediately converges on his body, instinctively brandishing their automatic weapons as they look to return fire. At that very moment, the police make an attempt to maintain calm. Despite their best efforts, a major stampede ensues, with dozens trampled in the tumult.

Amidst the confusion, a sniper on the rooftop of the adjacent parliament building meticulously field-strips his weapon, a Remington 7.62 mm M4OA1 sniping rifle. The man, about five foot, seven inches dressed in cargo pants, a black t-shirt and a well-worn M65 field jacket, carefully places the disassembled rifle into a rectangular weapons case. He pulls a small silver-colored cell phone from his inner coat pocket and presses “pound seven” on the touch screen. As he lifts the phone to his ear, his coat sleeve slides back, revealing a distinctive tattoo on his inner left forearm: a bald eagle clutching lightning in one claw and arrows in the other.

The call is answered. “It’s done,” the sniper says in a cold, sterile tone.

He nods in acknowledgement of the orders given by the other conversant. “I understand.” The sniper ends the call, grabs his belongings, and quickly retreats from the rooftop. As he leaves, the man fails to notice the security camera perched on the parliament building’s satellite tower.