Serenity: Full Circle – Chapters 28 and 29

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

The Turkey Shoot

By midnight the next night, a Blackhawk helicopter containing Jon and Bob landed on the deck of the U.S.S. Markel, a Guided Missile Frigate.  Cliff and Dara remained at Osan. The ship was located ten miles off the coast of the South Korean peninsula just southeast of Seoul, in the Yellow Sea.  The plan was to cruise 250 miles around the west coast of North Korea, to a location 50 miles off the coast, and 85 miles to the west-southwest of Pyongyang.  This would be the jumping off point for the mission.  Right after the helicopter departed, the two drones with Marc and Akil at the controls, landed.

During the transit overnight, the team got some much-needed shuteye.  At the mission briefing the next day, Jon pulled out all the stops. He had full, detailed satellite photos of the parade area including the position of the review seating area.  During the meeting, a live satellite feed of Pyongyang came up on the big screen. Jon pointed out a small soccer stadium almost straight in-line with the review seating.  The soccer field had stadium stands with a large parapet roof elevated over 100 feet. The field was 1.86 miles (2,990 meters) from the target position.  The brother in-law of the contact on the ground, was the manager of the field and also the secondary contact.  The information that Jon had was that the field was in disrepair and had not been used for six or eight months. The entire civilian work force had been diverted from civil work, commandeered to prepare for the Fat Boy’s coronation of sorts.  Nobody actually knows what the parade is for, but that the Fat Boy wants it.

As they studied the maps, the flight route revealed itself.  The Korea Bay is a natural inlet where the Taedong River spills into the Yellow Sea at Namp`o.  With the exceptions of a few twists and turns, it leads directly to and through Pyongyang.  The river gorge is a natural fly way for migratory birds. The flight in at nighttime was a given.  Flying at an altitude that would allow them to both see the river below, but high enough to avoid both the vision and ears of the civilian population, would be an optimum situation.  The one real advantage was that the drones, being tubular, had a radar reflection of a flock of birds at most and had absolutely no heat signal at all.  Arriving at the city, finding the stadium at night, would not be too difficult using the night vision capabilities of the integrated helmet.

At midnight, they all met on the Hilo flight deck. Bob had outfitted the drones with extra battery packs. The weight factors were negligible considering the hybrid design.  This would add a life line to the mission’s success potential.  Bob was on the ship’s intercom talking to an Ensign in the conning tower.  The conversation was about the latest weather observations.  Jon could tell by the expression on Bob’s face, something was up.  When he was finished with his conversation, he moved the mic away from his mouth, and said, “Jon, we have a marine layer moving in up the river, it’s a 500-foot ceiling now, but it going to drop even further. If we go now, they’re going to get their feet wet before they get to Pyongyang.”  Jon, turning back to Marc and Akil said, “Guys, you heard him; it your decision.”  Just then, Bob cut in saying, “There’s one other way to go about this.  If I program the flight computer, it can take them over the mountains. The highest peek out there is only 400 to 500 foot, tops.  That’s only in one place, the rest is sub-100 foot.  Akil, looking a Marc, said, “I’m game.” Marc just smiled.  Bob was already plugging in his lap top to one of the drone’s data link ports.  Before 0100 hours, they were strapped in and ready to lift off.  As they disappeared into the fog, Jon chimed in on their frequency saying, “I want to see both of you back here this time tomorrow; no excuses.”

After ten minutes of flight, it was almost difficult to stay awake.  The vibration of the craft combined with the drone of the electric motors and no visual stimulation created a surrealistic experience.  The only activity that had any meaning was the heads-up display in the helmets.  The satellite down link was feeding a topographical map to the helmet display, based on their GPS location. Marc was thinking to himself, it was one thing to have an automobile’s computer direct you in traffic, but quite a different matter to have it fly you through pea soup.

The air speed read out was indicating sixty mph, evidently the Bluetooth contact avoidance units were doing their job, he hadn’t seen Akil since lift off.  There was no problem with anyone picking up the radio com between them, it was a modified Bluetooth channel with a max range of 200 feet. Just the same they kept the talk to a minimum.  One hour and fifteen minutes into the mission, the lights of the capitol began illuminating the sky directly ahead of them.

As they approached, they gained altitude but remained under the threshold that the migratory bird flocks maneuvered within.  Now over the actual city, the clouds were broken and visual gaps were prevalent.  The city was not bright like most others, it was easy to see that electricity used fuel, and fuel was a strained commodity in the north.  This, luckily, was one more thing to take advantage of.

The arrival time was set at 0230 hours to meet the contact.  They were to land on the roof of the grandstand, within an area, surrounded by a parapet.  The contact had a portable Bluetooth transceiver with a pinging beacon at equal range.  They were to both descend as quickly as possible, in tandem; the less noise and time, the better.  The Korean contact’s name was Han-bin.  He was the overseer of the stadium grounds and was chosen to be there for their arrival.  Using a flashlight with a green shroud over the lens, he was to flash it skyward three times in quick secession, as an all clear signal, after keying the Bluetooth radio beacon.  The infrared night vision goggles built in to the helmets were extremely effective.  They could both clearly see that the contact was alone, and that no other heat signals were present anywhere in the vicinity.  They dropped down from 150 feet above the roof very rapidly flaring out just before making contact with the roof, then hitting the kill switches as quick as possible once touchdown was achieved.  The silence was almost deafening, minus the constant droning.  This, along with the feeling that they had just experienced a two-hour full body massage, resulted in Akil was finding it a bit difficult to walk with a regular gait.

