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The Great Deception

[]Table Of Contents

Foreword

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Epilogue

[]Foreword

*You will be taken for a ride on several layers of timelines. All at once.

Subplot 1: Operation Switchblade/Scorpion War Room/Ozarks

04/24/41

Scorpion leadership

•  Howard—director-general of Scorpion/antichrist figure

•  Maxwell—the False Prophet, Howard’s right hand man

World Leaders

•  Germany: President Lothar Kirsch

•  England: Prime Minister Jasper Turpin

•  Russia: President Igor Orloff

Free Republic of North America

•  President Alexander Toporvsky—leader of the FRN (Free Republic of North America)

•  Edmond Drezzler—VP of the FRN

•  Donald Holiday—Director of CCC (Central Cyber Corps)

•  Alfred Demsky—Director of Sentinel (FRN’s intelligence agency)

•  Ahmed Negler—National Security Advisor in the Toporvsky administration

•  Edith Wharton—Secretary of State

FRN Security Forces Chain of Command

•  Gene Barker—Minister of Defense

•  Base Commander Bill Rescheck over the Texas militia

•  Base Commander Abraham Steffords over Eielson Air Force Base

•  Brigadier-general Thomas Harding

•  Mike Dumphrey—Air Boss

Damion Westover—billionaire inventor

Christophe Gerard—chief scientist and joint-chairman of Westover Ventures

Heather—former Scorpion employee

Subplot 2: Barcelona, Spain/Jeddah, Saudi Arabia/Moldova

4/20-4/24/41

Alfonso Marcello—Mossad agent

Sofia Keller—Interior Minister of Germany

Amalia—Secretary of the Interior Ministry

Wendel—Commissioner of the Interior Ministry

Jabour—mysterious messenger

King Rehan Kahlil of the United Islamic Caliphate

Seth Markov—Mossad agent

Baruch—Mossad agent

Tyrone Banks—ex-Mossad

Subplot 3: Tel Aviv, Israel

2036

Azriel Markov

Stacy

Esther

Ephraim Markov

[]Prologue

“I have some visitors for you to see,” the rude awakening to pleasant dreams said.

What time was it? It didn’t matter. Time was irrelevant in the subterranean world of the Ozarks.

Heather yawned and stretched. She had only been in her cell for a mere forty-eight hours, but to her it seemed like she had already reached old age. Heather squinted in the dim light to see who was there to see her.

The guy on the left stood no more than five foot eight she surmised. Something about him registered as French, but she didn’t know why. Heather had actually been a foreign exchange student to France as a sixteen-year-old going through UK’s Post Sixteen education, similar to high school in America.

Heather chose silence over a warm reception of her visitors….Her mind, actually quite distant from the four walls that trapped her.

This prompted the guard to get her attention. “Heather?”

She had learned so much about their storied history. Not only that, but she also spent a few years of ecstasy in the “City of Lights”…Paris. While there Heather became rather fond of crusty bread and café crème (coffee served with hot cream) for breakfast. She loved trundling along at a snail’s pace with the slow foot traffic along the narrow sidewalks, hearing the angry honks of vespas and vendors shouting out to pedestrians, eager to make a sale. It all seemed like a romantic reverie to her now.

“Heather?” the jailer’s voice beckoned once again, a little louder than the first time.

If only the black site had breakfast like that, she fantasized. It must have been that time of day, the AM. Unless her biological clock and fantasies were so out of sync with each other, Heather’s stomach was convinced a meal of some kind was in short order. Heck, anything would do for the hungry woman in her hour of desperation. Prison rations—a spoon-full of beans and rice—actually held some appeal to the starving prisoner about now.

“I’m not gonna call you again,” the angry officer said reaching out with a night stick, ready to punish her with it.

The snarky warden finally got through to Heather.

Her head slowly swiveled to eye the other stranger that stood at the entrance to her cell. He was much more handsome than the French fellow. And younger!

She suddenly found her voice…it came out in the form of a question. “What’s your name?”

Damion stared at her a little longer than he should have. When she spoke all he saw was a pair of lips moving.

Christophe next to him had been less distracted by Heather’s attractiveness. “I believe she just asked you what your name is,” he kindly prodded the billionaire for a response.

“Huh, wha—?”

“What’s your name?” Heather repeated the question, this time staring full into Damion’s face, her brown eyes shining.

Damion almost had forgotten about Kara, the news reporter he would have gone out with later in the week had it not been for his current fate. Yet, for some reason she seemed less and less enchanting in comparison to the woman before him. Her British accent was…refreshing. Something about her made the self-made, rich genius feel at peace. Kara only gave him an overdose of nervous excitement he never quite grew accustomed to much less comfortable with.

“Damion, Damion Westover,” he shyly replied. His green eyes couldn’t maintain contact with Heather’s when he spoke to her.

“What are they doing here?” Heather asked the warden who still was there.

He only shrugged and turned to leave. “You have thirty minutes,” he said over his shoulder to Damion and Christophe.

Heather watched him walk down the hall and disappear around the corner.

Her gaze then returned to the pair of men. They just stood there looking stupid and listless. Her mind quickly thought up a good question to break the ice. “What charges were you guys brought here on?

Mossad safe house: Barcelona, Spain

It is the second largest city in Spain, largest commercial hub in Europe…with a population of four million, not including the metro…welcome to Barcelona, Spain.

Majestic Spanish cathedrals with their towering minarets and buttresses sharply contrasted against the modern glass and steel skyscrapers that made up the panorama of Barcelona’s skyline along the northeastern shore of the Iberian Peninsula off the Mediterranean.

In the Fort Pienc neighborhood of the Eixample district in the old part of the city, a vagrant stumbled around, looking all pathetic. He dressed better than he was able to afford even though his standard of living was well below the poverty line.

His shifty eyes hid behind a pair of over-sized sunglasses. He wore a kerchief to cover his mess of hair. Large golden earrings tugged at his earlobe’s cartilage. Everything else about him was normal. Whatever that was.

Alley cats hissed at him; stray dogs would growl; and people either shunned him or pretended like he didn’t exist. For the latter, the poor man didn’t know which was better.

That little saying that went something like you can’t judge a book by its cover? This soul was living proof of that. He existed to fly in the face of man’s empty appraisal of the outer appearance when forming character judgments.

During the day he assumed the lowly status of down-and-outer, drifter. By night he was a completely different person with a different identity and everything. His daytime role as a bum was the perfect cover for the clandestine services that he performed. This was how he lived for many years after he expatriated from Israel back in late 2029. Dekel Hornik was his real name, however his Spanish alias was much cleverer than that. They called him Alfonso Marcello.

It was eleven o’ clock in Barcelona on a Wednesday morning. The sun smiled down on the Mediterranean coastal city. The temperature rose to a crisp sixty-five degrees out, but with the sun it felt warmer than the thermometer would lead one to believe.

Alfonso walked by a row of street vendors, offending the customers with his body odor. His last shower had been three days prior. Deodorant was a negative.

His final destination was a little secluded park. In his hand he held a copy of La Vanguardia newspaper. The mystery vagrant never actually read it, but looked the part, posing in the park with his daily copy opened up somewhere towards the business section. Nothing too strange or out of the ordinary with that.

Blending in was easy. Reading a newspaper in a park or tooling around town didn’t require a degree in stealth from Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, whom he worked for. However, staying off-grid when he was on assignment proved most challenging.

Scorpion War Room: Vandenberg AFB, California

Once the former home to the U.S. Air Force’s Space Command, Vandenberg Air Force Base now serves Scorpion as its strategic war room location. The base is located near Lompoc, California—a town of less than fifty thousand souls.

More importantly though is the Santa Ynez Mountains that overshadow the base. They form the perfect natural barrier to the east. Due west of Vandenberg an underwater gateway in the Pacific connects the great blue ocean with Scorpion’s war room that exists deep below the nearby mountain range.

Earlier that morning Scorpion’s director-general, Howard (no one knew his last name), sent out the invitation to the rest of the world’s supreme leaders to attend an event they soon would never forget. Russia the Bear, Germany the Leopard, and Great Britain the Lion all would send their supreme diplomats to attend the symposium of a lifetime. History’s timeline was about to experience a major jolt the seven continents would all feel.

[]Chapter 1

West LA, California

Mike Dumphree is the Airboss of the AWACS plane that directs the traffic and foresees threats before the rest of the force can. On that April the 24th of 2041, there was no way he could have anticipated what was over the skies of Los Angeles. His own two eyes detected trouble before his advanced radar ever did. Whatever was out there was unlike anything ever encountered by man.

Mike broadcasted to all fighters this urgent message: “Don’t wait for them to open up fire…pursue and destroy. Every last one of ‘em. Hawk, over.”

Each one of the colonels over all the groups in the three wings that made up the coalition force checked in, one at a time, acknowledging transmission received.

The luminous orb-shaped station that floated within missile range of the coalition force of Operation Switchblade came to a full stop. It had many levels with orifices every two decks or so. To the naked eye it looked like a giant mothership with aircraft bays all throughout the platform. This observation wouldn’t be too far off the mark either.

Suddenly little green balls of energy without any apparent shape or form came shooting out from the porous vessel from every conceivable direction. The alien bogies cut through the air no problem with a quickness that went against the laws of physics.

If that wasn’t terrifying enough, what came next would be. At the center of the mothership was what appeared to be an energy core of some kind. It turned red. Next, the top section of the sphere began to part in corkscrew fashion. A large canon emerged from the beast and fired two missiles that went straight up.

Due to the clandestine objective of the war council coming together at Vandenberg, the base’s underwater entrance in the Pacific would receive the leaders of the world’s remaining empires instead of its space pad on land.

In such an event, the leaders were flown to a secure location in Tokyo where they boarded a flight that would take them over the Pacific towards the west coast of S6. However, it wasn’t all that simple. The Free Republic of North America flew squadrons out of Hawaii looking for such activity in the region. The FRN knew that Scorpion was holding these summits, yet they were unsuccessful thus far in intercepting any of the foreign diplomats on their trek to the war room at Vandenberg.

The flight manifest for the leaders of the world’s last great remaining empires was quite different from any other. Departing from Tokyo—nothing too out of the ordinary there. Landing in the…Pacific Ocean? No typo, no joke. The why has already been explained: FRN’s dragnet security could only be beat one way—underwater, not over it.

Scorpion’s hypersonic jet with its scramjet engine would fly the diplomats out of Japan’s largest city at Mach 10: the closest thing to mastering Einstein’s famous relativity theory, e=mc2, while still flying through earth’s atmosphere. The brief joy ride would then terminate with the jet slowing to subsonic speeds and ejecting a capsule from its underbelly, two hundred miles out from S6’s shoreline.

The escape pod is in fact specifically designed to sink. As soon as the several ton submersible hits the waves of the North Pacific Ocean, its ballast tanks fill with the salty water that drowns the vehicle to a depth of a thousand meters, safely within its crush depth limits. From there another submarine that has quietly lurked around the outer edge of the continental shelf off the coast of North America for weeks, possibly even months, links up with the vessel and begins the crew transfer.

Scorpion’s sub would stick to the less-traveled ocean trenches, away from all the sonar traps the FRN had littered across the ocean floor.

Its Harpoon-class nuclear submarine with a super cavitation drive could plow through the viscous waters at an astonishing rate of a hundred knots. That Wednesday morning it would need the speed: the council at Vandenberg’s War Room would convene at 03:30 hours.

Since the revolution of aviation in the aerospace sector, anyone could book a flight with the hypersonic-flight monopoly, Orbital Flyer, for a quarterly stipend of four thousand DigiCoin (equivalent to $1000 USD). For that membership one could fly four times in the three month pay period anywhere around the globe. Once the four credits are used up, before renewal comes calling, an agent would automatically dial the paying customer and make an offer for additional credits at a discounted rate.

For everyone else looking to fly on the cheap, there were plenty of names in the industry that flew supersonic jumbo jets for very low fares. And unlike Orbital Flyer, they charged per flight. However you got what you paid for: economy-class seating, lack of infotainment options, and perhaps a bag of peanuts if the flight attendant remembered.

Thus went the airline industry in the modern times of this story.

Tel Aviv, Israel

It is lunch hour in the central business district of Israel’s largest city. The glass pocket door of La Shuk restaurant opened and closed to the influx of a population seeking a good bite to eat. Good eats La Shuk had. The grill served up veal schnitzel with the popular side of creamy mashed potatoes all day. Fresh garden salads with baskets full of pitas hot from the oven made it around the floor to every table.

On the second story in the non-smoking section, Azriel Markov sat at a booth all by himself. The neighborhood school in the Florentine neighborhood on the south side of town was where he should have been; Azriel in fact still had three years left in his middle school education as required in Israel’s overarching compulsory education system (k-12).

Azriel was a man unto himself though. His dad was away on business always and mom died of pregnancy complications when Azriel was very young. Or so that was the story they fed him. The stillborn baby would have been a girl—her name, Keila.

The pain from these losses mixed in with his iced tea like a bitter lemon peel. Azriel slouched. This was one of many places he went to for perspective. No other restaurant in the area quite did it for him like La Shuk. Fist-fulls of broken pita bread dipped in tasty humus were of more comfort to him than a cerebral walk through the vineyards he would frequent southeast of Tel Aviv near Beit Shemesh.

The young soul often thought about what he’d do with his life. School didn’t hold much for him, the arts were out…Azriel wasn’t a handyman either, nor was he bent that way. So what? There were a lot of tech companies always hiring in the area, and he even thought about stopping in one day at such a place. Azriel lacked ambition though. Life didn’t seem fair to him, so why try? Instead of rising from the ashes, the thirteen-year-old boy chose to sit in them and marinade.

From his table the boy had a view of anyone who ascended the stairs. Besides a few attractive girls he had guessed to be a few years too old for him, there hadn’t been any persons of interest that had made the walk up to the second floor. Right as the breaded piece of meat got in between his teeth, touched his tongue…that’s when he was forced to break from the flavor works going on his mouth to the current problem at hand. And it was walking towards his table.

Uncle Markov was in the building, and he was on a mission. Ephraim took it upon himself to be his nephew’s surrogate father whether the boy desired it or not. Ephraim knew Azriel was floundering in life and that he needed an elderly, sage voice of wisdom to show him the path.

Azriel slouched so low in his booth that his spine protested against him. The Jewish boy’s persistent uncle now loomed large at his side. He was talking in Hebrew; most of the whole contained scathing reproofs.

At thirteen years of age the young man thought he knew it all. Not only was he officially an upstanding man in Jewish society, he was now an active participant in the daily prayer services at the synagogue. Good ol’ Uncle Markov though…he was at it again. When is he gonna leave me be, Azriel thought.

“Are you even listening to me?” his uncle sharply demanded while seating himself across from his nephew. “What have you been into boy?”

Azriel understood the last question to mean what kind of trouble are you into this time? He slowly chewed in order to make his uncle wait even longer for an answer.

Ephraim’s scowl grew larger. “How’s your dad been?”

Azriel spoke for the first time. “Fine.”

“Oh really? What kind of business has he been away on, do you even know?”

This wasn’t a question the boy could answer, actually. His father’s line of work hadn’t ever been communicated very clearly to him. Ever. All he knew was his dad had frequent flier miles up the ying-yang. When he had asked his father point blank on one of the rare occasions he had opportunity to, all he got was a vague “it’s for the country, son. I help save lives.” That was usually code for it’s confidential, I’m sworn to secrecy. But Azriel wasn’t one to assume.

“I don’t know,” Azriel admitted. He immediately wished he had lied instead of opting for honesty for he knew his transparency only invited more questions from his nosy uncle.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” It was a good question. Not too provoking either.

The boy’s expression softened. He actually wasn’t gonna fight it. Maybe a conversation with Ephraim wasn’t so bad after all.

“I really wish I could see more of him…know that he cares. He never says ‘I love you son,’ nothing.”

Ephraim’s eyes grew sad. His larger hands enveloped his nephew’s in a clasp of affection.

Azriel looked into his uncle’s dark eyes, noticing love there instead of hatred—kindness instead of disapproval. “Can you tell me something?”

“Anything.”

“Why do you care so much?”

Uncle Ephraim straightened up a bit at the directness of the inquiry. “Why, it’s because you’re family Azriel. I never had any of my own, so I see you as the son I never got to have.”

The profundity that left the whiskered lips of the middle-aged man left the young person speechless for a spell. A sip from the half-empty glass of iced tea restored his desire to pursue more conversation though. “I…” he looked away out of shame, shame for how he had treated the man before him. At long last he came to the bottom of Ephraim’s heart only to be overwhelmed by his uncle’s true intentions for him.

“I went to morning prayers today, uncle.”

Ephraim poked a finger into the diminishing mound of mashed potatoes with the end-destination being his open mouth, ready to receive the delectable starchy goodness. He smacked his lips and nodded at the lad before him. “First time?”

“Yeah. It was…”

His uncle had raised eyebrows. “What?” He had been expecting a simple yup, but the boy had more to say.

“Rabbi said some,” Azriel paused and blinked, “interesting things concerning Messiah.”

“Oh?” Now it was his turn to be concerned again. Ephraim was very traditional in his Jewish beliefs. According to them, the Messiah was not the person Jesus Christ—he had not yet come.

“Jesus is returning a second time,” the young man said out of the side of his mouth, as if he didn’t like the message’s contents any more than the listener did.

“Bah!” Uncle Markov very indignantly knocked the salt and pepper shakers over. “Blasphemy!”

Azriel looked confused. “But uncle, I didn’t say who Jesus was. I didn’t refer to Him as the Son of…”

“Don’t speak that rubbish boy! I will not have it!” Ephraim cursed.

Azriel regretted he ever brought it up. “You know I don’t believe in it,” he lied.

“Good boy,” Ephraim said in a more collected, controlled manner. “Now, I will take you to your new school.”

“Say what?”

“You heard me. Get up. We don’t have much time. The bell rings soon for fourth period. Up, up!”

West LA, California

Two blue trails streaked upwards for a mile before detonation. Then there was a boom, an intense flash of light, and a shock wave that had an incomprehensibly large radius that continued to grow with the passing seconds.

EMP!” Mike Dumphree screamed over the radio from his command and control chair in the AWACS plane. Suddenly his faith in the air armada’s electromagnetic shielding sharply diminished as the shock wave continued to ripple, threatening to envelop FRN’s security forces in the sky.

A little bit earlier

Meanwhile in the Basement, FRN’s secure presidential bunker deep beneath Honolulu, President Alexander Toporvsky and his National Security Council were anxiously watching the events unfold in Operation Switchblade.

Base Commanders Bill Rescheck, Abraham Steffords, and brigadier-general Thomas Harding all added their collective input on tactical air tasking orders from their command and control centers located throughout the Free Republic of North America…and Texas.

It was like a three ring circus…

Five minutes prior to the imminent engagement with the enemy Commander Steffords was in direct communication with the Air Boss, giving the order to put down the heavy-lift craft in the LZ at 2404 E El Segundo Blvd.

“Do it now or else there may never be another chance,” he said in context of the mission and setting up a secure perimeter on-site.

Mike Dumphree worriedly looked at his screens fill up with enemy aircraft. Even though he had given the directive to open fire on all bogies, they were absorbing the damage. The enemy had superior shields that could take a missile or two and laser cannon fire. This couldn’t have been happening. But it was.

Mike said into his headset, “Mustafa bubbas (fellow squadron members), what’s the skinny on your ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), over.”

“Nothing moving on the ground within five clicks of the LZ. No heat signatures. Over,” the Mustafa group commander radioed in.

Mike Dumphree celebrated his good luck by taking off his headphones for a minute to wipe his forehead. God this couldn’t be anymore.…

Before he could even finish internalizing what he was experiencing Scorpion’s mothership launched her missiles. She hadn’t targeted any of FRN’s planes though. Instead, their sights were set on detonating them a mile above the action with the intent of creating a massive electromagnetic pulse that would wipe out FRN’s shielding.

As soon as President Alexander saw the enemies first move (EMP attack) that’s when instinct told him they needed to jink and not stick around with these guys. He knew they were outgunned and outmatched; therefore Operation Switchblade would take its chances on the ground instead. The leader of the free world was about to make a game-changer decision. Not before there were more casualties however.

“Punch out, punch out!” one copilot frantically communicated to the other pilot in a two-seater seventh generation jet that had just bought the farm. However the man was unresponsive. He had in fact been killed in action by the tango’s laser fire that managed to slice through his cockpit section and incinerate his vital organs in the process.

The situation was looking bleak for the good guys. That was even before the EMP shock wave hit. Then the losses would really start to tally up.

Alexander couldn’t take it anymore.

“Have we had enough downed planes?” he cried. His eyes narrowed in anger. “Ground the armada. Get ‘em down before this gets any messier,” he growled to the Air Boss.

“Roger that Eagle Command,” Mike Dumphree acknowledged with due deference to chain of command.

Then Mike proactively said to the air armada, “All groups tasked with escort of heavy-lift aircraft, break off and get your fangs out. We’re gonna light ‘em up.”

Thomas Harding who was in charge of the ground forces now joined the chatter, giving coordinates to the flying fortresses (heavy-lift aircraft) on where to land. “You’re gonna push the envelope and come in hard. There is no time for a soft landing gentleman,” he stressed.

More FRN jets fell prey in the fur ball of chaotic high-speed combat maneuvers with the enemy. Many burned out of control, losing flight control, and ultimately slamming into skyscrapers below. Those that missed became large impact craters in the highways. Smoke belched from the wreckage all across the city’s west side. The loss of life, both pilots and collateral damage of citizens on the ground, continued to escalate.

A tremendous groan suddenly filled the skies as Scorpion’s electromagnetic pulse defeated the thick alloy shielding FRN used against such attacks. In a fleeting moment it looked like all hope was lost.

Somewhere over the North Pacific—03:00 hours, April 24th, 2041

Inside the Scorpion AirCorvette the three leaders from Britain, Russia, and Germany were assisted into the airlock. There they would be helped into the submersible that would drop through the bomb-bay doors in the rear section of the craft when it was time.

There wasn’t a whole lot of chit-chat between the cast of characters. If communication was desired, they all had their translucent Universal Articulators which were worn like retainers in their mouths. These handy little devices replaced artificial voice synthesizers as the new standard for universal translation by utilizing the speaker’s own vocal tract.

The Russian leader conversed with one of his own aides in a low voice near the aft of the plane by the cargo ramp in a little alcove under a side bulkhead. Meanwhile two alcoves up from the one the aforementioned characters occupied, the German and British heads of state began to dialogue.

“Have you ever been to the war room before?” the chancellor of Germany spoke in the British prime minister’s own native tongue.

“Yes Lothar, on one other occasion.” The British PM appeared a little tired, but that didn’t seem to affect his cordial disposition.

Lothar Kirsch made a guttural noise in the back of his throat. “What was the nature of your first visit?” The German head of state tried to hide his lack of trust for the other man behind an innocent little smile.

“That’s none of your business, chancellor,” Jasper Turpin deflected. “I’ve come to see the dawning of a new age today. I know the Lord of the Ages won’t disappoint.”

Lothar clutched the harness's buckle that went over his lap. He was secretly angry at Jasper for denying him the information he had requested. But this didn't come as a surprise. It only served to add more brush strokes to further color his view on Jasper in a negative light. What he sought to grapple with was the idea of working together, in unity, as a one-world government when there clearly were seeds of distrust sewn into the fabric of such a weave-- because of rulers like Jasper Turpin.

“I hear S3 is going to be the new seat of government for the established order….” Lothar changed subjects. “Any thoughts?”

Jasper mentally steeled himself to conceal the true identity of his affections. Almost certainly he wished the capital of the new world order would be along the Thames in the UK instead of Sector Three in North America.

“I’ve always thought highly of the District of Columbia. It was born for greatness,” Jasper Turpin lied.

The German chancellor compressed his lips together. “Yes, indeed. My impression, also.”

“Then today should go well,” Jasper was quick to say.

“I hope so. I’d sure like to hear what Igor has to say though.”

Igor Orloff, president of Russia, wasn’t a man to trifle with. The fifty-six-year-old dominated talks at roundtables and summits the world over. He had perfected the power grab when he shook hands with his gripper always overlapping the other ruler’s. His body language communicated great pride and confidence. What really tops the list of quality leadership attributes for this man, though, would be his perceptive mind that could see through any smokescreen, red herring, diversion…anything.

Russia’s Chairman of the Government, or the land’s number two, went with Igor to Scorpion’s war room that morning. President Orloff was hardly ever seen without his right hand man. The two men now discussed domestic concerns under the sepia-red glow of the aircraft’s interior lighting. They sat side by side on a low bench situated in a little recess tucked into the plane’s side. Both were buckled in until told otherwise.

Grigory stretched his legs. “So nice of them to transport us in the cargo hold of a military jet.”

Igor smiled at his aide’s quip. “What? I thought you missed travelling like this. The KGB flew much worse planes than this.”

Grigory Sliva folded his arms at the mention of his history. He’d like to forget the missions he flew all over Eastern Europe with Russia’s syndicate intelligence agency. There was one memory however that strangely surfaced in Sliva’s head in the moment. It was an assignment he had done more than fifteen years ago in Kosovo.

The thin man winced.

His hands would be forever stained red from a life of past sins: the countless victims that fell to the skillful dagger or quick trigger continued to haunt the Russian leader. Nothing he did to medicate would erase the undying stigma that went with him as he climbed the rungs of Russia’s ladder to power.

“Aren’t we near our lay-over?” the aide humorously referred to the drop into the ocean as such.

The Russian president followed Grigory’s gaze to the capsule that sat no more than ten feet away. It looked like a space vehicle ready to escape earth’s orbit and head to mars.

“Let’s get on with it,” Igor said, his impatience growing. “I want to meet this great man I’ve heard about in whispers.”

“Some say he’s not even a man,” Grigory said with a wink.

Igor laughed and paused. “No, he’s a man alright, but he’s also something else. I believe,” the leader began to say as he traced his red beard with his fingers from the lip to below his jutting chin, “that this man is the one long foretold about. He has a unique mark.”

The president’s aide then held up his fingers, forming the symbol that has been commonly known to mean A-Okay, however, in other circles it represented something of an entirely different realm. Three little numbers.

[]Chapter 2

The Middle East in 2041 looked something like this: a dominate United Islamic Caliphate surrounding little, but not defenseless Israel. And as history dictated, the bitter struggle between the devout jihadists and Jews continued on into the late first half of the twenty-first century.

Many attempts to wipe the Zionists off the face of the earth had failed up to this point. Nuclear holocausts never occurred…biological warfare fizzled. Israel had mastered the art of preemptive military strike to erase any possibility of a mass genocide of their own people. At the center of their survival was the famed Mossad agency. It was second to none. With sleeper cells on every corner of the globe, satellites over every strategic hot spot, and a very capable defense force, Israel wasn’t going anywhere…yet.

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Out of the tribe of Quraysh rose a great leader to rule the millions of Muslims spread far and wide across the Arabian Peninsula, the Mediterranean, and Horn of Africa (which included northeastern African nations also). In the second decade of the twenty-first century the call went out from the militant groups of Islam (aka Mujahideens) and political parties of Islamic states for the Muslim world to unite under one caliphate, or Second Ottoman Empire.

In 2035 under the inspiration he was the chosen one to represent Allah’s authority on earth, Rehan Khalil rode into the capital of the new kingdom on a donkey. Millions had gathered to witness this historic moment…security was high. Miles of the highway 271 had been shut down to secure a safe parade route for the king and his entourage.

All the highways and byways looping their way through downtown were under the jurisdiction of the United Islamic Caliphate’s (UIC) Supreme Guard units. It was these troopers that cordoned off all the city’s major arteries: they controlled the flow. Anybody who wanted to punch their way through security would need to do it with the assistance of a small army.

Jeddah rose to prominence in the Arab world through oil dollars. Not only that, but because of her central location in the Middle East she became the largest commercial center, eventually surpassing even Dubai in the late 2020s. Strategically positioned in close proximity to the Red Sea, this port city served the global economy in a big way. Much of the freight on big tankers passed through her waters headed for Africa, the Middle East, or Europe.

The crown jewel of the newly-formed Islamic caliphate even began to build an elevator to space where orbital platforms had large space shuttles docked at them, ready to transport freight and paying customers in unprecedented efficiency.

That day the Muslim world showed up big to witness their human representation of Allah’s authority on earth. Waving green banners and flags with a white star and crescent symbol emblazoned on it signaled to the watching world a United Islamic Caliphate was rising out of the desert…and Jeddah was at the center of it all.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

—Proverbs 11:14

April 20th, 2041

The Mossad stamped that Proverb as their motto. They sought to give Israel’s leaders guidance through good counsel in order to arrive at informed decisions.

