Nightwatch: The Peacekeeper
By Robert Moriyama
Nightwatch Created by Jeff Williams
Developed by Jeff Williams and Robert Moriyama
Jerry Sullivan took a long swallow of Guinness draft, savoring the thick, dark taste of it. "Ah, now there's a pint the way it should be," he said. "You can't get it served proper-like on t'other side of the pond. Even in so-called Irish pubs, it's always chilled a little too much." His lean, angular face tilted back as he inhaled the familiar scents of Guinness and kidney pies.
Kevin Brand shook his head. "Ye're risking a lot showing your face here, Jerry. They're still keeping a dark, dank cell for you in Maghaberry."
running his fingers through the soot-black hair framing his face. "If this face was the one I was born
with, I'd be worried. But a little pain
and a lot of money bought me a mug that no computer can match with the old
one. And they never had me fingerprints,
Saint Paddy be thanked. Besides, it's no
safer for me in
The Sword and Shamrock
was one of the newer bars in the narrow, twisting laneways of The Entries, and
had no reputation as a meeting place for either of the factions in The
Troubles. Brand had recommended it for
precisely that reason -- the likelihood of surveillance by the Brits or the
Ulster Defense Association or others of the
Sullivan guessed that the 'decor' (and there was a word his Mum would have laughed at) was meant to mimic the appearance and atmosphere of a real pub, but even in the dim, yellowish light cast by the 'lanterns' mounted along the walls, the exposed beams and brick looked too new and too perfect to be believable. Still, the beer on tap was real enough, and the steak and kidney pie smelled and tasted like its contents may have come from the general vicinity of an actual cow.
This was the new
Kevin Brand was one of those most likely to Make a Statement of the explosive kind. He'd worked with Jerry in the past, building and placing little surprises that took the shine off Harrod's or leveled hotels where Brit Lords and the like were resting their fat arses, and he'd been happy to hear from Sullivan after so many years.
"So, Jerry, will you be lending a hand in our current campaign? We've a few locations in mind, and your talent for fitting the most in the smallest package would be handy."
Sullivan sighed. "That's not why I'm here, Kevin," he said. "I came to ask if you'd change your plans --"
"If yeh've better ideas for targets, I'd be happy to --"
"I meant forgetting about packages and surprises," Sullivan said. "They never really got us what we wanted, did they? Them in power, they do what they want, surprises or not. Knock one down, there's always another one waiting to take over. The only ones who suffer --"
"Jerry, what's happened to you? Yeh were a soldier for the cause, one of the best! Has living with the Yanks made yeh go soft?"
"The only ones who suffer are the innocents," Sullivan said. "Yeh can't hurt the ones who make the decisions -- lives don't matter to them, even the lives of their own kind. So there's no point, no point at all."
Brand shook his head in disbelief, his ruddy face contorting into a goblin mask framed with red and silver hair. "So yeh'd let the Brits take us over for good and all. Yeh'd just surrender to them without a fight."
"Killin' randomly isn't fighting," Sullivan said. "Even taking down High Lord Muckety-muck surrounded by half the Army isn't fighting if yeh kill women and children to do it."
"I can't believe my ears," Brand said.
"Believe this," Sullivan said, leaning forward. "Whatever the cause, I don't believe in making innocents suffer for it. In fact -- I've taken to protecting them. I'm a peacekeeper now, not a soldier; I do my best to keep the likes of the Real IRA from hurtin' folks who never deserved it."
Brand shook his head again and tilted his head back to drain his glass of beer. "So now all yer old comrades in arms are villains, is that what yeh're tellin' me, Jerry? Yeh've changed, and not for the better." He set his glass down on the scarred wooden table top (which Jerry suspected had come that way from the factory), waving off an inquiring look from the barmaid.
Sullivan lowered his
eyes, moving his hand so the dregs of his beer formed a dark whirlpool in the
bottom of the pint glass. "If yeh'd seen the things I've seen -- in
"Back before yeh lost your nerve, you mean," Brand said, sneering.
"I was hoping -- I was hoping that you might join me, instead of t'other way around," Sullivan said.
"And do what? Kiss the arse of the first Brit I see? No thank you, Jerry. No thank you."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Sullivan said. "I guess we've nothing more to talk about, then."
They stood and Brand strode toward the door, leaving Sullivan to pay the bill. Sullivan rummaged in his pocket and dropped a ten-euro note on the table -- overtipping to compensate for spoiling the jovial atmosphere of the place -- and followed.
He reached the street in time to see Brand sliding his bulky body behind the wheel of a battered red MINI -- an ironic choice given the man's hatred of all things English -- and waved. Brand responded by raising the middle finger of his right hand while he fumbled to insert the key into the ignition.
Sullivan turned away and looked down at the small device in his own hand. It could have been a keyless door lock transmitter, but it wasn't. "Goodbye, Kevin," he said. Then he moved his thumb over the larger of the two buttons and squeezed.
Brand vanished in a near-soundless ball of flame that seemed to emerge from the doors and roof of the little car and move inward. The windows shattered, not from the blast, but from the contraction of the roof and side panels of the car as they collapsed like a punctured balloon.
Sullivan turned back to survey the damage. He smiled.
Aside from the burning wreckage of the car, there was no sign that anything unusual had happened. There was little debris scattered around; there were no broken windows on the surrounding buildings; even the alarms on cars parked only a few meters away from Brand's vehicle hadn't been triggered.
Whistling softly, Sullivan walked briskly (but not too briskly) away. It was several minutes later that a couple emerging from the Sword and Shamrock noticed the burning mass of metal and rubber and called for help.
"Surely you're joking," Simon Litchfield said, peering at the image on Callow's fold-out display screen. "There is no way in hell that was a car."
Callow smirked. "It was a car, all right. A 2008 MINI, one of many thousands of its
type puttering around Europe and the
"Could you guys keep it down a bit? This is a library, you know."
Callow frowned and turned toward the speaker, who had just poked his head around the corner of the bookshelves separating the Popular Culture section from the rest of the Nightwatch Institute Library.
"Hanson, isn't it? Logistical Support?"
Hanson, a slightly-pudgy man with reddish-blonde hair and tiny rimless spectacles, cringed. "Er, sorry, Mr. Callow, I didn't know it was you."
"The Popular Culture section of the Nightwatch Institute library hardly seems like someplace you should be in the middle of the working day, Mr. Hanson," Callow said.
"I -- er, I was in the Transportation section, looking up specs for a Russian transport plane," Hanson said. "We're coordinating a relief mission with --"
"Very well, Mr. Hanson, get on with it and leave us alone," Callow said.
Hanson withdrew, obviously terrified that Callow would retaliate for his intrusion in some unimaginably unpleasant way.
"How is it that someone from Logistical Support knows you -- and apparently knows you well?" Simon asked. "Your official title and function is rather unimpressive, however powerful you may be in reality."
Callow sighed and smiled. "Apparently there are rumors that I am more important than I seem."
Simon snorted. "And we all know who starts and controls the spreading of rumors around here ..."
"C'est moi, c'est moi," Callow half-sang. "Life is much easier when those around you offer you the respect you truly deserve. You, for one, should try it sometime."
"Bollocks, as my dear mother would say," Simon said. "And I'd be careful about mangling Lerner and Loewe show tunes while standing in the middle of the Popular Culture section. If that smoldering ball of metal was a car, how did it end up like that? Was it crushed in a wrecking yard and dropped off in the street when no one was looking?"
Callow shook his head. "Review of traffic surveillance footage showed this car -- identified from the license plates, which were relatively intact -- was driven to that area less than an hour before it was found in its rather unusual state. More to the point -- it was occupied at the time of its -- collapse."
Simon winced. "The occupant's dead, I presume? He'd have to be Tom Thumb to have survived having the car crushed around him like that."
"If Tom Thumb was made of asbestos and titanium, he might have survived such an incident," Callow said. "The driver, one Kevin Brand, was made of flesh and blood. And I repeat, the car collapsed inward -- it was not crushed from outside."
"An implosion bomb? I'd heard stories about some new vectored-force explosives -- but I never believed them."
"Forensic testing revealed that Mr. Brand was the victim of a trap constructed using NVXP5, the next step beyond conventional plastic explosives," Callow said. "NVXP5 -- Nano-assembled Vectored force Explosive, Plastic -- is a substance that can be molded to conform to a surface. When activated -- 'detonated' doesn't seem like the appropriate word -- it produces a highly-directional pulse of heat and pressure, thanks to nano-assembly techniques that align the molecular bonds almost perfectly. As you can imagine, its possession and use is restricted to certain branches of the defense establishment."
"Just as a matter of curiosity, what were NVXP1 through NVXP4?"
"Less effective," Callow said drily.
Simon peered closely at the image of the collapsed microcar. Now that he knew what it had been, he could assess the damage more precisely. The roof and side panels had been pushed inward by what looked like a few centimeters. For normal atmospheric pressure to have achieved such an effect, the air inside the passenger compartment must have been burned or compressed or both, creating a sudden near-vacuum. "The heat and pressure from a single charge would probably be lethal," he said. "Balanced charges would cancel each other out, or almost. Anything in the middle would be incinerated or crushed. But that brings us back to the usual question -- why is the Institute interested? And why do you want me involved?"
reasons," Callow said. "First,
NVXP5 is beyond top secret, and very rare.
It was, in fact, being considered for use in the matter that has
occupied your Mr. Weldon's attention of late, as a backup measure, at
least. Second, the man who was killed --
Kevin Brand -- was a known member of the 'Real IRA' faction of the Irish
Republican Army. MI6 has reported that
there have been rumors of some kind of violent and spectacular action by the
late Mr. Brand's group to protest plans to merge
"That's not the sort of thing we deal with," Simon said. "We're not the police -- or MI6 -- or the bloody British Army."
"I wasn't finished," Callow said. "Where was I? Ah, yes -- third, Mr. Brand had just had an argument with this man." He slid his fingertips over the control pad on his handheld computer, and the image of the imploded car was replaced by a full-color computer-generated composite sketch of a man with dark, wavy hair and a narrow, angular face.
"I've never seen 'this man' before," Simon said. But then he frowned and looked closer. "There is something about his eyes, though, something familiar .."
"Perhaps this will help," Callow said. A few quick keystrokes brought up a photograph next to the sketch, and this face Simon recognized immediately.
"Jerry Sullivan! " He studied the photograph and the sketch for only a few seconds before he shook his head in disbelief. "The man in the sketch is Sullivan. But I thought the bastard was dead."
"You and every counterterrorism and intelligence agency in the world," Callow said. "We only made the identification by accident. You see, we neglected to exclude the supposedly-deceased from the database of known associates of Mr. Brand when looking for a match for the man in the composite sketch. Mr. Sullivan must have had an excellent facial reconstruction specialist -- even the spacing between the eyes and the distance from the bridge of the nose to the upper mandible has been changed. But when the two faces are seen side by side, the eyes, as you noticed, have it."
"So I'm to be involved because I know -- I knew Sullivan years ago. Bloody wonderful." Simon suppressed a shudder as images flashed through his mind.
Limbs and heads and sundered torsos strewn
about like fallen leaves. Skin the color of dark chocolate framing gaping red
wounds. Women and
children weeping, eyes wide in shock and grief. The stench of blood and
shit and smoke filling the air in choking clouds. Sullivan's legacy in
Callow cleared his throat. "If you are through reminiscing --"
Simon blinked, nodded, and gestured for Callow to continue.
"Sullivan is not the man you knew, and I do not mean only that his appearance has changed," Callow said. "He seems to be pursuing an entirely different agenda -- as his murder of a former confederate demonstrates. Nonetheless, your familiarity with the man he was might still give you an edge in dealing with him."
"'Dealing with him'. What a lovely euphemism," Simon muttered.
"We have informed
the various intelligence services that Sullivan is alive, and has radically
changed his appearance," Callow said, ignoring Simon's comment. "Unfortunately, he was long gone from
Simon massaged his temples with his fingertips. "So he's out there, god knows where, with a weapon that could be a more precise equivalent of a neutron bomb ..."
"I'm sorry -- what do enhanced radiation weapons have to do with this? NVXP5 is not radioactive, and produces no radiation when it is activated."
"Remember how wonderful neutron weapons were supposed to be? Death from above, with minimal damage to land and property. No lingering fallout -- ideal for wiping out a population and moving in. 'Clean' war, mass slaughter without lowering the real estate values --"
"I still don't see your point," Callow said. "Assuming, of course, that you have a point."
"This new explosive -- implosive -- whatever -- is a small-scale equivalent. You can kill a target -- one man, or a roomful of people -- and hardly muss the hair of anyone outside that room. Perfect for 'clean' terrorism, if you like, or 'clean' assassination. Less precise, I suppose, than a hypervelocity sniper rifle, but also less risky for the assassin -- you have to be there, with a clear line of sight, to shoot somebody. An implosion device could be on a timer, or triggered by any number of different kinds of input -- sound, vibration, weight, even chemical traces from the target's cologne or favorite brand of cigars."
Callow pursed his lips. "I see your point. Well, that should give you ample motivation for ensuring that Sullivan is taken out of circulation -- which need not mean killing him, before you grumble about that again -- and that access to the implosion technology is once again limited to the proper authorities."
"There are no 'proper authorities' that can be trusted with something like that," Simon said. "But I'd rather it be in the hands of a government that may never use it than in those of a killer who already has used it -- and who will undoubtedly use it again."
"I presume that means that you will take the assignment, then," Callow said. "You do have a choice, in this instance at least -- but we believe that you are the best man for the job, and most likely to succeed before Sullivan strikes again."
Simon nodded. "I'll find him, and I'll do whatever it takes to bring him in -- or bring him down. Sullivan was responsible for a lot of death and suffering before he disappeared ..."
"Very well," Callow said. "I've placed Nightbird One on standby. As soon as we have any indication of where Sullivan is, or what his next target may be, you will be informed."
Simon stood and walked away, feeling his chest
tighten as memories of the horrors he had experienced in
The bar, such as it was, was the only refuge from the heat and glare and dust of midday for perhaps fifty kilometers in any direction. If it had a name, aside from 'BAR', it was not considered worth mentioning on any signs. While most of the structures in the village were huts with thatched roofs and walls of loosely-assembled stone or wood, the bar had a tarred concrete roof, concrete block walls, and a somewhat uneven poured concrete floor. The place even had air conditioning, although the single unit, intended to cool a much smaller room, was barely able to bring the temperature much below blood heat. Slowly-turning ceiling fans kept the results moving like currents of warm treacle in a vat of -- well, warmer treacle.
It was inevitable that the handful of non-resident engineers, aid workers, teachers, and bureaucrats working in the area would congregate there. Simon and his colleagues had been coming there every day to wait for the worst heat of the day to subside, drowning their sorrows in 'ice cold' local beer that was only slightly cooler than the air.
"I don't know what the point of this project is," Alan Murchison grumbled. Balding, round of face and body, Murchison wore an outfit similar to Simon's khaki safari ensemble, but the short-sleeved shirt was tight across the belly and loose in the shoulders and chest instead of the other way around. "Even if we get the wells dug and the pumping equipment in, those Janjaweed assholes will either blow it up, or kill everybody and take the place over."
"They haven't bothered us yet," Simon said. What he did not say was that the possibility of such an attack had probably led to his assignment to the project. He had a reputation for surviving in situations as nasty as this one, and he suspected that he was there more as a one-man goon squad than as an engineer. The assortment of small arms he had been given (under cover of darkness) suggested as much; the way his engineering skills and experience as a foreman were being underutilized seemed to confirm it.
"Yeah, but how long can our luck hold out?" Bob Sienkewicz asked. Like Murchison, he had a 'high forehead' -- any higher and it would have met the back of his neck -- but he had the compact body of a flyweight boxer. His clothes -- a faded denim shirt and patched jeans -- fit him loosely, but the thick-lensed glasses he wore made it likely that his physique was more the result of a fast metabolism than boxing or any other vigorous exercise. "If the government -- excuse me, the Janjaweed militia who are not under government control at all, at all, at all -- even suspects that there are rebels operating around here --"
"Mind if I join you fellas?"