Once out of their equipment, the man approached them cautiously, not saying a word.  Marc, reaching out his hand in a gesture to shake hands, was instead greeted with a shallow bow, and a smile.  After a minute, it was obvious the man could not speak a word of English.  Marc repeated Han-bin’s name several times, before he began to acknowledge it with a head gesture and moving his hand to his chest, indicating that it was him.  Marc then said the name of the primary contact, Myung-hoon.  The man, pointing to his watch, held up his hand displaying four fingers.  Marc was hoping that he was referring to four a.m. rather than p.m., as the parade was to take place at 10:00 a.m. the next morning.  They would know soon enough; it was now slightly after 0300 hundred hours.  Han scampered away, then returned carrying a large bundled tarp, nearly half his size.  They helped him unfurl it, then covered both drones.  Ten meters away from the parked drones was, what appeared to be a utility shack.  Following Han’s lead, they moved their equipment to the shed.

Marc, using his rifle scope at the edge of the parapet, braced it and focused in on the parade square.  The area was immense, wide open and only two buildings were remotely in the flight path to the viewing area.  He had seen pictures of prior events in the square, but the sheer enormity was lost in translation.  As he tweaked the adjustments on the scope, the primary viewing box revealed itself.  Even at this hour, two guards stood next to the large double door opening up onto the viewing veranda.  He could now see, at best, an upper torso would be the only exposed targets available.

A few minutes later, he heard footsteps approaching across the rooftop.  Looking up, a vague image of two men began to resolve out of the darkness.  Akil, now sitting with his back to the parapet, got to his feet quickly, placing his hand on his side arm.  Sound from the two men talking was muffled, but it was obvious, Korean was the spoken language.  As their vision began to clear, it was evident that one of the two men was Han-bin.  As they walked up, Han pointing to the other man said, “Myung-hoon; Myung-hoon.”

Marc, not knowing for sure how to greet the man, nodded his head with a gesture of a bow, saying, “Myung-hoon.”  To his complete surprise, the man answered in near perfect English, remarking, “Mr. Bracken, your deeds precede you.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.”  Then, looking a Akil, he said, “And, you, sir, are?” Akil answered, stating his name proudly.  Myung looking at the rifle, now propped up on the parapet wall said, “Marc?  May I call you ‘Marc?’  Just how accurate are you with this amazing rifle? I will be sitting on that balcony when the event unfolds.  It’s a very long distance.  Well, you understand, do you not?”  Marc’s response was, “Just don’t stand closer than three feet from the Fat Boy.”  Myung’s North Korean indoctrination showed, as he raised his hand to cover his mouth, shielding his amusement at Marc’s comment.  Now Marc was a bit torn between saying anything about Major General Kwan, his primary target.  He asked Myung’s opinion of Kwan.  His reply was quick, with a look of distain, saying, “He is egotistic and ruthless, without measure.”  He also added that he would be standing next to Fat Boy, on his left. This solved Marc’s quandary in an instant.  At this point, he went on to tell him of the plan to eliminate the both of them.  Myung asked why Kwan was also a target.  Marc’s reply was, that he owed a very good friend a debt that needed repayment.  Myung did not understand, but did not inquire further.

The questions that Marc had for Myung were many and varied.  Things, such as how long the event may last, and what angle the sun would be in the sky as the parade went on.  He knew that the sound of the rifle would not be heard over the crowd.  However, he was not so sure about the surrounding area.  Myung assured him that the extremely few people that were not either in the parade, or at the proceedings, would think it was just part of the usual fireworks that are common at day, around the event.

It was nearing 0500 hours when Myung and Han departed for the parade site.  Both Marc and Akil tried to cat nap under the tarp covering the drones.  By 0830 hours, the noise from the parade area was beginning to filter out to their position.  A massive crowd was already present and hundreds of vehicles scurried around.  According to Myung, the parade itself would be a three-phase event. First would come the men’s military marching units, then the female units.  Second, would be the civilian groups. Then, the third and last, would be the wheeled weapons, tanks and rocket launchers and truck loads of soldiers, saluting.  This would be the prime time for the take down.  Most of the antiquated track vehicles do not have rubberized pads to protect the roadways, as European and U.S. units do, so the noise would be at the threshold level.  Nightfall was around 1900 hours.  They would wait until at least an hour or so after that, before taking to the air.

The loudspeakers were now blaring propaganda rhetoric at a level that could cause bleeding eardrums.  Both Marc and Akil were busy, constructing a shooting blind, after moving the drones close to the parapet’s edge.  They used the large canvas to bridge the drones.  This created a covered area large enough for both to have a shooters position with overhead visual protection.  Akil collected foliage debris, which was prevalent on the roof from the surrounding trees.  He spread it over the canvas, making it to appear as though it had been there for some time.  After completing this and moving back under the blind, the parade had begun.