Five stealth helicopters’ blades thwacked against the night air around them. These birds of war were headed to the former Republic of Moldova which had been grafted back into the Russian empire after World War III (circa 2018).

External fuel tanks hung from the pylons under the wings of the Block XX Blackhawk stealth choppers; though the extra load it carried may have increased its overall radar cross-section, the ancient but heavily modified helicopters would need it to make the hop over the Black Sea.

The most dangerous part of the flight would be the brief exposure to Odesa’s launchers that lie in wait for aircraft daring enough to enter its domain. The good news: Ukraine wasn’t their end destination…only a very skinny sliver of it stood in the way of Moldova’s southeastern section which they were headed to. However, the flip side of that coin being the Blackhawk’s weak countermeasures to anti-aircraft missile launchers. If the stealth didn’t have its desired effect on enemy radar, it would be lights out for the Israelis.

Four agents bundled together in the back of one of the choppers. The airframe shuddered a little at an altitude of five thousand feet going two hundred and thirty knots. The pilots were really pushing the envelope. Meanwhile the rest of the crew were engaged in a rousing game of blackjack—except for Seth Markov.

Seth held an enviable background. Some said he was over-qualified to be a Mossad operative. He studied chemistry and physics at Israel’s oldest college: Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Next up, he did his graduate studies at none other than MIT: graduating with a Masters of Science in Mechanical Engineering.

For his physical regimen he dead-lifted five hundred pounds (eight reps in six sets), swam a quarter mile, ran a 5k in 16 minutes….Now you get the idea.

Later in the day he’d spar with Israeli Commandos (think Navy Seals) until he bruised all his ribs and/or partially blacked out.

What made Seth the ultimate fighting machine though were his skills in the deadly martial art called Kraw Maga. One simply didn’t outlast his moves. Death would be the only conclusion to a match. Seth’s record was perfect, too: many had perished from his lethal blows. He had no equal, except the fictional character Jason Bourne perhaps. Seth Markov was so rounded in every area there was literally no situation he wasn’t prepared for. Because of his educational background, he was mentally equipped to think his way out of any dilemma like a living-breathing MacGyver.

The six-foot-one, two hundred and ten pound jack-of-all-trades fighting machine sat undisturbed in peaceful reflection. He was so still, to anybody watching, Seth looked like an inanimate GI Joe doll. It was nearing 23:00 hours and the helicopters were still a good journey away from Moldova.

The trivial occupation of playing cards didn’t hold anything for the rough character. Everyone he worked with knew better just to let the warrior brood. That’s what he did. His social skills weren’t too good anyway; his attitude often was as snappy as a black bear smarting from a shoulder wound. Seth wore a snarly twisted scowl with battle scars marking his chiseled cheek bones.

During exfils, Seth suited up for maximum readiness. Even though it was just a transfer from one safe house on to the next, the hardened Mossad agent treated it like it was his most dangerous mission. In an emergency he came ready with liquid body armor and a hang-glider system on his back in the extreme case the helicopter was compromised.

All of the seemingly unnecessary precautions he took came from losing colleagues in the field due to a lack of preparedness. Never would that happen to him if he could help it, he determined. Ultimately, what Seth wanted most was to destroy the enemies of the state until there were no more. And then maybe, just maybe he could tell his son Azriel one day who is daddy really was. Seth knew he’d be old and gray and his son, married with kids before Azriel would ever know the real story about his father. Then again, there was a very real possibility he might never get that opportunity: coming back home, wherever that was, couldn’t be guaranteed.

The Ozarks

Damion’s heart palpitated more than he was accustomed to. The situation was such: in a jail cell belonging to a female inmate who was a little more than mildly attractive to him. However, Christophe his loyal friend and chief scientist shared the same view.

Heather’s question of why they had been brought to the Ozarks facility still rolled around in his brain, having not yet found the answer he thought she would want to hear. He lowered his chin and looked up at the ceiling. “We, um—we’re POW’s. Scorpion had it in for us so they ordered the hit. Bada bing, bada boom, we’re here, like magic.”

Heather analyzed the billionaire. It didn’t take long for the follow-up question to the first: “What makes you so valuable to the agency that they’d wanna take you in alive?”

Christophe stepped forward and appeared ready to talk. His first words came out more French than American.

Anglais s’il vous plaît. “English, please,” Heather said cracking a smile.

“Yes, of course,” Christophe apologized, turning red in the process. “We work for the FRN. We hold lots of major military contracts with their security forces that Scorpion is very interested in.”

“Yeah, wouldn’t they love to know what we’re capable of,” Damion bitterly quipped.

Heather held up a hand and squinted. “Wait a minute, do I—know you?” she was addressing Damion.

“I don’t know, do you?”

The proverbial light bulb lit up in Heather’s mind. “You’re that guy who started the nuclear fusion revolution in the transportation sector. Right?”

Damion was flattered. “Yup, I did that,” he replied modestly.

“You’re so kind to take all the credit kid,” his partner in innovation needled him in the side.

“Sorry,” Damion mumbled back.

“Look, fellas, I’m not really in a talking mood, but a lot has happened to me in the past twenty-four hours and I’ve been dying to share it with someone.”

Both men’s ears burned with curiosity now.

“Make yourselves comfortable?” Heather was trying to play the part of hospitable host.

Damion plopped his weight down on the concrete floor rather hastily. He was eager for a story. As Heather continued to talk, the fonder he became of her.

Kara was now a distant country from his vantage point on an island surrounded by a sea of question marks. He had no clue if being held in isolation would be his new permanent residence.

So much for those dang Viper agents coming to our rescue, the thought slipped into the billionaire’s head as he listened to the British woman’s strange accounting of her last day before waking up to her present reality.

Christophe asked questions, but Damion remained silent, transfixed. Every now and then he would remember he had been staring; his eyes would then dart to some random object in the room. So inconspicuous.

Heather noticed the extra attention the good-looking stranger with the green eyes and perfect tan gave her….She reached out and took it, folded it up, and put it in her back pocket. Distractions would be distractions. She had actually hoped to turn down the charm just enough to hold a meaningful conversation with both the faces that watched her every move.

“….And that’s when I woke up. I presently realized I was not dead, yet regrettably very much alive and staring straight into the gaze of the very cheeky warden of this prison.”

Christophe chuckled. A devious little grin played across his face. “Them bobbies are cheeky fellows, eh?”

Heather laughed. Christophe’s attempted use of British parlance with its accompanying accent was most humorous to her.

Damion ignored his friend completely. That laugh. If only she knew what it did to him. This was getting ridiculous. He had to get out of there before he did something really stupid.

“Er, Heather. It was really nice to meet you,” he stepped forward to force the awkward handshake, “but I’m afraid my friend and I must be going.” He cocked his head in the direction of the adjacent cell while he said this.

She nodded with understanding. “See you again?”

“Yes!” Christophe uttered without a pause in his voice.

The blonde gave him a big smile and said, “Good.”

Tel Aviv, Israel: circa 2036

There was no big yellow bus that waited curbside in front of the restaurant La Shuk for a boy that needed to be in school. His uncle’s Mercedes ended up being the shuttle instead.

The uninviting nippy spring breeze hit Azriel with full force as he walked out the front entrance of La Shuk with uncle Ephraim nudging him as they went along at a fast walk. It was only a cool sixty degrees—the sun hid behind cloud formations to boot.

Not a word was spoken between the two of them. As they neared the parallel parking spot the vehicle revved up and its gull-wing doors let the passengers mount up. The white interior was cast in a blue glow with silver accents all over.

“Nice ride,” Azriel murmured after he had climbed into the front passenger seat. “Does it fly?”

Ephraim balked. “Only the top one percent of society have those, kid. Uncle Ephraim didn’t get so lucky.”

The Jewish boy understood.

The engine made a whooshing sound as its electric motor sent power to the wheels. It was a smooth acceleration—sporty, but not jerky. Azriel took in the blur of colorful pedestrians strolling along the sidewalks of Israel’s biggest hub. The old architecture mixed in with the new in the city. Art Deco buildings abounded; ubiquitous single-story European homes topped by a red tiled roof crawled all over the landscape; and two to three story sandstone residences also proliferated.

Ephraim did a hundred and fifty kilometers per hour on the Ayalon Highway which fringed the eastern section of downtown. There was no posted speed. In the age of fully autonomous vehicles, car accidents were simply unheard of. Cars had really gotten that smart.

Uncle Ephraim still drove manually though, no matter how capable his vehicle may have been. He refused to let his skills go to waste in exchange for convenience. That was an extremely bad trade-off in his mind. Every once in a while if there had been something on his mind that would require him to take his hands off the wheel, eyes off the road, and give his full attention to the person he wanted to deliver a message to he would make an exception and push the button for the vehicle to take over.

Today was a day for expediency, however. Azriel would go to school and make fourth period…on time.

“But I don’t have any books, uncle,” the boy said out of the blue, breaking down the wall of silence.

The driver went ahead and adopted a mischievous look in his expression. “Ah, so you think. I actually spoke with the school superintendent recently. It has been arranged for. Books, school supplies, transportation every day….Done.”

Tall skyscrapers, apartment buildings, and offices loomed large on the left. Ephraim’s tunnel vision wandered to observe the central business district. “I never get used to that sight,” he commented on Tel Aviv’s modern architecture.

“It’s all I’ve ever known,” Azriel responded, his voice muffled.

The Mercedes weaved through traffic very aggressively with the goal in mind of being on time.

“We’re nearly there.”

Azriel looked confused. “But, the school I went to wasn’t on the northeast side of Tel Aviv….”

“This is your school,” his uncle cut him off, not giving his nephew a chance to question. “The teachers here are excellent. You will get an education, I assure you.”

Well, it was of no assurance to the boy fresh off his bar mitzvah. To him, an education wasn’t a part of the rite of passage to adulthood. It didn’t interest him. Azriel would much rather have been a wanderer, a passerby in the game of life. He wasn’t willing to put in the hard work to get anywhere. But his well-meaning uncle was hoping to change all of that.

The stylish black Mercedes slowed down to a stop behind a school bus that had its amber lights flashing. A ringtone suddenly filled up the cabin of the SUV. It played over the car’s speakers, but Ephraim took the call on his in-ear headset.

Yeah…” he answered a question. His eyes shifted sideways to the boy. His mind was quickly made up as the call continued. Before long he was making shooing motions for Azriel to get out and walk the rest of the way to class.

“But I don’t even know where to go!” The boy protested.

“Just go! I’ll be there shortly, “Ephraim whispered, his eyes rising over the top of his glasses which perched at the end of his nose.

The boy shrugged.

Azriel gingerly got out in his own time, casting one long last look over his shoulder at his uncle who was still on a phone call.

His sneakered feet took him towards the rotunda entrance of the grand school building. Security cameras, always on the swivel, perked up at his arrival. Azriel didn’t like the feeling of being watched. But he needed help, direction on where to go.

As he got up to the door he sensed his body undergoing a scan. To the right of the door frame at waist level was a digital display. It pulled up Azriel’s national ID card on the screen.

An artificial voice sounded and said, “Welcome, Azriel Markov. Please walk to the front desk to report for further instructions. Thank you.”

Thank you, the thirteen-year-old parroted back.

After the shutter-style doors parted the next thing he noticed was a big area rug carpeting the floor of the turnstile: Welcome to Thelma Yellin High School was stitched into it in blue letters.

There was momentary confusion. “But I’m still in Middle school,” escaped his lips. A motion detector sensed the human approaching and correspondingly opened the next set of doors.

Way up above about forty feet or so the ventilation system noisily purged the system and circulated the air per its pre-programmed cycles. A very prominent desk, more like a slab of rock from the local quarry, made it hard to get past without being noticed and stopped for questioning. Seeing as how Azriel was the only soul in the near vicinity walking the halls, all eyes were on him as he approached the front desk.

Two hundred miles off the coast of S6…

A crew-wide announcement on Scorpion’s AirCorvette let everybody know that the craft was approaching the targeted drop zone for the underwater submersible which was destined to dock with a Harpoon class submarine that waited for it below the depths.

Members of the Elite Guard for Scorpion were on standby to assist the VIP guests into the capsule. They wore exoskeletons that had transformer-like wings that popped out of their back when they needed them. Their face masks were multi-faceted, very much resembling a fruit fly’s eye. Overall these men looked more like bipedal insectoids than humans. To further round out their sinister presence a vocoder in the mandible disguised the men’s real voices.

One of the six Elite Guards approached the German chancellor and British prime minister. Two more of them rounded up the Russian leaders. The remaining three stood sentry at the exterior hatch to the capsule.

“Good heavens!” Prime Minister Jasper Turpin cried in alarm. He was riveted by the dress of the guard that waltzed up to where he and the German leader sat. He thought the Scorpion soldier looked more like a grim reaper than someone who was there for his personal protection and service.

“This is just a dress rehearsal for the really weird things you’ll see at the war room, prime minister,” Lothar whispered into the startled man’s ear. “I thought you would’ve grown accustomed to this by now though. You said you’ve visited Vandenberg several times.”

“Indeed I have,” the British PM retorted, feeling a little indignant.

“What are our instructions soldier?” Lothar Kirsch demanded, his jaw set.

“I must escort you two into there,” he pointed a mechanical ligament in the direction of the vehicle that sat atop the bomb bay doors. “We only have five minutes to get you harnessed up.”

Both men immediately lifted themselves from the bench they had occupied for the majority of the flight from Tokyo. Lothar was especially eager to enter into the compartment destined for the deep blue. Out of the corner of his vision he observed the Russian President Igor Orloff and Grigory Sliva walking in a four man formation—Scorpion Elite Guards flanking them. Lothar’s thin lips formed a tight smile.

“Are you looking forward to this as much as I am?” he asked President Igor as soon as he was within earshot.

The Russian president anticipated such a question. “They had better make it worth my time.”

Jasper Turpin vigorously nodded his head at the Russian’s words. He too kept a busy schedule; there had better be a darn good reason for a summit at Scorpion’s war room at such an early hour in the morning.

Five minutes later, down to the second, the submersible hit the waves and promptly sunk to a depth of a thousand meters. The much larger Scorpion submarine swam over like a shark eager to discover the source that disturbed the water with its upward trail of bubbles it created as it descended.

The Harpoon class sub that would take the foreign leaders the rest of the way to the War Room weighed in at a whopping seven thousand tons. Its length: five hundred and seventy feet…clearly the top of the food chain in the Pacific Ocean.

It moved quickly through the water in its gas bubble that the super-cavitation drive created. This allowed the large behemoth to move at speeds in excess of a hundred knots. As it approached the capsule, its intense flood lights turned on and illuminated the vessel in the murky depths of the ocean.

Israel’s syndicate intelligence agency had its tentacles wrapped up in the affairs of governments the world over. After World War III the world looked very different. No longer led by a superpower (i.e. the United States), several very divided people groups were controlled by Germany, Britain, China, Russia, the United Islamic Caliphate…and in the West there were the six sectors in North America.

At the crux of it all were Scorpion’s Skynet surveillance systems. An army of drones, cameras, and computer chips…a whole arsenal of technology which harvested data on the world’s population. The makings of this world-wide police state had its test-bed in America. After the world’s only superpower fell, the Big Brother surveillance proliferated.

All major cities had little white boxes in them. Inside these little harmless looking boxes were quantum computers. Their capabilities, what they could do…unknown. Anybody curious enough to come by and see what was under the box wouldn’t live to tell. An invisible dome of lethal energy protected the quantum computers that ultimately were left alone to do Lord knows what.

It may be buzzing by you. Maybe on your window…splattered on a fly swatter even. Insects—natural ones, too came under the dominion of Scorpion. They were more watchful in the urban environment than a man with the big game on. Birds and foul punched the clock for many hours of service to the agency, also.

Privacy? It didn’t exist. The whole world was being watched. Forget governments spying on each other, which, consequently still happened rather frequently.

The watchful eye of Scorpion noticed everything though. She took the ambition of the NSA and pushed it to another dimension. What’s more, Howard and his underworld organization controlled the world’s markets: anything could be achieved.

Barcelona, Spain

The glaring sun on the Iberian Peninsula filtered through the polarized lenses of Agent Marcello’s shades. He was engaged in the typical observe and report duty assignment for the agency, Mossad.

A random business person walked by his bench in the park. The stranger dressed in an expensive suit complete with the manly jewelry: a Rolex.

Alfonso wondered what time it was. He had a smartphone, but he had to assume he was being watched by several governments…and Scorpion. Instead of pulling the device out of his pocket, the street bum scooted off his seat and grabbed the man’s wrist—the one with the shiny time piece on it.

The guy protested.

Alfonso ignored him. He got what he had wanted. It was eleven fifty-five. Time to book it.

His muscular legs took him on a slant that led to a bike rack with scooters chained to it. None of them were his. No matter though. Alfonso looked around and was satisfied he had a green light to choose the red one and go to work on it.

First, a pair of powerful wire cutters snipped through the chain that had once tethered the moped to the bike rack. In less than thirty seconds he had the two wires from the ignition reversed, and the loose end where it needed to go. There was a spark and Alfonso throttled it. He quickly returned his tactical knife to its sheath near his right armpit: he was left handed.

And off he went into the hustle and bustle of Barcelona traffic.

Alfonso had to be at a drop-off. These occurred so often that it was like second nature to him. An agent would hand off an envelope to him—never the same person.

As he drove along at a conservative speed of seventy kilometers per hour Marcello acted out his paranoid nature with constant glances over the shoulder. If anybody was tailing him, they did a very good job of it. Nothing made him want to drive any faster or in a zig-zag pattern to lose a shadow.

One could never be too cautious in his line of work. In ten years with the agency, he only had two chance run-ins. Both times it didn’t fare so well for the aggressor.

Ten blocks later, two rights and a left, Alfonso pulled over to the curb and put the kickstand down. He knew he had time to spare before the drop-off. Until then he had to suffer with intense hunger pains at the mouthwatering smells coming from a steakhouse in the area.

Blending in was the name of the game. He did not want to make it any easier for his enemies to spot him. What better way than to get lost in a crowd? In Barcelona one didn’t need to be in a mall for there to be crowds. Every street and thoroughfare in the city simply teamed with people.

Satisfied his cover was sufficient and that no cameras could get a good angle on what he was up to, that’s when the phone came out. There was a new text. It read: “Come in after dark. We have a lot to go over.” There was a picture message too.

Alfonso looked hard at the screen. What he was looking at appeared to be a forty-seven-year-old woman, a German high-ranking official…and she was in town on a diplomatic trip to German-controlled Spain.

Sofia Keller held the title Minister of the Interior. She didn’t wind up on Chancellor Lothar’s cabinet for nothing. Her trim appearance, shoulder-length blonde bobbed hair, upturned nose, and dimpled cheeks weren’t menacing by any means, yet from the reports he had heard about the woman, she knew how to pull rank. Sofia Keller, aka “the enforcer” wouldn’t be leaving her post in the Interior Ministry anytime soon.

Today she was in town to carry out an inspection of the local government and to meet with leaders on her findings

Alfonso’s phone vibrated. That was his signal. The agent quickly made haste to get to a bus stop and wait there. He wasn’t looking for somebody that didn’t belong, that’s not how Mossad operated.

Women dressed in high fashion strutted by, men in business suits talked on their phones, families walked together to get lunch.

Where are you?

Just then a woman nearly tripped over Alfonso and that’s when he felt something that wasn’t there before. It was wedged under his right arm. Agent Marcello casually slipped it under his floral shirt and tucked it into his pants.

Next up, find out the best way to stalk Sofia Keller and her cohorts. He would need to take inventory on all the places of interest they might be at. Entry and exit points. And ways he could make himself scarce in case any of the Germans became wise onto his spy games.

[]Chapter 3

Westover Ventures, Lost Angeles

Nine out of ten heavy-lift cargo aircraft were able to land. The tenth had two engine fires that brought the beast down in an ugly wreck, its cargo undoubtedly damaged and the crew more than likely dead.

Nine of the planes landed though, one after another, down the boulevard from the gigantic factory and office complex of Westover Ventures. Each of them measured longer than a football field, a hundred feet wide and six stories tall. The cargo ramps of the planes lowered like drawbridges. Loadmasters unloaded twenty tanks, ten personnel carriers, and UGVs (unmanned ground vehicles). All of these deadly machines of war trundled out of their cargo planes and onto the battlefield, ready to set up a perimeter.

Along with the heavy-duty camouflaged military vehicles, nine platoons with forty soldiers each marched to the directives their assigned lieutenants gave them. Medevac personnel didn’t need to be told to conduct search and rescue on the downed craft: they were already on it.

The sergeant NCOs (non-commissioned officers) coordinated logistics with the members from their platoons that made up the three companies that ultimately were responsible for insuring the success of the team of Viper agents that would go inside to retrieve the priceless equipment and blueprints on future weapons.

It was hard not to think about what was going on in the skies above. The enemy mercilessly pounded the FRN. Undoubtedly the twenty brave men going into Westover Complex to extract the assets felt the burden to see the mission through.

Who needs security clearance creds?

They didn’t even ring the doorbell. Planted explosive charges blasted the men’s way into the cavernous interior of the gigantic building. Ding-dong.

All the Viper units were equipped with thermal imager cameras in their helmets, along with night vision, and an entire integrated network suite for staying connected with the rest of the team.

Two of the Viper agents were positioned near the entrance of the five story office building the team had just entered into. They would stay in contact with the outside world and interface with even the president himself if need be. Meanwhile, the rest of the detail would separate into smaller forces: one to the west wing or weapons division while the other headed to the energy nexus located in the east wing.

The building appeared hollowed out and lifeless. The two guards standing sentry in the lobby gripped their rifles tensely. Through the huge triangular glass curtains that made up the building’s walls they could see giant eight-wheeled military vehicles speeding by. Soldiers scurried along at a frantic pace to set up check points with machine gun nests.

“Do you really believe we’re alone in this structure?” one of the guards asked his buddy.

The other dude grabbed a protein bar from a pouch on his chest and nibbled off the front end of the bar. In between bites he answered, “Scorpion would be stupid not to come here. Either they already have…or we’ve got company, we just don’t know it yet.”

“But that’s not possible! We’ve done a full sweep of this place. No life signs.”

Only halfway through his snack, the other man didn’t want to be bothered for an immediate answer. He held up a finger in the darkness.

“Coated sapphire cloaks work beautifully against our sophisticated cameras, rendering enemy operatives invisible. Just like that,” he snapped his fingers.

The figure who wasn’t munching was freed up to swear at the revelation. “Why do I get the feeling this is a trap? The alien ships or whatever the heck they are in the skies…it’s like they were expecting us. Now the potential our team is walking into an ambush….”

“I know,” his partner agreed. “Stand alert, ready for anything. We are Viper agents, just remember that.”

“Hooah!”

Scorpion War Room: Vandenberg, CA

The underwater entrance to the agency’s strategic war room wasn’t like Atlantis…no to the dazzling, mythical buried city. Instead it took the approach of concealment, blending in.

According to the harpoon class submarine’s advanced sensors, the foreign leaders were nearing the front door to the base. Unless something happened quick though, a six hundred foot long missile would slam into pilings along the shore.

The captain of the sub ordered a full stop. Bubbles churned as if water jets had been turned on in a whirlpool tub. The heavy mechanical doors to a tunnel entrance groaned but eventually complied. Sediment kicked up from the ocean floor.

It was an amazing thing. A submarine over ten thousand tons, five hundred and seventy feet long literally drifted into the tunnel with the ocean currents. The captain guiding the large vessel likened this little exercise to a trip to the car wash: you just had to get the wheels on the track and put ‘er in neutral. In a way, that’s what the Scorpion sub did.

A full detachment of ten Scorpion Elite Guards stood on the wharf next to the looming cylindrical metal whale that decided to port there. The forerunner for the Lord of the Ages traveled with them. Maxwell was Maxwell. A cloaked, hooded, mysterious stranger.

The hatch popped open on top of the submarine’s deck like a bottle cap under tremendous pressure: its contents dying to escape. Russian President Igor Orloff was first to disembark, followed by the German leader, and finally Jasper Turpin of England.

Igor’s aide, Grigory Sliva who brought up the rear paused on the bridge between the vessel and solid ground. He noticed strange lights off in the distance closer to the mouth of the tunnel where they had just come in. Something else swam among the waves which looked like shark fins to the Russian.

Grigory dismissed it with a head shake. He continued his advance more cautiously than ever into the world of the unknown. A stray glance of his to the left gave way to curiosity about the length of the sea tunnel. It seemed to go on forever. But perhaps that was the darkness’s hidden talent in the strange world—making things seem different than what they really were.

“Step right this way,” Maxwell instructed. He took the lead with his guards and the foreign leaders following not too far behind.

“I like what you’ve done with the place,” the German chancellor joked.

Jasper Turpin looked horrified at Lothar’s lack of discernment. Just to be on the safe side the British PM stood at a distance from the German (he didn’t want to be part of the splash damage when Maxwell had enough of Lothar’s cockamamie talk).

Igor and Grigory on the other hand exchanged looks of amusement. Who needed a court jester when Lothar Kirsch was in the building?

The German chancellor walked at a snail’s pace, his neck snapped back in a fixed position with eyes staring straight up at the ceiling and his mouth gaping. “When was this place built?”

No one in the group expected an answer to the question…this was not a tour. But to everyone’s shock, the False Prophet provided one.

“The war room was built in the sixties. This area that we walk through presently actually predates the war room.”

“A natural formation? A sea cave?” Lothar said incredulously.

“Yes, that is correct.” Maxwell hid his dislike for Lothar Kirsch under the cover of darkness. “Now, if there be no further questions, shall we board the train?”

All aboard.

Odesa, Ukraine: April 20th, 2041—23:00

The slow-moving swarm of Mossad helicopters were now in missile range of the enemy. Under normal circumstances, the toothless defenses of Odessa wouldn’t be too worrisome for the Israeli agents passing through. The Cold War era surface-to-air missile batteries with their even more antiquated radar arrays didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in heck against stealth choppers. That is, unless they had a little help.

Seth Markov regulated his own breathing. Call it a premonition of sorts; the man had the worst of feelings in his gut. A sinking feeling…which apparently wasn’t shared by the rest of the team in the back of the helo. They still played blackjack like there was no tomorrow.

The grizzled veteran wouldn’t rest easy until they were safe and sound, out of harm’s way. His muscular lower half tightened, his center of weight balanced on the balls of his feet. If anything were to happen, he’d be ready to jump into action.

The full range of anxiety attacks kicked in right then. Seth shook his head and winced in pain. It didn’t happen often, but when it did it was like film would roll of all the traumatic life and death experiences he had been through.

The wind breaking against his face made him feel like he had face-planted into a snow drift and stayed there. At freefall speeds his body hurtled to the ground at a hundred and twenty miles an hour. Djibouti’s lights down below shone like galaxy clusters from Seth’s point of view. Three other Mossad agents willingly followed Seth Markov out of the plane on the HALO jump.

While they were still riding their parachutes to a rough and tumble landing all four of the killing machines racked their submachine guns: locked and loaded ready to strike. Green lasers danced on top of a rooftop. By the time the guards of the president elect of the Islamic republic knew what was happening, it was too late for them. Silent bullets defeated the perimeter defenses of the high-rise compound the target occupied that night.

That was one mission.

Bombs going off, guns thundering, the sound bites of death…all were on continuous playback with no stop in the program. Seth’s head began to ache.

The water would have given anyone hypothermia. The delivery vehicle that launched from the Israeli sub stealthily moved into the frigid littoral waters of the Barents Sea off the coast of Russia. Seth’s rebreather recycled his carbon dioxide from respiration and returned it to him as usable oxygen. To keep him warm a thermal insulated dry suit protected him from the dangerous potential of a deep freeze from ever occurring.

Seth and his men slowly raised their heads above the crashing waves and lowered them after deciding the coast was clear. Five frog men as they were known to be called rose from the sea and took to the shore. The force skillfully traversed the terrain. Soon they were packing through the frozen tundra en route to another target.

Before he knew what was going on his world went sideways. A ringing noise burst his ear drums: they were in the middle of a firefight with Russian KGB agents sent to intercept the Israelis. A grenade had just exploded. How did they know with pinpoint accuracy Seth and his men would be there that day? None of that mattered though. Bullets pinged off the dirt and heather around him.