Simon looked up and saw a lean, dark-haired man with deep-set eyes that looked like chips of amethyst, at least in the blessedly-dim light in the bar.
"Name's Jerry Sullivan," the man said.
"Simon Litchfield," Simon said, extending his hand. As Sullivan leaned over and shook hands with him, Simon said, "These gentlemen are my colleagues from the Nightwatch Institute, Alan Murchison and Bob Sienkewicz. We're all here trying to provide the locals with a supply of clean water."
"Ah, so the equipment with the fancy logo -- from a Rembrandt paintin', I'm thinkin' -- belongs to you lot. You might say that I'm here as a consultant to make sure that nothin' unfortunate befalls you and your work."
Simon frowned. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean by 'consultant'."
Sullivan grinned. "Well, the locals have a problem with weeds -- Janjaweeds, they call them. I'm here to teach them how to commit herbicide."
"Er, you do know that 'Janjaweeds' are people, don't you?" Sienkewicz said.
"He knows exactly what they are," Simon said. "Were you hired by the Institute?"
Sullivan dragged another chair over from a nearby table and sat down. "No, no -- never heard of them before now. There's groups all over the world concerned about the terrible things happening here -- mostly people from these parts, but some who're just do-gooders. One of them -- I won't say which -- heard I was available, and arranged for me to come here."
"I don't get it," Murchison said. "What kind of consultant are you? And what do you mean by 'herbicide', if you know what the Janjaweed are?"
"He's a mercenary," Simon said. "And from his accent and name, I'd guess Mr. Sullivan learned his skills as a member of the Provisional Wing of the IRA. By 'herbicide', he means killing. He's going to teach these people how to kill the Janjaweed if they're attacked. I presume your sponsors supplied you with the appropriate -- tools?"
Sullivan grinned again, but the look he directed at Simon was anything but friendly. "Oh, aye. My sponsors gave me drills -- tools that make holes, that is -- and shovels -- tools that make bigger holes, faster -- and plenty of both."
"Guns and explosives," Simon translated. "You're quite glib about these things, Mr. Sullivan, which leads me to believe that you don't place a high value on a human life. I'm afraid I'm going to find it difficult to like you."
Sullivan winked. "Well, Simon me boyo, give it time. The Irish charm always works in the end." Then he stood and strolled out of the bar.
On the one hand, Simon found Sullivan's presence troubling. Once word got out that an outsider was providing arms and training to the locals, the likelihood of an attack by Janjaweed raiders would increase tenfold. On the other hand, if trouble arrived (as it probably would have in any case), at least Simon would not be the only one able to fight back. But he'd sit on an anthill before he admitted that to the Irishman.
"Callow, hold up!" Simon broke into a run to overtake the Lower Echelon liaison as the younger man exited from the Library.
"You haven't returned any of my messages," Simon said. "Surely your contacts must have found some trace of Sullivan by now."
Callow grimaced. "This is not something we should be discussing in the corridor," he said.
"I could talk about the other pressing matter, instead," Simon said. "How far out is Tom's ship now? Would he be able to see the --"
Scowling, Callow grabbed Simon's arm and pulled him into the Library. It was only when they were safely within the deserted (as usual) Popular Culture section that he spoke again.
"That kind of loose talk can have dire consequences, Litchfield," Callow said. "We have managed to avoid any kind of widespread panic so far, but --"
"Where is Sullivan?" Simon said. "Why hasn't he been spotted somewhere, now that every government security and border agency in the world knows what he looks like?"
Callow shook his head. "We have a composite sketch that may or may not be precise enough to allow facial-recognition scanners to pick Mr. Sullivan out of a crowd. If he adds even a rudimentary disguise, he may be able to fool that level of automated security. And he may be traveling by less-conventional means that bypass border crossing points and airport security."
"So what do we do? Wait for another case where some poor sod gets blown in instead of blown up?"
"It would help, Simon, if you could figure out what the hell he is doing," Callow said. "We have ruled out any dispute between IRA factions as a motive for Sullivan's assassination of Brand, and I believe it is safe to assume that he was not working for the authorities."
"It's been years since I knew him, and we were hardly what one would call 'close' even then," Simon said. "How in hell should I know what he's up to?"
Callow smirked. "Perhaps it's
hell you should be thinking
about. It was just after your time in
"I have thought about it," Simon said. But he knew that he had shied away from the worst of it, the moments that might have changed Jerry Sullivan forever. He would have to relive those moments to find the truth.
In the days that followed their encounter with Jerry Sullivan, Simon, Alan, and Bob continued their work. Two wells had been completed, and soundings indicated that they should be capable of supplying drinking water almost indefinitely; the shafts extended well below the level of the current water table, which had already receded to the point where many older wells had long since failed.
Simon took the time to dig a trench well away from the other work sites, about two meters long, one meter wide, and two meters deep, using a Nightwatch Institute backhoe for most of the work. He squared off the excavation and installed supports to prevent the sandy soil from collapsing, and prepared plywood sheets with netting and glued-on sand to cover and camouflage the trench when the need arose.
"Looks like a grave, Litchfield," Sullivan said. "Is it for me -- or for you?"
Simon spat, mostly to clear the dust from his throat, but partly to inform Sullivan that his 'Irish charm' wasn't working. Sullivan laughed and walked away.
For his part, Sullivan taught the locals, mostly Zaghawa and Masaaleit tribespeople, how to shoot, how to place mines and set explosive booby traps. He turned one stone-and-thatch hut near the center of the village into his headquarters, storing the spare ammunition and explosives there, with a large sketch map of the area tacked to one wall.
Sullivan was very good at the teaching part of his job, Simon had to admit -- he seemed to be able to turn boys who had barely reached puberty into efficient killers. The boys seemed to enjoy Sullivan's company, and Sullivan was surprisingly patient and cheerful with them, while still managing to impart the skills they would need. And Simon also had to admit that Sullivan's work might be all that prevented a Janjaweed attack from slaughtering most of the village, as had happened to other villages in recent months.
Still, it sickened him to see boys who should be playing soccer or chasing the chickens that strutted about in the village handling AK-47s and grenades like commandos ..
Simon Litchfield's apartment, Georgetown,
"Any new insights, Dr. Litchfield? You have been contemplating your brief time with Mr. Sullivan, have you not? I presume that is why you left the Institute in the middle of the day."
Callow's face filled the video screen of Simon's home communications deck, making Simon wish that he had an erasable pen handy. The permanently-smug expression on Callow's face seemed to beg to have a nice handlebar moustache painted on ... A little surgery with the second-rate (but authentic) samurai katana in the black lacquered stand near the desk would have been even more satisfying, but too costly to be worth it.
"Simon, are you listening to me? Have you been reviewing your time with Mr. Sullivan, or not?"
"I have," Simon said, suppressing the urge to sneer. "I'm beginning to have a feeling about this, about what he's doing. When I focus on how he --"
"Results, Simon. I'm only interested in the results."
"All I can say is that I don't think he's doing whatever he's doing for money, at least not entirely. I think he is -- or was -- a 'True Believer', an idealist of sorts, if a multiple murderer can be an idealist."
"Wonderful. So you think you've eliminated one of Sullivan's possible motivations. Do let me know when you narrow it down to something we can actually use." The screen went blank as Callow disconnected.
As Simon might have expected, the attack came after the last well had been completed and the water was flowing.
A muffled whump was followed by the firecracker rattling of automatic weapons. Jerry Sullivan emerged from the hut he had been using as his headquarters and armory, struggling into a Kevlar vest while juggling an AK-47 and a pack with extra clips.
"Sounds like the party's starting, Litchfield," he shouted. "Better get your delicate arse under whatever cover you can find, and pray me boys learned their lessons well!"
Cursing, Simon collared Murchison and Sienkewicz and dragged them bodily toward the trench he had prepared in anticipation of this day. "Get in, and stay low. I'll bring you some weapons in a moment -- as a last resort, hear me? No heroics from you two."
Before they could ask any questions, Simon turned and sprinted for the Institute Land Rover. He opened a locked box in the rear of the vehicle and extracted two Uzi submachine guns -- old, but well-maintained -- and a Glock 9 mm automatic. He filled several of his pockets with spare clips for the Glock, clipped the holster to his belt, then ran back toward the trench. Murchison and Sienkewicz were still standing at the edge of the excavation, looking bewildered and more than a little annoyed at his rough treatment of them.
"Damn it, I said get in! And take these -- be bloody careful, the safeties are off and you could empty the clip in seconds flat."
"Litchfield, what are you doing? Where did you get these guns?" Murchison said. "If the Janjaweed are here, we should be trying to talk to them --"
"Or running for our lives," Sienkewicz said.
"I'm afraid our friend Sullivan's trainees have made it unlikely that the Janjaweed will be in a talking mood," Simon said. "If I'm not mistaken, that was a land mine we heard a few minutes ago, followed by an exchange of gunfire. If the Janjaweed make it here, it will be with guns blazing."
"And if they don't?" Murchison asked.
"Then tomorrow or the next day, more of them will come, and whatever advantage surprise may have given Sullivan's recruits today will be gone. If we survive this day, we are leaving. Now, get in the bloody trench so I can cover it up. If you're lucky, the Janjaweed will think we were digging a latrine ditch. If not -- you have the Uzis."
Their faces pale in spite of several months of African sunlight, the Nightwatch engineers clambered down into the trench. Simon dragged his camouflaged cover sheets over the trench, leaving only a narrow gap for ventilation.
"Don't come out unless I come and get you," he said. "And if anybody except me pulls the cover off your hidey-hole -- shoot him."
The sounds of gunfire were coming closer. For all their enthusiasm and naïve courage, Sullivan's young troops couldn't match the skill and murderous efficiency of the Janjaweed. Sullivan himself was probably doing better; Simon guessed that the Irishman had probably been in battle more than once before the relative calm of the last few years.
Simon debated whether he had time to send out a distress call -- cursing his failure to do so when he had been at the Land Rover -- but decided that the sounds of gunfire were too close. For his skills to be effective, he had to be out of sight and able to approach his targets one or two at a time. He checked the Glock, removing the clip and dry-firing it, then replacing the clip. Then he slid the pistol into its holster -- he would use it only as a last resort.
The problem with guns, he thought, is that any damn fool can point one and pull the trigger. And once the trigger has been pulled, bullets are free agents -- they hit what they hit, whether it is the intended target or not.
As the Janjaweed troops entered the village, they spread out in a loose skirmishing line, keeping each other in sight except when they passed on opposite sides of a hut. They wore no uniforms; their clothing was of various colors, except for their turbans, the tails of which covered all but their eyes. Each was armed with a rifle -- most had AK-47's, a few carrier old bolt-action guns that might have been a century old -- plus a machete or other large knife. Some carried grenades, and one or two had a handgun of some sort.
There was enough noise -- scattered fire from Sullivan's remaining child soldiers, the explosions of grenades lobbed by the Janjaweed into the wood and stone huts as they passed -- that Simon was able to reach the edge of the village furthest from the camouflaged trench without being detected. He approached the closest Janjaweed fighter from behind and used a stranglehold to choke him into unconsciousness, then gagged him and bound his ankles and wrists with plastic restraints.
The second man was more alert, but chose to attack Simon with the machete he held in his right hand while still holding his AK-47 with his left. Simon surprised him by stepping into the attack instead of dodging. Once inside the radius of the swing, Simon trapped the man's wrist, locked the elbow, then dislocated it with an upward palm strike. Then he silenced the man's cry of pain with an elbow strike that fractured the nose and splintered teeth.
Once again, Simon gagged his victim and bound his wrists and ankles. He was none too gentle, in spite of the injuries he had already inflicted; there was fresh blood and -- other things -- on the blade of the machete that had been aimed at him.
"Nice enough work, Litchfield, but ye'd be better off using that peashooter ye have on yer belt."
"You're quieter than I would have expected, Sullivan," Simon said, his heart spasming in his chest. "Unfortunately, from the sounds of it, your troops have gone pretty quiet, too."
Sullivan grunted. "Aye. Most of me lads are down, poor bastards. They were brave enough, but I guess I didn't teach 'em how to duck."
"The Janjaweed are likely to slaughter everyone in the village now," Simon said. "They don't take kindly to the medicine they like to dispense themselves."
"Well, if you're like me, and you'd rather they didn't, I suggest we try to stop 'em," Sullivan said, grinning.
Simon shook his head. "I'm not like you, Sullivan. I don't believe that the ends justify the means."
"Is that why you're not killing these Weedy-boys when you take them down? Killin' offends yer delicate sensibilities?"
"Partly," Simon said. "Of course, I also thought that hostages might be useful when word gets out and ten times this number comes this way."
Screams of fear and pain from the other side of the village ended their discussion. "We're falling behind in our work," Simon said. "You do things your way. I'll do things my way. But let's do them bloody fast."
The next man Simon encountered was ready for him. Too many of his fellow militiamen had vanished on their way into the village to be attributed to 'normal' delays -- women to rape, valuables to loot -- so he knew that hostile forces were at work.
"'American, yes? You kill my friends?" The Janjaweed soldier was tall and lean, with high, angular cheekbones and skin even darker than some of the villagers. He held his assault rifle loosely, not quite aimed at Simon, but ready to fire at any moment.
Simon shook his head. "The ones who've met me will live. Can't say the same for some others, I'm afraid." He drew the Glock and leveled it.
"I have bigger gun," the Janjaweed said. "But I not use if you put yours down. I fight you like man, to honor my friends."
When Simon let the Glock fall to the ground, the Janjaweed fighter let his AK-47 drop as well. Then both men moved several paces to one side to put some distance between them and their guns.
thanked God that machismo wasn't dead in
He almost changed his mind when the Janjaweed attacked. This man was far more dangerous than the other machete-wielding man Simon had fought, if for no other reason than his decision to unburden himself of his rifle before striking. Simon barely avoided the first few strokes of the blade, even sustaining a shallow cut across one hand as he backpedaled and tried to circle away from his opponent's blade hand.
"You are mine," the Janjaweed said, seeing the thin trail of blood winding its way down Simon's forearm. He raised the machete high over his head and brought it down in a stroke that would cut Simon in half if it connected.
Simon rushed in, closing the distance and preparing to perform an arm lock and break. But the Janjaweed flipped the machete to his other hand even as Simon caught hold of his wrist. The blade came hissing inward in a thrust that promised to gut Simon like a trout.
Simon spun, arching his torso to let the blade slide by, and then used his right arm to add his own momentum to the Janjaweed's stabbing motion. He felt the sting of another shallow cut across his back and then the hot gush of blood as the machete blade penetrated the Janjaweed's own chest.
The Janjaweed gasped, his eyes wide in surprise. Then he folded to the ground, his fingers still locked around the hilt of the blade protruding from his chest.
Simon stood there for almost a minute, panting, assessing his own wounds, and staring in horror at the blood covering his hands and staining his clothes. Some of it was his; most of it was not. All of it looked the same.
This fight had taken far too long, and his injuries meant that he could not rely on his skills to prevail in any more hand-to-hand fights. Reluctantly, he picked up the Glock, and continued to move toward the center of the village.
He shot two more Janjaweed fighters, going for head shots in case any of them might be wearing body armor. Every time he pulled the trigger, he felt something inside him tumble and crash like a body bouncing off ledges as it fell down a narrow shaft between skyscrapers. He had never thought of himself as a killer before, but the proof was there, lying in the sand; it was there, staining his hands and clothes.
And then he was at the edge of the village square, where the Institute equipment had been parked and where Sullivan had his headquarters.