The scopes were doing their job; they could easily make out the Fat Boy, and Marc’s indelible memory of Kwan, rendered him identifiable in an instant.  Jon had asked for Marc to be the one to target the Fat Boy, but he and Akil had changed that decision.  Marc had a mandated duty to perform, and some things such as this, were not negotiable.

As they watched and waited, some of the things that were being displayed got Marc’s creative juices flowing.  Like the mere fact that this self-proclaimed, child-king, was driven by sheer ego.  If a world power really wanted to take him to his knees, all that was needed was to wait for a day, like today.  One Cruise Missile, with a limited 5 Kilo-ton yield could take out seventy-five percent or more of the DPRK’s military and 99% of the ruling party, including the Fat Boy.  All this exposure for his child-like ego.

They rehearsed the firing sequence several times.  Akil would fire first, with a one second delay, then Marc.  During the first segment of the parade, the Fat Boy gave a speech that continued for over an hour, delayed by cheers several times. By the time the marching units had finished, Marc had revised his earlier estimate, maybe all the army was here for the parade.

The sun had now moved overhead and was shading the review area where the politicians were standing.  Between their position and the target, Marc could see no less than six flags of varying size and color.  Once again, taking advantage of one’s environment is a given.   He could tell that, at most, he had a constant three to five mile-per-hour breeze, left to right.  He entered the information into the handheld firing computer, then corrected his scope with two clicks of left deflection. The air temperature was stable at 81o.  The elevation was equilateral, however Marc adjusted the scope one negative click.  This was to compensate for the rising heat signature, generated by twenty-five thousand-plus participating parade civilians, standing beneath the last 500 meters of the bullets’ flightpath.

The tracked armaments were now rolling by, in front of the review area.  They both settled into their firing positions and began to synchronize, using a down count starting at five, called out by Marc. As he said the number “two,” Akil stopped the count; there was movement on the veranda’s right side, adjacent to the primary.  The man moved next to Fat Boy, saying something into his ear.  He then moved off, and exited the viewing platform into the building.  Akil spoke, saying, “Re-set.”  Marc started the count again. “Five, four, three, two, at one!”  Akil fired, with Marc following suit one second later.

Akil, drawing from all the reserves that were at hand, held the scope’s laser on the Fat Boy’s center of mass. A millisecond later, the wall behind him turned a bright crimson red.  The upper torso of the Fat Boy that had been in view, quite simply disappeared.  Before Akil or Marc could react, the second bullet arrived at its destination.  It was slightly high, but just as effective, as Kwan’s head exploded, like a ripe watermelon.  They both withdrew their rifles and dropped down, settling in for the interim.  Marc looking over at Akil, with glistening eyes said, “Don’t ever let them tell ya that revenge isn’t worth it.”

At first, there was a strange silence, as the crowd was trying to grasp what had happened.  Then, the silence was overtaken by the wailing and jeers, as they began to comprehend what had just happened.  Over the next hour, the sky filled with aircraft.  The streets began to repopulate, surprisingly not with so much military, as with the civilian population.  Everything near the square, appeared to be in total chaos; the perfect order of the prior assembly, now seemingly devoid. Closer to the river, across which the bullets traveled, they could see high-rise buildings being searched; they were more than a mile away from their position.  It would appear that they could not fathom the reality, that the shots had originated from such a distance.  It was clear now, no one had reported seeing anything in their vicinity.

Back on the U.S.S. Markel, Jon and Bob were already hearing news reports of a major event coming out of the country but, as yet, nothing with respect to Fat Boy.  Jon received an encrypted message from the Company requesting information as the disposition of the mission team.  He had no reply, as yet; they were due back on the ship around 2200 hours.  Ten minutes later, a message from Cliff with Dara’s fingerprints all over it, came in.  It seemed that South Korea was on full alert.  All along the northern border, small weapons fire was being reported.  As yet, nothing seemed like an organized event.  The entire D.M.Z. along the entire 38th parallel, was lit up with search lights and troop movements.  Jon, using an encrypted satellite communications system, told them what he knew, which was effectively nothing.  He had expected this to ruffle some feathers, just how many was the question. Over the next few hours nothing seemed to change, the news was strangely quiet, considering what he was hoping, had happened.

In Pyongyang, the sun had set thirty minutes earlier; both men had been busy checking out the batteries’ charge status and preparing their individual drones.  Before lifting off, they checked and re-checked all equipment, making sure everything was accounted for, right down to the spent rifle casings.  Nothing was to be left to chance.  Now, with the western horizon totally dark, they suited up and moved quickly through their preflight check list, and then strapped in.  They opted for full flight control until they were fully clear of the city.  After one last visual of the air space around them, Marc lifted off, followed by Akil.  As they circled around slowly gaining altitude, as to emulate a flock of birds rising, Marc could see a lot of activity on the streets.  Once they had reached two-hundred and sixty feet, they leveled off and tracked toward the river.  Everything seemed to be going well at this point.  Reaching the river, they turned to the south and maintained speed at a migratory altitude.