Judging by weapons fire, Seth reasoned him and his team were equally matched in number, but not in strength. The enemy didn’t know who they were dealing with. They had critically underestimated the superiority in training the Mossad agents possessed.

Seth lay on his stomach in the snow and mud. He appeared to be all alone: separated from the friendlies in all the chaos. Losing situational awareness in these situations could have been fatal, but Seth had just the thing for that. Even though the Israelis liked to travel light, clutter-free, they never went on a mission without their ruggedized PDAs. The little handhelds could do everything from maps with their current location on it to a text messaging service.

Seth took out his gizmo and powered it on. In under ten seconds he had his maps application open. That gave him just enough time before the next wave of attacks started up again. This time he knew where the bullets were coming from. A plan, he needed a plan.

His thumbs pecked out a message to the other agents. “On my mark I will begin the countdown. After which, I’ll return fire…a diversion. I want you to jump from cover and mow them down. Questions?”

“10 4, “ Seth read. He exhaled. Inserting the high capacity mag with caseless ammo took two seconds: counting down took three.

His last text to everyone simply said “mark.”

One, one thousand. Two, one thousand. Three, one thousand.

With a decisive squeeze of the trigger, Seth sent twenty rounds over the ridge he hid behind and in the general direction of the bad guys. The retaliatory response was instantaneous. Bullets bit the dust all around him. All of a sudden he felt a flesh pain, but that was overshadowed by another sound. His team did what they had to do and after it was all over the body count stood at five. All theirs.

“Well this op was over before it ever began,” one of the agents lamented.

Into the wormhole again…Seth’s brain was like a kaleidoscope of swirling colors.

From it emerged this picture:

An ejected clip hit the floor. He must’ve called for another mag because one traveled on a trajectory straight for his outstretched gloved hand.

Clink, clink, clink went the brass casings as they hit the floor. Bursts of automatic gun fire from muzzles illuminated the space like torches.

The dark and dank trappings of the building reminded him of a medieval castle. But with a Middle Eastern flair to it.

They appeared to have the upper hand. The men on Seth’s right looked him in the eyes and motioned onward before they advanced, he did the same for the men to his left.

They scrambled to leave the scene with the men they dropped dead in cold blood. Straight ahead a tunnel connected them closer to their objective. Seth backed up the procession of Mossad agents running through the dark passageway. He kept his gun pointing in the opposite direction which they headed in. The man ahead of him looked up at the ceiling with his iron sight. The two in the front poked a little fiber optic snake camera around the corner.

“Clear.”

Four black commandos spilled out from the hallway into an open gallery. Obviously it was a place where speeches were made. Islamic flags sat on a stage with a podium taking front and center. If there was one thing the rectangular room lacked, that would be people. Where was everybody?

It began to fade. No longer did he see men with faces painted black, wearing communications gear, and wielding powerful rifles. He heard familiar noises. Men’s voices rose in an excited cadence.

“That’s twenty-one again!”

Seth groaned. He had been daydreaming. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing though because the pilots came on the radio to announce they were close to the safe house.

Tel Aviv, Israel

“You must be Azriel Markov,” a lady with short hair and beak-like nose chirped.

The boy nodded.

“Here’s your syllabus and a map of the building,” she handed him some papers.

He readily took them. Under closer examination, the classes his uncle had enrolled him in were really advanced. Azriel swallowed. “I don’t think I can…” he started to say while pointing at his schedule.

“Nonsense,” she cut him off, “your uncle said you were ready. You’re on trial right now, so let’s see what you can do. We’ll go from there.”

Looks like he didn’t have much of a choice. Thanks uncle. Azriel sighed, turned away from the front desk and dragged his feet down the hall.

There had been another person closely watching the Jewish boy. But he made no attempt at an introduction. His forgettable plain features and limited, background involvement in the enrollment process would go unnoticed by Azriel. And that was precisely the point.

When the boy was out of sight the stranger pulled a phone out of his pocket and speed-dialed a number.

“We have the boy.”

“So he found his way all right?”

“I assume so.”

“You’ll have to do better than that. Report to me often on what you observe. You got that?”

“Of course.” With that, he clicked off. A desk awaited him in some obscure corner of the building where he would monitor everything Azriel did, just as directed.

Bird woman had a look of curiosity wash over. “Rafael? What was that all about?”

“Hm? Oh, just a concerned mother calling in to make sure her son wasn’t tardy again. His attendance hasn’t been good.”

Likely story. She knew what she heard. But it did no good to question the assistant principal of the school.

Rafael noticed the grunt’s reservations over his cover-up. “Is there something else on your mind Miriam?”

She gave a little head shake.

“Good. I’ll be in my office if you need anything.” He grabbed a mint from the dish by her monitor before he left.

Barcelona, Spain

[_ _]

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, or BfV for short, is Germany’s internal security department. Its people report directly to the Ministry of the Interior. Which, in this case is Sofia Keller. In years past BfV strictly gathered intelligence and let the police actually go in and round up the suspects.

There’s a new sheriff in town

Not anymore. After World War III the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution became the new Gestapo over the states Germany assimilated into her control.

Visits to the satellite states occurred with greater regularity. Sofia Keller accompanied by her henchmen made darn good and sure Spain and others remained loyal to the Fourth Reich. She knew resentment and workarounds faced her wherever her inspection might be on any given day. There were always dissidents. Always. That’s why Chancellor Lothar Kirsch had tapped her to join his team. She was the enforcer.

Enforcers needed to eat though. Officials from the Berlin-elected provisional government of Spain had agreed to talk politics over lunch with Keller. A German restaurant in downtown Barcelona was the chosen site for the proceedings.

A pleasant several course meal greased the skids for good talks ahead. Platters of bratwurst, sauerkraut, schnitzel…pitchers of beer, and black forest cake with apple strudel as dessert satisfied even the strongest of appetites.

Carlos Castell ate his meal undisturbed. He enjoyed eating in the state dining room of the five star Hotel Omm. However the great food and luxurious atmosphere weren’t enough to put his mind at ease. Whenever Sofia Keller came calling he always felt guilty as sin. Even if he didn’t do anything. She had that effect on the governors.

Even though Berlin had thoroughly vetted the governors (satraps) that ruled her satellite states, there were still those with divergent allegiances…some that had dealings with anti-government groups. Through chicanery and guile these traitors waited for the right time to give the Judas kiss and betray the Fourth Reich.

Before today’s meeting Carlos practiced with his advisors. Their agenda: think up ways to continue the lie. What Keller didn’t need to know, wouldn’t hurt her.

Sofia put her fork down on her chilled plate adorned with chocolate shavings and drizzle. She looked up at Governor Castell with a half-smile. “What did you think of the cake?”

“What’s not to like,” he replied. “I’m a sucker for German desserts.”

Keller nodded. Her eyes danced around the room, absorbing every detail. “This hotel has always been a favorite of mine. I wouldn’t stay anywhere else in the city….”

“There’s a new chain investing in downtown. Hotel Omm’s management is a little worried I hear,” Carlos almost whispered while wiping his mouth with his napkin.

“Carlos,” Keller looked ready to change topics to something more in line with the real reason for the visit, “I wanted to personally thank you for the work you and your people have done to go after groups and militias that are enemies of the state.”

The governor did his best to look placid. Keller was playing games. So he would play along. “We recently conducted a sting operation on some radicals. Our intelligence indicated they were conspiring to take over some weapon depots.”

She didn’t give anything away. “You don’t say….”

“Yeah. Frankly, I’m a little concerned about the number of hostiles out there that would like nothing more than chaos and tyranny.”

Keller agreed. “That’s why we must work together as a team. And that’s partly why I’m here.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

“It goes something like this—” her hands hovered over her dinner plate like it was an open playbook. “—we need to share information. I’d like to see more transparency from your intelligence officials with the BfV. Do you think you can do that?”

“I thought we were doing that,” Carlos complained.

“Not according to these documents.” She held them up for everyone to see in a very confrontational manner.

“What’s that?”

“Phone records from people in your own counter-terrorism agency, the Bureau of Internal Affairs, is it?”

“Yes, that’s us. But what’s that got to do with lack of transparency?”

“We traced the calls. Several businesses that were on the list have affiliations with known anti-government parties.”

Carlos blanched. How could this be happening? “Why would my people be contacting those types?”

“I was hoping you could tell me,” her eyes narrowed.

“Are you saying I’m in cahoots with agents from the BIA against my own government?”

“We’re checking into it,” Keller said very firmly. “In the meantime, I’ve assigned a team to work closely with your people over the next month or so. Consider that your parole, if you will.”

The governor protested. Carlos shot glances at his point man who looked equally shaken by the news. Keller was good, too good. “This isn’t over,” Carlos threatened her.

“No, I’m afraid it isn’t. We’ll be in touch.” She got up from the table and excused herself. The rest of her security detail went before her.

Well that couldn’t have gone any worse, Carlos thought to himself.

Westover Ventures, LA

[_ _]

“Don’t you think it would be wise to call ahead to the forward deployed teams?”

“Warn them, you mean?”

“You would want them to do the same for you if that was your ass on the line.”

“You have a point.”

“I know I do! Now get on it!”

“I hope you’re right on this,” he muttered as he prepared to ask his commander what to do.

The other security guard said nothing. Instead, he walked a greater distance away from the guy who noisily chattered with his superiors. If it were his call, he’d release a swarm of drones to do reconnaissance since the scans of the building didn’t yield anything. He was almost certain they weren’t alone. But he needed something more concrete than a feeling. The intelligence would have to come quick, too, before Scorpion got the drop on unsuspecting Viper agents sent to do a job.

“Yes sir, roger that.”

Those were the key words. He returned to his partner, took off his helmet and straight up asked what the news was.

“They have agreed to send in our Wasp aerial drones.”

Those are the little insect ones, right?”

“Yup.”

“Nice work man.”

“Just doing my job,” guard number two said. He looked at his vulnerable sidekick who still had his helmet off. “Better get that back on. You’re a soft target without it.”

“The life support systems have been acting a little haywire,” guard number one explained.

“Is the temperature in your suit climbing?”

Number one laughed. “Yeah, you could say that.”

“Do I need to get a replacement, or do you think you’ll be okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Suit yourself.”

The other guy didn’t laugh at the unintentional pun. “Are they gonna send the drones in through the front door? What’s the plan….”

“The HVAC system, actually.”

“Ah. Makes sense.”

Number one sensed his questions were beginning to burden number two so he decided silence to be the antidote for that.

Nine agents got lost in the weapons division of Westover Ventures. Well, not really. They meticulously turned every rock over, looking for anything valuable to grab underneath. Mostly what they came for were the encrypted schematics buried deep on a hard drive somewhere for an important weapon the FRN desperately needed.

The weapons division was a rather large building. Over a hundred thousand square feet of dedicated space to testing, prototyping, and offices. Several members of the team were responsible for hacking into the computers and data mining its contents. That would be a long and arduous process when time was of the essence.

“I think I have something!” one man cried out after ten minutes of searching.

Another searcher nearby stopped what he was working on to take a look.

Looking at diagrams didn’t help matters. If anything, they further confused both men’s efforts. Either they were looking at a radical new weapon or a kitchen appliance for the twenty-first century.

The agent who claimed he had struck a vein of gold scrolled to the bottom of the document. He double clicked on the small print to zoom in.

“The Oaster Toaster 3000?” he read aloud in disbelief.

“Some weapon you got there, Miller,” Tony snorted.

Miller had the good sense to look embarrassed. “There’s gotta be some mistake.”

“The only mistake here would be yours,” Tony was quick to point out. “Just wait till the boys hear this!”

“Hear what?” another guy joined the two.

Miller rolled his eyes.

Tony began to laugh. “Tell him!”

“We all have more important things to be doing than making a mockery out of one man’s honest mistake.”

The lead agent who observed his team’s movements from a second floor lookout grew restless as the minutes ticked by. We shoulda been done by now, he thought.

Apparently the outside world thought so too.

His earpiece began to go crazy: an incoming transmission.

“Agent Jennings, this is the president here with my chief of staff. What’s the status of your mission?”

“My men are working very hard to recover anything useful, Mr. President.”

“So you don’t have what you came for yet, is that what I’m hearing?”

“Unfortunately, that’s what we’re looking at sir.”

A moment of silence. “Let me know when you have anything.”

“Of course Mr. President.”

Their window was closing and Jennings knew it. Pretty soon he’d be given the order to pack it up and report back to the planes. The longer they stayed the more dangerous it became.

Barcelona, Spain

By now Alfonso Marcello knew Sofia Keller’s meeting had ended. A parabolic microphone he had set up behind some topiary in the dining room let him know that. The only way this all worked? Keller’s staffers overlooked the listening device planted there to eavesdrop on a very important meeting. Why? In short, money talks. They were paid off handsomely to keep quiet.

What’s more, he overheard a state secretary of the Interior Ministry along with a commissioner making plans to discuss a possible security breach over coffee later that day. Pay dirt.

Alfonso’s previously open afternoon now had plans. No, he didn’t plan on ending anybody’s life today—not unless it was required. However, an additional little intelligence payoff would go nicely with what he already had from the meeting.

Suddenly his own nutritional needs needed to be met. But he didn’t have time for a sit-in restaurant or take-out. The agency had instant meals for a time such as this. It would suffice.

He had a little bit of homework to do though before he could follow up on the lead. For one, he didn’t know which cafe the politicians would go to. Only a minor detail. More importantly though, he didn’t know which state secretary and commissioner he would tail: the German Interior Ministry had several commissioners and state secretaries. Lucky for him he heard the names Wendel and Amalia come up in conversation…enough to go off of to do a search on the government website for their full names. Agent Marcello didn’t have a computer at his static post where he listened to the event at Hotel Omm. However, his cell phone was as good as a computer if not better.

He put “German Interior Ministry” into the search field and pressed enter for results. The search engine returned the query with a dot gov website he’d be visiting. A few screen taps later and Alfonso was rewarded for his efforts. Now he had their names, but still lacked the knowledge of where they were meeting. No problem. There were websites for that.

Alfonso knew the SIM card in his cell phone gave away his position by sharing his location. Whenever he wanted to go dark, out came the card and off went his phone. But these were government officials. Their phones were always on: that’s what he was counting on anyway.

Sometimes his job was just too easy. Agent Marcello turned to the old cell again, logged on to a social networking website called FindME, and voila…he had two red pins on a map showing both of his targets’ real time locations.

The pins weren’t together either. No matter though. All he had to do was follow one straight to the meet-up and he was golden.

At that moment hunger messaged him again: “Feed me.”

Alfonso had with him a brown fabric messenger bag. His snacks were inside. What he had packed was nothing to get excited over. Instant pizza with almost an indefinite shelf life would be the highlight of the meal. Chemicals loaded with cheese…mmm. A loaded chocolate chip cookie sounded especially good—he would eat it first.

He sat on the cracked pavement in an alleyway behind a dumpster. The cookie crumbled and chocolate chips bounced off his lap as he bit in. Just then a door opened up somewhere behind him. An employee from a local eatery tossed the trash out with a clink. Alfonso resumed eating desert. Shortly after he had the phone on again to see the status of where his subjects were. They hadn’t moved yet. The good news? The targets weren’t too far from him.

His eyes stayed glued to the screen. Meanwhile one of his hands groped in the bag for something that felt like pizza. One thing the agency got right were the chemicals they included with the instant meal. When the meal pouch opened up, exposed to the air, the oxygen reacted with the catalysts to start a thermal reaction which heated the pizza up instantly.

The melted plastic with red paste and seasoning, topped with pepperoni, agreed with the hungry agent more today than it normally did. A motion on his screen made his muscles tense. Someone was on the move. It happened to be the one closest to him too. What luck.

The wiry man got to his feet quickly and looked every which way. He looked like Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean that day with braided dark hair, faded red kerchief, patched rag clothing. What he needed more than a new change of clothes though was a hot shower and some potent soap to cut through the grease and the grime that coated him.

The undercover street bum emerged from the alleyway and onto a major street that snaked through the bustling city. It had been a while before he last checked in with the agency to give them a report. He didn’t need to though. His last instructions were to come in after dark that day. That’s what he would do. A shower awaited him then…and a change of clean clothes.

Since Alfonso had ditched his transportation that he had stolen earlier, he would have to walk it. That didn’t present a problem however. Unless the people he tailed decided to go mobile and take a cab to their destination. Then he’d be screwed. His chances of hailing a taxi much less getting them to escort him places were slim to none. Being a street bum had its advantages and disadvantages.

He picked up the pace and moved faster than the flow of human traffic around him. Every once in a while Alfonso looked over his shoulder. His cover was good, no one suspected a homeless man of being a secret agent. There were enemies though that wanted him dead. He had to watch his back. If he didn’t maintain an alertness, pay attention to details, read people…Alfonso would expire early.

[]Chapter 4

Mossad safe house, Moldova

Only one of the five helicopters landed in Moldova. The remainder had orders to disperse their crews at various locations in Europe.

It looked more like a farm than a safe house. All by design. Thirty miles south of the Ukrainian border, there was nothing but farmland and a river which happened to irrigate the fields. Trees were few and far in between. Consequently, so were people.

At almost two in the morning the men from the chopper had an appetite something fierce. Seth didn’t want anything. The rest had to fend for themselves. There would be no cooking around a fire. No need. The building had running water, a stove—anything a man would ever need to fix supper.

“You sure you wouldn’t want any of this stew?” one man offered to Seth who sat on a rocking chair.

Judging by the grin on the guy’s face, the one holding the pot with an offensive odor emitting from it, the contents most likely were spoiled. Seth shook his head stubbornly. “Nah, you eat it. You’ll need the energy.”

The practical jokester with his smoking pot of stew sauntered away disappointed without a word. It was probably better for him that Seth didn’t eat it, then he’d have more problems to deal with than an overcooked meal.

With no one to confide in, Seth confided in himself. The rocker creaked under the rhythmic back and forth sway of the Mossad man. He didn’t smoke, nor was he one to wander the grounds aimlessly deep in thought. For the most part, he lived a life with no regrets. Seth learned to deal with death as it happened all around him. It struck his own wife thirteen years ago shortly after the birth of his only child, Azriel.

Whenever he dreamed, a pretty American woman would pop up at some point randomly and disappear inconveniently when his eyes opened and it was back to reality. Her name: Jessica, his deceased wife. She didn’t die from pregnancy complications. Though he would tell people that, that wasn’t the real reason. A terrorist who believed himself to be doing Allah’s will took her life. It devastated him. But it also gave him a new calling in life. Before Mossad, Seth worked a desk job as an analyst at an investment firm. He did well for himself, made his employers wealthy, but that didn’t do it for him. Making money would have been a wasted life for him.

Like one reads in books, Seth’s story fared no different. A spy gig literally fell into his lap. He didn’t go bouncing from his plush job as an analyst. Nor would he have had it not been for a coincidental run-in with an agency man, Tyrone.

Ten years ago…

“Bartender, another scotch.”

The keeper of the bar observed the impassable expression on Seth Markov’s haggard looking face. There were bags under the eyes.

“Coming right up.”

Billiard balls cracked in the background after someone broke the once tightly compact triangle of numbers one through fifteen. A couple waitresses in their late twenties hoisted trays with beers and greasy burgers to deliver them to the boisterous crowd. The air smelled of cigarette smoke. Neon signs in the shape of martini glasses and olives cast a glow on the patrons seated at the counter. A basketball game played for anyone that cared.

Seth sat sideways on his stool—divided. At twenty-eight years of age he didn’t have a whole lot to be optimistic about. Jessica, the mother of his three-year-old son, would never be there to see him grow up and become a proud, respectable Markov man. Even worse, little Azriel grew and matured to an age where he understood something was missing from the home. And night after night Seth couldn’t keep coming home to his son, look him in the face, and tell him everything was hunky-dory…nothing out of place. Before long the little boy would ask where momma was. Soon he would start school and observe mommies dropping their little kids off. Then it would sink in—he would get it.

Seth had to do the hard thing. Tell the boy. Watch him tear up, look crushed and all pathetic. This far exceeded the level of difficulty in delivering the bad news on a bear market via a public conference call to company investors who eagerly waited to hear his fundamental analysis on whether to buy, sell, or hold their securities on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

Yet a few drinks that night to dull the pain seemed the right play to make. He would procrastinate and put off telling the truth until Monday. It was still Friday.

When he got his glass back, stingily filled only a fifth of the way he estimated, Seth undertook the effort to analyze the newcomer to his side of the counter. A man no greater no less than four times ten seated himself next to Seth. The stranger made no eye contact, didn’t want anything to do with talk. Apparently Seth wasn’t the only one there for the alcohol.

This guy didn’t go for the hard stuff though. Leave it to the financial analyst to claim that. Instead he sipped on mixed drinks. Some gin.

Seth lost interest and vacated his stool. Three empty glasses littered the counter where he formerly sat. He got up to stretch the legs a bit. Maybe walk over to the billiards table and join a game.

Two mahogany wood tablets, their baskets laden with balls and green carpet seeing some action, took up the back room of the place. Most of the group playing pool appeared to be affluent with jobs in the technology or banking sector, just like Seth.

This wasn’t one of those bars that a biker gang plagued from time to time.

Seth walked up looking like he belonged.

“Next game?” one of the four asked the approaching Seth.

“Me? I don’t really play, maybe I’ll just watch.”

This made the man with an athletic build and wide shoulders smile broadly. “I don’t think you came over here to watch four men play pool after work.”

“You’re right,” Markov conceded the point. “I’ll take winner.” He looked over his shoulder and caught the man he previously sat next to a moment ago staring at him.

Five minutes later the same guy from before held out the triangle towards Seth and said, “Would you do me the courtesy of breaking?”

He had zoned out there for a minute. “You’re done already? Sure, I’ll break.”

The men watching Seth leaned on their sticks. What they witnessed was a man who had done this one too many times. The cue ball raced for the colorful formation with full intent of scattering them in order to set up for an easy next shot. Balls started sinking into the corner and side pockets at random.

Seth had his pick since the break put away two stripes and solids. “Solids it is,” he said under his breath as one foot left the floor while he postured for his next move.

Systematically, one stroke of skill after another cleared the table. His opponent watched in disgust as perfectly placed shots kissed the painted targets at precisely the right angles to send them to their final resting place.

Only one ball stood in the way of a victory.

Seth pointed with the stick and called it: “Corner pocket.”

Could he do it? Make a clean sweep? The other man actually hoped the first game to be over with. He would take his chances into the next game because obviously the first had been a fluke. Luck.

The forecasted loser of the first match didn’t even bother to watch the miss or make. But he heard the ball roll the full length of the table, the clink, and the climactic jiggle of the eight ball joining its cousins in the right hand corner pocket.

Seth felt a nice release after destroying the competition.

“Two out of three?”

It couldn’t hurt. He had missed this. “You wanna break?” he kindly extended the offer.

“I had better say yes, otherwise I might not ever get a turn!” the man in the blue shirt said with a chuckle. “My name is Hector, by the way.”

“Not from around here?”

“Born in the U.S.A.,” he proudly answered.

“Ah, good for you. I’ve visited a number of times. The Big Apple is quite something,” Seth continued the small talk while he watched Hector set up.

Twenty minutes later after a more contested battle, Seth walked away the champ. Unfortunately for him the alcohol began to have its way. His steps to the door zig-zagged a little.

“You look a little sloshed there partner,” a patron quipped, blocking Seth’s path from exiting.

“Yeah? Why don’t you get outta my way so I can pass.”

The man with a boxer face and substantial midsection didn’t budge.

“I’m sorry, did you want something, pal?”

“Maybe I do.”

A brawl seemed likely as the two faced off, each man waiting for the other to make the first move.

Seth simply tried to walk around him, but it wouldn’t be that easy. In an attempt to escape he got knocked off balance by a powerful shove.

“Gentlemen!” the owner of the bar cried, stepping out from behind the swinging doors of the backroom. “Take it outside.”

“No, we’ll finish this here and now.” Seth glared at the aggressor.

The big guy moved in and threw a big hooker that missed everything.

Seth ducked and nailed him in the solar plexus.

The assailant grunted and doubled over. Not expecting such a well-placed blow. Nevertheless, he charged at Seth’s midsection like a bull.

Seeing someone run at you could have been a very paralyzing thing, but Seth came prepared for anything. At the last possible second he jumped out of the oncoming path of the snarling bellicose fighter and grabbed him by the waist and the shirt collar. Seth flung the man like a heavy log into a table. It collapsed into a pile of splinters.

When the big guy attempted to rise from the debris Seth was already there, whaling on his head left and right. The fight had ended.

Afterwards Seth Markov fled the premises. He didn’t know how, but the mysterious stranger who had not said a word before now seemed ready to talk, standing under the wash of a nearby light pole.

“You certainly know how to handle yourself.”

“What is it you want?”

“We need to meet. I don’t have time tonight, nor is this a good place for me.”

Seth blinked.

“Here’s my business card,” he said casually flipping it to Seth.

It read Tyrone Banks, Legacy Imports Co.

“What kind of business are you in, Mr. Banks?”

“I’ll tell you only if we meet.”

“Fine.” He had so many questions that would have to be answered later. He watched Tyrone disappear into the darkness. He had thought about following him but that would be unwise. That could lead straight into a trap.

Somehow Moldova seemed like a trail that led to nowhere. Why was he in Russia’s backyard when the real targets, the mullahs and princes, slept in the safety of their palaces? Jessica wouldn’t die in vain. Her death would be avenged in blood.

Seth rocked his chair one last time before he got up to find Baruch, the man he’d stay up with for the first watch.

Scorpion War Room: Vandenberg, CA

Into the steel tube the group went as directed. A short trip later the subway pulled up to a station, presumably its only stop—to the War Room.

A gas hissing noise filled the chamber when the train applied the air brakes. The shutter doors on the lead car opened up.

A short while later everyone stood in the presence of the Lord of the Ages. He didn’t demand his subjects take this moment to pay homage to him. Far from it. That would come later after the revelation. Then one by one each foreign leader would want a turn with the great mind so capable of such a terrifyingly brilliant plan.

The room mimicked the bridge on the island of an aircraft carrier in function, but not in aesthetic. Eight walls in an octagonal shape enclosed the area. There were no windows in the room, yet plenty of screens.

The doorway held much significance to the Masons. The three-in-one, triptych entrance (as seen on the famous Rockefeller Center in New York or on many cathedrals all over Europe) stood erect, guarding the secrets inside.

As the leaders of Germany, Russia, and Britain passed under the the rounded arches and support pillars to gain entrance to the strategic space, they were treated to this view: old mixing in with the new. Stone columns buttressed an impressive ceiling. In the center of the room a control center anchored everything else. Consoles or work stations circled a pentagram which projected an image of the earth with the seven continents and all the seas. The earth slowly rotated for the guests, enabling them to see the cities, nations—the pride of man on full display.

“Look at it,” Howard’s voice echoed throughout the chamber.

No one could see him, but they certainly heard his message.

“I could give you all you see if you do this one thing.”

And then poof, like a smoke and mirrors trick, Howard appeared at the far end of the room.

“Is there a trap door in the stage that I’m missing sir?” Grigory whispered to the Russian president. “Because what he just did is impossible.”

The Russian leader shook his head in amazement. “I told you this man isn’t all he appears to be,” he shot back.

No one had taken a stab at the stipulations to the agreement just yet. The mere mortals in the room still shook in their boots, like they had seen a ghost. And perhaps that was true in more ways than one.

Howard knew they were afraid of him. Only a natural human reaction under the circumstances his mind reckoned. “Gentlemen, this hour I will show you some earth-shattering plans that have already been set into motion.”

The men remained close-mouthed.

The Old Man took that as a sign of silent assent to move forward. And he did. Howard cloaked himself in an unflappable demeanor. Whether or not its effect on the others proved unnerving remained to be seen. Regardless, he would continue and show mankind his aims for world reunification.

The Basement: Honolulu, Hawaii

President Toporvsky’s forehead whicked sweat, which wound up on his hands. Then his pants would be the final recipient of the perspiration whenever the Ukrainian man anxiously rubbed his clammy palms against the already damp fabric. This cycle only increased when he asked for the initial estimates on the losses.

The casualties buckled towards the point of no return. Forty percent of the force had been crippled in the dogfight.

With some luck though the Central Cyber Corps came through with the shield frequency on the enemy combatants’ planes: the weak link. With that key information the fighters in the coalition force were able to re-tune their own lasers to expose the loophole. Once the momentum had shifted the other way Operation Switchblade could then hold a chance at succeeding.

“There’s very small margin for error,” Vice President Edmond Drezzler stated the obvious.