Despite Simon's and Sullivan's best efforts, five or six of the Janjaweed troops had survived to reach the center of the village. Worse, they had herded more than a dozen of the surviving villagers with them. The prisoners looked stunned, their eyes wide and staring, mouths hanging open in silent screams. Small children clung to their mothers' legs; old men examined the sandy ground as if seeking something, anything, that made sense in the midst of all the chaos and death.
A panting and bloodied Sullivan found Simon crouched behind a Nightwatch Institute backhoe, assessing the situation.
"You still alive, Litchfield?" Sullivan hissed. "Guess you must be pretty good at that Ori-en-tal fighting shite, though ye're a bloody mess --"
"Shut up, Sullivan," Simon muttered. "This lot have killed dozens of the villagers, and it looks like they have the survivors penned up near your little fireworks warehouse."
"Five -- no, six of them, two of us -- I say we rush the buggers," Sullivan said.
"And kill the rest of the villagers in the crossfire? You really don't care who gets hurt, as long as the other side is wiped out."
Sullivan scowled. "I care, all right," he said. "Maybe there'd be fewer Weedies standing and more villagers alive if not for your genteel ways. Ah, Christ -- that's little Salah and his Mum down there, ain't it?"
Simon looked carefully at the gathered villagers, then nodded.
"Cute little ankle-biter," Sullivan said. "Really wanted to join in and learn to shoot, but his Mum wouldn't have it. 'No guns for my baby,' she said -- which made him frantic, of course, bein' called a baby --"
"Something's happening," Simon said.
One of the Janjaweed soldiers entered the stone hut, emerging a few moments later holding a grenade.
"That's torn it," Sullivan said. "No more ammo for the good guys."
Then the Janjaweed began to herd the villagers into the hut. It was a tight fit -- the building was small to begin with, and Sullivan had half the floor covered with crates full of ordnance. Immediately after the last villager had been pushed through the door, and the door closed behind him, the Janjaweed scattered, breaking into a run.
"Bloody hell," Simon said. "I think they're going to --"
A single, muffled explosion was followed by a larger one that sent flame-edged clouds of black smoke boiling out through the doorway and windows. Then the entire structure vanished in a ball of fire that sent peppered the ground with slivers of wood and shards of mud-brick. The sound was so loud and so deep that Simon felt it like a solid punch to the gut; he fell back, dazed, his ears ringing and nausea trying to turn him inside out.
"Ah, Jesus, they've killed 'em all! Salah and his Mum -- Jameel, Amina -- all dead ..."
"Sullivan, get -- get down," Simon said. "You can't --"
Still half-stunned, Simon watched as Sullivan used the backhoe as a ladder to help him stand up. He drew a pistol from a holster at his waist and fired several shots, apparently at nothing at all.
"Ye baby-killin' cowards! Come back here! I've got something for you, every bleedin' one of you!"
Three Janjaweed bullets struck Sullivan, at least one tearing through his chest near the base of his throat, above his Kevlar vest. Satisfied that he was dead -- or soon would be -- the Janjaweed walked away.
"Sullivan --" Simon said, dragging himself toward the Irishman. "Sullivan, are you --"
But then Simon felt the hot, wet flow of his own blood, streaming from a new gash in his side. When he thought the Janjaweed were far enough away, he shouted, "Murchison! Sienkewicz! If you're still alive, come out! I need --" Even that effort drained what little strength he had left. He felt his head sway as the muscles in his neck grew weaker; then his eyes closed, and time ... stopped.
When he opened his eyes again, he found Murchison using surgical glue to try to close the wound in his side. Sienkewicz was standing by, passing supplies from the field medical kit to Murchison as the larger man asked for them.
"Christ, Litchfield, there was so much blood on you that I was sure you must be dead," Murchison said.
"Not -- all -- mine," Simon said. "Sullivan. Where's Sullivan?"
"Was he here with you?" Sienkewicz asked. "You were alone by the time we got here."
"They shot him," Simon said. "He took a hit -- above his vest, Kevlar vest --"
"Either he got up and walked away, or the Janjaweed took him," Murchison said. "There, I think that'll hold until they can get us out of here. You probably need a transfusion, but all we have here is that Ringer's lactate stuff."
"I'm okay -- just need to rest for a while," Simon said. And after he had eaten a ration bar and consumed a liter of water, he did feel somewhat stronger -- strong enough to keep his head from drooping like the blossom on a dying tulip plant, anyway.
Later, the trio began to search the village for survivors. The first decapitated and mutilated body they found was enough to send Sienkewicz scurrying off to vomit up the remains of his breakfast; Murchison was obviously deeply affected as well, but managed to stay with Simon as they continued their grim task.
Everywhere they looked, they found only the dead, and every body they found -- male or female, young or old -- had been dismembered or slashed until it was barely recognizable as human. Simon found his dizziness dissipating in the face of so much horror. In its place, he felt something he had never experienced before, a dark desire to punish those responsible for these atrocities, to break their bones and rend their flesh. His hands closed into fists so tightly that the joints crackled, relaxed, tightened again, relaxed ..
In the last intact hut, they found a mother and two children, all savagely mutilated.
"Those Janjaweed are animals," Murchison wheezed. "Worse than animals. Everyone dead. Everyone cut to pieces! How can any human being do -- those things -- to another?"
Simon bent down to close the eyes of one child whose torso had been almost cut in two by a machete. "That's it, then. Not one left alive." With that gesture, he felt the last traces of any civilized restraint fall away. If he could lay hands on one of the raiders now, he would -- he would --
Suddenly Simon remembered the two Janjaweed that he had left bound and gagged near the edge of the village. "Murchison, there's something I have to do. Go find Sienkewicz and see if the satellite phone is working. Report -- report what's happened here."
"We already called," Murchison said, but he caught the look on Simon's face and cringed. He had heard things about Simon Litchfield around the Institute, hints that he was a dangerous man, but had dismissed them. After all, he'd spent plenty of time with the British-born engineer, and knew him to be a charming and affable sort, if a bit arrogant and vain. But this Simon -- he had no doubt at all that this Simon was a dangerous man indeed. Trying to seem casual, he turned and stumbled off to look for Sienkewicz, glad to have something to do, glad to put even a small distance between himself and the horrors they had been wading through for almost an hour now -- and between himself and this new and different Simon Litchfield.
Simon walked slowly toward the edge of the village, limping, his wounds alternately throbbing and burning with every step. The pain only served to deepen his fury, as a picador's blades goad a bull to its doom.
He reached the second man he had neutralized, found him struggling feebly to escape his bonds -- an excruciating process with one elbow dislocated. The man's machete lay a meter or two away, the brightness of its blade half-concealed by a dark red-brown coat of dried blood.
"Here, here, old man," Simon said, through clenched teeth. "Can't have you suffering like that. Let me help you."
The Janjaweed looked up, saw Simon's face, and redoubled his efforts to free himself. He tried to scream, almost choking himself on the gag.
Simon picked up the machete, his teeth bared in a hideous grin, and brought it down in a vicious stroke that cut the man's right leg to the bone. Blood spurted from the severed femoral artery and painted the sand bright red in a broad arc around the Janjaweed fighter's wildly writhing form. Simon circled quickly, avoiding most of the blood, and swung the machete again, this time cleaving the skull above the left ear.
The man shuddered once more, then was still.
"That's for the children, you sand-louse. That's -- that's for all of them, all the ones you lot slaughtered today."
Simon used the machete once more, this time cleanly severing the head. This grisly trophy he carried with him when he went to finish what he had started.
The other bound-and-gagged Janjaweed went into hysterics when he saw Simon approaching, bloody blade in one hand and severed head in the other. He tried to scoot away by pushing with his bound legs, but only managed to travel a few meters before Simon caught up with him.
"Is this a friend of yours?" Simon asked, throwing the severed head at the terrified man. "I gave him what you lot like to hand out to bloody farmers who get in your way."
He raised the machete and moved in -- but the sick fury that had driven him to murder the other man was fading. Now when he saw the stark terror in the eyes of the helpless man on the ground, he felt -- shame?
He was supposed to be a civilized man. But the Janjaweed deserved terror and pain and death!
He was supposed to
represent the best of Western culture, as exemplified by the mission of the
Nightwatch Institute, and more -- he should also be living up to the ideals of
his sensei in
Killing in combat was one thing. Executing a criminal was another. Deliberately terrorizing and torturing a man was -- unworthy, a betrayal of his principles and the principles of his mentors. But --
Simon closed his eyes, took in a long, deep breath, letting the air flood through his body from his nostrils to his hara, his center, then exhaling slowly through his mouth. When he opened his eyes again, he opened his hand as well, and the machete fell to the sand.
He rummaged in his pockets, found a folding knife, and knelt beside the Janjaweed, who had stopped struggling, either surrendering to his fate, or confused by Simon's hesitation. Simon opened the knife, and carefully cut the plastic restraints holding the man's legs.
"Get up. Get up, and run for your worthless life."
And stumbling, weeping, the man did just that.
Simon looked down at the mangled face on the head he had removed, looked at the blood-slick machete, looked at his hands -- and wept. He had treated Sullivan with contempt because Sullivan was a killer, while he, Simon Litchfield, was a nobler sort. But his supposed superiority had fallen away, first by necessity, then by choice.
Simon wondered if Sullivan had learned anything from this disastrous day. Would he realize now that the lives of the innocent meant something? That a victory -- killing many of the Janjaweed raiders -- was no victory at all if the lives he intended to defend were lost in the process?
"I think I know what Sullivan is doing," Simon said. He leaned back in Stephanie Keel's guest chair, caught himself when the supposedly-ergonomic monstrosity threatened to eject him, then straightened with his best 'I meant to do that' expression firmly fixed on his face.
Stephanie Keel, her right arm still supported by a sling, managed to stifle a laugh. Clearing her throat, she said, "I'm guessing it has something to do with blowing people up -- or rather sucking them in, with this implosion gimmick you say he has."
Simon sighed. "What I meant was, I know why he has changed targets. All our previous knowledge of him suggests that he was an idealist of sorts, attacking those in power -- usually governments, sometimes corporations -- on behalf of what he viewed as the underdogs. But this most recent incident involved the murder of one of his former IRA colleagues -- and in particular, one who was reportedly in the process of planning and organizing a major terrorist offensive."
"You think he's
sold out? Gone to work for the
"Nothing so prosaic," Simon said. "I think he is trying to prevent the deaths of innocent bystanders -- the kind who are most often killed by terrorist acts, even when a specific military or political figure is the primary target."
Stephanie frowned. "So he's not against killing, per se -- just sloppy killing?"
"As ridiculous as
you make it sound, I believe you're correct," Simon said. "When I met him, he was a wanted man in
"The bad guys never think they're bad guys," Stephanie said. She caught Simon's look of disbelief, and qualified her claim. "Okay, some of the crazier ones are proud to be bad guys, but in general ..."
"Sullivan is targeting terrorists, or what the world views as terrorists," Simon said impatiently. "If we identify the most significant imminent threats --"
"Excluding the biggest one in recorded history, I presume?"
"Yes, yes, excluding that one. I think it's safe to assume that Sullivan lacks the means to do anything about that threat, even if he is fully aware that it exists!"
Stephanie winked. "Breathe deeply. Your sensei wouldn't be pleased if he saw you freaking out like that. Now, if I set an intelligent agent loose in the CIA and NSA and Interpol networks, I should be able to see who the spooky set consider to be the next Big Bad Whatever."
"An agent? Since when did you have agents working for you?"
Now Stephanie did laugh. "Simon, I'm going to schedule you for some refresher courses on computer terminology. I meant a little computer program that can search for keywords and phrases and compute relevancy scores. A little beastie like that can sift through gigabytes of message traffic and reports and tell me where the hot spots are for the kinds of things you were talking about, and who's holding the matches."
"And what would the CIA and Interpol and whatever other agencies you intend to pillage say about this sort of thing?"
"Not a word that you'll ever hear. However, if I don't show up for work tomorrow, and my apartment is so empty that it looks like it's never been occupied, and my name is missing from every computer system in the world ..."
"I'll find you," Simon said. "No matter what they do, I'll find you."
"C'mon, Simon, I was just kidding," Stephanie said. "I've done this sort of thing hundreds of times, and if they've ever noticed, apparently they didn't mind."
kidding," Simon said. "Having
rescued you once, I feel that I am obligated to watch out for you for the rest
of your life. It's something I picked up
"Yeah, well, you can drop it here and now," Stephanie said. "It's kinda heartwarming to hear you talk like that, but it's also kinda creepy, you know."
"If it makes you feel any better, I consider the obligation to be reciprocal -- you have, after all, saved my life on a few occasions, through your work or by direct physical action. So has Tom."
"Great. So we're a co-dependent trio, bonded for life. I feel much better now. How about you leave me alone now so I can set loose the hounds to track down Sullivan or his next likely target?"
Simon nodded, carefully disentangled himself from the chair, and exited from Stephanie's office, closing the door behind him.
Stephanie shook her head and smiled. The funny thing was, she did feel better, thinking of Tom and Simon and herself as a sort of family.
Then she turned her attention back to the oversized flat-panel monitor and wriggled her right arm out of the sling, wincing as pain shot through her still-mending shoulder. Her fingers began to dance over the keyboard, assembling blocks of code from her libraries of thousands of routines, writing new commands, linking and cross-linking ...
"By George, I do believe I've got it," Stephanie said.
Days had passed with no word of any sightings of Jerry Sullivan and, fortunately, no reports of incidents where an implosion device had been used. Still, Simon had been worried; even if Sullivan was not using his new 'clean' weapon, the likelihood that it would spread to other factions would continue to increase until and unless the technology was recaptured.
"Is it contagious?" Simon asked. "Should I be wearing one of those ridiculous protective masks?"
Stephanie peered at Simon through one eye, intending to tease him for worrying about his appearance, but hesitated when she saw the dark circles under his eyes. He had not been sleeping well since he had been 'asked' to dredge up his memories of Jerry Sullivan, and it was starting to show.
"Um, fortunately, no," she said at last. "I don't think they make those masks in that shade of khaki anyway. What I meant was, I think I know where Mr. Sullivan might make his next appearance."
She tapped a few keys,
and brought up a map of
"A good bet," Simon said. "There's certainly enough terrorist activity there for him to find a target."
"Yeah, but here's the kicker -- his target will probably be an American."
Simon grunted. "An American Muslim, you mean? Someone providing funds and materiel to an Indonesian Al Qaeda group?"
Stephanie shook her head. "An American Christian. A Dominionist, to be more specific."
Simon lowered himself
-- very carefully -- into Stephanie's guest chair. "I'm afraid you've lost me. Is this fellow a representative of the
Stephanie rolled her eyes. "Nooo. I realize the America-First and Christians-in-charge types are still pretty powerful here, but this guy is from the extreme loony fringe -- which is a rather wide fringe, and wealthy at that, but still not likely to make it in the civil service."
"Then why would
he be Sullivan's
"This is where it
gets a bit dicey," Stephanie admitted.
"This guy -- his name's Emmanuel Goodman, believe it or not -- may
be planning to release a tailored bioweapon in
"Millions of innocents," Simon said. "That would make him a prime target for Sullivan, if I'm right about his current agenda."
He yawned, massaged his face with both hands in an attempt to get his blood moving, and said, "One thing puzzles me. What, exactly, is the 'nutbar grapevine', and how were you able to access it?"
Stephanie laughed. "It's -- websites, blogs, bulletin boards, members-only discussion sites. And, of course, e-mail, text, and voice traffic flagged and captured by NSA spy programs. Every special-interest group in the world has stuff like that now, and the loonies have more than their share. A lot of it is encrypted, but very little of it is beyond NSA cracking programs; hell, most of it I can hack into with my own little toolkit."
Simon nodded. "So that explains what it is, and how the NSA would have access to it. I gather that your -- what was the term? -- your agent was able to borrow this information without being detected."
Stephanie held up her wrists, then pulled up her pant legs to display her ankles. "No cuffs, manacles, or electronic locator doodads. Like I said before, either they haven't noticed what I'm doing, or they don't care --"
"Or someone is protecting you," Callow said.