The lights of the city now behind them, they both toggled the autopilot switch, then took a collective deep breath.  If all went well, they would see the coastline below them in approximately thirty minutes.  The night was devoid of the low clouds and mist they had experienced the night before.  Marc was now looking down at the Taedong river, when small red flashing light appeared on the heads-up display. At first, he had to concentrate to comprehend why it was there.  The light signaled that an over-write was being entered into the auto-flight path mechanism.  They had been briefed on the possibility.  Bob had been monitoring the telemetries from the ship, and when they had switched to auto-flight, he made the decision to modify the flight plan.  They could both now feel the drones banking to the west away from the river over the foothills.  Both had studied the topography in the area and knew the turn would hasten the return trip.  Fifteen minutes later, they could see the coastline, almost directly below them.

As they moved past it, their attention was quickly drawn to tracer bullets passing by in close proximity. The gun fire was from no less than three different positions along the beach.  They both switched to manual control and angulated the drones to full-forward momentum pushing them to the absolute limits of the craft’s capability.  A minute later the gun-fire had ceased; neither had taken any hits. After five more minutes, they returned to auto-flight control.  In ten minutes, they would be over international waters and both would breathe easier.

As things settled down, the view was reminiscent of the deck at Serenity on a balmy night.  The thoughts brought back the memories of when he and Eyan were the team.  The door to then was now, only half-shut; the last man standing was now in Marc’s sights.

It had been almost twenty minutes since passing over the coastline, both he and Akil were ready to get some rest, it had been 48 hours on a cat nap at this point.  According to the heads-up, the E.T.A. was ten minutes out.  Marc flipped the switch on the Bluetooth com and said, “Hey, buddy, I’m buyin.’  Does a cold one sound good?”  But, before Akil could answer, Marc’s drone violently dipped and shuddered, as an air-to-air missile, streaked by, nearly touching his leg.  They both switched back to manual control again and started evasive maneuvers.  Akil was able to catch sight of the perpetrator as he veered to the right, banking hard.  It was an attack helicopter, overtaking them at twice their airspeed.  As it passed, the turbulence was horrific.

Akil pulled out his G17, but was severely limited as he was flying with his right hand and typically used that hand to shoot with.  As the chopper was turning around, Akil keyed the com-link, and said, “Switch to auto-flight, at least we can shoot back.” Marc keyed his receiver twice, in response. What he didn’t say was how he regretted Dara’s advice.  Firing a Glock 380 at an attack gunship, even an old one like this, is like pissing up wind – it’s not very satisfying. As soon as the chopper had leveled off, both he and Akil, started firing as fast as they could.  With the aid of their infrared helmet display they could actually see the bullets sparking as they ricocheted off the craft.  They were both in the process of returning to manual flight, when the gunship exploded into a ball of flame. Luckily, they were not in close proximity to the blast, but could hear various pieces of the aircraft hurtling by.  They both put the drones into a maximum climb rate to avoid any other possible debris.  As the fireball subsided, they could the ship’s lights about two miles, directly ahead of them.  They were cleared for touch down five minutes later.

During the debriefing, both sides of the table had a myriad of questions.  The first from Marc was, “What’s the official line on shooting down a North Korean gunship?”  The ship’s Captain, sitting across the table, remarked, “Simple. While in international waters, during a regular patrol of the north China Sea, an unidentified military aircraft approaching at night, was deemed a threat after firing a missile and numerous automatic weapons at or near the U.S.S. Markel. The aircraft was neutralized in response to the imminent threat.”  The missile that nearly grazed Marc’s leg had continued on toward the ship.  The ship’s auto defensive systems had activated the Phalanx, CIWS, (Close In Weapons System) destroying the missile.  The second question from Akil was, “What was the fall-out from the events in Pyongyang?”  The answer was more than interesting.  The wire services were reporting that Major General Yeon Kwan had been responsible for the briefcase bomb that had killed the Fat Boy, and he had been executed, immediately, on the spot, by the senior military personnel present at the event.  The country was now in an official state of mourning.  Akil said, “The people really just accepted that, after what they saw?”  Jon’s answer was, “Akil, they never question the official governmental statement; you don’t do that in the North.”  Akil continued on, “It also seems like people in the western world weren’t the only people happy to see this asshole disappear.” Jon said, “We received a brief encrypted message from Myung-hoon. All it said was, “All is good, thank you.” All around the table, people were smiling, but none more than Marc.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Now, There Were Two

Twenty-four hours later, the ship had returned to just off the coast, where they had started.  A helicopter landed on the flight deck exchanging Cliff, for Jon, Akil, and Marc.  Back at Osan, Dara was more than relieved to see the duo safe and sound, as they disembarked from the chopper.  As she walked up to them, she high-fived both, before asking, “Did ya get ’em?” The reply was, “We got ’em both,” from Marc, as he gave her a hug.

Around the dinner table that evening, Marc asked, “Jon, what do we have on this white guy you’re helping us with?”  Jon was more than surprised, saying, “Whoa, I haven’t filed my report on this mission, yet.”  Marc’s reply was, “You’d best get on it, cause we’re in the air tomorrow and your ass is ours until we get this guy.”  He said it with a slight smile, but Jon knew he wasn’t kidding.

Before noon, they were aboard the G150 taxiing for takeoff to Madrid, Spain. They had been in contact with Aston Stiles at Martin’s Villa De Martini.  He had, with Martin’s connections, managed to collect more information on the data that was at the crux of the assault on the facility in Sweden.  From the conversation, the primary factor that he was able to glean was there was no overt connection between Viktor Karlsson, and the primary perpetrator behind it all.