Alexander absorbed all the images on his screen of the FRN planes turning grey, which meant they had been annihilated by the enemy. There had still been no word from the agent on site, Jennings.

If he doesn’t come forth with what we wanna hear in the next few minutes, the president thought, I’m gonna have to scrub the op.

Sentinel Director Alfred Demsky read the president’s mind. “I don’t like this, Mr. President. We need our men outta there. The longer we stay, the greater the risk becomes.”

Alexander took a long drag on his red mug. “We’re not leaving without what we came for.”

“But based on our landsat images,” Alfred quickly rebuttled, “unless we expunge the enemy in the sky, there will be no retreat. Our exit…cut off.”

The chief of staff now eagerly gave his input on the matter. “Alfred is right. We have to cut our losses and get outta there before it’s too late.”

“Thanks Leonard, I’ll take that into consideration.” Alexander looked to his right where the VP sat. “Edmond?”

“The window is closing, quickly. I concur with everything that’s been said up until this point.”

The president’s lean face hardened. “Alright, what’s the suggested course of action?”

All eyes returned to the battle management system for answers.

Meanwhile Minister of Defense Gene Barker waited for an order.

Ahmed Negler who had silently analyzed the odds calculated there would be a need for an escort of at least thirty fighters. The Viper teams that had been sent in to retrieve data and hardware would have to take with them all they could carry and high-tail-it out of there. The president’s national security advisor calmly shared his thoughts.

“You mean we should take what we can get and ditch?” Alexander responded to Negler’s opinion.

“Yes.”

“Alright.”

After the discussion had conclusively gone around the table the president punched the button on the teleconference system to connect with Agent Jennings.

Tel Aviv, Israel

A hundred students packed into a room designed to meet a capacity of seventy-five. In some cases, peers had to share a desk. The economics class made do with what they had. And therein lied a built-in lesson for students on frugality.

“Based on last night’s reading,” the less than enthusiastic teacher droned on in a monotone, “who can tell me what hedge funds are?”

No eager hands shot up to answer him.

“Bonus points to anyone who knows why our economy really tanked when the U.S. market became unstable.”

Why am I here? I could care less about economics.

“Markov?” The screechy voice could have broken glass.

On the bright side the girls aren’t half bad here.

The bespectacled little man with a head too big for the rest of his body raised his voice again. “Markov!”

The girl with the pigtails can’t stop looking at me.

Azriel told the truth, more or less. The girl he fancied and the rest of the class stared at Mr. Clueless.

It wasn’t too out of the ordinary for the teacher to pick on transfer students.

Everyone watched the economics teacher hustle over to Azriel’s desk with a quickness and deliberateness they were unaccustomed to. It produced an awe in the captive audience which unhinged jaws and made eyes pop.

The boy still paid no attention to his surroundings. His dull number two drew figures and shapes on a sheet of college ruled notebook paper. It was his first day in class for crying out loud. No way would the teacher expect him to know anything, much less expect an answer to a subject like hedge funds. But that’s exactly what was transpiring.

“When I call your name young man, I expect you to acknowledge me. You didn’t even give me the courtesy of raising that lovely head of yours from your work of art.”

Azriel realized a little too late just how tuned out he had been. Yikes. This could be bad.

“Would you care to share with the class what you’ve been working on this whole time, da Vinci?”

Azriel’s seat mate slipped him a piece of paper that read, “Tell him what hedge funds are.”

Amazingly enough this little correspondence went unnoticed by the teacher: an uncharacteristic oversight.

“A hedge fund is a collective investment scheme of pooled assets from several investors in the interest of benefiting from asset diversification and economics of scale,” Azriel said with authority. He sounded more like a walking-talking encyclopedia than the kid who appeared like he didn’t belong in the class a moment before.

The contrast stunned everybody.

The teacher backed away from the boy’s desk in alarm. “Good God! Where could you have learned that!”

Azriel could actually look down on the man who stood only five feet four inches. But he sensed that sort of intimidation didn’t work on a guy like this. He had already stepped on toes, no way did he want to be added to the list.

“Is it a sin to know a thing or two?”

By now the teacher had already returned to the front of the class. He had had enough humiliation to last him for the rest of the class period. “Tell me Mr. Markov, would you like to enlighten your classmates then and tell them why the bubble burst on the economy in the mid-20s?”

“The 2020s, sir?”

“Yes, yes, yes,” he impatiently confirmed with a frown.

“Due to the fact that our economy became too dependent on hedge funds which so happened to be with the financial institutions of Wall Street…when the U.S. markets entered a permanent freefall, it was too late. We were already sunk.”

“I should take a day off and let you substitute.”

Azriel blushed. Using his cell phone’s screen as a mirror, he had it pointed to his right, hoping to catch the girl who stared at him. On occasion her head would begin to turn around, but then abruptly stop.

She’s on to me.

Ten minutes later a shrill bell brought the period to a close. The class emptied out into the hall in a confusingly loud jangle. Azriel got bumped around a few times. This would take some getting used to. School life, that is. He had been out of the schools for so long that the quick immersion threw him off kilter.

“He’s smart.”

“What did I tell you? Eh?”

“He’s headed to pre-cal next. Let’s see how he does.”

“You don’t understand. He’s the son of Seth Markov. The man who graduated summa cum laude from MIT—who’s now running Mossad operations in the field.”

Assistant principle Rafael’s eyebrows hiked. “I had no idea sir.”

“By the end of the day I think you’ll get the picture. This kid is the stuff.”

“The prospect is exciting.”

Rafael ended the call feeling good about the situation. He kept his expectations low on the new student though despite the reports he had read about him.

A single bulb hanging from a thread threw its glow down to a simple desk the eavesdropper sat at. Every minute or so he checked the monitors like he was a night watch protecting a vault loaded with stacks of bills.

A paperback opened up towards the middle laid on the surface, waiting for him to resume his adventures in the action-packed tale of a double agent trapped in the Amazon.

Azriel had found his locker and fumbled around with the combination lock for longer than was necessary. He had no books in the narrow storage unit yet. No four by six of a sweetheart taped to the mirror. No bag of contraband to munch on.

Nothing to see here, Rafael decided. His hand swooped up the fiction novel rather eagerly. And to think he would get paid for this. It was a good life.

[]Chapter 5

The Ozarks

Heather stretched her cramped muscles. Although no one came into her cell to bring the pain, neither did they come to bring the food either. Malnutrition became a dangerous new reality.

Her dry cracking skin, mangy hair, and dirty jumpsuit plagued her night and day. Sleep didn’t come easy. She exhaled heavily and sat, reflecting on that morning’s visit.

Christophe and Damion.

Heather smiled thinking about the French scientist. He had made a good impression on her. Damion she was more uncertain of. His resume and long list of achievements were impressive. And so was his appearance.

Probably a charmer no doubt. Good with the ladies….

She looked forward to another meeting with the inmates from the adjoining cell. She had a lot she wanted to tell them. Suddenly the thought hit her. They were in far more danger than she was. She didn’t hold any secrets that needed to come out, but they did. Scorpion would pump them for facts. Anything that would make their abduction especially worth it.

Heather never laid a hand on anyone or assisted in any way in an interrogation before, but she knew some of the tactics. Most likely they would send a guy in first thing in the morning when the prisoners were most vulnerable…and pliable. With him he’d carry a little leather satchel. He’d spread it on a nearby table and reveal the tools of the trade. Even before they were literally ripping and tearing into flesh, just the mere presence of the kit would jolt anybody and bring on the fear.

Heather shuddered and replaced the thought with a happier one. Dinner. Little cutlets of meat, watery instant potatoes and green beans most likely were on their way. Her diet may not have been succulent, but she was grateful.

Her first couple of days in the cage were a wash.

So this is what it’s like to be out of touch with civilization.

She wasn’t a pop culture junkie, but she had her shows and books and websites she frequented. The creature comforts of a modern world. But they would do her no good in her new residence.

Heather sat cross-legged on the dirty mattress and contemplated about Howard. He had been so nice to her, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had been a means to an end. A set up. She had no evidence against him however. What could she do? He was untouchable…and extremely dangerous. Others had to be warned.

Hours passed. Her surroundings looked no different. Same silence, dinginess…loneliness.

A tray clattered on top of the pass-through section of the grate. That meal she had salivated about for the better part of the afternoon.

“Thanks officer,” she thanked her waiter dressed in uniform with a gun.

“So suddenly I’m your favorite person around here?” he joked.

“Something like that,” she returned the humor.

While he pulled away from the cell to drop off chow at the next one, Heather called out to him with a favor to ask.

“Officer?”

“What is it?”

“When can I have visitors again?”

He looked thoughtful, looping his thumbs beneath his gun belt. “I suppose it could be arranged. Don’t count on too many favors though missy. I like you, but there’s only so much I can do without looking suspicious.” A frozen grin remained on his face.

Heather walked over to the bars to get closer in order to use her powers to get her way: they only worked near the objective. Manipulation had a range on it.

“How about tonight? Do you think I could talk to the two guys from this morning again?”

Her sweet syrupy voice worked wonders on the captivated man’s mind. He looked ready to say yes but suddenly something grabbed his attention. There one moment, the next—gone.

What bad luck. Heather held on to the hope that he was at least thinking about it.

Westover Ventures Complex, LA

The impending news on departure orders from the president loomed large over Agent Jennings. He was prepared to give the order to the men below to pack it up and head out.

They would get what they came for, most likely. Even if that meant grabbing the hard drives and other hardware that contained a treasure trove of precious schematics.

His headset chirped. On the second ring he answered, “This is Jennings.”

“This is the president. I want you and your men to get what you need and get out. The situation outside is getting messy and can’t be contained for much longer. Do you understand?”

“Yes sir,” he resigned himself to the not-so-good news. “We’re moving out.”

“Good.”

Jennings appeared at his post presently.

“Alright, I have orders from the president to get outta here,” he bellowed down below.

His men moved lickety-split, moving crates, throwing things into bags.

“I don’t like this,” Miller grumbled. He had to give up the task of parsing through data and just turn the computer off. His gloved hands grabbed the computer tower he worked on to open it up and reach in for what he assumed to be the hard drive. He disconnected its cable running to the system-on-a-chip.

“Take this,” he handed it off to Tony.

“Any luck before Jennings said he wants to call it quits?”

Miller’s granite face said it all.

Just when it looked like the operation had wrapped up and the Viper agents were ready to make a beeline for the exits, the grills to the ventilator ducts popped off, clattering to the tiled floor. Ropes descended from the ceiling at multiple locations. Scorpion Elite Guards rode them upside down like Spiderman. Only instead of shooting web, they blasted the enemy with plasma.

One agent flew backwards, caught in the concussive shockwave. His body flattened against several racks that went down in sparks with follow up explosions.

Several men were already on one knee with their battle rifles out, desperately trying to return fire. In the midst of the mayhem the good guys had to defend an untenable position. Their surprised forces who were previously scurrying to gather data and equipment weren’t prepared for the withering barrage of plasma discharges.

Agent Jennings sprinted with his artificial limbs for the door. He would never make it. Fire and heat breathed up his back: an explosive force finally hurled him off the ground and knocked him sideways into the wall. He crumpled to the ground in a lifeless heap.

The only guy in the room who didn’t imitate the others and shoot at something instead attempted to communicate to the guards in the lobby of the structure.

“Contact! We have contact! Inform the president. Shots fired….” his voice cut off as the enemy had gotten to him. But his dying plea unmistakably got through.

The sentry from the lobby who’d received the distress call didn’t appreciate being vindicated for being right about his hunch. In this instance he’d gladly trade a “I told you so” for the safety of his team.

Right now it was his duty to let the commander and chief know the bad news.

After a few rings chief of staff Leonard Palmer picked up.

“I’ll get the president,” he informed the breathless caller.

Precious few seconds ticked away.

“Who is this?”

“Mr. President, I have bad news sir.”

Alexander’s wiry hair stood on end. This couldn’t be good. “What is it?”

Everyone else in the Basement with a view of the president’s face couldn’t have missed the unmistakable worry in his features.

“We have a…”

But right as he was about to give specifics the bad guys burst into the room, firing. The lethal salvo silenced the messenger.

“You have a what?” the president asked. After moments of static he knew he wouldn’t ever get his answer.

The president looked at his national security advisor and shook his head.

Ahmed Negler read the expression instantly. “We must send in the security forces from outside to clean up. Otherwise all is lost.”

“Did you get that Barker?” the president addressed the minister of defense.

“I’ll inform the commanders,” he replied grimly to Alexander.

The president cursed up a storm before his cabinet. “How could this be happening?!” he half-yelled.

“Mr. President,” a grave Edmund Drezzler leaned in, “we must stay calm.”

Alexander glowered. “Don’t tell me what to do or not do.”

The vice president backed off. “All I’m saying is have a little more faith in our men to handle it.”

You’ll forgive me for my skepticism Edmund when everything so far has not gone according to plan.”

Inside Westover Complex in between the wings a seating area became the scene of an intense firefight. The Viper agents originating from the Energy Division were headed back to the planes right when they stumbled upon the enemy lying in wait for them.

A welcome grenade bounced towards the good guys and detonated with three victims trapped inside the kill zone. That evened the odds now with both sides numbering at six a piece.

Good versus bad exchanged fire back and forth like two ships facing off with all their broadsides discharging. The Viper agents utilized the marble columns for cover, but unfortunately Scorpion scum had the same idea. Something had to give.

Outside Westover Ventures word on the street drew in a full platoon of reinforcements to put out the incendiary situation. Going in through the front door would not even be considered. Teams circled the building instead and prepared to blast their way into the action.

Two soldiers had with them explosive tape that they intended to make a giant square with on the rear facade of the structure. A minute later the controlled explosion created a spacious entryway for the troops to rush in.

The bad guys took out the first wave of fresh bodies to join the fray…but it wouldn’t be enough. The FRN had finally retaken the building and planted their flag of victory.

The lieutenant in charge of the rescue operation stood over the carnage while appearing to assess the situation with hands on hips—his men roamed around.

After receiving the official count on the number dead he immediately got on the horn to deliver the terrible outcome to the president.

Once he had finished speaking to Alexander he directed the security forces under his command to complete the task the fallen Viper agents weren’t able to do.

The War Room

Men with high IQ’s wearing suits and solid ties waited on Howard to blow them away with his diabolical scheme.

He asked them a direct question. “Which of you have ever seen a movie on aliens?”

No one had an immediate response to the bizarre inquiry.

“Come on, somebody here had to have….” Howard snapped.

“We don’t go to the movies in Mother Russia,” Igor said with an air of disgust.

Jasper Turpin volunteered an answer, albeit reluctantly at best. He contemplated his naval and said, “I saw one long ago as a kid.”

Howard broke into a grin. “What struck you about the movie?”

The British prime minister shuffled a bit. An exaggerated morose visage communicated to his peers he felt shame over his past life choices.

“Quite frankly it scared the heck outta me.”

“What did?”

“The ineptitude of our weapons against ET’s.”

Howard expected an answer like this. It set him into action. An assistant that stood at his elbow appeared ready to carry out what came next. Howard imperceptibly nodded to the man. He disappeared.

“Gentleman, I have a motion picture I think you’ll like to see. And for those of you who haven’t been to the movies,” he had the Russian leader in mind as he spoke, “this is your golden ticket!”

German chancellor Lothar Kirsch who had come to hear Howard speak appeared a little ruffled at the news. “A…movie?”

A light clicked on and revealed a hidden section to the war room. The movie theater.

“Everyone, if you’ll follow me, we have a show to catch,” Howard beckoned.

He left them, not leaving any time to loiter around. There would be no previews, no messages to turn your cell phones off. The feature presentation began to start.

Igor Orloff ironically enough led the politicians to the sunken seating area. The Russian found a staircase and took it down to the already waiting Howard and Maxwell. His right hand man, Grigory Sliva, chased his boss down and found a seat next to him in the second row.

The acoustics of the room were impressive.

The screen went black. Opening music boomed through the speakers and rattled everybody’s nerves. This wouldn’t be a sit back and enjoy the show kind of flick.

For years planes have left a chem trail footprint in the sky. Officials have argued (in vain) against conspiracy theorists that these trails are actually normal contrails and not the other thing.

Even though the governments may deny their existence, no one understands why. What could the agenda be? Why leave chemicals in the atmosphere when it’s not necessary to. But it was necessary for those with a great scheme plan.

These crisscrossing sky paths made excellent jerry-rigged screens on which the mass deception planned for the human race would play.

Motherships from galaxies far, far away would cruise towards the seat of power of every major nation on earth. There they would hover, uncontested, in the no-fly zones over earth’s governments. The alien ships would delay long enough to sow the seeds of fear in man’s heart over his uncertain fate.

While mankind decided how to handle the artificial crisis, those actually behind the holographic images in the night sky positioned themselves for a global takeover. It was their hope that an alien invasion would unite the militaries of the world to overcome it. The natural conclusion of such an action would be the birth of a one world government with a strong leader behind it. Howard.

Moldova

Never trust the official story. Seth certainly learned not to. He believed the whole reason they were being moved from turbulent Turkey to Moldova had something to do with a cover-up.

Turkey’s controversial president waxed eloquently through state channels on the eve of an assassination attempt on members from his own party that Mossad had showed her hand once again. Supposedly the police held in their custody a captured agent who spilled the beans on everything.

Lesson number one: Israelis will gladly take torture over helping their enemies. The fact that this “agent” so willingly came forth with such a fantastical story made him not credible in the least.

Another thing Seth Markov didn’t like about everything that had transpired? The distance that grew between him and his son. Previously Seth had a little contact with Azriel through a surrogate mother he paid off to take care of the boy. However this little experiment ran amuck, and the Jewish lad rejected the care of the undercover agency woman.

And then there was Uncle Ephraim. The man really worried Seth. For years there had been bad blood between the two brothers. Actions done in secret, only to be uncovered years later gave Seth more reason not to trust his brother.

If only he knew of Ephraim’s involvement with his son…there’d be hell to pay. Seth didn’t want him or his family to have anything to do with his brother. But now that his job took him so far away from Israel, while he was busy protecting the homeland it left the homestead extremely vulnerable.

He had long suspected his brother of comingling with terrorist groups because of the unexplained gaps in Ephraim’s timeline that weren’t accounted for. Whenever Seth would see him he’d ask the man what he did for a living. The answer never satisfied him.

Ephraim had his rear-end covered pretty good. Just in case people came snooping around the personal details of his life, he had plenty of alibis who swore up and down the veracity of the false records. According to the white papers Ephraim Markov worked in the energy business as a low-tier manager at a solar power company.

Seth called the company one time, eager to expose the lie, only to be further irritated when a man claiming to be his brother’s supervisor came on the line. This served to further enforce the level of treachery which must have been deep, hence the need for a convincing cover. Did he serve the United Islamic Caliphate? A European power? Heaven forbid, Scorpion.

In the intelligence business being on a need-to-know basis was quite common, especially when you were the one doing the killing. Seth resented this system though because to him, unlike the other operatives in the agency, the targets weren’t faceless cardboard cutouts. They were real people with real lives. And he didn’t always trust Mossad to be making the best decisions on who doesn’t deserve to live anymore.

Most killers were so dehumanized, so divorced from feeling that the only reason they needed to kill stemmed from an order to just do it. Act, then react. They didn’t want to know what their victim did to deserve this…it was just another trigger pull.

Mossad got lucky with Seth Markov. No matter how much training and brainwashing they gave him, he still couldn’t turn it off when someone else’s life rested in his hands. There had to be a reason to sanction this murder. And he wanted to be in the know.

If it hadn’t been for his uncanny ability to stay on top of any situation, be a master of his own fate, Mossad would’ve moved on to the next guy and not waste their time with a stubborn agent.

He became the closest thing to indispensable in his field of work.

From where he rocked he heard the soundtrack of the night air: the deep ribbit of frogs and the music of the crickets. A few hours of sleep would be a luxury. That night Seth and Baruch would be briefed on their next mission. Perhaps their most important mission…ever.

Barcelona, Spain

The confusing jog took him down streets he had never heard of before. Along the way he passed by old widows spinning strange yarns to their granddaughters. Salesmen enticed the young people to spend their small allowances on the latest and greatest cell phone at pop-up kiosks that populated the center boulevard in a busy shopping district.

The police seemed to be everywhere. A couple officers dressed in blue pants with red stripes down the side, checkered conductor hats, and light blue short sleeved shirts questioned a few locals at the corner of an intersection by the crosswalk. The pedestrians looked pressed for time judging by the way they twirled around, longingly gazing at the opposite side of the road.

Alfonso could read lips. “Just a few more questions,” he saw the officer beg. The couple complied. A little while later it startled him to see the woman saying something to the cop while pointing at the street Alfonso had just been on.

If I weren’t so paranoid, I’d swear they’re talking about me.

Alfonso made a sharp turn that led him through an alley. He pushed trash cans over that impeded his progress.

Now would be a good time to check my phone for an update.

The person he trailed appeared to close in on his position from a perpendicular artery that intersected the back alley he would exit from. He would wait for them to pass and pick up the trail again. An idea struck him and before long he pulled up a list of coffee shops within one square mile of his current location. There were a few.

Once the blip on the screen passed by and he decided it was safe to peek and try to acquire visual confirmation of the target, Agent Marcello slowly peered around the protruding stone cornice.

Several people with their backs turned to him followed the sloped road down to their destinations. Only one of them had a fair complexion untouched by the sun. Alfonso smiled to himself.

Amalia plodded along. She didn’t appear to be lost either. The woman with auburn colored curls and an hourglass figure allowed the bottom of the hill to draw her in: as if gravity did all the work.

Alfonso let her make enough progress before he took up pursuit. He didn’t worry about losing her.

That’d be hard to do with how quickly she moves, the sarcasm registered.

The German woman’s vector changed as she headed for a little cafe situated at the corner at the bottom of the descent.

Confident he hadn’t been made, Alfonso followed her in five minutes later. He had to count on a disruptor which the Germans would use to defeat listening devices. The Mossad agent grabbed a table within earshot of Amalia.

While he waited for the other person to show he sipped a warm latte with cream and mocha at the top. Five DigiCoin for an overpriced coffee drink was a small price to pay considering the potential Intel he would glean from the careless Germans.

The door to the shop jingled. It could have been just another customer, the place had good business. Or with any luck, Wendel made good on his appointment with Amalia.

Alfonso detected a man walking up the aisle near where he sat. The shuffling feet stopped short and a distinct German greeting reached his ears. Then the official excused himself for a moment to order his drink.

“Can I get you anything?” he kindly asked before leaving.

A Dutch Low Sax dialect. Interesting, Alfonso mused.

Alfonso spoke many languages. German being one of his strong suites. Most other agents in the field had to wear a special universal translator earpiece.

Amalia politely declined the offer but thanked him anyhow.

Her date returned momentarily wearing a big smile and carrying a scone and chi tea in both hands.

She barely waited for him to sit before launching in. “Are you as concerned as I am over…”

“Hang on one sec,” Wendel interrupted her.

Alfonso keyed in on the sound of a plastic device clunking against the wooden surface: the device he had counted on them using. This made him feel all the more smug. Their scant precautions against eavesdroppers left something to be desired. Their mistake.

“Like I was saying,” she picked it right up once again, “with us being so close to, you know,” she let him fill in the blanks, “we can’t afford to take the chance of allowing the Israelis or anyone else to learn of our plans.”

No, I don’t know, Alfonso thought, disappointed in the woman’s cryptic language. Whatever she didn’t say he figured it had to be big.

Wendel gave his nonverbal agreement with a low tone in his throat. “I concur. We’re still not out in the clear on this one though. Still plenty of time for the infidels to screw everything up.”

“We can’t pussyfoot around with that shifty character in Barcelona.” She was referring to the governor, Carlos Castell.

Again, her partner followed her perfectly. “He knows too much.”

“I’ve got Sofia’s ear on the matter…”

“Oh really?” Wendel sounded surprised. He made a slurping noise with the steaming little china cup held close to his lips.

Amalia hadn’t even touched her coffee the whole time. “I’ve convinced her to cut to the chase and just expedite the process with Spain. But I’m afraid there are other Spains out there. We just don’t know it yet.”

“The sooner we know the better.”

For a moment neither one spoke.

“How do you feel about a new world order?” The low, formal female voice inquired.

“I think it certainly can be for the greater good. Think of what could have been accomplished at Babel….When we’re (the human race) united, there’s nothing too far above us.”

So that’s what this is about. Nothing to do with nationalism…the other -ism. Globalism.

As interesting as the conversation was, Alfonso still waited for any actionable Intel that could be useful to the agency. If Mossad and the rest of the good guys were dealing with a ticking time bomb, they needed to get at the bomb makers, make them talk. There were several issues though. Right off the bat, Agent Marcello had no idea what the conspirators’ plans were, but he was pretty sure Wendel and Amalia were players. Just how much they knew and how deep their involvement? Only one way to know.

He could bring them in for interrogation. No doubt the option crossed his mind. However, being the smart agent he is, he decided to wait on any hasty plans and just hear if the two had anything more to say.

Then the tone of the talk took a sudden excursion. A rather intimate one at that.

“With all the work lately, you ever get out much?” Wendel wasn’t shy about making a move.

Amalia’s previously taught face smoothed out, brightening. “I catch a few winks of sleep here and there, maybe a girl’s night out, a few cocktails and a terrace view of Berlin.”

Although Alfonso didn’t know their ages, he would put the German male at five years Amalia’s senior. His guess: forty-five.

“Sounds like you beat me in that department. Some would consider my life to be rather dull.”

She chuckled. “Dull can be good sometimes.”

“I don’t see how,” he admitted. He secretly wondered if his drag of a lifestyle made him ineligible.

“What’s say we change that.”

“Change what?” his voice rose with expectation building. Just a moment ago he was having a professional conversation with a state secretary of the Interior Ministry. How quickly things could flip-flop.

A mischievous look played across the secretary’s face. “You know….” Her foot traveled underneath the table into his territory. It hit the mark.

Wendel’s lips turned into a squiggly line. He involuntarily shuddered.

Alfonso rolled his eyes. Cut the crap and get back to business, he thought.

“You wanna grab a drink tonight?” the commissioner sounded surprised those were even his own words. He didn’t ask women out on dates very often, much less agency power women. There was always a first for everything though.

“I’d like that,” she confirmed, trying not to sound overly excited at the prospect.

The German really quick went to work to pen his number on stationary. “Here’s how to contact me,” he awkwardly handed her the note.

“Great! We’ll get in touch before then,” she said rising from the table.

Well this conversation is over.

He reached across to gently shake her hand and for a moment the two locked eyes.

“See you tonight,” he told her while holding the coffee shop door open like a gentleman.

Amalia left first, with lover boy Wendel in close pursuit.

Alfonso sat at his table for a little longer than necessary to nurse his latte. To him, the glass was half full on his prospects. He’d get in touch with the agency, then order a team to pick the love birds up on their date and take them in for interrogation.

It will be a night to remember for you two. The wicked thought pleased him very much.

[]Chapter 6

Tel Aviv, Israel

The next class didn’t rock his boat. Pre-cal. He didn’t have a phobia to the subject unlike many of his fellow classmates. It bored him, more precisely. Not much of a challenge.

The teacher took attendance at the beginning of the hour. Not to his surprise four kids were absent. Three knocks on three separate occasions interrupted the lesson flow…tardies.

“Get out your textbooks,” he said with his back turned to the students while he wrote something up on the board.

Azriel didn’t turn anywhere. Instead he watched the man’s loopy cursive spell out the words, Pop Quiz. Ordinarily it might have given him the jitters to read that. Certainly he’d be exempt from today’s quiz though—no need to worry.

A few more heads in the room also noticed the message on the board.

“If you’ve found your spot, than we can go over any questions you may have from last night’s homework. Yes, there’s a quiz following that.” It gave him great pleasure to say those words.

Many dug out three ring binders or spiral bound notebooks with their homework from the previous night. Most of the students hurriedly flipped through pages as if a timer ticked down to the start of the quiz.

“Show of hands, how many actually did their assignment from yesterday?”

A look around the room revealed most everyone chose not to slack off and do the coursework this time. A rarity.

“Good!” the teacher praised his class. “Then you should have no problem with the quiz over polynomial functions then, am I right?”

The faces that stared back looked less than certain. Finally a girl who sat in the front opened it up for questions on the homework.

Azriel didn’t pay any attention to the back and forth student teacher interaction. It didn’t concern him all that much. When the same girl that asked the first question became a repeat offender with another one, Azriel impatiently piped up with the answer.