"Next time, Simon, don't just close the door behind you when you come in -- lock it."
Callow smiled. "I have access to the keys and codes for every door on Institute property," he said. "But feel free to lock anything you like, if the illusion of privacy comforts you."
Stephanie said nothing, but Simon saw her hands fold into fists.
"Now, my dear Ms. Keel, you were discussing a possible target for Mr. Sullivan?"
"A Dominionist named Emmanuel Goodman," Simon said. "Apparently he intends to release a
biological weapon in
"He believes that his virus, or whatever it is, will only affect Muslims," Stephanie said.
Callow chuckled. "Targeting a virus to a specific ethnic subtype is nearly impossible -- only a complete idiot would ever believe that a virus can be made to distinguish between people based on religion."
"Idiot or not, he might believe it if he believes that God is on his side -- literally," Simon said. "Since his co-religionists believe that Christians are destined to rule the world, and are justified in taking extreme measures to bring that destiny to fruition, it is safe to assume that he does think that his cause has divine backing."
pharmaceutical plant in
"Theophilus -- from the Greek for 'God-loving'," Simon said. "Goodman and his fellow extreme Dominionists?"
"There are two threats to be dealt with, then," Callow said. "Obviously, the Institute can't stand by and allow Goodman to commit mass murder. But at the same time, we can't allow Sullivan to assassinate Goodman."
"Why hasn't the NSA or the CIA done anything about Goodman? If Stephanie was able to extrapolate this threat from NSA data, then --"
"Friends in very
high places," Callow said.
"Fortunately, this won't deter us
from taking appropriate action. I will
contact the Indonesian authorities and have them prepare to -- investigate,
shall we say -- unusual activity at the Theophilus
drug plant. And you, Simon, should be
Callow left the room to make his phone calls. Simon untangled himself from the ergonomic chair and stood, also preparing to leave.
"I wish I could go with you," Stephanie said. "But my shoulder is still pretty bad. I can work the keyboard and touchpad all right, but I'd be less than useless in a fight."
"It's just as well," Simon said. "If Goodman's biological weapon is less discriminating that he believes -- as it almost certainly is -- I'd rather you were nowhere near it. I'm in my autumn years --"
"Ah, blow it out your years," Stephanie said. "You'll probably outlive me, if you can just avoid getting shot to pieces, blown up, blown in, or poisoned."
"You could wish me good luck instead of mocking me," Simon said.
"That would just
confuse you," Stephanie said. As
Simon turned to go, she added, "Try to get some sleep on the plane. You're gonna need
to be wide awake when you get to
Stephanie watched him walk away, looked down at her injured shoulder, and cursed. "You'd better come back in one piece, Simon. I still have to wax your ass on the racquetball court."
On board Nightbird
One, over the
distance from the Nightwatch hangar near
Since the Indonesian
authorities were expected to take care of neutralizing the threat posed by
Emmanuel Goodman, Simon's preparations for the trip had not included the
requisitioning of any special weapons from Melvin Squibb. He had his usual complement of gadgets -- a
satellite phone with encryption capabilities, a disguised Taser stun-gun, a
hand-held ultrasound scanner, and a stealth field generator -- stowed in the
many pockets of his specially-tailored khaki jacket, but no guns or explosive
devices. If the situation required more
firepower, Nightwatch contacts in
Bill Starsmore, Ed Wendell, and Allison Corwyn
were all on board (leaving the Institute rather short of hot-zone experienced
pilots, Simon suspected). Allison was
flying the left seat on the first shift, with Jan Aardsma
as copilot; Ed and his partner Ivan Semeniuk would
take over in
"I love this bird," Bill said. He stretched and ran his fingers through his short, salt-and-pepper hair, then leaned over to give an affectionate pat to the bulkhead separating the passenger cabin from the cockpit. "If the Nightbird had some offensive weapons, it would make an okay land attack plane. Not designed for a dogfight, though. Prob'ly tear the wings off if you pushed it too hard."
"Ali would laugh at you for saying that, man," Ed said. A few years younger than Starsmore, he had lost most of his hair, and usually shaved off the rest. He wore a bushy moustache by way of compensation 'to cut the glare'. "The armor and countermeasures make this a nice, inconspicuous way to get into and out of tight spots, but it's still a souped-up passenger plane with cushy seats. It sure ain't an F15."
"Hey, I'd rather fly this thing and probably not get shot at than fly a military bird any day," Ivan said. Semeniuk had the compact build of a working man and the face of a Ukrainian peasant, topped with longish sandy-brown hair. "Being inconspicuous is a good thing when hotheads are lookin' for something worth lighting off a shoulder-launched heat-seeker."
"Gentlemen, please, I am trying to sleep," Sam said. 'Tall, very dark, and handsome', Sam looked like a middleweight boxer poured into denim jeans and a striped shirt about half a size too small.
Sam's family had
Sam noticed the odd expression on Simon's face and pried himself out of the overstuffed leather seat to check on his VIP passenger. "Hey, Dr. Litchfield, you look a bit out of sorts. Is there anything I can do?"
said, "No, Sam -- I just -- I was in
Sam grimaced. "I'm guessing that I look a bit like
some of the people you knew there.
Sorry, man. I've heard stories
from my parents, and I've seen the news reports and video. I'm sure glad my family moved to the
"We -- Nightwatch
-- were digging wells to supply clean water to a village in
"I gather it didn't go well," Sam said.
Simon laughed bitterly. "A bit of an understatement," he said. "The whole village was slaughtered -- or, I don't know, maybe a few managed to flee. They might have returned after we were airlifted out. We never took a census or anything like that, so -- all I know is that we found no one alive when we searched the village after the Janjaweed departed."
"And Sullivan?" Bill asked. Bill, Ed, and Ivan had overheard their conversation and had come to listen in.
"Sullivan took a bullet just before I passed out from injuries I had sustained -- I'd lost a lot of blood," Simon said. "By the time the other Nightwatch people came and patched me up, he had disappeared We didn't know if the Janjaweed had dragged him away, or he'd wandered off under his own power. But obviously, one way or another, he survived."
"A coward," Sam said, sneering. "He was supposed to help those people."
Simon held up his hand. "I think he did the best he could. He taught them the basics of handling guns and explosives, but he was no tactician. He knew how to attack a target, a person or a place, but really had no experience in setting up a coherent defensive position. The Janjaweed were -- are -- made up of nomadic people, with few if any permanent bases, so he couldn't take the offensive -- they wouldn't sit still long enough to set up the kind of attacks he was used to."
"Sullivan could have escaped when the Janjaweed began their attack -- after all, he had been hired to arm and train the locals, not to fight for them -- but he didn't," Simon continued. "And he kept fighting after the last of those he had trained had fallen, trying to save the rest of the village. I think -- I think he was there long enough to begin to care about the people. And when they all died because his methods failed -- worse, because his weapons were turned against them -- I think it set him on the path he's following now."
Sam looked thoughtful. Simon suspected that Sam had decided to hate Sullivan for failing to protect people who, for all Simon knew, might have included members of Sam's family, but hearing that Sullivan had risked his own life had blunted that intention.
"How are we going
to find this guy?" Bill asked.
"I mean, there's seven of us, plus
whatever local help the Institute can arrange, but
"It's true we don't know where Sullivan is," Simon said, "but we know his target. At some time, Sullivan needs to get close to Emmanuel Goodman, or gain access to a place where he can be certain that Goodman will go. That means Goodman's hotel room or apartment, his car, his plane -- and yes, he travels on a corporate jet -- or the Theophilus Pharmatech plant."
"Aren't all of those likely to be crawling with corporate security types?" Ivan asked. "And for that matter, won't the Theophilus plant be overrun with Indonesian cops acting on Callow's tip?"
"Bad news on that angle," Allison Corwyn said, emerging from the cockpit. She was a trim brunette in her mid-thirties with a fighter pilot's overmuscled right arm concealed by a battered leather flight jacket. "I just got a call from the Institute. Apparently the Indonesian authorities are not going to poke around Theophilus. Too many jobs -- and probably too much graft -- at stake for them to risk it."
"Risk it?" Simon exclaimed. "Are they aware that Emmanuel Goodman intends to unleash a plague there?"
"According to Mr. Callow, they expressed disbelief that a fine corporate citizen like Theophilus could do such a thing," Allison said. "I think that means that Theophilus pays off the right people, on time and in large bills."
"Anyone want to bet that some top Indonesian officials are going to be off on junkets for the next little while?" Ivan Semeniuk said.
"Like our officials are any better," Jan Aardsma said, joining Allison in the passenger cabin. She was a blonde, a few years older than Allison, but "very well preserved". From what Simon had heard about her, she could fly anything from helicopters to heavy-lift cargo planes.
"Not to be a nag, but who's flying the plane?" Ed Wendell asked.
"Our friend Otto, of course," Jan said. "Gimme a break, Ed, we're about four hours away from Hawaii with about 50 miles between us and anything else with wings."
Simon rolled his eyes. As the only one present who had not been an Air Force or Marine pilot, he felt like a lone 'townie' at a college fraternity party. It was just as well that the others were keeping the mood light, however; the failure of the Indonesian authorities to deal with the bioweapon threat meant that their mission once again had two objectives: stopping Goodman and recapturing the implosion technology. That meant more risk, and a greater likelihood of casualties.
While the pilots continued to kibitz, Simon retreated to the communications suite in the next compartment. He hadn't anticipated any need to break into the Theophilus factory, so he hadn't even glanced at a blueprint or studied information on the security setup there. He had a lot of homework to do.
The Institute's good relations with the Indonesian government allowed the Nightbird One party to bypass the usual immigration and Customs procedures, but Simon was still glad that they had brought no obvious weapons (or concealed ones that could be found using an explosives sniffer) on board. The airport security guards looked like they would quite happily shoot the American group if anything resembling trouble occurred; apparently, word of the accusations the Institute had raised regarding Theophilus had spread. The Nightwatch crew were polite and cooperative to a fault, although Simon saw more than one clenched fist hastily concealed; the ex-military types were not prone to let obvious displays of hostility go unanswered.
Once they were safely on board the minivan supplied by local Nightwatch associates, they were free to talk again.
"Man, you'd think we were the bad guys," Allison Corwyn said. "Don't they know we're here to save their asses from a plague?"
"I don't think we
should be surprised by the cool reception," Simon said. "For one thing, some Muslim factions
here see the
Bill Starsmore laughed. "I'll bet that whole goose-snake thing sounded a lot better in your head than out loud."
Simon sighed. "Everybody's a critic. I trust that everyone brought their standard field kits?"
Each of the seven pilots nodded. "Old Marvin would never let somebody go anywhere without what he considers 'the basics'," Bill said. "Wish he'd been able to throw in a few real weapons -- I'm not looking forward to taking on guys with automatic weapons if all I'm packin' is a Taser that looks like a pack of smokes or an MP4 player."
"Me neither," Ed Wendell said. "But the way those guys at the airport were looking at us, it's a damn good thing we weren't carrying any guns or bombs on us, or in the plane."
worry," their driver said. He was a
short but sturdy fellow with coarse, short black hair, deeply tanned skin, and
the broad, high-cheekbones typical of the Chinese / Malaysian portion of the Indonesian
population. "Mr. Callow knew you
might need many 'special toys', especially after government refused to touch Theophilus. Had them shipped here on cargo plane from
"That's more like it," Jan Aardsma said. "I'm an old-fashioned girl -- I'd rather shoot 'em or blow 'em up than zap 'em."
Simon said, "Do you know exactly what kind of 'toys' we have available, Mr. -- I'm sorry, we've been very rude. What is your name?"
"Mohammad Suwiryo, at your service," the driver replied. "No need for introductions -- Callow sent pictures and names over secure fax. You got pretty good assortment of 'toys' -- flashbangs, smoke grenades, Glock pistols, some air guns with tranquilizer darts. Nothing to make really big bang, but Semtex and C4 I can get for you."
"Damn -- no assault rifles," Ivan Semeniuk said. "Well, I suppose a Glock is better than nothing, but we're still gonna be seriously outgunned if we have to break into Theophilus to sabotage the bioweapon release."
Suwiryo chortled. "Not to worry! AK-47's easy to get these days if you know who to ask -- and I know."
"Might I remind you all that we are here to prevent an assassination and a major act of terrorism?" Simon asked. "In other words, we want to save lives, not end them."
"Omelets and eggs, Simon," Sam Abukoda said. "To save thousands, maybe millions of lives, we have to accept causing a few casualties -- and probably taking a few casualties of our own."
"Hell, I say we let Sullivan take out Goodman and his operation, and then grab him," Ed Wendell said. "It's kind of a 'would you kill Hitler before he started World War II' scenario -- we know Goodman is set on committing mass murder, so saving him shouldn't be a priority."
"That is not an option," Simon said. "For one thing, there is no guarantee that Sullivan will succeed. For another, even if Sullivan succeeds at killing Goodman, there is no guarantee that the bioweapon threat will be neutralized. We must proceed as if capturing Sullivan and stopping Goodman's plot are two entirely separate objectives -- although Goodman's movements may be our best lead to finding Sullivan."
"Hotel Sari Pan Pacific," Suwiryo announced. "Everybody out!"
Hotel Sari San Pacific,
"I can't believe Callow set us up in a four-star hotel," Bill Starsmore said. "This place is pretty plush."
"It's a little too plush for my tastes," Allison said. "This lobby has that red-velvet-and-brocade bordello look to it --"
"Nostalgic for the old job, Ali?" Ivan Semeniuk asked. He made sure he was well out of arm's -- or leg's -- reach when he said it, but Allison only smiled. Of course, it was the kind of smile that said that Ivan had better learn to sleep with one eye open ...
"Settle down, children, please," Simon said. He walked across the spacious lobby to the registration desk and caught the attention of the clerk.
"Selamat siang," Simon said. "We are the group from the Nightwatch Institute. We have reservations --"
"Ah, good day, sir," the clerk replied. "You are -- Dr. Litchfield? Very good. Your group has two suites on the eighth floor, each with two rooms and a shared sitting room. Lovely view of the city, as well. If you would each sign the register --"
Simon used the stylus to enter his name and the Institute's address on the touchplate embedded in the desktop, then stood aside to allow his companions to follow suit. While they were signing in, Simon handed his Institute credit card to the clerk, who quickly passed it over the scanner under the desk. By the time the last of the Nightwatch pilots had registered, the clerk had produced seven keycards, which Simon then distributed.
"Tidak, we can handle our own luggage," Simon said, waving off the advance of several eager attendants. "We're traveling quite light, as you can see. Terima kasih" He was reluctant to let any of the baggage out of their hands; some of the disguised equipment was more delicate than it looked, and had an unfortunate tendency to emit unnerving noises when mishandled.
"Damn it, Simon, what's the point of staying in a luxury hotel if we don't let 'em pamper us a little?" Jan Aardsma asked. "I, for one, wouldn't mind having one of those boys fetch and carry for me."
"Melvin would never forgive us if we lost or damaged any of his equipment," Simon said as they walked to the elevators. "You might end up paying for a few minutes of pampering with a few hours of paperwork."
A few hours later, the seven Nightwatch operatives and Suwiryo gathered in Simon's room, using chairs borrowed from their own rooms to supplement the furniture already in place. The room was large and airy, with a king-size bed, a desk and chair in matching dark-red wood, and a low table with a small couch and two armchairs. The color scheme was (fortunately) somewhat more subdued than the lobby (which Simon had found rather baroque), but still more colorful than one might find in a hotel belonging to a European- or U.S.-based chain, with cool yellow walls with gold accents, brighter yellow curtains, and a blue and gold carpeting.