Arriving in Madrid, Stiles had sent a car to pick them up at the airport. They were now at Villa De Martini; it was almost like home to Marc and Dara, and for Akil, in a lesser fashion.  Jon, on the other hand, was most certainly not used to the opulence.  They were all given rooms by the pool. Dara and Marc had their old casa right on the back side the main pool.  Akil and Jon had one on each side of theirs.  Jon was not as exhausted as the rest, which worked out fine.  There was plenty of paperwork, then there was the matter of tracking down Viktor Karlsson and honoring the commitment that had been promised by the Company early on in the alliance.  Some down time was in order, but by the next afternoon the prerequisite of sleep had been fulfilled. Marc and Dara had spent their time wisely and had renewed a relational vow – much needed by both.

They were all hanging out around the pool at three in the afternoon the next day, while Martin was at a conference on global warming he would return the following day. Stiles, now joining them from the main villa for a reunion of sorts, began by asking if the shakeup in North Korea had their fingerprints on it.  He was half-joking, until he noticed their surprise.  His reaction was a casual, “No shit?”  He had worked with the team in the past but was still taken a bit off guard at this realization.  He was formally introduced to Jon, and the conversation continued.  The information Stiles brought to the table, helped them understand the reason for the Sweden raid.  He laid it out in the order in which Martin’s contact had offered it.  Antwan Lagos who had perished at the hands of the Serenity team aboard the ship Orion’s Cradle almost a year and a half prior, was replaced in the hierarchy by Viktor Karlsson, upon his demise.  Now the missing piece was who is at the top of the food chain.

Once Martin was able to ascertain what had been taken in the data theft, the footprints led back to his Die-Hex corporate branch, and the security coding of the NCC-5.  This special coding was a breakthrough in security management; it was placed all around the globe to protect financial institutions, as well as major corporate intellectual properties and museums.  The NCC-5 can protect data from electronic theft and physical theft when set up on vault doors or entry ways.  But, in this case at Martin’s data center, it was defeated by the fact that they took the physical container of the data from behind the armed security personnel, circumventing its base structure.

The information in the data block that had been taken, was partial, at best.  Martin had said to Stiles, “It would take a flat-out genius to retrieve it, and then make use of it.”  Stiles continued on by saying that Martin, using his pull with Europol, has all the European countries using facial recognition at borders, large civil events and all centers of transportation searching for Karlsson.  Nothing has surfaced as yet, but with this type of surveillance, something was bound to show up – hopefully sooner, rather than later.  Marc, hesitant to say anything about Jon’s employer, was shocked as Jon threw his cards on the table, adding that his connections at the Company had reported sightings of the man twice in the last 48 hours.  The first, in the small lakeside community of Nora, to the west of Stockholm, Sweden.  Then, late last night, an unsubstantiated report, in a suburb of Helsinki, Finland.

The majority of the effort to locate Karlsson was now centered in and around Helsinki.  At this point, the Company seemed to be holding up its side of the bargain that Marc and Jon had struck, prior to the Korean event.

It was now five in the afternoon.  Stiles had the villa chef and his crew move out to the pool area cooking facility.  The conversation was flowing freely, in general; the group, as a whole, needed some down time while they waited for news of Karlsson.  Stiles opened the wine cellar and was now playing bartender in the sunken bar next to the pool.  As the night set in, everyone was truly relaxing and even Jon’s lighter side became evident.  He was, as they discovered, intuitively amusing.  His comedic timing was impeccable as he recounted some of his lighter, prior escapades with the Agency.  After an amazing meal, they were all deep in conversation when Stiles’ phone rang.  He answered, and then the talking stopped.  Martin was on the line.  Stiles listened for a short while, and then said, “We’ll pick you up in Barcelona.  I’ll text you with an ETA as soon as we’re on our way.”  As soon as he put the phone down, he looked up, saying, “We have multiple confirmed sightings in Helsinki.”  After a short meeting of the minds, they decided to regroup in two hours and head out to the airport; Stiles flying Martin’s G-280, and the Serenity group in the G150.  After leaving Barcelona Martin and Stiles were to meet up with the group in Helsinki.

The eastern sky was showing a slight glimmer of the new day, as Marc reached up, toggling the landing gear switch.  Dara and Jon began to awaken in the aft cabin, as the gear doors opened, and the wheels extended.  Twenty minutes later, all four were walking across the tarmac to the private air terminal.  They were finishing their breakfast in the terminal, when Stiles, Martin and his second-seat pilot, walked in.  Martin’s security team from Stockholm had arrived just after midnight.  As the group exited the facility, the four-man security team was there to greet them with two large SUVs for transportation.  The most recent reports had Karlsson at a location in the northwest quadrant of the city.  As they drove to the area, the senior security member was briefing the team.  Street video cameras had recorded him at a drugstore and also a housing complex nearby.