The teacher looked down in the answer guide.

“Why, that’s correct Mr. Markov.”

“Of course it is,” the boy quipped.

“Is there something you’d like to tell me right now young man that you haven’t before?”

“Meaning what, exactly?”

“Why you’re here?”

His quick tongue didn’t have a speedy reply for everything. This caught him off balance.

The math teacher continued, “Today is the first day I ever see your face, you walk into my class, having taken no pre-requisites to this class to my knowledge, and you’re answering questions to the homework that you’ve never even done?”

“So?”

“So?” The remark sounded even more stupid than before being parroted back by the teacher. “In all my years of teaching, I’ve never witnessed a case like today.”

“Then what are we gonna do about it?” The Jewish boy defiantly stated, ready for anything.

“You’ll be taking that quiz, just like the rest of the class,” came the ultimatum. Followed up by, “Now close your books and let’s get started.”

Several faces turned to glare at Azriel for cutting short their last-minute preparation before taking the impromptu quiz.

He pretended not to notice. He was good at that.

Moldova

Psychological warfare. No one knew much about it. Each of the five guys at the safe house had always dealt with real enemies, real bullets…death. Not chasing ghosts.

The sound of an idling engine being cut aroused the sleepy, nonetheless alert agent.

“Are we expecting visitors?” Seth asked anybody listening.

A short stocky man with a body builder’s frame joined Seth. His face had sharp features, high cheek bones, and a small pointed noise. The guys called him Baruch. Whether that was his real name or not, no one knew.

Baruch ignored the question and drew his gun. If there were prowlers traipsing around the premises of a Mossad safe house at midnight, they would pay for it. He motioned Seth to take up a spot by the entrance into the house while he snuck around to the back.

Seth stuck his toe out and halfway pivoted around the doorframe using his right shoulder to push the screen open a little. Straining his ears to hear, light footfalls treading the blades of grass came through loud and clear. Just one person. Enough time had gone by he figured Baruch had to be in position.

Then he heard the safety click off and the firm words, “Put your hands behind your head.”

Seth moved across the threshold to where the switches on the wall were. He flipped the one that activated a flood. Now the front yard was awash in the yellow glow. What he saw greatly surprised him.

An African-American dressed in jeans and a black leather jacket stood erect, with his hands out, a gun in the non-offensive position pointing to the sky in the palm of his right hand.

“Drop the weapon!” Baruch said a little louder than before.

The man with a gun pointed at his head did as he was told. The pistol landed a couple feet away.

“Now put your hands behind your head and interlock your fingers!”

When he complied the Israeli agent rushed up from behind and patted him down. After he decided there were no more weapons he asked the obvious, “What are you doing here?”

“That man right there can identify me,” the stranger pointed straight at Seth who now stepped off the porch.

Agent Markov instantly recognized the raspy smoker’s voice. It hadn’t changed much all these years later from the night at the bar.

“Put your weapon away Baruch, he’s no threat.”

But he didn’t react. His pistol’s line of sight aimed to kill if the intruder made a move.

“We can make this quick,” Seth said. He walked the rest of the distance to where the black man stood. “Lift up your shirt.”

The man unzipped his coat. Looked Seth in the eye and raised the fabric of his t-shirt just enough to reveal a Star of David tat on his left hip.

Agent Markov raced forward to embrace the man. “Tyrone Banks!”

“Seth Markov!” Tyrone thumped his old friend on the back.

“God, where have you been old man?” he stared into the stubble complexion of an agency man worn thin like an overused eraser from years of service.

“I’m not with Mossad anymore, Seth. These days, I’m non-government. But pro-Israel! Make no mistake about that.”

Seth holstered his gun and put his hands on his hips. “So what brings you here? Moldova isn’t exactly your backyard.”

“And how did you know we were here?” Baruch still had an edge to his tone.

“I have my sources,” his non-committal answer hung in the air. No one questioned so he continued. “Others left with me because they had the same conviction.”

Seth full of curiosity asked, “Same conviction about what?”

“You got any coffee? You know me, I won’t do much talkin’ without a good roast and my cigs.”

“I have half a pot,” Seth answered. “It’ll need to be heated up though.”

“That’ll do,” Tyrone said in a husky voice.

“What about the rest of your crew?”

“What?”

“Aren’t there five of you?” Tyrone asked.

“The rest are sleeping. We’re on watch,” Baruch replied.

“Yeah, they needed some rest after that intense game of blackjack earlier tonight,” Seth cracked. He looked over at Baruch as they headed back to the house to see if he’d react at all.

But he didn’t show much.

Tyrone pulled out a pack and lit one up. Three rings of smoke left his mouth, dissipating into the night air.

Seth’s eyes followed the glowing red stick of tobacco and carcinogens go from the mouth to a slack, relaxed position down at Tyrone’s side.

“I thought you quit that habit.”

The African American licked his lips and said with a straight face, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”

“Mark Twain.”

“Are you gonna fix me a cup of coffee or what?” he demanded with a wink.

“Coming right up, boss,” Seth said shaking his head and smiling.

Tyrone followed him into the house, taking a few more puffs as he went which prompted Seth to turn around and say, “Oh no, you’re gonna have to extinguish that if you wanna join me in the kitchen. You’re walking into a smoke-free environment.”

Tyrone curled his upper lip in disgust. There were no ashtrays around so he dropped the joint where he felt like it and stamped it out.

He retraced his steps back to the porch. Tyrone then looked up at the heavens, casting a suspicious long look. Because of what he knew he couldn’t look at the sky the same.

Tyrone stuck his hands in his pockets and turned towards the house. He noticed a low plank set on stilts underneath a window with a face brick wall as the backdrop. A small resigned sigh proceeded him as he lowered his weight onto the bench.

His dark eyes traveled the free range. There were nothing but low hills and fields between them and Ukraine’s southern border.

Heavy footsteps from behind made the plank boards of the porch creek. Seth had returned with Baruch.

The latter man held a flask in one hand and a sour expression on his face. There was little wonder as to what the contents were. Seth meanwhile carried two short white mugs with thick handles.

He handed the steaming beverage to Tyrone and watched the thankless man sip and contemplate.

“We have less than five days, boys,” he said at last.

Baruch’s drink dripped from his beard. “Till what?”

“The end of the world.”

Barcelona, Spain

By mid-afternoon his case officer felt the need to check in.

“What are your plans tonight, agent?”

“I’m going on a date, actually.”

It was unclear whether or not the impersonal voice on the other end appreciated the facetiousness. The fact is, these guys learned to go through life without much of a sense of humor.

“The German state secretary and commissioner?”

“Yes.”

“Need backup?”

“It could be dangerous…” Alfonso joked.

“Do you plan on bringing them in?”

“I plan on enjoying this.”

“Agent Marcelo, are you gonna be an asset or a liability to us?”

“Send a tag team to pick us up. Don’t keep me waiting.”

“What have you learned from them so far?”

“Not over the phone. I’ll brief you when I come in tonight.”

“I expect to be read in first thing, agent.”

There was more the case officer had to say, but Alfonso wouldn’t let him finish.

“Gotta go.”

In truth, he had a couple of hours to kill. Nor did he like working with his handler very much. The man didn’t know how to separate work from personal affairs and as a result the breakdown interfered in how he managed assets. On more than one occasion Alfonso had to bluff his way out of hot spots his handler created for him. The mistakes needed to be stopped before they jeopardized Marcelo’s life for the last time.

Since he played the role of street bum during the day, it’s not like he had any particular place he could go to and wait. Life was one big adventure. Alfonso of course did better on his evening rotation than the survival of the fittest drama on the streets of Barcelona the better part of the day.

Of any part in the city, the Eixample district became home to Alfonso Marcelo. The neighborhood is anchored by the beautiful Sagrada Familia Roman Catholic cathedral with its towering spires. It also has a high-speed subway line running all the way to France.

A big street clock indicated the time dragged: a shade past three. With the agency instant meal already wearing off this wasn’t good news. Alfonso wandered the streets because that’s what he did. He felt gratitude for the fact that policemen weren’t sniffing around asking pedestrians on his whereabouts. Grateful, also, that he didn’t have to endure any more of the awkward shenanigans between two German officials who had a thing for each other.

Alfonso had managed to stay single all his years. A feat in and of itself considering how handsome the swashbuckling Jack Sparrow look-a-like was. He hadn’t even been on a date for over five years. Part of that most likely had to do with his most recent assignment—vagrant, bum. Nothing in the rulebook however forbade inter-agency dating. There were some single females he worked closely with, but none of them fancied Marcelo.

For now singleness actually spelled happiness. Another reason he would always tell himself why a relationship would never work was the fear of her being used as leverage in a hostage situation. Alfonso couldn’t live with the thought of that; knowing his occupation could possibly put another life besides his own at risk.

Siblings? He didn’t have any. Being the lone child from a home that barely scraped together the cash to keep the land lord away taught him at a very early age how to be responsible and independent. From time to time he would wonder how his parents got on. They lived in Israel still, he was sure of this. If poverty or disease hadn’t claimed them, then they had successfully reached old age in their seventies.

He never actually told his parents he dreamed of becoming a spy. What he did for Mossad fulfilled a childhood fantasy of his though. The only downer to living the dream was that his work seldom involved dressing as an action figure brandishing an Uzi, ready to do battle like he had envisioned he’d do.

Only twice did Alfonso need to blow somebody’s brains out. Both times in self-defense. He had to live with the images, knowing he took two lives. Few people are able to kill and feel nothing. He wasn’t part of that club.

Alfonso looked a little silly jogging in place at the street corner while he waited for the crosswalk to be clear of traffic. He didn’t have a warmup suit on. No sweats or running shoes. Just his everyday dumpster uniform with its permanent stains and holes in odd places that weren’t patched up yet.

Some people might find it hard to fathom being in a city full of people is the loneliest experiment ever. But if you’re a Mossad agent? It’s the truth. Alfonso’s personality didn’t necessarily lend itself to being a socialite, but nevertheless he had needs just like the rest of the world existing beside him.

He looked at the person next to himself. She also waited for the signal to change. But she engaged in an interesting phone conversation from the looks of it. Boyfriend probably. An elderly woman played with her granddaughter’s hair. The little girl cherished the extra attention and the colorful strands woven into her hair.

Alfonso wasn’t one to get lost in his own thoughts during the absence of human interaction. Rather he employed his mind in elementary puzzles to stay sharp. Whether it be a man’s necktie, a woman’s purse, a landmark…almost anything was game to Alfonso. The man didn’t get straight A’s in college for nothing. He had his own system, and it worked.

The white traffic signal began to flash; people responded to it. Alfonso crossed at reduced speed though. He was in no hurry to go anywhere.

Scorpion War Room

Over the years the U.S. Air Force covertly put shuttles into orbit. No one knew their mission or what their payload was. The first one hitched a ride on an Atlas rocket to join the satellite crowd looking down on planet earth. Then another joined its brother in space a year later. Both missions were judged a success by leaders in Washington. Which is why the Armed Services Committee saw no harm in continuing the program under DOD’s direction to be a thirty-class acquisition over the course of twenty-five years.

What really makes these space craft especially effective, is their invisibility cloak. For years Area 51 and Skunkworks developed stealth planes for the military. The unconventional, less-than-aerodynamic airframes were expert at deflecting electromagnetic waves from radar rendering them nearly “invisible.” However, the holy grail of stealth technology not only involves simply fooling radar, but also the human eye.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of universities, government think-tanks, and other ancillary groups, a light-bending material came into existence. It essentially bent light around objects without the aid of cameras or mirrors. And best of all: it came cheap. In a few years after rigorous testing and development, a version of the invisibility cloak clothed the Air Force’s secretive spacecraft. Best of all, the specialty skin could endure re-entry which then multiplied the planes’ number of uses exponentially.

After the Union dissolved Scorpion waited in the wings to gain control of the Air Force’s Space Command…and the fleet of thirty space ships no one knew existed.

Howard had far more devious plans for them than functioning as moving satellites conducting routine ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance). He planned to put Damion Westover’s military-grade holo emitters in the mission bay of each plane.

The near future

“It is time. Commence the Great Deception,” a voice that sounded an awful lot like Howard’s instructed the highest commander in the Scorpion hierarchy.

A little Star Wars-esque hologram of the caped and hooded individual that gave the orders appeared in front of the commanding officer with the power to initiate the mission. He tipped his cap and nodded his consent.

“Right away your excellency.”

The silent hunters in outer space lurking around the black nothingness navigated around space debris and satellites to get in position. Longitude and latitude coordinates were sent to the thirty-strong fleet which positioned them over every major population center on earth.

When it was time to begin the show, the invisible psychological warfare squad of Scorpion beamed incredibly realistic holograms of an extra-terrestrial invasion force.

Huge black, dish-shaped saucers partially blotted out the sunset over cities in the Western hemisphere. In the east, they rode in on the wings of a beautiful sunrise. To anybody on the ground witnessing the spectacle it must have felt eerily similar to the movie Independence Day.

Tel Aviv, Israel

The math quiz unfolded and in the end, it proved to be more subdued than a lamb to the genius Jewish boy. Afterwards the students were asked to grade each other’s quizzes. Azriel stifled a yawn and made the exchange with the person that sat to his right. A moment later when he got his back, an A+ circled at the top of his paper confirmed his suspicions.

“Good job,” his seat mate whispered after handing off the flawless quiz to Azriel.

“Thanks, you too,” the boy dutifully replied. In truth he hadn’t even bothered to remember what grade the boy next to him got.

Already he figured pre-cal to be a bore. He had hoped he missed the girl of his dreams slip in undetected, but that just wasn’t the case. The one with the pigtails, blonde hair, and pink cardigan/sweater combo planted herself firmly in Azriel’s brain. He knew it’d be unrealistic to share EVERY class with her, but four out of five would be nice.

The nearly-invincible double agent flew helicopters, drove against the flow of traffic in crazy chase scenes, and gave his victims a third eye more often than not…because he could. The pages turned themselves like any good fiction novel.

Another interruption.

The book flattened once more and a dull voice answered, “Yes?”

“Rafael, are you doing your job or enjoying one of those paperbacks again?”

“Both, sir,” the assistant principal mumbled into the receiver.

“No. I’m paying you to watch the boy!” Curses and incoherent threats ensued. “Has he noticed the girl yet?”

Rafael scratched his head. “I think so?” In truth, he HOPED so.

“This is why you need to be diligent to watch your monitor!”

Rafael gave the answer he thought the man would want to hear. “I’ll do my best.”

“I don’t have to remind you how important it is these two connect. She’s our key to get to the boy.”

“I understand sir.”

“Good.”

Westover Ventures, LA

“Go, go, go!” lieutenants urged their troops.

The fireworks continued in the sky above with loud bangs and different colors.

Red from the glow of exploding aircraft lit up the scurrying platoons that hastily retreated back to their planes. They left behind vehicles and machine guns in favor of expediency. What they didn’t leave behind though were the items they had collected from Westover Ventures.

They thought they had made off like bandits. In truth, they hadn’t. What the FRN didn’t know was Scorpion had secreted what they needed. Howard and company weren’t going for a knockout punch to the FRN. Instead their endgame followed along the lines of making the enemy believe they had achieved a partial victory despite the heavy losses inflicted.

The heavy beasts had their rocket turbines pointed towards the improv runway, preparing for a vertical takeoff. Several squadrons of fighters were ready to be their escort. Despite the diamond formation of protection, two more heavy-lift craft wouldn’t make it out of Sector Six airspace alive though.

The Basement: Honolulu, Hawaii

President Alexander Toporvsky sweated bullets. Until the last plane had lifted off only then did he decide to breathe. His lungs drank in the oxygen as if he had just surfaced from underwater after holding his breath for a while.

“Mr. President, are you feeling alright?” Secretary of State Edith Wharton asked.

“If you must know the truth? No. I’m not doing alright Edith,” Alexander admitted. It didn’t make him feel any better to speak the truth either.

Ever since the republic’s president was sworn in, his body became accustomed to the barrage of security briefings that woke him in the night. Not like he could get much sleep anyway with the fate of the FRN always heavy on his conscience. However, the stress continued to pile up. It became easier to miss meals. Add to that, members of his own cabinet wondered if his backbone began to erode away.

The person he needed the most wasn’t there. Margaret. He had a chief of staff, a national security advisor…heck, a whole phalanx of advisors. Yet it was his wife’s judgment he trusted most. The vacuum left in her absence couldn’t possibly be filled. But he did his best anyway.

Ahmed Negler’s analytical mind had been working overtime. Unfortunately his foresight didn’t get him any raises; an occasional pat on the back or ata boy couldn’t hurt though

“Mr. President, of course we’ll track the process of the returning planes until every last one is grounded,” he said in a reassuring sort of way.

“Where are you going with this?” Alexander rested his chin on his knuckles.

“Sir, I think our focus needs to be on an investigation of Damion Westover and the reason Scorpion went after him. And who knows? Scorpion beat us to Westover Complex today. I doubt for the purpose of picking off some Viper agents.”

“Your point?” Demsky said. He looked at Toporvsky who undoubtedly wondered the same thing.

“What if…”

Alfred cut the national security advisor off immediately to stress a point. “Please spare us the what-ifs. Governments won’t do well dealing with the world through hypotheticals based on pure speculation.”

Alexander gave the director of Sentinel a stern gaze. “You May proceed Ahmed.”

Alexander’s security advisor showed his appreciation for being allowed to go on via a curt head nod.

He said, “What if today’s events really are just a sideshow to something even bigger going on here. I think Damion had something Scorpion wanted. They maybe didn’t need him to tell them how it works, but simply to keep quiet about it.”

“Won’t we know if something’s missing by checking the logs of the inventory control system at Westover Ventures?”

Demsky had raised a good point.

“I’m no hacker,” Ahmed said, “but Donald Holiday from CCC (Central Cyber Corps) would corroborate my theory that records like that could easily be tampered with—manipulated to say what they want.”

Alexander took a moment to sip his coffee to mull it over. “When this operation is over, we start a new one. Demsky?”

“Yes Mr. President?” the director almost shrunk back, afraid of the president’s answer.

“I need you and your agency to get with Mossad and anyone else capable of doing the groundwork on this next task.”

“Which would be?”

“Get Damion. Find out anything you can on Scorpion. They’ve been too quiet. Almost like the calm before the storm.”

[]Chapter 7

Moldova

Other than his brief time in training, Seth didn’t know the enigmatic Tyrone Banks well enough to interpret what this former-Mossad man actually meant by his “end of the world” statement.

“What have you been smoking tonight, Tyrone?” Seth cocked his head and waited for an answer.

Baruch continued the attack. “Why should we even trust you?”

“Because deep down you know I’m right. And I have evidence.”

“Keep talking,” Seth encouraged him.

“Many years ago, when I was in the field…”

“Hold it, you were in the field?” Baruch found it hard to believe.

“You gotta start somewhere son. Anyways, where was I? Ah yes. Mindin’ my own business, followin’ orders…running a helluva lotta ops.” He paused for a breather. And a sip of coffee. He swore. “They forget how to teach you how many beans to stick in in proportion to the water?”

“Why?” Seth countered.

“This is potent enough to stick in a spray can instead of that Roundup you get at the hardware store.”

“Thanks.”

“Looks like your weed eaters aren’t doing good enough of a job either,” Tyrone observed as he stared down a spindly green shoot rising above the edge of the porch.

A confused Baruch uttered, “What?”

The older man in his fifties rose midway off the bench, enough to stretch out with the cup and empty it over the offending weed. “You can thank me later.”

“Tyrone!” Seth whined. “Are you gonna tell us why you’re here or not?”

“No need to get bent out of shape. I was just doin’ y’all a common courtesy. But as to the end of the world stuff, which I guess could come before your weed problems, here’s the bottom line. In the Special Operations Division, we went after some guys who claimed they didn’t know nothin’. They’d rather die than tell us who they worked for. And believe me, we didn’t give them the easy way out either.”

“You tortured these….” Seth waited to hear Tyrone tag these men he was talking about.

But Tyrone didn’t.

He simply answered, “Right. The people we used enhanced interrogation techniques on.”

Seth rolled his eyes at the euphemism.

Tyrone pretended not to notice Seth’s body language and continued. “Looked like they belonged to an Al Qaeda cell or something. But these guys were different than your typical jihadists with suicide vests.”

Baruch became curious. “How so?”

“Well young man,” Tyrone put his best story teller’s voice on, “these holy warriors weren’t who they said they were. They’re the first of their kind: a secretive track existing right alongside those that truly wage the holy war.”

“Double agents?” Seth wanted to know if he understood correctly.

Tyrone grew quiet. “Yes, in a manner of speaking.” The ex-agent with his gray patchy stubble and wandering eyes seemed to lose himself in that moment in a troubling thought. “Somehow the director of Mossad is involved in this subterfuge.” His face fell as he condemned the director to be a bad guy.

“Peretz Sheffer?” Seth inquired, stunned at the news.

Tyrone nodded somberly. “I’ve always considered the man a friend, too.”

“Have you fully traced the corruption to see if there are any other unknowns calling the shots?” Baruch asked. “Or is Sheffer the extent of it?”

“I’m afraid we don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle. And there’s no way we can get the director to resign. Even if we tried, he’d know and we would all be toast.”

Baruch didn’t understand the idiomatic expression on toast, but Seth made it easy for him by tracing his finger across his throat in a straight line.

Seth had been thinking real hard up to this point. As a leader figure, he thought it prudent to strategize. “So what’s the play?”

“Since you guys are on the inside and I am not, you will be assets, and I’ll be the spotter. The goal is to find out where, when, and how Scorpion plans to take over the world. Then we take down the sons of bitches.”

A chill went up and down Seth’s spine. “You didn’t say anything about Scorpion before Tyrone.”

The other man held a stupefied expression. “I said this had to do with the end of the world, didn’t I?!”

“Yes, but—”

“Then why didn’t your mind immediately make the connection to Scorpion?”

“I dunno.”

“Boy, you’ve been playing in the sandbox for too many years…double-tapping princes and clerics. It’s time you grow an analytical side to that killer brain of yours.”

He would be right. As much as the reproof stung, Seth learned to eat crow. That’s what made him a good agent and so valuable to Mossad.

Baruch’s shoulders rose and fell as he laughed on the inside at Seth. Momentarily he threw his head back and downed some more strong drink. The tough guy scrunched his eyes, swallowing hard. It somehow brought clarity.

“What else do you know about Scorpion and the end of times?” he asked.

“Their leader has made a deal with the devil. Heck, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say he is the devil. What’s more, I believe they’re going to invade the earth from the heavens.”

Seth gave it his best guess. “Nukes?”

“No, there are no more such things after World War Three.”

Both men sat there dumbfounded.

Tyrone leaned forward and looked from his right to left. “You really had no clue, eh?”

Seth managed a head shake.

“What if I were to tell you we’re gonna have visitors from space? Made to look like the real thing.”

“Shutup.”

Baruch’s eyes widened. “No, don’t tell him that!”

Another time in the conversation where he failed to make the connection. Cultural barriers.

Seth ignored him. “You say we have less than five days?”

“So you’re in then?”

He had to think about this a little while longer. Tyrone Banks’s visit had been one of the strangest things to happen to him lately. But the message seemed sincere. He didn’t have a reason to lie: the man would die for his country a patriot.

“Yeah, I’m in.”

“If Seth Markov thinks it’s a good idea, you can count me in too,” said Baruch with a gut-level sincerity.

Tyrone looked mildly relieved. “Good deal. Alright, we’ll need to make preparations before morning.”

Seth leaned up against a pillar supporting the covered porch. “Going somewhere?”

“Downrange. You can always back out now. I understand. But once you’re in this thing, I can’t guarantee your safety, much less you making it out alive.”

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Night had fallen on the crown jewel of the United Islamic Caliphate. Spotlights lit the sky on the many construction sites across the city building the towers that reached for the clouds. Downtown in fact was a futurist’s fantasy with its tightly compact, dense urban core with few gaps. The city’s residents were very rich: poverty had been expelled decades ago.

The AirTaxi waited at a light, thirty stories above street level. Three other lanes of traffic also caught the same light. All the flying cars were fully autonomous, no driver’s input.

To the uninitiated, they’d be in for a real jolt after they hailed a taxi. Instead of seeing a smiling local behind the wheel of one of the city’s many cabs, there’d be no driver at all.

These autonomous taxis were supremely adept at zeroing in on humans with their hitchhiker’s thumb raised high. In a city where millions needed to get around at a moment’s notice, the absence of the human touch in the taxi industry wasn’t missed at all because of the increased efficiency in servicing passengers autonomy allowed for.

Each car had its seating configured to face each other, like in a limo. And entertainment options straddled the fence between virtual reality goggles or an old-fashioned tablet.

The best dressed passenger in the AirTaxi wore a three-piece suit—brown, with a red pocket square, starched dress shirt and chinos. The other three men were in business casual.

The man worth a bundle normally sported a well-trimmed beard, but today he groomed himself, opting for the clean-shaven look instead. The interior of the car smelled of strong men’s aftershave.

“Rehan Kahlil himself has requested to see you?” one of the passengers abruptly inquired of the good-looking man of importance.

“You sound so surprised,” he replied with a tinge of annoyance.

“Well, yeah! The king doesn’t agree to see just anyone.”

That statement rubbed him the wrong way, his pride offended. “I have news for King Kahlil he cannot miss to hear. It’s about the Muahammad al-Mahdi.”

“What about him?” A different man asked this time, his voice high with excitement.

“He has returned.”

This news wildly excited the devout Muslims in the car. Now they had more questions for the one who broke the news than he could answer.

“Gentlemen, please,” he used his hands to make a motion to calm the thrilled passengers down. “You’ll know more in the coming days. I’ve already said too much.”

“At least tell us where the promised one is currently.”

It was a fair question. Even though the guy knew the answer, he didn’t look so willing to cooperate. “The Mahdi is from Iran of course,” he lied. Luckily for him, the royal residence wasn’t too far away. He didn’t know how much more of this he could take. He did have a choice though—not to tell the men that rode with him the real reason for his visit.

Barcelona, Spain

Tonight would take care of itself. Alfonso didn’t anticipate anything that might put a wrench in the works on rounding up the two Germans. Then again, if something could go wrong, it would. He wasn’t a pessimist. Yet the world he lived in frequently abided by that rule.

The politicians would have their date, go on their own merry way, then be confronted by men who looked like they were hired killers. That’s how it would go down. Not too complicated.

Storm clouds rolled in from the southwest bringing with them the promise of swells. The air had a certain humidity to it that came before storms. Throughout it all the sun battled for supremacy in a tug-of-war affair with the gray masses. It was fair to say the sun wasn’t winning.

A steady stream of red taillights and white headlights going the opposite direction painted a scene of gridlock below. Up above the sky highways were less congested, albeit less traveled, too.

The concrete jungle sparkled in all its majesty. Red lights on tall antennas sitting atop the skyscrapers of the Barcelona skyline blinked intermittently. Then the first drops began to fall at will. Bystanders on the city streets who weren’t armed with an umbrella used anything at their disposal to temporarily shield themselves from an impending deluge. But their best bet would be to get to shelter and not fight it.

That’s what Amalia Eichmann scurried to: shelter. Which so happened to be where she’d share a drink with her date that night. When she walked into the impressive lobby of a four star hotel located in a very happening neighborhood in the city known as [email protected], that’s when her thoughts turned introspective. She wondered what he might think of her all gussied up for the occasion.

Her destination? The sky deck where a world famous chef played in a gourmet kitchen. But what she really came for other than a plate of some of the prettiest looking food you’ll find in Spain served on fine china was the robust bar with a whole bevy of drinks on the menu.

The click-clack of her three inch heels drew the attention of some of the bellhops and other employees in the area. And it wasn’t just a glance, more like a lingering stare.

At thirty-five and in the prime of her career, Amalia dressed well and purported herself in such a way that communicated to those around her just how much of a catch she’d be.

The elevators weren’t hard to find. They had their own little hall with over twenty doors, all going up. She chose the last one on the right and stepped into the box. After the doors closed the elevator made little noise as it climbed with gusto. Amalia eyed the panel with all the little circles one could push for different floors. The display that normally conveyed the floor count didn’t even register the progress. Which only meant one thing: she was going fast.

After thirty seconds she figured the ride to be almost over.

He better be here already, Amalia hoped as she stepped off.

The entrance to the restaurant grew closer and closer. The doors were already open. Through the opening she could see a man in a white dress shirt with a black bowtie waiting to seat her. The decor of the place looked expensive.