Just before the meeting, Simon had used one of Melvin's bug detectors to ensure that there were no transmitters in the room itself, and had attached a small audio playback device to the windows to foil any attempts at long-range bugging as well. A laser or parabolic mike would pick up only the sounds of a man singing in the shower -- badly; Simon had even turned on the shower to ensure that any monitoring of the room's consumption of water and power would match the recorded soundtrack.
"Mr. Suwiryo brought a coded message from
Suwiryo grinned and tilted his head a few degrees. "Happy to be of service."
"I've skimmed through the material, and there's good news and bad," Simon said. "The bad news: the Theophilus Pharmatech facility is very well protected. Aside from having a large and well-armed security force of its own, Theophilus receives a lot of attention from the Indonesian National Police -- the POLRI. That makes it unlikely that either Sullivan or our group could penetrate it without a great deal of trouble." By trouble, he meant fatalities -- something he hoped to avoid, or at least minimize. The image of his own right hand, blood-red and swinging a machete, kept pushing its way into his mind's eye ...
"Great," Sam Abukoda said. "So how are we supposed to destroy the bioweapon if we can't get to it?"
Simon pulled a
cylinder the size of a tall can of beer from his bag, opened it, and unrolled a
half-meter wide display screen. He
attached his handheld computer, and after a few seconds, brought up a map of
"The good news is that we have a single strong candidate for Goodman's target. Not far from the hotel is the Perusaam Air Minum Waterworks," he said, highlighting the facility on the map. "Callow's researchers say that the most effective way of dispersing the bioweapon to affect the maximum number of people would be to introduce it into the city's water supply. And not coincidentally, new equipment has just been added to the Waterworks -- equipment donated and installed by Theophilus Worldwide. Assuming that Mr. Goodman is enough of a zealot to insist on being present at the main event -- and his history suggests that he is -- that may also be where Sullivan is most likely to strike."
"That seems like a stretch, Simon," Allison said. "We're assuming that we know where the bioweapon will be deployed. We're assuming that Goodman will be there -- that he's crazy enough to believe that it can't affect him, and pompous enough to want to make a speech when the weapon is released. And we're assuming that Sullivan knows everything we know and is making the same damn assumptions."
"And my mama always said that when you assume, you make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me'," Ivan Semeniuk said.
"In your case, that would be redundant," Allison said drily.
"What about the facilities used to produce the weapon?" Ed asked. "Destroying the batch they try to put in the water -- assuming that Callow's experts are correct -- is one thing. But it doesn't prevent them from making another batch and trying again, here or somewhere else."
"That problem will be dealt with -- one way or another," Simon said. "We are hoping that the Indonesian authorities will be forced to act when presented with incontrovertible proof of Theophilus Pharmatech's intentions. That makes it doubly important for us to keep Emmanuel Goodman alive."
"Assuming and hoping that everything goes the way Callow -- and you, I guess -- figure it will, when do we move on the Waterworks?" Bill asked. "Are we gonna post a 24-hour guard on it until Goodman leaves the country?"
"I have an answer for you," Mohammad Suwiryo said, grinning again. "There will be a dedication ceremony for the new equipment at the Waterworks. Mr. Goodman will be there to make a big speech -- at noon, two days from now."
"The guy's got big brass ones," Jan said. "I mean, he's gonna dump some super-virus into the water supply with government poobahs and the press standing right next to him. I'll have to express my admiration -- right before I kick his ass."
Simon frowned. "Knowing the time when Goodman will be there is helpful. But those 'government poobahs', as Jan so charmingly calls them, will have government troops to protect them -- POLRI or Army, if not both. I would think that Goodman would be hesitant to try anything -- unusual -- with armed men watching."
"The trick -- for Goodman and for us -- would be to get the 'poobahs' to vacate the area, along with their troops," Bill said. "I'll bet Goodman has arranged a little something to accomplish just that. While all about him are losing their heads and runnin' like rabbits, he'll be just a bit slow on his feet ..."
"A nice, big explosion nearby would disperse the dignitaries and their guards," Simon said. "Presumably, Goodman -- or Sullivan -- or both -- will have arranged something along those lines. We can use their diversion to make our operation feasible."
This, too, was a mixed blessing. Sullivan, at least, would try to minimize casualties from such a diversionary blast, if Simon understood his motives. Goodman, on the other hand, couldn't care less if he killed dozens of civilians -- not when he was hoping to kill tens or even hundreds of thousands. But there was nothing the Nightwatch contingent could do about it; they lacked the time, the manpower, and the familiarity with the area needed to find and neutralize the hypothetical bomb, particularly since it could be hidden in a vehicle that would be driven to the area just before detonation time. Still ...
"Mr. Suwiryo, do you think your contacts might be able to learn about a planned bombing incident -- one arranged by Theophilus, rather than one of the Islamic groups, that is?"
Suwiryo frowned. "I do not know. They may have brought their supplies in by private means, used foreign experts. The pepper vine -- pardon, grapevine would not have such information."
"Lives may depend on it, Mr. Suwiryo," Simon said. "If Mr. Goodman has arranged for a bombing near the waterworks to allow him to carry out his plot, it will probably be a nasty one."
Suwiryo nodded. "I will do what I can. Do you need more -- toys -- for your work?"
"Given the way things seem to be going, I believe we can manage with the equipment you delivered this evening," Simon said. He ignored the groans emanating from Ivan and Jan.
"In that case, I will leave you now," Suwiryo said. "It may take every favor I am owed to learn what we need to know to stop Goodman from killing many just to make his larger plot possible. Selamat siang, my friends."
Suwiryo stood and almost ran from the room.
"Ah, Simon, why'd you have to turn down some more guns and explosives? I swear, you don't want us to have any fun at all," Ivan said.
Simon stood and crossed the room in three fast, gliding steps. He closed his hand around Semeniuk's throat, applying pressure to the carotid artery and the nerve cluster under the jawline. Semeniuk gasped, his arms and legs spasming.
"Hey! What the hell are you doing?" Ed Wendell moved to tackle Simon, but Bill Starsmore caught his arm and held him back.
Simon released his grip and Semeniuk sagged in his chair, his eyes wild with fear and anger.
"What the fuck was that for?"
"That was for thinking that it might be fun to use bigger guns and more lethal explosives on our mission here," Simon said. "I told you before, we are here to save lives. If absolutely necessary, we may injure or even kill a few to save many thousands. But if you suggest again that doing so would be fun, I will take you back to Nightbird One and lock you in the cargo hold until our work here is finished."
"You're welcome to try, you old faggot," Semeniuk said.
Bill Starsmore shook his head. "Ivan, you're really going to want to apologize for that."
"Look at him," Semeniuk said. "He dresses like he's on safari, even back in D.C. He puts on that swishy British accent anytime he wants to impress somebody. And he is old."
Bill shook his head again. "You've never seen him at work, have you? You're letting the hair fool you."
Simon laughed shakily. His reaction to Semeniuk's attempt at humor had shocked him as much as it had everyone else. "It's all right, Bill. I won't do him any more damage than I already have. Imagine the paperwork I'd have to fill out for that."
Semeniuk stood, his face red. "Screw this. I'm going to my room and cracking open the mini-bar. We got almost two days before we have to put our asses on the line. You experts come and get me when you know what we're doing."
"Ivan, calm down --"
"Forget it, Ed. I can't believe you're on Litchfield's side." Semeniuk stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
"Exactly how old is he? Twelve?" Allison asked.
Simon sighed. "I should apologize to him," he said. "It was my overreaction to his little joke that led to his -- unfortunate remarks."
"See? That's how a grown-up acts --" Allison said.
"Aside from the whole chokehold thing," Jan said. "Remind me not to piss you off, Doctor Litchfield."
"At this point, Ivan may have the right idea -- about the mini-bars, anyway," Simon said. "We are all suffering from extreme jet lag, and we need to be at our best less than two days from now. I would suggest that we meet here tomorrow at around 10 AM local time. I will order brunch for the group -- this hotel has an excellent kitchen."
As the others filed out, Simon looked down at his right hand, flexing the fingers, examining the many scars and wondering what internal wounds might have been reopened by this mission. He had been so quick to anger, so quick to respond with violence to what had been, after all, a joke. He hoped that it was only fatigue and the stress of the situation that had made him behave so badly. Otherwise -- otherwise, I'm no better than the man I'm hunting.
The next morning, Simon tried to gather the Nightwatch party for a strategy session. But Ivan Semeniuk was not in the room he was sharing with Ed Wendell, and Ed didn't know (or wouldn't say) where he had gone.
As he had promised, he had arranged for a buffet setup with eggs, bacon, an assortment of rolls, pastries, and bread, coffee, tea, and various fruits. The five pilots and Simon filled plates with whatever appealed to them, then sat down to eat and talk.
"This isn't like him, guys," Ed said. "Ivan is usually pretty reliable -- if he wasn't, I wouldn't fly with him."
"It's my bloody fault," Simon said. "He probably thinks I'm a complete lunatic -- and I'm not sure I could prove him wrong."
Sam Abukoda reached over to pat Simon on the shoulder. "It's Sullivan, isn't it? Sullivan, and all
the shit you went through in
"We can't afford to worry about that," Simon said. "I have to focus on our current situation, or -- Bill? Maybe you should take the lead here. My judgment isn't ..."
Bill shook his head. "I'm just a pilot, Simon. If we were strafing Sullivan or hitting him with smart munitions from a couple miles up, sure, I could take over the mission. But of all of us, you're the one with the most experience on the ground."
"Suck it up, Litchfield," Jan Aardsma said. "If we're gonna pull this off, we need you to run things."
"Sympathetic as always, Jan," Allison Corwyn said. "But seriously, Simon, Bill's right. We're all happier in the air than on the ground. And none of us knows Sullivan at all."
Simon's satellite phone rang, and Simon answered it rather than responding to his companions' expressions of confidence -- or impatience. "Litchfield here."
"This is Semeniuk."
"Mr. Semeniuk, where are you? We're meeting to discuss strategy --"
"I'm with Suwiryo," Semeniuk interjected. "I -- I figured it was better if we stayed out of each other's way for now. Anyway, Suwiryo has a lead on how the diversionary strike may be going down. He's heard rumors -- nothing completely solid, but bits and pieces from multiple sources that seem to fit together -- that it will be a truck bomb."
Simon grimaced. "That could mean anything from a small
explosion up to an
"Yeah..." Semeniuk murmured. After a brief pause, he said, "We got no clue as to where the truck is now, or where the explosives will be rigged, if they haven't already been set up. We do know the make and model of the truck -- color and company markings don't mean shit, of course, because all that can be changed in a few hours ..."
"The target will presumably be somewhere close enough to the Waterworks for the explosion to be considered to be a threat to the government officials present at the ceremony," Simon said. "That means that there will be relatively few routes the truck will be able to take --"
"Simon, who are you talking to? Is that Ivan?" Ed asked.
Simon raised his hand, signaling Ed that he would have to wait for an answer.
"We have two choices, Litchfield," Semeniuk said. "We can try to intercept the truck and prevent the bomb from going off at all -- in which case, neither Sullivan, Goodman, or our merry band will have the diversion we're all counting on, unless we rig another one of our own. Or we can let it blow, but try to control the location."
"The first option would minimize the civilian casualties," Simon said, "which I'm sure we all would prefer."
"Wishes and horses, man," Semeniuk said. "I'm betting that whoever is behind the wheel of the truck will set off the bomb if he's attacked or blocked. I think -- I think the best we can hope for is to get him to blow the thing as far from any big crowds as possible."
Simon consulted the detailed map of the area surrounding the Waterworks on his computer screen. "Fortunately, the Waterworks is situated on a fairly large plot of land -- and with sewage sedimentation ponds and the like on site, the area around it is not heavily developed. The best plan might be to herd the truck onto the site, and then try to capture it."
"That's what Suwiryo said, too. He's got a few guys with motorcycles willing to act as guards at on all the roads into the site."
"Good," Simon said. "Then you can rejoin us here --"
"Litchfield -- I think I'm gonna stick with Suwiryo's boys. I ride a hog back home, so I figure I can handle riding and shooting at the same time if it comes to that."
"Semeniuk -- Ivan -- I want to apologize for last night," Simon said. "Your remarks were -- insensitive -- but my reaction was completely unacceptable --"
"Forget it, man," Semeniuk said. "You and me were just born to push each other's buttons. Ed told me about some of your history -- including a few things that you better hope aren't written down anywhere. I know you had reasons for blowing up like that."
"Then come back to the group. We'll need every man -- every person -- to be sure we can capture and control both Goodman and Sullivan."
"I think I'll be more valuable with Suwiryo's cavalry," Semeniuk said. "Tell Ed I'll see him when this is over. Wait -- Suwiryo wants to talk to you."
But Semeniuk had already passed the phone to the Indonesian facilitator.
"Dr. Litchfield, this is Mohammad speaking," Suwiryo said.
"Mr. Suwiryo, good morning," Simon said. "You wanted to speak to me?"
"Yes, yes. Your man Ivan told you our plans?"
Simon sighed, then said. "Yes. He said that you learned that a truck bomb will be used in the vicinity of the Waterworks, and that you have recruited motorcycle riders to try to intercept it. And he -- Ivan -- will be riding with you?"
"Yes. A dangerous job, but your group will be risking a fight with POLRI and government security men, so you will be no safer. Do not worry about your man. My people are very, very good -- good riders, good with weapons. They have been with me many years -- they are like brothers to me, men I trust with my life. Some I have known since we were children."
Simon refrained from asking what they -- and Suwiryo himself -- had been doing for 'many years' that required motorcycle and combat skills. Sometimes Callow and the Lower Echelon used the services of individuals and groups whom Simon would have thought should be targets of Institute operations rather than collaborators. But as such men went, Suwiryo seemed decent enough ... he had to hope that Suwiryo's troops were equally trustworthy.
"Is there anything else?" Simon asked.
"I spoke with Mr. Callow, told him I needed more money to pay my men," Suwiryo said. "He said you should call him to confirm -- he is an officious little prick, no?"
Simon laughed. "That he is. How many men do you have riding with you and Ivan?"
"Eight," Suwiryo replied. "So with your Ivan and myself, we will have ten riders to cover the area around the Waterworks.
"I will make sure that Callow pays you," Simon said. "Perhaps you should bill him for the use of the motorcycles and any ordnance you may expend along the way, as well..."
"Ha! I can ship the shell casings and grenade pins to him as proof! Even better than itemized receipts, eh?"
"I'm sure he will be thrilled by your thoroughness," Simon said. Then he added "Mr. Suwiryo -- good luck to you. For everyone's sake, let us hope that we are all successful."
"Good luck to you also," Suwiryo said. "Selamat siang, Dr. Litchfield."
"Selamat siang, Mr. Suwiryo."
Simon terminated the connection and put down the satellite phone.
"That was Ivan, as you probably guessed," he said. "He has decided to act as -- cavalry -- riding a motorcycle with Suwiryo and eight others to try to intercept the truck bomb that Goodman apparently plans to use as a diversion tomorrow -- "
"Oh, shit," Ed Wendell said. "If they try to stop that truck, and the bomb detonates --"
"If it makes you feel any better, Ed, we are probably going to get our asses shot off," Allison Corwyn said. "Our end of things might even be worse than Ivan's -- I mean, he might not even be in the right place to go head to head with the truck, but we for sure will be trying to grab some people who will strenuously object to being grabbed."
Sam grinned. "Well, now, that makes me feel terrific!"
"Ah, hell," Jan said, "if we wanted to live forever, we wouldn't be airplane drivers."
Bill Starsmore snorted. "Simon, before this bunch starts partying too hard, you'd better tell us the plan. And please say that you have a plan, 'cause I sure don't."
Simon sighed. "Very well. We are going to take advantage of the fact that the Indonesian government is still officially quite fond of the Institute, however annoyed they may be about our libelous -- or would that be slanderous? -- accusations regarding Theophilus Pharmatech.
"In other words, we're going to attend Mr. Goodman's ceremony."