Dara and Akil volunteered to watch the drugstore, while Marc and Jon began surveillance at the last-reported sighting within the housing complex.  Martin and Stiles, along with two of the security team members, were parked in the area and were constantly monitoring Europol’s com link.  The other two members of the security team were walking the area, searching for Karlsson on foot.  By late afternoon, everyone was growing both anxious and tired.  This was a recipe for disaster if things were to get ugly.  A plan was set to break off the surveillance at 10:00 p.m., providing nothing had developed by then.  The important thing that was drilled into everyone involved, was that Karlsson was needed alive.

Just before 8:00 p.m., everyone’s coms came alive; one of the security detail members had spotted Karlsson walking toward the drugstore.  As he turned the corner and was walking up the street, Jon and Marc arrived in the area.  They assumed he was returning to the drugstore, however, he stopped short and entered an Italian restaurant.  He took a seat in the back of the room, facing the door.  Jon said, “He’s no beginner – someone has trained him.  His pistol is on the table to his right side, under the newspaper, and he didn’t sit back there because he likes the kitchen noise.”

Marc, in talking to Martin, asked him to have his security detail stay in the vehicles, unless called upon.  After some gruff mumblings, the detail complied.  Marc didn’t want anybody getting gun-happy.  Marc and Akil, now paired up, walked past the restaurant and up the street, paying no attention to Karlsson.  Jon and Dara, working as a couple, were prepared now to approach from the opposing direction.  One of the SUVs was parked across the street with a view of the interior of the restaurant and had the ability to keep tabs on Karlsson.  Now they waited.

Forty minutes had passed, when the com units crackled to life.  Stiles said, “He’s on the move, approaching the cashier.”  Whichever way he turned outside the restaurant, they were prepared.  It was almost nine in the evening, when he stepped out of the building and turned back in the direction from which he had come.  Jon and Dara were approaching from the frontal position; Marc and Akil portraying two over-indulged drinking partners, talking loudly, walking behind him in an effort to draw was much attention away from the obvious frontal take-down.  Just as he approached Dara and Jon, Marc yelled out his name.  Karlsson spun around, raising his hand with a gun already in it.  But, before he could fire it, Jon, using a telescopic steel baton, and summoning all the power he could muster, swung it around, smashing it against Karlsson’s right arm, causing him to drop the firearm.  Dara, using a move from her Europol days, kicked his upper thigh just above the back of the knee, causing him to drop to his knees.  She stepped forward, placing a head-lock around his neck, as Jon secured the firearm.  He struggled for a short while before passing out from lack of oxygen.  Before Dara released him, Marc was standing at her side, pulling his hands back behind his back, and placing handcuffs on him.  Two of the security detail quickly moved him to the back of the SUV and secured him to the rear seat mount bolted to the floor as he regained consciousness.

Thirty minutes later, they were entering one of Martin’s warehouses near the West Harbour, Munkkisaari docks.  Marc asked Martin to release his security detail, and then suggested that perhaps he and Stiles would be better off at some other location for a while.  Both men understood the innuendo and took leave of the situation.

They were now sequestered in a small office in the corner of a rather large warehouse. Victor Karlsson was strapped to an old-style, oak office chair.  There was no one in the facility as it was off-season for shell fish.  Akil and Dara had been babysitting the man, while Marc and Jon had acquired some tools from the machine shop.  Upon returning to the office, Marc sat down directly in front of Karlsson and with a glaring look, said, “Viktor!  That smarmy smile of yours!  Where has it gone?  You remember, that look you had on your face as the chopper lifted off from the Die/Hex data facility outside of Stockholm.  You do remember, don’t you?”  Viktor’s response was gruff, curt and loud. “What do you want from me?”  Marc and Viktor’s dialogue carried on:

“Everything, Viktor!  Who were you working for?”

“I work for myself.”

“Viktor, I don’t think for one second that you even know what that NCC-5 code can do – or better yet – how to modify it.”

“We are all professionals here.  What do you want?  I can pay you more than that company will pay you.  How much?”

“Viktor, you have one chance to not end up like your buddy, Kwan.  Tell us who’s behind this, or you will die – very slowly.”

Marc reached out to Jon, as he handed Marc a battery-powered Senco finish nailer.  He turned toward Viktor and fired one three-inch nail into his right kneecap, pinning his leg to the oak chair.  This elicited a pro-active, visceral response.  Marc’s reply was, “Viktor, I’m not liking what I’m not hearing.”  As he pointed the nail gun just over his right shoulder imbedding another nail, halfway through the top of the oak chair.  Once more, he drew Viktor’s attention to the question at hand.  Marc, becoming annoyed at Viktor’s reluctance to talk, stepped over next to him, placing the nail gun in his crotch, saying, “We both know you’re not going to make it through alive, so if you tell me what I want to know, I’ll make it quick and painless, so what do ya say?”   Viktor, looking down at his now blood-soaked knee, looked up and said, “All I know is that they call him ‘The Facilitator.’  He lives on Sahajӓrvi Lake on an island outside of the city, about twenty-five kilometers to the northwest.  Nobody knows his real name.  He pays in gold coin; nobody asks questions!”

Marc and Jon stepped outside the door for a brief conversation while Dara and Akil did the babysitting.  Marc asked Jon if he could arrange for the Company to take out the garbage, referring to Viktor.  Jon, asking if he was truly done with him, said, “Will he be permanently attached to the chair when he’s finished?”  Marc replied, “I’ve gotten all I want from him; do what you want with him or ask Martin – he may want second dibs.  But keep him handy for a while, just in case he’s feeding us a bunch of bullshit.”