She read the sign please wait to be seated, but her roving gaze caught sight of a handsome gentleman seated at a table for two towards the back of the restaurant near the bar. It was him.

Amalia felt like a runway model as she walked. She knew the trick of going faster to create her own wind to blow her hair about in a desirable way. Very striking. Even the old men in the establishment noticed—they weren’t dead, yet.

Two hours later after painstakingly fighting her lank hair and split ends with a curling iron, a trip to the salon for a manicure, and extensive time with makeup in front of the mirror, Amalia now enjoyed a transformed appearance.

Wendel waited until his date entered the red zone, only then did he get up and smile big at the approaching woman. His first act of chivalry was to pull her chair out for her.

A waiter buzzing around at the fringes wasted no time to swoop in and be helpful.

His manner bordered pleasant and over the top. “Hello my name is Manfred, I’ll be your server tonight. How are you two doing this evening?”

Amalia put down the centerfold with the wine list long enough to acknowledge with a short answer. “I’m fine, danke.”

“Can I start you off with drinks, perhaps? Or do you think you’ll need another minute….”

Wendel ordered a dark lager, a German beer, while Amalia went with a white wine.

Manfred told them he’d be back with the drinks soon and some hot bread.

“Have you walked over to the windows yet?” Amalia asked.

“Yes, the view is simply marvelous.”

“But it can never beat what I wake up to everyday in the heart of Berlin,” she said, believing every word of it.

Wendel smiled kindly. “My apartment sits along the bank of River Spree. There’s been a lot of development in my neighborhood lately too. Kind of noisy though.”

“Ah, that’s a shame. The price you have to pay living in an urban environment; you have to share with others.”

Wendel selfishly grinned. “I don’t like sharing…”

Amalia laughed a good deal at his comment. “Sharing is caring,” she joked.

“Do you like storms?” he said while watching nature’s display out the windows.

Forked lightening streaked across the sky. The tall steel skyscrapers made great targets for Zeus, the Greek god of storms. The bright white flashes of light occurred with greater regularity. The thunderous booms that followed were amplified inside the cluster of close buildings in Barcelona.

“They’re really soothing,” she answered. “Kinda makes me wanna take a nap.”

“Not here, I hope,” he teased.

Promptly, a cutting board with scrumptious looking sourdough and pumpernickel bread slid across their table. A very traditional beer stein was offered to Wendel which he gladly accepted. The waiter then placed a fluted glass with white wine at Amalia’s place.

Manfred took out a notepad with a stubby pencil and asked if they were ready to order.

They weren’t in Berlin anymore, hence the abundance in Spanish dishes on the menu. Nevertheless, the restaurant didn’t forget the fact that Spain belonged to Germany now. The addition of staple German foods underscored that fact.

Wendel looked to Amalia to have the honors and order first, but she deferred it to him.

He stumbled over his Spanish pronunciation, but Manfred understood the man had an appetite for skewered pork marinated in a wine sauce with spicy Spanish rice on the side.

Tapas, appetizers for you, sir?”

Wendel waived him off, not looking to eat too much on a date.

The waiter nodded and turned his attention to the fair lady. Her astral eyes and long eyelashes made him a bit uncomfortable.

“I have a German appetite, through and through. No sense of adventure when it comes to food,” she explained after ordering rouladen.

“You can’t go wrong with tenderized choice beef tenderloin with bacon and caramelized onions,” the waiter affirmed her meal choice.

The evening passed in a blur. When the plates were cleared Manfred eagerly asked if either one desired desert. Both declined.

Wendel hoped dinner would lead to more.

“You wanna go for a walk?” he asked her.

Amalia hastily tossed her cloth napkin on the table and responded, “Where do you wanna take me?” Her eyes shone brightly, hopes high. “No museums though.” She had to throw that caveat out there.

Wendel looked up at Manfred who reappeared for the last time. The German promptly received the black leather book for his payment. He then slipped a hand into an incognito coat pocket to produce a billfold. Even though DigiCoin prevailed as the most common tender, it made him look good to throw down some bills to pay for dinner.

Wendel hurriedly made the handoff to the lingering waiter before answering Amalia, “Museums are out?” he laughed and faked his disappointment.

“Yep!”

“Tell you what, how ‘bout a trip to a magical fountain instead?”

Wendel studied her face for a reaction. She didn’t give him the idea he had hit a home run with the suggestion, nor did it come as a letdown either. He raised an eyebrow and a corner of his mouth into a lopsided smile in anticipation of a yes.

She got up from the table and grabbed his hand. “So where is this ‘magic’ fountain of yours?”

“Follow me!” Wendel excitedly swung her hand. A promising look of adventure dwelled in his eyes.

She trusted him to lead the way.

It had stopped raining by now. The steady slosh of tires driving through the puddles filled the night air. And horns. The scenery was colorful to say the least.

The damp, muggy air clung to them like a parasite. But at least the floodgates of heaven had closed.

The couple exited the tower together, Amalia leaning into Wendel in the enchanted moment. Pity the date couldn’t go on as planned.

Three agents crouched with their weight resting on the balls of their feet. The targets would come to them. Steam poured out from a sewer like a boiling hot pot of soup, adding to the ominous details of the moment.

The temperature had dropped significantly as dusk gave way to the impending blackness. The men lying in wait could see their breath. A rat with a big tail scampered back into a storm drain.

Seconds went by before the shadows of two Germans approaching came into view. At the right time, the Mossad men dressed in black suits, their faces obscured by masks, jumped from cover and snatched the unsuspecting lovers off the street without a noise. Any screams or protestation were muffled by gags stuffed into their mouths. The strong men had no problem marching the victims over to their waiting ride that would launch up to the skies.

The Basement: Honolulu, Hawaii

When the president and his cabinet put the wraps on Operation Switchblade, so began another one: the quest to get Damion Westover. President Toporvksy had asked Director Demsky of Sentinel to work with Mossad to get a better understanding of Scorpion’s end-game plans.

The director of Sentinel felt like a hamster on the wheel spinning round and round with no stop in sight. Alfred rested his elbows on his desk’s ink blotter. His left toe tapped a couple of times. He groaned and clutched his stomach. The drawer slowly opened. His hand blindly felt around for the familiar bottle. He twisted the tamper-proof lid once he found it.

Two tablets dispensed for him. Alfred spotted a nearby water glass he would use to rinse down the antacid meds. He licked his upper lip and loudly exhaled. Twenty seconds later he was in the right frame of mind to make a phone call, albeit reluctantly.

He lifted the black plastic phone from its cradle and stretched the ancient corded device to his left ear while he reached across with his free hand to dial a number. It rang twice before he reached the operator.

“This is Alfred Demsky, director of Sentinel, may I speak to the prime minister please.”

One moment sir.

A moment later, just as promised, the leader of the Labor party and the current Prime Minister of Israel answered. “Ken?” Yes?

Erev tov Prime Minister Elkin, ma shlomcha?” Good evening Prime Minister Elkin, how are you?

“I speak English Alfred, and I’m fine, thanks.”

“Is it a bad time to talk?” Alfred wondered, staring at his clock on the wall with the hour hand barely past five…in the morning.

“It’s the dinner hour here in Jerusalem, Mr. Demsky. So no, you’re not interrupting anything. I don’t have much of an appetite anyway.”

The supreme leader in Israel clipped off the end to a cigar. He ceremoniously sniffed it before sticking it between his teeth and lighting up.

Demsky apologized anyway despite what the Jewish leader had just said. Then Alfred brought a cold, beading glass of water to his forehead for relief before he spoke on more important subject matter.

“Prime minister, I have some news here in the West to report of that you may be interested in.”

Tuvia Elkin settled into his lounge chair on the stone patio in the courtyard of Beit Aghion (the Jewish residence for prime ministers). “Tell me, Alfred. I’m listening.” His hazel eyes stared at a sculpture of a lion while he puffed aromatic rings of smoke.

“Scorpion has a new leader. Damion Westover has been kidnapped. And an op of ours to extricate some valuable possessions of his went terribly bad.”

Tuvia scowled hard and grunted. “This is bad news indeed. What can I do for you Mr. Demsky?”

The Sentinel director eyed a younger picture of himself on his desk while he twirled an expensive pen between his fingers. “President Toporvsky has asked me to investigate Scorpion to find anything I can to tell us what they’re planning. And to get Damion back.”

“The second part will be easy. As to the first item, I am less certain.”

Alfred uncharacteristically smiled. “I only wish I shared your same optimism. Nothing is certain these days, I’m afraid.”

“What you need is the experience and assets of an established intelligence agency.”

Tuvia’s baritone voice resonated with Demsky. “Precisely,” he agreed to the point being made. “If anybody could unravel this enigma, it’d be the professionals of Mossad.”

There was a smile in Tuvia’s voice when he said, “Don’t underestimate your own strength, director. Between our two countries, I feel a solution is closer than you might think.”

The flattering speech only went so far to assure Demsky. He had his doubts. A pack of gum resting on the first tier of a desk organizer had his name on it. His fingers made fast work of the shiny wrapper. No sooner had he plopped the sugary stick in between his teeth did he realize he still had the prime minister of Israel on the line.

“Was there anything else, Alfred?”

“I beg your pardon Mr. Prime Minister. My brain has been out to lunch ever since I left the security briefing earlier this morning. Long days, you know.”

“Yes, misery loves company.”

Demsky chuckled. “There was one more thing,” he said.

“Yes, anything.”

“What do you know about the end times prophecy in the Bible?”

He couldn’t believe he had just asked that. The president and his opened Bible at the National Security Council had irked him for long enough. It was time he got to the bottom of it. Maybe the leather bound book with the golden letters spelling Holy Bible was a book of secrets after all. He would know soon.

[]Chapter 8

Tel Aviv, Israel

He had survived his first day back to school. Should it have come as any surprise though? Son of Seth Markov, real-life GI Joe…Jason Bourne.

Azriel left the empty halls and followed the restless students out the doors. He watched as many filed into the waiting busses curbside. But that wouldn’t be him, he hoped. No, for Uncle Ephraim would come to the rescue in his Mercedes.

Azriel let his book bag fall to the pavement; he sat down beside it. A light breeze blew his dark curly hair here and there. The handsome Jewish boy wistfully stared across the parking lot towards the busy roads, hoping to see the sun glinting off his uncle’s sporty car coming to get him.

Right then his sixth sense tingled as he felt the stare of another person fall across his back. Azriel turned around.

“Hi!”

His pensive thoughts and anxiety about getting a ride went out the window. There she was. The girl of his dreams from his economics class, saying hello to him.

The sun shone in his eyes so much that he had to cover them—and lose sight of the pretty girl as a result.

“My name’s Azriel,” he shyly introduced himself.

“I know what your name is. The whole school does.” Her eyelids scrunched as she giggled.

“I wonder how? I’ve only been here a day,” he replied a little dully.

“Come on, economics class? That little stunt you pulled?” She loomed larger now, presently inviting herself to sit next to him. Drawing her knees up to her chin, she appeared to settle in.

“You like it here?” Azriel asked, not knowing what else to say. He was more nervous than anything else.

She smiled, showcasing her beautiful bite. Amazing what braces can do for an individual: it corrected her overbite and made it hard to look away whenever she opened wide.

“Yeah, you can make good friends here. I’m Esther by the way,” she said while examining him when he wasn’t looking.

“Esther? That’s a beautiful name.”

“You’re just saying that!” she playfully shoved him.

He blushed and shrugged. “What else do you want me to say?”

The last buss filled up. The driver gave it another minute before pressing a button to close the doors. A deep rumble of the engine proceeded a belch of exhaust as it rolled off the lot.

Esther watched all this before turning to Azriel to ask the obvious. “Waiting for your ride?”

He nodded. “Someone coming to get you?”

“My mom gets off of work soon. She’ll be here no more than ten minutes from now. You need a ride?”

For a moment the offer sounded amazing. But Azriel had no idea if his uncle intended to pick him up or not. He’d sure hate to leave and later have to explain to an upset Uncle Ephraim he had made other arrangements.

“It really isn’t a problem Azriel,” she said softly in a coaxing voice. “This doesn’t have to be an everyday thing. A little favor once in a while wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

Azriel didn’t want to say no to the girl he felt so strongly attracted to. “Oh alright. Just this once,” he gave her a wry smile.

What he felt at that moment? Excited.

“Great!” Esther played with one of her pigtails briefly. “Did you have a good first day?”

Azriel didn’t have to think very hard to answer.

Um, yeah?! I’m talking with the girl I’ve had eyes for…after only one whole day!

“Hmmm, considering I didn’t even imagine myself back in a school again, yeah, I’d say today turned out great.”

“What do you mean…you were a dropout or something?”

Azriel kicked a loose piece of gravel. “I don’t like talking about it.”

Esther didn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable. Yet she very craftily thought of a way to make him share without appearing eager to do so. “If it’s nothing you’d care to pass along, it’s alright.”

Silence.

“I lost my dad when I was two.” She looked to him for a reaction. Her face told on her: she knew more about Azriel than she’d ever let on.

The guard slowly started to come down anyhow. He looked interested now. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said with genuine sympathy. He knew what it felt like to lose a parent. “I never met my mother,” he admitted very cautiously. It was easier for him to be cloistered than to come out of the shell. But somehow Esther made him feel safe; he did not know how.

“That’s tragic!” she reached over to gently scratch his back with her long white nails.

Azriel’s muscles tightened.

“Does that make you uncomfortable?” she asked surprised.

He looked chagrinned. “I’m not used to much attention from females. That’s all.”

“Ah! I know something you could use a little more of then!” she said with a mischievous grin, continuing her strokes on his back.

Azriel resigned his tortured self to the continuation of the treatment. Off in the distance the sound of an approaching engine growing stronger made him look up to see who was there.

“Is that your mom?”

A deep purple aerodynamic van with a white racing stripe down the hood, flared tail lamps and running boards that jutted out cruised through the parking lot with efficiency until it came to a stop a short distance away from the waiting teenagers.

Azriel squinted in vain to see through the tinted windows.

A window rolled down and a very young woman smiled and waved at them.

Esther rose to go first. “Come on!” she said to the ever reluctant Jewish boy.

The butterflies came back again. They had never gone away, really…maybe stopped flapping their wings though. He could feel the fluttering feeling in his stomach ramp up as he approached the sleek ride.

A giant side door effortlessly popped open and appeared to be suspended in mid-air. No sign of hinges what-so-ever. Twenty-first century engineering.

“Who’s your boyfriend?” Esther’s mother teased as the two youths found a seat next to each other.

“Mom, meet Azriel, he’s the new kid at school,” she said, all in one breath.

The craft vibrated as its ducted fans began to go round and round, gaining momentum for what took place next.

“Thanks for the ride, miss,” Azriel quietly said.

“Don’t mention it. Anything for my daughter,” she tossed a needling look Esther’s way.

“Where do you live Azriel?” Esther asked…more for her mom’s benefit than her own.

The boy gave her the address to an apartment on the west side of town.

“You live in Park Tzamaret?” She asked in disbelief.

She must think I come from money or something.

“It’s actually just a small studio apartment way up in the clouds. Not exactly luxurious accommodations like you might expect.”

He could tell they were still dubious, but none of it mattered.

Through voice commands Esther’s mom told the car where to go. After that she submitted her ticket to the automated traffic system to gain access to one of the many beltways that the city’s air traffic commonly took to get places. Thirty seconds later she was cleared to safely join the traffic up in the sky. The purple van did all the pitching and maneuvering—taking all the hassle out of driving.

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

A long, winding spiral staircase climbed to the upper stories of the royal residence of the leader of the United Islamic Caliphate. There were no stairs to traverse, only a sloped incline.

The well-dressed man put one foot in front of the other while occasionally peering over the edge of the ornate white staircase with its many colorful banners flowing down from it. At the very bottom his eyes gravitated towards a splendid crystal grand piano and its accompanying band with all their wind instruments striking a familiar tune.

The melodious musical notes drifted up to his ears. Their intervals varied as greatly as the tempo to the score itself. The overall effect was delightful nonetheless. It almost made him envious of the band members’ skill…make him regret his decisions during his youth to put away the instruments in favor of playing sports.

At last the upper landing to the ascent drew nigh. Below him the snaking staircase went in and out of focus: he now truly felt the height of where he stood. This was all very symbolic and by design. Soon he and his entourage that went with him would be at the very threshold to the throne room belonging to the most powerful man in the Middle East—Rehan Kahlil.

The gilded doors with the crescent moon embossed into it and the phalanx of body guards in front were signposts that royalty was near.

The lead guard came forward and cautiously eyed the group of four strangers. He pulled up his guest list on his wearable computer (like the preceding two checkpoints had dutifully done) to begin the vetting process before letting anyone into the king’s chamber.

Three of the four men stated their names and provided identification. The whole affair proceeded along very unceremoniously until it came time for the king’s appointment to identify himself.

When he spoke a mysterious wind rushed over everyone. The forces of darkness were at work within the members. The unknown man destined to have an audience with King Kahlil appeared on the list under a pseudonym. The name must have checked out though. Upon further examination of the palace records and a thorough check of the database, this man who would see the king held all the rights to do so.

All guests passing through the king’s court had to trouble themselves with yet another full body scan before they could see his royal highness.

The administering agent asking all the questions and directing the process cast one last doubtful glance at the visitors before he begrudgingly told his fellow men of the watch to get the doors.

They grabbed for the great door pulls and gave a mighty tug. The doors that were barely a decade old stubbornly yielded on hinges that belied their short life.

A room lit by ancient methods with a lack of air circulation took the newcomers by surprise. An empty hall with marble pillars on either side pointed towards the most important chair in the land. On it sat a fellow not fit to be sitting in it—from physical appearances, that is.

Make no mistake, however. For where Kahlil came up short in terms of a commanding physical presence, he certainly overtook with his rational mind and subtle tongue.

The men walked in a procession, single file.

The king spared his roving gaze for the character he most wanted to see. He caught glimpses of the man’s face from the light the flickering torches threw. Shadows played across the face of the man in question, distorting his features to a curios King Kahlil. There he precariously sat, half off his chair in an eager posture: his leg muscles, which suddenly were called upon to support the extra weight, coiled with anticipation.

The three leading Islamic clerics representing the Ummahs (people groups) in the kingdom took their seats before the throne. Before they sat though, each one reverentially greeted the king with the traditional salaam treatment (a low bow with the palm of the right hand on the forehead).

Kahlil curled his finger twice in a beckoning motion. “Come Jabour, you have news to tell.”

Jabour came forward upon hearing his alias surname.

“Have a seat,” the king offered.

A red pillow with a throw on an expensive rug invited the messenger to recline in comfort while passing along the dispatch. He found the furnishing to his liking. Jabour swept the shiny dark hair off his face to fix a side part. Untold secrets stared at the king behind a set of inscrutable eyes.

“Long live the king and may Allah be praised!” he opened it up with, hoping to grease the skids for what came down the pike.

Kahlil nodded slightly and waited for Jabour to skip to business. A brief bought with thirst was quenched after he delivered a golden goblet to his lips and held it there for quite some time.

“Something is about to happen all around the world your Excellency,” Jabour started off with grim certainty.

The king’s cup quivered a little. He studied his visitor to know even more than what had already been spoken. A ring on the right hand stood out to him. He noted the ring seemed to be reversed, hiding a symbol on it from view. Whenever the character would shift his hands a little a flash of blue from the underside of Jabour’s hands would show.

Intriguing, Kahlil thought.

Jabour continued, pretending not to notice how removed the king was from what was being said.

“A great evil is afoot. Nations will be supplanted, mountains…moved.”

“Come now, stop speaking in riddles and get straight to the point,” the king snapped.

“But there is much to tell your majesty, and I wish to do it all in good time,” he paused to thoughtfully interject, “with your permission, of course.”

The king ignored the petition, instead choosing to speak freely on what he really wondered about. “And Muhammad al-Mahdi?”

“Yes, he has a role in all of this.” Jabour appeared eager to get by that name and on to something else he had come to say. For a millisecond he flicked his wrist giving the king a better angle at the pattern on the ring.

Rehan Kahlil inconspicuously took a snapshot photo with his mind’s eye of what he saw. Somewhere before he had seen a marking just like it. “Whatever do you mean, Jabour?” he questioned. The king wouldn’t let it drop that easy.

The guest twitched at the mouth and straightened his pocket square. “You see o king, a great calamitous event is about to happen.”

“Another asteroid?”

No—worse!” Jabour baited him in.

“Another war? Is that it?”

“No…”

“Good! Because I’m afraid my people prefer peace over our blood and fire, war-mongering ancestors.”

This triggered an involuntary smile on Jabour’s lips.

Kahlil dubiously rubbed his jaw. “You said the Mahdi is involved in all this?”

“He’s our savior, o king. Only he can save humanity from what we’re about to face.”

He appeared ready to say more, but not before the king had something to say.

“Oh, I don’t care about the Jews or the rest of the westerners.” The king made a sweeping motion with his arms. The free-flowing fabric with white fluted edging wrinkled under his arm’s capricious movements. His nose wrinkled too as if the mere mention of those people groups equated to debauchery and smut. “They can get what’s coming to them. May Allah’s holy judgment purify the land of the infidels.”

“Absolutely. None of that is in question,” Jabour reciprocated, eager to show the king he shared the same level of detest against the unholy enemies of Islam. “But I’m afraid even the United Islamic Caliphate isn’t safe, either.”

“Whatever are you speaking of? Your impetuous language baffles me, Jabour. Do illuminate me of this great evil of an impartial god, judging all.”

Jabour’s eyes grew dark, hallow. His mouth opened to deliver the message. Suddenly a hot wind gusted over Jabour’s shoulders, ruffling the king’s clothing and dissipating into the thick tapestry behind the throne. Its intensity and brevity were remarkably similar to the same experience one would get when standing in the path of a blazing furnace after the door just opened up.

Confusion washed over King Kahlil. He understood the message from the man seated three feet away. Yet, he strangely felt tampered with. Violated. Like he had woken from a drunken stupor, forgetting how he had gotten to where he now lay sprawled in a disorderly, but sober mess.

Meanwhile the three clerics who had been peacefully observing with indifference appeared equally shaken by what had transpired. Their experience had an otherworldly quality to it that left all of them extremely uncomfortable like an itching rash with no relief in sight.

The king struggled with the news immensely. Suddenly the title that went before his name didn’t mean anything. If what Jabour said was true, his days were numbered as ruler of the United Islamic Caliphate.

Kahlil drew in a sharp breath and held it. “You know all of this for a fact?”

“With one hundred percent accuracy. I stake my life on it.” Jabour stared at the ruler with little sympathy before adding, “I’m just the messenger.”

“Oh?”

“There is one thing.”

“Name it,” Kahlil said without hesitation.

“The Mahdi needs to use Jeddah’s spaceport.”

“For…what? Why does he need ours when there’s one in North America?”

Jabour squinted. The king’s answer was unsettling. “North America, your majesty?”

Kahlil shrugged. “What’s in it for me?”

Jabour expected this. He had rehearsed himself beforehand for this part in the conversation. He sat up straighter now. “For your services, Muhammad al-Mahdi will reward your kindness with a seat on his council with oversight privileges over one of the ten regions in the New World Order.”

A moment ago it looked like he would get nothing out of the deal. Now he had an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Rehan Kahlil gathered his robes and resituated himself on his throne.

Jabour tilted his head to one side, his eyebrows raised.

“Jeddah’s spaceport is open for business. Whatever the Mahdi needs.”

“Excellent! He will be very pleased to hear it.”

Both men rose together at once and shook on it.

Jabour bowed slightly before turning to leave. He turned to the clerics expectantly. The unspoken message, understood. Each man scampered off their chair to join him.

The door going into the king’s chamber opened for the guests to make their exit. The well-dressed man lingered at the top of the stairs to take in the view one last time as a token of his victory. He had played his part.

The royal musicians began to play a joyous song. Their choice seemed more than fitting for the occasion.

Jabour rested his elbows on the railing.

A voice which originated from over his left shoulder got his attention. “You seem very upbeat after speaking to the king,” one of the religious leaders noted.

“Yes,” Jabour turned to the man who had spoken. “I am. Who’s hungry?”

Barcelona, Spain

Alfonso Marcello expected a phone call. He waited by his phone. When it went off he answered after the first ring.

“Yeah.”

“Ready to come in?”

“Thought you’d never ask.”

“You’re gonna interrogate the Germans.”

“Me?” He wasn’t sure if he had heard right.

“Do you need hearing aids, agent?”

“No. No I don’t. Just…I’m surprised you wouldn’t go with a more experienced interrogator.”

“Do you wanna turn your badge in? Because we have lots of other talented recruits who would love to get a crack at your job.”

Alfonso rolled his eyes. His case officer rarely made good on threats. But still, he didn’t appreciate the sentiment all the same.

He looked up at the sky and watched some clouds scroll past a full moon. Alfonso shivered. It got very chilly in Barcelona at nights. Especially in spring.

“I’m coming in,” he murmured into the receiver.

“Interrogation room 3a. We’ll be waiting.”

He wanted to say something smart before clicking off, but decided better of it. Alfonso had racked up some good miles in his time with Mossad. He wasn’t ready to throw it away over a silly spat with a difficult agency man.

The image of the googly-eyed German couple holding hands flickered in his mind like a broken computer screen. He felt nothing.

Whatever it took to get answers from them, whatever methods of torture, if it even went that far—Alfonso wouldn’t be shy to use all necessary force. It was personal for him, too. The Nazis had herded up his great-great grandparents during world war two, where they ultimately snuffed out their lives in ovens at the concentration camps.

What a terrible way to die. Bastards, he thought as he reflected on the plight of his forefathers.

The anti-Semitism in fact didn’t go away after the holocaust. Instead it raged on for many, many years with bloody wars fought in the Middle East and world-wide persecution of the Jews. If anything, the white-hot hatred for the people group was at an all-time high.

Without his disguise and alias, there was no mistaking it, Alfonso looked like a Jew. It shamed him to hide a heritage he took tremendous pride in. But the benefits of doing the state’s dirty work far exceeded the burden of wearing the cloak of anonymity.

A brisk walk in the city to his destination ended in a photo booth at the back of a run-down arcade. Alfonso felt some coins bulge in his pant pocket. His eyes stared at the familiar floor layout, the machines covered up by white sheets. The Jewish man grunted. As a little boy he enjoyed many late nights out in the town feeding his favorite arcade game shekels.

Alfonso closed the curtain on both sides and sat down. His weight triggered a sensor under the cushion which prompted a response.

An invasive male voice came out of a speaker. “Say cheese.”

Alfonso looked dead center at the camera lens and weakly smiled.

An eye scan positively identified him as agent Marcello. Then the floor dropped out with no warning. The drop lasted no more than five seconds. Five seconds of stomach flipping fun. After so many rides though Alfonso didn’t get much of a rush any more. What used to be a thrill turned into a tame kiddie ride.

A sealed blast door opened up. A non-descript hallway took him to another door. Alfonso pulled his badge out. The scanner on the door accepted it with a buzzing noise. A little later the double doors opened inward to let him pass by before abruptly closing behind him.

Interrogation room 3a. Two lefts, a right, down a flight of stairs and right at the fork. He knew the station inside and out. A fast-walking male, late-forties, thinning hair, square jaw caught up to him at the second turn.

His handler handed him an earwig to wear which Alfonso reluctantly accepted knowing full well he’d have his favorite person in his ear while he worked on the Germans.

“Don’t hold back. This is important. Level 10.”

The few word transmission held a lot of weight.

Alfonso only nodded. He knew his handler didn’t have anything else to say anyway. Their conversations were always short and sweet; never any time for personal matters or unnecessarily verbose replies.

He walked for a little while longer—alone this time. Alfonso glided down the stairs, two at a time….Almost there. There were no friendly faces along the way happy to see the Israeli, mostly part-time staffers trudging along at a harried pace.

The hallway only went two ways. Alfonso hung a right and wound up at the door in no time. A glass block window and a narrow slit of glass in the door were the only outside sources of light into the dark chamber. A red faded 3a on the metal indicated this was the one.

Alfonso’s head pounded. In his own time he punched in the code to disarm the alarm.

Access granted.

The weight of a hesitant hand resting on the handle wasn’t enough to will the door to open. A second went by before Alfonso finally turned the handle all the way.

[]Chapter 9

Maldova, Mossad safe house

“We need to disappear,” Tyrone stated the obvious.

Baruch stood with his arms spread wide and a stupid look on his face. “And go where?”

Tyrone stopped pacing and lifted his head up. In the time he spent thinking, he managed to snap up a piece of wheat and stick it in his mouth. All he was missing was a straw hat.