Outside the Perusaam
Air Minum Waterworks,
It had taken several phone calls to the Indonesian Ministries of Public Works and Foreign Affairs to obtain invitations to the dedication ceremony (and a few more to the U.S. Embassy to help things along), but Simon had the papers required to allow the Nightwatch group (minus Semeniuk) to get inside the area cordoned off for Emmanuel Goodman's speech several hours before the event.
"You all know the basic plan," Simon said. "We'll enter the area in pairs, and try to find sitting or standing room near each of the exits. When Goodman's -- or Sullivan's -- diversion takes place, whichever team is closest to him will make sure that he can't insert anything into the water downstream of the filtration and chlorination facilities. The others will provide backup and try to spot and intercept Sullivan."
"Do you think we can get away with carrying the Glocks and mini-grenades, or will we have to depend on the Tasers alone?" Jan Aardsma asked.
Simon grimaced. "I don't think they'll have vapor trace equipment in place, so the flashbangs and gas grenades should get through, as long as we don't carry great conspicuous heaps of them in any one pocket. The Glocks are the type designed to have the minimum amount of metal in them, and the ammunition is also mainly ceramics. Mind you, if they have metal detectors set to the maximum sensitivity --"
"I'll risk it," Jan said. "I can't bring myself to go into a tight situation with a weapon that will barely penetrate a cardboard box, has a range under 20 feet, and takes a couple minutes to reload."
"Maybe only one person on each team should carry a Glock, and we should go in one at a time so it isn't too obvious that we're together," Bill said. "That way, at least one person would get through to cover each exit path."
"Sounds reasonable," Simon said. "Bill, I'd like Sam to come with me, if you don't mind. I'll be mainly concentrating on spotting Sullivan, and Sam might be especially useful when we close in on him. Sam, is that all right with you?"
Sam nodded. "I think I know what you have in mind," he said.
Bill shrugged. "I'm all right with it. Ed, since Ivan's off with Suwiryo's men, I guess that puts us together."
"Oh sure, everybody gets a say in the teams except the women," Allison said, laughing. "Not that Jan and I would choose to split up anyway."
Jan grinned. "Yeah. We're so together that we're -- you know -- synchronized."
Ed Wendell turned bright red. "Ah, come on, let's not talk about stuff like that."
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Ed," Allison said. Then she winked, and even Ed's ears turned red.
"Is it always like this when mixed groups of pilots spend time together?" Simon asked.
Sam and Bill exchanged bemused looks. "Pretty much."
Simon glanced at his wristwatch. "It's almost 11. Let's get going -- Suwiryo's men and Ivan have been patrolling for a couple of hours now -- no sign of the truck yet."
Their brief stay had not given them time to adjust to the heat and humidity of the Indonesian day. By the time they reached the gates to the Waterworks, the six Nightwatch operatives were all sweating profusely.
"We couldn't have rented a car?" Ed asked, using his hand as a squeegee to skim the sweat from his forehead.
"Three cars, you mean," Sam said. "We're trying not to look like we're all together."
"In that case, we might try walking with more than two feet between us," Bill said. "Simon, shouldn't we spread out at least a little?"
Simon took several
seconds to answer. The lush greenery and
high humidity made this place completely different from the desert's-edge
"What? Oh, yes, of course. Sam and I will go in first -- Sam in the lead, I'll follow about a minute later. Then Bill and Ed, and Ali and Jan. Or Ali and Jan followed by Bill and Ed, if you'd prefer it that way, Allison."
Allison smiled. "Nice try, Simon. But just a bit too late to score any points."
A motorcycle roared by, then made a U-turn and slowed to a stop next to Simon.
"Hey, guys," Ivan Semeniuk said. "Ready for the big event?"
"Leathers and a helmet in this heat. You must be about ready to melt," Jan said.
Semeniuk flipped open his visor, revealing a face as red as Ed's had been that morning, with rivulets of sweat streaming down to disappear inside the collar of his battered leather jacket. "It doesn't help that I have a Kevlar flak jacket under the leather, either," he said.
He pulled a large water bottle from a saddlebag and drank about a liter before lowering the bottle and replacing it. "I'm drinking gallons of water, but I'm sweating so much, I may never have to pee again."
Simon nodded toward the saddlebag, where he had glimpsed what looked like an Uzi machine gun and several grenades. "I see Suwiryo has made sure you're well prepared," he said.
Semeniuk nodded and grinned. "If you think we're gonna stop a truck with a Taser --"
"I'm sorry. I really didn't mean it as a criticism," Simon said.
"Back to work," Semeniuk said. He flipped the visor on his helmet down, twisted the throttle and roared away.
The three teams got through the security checkpoint at the entrance to the area set up for the dedication ceremony without incident. Simon was actually rather surprised at how lax the security was; then he realized that more attention was being paid to those who looked like local inhabitants (aside from well-known VIPs) than to those who looked European or even African. It made sense, if one assumed that any violence was likely to be perpetrated by Muslim extremists. Of course, in this case, that assumption was completely incorrect.
White resin chairs had been arranged in two blocks separated by a center aisle. Each block contained fifteen or so rows of twenty chairs -- apparently, this event was considered to be important enough to interest a good percentage of the local glitterati. A dais had been constructed next to a large piece of machinery that straddled what Simon assumed must be water mains; a console had been set up on the dais with an oversized lever that presumably would turn on the machine (although the real controls were probably elsewhere).
More white chairs lined the rear of the dais, although these were clearly of better quality than those provided for the audience. A backdrop featured a huge portrait of the Indonesian president and a smiling child holding a glass of clear, sparkling water; bunting in the red and white of the Indonesian flag framed the backdrop and the front of the dais.
There were relatively few people in the audience section -- probably due to the lingering odor of sewage that could not be banished even by the high-capacity fans and air filtration units set up between the seating area and the sedimentation ponds and tanks. Fortunately, there were enough foreign business people present that Simon and his companions were not overly conspicuous.
"What do you think, Simon?" Sam asked. "Where would Goodman introduce his biological agent to the water system?"
Simon frowned. "I've quite a bit of experience with water treatment facilities, but I didn't have time for more than a quick review of the guts of this one. Still, from the looks of things, that hunk of machinery there must be the new toy that Theophilus has so kindly supplied -- something that provides an extra stage of filtration or maybe high-intensity ultraviolet treatment for the water as it leaves the plant."
The machinery in question was massive -- it would have filled a large Quonset hut. A series of massive pipes, each more than a meter in diameter, ran from the main building to one side of the contraption; a new step-down transformer in a chain-link enclosure fed power to it; and more huge pipes emerged from the side furthest from the main plant and diverged to feed into the water mains supplying this part of the city. The machine itself looked like a cross between a gigantic French horn, albeit one made of coarsely-textured green-painted metal, and the boiler of a steam locomotive.
"Okay -- I see it, and it's big, ugly, and complicated," Sam said. "How does that tell us anything?"
"I'll bet that there are inspection ports that provide access to the water flow all over that monstrosity," Simon replied. "And at least one of them is common to all the outbound water mains."
Sam nodded slowly. "Of course -- the virus or bacterium would have to be introduced downstream from all the filtration and treatment to ensure that it got through ..."
"So job one is to make bloody sure that Goodman doesn't get to open up any panels on that machine," Simon said. "Job two will be to keep the bastard alive, and grab up Jerry Sullivan before he can cause any more trouble, here or elsewhere."
"About that --
you're hoping that when he sees me, it will have the same effect on him that it
did on you," Sam said. "You're
hoping that it will -- take him back to
"If seeing you makes him hesitate, it'll give us a chance to grab him, maybe take him without too much damage," Simon said. "Sorry to be using you like that, but --"
"Goodman's here," Sam said.
Goodman wore an expensively tailored white linen suit, perfect for someone carrying the 'white man's burden' of bringing civilization to the heathens. His hair was plastered to his head as if by sweat, but looked dry, suggesting heavy use of gel or spray. Certainly he showed no signs of suffering from the heat and humidity -- or the stench permeating the area.
"Despite the prominence of the President's portrait, I notice that he isn't among the government dignitaries up there," Bill Starsmore said.
"Hedging his bets, I guess," Ed Wendell replied. "He wouldn't chance pissing off Theophilus by looking for signs of a bioweapon lab, but just in case, he made himself scarce today."
"A follower of the 'make sure the government survives, even if the people don't' doctrine," Bill said. His satellite phone rang, and he answered it immediately.
"Starsmore here --"
He closed the phone and returned it to his pocket after only a few seconds. "That was Simon," he said. "Somewhere on that big hunk of machinery, Simon figures that there's some kind of access panel or hatch. That's how Goodman will probably try to dump his superbug into the water supply."
"So we have to get to Goodman before he can get to that panel or hatch," Ed said.
"Right. Unfortunately, the damn thing is so big that we're gonna have trouble covering it without moving way beyond the seating area."
"Look, Jan and Allison are moving toward the far side of the machine to cover the side away from the dais. I guess Simon gave them the same info."
Bill squinted, figuring angles as he watched the female pilots maneuvering themselves toward one end of the giant machine. "If we move thataway, we can cover this side of the beast. Then between us and the girls, we should have a good shot at taking Goodman no matter where his access hatch may be."
"I presume you mean a good Taser shot," Ed said. "Simon said we need him alive to convince the Indonesian government to raid the Theophilus plant."
Bill smiled grimly. "Blowing Goodman's kneecaps off won't kill him. And if it comes to that, I, for one, am more than willing to do the job."
"That guy looks like the slickest televangelist to ever separate a widow from her pension," Jan Aardsma said. She and Allison Corwyn had moved away from the dais and were looking for a way to get to the far side of the new machinery without drawing too much attention, but still had a clear view of the dais as Emmanuel Goodman climbed the three or four stairs and made his way toward his seat. "He has that 'I'm holier than thou' look down just perfect," she added.
"Now, Jan -- it's not nice to mock God's Chosen Messenger," Allison said.
"More like God's Chosen Ice Cream Salesman, from the outfit."
"Bill and Ed just shifted their position -- looks like we have el machino grande covered fairly well," Allison said.
"I got my Taser warmed up and ready," Jan said. "How's your Glock?"
"Locked and loaded, baby sis."
Jan scanned the crowd, using one hand to shade her eyes from the late morning sun. She had palmed a set of miniature binoculars before she raised her hand, and she used them now to look for their other target.
"No sign of Sullivan," she said. "I wonder if he managed to sneak in here and set up one of his implosion thingies in advance?"
"I don't know if the implosion gimmick would work that well out in the open like this," Allison said. "If he insists on using it instead of plain old plastique or bullets, he'll probably rig Goodman's car or his hotel suite."
"What hotel suite? That guy probably has a mansion rented for his stay here."
"Suite, mansion, they all collapse and burn the same," Allison said.
"It kinda bothers me that Sullivan hasn't moved before now," Jan said. "Of course, if Goodman's security is as tight as Simon figured it would be, this might be the only time he's relatively exposed."
"Just keep your eyes open and on the prize, Jan," Allison said. "The stakes in this game are too damn high to make screwing up an acceptable outcome."
"Yeah," Jan said. "This is the second worst crisis I've ever seen..."
"I asked you not to tell me that, Jan."
Pacific Paradise Suites Apartments,
Jerry Sullivan shook his head in disbelief as he scanned the crowd gathering at the Waterworks. He had found an apartment building about half a kilometer away from the Waterworks, but with a clear line of sight to the dais; the building had the misfortune of being downwind from the sedimentation ponds where sewage was initially stored before further processing, and renting an apartment on an upper floor had been easy and cheap.
His binoculars, a huge military-surplus set that probably dated back to World War II, brought the dais, its occupants, and the audience close enough for Sullivan to recognize faces with no trouble. Goodman was there, as planned -- but so was someone that Sullivan hadn't expected to see.
"Simon bloody Litchfield," Sullivan groaned. "And more of his Nightwatch wankers, too, though this lot looks like it knows one end of a gun from t'other." For a moment, he watched Simon talking to a tall, lean black man. There was something familiar about Simon's companion, something that made him feel uneasy .. But this was no time for speculation. He lowered his binoculars and took a long drink from an insulated canteen.
"You bein' here complicates things, boyo," he said. "The problem is, I don't know if yer here lookin' for me -- in which case you know too much about my business for comfort -- or to stop that nutter Goodman."
He'd been worried, at
first, about how he could get to Goodman and his little Pandora's box of nastiness.
Both the man and the Theophilus Pharmatech plant were guarded as well as any British Lord
had been during the worst -- or best -- of the
Once he had determined which lumberyard would be supplying materials for the dais, and which city employees would be doing the work, the rest had been just a matter of money and time. He had placed vectored-force explosive charges inside the lumber used to construct the floor of the dais. The workmen he had paid off had made sure that the rigged beams were oriented with the 'hot' sides of the charge facing upward. Then the micro-GPS transponders attached to each surprise package had allowed Jerry to determine the precise location of each charge.
Sullivan contemplated the remote control he had placed on sill of the window through which he was observing the dedication ceremony. He'd programmed it so he could precisely control which charge or combination of charges would be triggered by the 15 buttons on the custom-built transmitter. If he waited until Goodman stepped up to the podium to speak, and detonated only the charge closest to that point, he would probably kill only Goodman. The heat and shockwave should also destroy whatever lethal shite the man planned to dump in the water supply.
That was the theory. Unfortunately, some of the charges were close enough together that triggering one might set off a chain reaction that would reduce the entire dais to flaming splinters. And the setup didn't allow for balancing pairs of charges to help contain the blast ..
Sullivan shook his head. "Damn it! If I trip even one charge with Saint Simon the Annoying practically huggin' the stage, I might kill him as well as Goodman.. Ah, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. I can't risk it." Sighing, Sullivan deactivated the remote control and began to pack his gear. "I hope you're happy, Simon me lad. You're makin' me waste a cartload of work and money."
"On to Plan B," he said. "I'll be trustin' your lot to keep Goodman from settin' his bug loose today -- but I'm damned if I'll leave him breathin' and walkin' so he can try again."
Perusaam Air Minum Waterworks
Goodman was well into his speech when the crackle of gunfire interrupted. Simon noticed that Goodman did not seem to be particularly surprised or fearful; the man clearly knew what was happening -- or thought he did.
"The truck must be here," Sam Abukoda said. "Suwiryo's boys must be trying to stop it."
Suddenly, Simon cursed. By standing on a chair, he was able to see over the fleeing crowd and through the main gate of the Waterworks. The truck was heading straight for the gate -- not being herded there by Suwiryo's men, but being steered deliberately. "Damn Callow's experts and me for trusting them! The truck isn't targeting someplace near here -- this place, this crowd is the target!"
"But a blast here would destroy Goodman's machine -- wouldn't it?" Sam asked.
"Not likely -- that thing makes a main battle tank look flimsy. And it gives Goodman a safe place to hide! Follow him -- he's on the move!"
As the crowd scattered, and the VIPs on the dais were led further into the complex, Goodman had picked up an attaché case and started to move toward a staircase which led under one of the huge water mains leading into the Theophilus-donated treatment machine. Simon and Sam clambered onto the dais and moved to follow him, but were hampered by a few lingering security guards and the overturned chairs left by the fleeing government officials.
"Bill! Ali! He's coming!" Simon shouted as he spun in place, tossing a guard off the dais. Sam wrestled with a second guard, but with less success -- the guard's training and Sam's Air Force hand-to-hand courses must have been similar, because neither man could gain an advantage.
Simon drew his Taser from one of his jacket pockets, and stunned the guard. Unfortunately, Sam caught some of the effect, as he was still trying for a hip throw at the time, and he collapsed to the floor along with his opponent.
Simon winced, muttered an apology, and hopped over the pair. But Goodman had too much of a lead for Simon to catch him now; it was up to the other teams to intercept him.
Outside the Perusaam Air Minum Waterworks
"All riders, the truck is heading for the main gate of the Waterworks! Move to intercept!"