Jon stayed behind, as the others went to meet up with Stiles and Martin at his Helsinki office in midtown.  It was late in the evening as the conversation got underway.  Martin volunteered his helicopter to do a fly-over the lake in the morning.  He then arranged hotel facilities for the entire group next door to his offices.  His usual penthouse at the hotel was available year round, as he spent a reasonable amount of time there in season.

Around 8:00 a.m., they were all having breakfast in a private meeting room at the hotel.  The first order of business was the surveillance flight over the lake.  Martin had, at the pilot’s suggestion, arranged to have several HD video cameras mounted on the chopper overnight.  The flight was set to leave within the hour from the Hilo pad atop the office complex.  Stiles was to pilot the excursion with Akil, Dara and Marc along for observation and camera operation.  Dara was slated to ride in the co-pilot’s seat; she would also operate the video cameras.  Both Akil and Marc would take still shots of anything of interest.

Ten minutes off the flight pad, away from the city, the sky was beginning to clear somewhat.  Approaching the lake, still off in the distance, they readied themselves for the overflight.  Both Marc and Akil put on chest harnesses and connected themselves to eye-bolts, before opening the side doors and positioning themselves to photograph the compound.  Dara checked the video feed from the video cameras on the connected tablet.  Stiles trimmed the craft, slowing the air speed down to fifty knots.  The plan was to make a pass south to north at 800 feet, and then wait ten or fifteen minutes, and cross from west to east at 400 feet; hopefully, not drawing too much attention to the events.

The still-cameras were Nikon 810 FX/DSLRs with 150/300 mm lenses at 36 MP; very good equipment with more than enough capability for the job at hand.  As the area was largely covered with tall trees and some undergrowth, it was evident on the initial pass, that the perimeter had been cleared and a rather tall fence encircled the entire lake and island.  A long bridge, perhaps fifty meters in length, was the only connection the island mansion had to the shore.  Akil set his camera to auto-drive shooting – five frames per second.  Marc tried to shoot only things that overtly caught his attention.  After the pass-over, Dara, looking over the review on the tablet, said, “We have at least five security personnel; one on the island where the bridge attaches, the other two on the land side, also guarding the bridge entrance.  Then, about two hundred meters to the north, at the main entrance, there looks to be two more, by the steel gate.  This guy takes his security seriously; he has an S-type curve in front of the gate.  So much for getting in that way.”  Marc was busy shuttering back through his pictures, searching for other avenues of approach.

Stiles made a very wide and elongated turn to the west, making sure the sound of the chopper blades were well beyond the hearing range of the compound.  Everybody else prepared for the final pass at the lower altitude, as he turned back in that direction.  Stiles dropped down, almost on the deck just above the trees, for the approach.  This would muffle the approaching chopper’s sounds until they were almost over the island.  As soon as he had a visual on the lake, he pulled up to the predesignated 400 feet altitude, and once again slowed his air speed.  On this occasion, Marc and Akil shot pictures of the lake’s shoreline and surrounding perimeter fence and roads.

They had returned to the office high-rise landing pad before the clock struck twelve noon.  Within the hour, they were all back in the meeting room going over the video and stills from the excursion.  A short while later, Jon arrived, having handed Viktor over to his cohorts.  Their attention was quickly diverted from the screen to Jon, when he said, “The guys in cybercrime at the Company call it ‘Sheridan’s Island.’”  Marc’s reply was, “And what else does the Company know?”  Jon answered, “Cybercrime has been tracking this guy for years.  They’ve never been able to connect him to anything directly, or even connect his real name, which is ‘Matt Sheridan,’ with the covert name ‘The Facilitator.’  This all sort of fell out when I ran a check on the pseudo name.”  He placed his computer on the desk and fired it up.  After a more than brief sign-in, he spun it around on the table, saying, “Meet Mr. Matt Sheridan,” as the computer flickered, and a picture flashed on the screen of the man.  Jon went on to say, “It seems that we, unknowingly, stopped a plan in progress that was intended to disrupt the global financial world.  The North Koreans were the sponsors of the plot; Martin’s NCC-5 code was the key; the brain was this guy, Sheridan.  In the last twenty-five years, this guy has been associated, but never really linked to, so many international crimes it would make your head spin.  But now, for some real news, the satellite surveillance over the last 18 months show a pattern, we think.  Every time the atmosphere cooperates and we have a clear sky over the lake, this guy takes a walk around the island between eight in the morning and noon, almost every day, without fail.”  You could almost hear a collective sigh around the room as the realization began to sink in.  Martin now knew what all the turmoil in his life was all about, from his granddaughter’s abduction, to the data facility incursion.  The Serenity group now had what they needed to fulfill the destiny set forth with Eyan’s death.