“Quiet! I need to think.”

“You mean you don’t have a plan?” Seth stared in disbelief.

“I do have a plan,” Tyrone corrected. “Do something.”

Crickets.

The sound of Baruch dropping his flask followed up by, “Great,” was all that passed in between the three men.

Seth leaned in closer to Tyrone and asked, “Mossad is corrupted you say?”

“No duh.”

“I needed confirmation is all,” Seth replied, feeling a little irritated.

Baruch was slow that night. “For what?” he asked his partner.

“We’re gonna disobey orders, go rogue.”

“It has to look like an accident though,” Tyrone interrupted, getting excited. He continued, “Your deaths, both KIAs.”

“That could be difficult,” Seth mused.

“He’s the best,” Baruch jerked a humble thumb in Seth’s direction. “But I’m a close second,” he grinned widely. Getting serious, he added, “We’re gonna have to get a mission profile that makes this plan all come together.”

“He’s right,” Seth echoed. “We’re the best. The circumstances would have to be terrible for us to be ‘killed in action,’ otherwise just any old cock and bull story given for our disappearance will undergo some serious scrutiny logically followed up by plausible deniability, most likely.”

Tyrone nodded, chewing on the end of his find from the field. “I concur,” he said quietly.

Then he ambled over to the side of his parked SUV and stopped. “Well shoot, I’ve got just the thing.”

“You do?” Seth inched closer, reluctantly.

Baruch kept at a distance with hands on hips.

The African American touched the door panel to his car and it opened instantly.

Now it was Seth’s turn to share his partner’s incredulity.

“You know how easy that would be to steal?”

Clearly he preferred the old-fashioned over the high tech garbage they shoved down consumers’ throats. Seth was the kind of guy that would keep a cell phone until it made its last call. Or drive a car until it dropped.

Tyrone scrunched his eyebrows and snorted. “People like you can never enjoy the latest stuff ‘cause you’re always worried it’ll break, or it’s not tamper-proof enough. This my friend,” he patted the dashboard, “is safe and secure.”

“Your plan?”

“Oh, we’re back to that again?” Tyrone joked.

“….Do you have one?”

“I have a contact,” Tyrone said in between keystrokes on his laptop. The screen refreshed a couple of times before a login window popped up. “No peeking,” he laughed, thinking back to their conversation earlier on security.

Baruch mockingly put a hand over Seth’s eyes. What he didn’t count on was getting his arm twisted.

“Every action has a reaction. The abridged version of Newton’s Third Law.” Seth flashed a rare smile while appearing to enjoy watching Baruch’s discomfort.

“You got a mean grip there sir,” Baruch gasped. He continued to clutch his arm. Every now and then he’d watch Tyrone on the computer with little interest.

Tyrone drew out the syllables, “Alfonso Marcelo,” as he instant messaged somebody.

“What?”

“He’s our boy in Barcelona,” he explained.

“What good can he do us there when we’re sitting here in Moldova without a plan?” Seth cried. He looked to Baruch, who simply shrugged, conceding the point.

“Obviously we can’t communicate across open channels,” Tyrone said, talking about his contact in the background, “but from what I’ve deciphered already, I’d say he’s close to something big. You see, I’ve been looking for pieces to the puzzle for quite some time.”

“Where is this going?” Baruch impatiently interrupted.

Tyrone put his hand out and held a finger up. “Do you trust me?”

After a little time Seth was the first to nod. “So what’s the picture you’ve pieced together—so far?”

“It goes like this…”

But before he could finish he made an excited noise. “He’s online!”

Baruch rolled his eyes and smirked. “Any of your other buddies online?”

“You got a Facebook?” Seth continued the line of teasing.

Tyrone slowly looked away from his screen and with exaggerated disgust said very slowly, “Facebook’s been dead for quite some time, son. These days I’m on the Campfire network.”

Baruch held his chin up and imitated in a goofy tone, “I’m on Campfire.”

Tyrone didn’t appreciate the mimicry. He let the other man know that with a questioning stare that guaranteed discomfort.

Then his eyes grew wide. “He just got done interrogating two sources connected to what I was going to tell you about!” he breathlessly communicated after it had sunk in.

“Alfonso Marcello?”

“Mhm.” Tyrone ignored any distractions for the moment while he fast-typed his responses back to his liaison in Barcelona.

The two Israelis patiently waited. Seth pulled back on his shirt sleeve to check the time.

“We don’t have much time until it’s the second watch’s turn,” he whispered to an attentive Baruch.

The man didn’t flinch. “Yeah.”

Seth thought about it for a moment then took the plunge. “Tyrone?”

“Hm?” Obviously the man wasn’t in the mood for any more childish behavior or jokes.

“I’m not sure we can trust the rest of our team.” The words came out slow but sure.

Tyrone blinked. “What?”

“The second watch wakes up soon, too.”

“Elaborate on what you just said,” the former Mossad man urged him.

Baruch answered, “What Seth is saying is we haven’t worked with this group before.”

“And there’s no way of knowing where their allegiance lies,” Seth added.

Tyrone’s eyes shifted back and forth as he mulled the new information over. His answer to the current dilemma suddenly appeared on his screen.

“Gentleman?”

“Yes?” they both said in unison.

“You have been reassigned,” he inserted a dramatic pause, “to Germany!”

“What’s there?” Baruch asked.

“Your next target.”

Seth’s eyes narrowed, his muscles tightening. “Okay…?”

“You’ll need my wheels for this first leg of the journey. I’ll get you up to speed on the road,” he explained.

Both men stood there for a moment unsure of what to do.

Tyrone put his hand on the steering wheel and said, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”

Seth and Baruch recognized the catch phrase and instantly smiled.

“…starts—now!”

Seth opened his mouth to say something but Tyrone was already talking again. “And no, this message will not self-destruct in ten seconds.” He laughed at his own comic relief and added, “I want to live.”

At this point the men had already piled into the back of the SUV and told Tyrone to step on it.

A couple miles later the vehicle crossed the invisible boundary between Ukraine and Moldova. Tyrone chose to stay off the roads, avoiding any possible chokepoints altogether. Border patrol would be much more relaxed during the wee hours of morning anyways, but it didn’t hurt to be more cautious than not.

“So what happens when the next watch wakes up and finds us missing?” Seth had to ask the obvious.

Tyrone bucked and pitched in his seat from all the bumps and jolts in the uneven terrain. “Remember when I went into the house after you?”

Seth nodded, remembering.

“I planted a little note in official Mossad letterhead—with forged signatures of course.”

“You sly devil!” Baruch erupted.

“Yeah, he’s good,” Seth murmured. He shook his head a few times and secretly chastised himself for not being more observant. Another detail of Tyrone’s life trickled into his mind while he inflected. “You don’t like coffee anyways,” he said sort of half-way.

“What?” Tyrone yelled over the road noise. In actuality his hearing was quite good—he hadn’t missed a syllable.

Seth locked eyes with Baruch and shared a knowing look.

“I’ll bet those weeds never knew what hit ‘em though,” Tyrone said rather abruptly before the conversation turned elsewhere.

Only one man laughed in the vehicle at this. And it didn’t come from the back seat.

“So…Tyrone,” Seth started.

“So…Seth?” he parroted back, keeping his eyes on what was in front of him.

“You were talking about this puzzle of yours you said you had begun to figure out,” he paused to relive the memory, “before that buddy of yours decided to chit-chat.”

Tyrone gripped the steering wheel at the one and eleven positions. His muscles flexed as he constantly wrestled against a vehicle that desired to err to the left or right.

“Let’s review,” he said sternly. “There’s Scorpion, a new director, mysterious spaceships floatin’ around, and doomsday draws near.” He looked in his rearview mirror and observed disconbobulation was in the air. “Don’t worry though. We’ll have plenty of time to unpack each and every one of those items I just mentioned,” he said with a reassuring grin.

The Israeli prime minister dug into one of his ears with a finger nail for the offending wax that must’ve been the reason for him not hearing the director of Sentinel right.

“The Bible?” the secular leader croaked.

Alfred’s face burned with shame. Instant regret struck him in the face like one of his wife’s backhands after he had done something terribly foolish.

“You see sir, our president has been on this Bible kick lately. Hell, he even said we need to go to it during turbulent times such as this. What could it mean?”

Prime Minister Tuvia Elkin didn’t like where the conversation was going at all. He and his very leftward-leaning party held the majority of seats in the Knesset. Their rule represented what the godless Jewish culture had become. The Bible to them was a collection of useless tomes not relevant to modern times and problems.

When there was deafening silence, Demsky took the opportunity to ask a second question. “Isn’t there an antichrist figure in that Bible of yours?”

This time Tuvia loudly scoffed. “My Bible?” he blubbered. “Far from it!” He needed another smoke right now. The fragrant smell of the burning cigar reminded him it was there for him. Right next to it a shot glass of vodka begged his hand to reach out and grab it.

Just when Alfred Demsky thought he had reached a dead end, that’s when he heard in his ear, “The antichrist is real. We shall both of us witness his rise to power in our lifetimes. Sooner than you think,” the eerie voice tacked on.

The Sentinel director swung from listlessness back to his stoic, confident self in a heartbeat. “You mean a one world government led by this,” he searched for the name, “antichrist, is not a figment of some author’s whack imagination?”

After some delay Tuvia said, “Alfred, I’m not a devout Jew, by now you know this if you didn’t figure it out already.” He took a draw on his custom cigar and exhaled. “But,” his voice grew louder, “the Bible hasn’t been wrong when it comes to prophecy, to date.”

Demsky was a man of science. The facts, give me the facts, he would say. “Give me an example Prime Minister, if you would.”

“But of course. Your first lesson in eschatology: Israel’s rebirth.”

“I beg your pardon? Escha-what?”

“The study of end times, Director.”

“Okay,” Demsky said, now on the same page, “I think we see eye to eye now.”

“No other nation has been scattered before, the diaspora, and then rejoined as a whole. Thousands of years later, I might add,” Tuvia stated.

“You have a point,” Demsky conceded. “But what if it’s just mere coincidence…” The Sentinel director grew so bold so as to share with the prime minister his hand in that one comment. It was flush with doubt, agnosticism, and cynicism.

“You’re crazy,” Tuvia lambasted him. “Look, Director, I don’t much care to engage in a polemical diatribe on what I know to be true.”

“You must understand where I’m coming from though,” Alfred argued. “President Toporvsky is…” he chose his words carefully, “letting his grip slip from control of the situation. I can’t keep shoveling crap when things go terribly wrong. As it is, we’re already up to our eyeballs in the stuff.”

The picture Demsky painted didn’t sit well with Israel’s most powerful man. He grunted, “I don’t like the way you talk to me sometimes, Alfred. You want me to enlist in helping your cause? Listen to me. It’s that simple.”

“You have my attention, sir.”

“There’s really nothing on the historical timeline left over before antichrist asserts his claim to rule, worldwide.”

Alfred jumped at the first break in the man’s speech. “Where’s this guy coming from?”

Tuvia Elkin took his time to set it up. “Most Jews don’t even believe in an afterlife, let alone end time events spoken of in the book of Revelation and elsewhere in the Scriptures. There are those that consider themselves ‘reformed.’” He made sure to punctuate his point with quotations marks around reformed by the use of his middle and index fingers bouncing up and down on both hands.

Demsky most assuredly caught the prime minister’s disdain.

“I don’t take sides,” he said rather thickly into the receiver. “I’m a pragmatist. I have a Jefferson Bible of my own. I keep the parts I like, and chuck the ones I don’t.”

“I see,” Demsky said in a faraway voice. He started to like Tuvia a little more the deeper they got into conversation.

“North America. The revived Roman empire. That’s where he’s coming from.”

“Antichrist?” Demsky hastily replied, reeling a bit from the rapidity of the new info.

“Who else?”

The reality began to sink in. Demsky swore. “I need your help.”

“Anything for the Free Republic of North America.”

Hearing that name coming from Tuvia sounded so strange.

Alfred stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Where does the Middle East fit in all of this?”

“It’s at the center of it all.”

“Thought so,” he answered quickly. “What we need to dissect is how Scorpion is connected with the United Islamic Caliphate. I guarantee you there’s an evil marriage between the two.”

“Perhaps I can shed some light,” Prime Minister Elkin offered.

Tel Aviv, Israel

At least on the ground he had a sense where he was going. Up in the air, not really. The young passenger in the flying car looked in vain out the window from time to time. He saw a cluster of skyscrapers off in the distance. He couldn’t tell though if they were headed for them or not.

Azriel looked at the beautiful girl that sat to his right. He smiled. But inside he felt like a hitchhiker at the mercy of the driver: grateful for the ride, however uneasy at the same time about the prospect of trusting a stranger at his word (her word).

“How old are you Azriel?” Esther’s mom asked.

“13, ma’am.”

She laughed and told him to call her Stacy. “You’re a little young to be going to high school.”

Esther cast a wistful glance at the Jewish boy before answering her mom. “He’s smart. He could skip a few grades and still be in good shape.”

“My, my!” Stacy gasped. “Who are your parents? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Seth and…” his voice trailed off, “Jessica Markov.”

His eyes remained on a fixed point on the floor while he said this. Suddenly a warm hand rested on his shoulder which caused him to swivel. Her blue eyes stared into his soul. Esther reached in and tugged on his heart strings. The love in her beryl eyes communicated to him everything would be okay.

The hurt of uttering his mom’s expired name left him.

He shared her same smile and forgot for a moment how much his personal space bubble had been invaded.

Esther’s mom kept a wary eye on the young people in the back as she stayed vigilant at the helm of the flying shuttle. Something in the boy’s reaction to asking about his parents told her to not ask any more questions and leave well enough alone.

Some time went by minus any additional probing questions on her part. She began to bank sharply to the right before speaking up, “You said Park Tzamaret is where you live?”

“Yeah,” Azriel mumbled.

Esther inconspicuously glimpsed where they were. Her posture suddenly stiffened a little. The trip was over.

They weren’t at Park Tzamaret.

Barcelona, Spain

A rickety steel blade lazily rotated in the AC wall unit. It functioned better as a noise maker than an air conditioner. One lone light chased out the darkness in the cramped interrogation chamber.

A wood grain table took up the center of the room. Behind it, two metal folding chairs faced the only exit straight across the way. That night two German BfV diplomats were the distinguished guests of honor. Their interrogator would walk into the room at any moment.

When they were led into the chamber in the first place, they had hoped the cuffs would finally come off. They weren’t going anywhere after all—prisoners to their present circumstances. No such luck however. The man that disposed of them in the holding cell thought it best to tie their hands behind their backs. Strong tape kept their mouths sealed shut, too. There would be no need for chitchat: not until the interrogator asked his questions, that is.

Amalia could only share her worried eyes with her date sitting next to her, who happened to mirror worry right back. How sorry she was to make him endure the same fate she did. She knew it wasn’t her fault, that it encompassed something bigger than the both of them, but that didn’t make her feel any less responsible.

She wondered how Wendel must’ve felt. On the surface he didn’t appear to be an overly emotional type of guy. Nor did he come across as withdrawn, indifferent to the world around him. In a word? Balanced. Surprisingly intimate for a male, but at the same time nowhere near emasculated.

A new noise filled the room causing the two prisoners’ heads to snap up.

A dark, poorly-dressed individual with an unimpressive stature and little bulk in the areas where it counted cracked the door open wide enough for only someone his size to slink through.

He glanced in the Germans’ direction and noticed the wide-eyed surprise in their eyes. He got that a lot.

Agent Marcelo quickly discerned his new surroundings to be a bit warmer than the last time he had the pleasure. Off came his floral button-down, leaving him with only a sweat-stained wife beater on—one size too small at that.

Amalia caught herself in a deadpan stare at the inked arms of whom she presumed to be the interrogator. Something seemed to be missing from his ensemble though and it bothered her. She had seen torture scenes from TV shows and usually the inquisitor brought with him the tools of the trade to extract answers from his subjects. This guy looked out of his element. She knew not to make snap judgments on individuals though. Perhaps his appearance was by design she reasoned…get the guard down and hit ‘em when they’re most vulnerable.

Wendel sat there wringing his hands in angst. His handcuffs were beginning to cut off circulation to his wrists, too. He used that as an excuse to convince himself he squeezed his hands to get the blood flowing again and not to mitigate the turmoil within.

His eyes dwelled on the air bubbles in the painted cinder block wall in front of him. Up until now, dread had successfully penetrated his permeable mind.

Wendel closed his eyes and silently exhaled through his nose. All the fibers in his being premeditatedly braced for the worst that could happen to him in the hours to come.

A fourth person had entered into the room undetected. He positioned himself directly behind the detainees’ heads. Upon being given the subtle signal from Alfonso, the man with the invisibility cloak sprang into action.

Wendel and Amalia suddenly pitched forward so hard that their foreheads smacked against the table in front of them.

Alfonso didn’t wait for them to recover either. He motioned to his incognito helper to continue his work.

Next, the victims were grabbed by their hair and sharply jerked backwards to an upright sitting position. Amalia yelped, but Wendel barely grunted. By now both victims were seeing through glassy red eyes at their interrogator who seemed ready to ask his first question.

At the last possible second Wendel noticed a distortion in the space around his mouth. He accurately guessed what would come next. Whatever facial hair he might have had got painfully plucked out by the duck tape that slowly peeled away from his face.

The German grimaced.

Amalia received the same treatment after her partner got his.

Alfonso smiled like a shark and said rather snarkily, “Now tell me, what’s the real reason for your visit to lovely Barcelona? The lady first.”

“Uh―” her voice wavered. “―business…”

“What kind?”

Wendel shot her a cross look.

Alfonso didn’t wait around before saying, “Don’t force my hand. I always get what I want.”

Amalia looked miserable already. How much longer could she play the martyr for Germany? For Scorpion?

When neither one volunteered an answer to the current inquiry, Alfonso shook his head. “Flagellation it is.”

Amalia began to whimper a little.

“You have something to say?” the Mossad agent extended a little grace.

In an instant the woman’s fragile features went from broken to tough as Teflon.

Alfonso recognized the stubborn streak and reluctantly nodded to his assistant.

The blows came hard and often with hardly any time in between. The resolve the Germans showed didn’t surprise Alfonso in the least. He had a whole show lined up for them—and they were still in the opening credits.

[]Chapter 10

Ukraine

Tyrone’s hulking black SUV with fake plates came to a stop on the side of a rural highway. Baruch demanded they pull over after four hours of driving so he could take a leak. No one else had to go but him.

The mile markers couldn’t have gone by fast enough for Seth on the twenty hour road trip. A light breeze trickled into the cabin from the cracked windows. He glanced out the passenger side window to check on Baruch’s progress. What he saw was a man rather clumsily slide down the embankment and nearly loose his footing at the bottom of the stopgap latrine.

Baruch tossed out a few curse words as he let the juices flow.

“Does he normally drink so much?” Tyrone referred to the man taking a piss.

Seth, caught off-guard by the question hemmed and hawed a bit. “I—I don’t remember him ever being a drinker, come to think of it.”

“Can we count on him to get it together down the stretch?”

“Without a doubt. There’s not a better man to go with me on this mission than that guy out there.”

Seth grew thoughtful and wondered about the veteran next to him. “You stay single all these years?”

Tyrone had to think about it before answering. Obviously he had a two-part answer because of how he dawdled. “My track record―almost perfect,” he said while making a hand gesture. “I was on a streak until….I fell hard,” his voice grew faint.

“Ah!” Seth’s eyes shone brighter. “I knew you weren’t cut out of that cloth.”

Tyrone knew his friend to be talking about singlehood by his reference. He balked anyhow. “How you figure that?”

Seth glanced in the side mirror. Baruch had nearly made it back to the vehicle already.

Light poured into the backseat. Highway noise commingled with it until the Mossad man put an end to the outside influences by shutting the door behind himself.

“Ready to go?” he called from the rear.

“Next potty stop won’t be for a while,” Tyrone said turning around to address the agent.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“You don’t like me, do ya, son.” It was more of a statement than a question.

“He’s like that with everybody,” Seth explained. “Baruch only knows how to get along when lives are on the line. In every other situation he’s a complete douche.”

“Thanks partner.”

“I’ve got your back.”

More sarcasm. “Yeah you do.”

“Did you forget about my question?” Tyrone reminded Seth.

“I won’t answer until you get us back on the road and are doing a hundred and fifty kilometers per hour.”

Tyrone activated auto pilot with adaptive cruise control. Set and forget driving at its best. He made a clicking noise with his tongue. “Better?”

Seth made a face. “Suffering succotash, I must give it to you straight.” He slurred his s’s like a pro.

Baruch howled in laughter. “I’ve never heard you do that before!”

“I bring out the best in him,” an equally-mystified Tyrone muttered.

Two hundred miles later, after lengthy conversation the three men confined themselves to silence.

“We couldn’t get anything faster than this?” Seth complained with his face to the window.

“Hey, my pockets aren’t as deep as Mossad’s. You’re just gonna have to make due.”

“Who’s our target?” Baruch asked.

“Thought you’d never ask,” Tyrone smiled. “I’ve got your mission packets in the center console. You can read all about it.”

Since Seth sat the closest to it he opened up the compartment and found two tablets waiting there for him. He tossed the one back to his partner. Both men were grateful to lose themselves in the digital world and for a moment, get their restless minds off the never-ending road that stretched on before them.

“Sofia Keller? A woman?” Baruch said after a little while.

“What’s the matter? You have some kind of code that doesn’t permit you to target members of the opposite sex?” Tyrone teased.

“No,” Baruch replied. “I was hoping for somebody a little higher up in the German hierarchy is all.”

“That goes for me, too,” Seth admitted, feeling the same disappointment. “I had really hoped to read Lothar Kirsch’s name instead.”

“Him?” Tyrone crinkled his nose at the mention of the Fourth Reich’s corrupt leader. “He’s on a short waiting list. He’ll get what’s coming to him. Don’t you worry.”

“He’ll get my bullet,” Seth uttered through gritted teeth.

Baruch felt the same anger towards the German leader as his partner did, yet he said nothing of it.

“So who ordered the hit on Keller?” Seth wanted to know.

Tyrone disengaged from the road and turned in his seat to face Seth. “Mossad, of course.”

“C’mon. They’re doing the job for someone else. I’m not gonna ask again.”

“Well shoot junior, you’re not half bad. You’re right. The local government Berlin set up to oversee Spain has fallen in on hard times.”

“Meaning?” Baruch pressed.

“Sofia Keller has led a witch hunt against Governor Castell and his administration.”

“This Castell guy,” Baruch began, “he somehow connected to Mossad?”

Tyrone nodded. He was pleased by the man’s deduction. “Bingo. He’s very pro-Israel, hates those nazi bastards…blah, blah, blah.”

“Sounds like a guy I could like,” Seth remarked, thinking of his own hatred towards the Germans.

Tyrone looked at Seth and saw a man roiling like a kettle over raked coals. He knew Seth Markov’s heritage, knew how passionate he was about protecting the homeland. Which was precisely why he recruited him into Mossad without hesitation more than a decade ago.

Tyrone felt the need for a subject change. There would be plenty of time to revisit the Germany topic and their reason for being there. Later.

“You have a son, right?” he casually asked.

Seth’s eyes moistened a touch. Jessica and Azriel were the only two people in the world capable of making him feel emotions.

“Yeah,” he responded.

“When was the last time you—”

Seth cut him off: he knew the question. The answer didn’t come easy, nevertheless. “Five years.”

Tyrone let out a low whistle.

Baruch decided to participate in the conversation and join with the question, “How old is he now do you think?”

“He’s a full-fledged Markov man by now. Eighteen, I reckon,” Seth reflected.

“Damn,” Tyrone said. He didn’t know what else to say. He never got to experience the joy of having a kid. As he sat there and watched the broken yellow lines on the road go by in a blur, all he could do was imagine the pain that must have been there for Seth having missed most of his son’s teenage years.

Tel Aviv, Israel

The flying car came to the bottom of the wave of gravity it rode on, coming to rest on a helipad high up on top of a modern tower.

Azriel was no fool. They hadn’t dropped him off at his apartment.

He squinted. “Where are we going guys?”

Esther reached for his arm, but Azriel shrugged her off. The young Jewish boy recoiled for once from the girl who had previously held him captive under her spell.

“What’s wrong?” Esther said in a concerned sort of way.

Azriel balked. “Like you don’t know?!”

Stacy had already gotten out from the driver’s seat and stealthily moved towards the side hatch closest to where Azriel sat. Esther had bought her just enough time so she could be in position to block any way of escape. Not like the boy had anywhere to go anyways.

She flung the door open expertly. All her motions were fluid and precise with little energy wasted on needless movements. Stacy had no intention of knocking Azriel out cold for the moment. She needed his mind to be the farthest thing from groggy in order to perform the operation on him that would change his stars forever.

From her pocket she took out a mysterious cylindrical object and brandished it. It emitted a pulse invisible to the human eye. But its effect was certainly visible.

All of Azriel’s muscles went into lockdown. He was as good as a paralytic.

Esther moved forward just in time as the youth collapsed into her outstretched arms.

His skin turned a few shades pinker. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. “What’d you do to me!” he cried.

“Relax and don’t struggle, you’ll only hurt yourself,” Stacy informed him.

“But why? What’s this all about?”

“You must come with us, Azriel. You’ll see.”

Esther smiled sympathetically at the incapacitated boy she held on to.

The winds gusted at their height, high above Tel Aviv.

Stacy helped her daughter with the limp body of Azriel’s. They struggled for a little ways until they came to a shaft on the east side of the building just before the parapet.

Esther raised her palm near the door; it recognized her immediately. An implant in her arm provided her the security clearance she needed. The elevator waited to receive them. The group of three laboriously entered the box in due time.

Stacy reached forward and mashed a button to go down.

A noise of the break disengaging gave the passengers just enough warning before the little elevator raced for the floor it was called to. Azriel’s eyes rolled to the back of his skull. It appeared as if he stared at Esther who propped his head up with her knees. She didn’t seem to pay any attention.

Right then Stacy got a tone on her headset buried deep in her ear canal. She swiped at her smart watch to accept the call.

“Hi hon….I’m with the boy and Esther….Wait where?….They’re not ready yet?”

Esther shot a questioning stare at the last thing her step-mom had said.

Stacy waited a bit before eventually saying, “We’re gonna make a beautiful family.”

Barcelona, Spain

The room began to spin. Wendel reeled from the many blows. His body had never undergone such a beating before. He hadn’t even gotten in a fight as a lad in his early years let alone torture.

Sweat dripped off his eyelids and stung his eyes.

Alfonso had by now turned his chair around and sat backwards on it. His torso leaned against the chair back, enough to tip it forward until his forward progress was halted by the edge of the table.

He leaned in uncomfortably close to the detainees, his elbows steadying himself on the flat surface. In a lightning-fast maneuver, his hand clapped down against the tabletop like a fly swatter.

This startled Amalia more than Wendel.

He decided to throw the trick question out there: “Who do you work for?”

Alfonso looked to the male to say something this time.

“The German government—even you must know that,” Wendel said with disgust.

“I don’t like your tone,” the interrogator shot back. He then shifted the bullseye back to Wendel and motioned for his cohort to go through with the retaliatory strike.

Alfonso’s eyes traced the path of the blunt object that appeared to lift itself off the ground. It traveled in an elongated arc with the bottom of its trajectory being Wendel’s head.

At the very last possible second Agent Marcello held out a hand to stay the impending blow that would’ve knocked the German into the following week. The weapon that would have connected with Wendel’s head clanked to the floor right next to where he sat.

Alfonso watched the German jerk his head at the sound of the noise. “That could have gone a lot worse for you.” He rested both forearms on the table and cupped his hands. “Now I’m gonna ask you again, who do you work for?”

Amalia grew extremely flustered and threw her hands up. “We’ve already told you,” she whined.

“Pity.”

“No! Wait!” she appeared to have turned a corner.

Alfonso’s bushy eyebrows were hiked with anticipation. Would the woman make his job a little easier right here, right now?

To his disappointment what he saw was a woman harden once again with increased impudence than before. Amalia bore the distinct resemblance of Pharaoh saying no to Moses.

She then lowered her head and narrowed her eyes. “Go to hell,” she uttered.

Alfonso could feel the heat in his bones from the hatred in her speech.

“Well,” he began, “I was hoping you’d spare me the pain from going forward. But all this unnecessary pretext must be punished until I hear what you won’t tell me.”

When neither one of them braved an answer, Alfonso sighed. “As you wish.”