Suwiryo's voice exploded in Ivan Semeniuk's
ear, rousing him from a near-doze brought on by the heat and too many hours in
the saddle of the
A uniformed guard stepped into the road and raised his arms, signalling for the truck to stop, but instead, the vehicle accelerated. The guard threw himself to one side, firing his sidearm as he fell, and the truck crashed through the gate and guard shack.
Even as Ivan goosed the throttle and took off in pursuit of the truck, he could see Suwiryo's other troops doing the same. The first man to get close enough opened fire with an Uzi, sending sparks flying as his bullets struck the metal of the truck body and one of the tires. The bullets barely marked the side panel of the truck and had no visible effect on the tire.
"The fucking thing's armored!" Semeniuk snarled. "And the tires are flat-proof."
A slit opened in the side of the truck and Semeniuk saw the unmistakable orange flame of a muzzle flash. Suwiryo's man jerked like a marionette whose strings have been caught in the blades of a fan as a dozen rounds thudded into his body. For a moment, Semeniuk thought that the man's Kevlar armor might have saved his life, but then man and bike slid under the wheels of the truck.
Semeniuk and the other riders veered wildly, trying to prevent the gunners inside the truck from getting a clear shot at them. But they were running out of time -- already, Semeniuk could see the cordoned-off area in front of the dais, now a jumbled mess of overturned chairs and scattered papers.
"Ed's in there," Ivan hissed. "And Ali and Jan and Sam --" And Simon, too, but he couldn't save the others and let Litchfield die. Ed would never forgive him, even if it was possible.
With his left hand, he pulled a grenade from his saddlebag, caught the pin on the brake lever and pulled it free. Then he lowered his head until his helmet almost touched the handlebars and twisted the throttle, stamping on the shift lever to downshift for more acceleration.
He swung the bike closer to the truck and swung his hand with the grenade toward the open gun port. By some miracle, the grenade made it through the narrow slot! Desperately, he steered the bike to the right, deliberately ditching it so he slid away from the truck as close to the ground as possible. He felt his left leg break and felt skin and muscle tearing as the weight of the bike ground it into the dirt; then the bike slid away, and he tumbled to a stop.
There was a muffled explosion -- his grenade -- followed by a blast that turned the world bright white -- then red -- then black ...
"Jesus Christ! Was that Ivan?"
"No time, Ed," Bill Starsmore said, running as fast as his out-of-shape pilot's legs would carry him. "We have to stop Goodman!"
Bill spotted the white-suited man emerging from a staircase on the side of the Theophilus machinery furthest from the dais. He still had the briefcase in his possession -- a good sign.
But then Goodman veered toward the side of the machine. As Simon had guessed, there must be an access port downstream from any treatment and filtration equipment -- anything dumped in there would go directly into the drinking water for the city.
"Too far, damn it," Bill gasped. And out of range of even the Glock -- the most he could do from this distance was frighten the bastard.
It was up to Ali and Jan now...
"Put down the case, Goodman!" Allison Corwyn emerged from the shadows of the massive water pipe with her Glock in target-range position.
Goodman turned, saw the gun, and froze.
"Why, little lady, what are you doing with that terrible-looking pistol?"
Allison resisted the urge to kneecap the man on general principle, although she'd heard that Litchfield's usual companion, Stephanie Keel, would have done so long before.
"She's giving serious thought to removing you from the gene pool," Jan Aardsma said. "Me, I don't have a gun with me. But I have some other goodies that I will insert where the sun don't shine if you don't put down that goddamn case, now."
"They're the kind of goodies that go bang," Allison said. "So, it's your choice -- option 'A', you put down the case and step away from that big hunk of machinery. Option 'B', I put some new holes in you with my 'terrible-looking pistol'. Option 'C', she makes one of your existing holes a lot bigger. You have ten seconds."
As Jan had said, Goodman had big brass ones. He drew himself up to his full height, and in his best, ringing, tent-preacher voice, said, "Who are you to interfere in the Lord's work?"
Allison and Jan exchanged looks of disbelief. Then Allison laughed. "Oh, take him down, Jan, before I bust a gut and make a mess here."
Goodman dropped the case and brought both hands around to protect his buttocks, but Jan shot him with her Taser anyway.
"Oh, dear -- looks like that suit has had it. I don't think those stains will ever come out."
Simon, Sam (looking shaky and rather annoyed), Ed, and Bill all converged on this scene within the next few minutes.
"Is the bastard dead?" Ed said, his face purple with rage.
"What? No, I just Tasered his ass," Jan said. "We need him alive to get the locals to shut down his weapons lab."
"Ivan's dead," Ed said. "He died -- he died stopping the truck this -- this -- " He couldn't say anything more. Tears mixed with the perspiration streaming down his face and fell to the ground in big, salty drops.
Jan looked at Bill for confirmation.
"I don't know," Bill said. "He tossed a grenade through a gun port on the truck, then ditched the bike. He was still pretty damn close when the grenade and whatever they had in the truck went up, but --"
A motorcycle puttered to a stop beside Ed. The rider dismounted and removed his helmet to reveal Mohammad Suwiryo, his black hair plastered to his head by perspiration. There was blood on Suwiryo's gloves and jacket, although the man himself appeared to be uninjured. His face was rigid, and he stared at Goodman with an intensity that made Simon uneasy.
"Ivan is alive," Suwiryo said. "But he is badly injured. His leg -- burns and shrapnel wounds from the blast -- "
Ed looked up, his face blank with shock. "Alive? How --"
"My men have taken him to a hospital -- after removing any signs that he was carrying weapons. Three of my men did not make it -- the cowards in the truck cut them to pieces with assault rifles." His voice broke as he continued. "And my cousin -- my cousin Jihan -- was crushed under their wheels."
"My God, I'm sorry," Bill said. "But at least the bastards in the truck are dead."
Suwiryo shook his head, sending a spray of sweat droplets to the ground. "The men in the truck were willing to die. They were planning to die. Justice is not served by their deaths alone."
Before anyone could stop him, Suwiryo drew a gun from inside his jacket -- it looked like Ivan's Glock -- and emptied it into Emmanuel Goodman's unconscious body. Goodman's white suit sprouted thirteen crimson blossoms, each with a black center, as his body shook with the impact.
"We needed him alive," Simon said. "Now we have no real proof that Theophilus created the horror in this briefcase."
"What about the case itself?" Sam asked. "It must have Goodman's prints on it, probably on the bioweapon containers inside, too."
Simon shook his head. "For some reason, I find myself reluctant to let anyone outside of our little group lay a hand on that case. I'm afraid that includes you, now, Mr. Suwiryo."
Suwiryo nodded, swaying slightly as if half his strength had been discharged along with his rage. "I -- I understand. There is a steel recycling plant nearby, the Permatasari Steel Works. I have friends there. I will call, tell them that you have something that must be burned in a very hot fire."
Jan reached out and shook Suwiryo's hand. "I'm real sorry you lost your cousin and your friends today, Mohammad. And I, for one, don't blame you one bit for putting paid to Mr. White Suit there, any more than I would if you shot a rabid dog."
Suwiryo withdrew his hand, obviously uncomfortable at physical contact with a female member of the Nightwatch group. "I -- I thank you. May we never have to meet for such purposes again."
Before he put his
helmet on, Suwiryo said, "Your friend is at the
"I think we'd better go, too," Sam said. "We're gonna have company real soon after all that gunfire."
"The only reason they're not here already is that the people they're guarding probably won't let 'em go," Allison said. "And now that it's quiet ..."
They set off at a trot, the effects of the heat forgotten.
"I hope to God that Ivan doesn't lose his leg," Ed said. "It'd kill him if he couldn't fly -- or ride a hog -- anymore."
Simon smiled gently. "I suspect that the Institute can arrange for Ivan to receive the most sophisticated prosthesis in existence, if he does lose a limb. And Mr. Callow can ensure that there is no problem with Ivan's pilot's license -- I'll insist on it."
"Ivan, for one, knows how persuasive you can be," Jan said.
Simon frowned. If he hadn't alienated Semeniuk, would the younger man have joined Suwiryo's 'cavalry' and suffered such severe injuries? Then again, if Semeniuk had not been riding today, the truck bomb might have been detonated close enough to kill many of those still scattered around the grounds of the Waterworks. Simon had said it himself: they would sacrifice a few lives to save many more. He hadn't meant it to include their own people, however.
"Right, then," he said. "We need to get Goodman's briefcase and ourselves out of here before we're connected to his death. And then we need to find a way to deal with the weapons lab inside the Theophilus Pharmatech complex."
"You do realize that we're all billing this at overtime rates, right?" Bill asked.
Simon shook his head in disbelief. Already the pilots' frat-boy attitude was resurfacing.
"A bus! Now that would have been nice. Especially if it had air conditioning," Sam said.
"You were born on
the edge of the desert in
Wait 'til we walk into the blast furnace room at the steel recycling plant, Simon thought. But he let the others babble; after what they had just experienced, anything that could relieve the tension was a blessing.
But how the hell were
they going to get into a plant that had
Permatasari Steel Works
After they had walked about a kilometer from the Waterworks, Bill managed to hail a passing taxi. The driver knew how to get to the steel mill, and radioed for a second car when it became obvious that there was no way all six of the Nightwatch party could fit into his cab.
The steel recycling plant was a complex of low brick buildings, originally red, now mostly a greasy black in color, surrounded by a tall chain-link fence. Inside the fence, scrap metal was piled in huge heaps, some in the form of blocks (each an old car or truck, crushed by a junkyard compactor), the rest in the form of random chunks of metal, some rusty, some still shiny. The air reeked of hot metal and soot, and the ground inside and outside the fence was covered in black cinders that crunched underfoot and clung to shoes and clothes.
"Looks like the back door to hell," Sam said. "Smells like it, too."
As promised, Suwiryo had contacted friends at a steel recycling facility. The security guard at the gate peered at Simon, apparently matching his hair and clothing with a description provided by Suwiryo, then waved them through.
Almost immediately, a wiry Malay in a sweat-soaked blue shirt, jeans, safety helmet, and scuffed and scorched work boots, emerged from a door in the blackened brick wall of the main building.
"Hello! You are Nightwatch people, yes? I am Anang, friend of Suwiryo."
Simon shook hands with the man, and said, "Yes. I am Simon Litchfield, and these are my colleagues --"
"Best do job quickly -- very busy here," Anang said. "You give me box, I throw in, burn it up, okay?"
"Simon, I don't think we should --"
"If you don't mind, Anang, I would like to accompany you," Simon said. There was no point in insulting the man, but they could not take the chance that he might yield to curiosity -- if not greed or darker motives -- and open the case.
Anang frowned, trying to decide if he should be angry or not. After a moment, he said, "Very, very hot inside. You will not like."
Simon nodded. "I have been inside steel mills before. I think I will be all right for the short time it will take for us to dispose of our little problem."
The foreman grunted. "Okay, I take you in. But no complaint about too hot."
Simon followed the muttering man through the door, leaving the rest of the party behind. He trusted Suwiryo, and Suwiryo apparently trusted Anang, so he expected no trouble. Nonetheless, he kept his free hand in the pocket holding his recharged and primed Taser.
"Next room, very, very hot," Anang said. "You ready?"
"As ready as I can be," Simon replied.
Anang pushed the door open and they walked out onto a steel catwalk. To Simon, it felt like falling face-first into hot sand; the sweat coating his body evaporated instantly and he felt his skin tightening as every atom of moisture was baked out of it.
"Very hot, yes?" Anang said, grinning.
"Yes," Simon gasped. "I'd forgotten how it hits you when you first enter a room with a blast furnace in it."
"We go there -- see vat? Throw box in there, burn it up good."
Simon saw a huge crucible of liquid steel, orange/yellow/white hot, perhaps twenty meters away. The catwalk passed close enough to it that it should be easy enough to throw Goodman's case in -- but also close enough that Simon suspected that he might end up minus his eyebrows, if not his hair. Ah, well, he thought, that's one way to get rid of the gray.
"We go fast -- too hot even for me when we get close," Anang said.
Simon nodded, and the two trotted toward the crucible. As they drew closer, Simon had to squint -- he could feel his eyes stinging as the heat seared the moisture from them. He slowed to a stop at what he judged to be the closest point while Anang continued to run.
Hearing only his own footfalls clanging along the catwalk, Anang turned to look back. He saw Simon swaying as if hypnotized by the glow of the molten steel, and shouted, "Throw the box and run! Too hot to stop even for a minute!"
Simon shook his head, blinking. The acrid smells of burning hair and leather stung his nostrils -- his shoes were scorching and the hairs in his nostrils were turning to ash. With all the strength he had left, he took Goodman's case in both hands and heaved -- and the case landed squarely in the molten steel.
"Good throw," Anang said. "Now run!"
And run Simon did, although it was more like a barely-controlled series of stumbles, until he reached Anang. The sinewy little man placed Simon's arm around his shoulders and half-dragged him along until they were again about twenty meters from the worst of the heat. From this distance, Simon could barely make out the briefcase, one corner of which still protruded from the surface of the liquid metal. Flames clung to it like bright yellow streamers in a strong wind.
"Huh. Pretty tough box," Anang said. "But no worries. No box last long in that."
As if Anang's words had been a signal, the briefcase finally sank out of sight. "Anything that could survive those conditions deserves to live," Simon said.
Anang looked at him, his expression clearly indicating that it would be a long time before he did another favor for Suwiryo.
They emerged from the building a few minutes later, and Simon laughed. "It actually feels quite comfortable out here, by comparison."
Anang shook his head and walked away, muttering in Bahasa.
"That particular batch of nastiness has gone to Hell, where it belongs," Simon announced.
"Well done, Simon," Jan Aardsma said. "In fact, you look a little overdone."
"Medium rare," Simon said. "I think I'm still pink and juicy inside." He looked down at his feet, which seemed further away than usual. "Are we having an earthquake? The ground seems to be moving."
Bill offered his shoulder for Simon to lean on, and Simon gladly draped one arm around Starsmore's neck.
"I'm thinking it's a good thing we want to go to the hospital to check on Ivan," Bill said, "'cause Simon, you look like you could use some burn ointment and some I.V. fluids."
Jan whispered something into Allison's ear, and Allison guffawed and pushed her away. "Jan says we might as well take the I.V. fluids and use them to baste him."
"Ah, the boundless compassion of the fair sex," Sam said. "They make me ashamed to be a man."
"Let's go," Ed Wendell said. "I need to see how Ivan's doing."
The joking stopped then, as everyone realized how worried Ed was about his friend and co-pilot. They made their way back through the gate to the road, and Bill got the security guard to call for a couple of taxis, since the ones they had arrived in had long since departed.
The Emergency Room at MMC was busy -- Bill Starsmore recognized several people from the audience at the Waterworks dedication ceremony, there to have minor injuries treated. It looked pretty much like the Emergency Room at any major hospital: steel-framed chairs in the waiting area, floors dull from constant washing, fluorescent lights making everyone look ill, including the staff. The mélange of scents was a bit different, however; the air was literally spiced with the perspiration of the patients and staff, with hints of iodine from the ocean breezes filtering through the constantly opening and closing doors. Under those aromas, of course, there were the usual hospital smells: urine, disinfectant, and blood.
Bill found a seat for Simon, went to the reception desk to have his Institute credit tab scanned, and started the paperwork to have Simon examined. A nurse, who had seen more than one European in similar condition, brought Simon a bottle of water and a few salt tablets. Meanwhile, Ed and the rest of the group went in search of information on Ivan's condition.
After more than an hour, Ed returned, his face somber but without the look of impending panic he had worn earlier.
"Ivan's unconscious," he said. "The doctors said his leg is pretty badly torn up, but he won't lose it as long as they can stave off any major infections. His other injuries were pretty minor -- he didn't even need stitches for most of the shrapnel wounds, and the burns were small and -- well, Simon's face looks worse than Ivan's."
"What's the prognosis?" Bill asked.