Marc, now turning his attention back to the videos, started searching for a point of ingress to the property.  There was a highway to the south of the perimeter about a tenth of a mile away, that could be utilized.  He cranked up a computer and returned to the Google Earth program.  Zeroing in on the area in question, be began to memorize the shape of the perimeter fence and the lake.  As he progressed, he hadn’t noticed that Akil and Dara had joined in, behind him.  They knew how Marc approached problems and had adopted his method, over time.  Stiles was on the phone having the equipment the team had brought from Madrid, delivered to the office location.  Before dinner, a plan had been devised to infiltrate the compound by the next morning, providing the weather was agreeable.  They would arrive pre-dawn and breach the perimeter, then set up an outpost and wait for dawn.  After Stiles had the equipment delivered, he was going through it, checking off the items he knew they would need.  Marc walked up behind him and said, “I don’t think we’ll need this much gear for the three of us.”  Looking back over his shoulder, Stiles said, “Four of us.  He was my friend, too, Marc.  Remember, I was at the data center that day.  I helped carry his coffin to the plane and flew it back to Serenity.  Four of us, Marc.”  The meeting broke up, but only after all involved had committed Matt Sheridan’s picture to memory.

They all had an early dinner and tried to catch a few hours of sleep, most to no avail.  All were still in their rooms at midnight, when wake-up calls rang in their rooms – as if anybody needed it.  By 1:00 a.m., they were in the SUVs and on the road to the lake compound.  Shortly before 2:00 a.m., the vehicles rolled to a stop, as the drivers killed the headlights.  The road was extremely rural; the only sound was an occasional owl or nighthawk.  They were all to enter the area together, but had very different agendas.  Marc, ultimately, was to make his way to the edge of the lake.  Dara was his back door, thirty meters to his rear as a backup.  Both Stiles and Akil would filter out in opposing directions, watching for any surprises.  As had been the plan, all were using night vision equipment and the usual voice-activated com system.

Marc had noted that the distance across the lake to the island was less than 150 meters.  He had chosen to use a Timberwolf .338 for the task.  It was relatively light-weight and extremely accurate when teamed with match-grade ammunition.

As they set out, Marc was the first to reach the clearing where the eight-foot tall perimeter fence was located.  The fence itself was not too impressive when under closer examination, it revealed its secrets.  It had integrated into it a system of horizontal wires that, if cut, would certainly set off a warning.  At the top was the obligatory razor wire.  Stiles dropped his pack and retrieved a breaching mat that he quickly threw over the razor wire, and then threw a knotted rope over the top.  Reaching carefully through the chain links, he grabbed the other end, tying it off to the fence bottom.  Five minutes later, they were all over the fence and into the tree line.  Once into the trees, they knew that the lake was less than fifty meters away, directly ahead.  They split up; Stiles and Akil moving off; Dara following Marc a bit further, before settling in to wait.

Marc, with his night-vision goggles, moved in total darkness, but slowly, being very diligent.  Everyone was carrying side arms with sound suppressors; the three back-ups also had suppressors on the automatic rifles.  When Marc reached the lake, the position was not what he was hoping for.  He moved to his right, about ten meters, before finding the spot he wanted.  He keyed his com unit and alerted the others to the lateral movement.  If a hasty retreat was necessary, it would be no fun getting shot by your own back-up.  Marc settled in at his chosen spot and began to wait until morning.

As daybreak approached, he used his binoculars to scan the shoreline of the island.  In some areas of the irregular shoreline, he could see a beaten pathway, perhaps the one Sheridan would use.  The sun was now topping the trees, its rays beginning to dance on the far end of the lake’s water.  He looked at his watch – it was just after 8:00 a.m.

Stiles had noticed a pathway through the trees that looked as though it was regularly traveled.  Noting this, he set up a position to be able to see both directions, not knowing which way it would be traversed.  He passed this info on to the rest of the team, mainly alerting Akil.  Dara had chosen her spot carefully, behind a fallen tree, with her back toward Marc’s position.

Akil was well-covered in deep brush, when he heard voices back toward the clearing.  He moved in that direction swiftly to the tree line, but quietly.  Reaching the clearing, he saw two guards walking along the fence 25 meters short of where they had breached the fence, moving in that direction.  Neither of the men, deeply in conversation, had noticed the fence-breaching equipment.  Without a thought, he took aim and fired twice, neither of the men having time to react.  He got on his com as quickly as possible, telling the others that all was clear.  Both Dara and Stiles had heard the gunfire, but Marc had not.  The forest was thick and was a natural sound barrier.  Marc started to key his com to say something, when he noticed movement on the island.  He raised his binoculars and watched.  It was Sheridan.  He traded the glasses for his rifle’s scope, and began to track the man around the island’s edge – watching him, as he walked along without a care.  At a rocky outcropping, he stopped and reached down, picking up a stone, then skipping it across the water, until it sank.  Sheridan paused for just a moment; Marc’s finger trembled slightly as he squeezed the trigger.  Sheridan stood frozen, for what seemed like an eternity, then fell to his knees and then falling forward, face down.  Marc got to his feet, picking up the still-smoking spent cartridge, putting it in his pocket for safekeeping.  As he turned to leave, he stopped, looking back at the now-lifeless body.  He said to himself, “Mr. Sheridan – meet my friend, Eyan.  I’m sure he’ll have some choice words for you.”

[The End]

Copyright © 2016; All Rights Reserved

Published by

Laura Brooks

Published author of four books. See more about me on Amazon's Author Central.

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