The Ozarks

Damion’s eyelids were heavy with sleep. It had been forty-eight hours since he last resigned himself to a bed. Why? There were simply just too many things that troubled his mind.

Many projects at Westover Ventures got Damion’s signature from a notorist, but not his due-diligence review. One such project as a matter of fact happened to escape the company think tank and be free—ultimately getting a new lease on life in the mission bays of Scorpion’s shuttles of great deception which lurked around in low-earth orbit.

Call it a premonition or a pure gut feel….Damion began to ponder Project Canvas. He didn’t possess intimate knowledge of the program’s inner-workings, but he knew what mattered. If used by the wrong people, on a large scale? Psychological warfare of the holographic nature which could lead to a great deception never before seen since the days of Adam and Eve back in the garden.

“I’ve gotta get outta here and warn them,” he blurted while suddenly feeling out of breath by the startling new reality.

Christophe shifted on his cot to better position himself for conversation. “Say what?”

“They took you and me because we’re the only ones dangerous enough to wreck their plans.”

“Which are?” Christophe struggled to follow.

“Isn’t it always an issue of world domination with people like whom were dealing with?”

“Well no,” Christophe begged to differ. “It’s more spiritual than that, really.”

Damion looked panicked. “Don’t go there with me again. We won’t revisit that topic.”

“Why is it you’d rather not talk about anything in the spiritual realm, yet you’re more than comfortable slipping into bed with a woman you don’t even know the name of?”

Damion’s face contorted. “I fail to see the correlation.”

“Right, because you only see what you want to see. You don’t need to tell me that.”

“Can we get serious here?” Damion glared at Gerard. “Scorpion plans to use the military grade holo-emitters and retrofit them to work with a little-known spacecraft.”

“How in God’s name would you know that?” the scientist gasped. He wondered if the sleeplessness hadn’t finally worked a number on his business partner. How else could he have yielded such a fantastical revelation?

“Remember that break-in at my house?”

Christophe searched his memory and said, “I vaguely remember.” His brain continued to sift through layers of dormant files. “Oh! Right.”

“It’s coming back?”

“Iris the virtual thief. She started you on your journey for answers.”

Damion swung his legs over the side of his bed now. It excited him that they were both on the same page now.

“That day I called you with the news and told you to come over?”

“Yeah?”

“What I didn’t tell you was the directory for Project Canvas also had been accessed…in addition to my Mark I test vehicle.” Damion looked at Christophe to see if the old man would fill in the blanks on his logic.

And he did.

“So they were really after your hologram technology…delving into your little pet project was by way more of a distraction than anything else.”

Damion gave a single clap and pointed at Christophe, “Sharp as a tack! I am never disappointed by you my friend. What else do you think you can tell me on Scorpion’s end game plans?”

“Why ask me when you already know?”

“Do I?” he facetiously put in.

“Do you?” Christophe fired back.

Damion rolled his eyes. “Did I complement you too soon, Gerard? You really can’t finish this or you need me to….”

“There’s a Jeddah connection,” the scientist began to say, causing his friend to start. “Wait your turn monsieur, I have more to say,” he flagged Damion down.

The billionaire merely folded his arms across his chest and patiently listened.

“They haven’t integrated your invention to their armada of spaceships quit yet because they have to use Jeddah’s spaceport.”

“Because FRN would otherwise be alerted to a launch from the War Room’s space pad off the coast of S6.”

Now it was Christophe’s turn to lavish praise for Damion’s strategic mind. “Yes, that is precisely the reason. And what’s more, Howard has all but made the world his footstool with the world rulers bowing down to him. King Kahlil of the UIC has fallen in line with the Great Deception, without a doubt…one of the last dominoes to tumble before we see the long awaited New World Order brought to bear.”

One could hear a pin drop in the room after Christophe said his piece.

“Is this thing too far along from being stopped do you think?” Damion asked.

Christophe nodded his head. “From one professional to another, I think we’re out of time.”

Damion was a little surprised by his friend so quickly dismissing any possibility of flipping the situation around.

“You never used to give up so easily…” He hung his head and contemplated the floor while he said it.

Christophe made a face. “I haven’t rolled over and played dead yet. I just stated my opinion on how good our chances are.”

Before Damion could open up his mouth to speak, Christophe further added, “You’d better hope those Viper agents just got lost.”

Damion waved him off, “Nah, they ain’t comin’. There is an outside chance though that Israel’s intelligence might piece the puzzle together quick enough…and maybe attempt a rescue,” he twirled his wrist, “…you get the picture.”

“What do we do in the meantime?” Christophe wondered.

“Be proactive. Talk with Heather. Tell her all we know. Maybe she knows something we don’t that can be helpful to us.”

“I like your thinking.”

“I’m sure you would do the same,” Damion complimented the French man.

Christophe only smiled. In an anticlimactic way, he gave the suggestion they both find a little sleep. To his surprise, Damion actually agreed to it.

[]Chapter 11

After Alfred Demsky was through talking to Israeli prime minister, Tuvia Elkin, he immediately dialed another number.

The unsettling afterthoughts of what Israel’s leader had told him regarding antichrist vexed Alfred.

Howard, that bastard! he thought.

While he waited to be connected with Peretz Scheffer, acting director of Mossad, he once again felt his human frailty. His stomach churned and gurgled. The antacid meds remained open on his desk. Demsky quickly popped another into his mouth and dry swallowed. It didn’t go down as easily as he would have liked, causing him to wince.

Suddenly a new voice filled his office.

“My deepest apologies, Peretz Scheffer is currently away from his post on assignment. Would you like to speak to the department head of the Kidon branch?”

Demsky’s stomach dropped. Kidon? (Mossad’s tip of the spear.) In his mind, if he couldn’t get the director, the head of Kidon would more than suffice.

“Mr. Demsky?”

He finally answered, apologizing first. “Yeah, sorry—that would be excellent. Put him on, if you would.”

“Please hold.”

A little while later a man’s voice with a heavy Hebrew accent answered, “Malach Kemper, Kidon division; what can I do for you today Mr. Demsky?”

“A lot, hopefully,” Alfred quickly replied, feeling grateful to be talking with someone powerful in the Mossad hierarchy.

The man whom identified himself as Kemper went out on a limb with his best guess on the reason for the phone call. “Maybe a little agency collaboration on a priority target perhaps?”

“We’ll get to that,” he said thinking of Howard with his last words. “But first I would like to dialogue with you on your friendly Middle-Eastern neighbors.”

“Oh? The Saudis? Jordanians….Iranians?”

“Why do you still refer to them by their previous nationalities and not the United Islamic Caliphate?”

Demsky could almost hear the man smile over the phone at this.

“You see Alfred, they are not united under King Kahlil. Until their Promised One, Imam al Mahdi, comes riding in on his white stallion, those blood-thirsty Arabs will not cooperate with each other. Their interests are too divided currently. They need a leader like none other who can bind them together into a single people group with one purpose in mind.”

Alfred fiddled with a lever on his chair which enabled it to recline. Once his seat went back his gaze naturally wandered to the black ceiling up above.

“Which is partly what I wanted to talk with you about.”

“You have my attention.”

“From my last conversation I had with Prime Minister Elkin he took me down a trail of interesting possibilities.”

“Go on,” the monotone voice on the other end encouraged him.

“What I am about to share with you is very sensitive information. Are you absolutely positive this line is secure?”

“God won’t even hear what we say.”

Alfred liked his answer. “Our security forces recently clashed with Scorpion and unknown bogies over Sector Six at the Westover Ventures Complex.”

Malach Kemper’s breathing grew a little quicker. “What happened there?”

“Operation Switchblade: an asset recovery mission at zero hour. Damion Westover had a contract with our government on some breakthrough weapon designs.”

“You mind elaborating on the scale of this operation?”

When there was pause in Alfred’s reply, Malach quickly explained, “I’m trying to ascertain why you had to go in there as opposed to the weapon blueprints being delivered to you per your contractual agreement with Westover Ventures.”
p. Alfred nodded with understanding and answered, “The venture’s business partners, Damion Westover and his chief scientist Christophe Gerard have gone MIA. Sentinel used landsat to track their whereabouts to a top-secret Scorpion black site in the Ozarks. We believe Scorpion to be holding them there against their own will for a whole litany of reasons—which is partly why I’m contacting you.”

Malach Kemper spread his hands out across his glass workstation. In response a virtual keyboard mapped out for him. His wiry fingers rapidly typed a message into a search field. He quickly made up his mind he wanted the results to materialize on the heads up display nearby.

“Mr. Demsky,” Malach resumed the conversation as he took in the data at the same time, “I have in front of me a transcript from an Intel dump which I think dovetails nicely with the subject we’re on.”

“Okay?”

“Four days ago one of our agents stationed in Barcelona interrogated two midlevel German diplomats who were in town with Germany’s Interior Minister Sofia Keller and the rest of her entourage.”

“Uh-huh…”

“The significance of that being these Germans tipped us off to some plans the Fourth Reich and Scorpion have in the works. But it’s really much bigger than those two players. As powerful as they (Scorpion and Germany) may be, they don’t hold ALL the cards. We’re talking worldwide implications.”

Alfred was beyond intrigued now. His mind worked fast to recall previous conversations with various people to frame his next question. Alfred had Israel’s president to thank for getting himself at least on the right footing.

If only Malach Kemper could give him further direction and increased insight into the enemy’s plans…then Alfred would be a hero to the FRN, but more importantly an indispensable member on Alexander’s National Security Council.

In a word? Job security. That’s what this was about.

“Malach, correct me if I’m wrong; I assume you have ongoing ops within the UIC? Yes?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

This didn’t surprise Alfred. He grew even bolder. “Is there anything in your reports that would indicate a Scorpion connection with King Kahlil himself?”

The silence was deafening.

Thanks for confirming what I’ve known all along, bitch, Demsky triumphantly thought.

Kemper came back with a copout. “Implicating the king to underworld scum (Scorpion) is beyond insane. It’s entirely out of the question.”

Kidon’s director seemed unusually adamant in denying any Scorpion/UIC association Demsky noted. He would continue to exploit this weakness then and see what nuggets he could bag by the end of the transaction.

Tel Aviv, Israel

The elevator doors to the lobby on the thirty-ninth floor opened with the same sense of urgency as the passengers that once occupied it. The trio from the roof made haste through the labyrinth of sterile passageways to the other end of the floor.

Along the way Stacy used sign language to communicate to Esther she was free to go. To where? A sector in the tower where young cadets trained in, ran missions from—the whole gamut.

Esther simply split from her step-mom who still had Azriel in tow. She hung a few hairpin turns then simply vanished off into a land very few knew existed.

Meanwhile Stacy faced what would come, alone…with the boy. Her choice. For paternal reasons she wanted to do some hand-holding with Azriel while the boy’s mind and consequently his destiny would be altered by modern science.

“You’re gonna do just fine, son,” she said in a soothing manner as they approached an operating room. She also had an implant in her wrist that radiated a signal the door recognized. It compliantly swung open for her before she was even ten feet from crossing its threshold.

A gigantic white machine Azriel had never seen the likes of before unhinged its jaw like a snake, ready to swallow his limp body…whole.

Throughout the whole experience he began to rapidly lose cognitive ability to decipher what exactly was happening to himself. The room began to spin a little. Stacy’s face which hovered only a few feet away he guessed now came in strangely distorted.

Things began to dim, even before the woman entered in her premeditated commands into the console.

Azriel continued to watch her until he felt he could no longer win the tug of war battle against unconsciousness. In his hazy last seconds before the lights went out he noticed her staring out at him with an unreadable expression etched into her features.

All this time words had evaded him. For whenever he attempted to ask her a question his tongue refused to comply. Instead it chose to stay plastered to the roof of his mouth, unwilling to loosen itself so as to allow speech.

His struggle against the impending darkness that closed in from his peripherals soon came to a close after Stacy decisively pressed the button to start the procedure.

The doors to the contraption shut with a finality after Stacy initiated the operation.

Up on a monitor a live feed of Azriel’s spiking brain activity revealed to the inquisitive woman just how exactly a cerebrum memory transfiguration affected a thirteen-year-old’s gray matter.

Stacy’s narrowed brown eyes remained fixated on the images until a familiar ringtone in her ear effectively broke her stare.

She blinked and mumbled something. A peek at her smartwatch which had the caller ID confirmed her hunch.

Stacy immediately threw her weight down onto a swivel stool equipped with wheels. Next she leaned in slightly while simultaneously using her powerful legs to careen her mobile seat over to where a stack of monitors cast their blue glow.

“How’s he doing so far?” the same concerned male voice she had spoken to earlier on the rooftop intoned in her right ear.

“If you are so concerned, then why aren’t you here with me now?” she asked the obvious.

He clarified, “You know why that can’t happen. I just got my ticket punched as the new acting head of Kidon. There is an unimaginably long list of responsibilities I must see to. Otherwise everything I’ve worked so hard to do up until this point will be for naught.”

Stacy pondered the man’s explicit message while she stared at sets of data on Azriel’s progress. What she saw caused her to forget about her otherwise standard rejoinder to the man’s excuse for not being present.

“This really is gonna work I think,” the words tumbled off her plump lips.

“The operation?”

“Yeah…”

“What would make you ever doubt it wouldn’t? Azriel isn’t the first person it’s ever been done to you know.”

“Really?”

“Yeah! Relax. I wouldn’t do experimental brain surgery on our son unless it had a proven track record. And to my knowledge,” his voice grew more distant as he read something, “ninety-nine percent of patients that had this procedure went back to their everyday lives like nothing ever happened.”

“How long is the turnaround?” Stacy wondered aloud.

“If everything synchronizes correctly according to the pre-programmed parameters? Two weeks.”

His answer shocked Stacy. She marveled at the progress the medical community had made in Israel. The fact that someone with the proper equipment and protocols could change the course of a life in under two weeks overwhelmed the woman.

Seeing is believing though. Until Azriel walked out of the clinic a whole person and called her mom she’d hold on to her inborn skepticism.

[]Chapter 12

Somewhere near the northeastern German border…

The day-long road trip neared the finish line with its crosshairs set on Berlin.

The trio of rough and ready individuals had only made two stops the entire journey. Towards the end Baruch began to whine of his rear aching. When Seth threatened something else would be hurting, the man with a sore bottom dropped all complaints.

In Poland it was agreed upon to further discuss mission details. Tyrone would do his best to answer questions or otherwise appear to know what he was talking about.

There were no other patrons seated out on the patio except for the three Mossad men, alone with their devious plans. They had grabbed a table in the back, as far away from people as possible. The shade of the courtyard and the umbrella nearby further obscured them from view.

Tyrone spoke in a low, even voice. “Like I told you before, we’re gonna make this look to be an accident.”
p. “I still don’t see how,” Seth shook his head.

“Easy,” he replied. “First, we arrive into town undetected, masquerading as local vigilantes from one of the rebel cells in Spain.”

Baruch reflected, “You said our target Sofia Keller is stalking the interim governor there in Barcelona, right?” He frowned like he had more to say but didn’t know how to say it. “What’s his name again?”

“Carlos Castell, that’s your guy in Barcelona,” Tyrone helped him. “Did you have more to say?”

Baruch appeared to be thinking.

“How long do we have to wait until you have your ah-hah moment?” Seth teased his partner.

Baruch ignored the remark. “If we take out the interior minister, but fail to escape, we go down in a shootout with the authorities.”

Seth had been listening to Baruch while simultaneously tracking a waitress make her way to their table. She appeared extremely apologetic for not having seen them come in earlier.

Tyrone saw her too around the same time Seth did. Before the woman even came close to where the men were talking he said in an aside sort of way, “Yo misses, three ales for me and my colleagues. Keep the change.” Tyrone winked at her while placing a green bill in her hands and folding her fingers over the money.

She went away without a word to get the drinks.

Seth took notice of how well Tyrone handled the exchange. His mind however returned to what was being said before the little interlude. He had a question. “Is this your plan or rather how things might turn out after we terminate the target?”

Baruch looked disappointed in Seth. His eyes surveyed the table where they sat at: the condiments, menus, salt and pepper shakers were all in the usual spots one would expect. He quickly made his mind up to use what was available to aid in communicating their playbook options.

“See these sugar packets?” he tossed three into view in front of Seth’s spot. “They’re the o’s. You with me so far?”

Seth secretly admired the man’s clever use of what was on hand. He also nodded so that his friend could continue his undoubtedly lengthy explanation and plan.

“Before I go on, do you have any input on these matters?” Baruch popcorned the discussion Tyrone’s way.

Tyrone hadn’t been paying super close attention since the drinks had just arrived. He kindly accepted them from the lady with a tray. Tyrone duly thanked her then returned his gaze back to Baruch. “Take it away, agent.”

“As I was saying before….” he held outstretched arms directed at the sugar packets.

“Next, you’ve got to deal with the x’s. We know Sofia Keller is one of ‘em. Count on there being collateral damage, too.” For the x’s he threw down little ketchup packet(s).

Tyrone’s eyebrows went up at the number of packets Baruch laid out. “Expecting a lot of deaths or something?” he facetiously interjected.

Baruch shrugged. “In my line of work, things can get hairy pretty quick.”

To this Seth vigorously bobbed his head up and down in agreement.

“You forget, I was in the field too, you know,” a completely serious Tyrone reminded the other men.

Both active duty Mossad agents exchanged knowing looks of amusement hidden underneath an inconspicuous, well-worn expression that wouldn’t be misinterpreted to mean anything else.

“Let’s get this game plan back on track though, no more interruptions,” Tyrone apologized. “That goes for myself as well,” he added with a stone cold face.

Baruch’s eyes smiled at the invitation to proceed with the dialogue. “So after the fact—when they bring in the black bags, tape, the police have finished dusting the scene—the official story that breaks across German airwaves will go something like this: Spanish Terrorists Assassinate Keller, Lose Their Own Lives in Firefight with Police.”

“Beautiful,” Tyrone said. He bestowed as little credit as possible because he knew hatching a grand scheme plan was child’s play for the two professionals he would spot for in Berlin.

Seth felt the need to contribute by this point. He had patiently waited for a good time to jump in.

“Mossad will of course know Baruch and I were the agents on the hit squad. Furthermore, they will believe the part of the official story that confirms our recorded time of death.”

“Or so we hope,” Tyrone said using his gravelly voice. “Otherwise…we’s gots a you-know-what storm headed our way.”

“That’s out of the question,” Seth firmly corrected him.

Tyrone shrugged. “For both of your sakes, I hope your right.”

“Hey, you’re a big part of this too,” Baruch said rather testily. “They’ll come after you as sure as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West.”

Tyrone merely tipped his head back to finish off the dregs in his cup. His hand which previously clutched the stein’s handle brought the glass down against the table with an abruptness that rattled everything to the core, nearly spilling the other men’s drinks over.

Tyrone didn’t apologize for his last actions either; instead, he picked his empty beer stein up and raised it high. “To our success!” he toasted.

The others reciprocated the action yet murmured the same message less enthusiastically.

Barcelona, Spain

Moisture mixed in with blood, sweat and tears to form the German scent of attrition. Cell 3a was rife with the smell.

Wendel and Amalia would break in a matter of time. Days, hours…even minutes. Their fortitude seemed better than the interrogation techniques used thus far. But things were far from over.

The endurance of the two detainees put Alfonso in a rare mood. He did his best not to show it. There were times he’d feel the phone in his pocket. He knew all he’d have to do is give the walkie button on it three clicks. Help would be on the way. Aflonso and whomever came calling in response to his signal could tag-team the Germans all day.

However, again, the garbage circumstances that had precipitated the cloudy atmosphere were too far along for a storm not to break out at any given moment. One more nettling comment or lack thereof following a question that needed a truthful answer and that’s all it would take to negatively charge the ions and bring on the lightning.

It’s so good we’re in an intimate, high containment cell. If I snap, it’ll be an easier mess to clean up, Alfonso demurred.

Suddenly his pocket vibrated. New information hopefully. Maybe even a little leverage to make Wendel and Amalia sing.

Two thumbnail portrait shots lit up the central screen on the device when Alfonso took a time-out to respond to the interruption.

The first image had the caption, “Amalia’s best friend, Edda Hartmann.” Alfonso stayed disciplined long enough for his mind to take a quick snapshot of the ravishing woman staring back at him from the screen. Her brilliant coffee-colored eyes were the focal point of a sculpted face with sweeping cheekbones, a nubby point for a chin, and an elongated crown topped by a stylish blonde updo.

The other image had much worse resolution than the first, yet it was unmistakably a male, forties. Fritz Ritter, Wendel’s poker friend, the caption read.

Fritz looked tired in the photo. His features weren’t anything that’d make him stick out in a crowd, but rather quite the opposite. His mousse-colored hair fell across his brow in a layered crop cut.

“You know what I have here?” Alfonso spoke with his head bowed and the phone now resting on the table within arm’s length from where he sat.

The Germans waited with bated breath.

“Let me show you,” he said turning the phone around, waking it from its screensaver.

The first photo to appear in the slideshow was Amalia’s friend, Edda.

Instant recognition glinted in her eyes. Amalia’s free legs started to thrash.

“No, no! You can’t harm her!”

“That would be your choice, now wouldn’t it?” Alfonso eyed her coldly.

The German woman avoided all eye contact at these words. She uttered curses under her breath in her native tongue.

Wendel tried to console her. However it had no effect on the woman in distress.

Alfonso turned his gaze to Wendel. “I have a picture for you too! I didn’t want you to feel left out, you see.”

Wendel didn’t want to look at the screen, yet he somehow forced himself to look downward. Anger seized him.

He swore out of desperation. “If we answer one of your damn questions, then what?”

Alfonso grew slightly hopeful. He carefully checked his expectations though with the Germans’ track record from the last two hours of interrogation. He’d give them both failing grades for cooperation thus far. But perhaps now he finally had them in his corner.

Their heart rate is up significantly. Both the man and woman, a calm voice watching the Germans’ vitals said from deep within Agent Marcello’s ear canal.

He interpreted the message in one way: now was as good a time as there would ever be to get somewhere.

“If you make a call for me to whomever it is you liaise with from Scorpion, then we can talk about your freedom.”

“What about Edda?” an ornery Amalia demanded rather sternly.

Alfonso smiled at her spunk. “I don’t think you have position to talk with me that way missy.”

Suddenly there was a hasty exchange of whispers between Wendel and Amalia.

Alfonso looked from his left to right. “Well? What have you decided it’ll be?”

Wendel took it upon himself to be the spokesman. “We will make this call. But after we’re cleaned up and offered a meal.”
p. The answer wasn’t entirely remarkable. Alfonso contained his excitement over the progress. His face hadn’t changed for the last five minutes. “I suppose that could be arranged.”

“What happens now?” Amalia asked.

“I get the communications gear ready, eat my meal, and then maybe let the cook know to save a couple of plates for you guys,” he said turning to leave.

When he got a foot away from exiting, the door opened outward for him. “Sit tight, kids,” he said through an ear-to-ear grin.

[]Chapter 13

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Jabour had signed, sealed, and delivered. Securing the spaceport in the capitol of the UIC would be instrumental to the Mahdi’s plans. In anticipation of King Kahlil’s yes, Howard’s fleet of spaceships eagerly waited in spacedock for their upgrade and ordinance.

Unless the FRN or the Israelis freed Damion and Christophe from the Ozarks, the only hope for the world would die in a Scorpion maximum security facility deep underground.

The stars were aligning just so for Howard to take his seat of power over his world-wide kingdom. No mere mortals could possibly stand in his way of his lifelong plans for a new world order.

Maxwell, also known as Jabour in the Middle East, had run his campaign beautifully. He thoroughly convinced the clerics and even the king himself the Mahdi was coming….A half-truth. Nevertheless, a demigod like the Mahdi would indeed establish his rule in New Babylon—Sector Three (D.C.).

The celebratory dinner came and went. The lamb, rice pilaf, roasted red pepper humus with a basket of piping hot pitas, and garden-fresh salads…all gradually passed.

Jabour dabbed the corners of his mouth with the cloth napkin from his place setting. Several strokes later he dropped the used-up napkin over his plate. He looked to each of the leading clerics and addressed them by their first names, one at a time.

“….Thank you so much for accompanying me on my palace run,” he smiled broadly. “As a token of my appreciation, I will mention your names to the Mahdi. He will reward you for your devotion and faith to the cause.”

This elicited an overflow of obligatory thank-you’s from each of the religious leaders. Shortly afterwards they watched with unhinged jaws as Jabour abruptly got up without another word and disappear into the throngs of hungry patrons still waiting to be seated.

That would be their last time they ever saw him.

[]Epilogue

A hastily crafted plan didn’t necessarily mean swift success. Failure could come even quicker. Time was one thing the agents in this mission didn’t have much of.

The parking garage the Interior Minister of Germany’s motor pool used would be where the hit occurred. Baruch volunteered to be the driver of Sofia’s heavily armored limousine. Seth would be the one to pull the trigger and start the series of events. Baruch would then punch it when the bullets started zinging. The interior minister would predictably try to get the driver’s attention to give him instruction where to go. Once the partition separating the front of the limo from the passenger area went down, that’s when Sofia would realize she had been done in.

And Tyrone? He would be quarterbacking the efforts from his mobile office—the SUV. Not only would he pay attention to the police frequencies, but also every applicable CCTV camera over the major intersections along the decided route Baruch would take with Sofia’s limo.

Twenty-four hours whizzed by. Same room, inside the belly of the white whale. Three high-pitch whistles in a period of a minute sounded. A weird substance waiting in tubes on the side of the big white machine suddenly began to be sucked up like a straw. Green gas slowly vented into the chamber where Azriel lay dormant.

The monitor that recorded in real-time the thirteen-year-old’s vital signs started acting up. The boy’s heart rate climbed back up towards normal. The green line on the EEG machine squiggled up and down like a seismogram graph recording an underground tremor.

Stacy had almost fallen asleep in an armchair ten feet across from Azriel.

The once-tranquil environment suddenly filled with unfamiliar noises caused her eyelids to flutter, her head to stir.

“Huh, wha—“ she softly murmured, beginning to rise from her place of slumber.

Once her vision adjusted to the dark room her focus shifted to a screen which displayed the operation’s progress. It literally just moved from ninety-nine percent to done when her stare found it.

Stacy touched her heart at what she saw. Electricity surged throughout her body. The moment had finally arrived. The manufactured family would soon all be together. Everything had gone to script. So far.

The door to the miracle machine banged open with little to no warning. Any leftover gas now dissipated into the operating room in a fog.

Azriel rose halfway up from the gurney.

His eyes burned brighter than before. His skin even had a glow to it. When the boy looked to his right and saw Stacy, the first thing he said was, “Mom, where’s dad?”

The imaginary grocery bags slipped from her slack arms and crashed to the floor. The stunning message sucker-punched Stacy, almost causing her to double over. A new reality had dawned.

At that very moment intense rays from the morning sunrise penetrated the window blinds and set the whole room awash in its radiance.

A gentle knock on the door made Stacy whirl. “Who is it?” her voice trembled a little.

A familiar voice came over the intercom, “Just open it.”

Too her surprise, Azriel was already at the door compliantly turning the door handle per the man’s instructions.

There Ephraim Markov stood, sporting a warm smile, his eyes sparkling like black diamonds.

“Welcome to Masada, son.”

End of Part 1


The Great Deception

It's the follow-up to an explosive start Zero Hour, Shifting Power laid down in the Before the End Series. The Great Deception opens up with a skirmish in the skies over Westover Complex. Operation Switchblade is in full swing over Sector Six airspace. Meanwhile President Alexander Toporvsky along with his National Security Council of the Free Republic of North America safely watch the pandemonium over Western LA from the safe confines of an underground bunker known as The Basement deep below FRN's capital in Honolulu. On the other side of the world throughout the Middle East the effects of what's happening in the Western Hemisphere are felt in a variety of ways. The United Islamic Caliphate and their leader, King Rehan Kahlil, still await their coming messiah, the Mahdi. A messenger named Jabour suddenly comes with news for the king that the Mahdi is indeed walking the face of the earth and that he will establish his kingdom very soon--with one small catch. In Israel the story follows the Markov family through the lives of thirteen-year-old Azriel, his father Seth Markov, and an evil uncle Ephraim who has nefarious purposes for his nephew. How will this tale with its many twists and turns end? Many exciting and diverse subplots each with separate timelines all coalesce together to make up the mosaic of the Before the End Series.

  • ISBN: 9781370746880
  • Author: davidberko
  • Published: 2016-08-24 19:35:13
  • Words: 47354
The Great Deception The Great Deception