"With skin grafts and a lot of physiotherapy, they think he'll make a full recovery," Allison said. "It will be a while before he can fly or ride his motorcycle, but eventually --"
"Jeez, are you still waiting for somebody to give Simon a once-over?" Jan asked. "Did you try waving some cash around and playing Ugly American?"
"Not the wisest thing to do, with Muslim suicide bombers active again," someone behind her said.
Jan turned, almost tripping, to find a white-coated man holding a clipboard standing in front of the reception desk. He had short, black hair, with touches of gray at the temples, glasses with thick black frames, and the bronze skin common to most of the locals with Malay blood.
"I'm Doctor Atmanagara," the man said. "Your friend there -- Mr. Litchfield? -- looks a bit -- cooked. Was he out in the sun for too long today? From his clothing and his hair, I would have thought he would know better."
"Actually, Doctor, I made a visit to a steel mill today, and got a bit too close to the furnace," Simon said. "Sunblock and a wide-brimmed hat would not have helped."
"Ah, my apologies," Atmanagara said. From his tone, he considered going too close to a blast furnace even more foolish than spending too long in the Indonesian sun. "Here, let me take a look."
He moved closer, donned latex gloves, and poked gently at the reddened skin on Simon's face and hands. Then he peered into Simon's eyes with an ophthalmoscope, listened to his heartbeat, and felt his forehead.
"Well, as you probably guessed, you are fine, or will be shortly," he said. "I will give you a prescription for some cream for your skin, and recommend that you get some rest and drink plenty of liquids, about twice as much as you would otherwise. No alcohol in those liquids, please."
"Spoilsport," Jan said. "Doesn't he deserve a little anesthesia for the pain?"
Atmanagara smiled. "Hey, you can have a drink or two on his behalf. But dehydration from alcohol is not what his body needs right now."
The doctor produced a prescription pad from his pocket, scrawled a few words, and handed the slip of paper to Simon. "You can fill this at the hospital pharmacy, down that corridor," he said. "I imagine that you are wise enough to stay away from steel mills for the rest of your visit, so -- if you will excuse me, I have other patients waiting."
Atmanagara looked around the waiting area, spotted a man holding an icepack against his shoulder, and walked toward him, saying, "Mr. Masaid? You took a fall and injured your shoulder?"
"Let's get out of here," Simon said. The water and salt tablets had at least cured him of feeling like a balloon in Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, although he suspected it would take a gallon or two of the local sports drink to restore his electrolyte balance. But he could get that somewhere that didn't smell like a cocktail made from urine and pine-scented disinfectant.
"We have planning to do."
Hotel Sari San Pacific
Simon was resting with the lights out -- his eyes were still painfully dry -- when he was awakened by the ringing of the telephone. Not his satellite phone, but the hotel room phone.
"Wouldn't be any of our group, or even Suwiryo -- they'd use the sat phone. I just hope it's not the bloody police." He rolled over and stretched until he was able to snag the cordless receiver from its base.
It was definitely not the police. A broad, deliberately exaggerated Irish brogue emerged from the handset, bringing Simon to sudden full wakefulness.
"Simon Litchfield, yeh dog, I never thought yeh had it in yeh. You did that Goodman fella right proper -- thirteen rounds to the chest, from what the newscasts are sayin'. Now that's sendin' a message."
"Sullivan," Simon hissed. "How did you get this number?"
"Easy, boyo, nobody's sold you out," Sullivan replied. "I saw you and yer gang at the Waterworks -- yeh made me waste a lot of planning and preparation there, seein' as I didn't want to blow yer arse to the moon along with Goodman's."
"That still doesn't explain --"
"I called every
bloody hotel in town 'til I found this one, ye dolt," Sullivan said. "Yeh've sure
moved up in the world since
"What do you want?" Simon growled.
"I told you -- I
was impressed by what you did to Goodman," Sullivan replied, his accent
suddenly fading. "I never thought
you'd get over those rules you tried to play by in
"We -- did not -- kill -- Goodman," Simon said. "We wanted him alive so he could be interrogated by the Indonesian authorities. That was the best way we could see to make sure that the lab where Goodman's biological weapon -- you do know about that, from the way you've been talking about him -- the lab where his weapon was developed and manufactured would be shut down."
Sullivan snorted. "Huh! Well, then, I guess he accidentally fell on all those bullets, eh? From a great height, too."
"Goodman was -- executed -- by our local contact," Simon said, "the man who provided the motorcycle riders who stopped the truck bomb from reaching its target. He lost some of his men today, and he wasn't in a forgiving mood."
"I presume you disposed of Goodman's box of nastiness, then," Sullivan said. "Seeing as Goodman wasn't alive to explain it ..."
"Dumped it into a vat of molten steel," Simon said. "But that still leaves Goodman's lab intact."
"Your point bein'?"
"I may need your help to destroy it," Simon said.
Once Simon had reported that the Theophilus Pharmatech lab was still a threat, Callow's research teams was tasked with finding detailed blueprints of the building and its security and containment systems. However, they soon found that Theophilus Worldwide and Theophilus Pharmatech had formidable defenses protecting their data resources -- too formidable for their talents. It wasn't long before Callow found himself knocking on Stephanie Keel's office door.
"Ms. Keel -- I'm afraid that I need your -- special talents," he said.
"Is Simon all right? The rest of the team?"
Callow raised his hand. "They are fine -- except for Mr. Semeniuk, who will require some very expensive treatment and rehabilitation. However, they were only partially successful in their mission."
"Which part is left? Capturing Sullivan, or stopping Goodman's plot?"
both," Callow replied.
"Goodman himself is dead, and the biological agent he intended to
introduce into the water supply of
Stephanie frowned. "Goodman is dead? Did our people --"
"Our local affiliate, Mr. Suwiryo, apparently took it upon himself to exact revenge for the deaths of two of his friends during the effort to stop Goodman. This may affect his reliability rating, I'm afraid ..."
Stephanie shook her head. "His reliability rating. I'm so glad to see that you take things like murder into account before deciding to hire someone."
Callow raised one eyebrow and smiled. "Glass houses, Ms. Keel, glass houses. Our Dr. Litchfield would advise you not to throw stones. He, at least, would not be qualified to throw any -- as you know."
Stephanie lowered her eyes to her keypad. "What do you need from me?"
"Dr. Litchfield and his companions find themselves in the unenviable position of needing to enter the Theophilus Pharmatech complex, penetrate all the way to the presumably-well-guarded biological weapons lab, and destroy it. I imagine that you can work out for yourself what they will need to know in order to accomplish that goal."
"Fine. I'll get right on it," Stephanie said. "Now please get out of my office."
Callow smiled again and exited, closing the door behind him.
Stephanie's hands closed into fists. She looked at them, seeing scars and calluses from her training, from free-climbing rock faces and punching heavy bags -- and heavier men. Her collection was nowhere near as impressive as Simon's -- but she was a lot younger. Simon had been places and -- done things -- that she prayed she would never have to do.
Simon is not a killer by nature, she thought. He isn't. But she remembered the look in Simon's eyes when he had led her past the crumpled remains of William Gryphius. At that moment, she had understood that Simon could kill, that he had killed before and probably would again, and she had been almost as frightened by Simon as she had been by Gryphius himself.
She had learned about the other side of Simon's nature over the months that followed. It had been Simon who introduced her to her ex-Mossad tutor in krav maga and small-arms marksmanship. It had been Simon who called and visited and forced her to venture out when fear had made huddling in her apartment seem like the easiest and best thing to do.
"He saved my life that day," she said aloud. "Saving lives -- it's what he does, what he lives for. And -- and sometimes he takes lives, when he has to, but it costs him. So yes, Callow, I know that Simon has blood on his hands. But he's not like you. Lives mean something to him."
She relaxed her hands, wiggling the fingers until the tension had dissipated. Then she began to play, her fingers flickering over her keypad and stabbing out at icons on her display like raindrops in a downpour. Theophilus Worldwide and Theophilus Pharmatech's networks, impregnable by Callow's supposed experts, opened up for her like the arms of a mother welcoming a long-lost child.
Images and files flashed onto her screen, floorplans, invoices for security equipment, pressurized doors, hazardous materials protective suits, and she dragged some into a new folder, discarding others. In less than an hour, she had everything that Simon might need to find and destroy the secret lab.
She encrypted the files and sent them off to the address that Callow had used as a backup when Simon had not acknowledged receipt of the first batch of information sent to Nightbird One.
"Good luck, Simon," she said to her computer screen. "Try not to die out there, okay? Don't leave me alone to put up with Callow's manipulative crap ..."
Hotel Sari San Pacific,
"Are you insane? You want to work with Sullivan?"
Bill Starsmore tossed the handful of security system specifications he had been studying into the air as he stood and began to pace around Simon's room.
"He's a terrorist," he said. "He's been responsible for dozens, if not hundreds of deaths!"
Simon said nothing. He had expected this reaction -- after all, their original mission had been to capture or kill Sullivan and ensure that the supply of vectored-force explosives was contained or destroyed.
"I gotta admit, if we're fixing to nuke a Level 4 lab to hell and gone, Sullivan might be handy to have around," Jan Aardsma said. "He's an expert on blowing stuff up -- or in, from what our briefing packages said."
conventional explosives would risk releasing the biological agent into the
air," Simon said at last. "The
vectored-force stuff that Sullivan has obtained -- especially the way he used
"What about incendiaries?" Sam Abukoda asked. "Soak the place with napalm and hit it with some Willie Pete rounds, and you'll pretty much guarantee that nothing gets out."
Simon shook his head. "I've studied these plans that Stephanie Keel managed to -- borrow. The lab has the most effective fire-suppression systems I've ever seen. And getting inside the Level 4 containment zone with the volume of accelerants we'd need would be virtually impossible."
"So what is the plan?" Ed Wendell asked. "To use Sullivan's fancy plastique to destroy that Level 4 lab, you'll need to get inside the plant and pretty much plaster the stuff on every exterior wall of the lab, plus under the floor and over the ceiling. I kinda suspect that Theophilus security and probably the whole freakin' Indonesian Army might object to that kind of activity."
"They're sure not likely to invite us in," Allison Corwyn said. "They know the Institute was trying to make trouble for them. And now that Goodman's dead, they'll be touchier than ever."
Simon held up his stealth field generator. "You all have one of these, correct?"
Each of the five pilots rummaged through his or her pockets until they found the device in question.
"This surveillance-scrambler doohickey?" Jan asked. "We got 'em, but I don't think any of us has ever used one. And anyway, they don't do anything to hide you from live guards, of which I'm betting there will be a shitload."
Simon nodded. "You're right -- the stealth field doesn't protect you from direct visual observation. Fortunately, Mr. Suwiryo has indicated that he is eager to participate in any scheme that prevents Theophilus Pharmatech from doing any more harm here. Mr. Sullivan has been working with him on a diversion. It seems only fair that if Goodman can use a bomb to divert attention away while he deploys a biological weapon, we should be able to use bombs as a diversion, too."
He called up a map of the Theophilus Pharmatech site on his computer display. "As you can see, the facility is surrounded by a wall, topped with various nasty things -- razor wire, glass, and, of course, sensors -- and guard towers at several points around the perimeter."
"Mr. Suwiryo's men will deploy rather large charges of conventional plastic explosives here, here, here, and here," he said, tapping the touchpad of his handheld computer to highlight each location.
"The explosions will be separated by a few minutes, so each will draw more guards away from the main complex to defend the breaches in the wall. We, however, will be entering the grounds through this storm sewer, which is well-equipped with electronic sensors -- but no guards."
"By 'we', you mean us Nightwatch types -- and Sullivan?" Bill asked.
Simon nodded. "He will be carrying the vectored-force explosives, and will handle placing them, while we provide protection from any guards who are not busy with the newly-perforated wall."
Bill shook his head. "Does Sullivan know we were after his ass? And that we plan to take him and his special explosives off the map?"
Simon frowned. "He may suspect it, if he knows much about the Institute's less-public activities. But he is as committed to neutralizing the threat posed by Theophilus's biological weapons as we are. I believe we can trust him -- at least until the job is done."
"Fine," Bill said. "But I'll be damned if I'll take my eyes off him before, during, or after we blow that lab up -- in -- whatever."
Near the Theophilus Pharmatech plant, Jakarta, Indonesia
Sullivan was silent
for almost a minute when he met Sam for the first time, near the maintenance
entrance to the storm sewer leading to the Theophilus
When he was finally able to speak, he said, "You look like --
you're the spittin' image of one of the boys I
"Might have been
a cousin," Sam said. "I had
relatives on both sides of the border between
"I'm sorry I failed 'em," Sullivan said. "I trained 'em to shoot and use explosives, all right, but my strategy -- didn't really have one, I guess. So --"
"They all died," Sam said. "I know. I read about it, and Simon told me how it was."
Now Sullivan looked at Sam and promised himself that whatever else happened, he would see that Sam Abukoda got out of this alive. It would be one small step toward paying a debt he'd carried for years ...
The seven men and women climbed through the maintenance hatch and down a half-dozen rusting metal rungs set into the curved concrete wall of the sewer. It was dark, except for the sunlight filtering in through the drainage grates set at intervals of twenty or so meters along the length of the tunnel, so they turned on the LED flashlights mounted on the headbands that each of them had donned. The blue-white light illuminated an area of a meter or so in all directions, except for the sharp-edged multiple shadows cast by the lights as they looked around. The concrete pipe was large enough to allow even the tallest of the group to stand up straight -- if he didn't mind walking in the sluggishly-flowing, filthy water that flowed down the middle of the 'floor'.
The first explosion came on schedule, a thud that made the brackish water in the storm drain dance and brought dust and dirt showering down.
"Let the games begin," Jerry Sullivan said. "Suwiryo's boys will play hide and seek with the guards after every blast, comin' in and takin' a few potshots, then takin' off again. Now -- you're sure this little box you gave me will keep the security cameras from seein' me?"
"It's the same as the ones we're using," Simon said. "If you get caught, we get caught."
"Three, two, one --" Another explosion sounded, followed by scattered gunfire. "There goes number two," Sullivan said. "I think we should get moving, eh, Litchfield?"
The group began to move, doing their best to make as little noise as possible. The stealth fields were not as effective at spoofing electronic sound pickups as they were at overriding video cameras, although Squibb's sources had recently incorporated technology based on the Russian's noise cancellation gimmicks into the devices.
"Are you sure this is a storm sewer?" Jan Aardsma whispered. "It smells like --"
"--it," Jan muttered.
They had passed ten sewer grates, each with its set of ladder rungs, when Simon raised his hand to bring the group to a stop. Simon climbed up until he could see through the grate, twisting to get as complete a picture as possible.
"We're inside the wall, but still some distance from the buildings," he said softly. "The exit we want should be three grates further along."
The tunnel shook, and Simon had to wrap his arm around one of the ladder rungs to avoid falling into the water. "Number three?"
Sullivan nodded. "Just when they thought the fuss was over and done with. That should have 'em running in circles," he said.
Simon climbed down from the ladder and the group continued on down the tunnel. The third ladder and grate they encountered was obviously the one they were looking for; it was close enough to the building to be in its shadow.
"I'll take the lead here," Sullivan said. "Sneakin' is something I've plenty of experience with."
He climbed the ladder and tried to open the grate. As they had expected, it was secured by a small lock. "Pass me up that lock opener of yours, Litchfield," Sullivan said.
Simon handed him a small package containing two strips of putty. Each strip was inert alone; combined, they would exude a powerful acid.
Sullivan slipped on a pair of protective gloves, then molded the putty strips around the hasp holding the lock in place. He coughed as wisps of smoke rose from the rapidly-dissolving metal of the latch, fanning his face with one hand while clinging to the ladder with the other.
"Sullivan, hang on," Sam whispered. "Here comes number four."
Another thud shook the tunnel, this one attenuated by their distance from the wall. Sullivan raised himself up until he could scan the area around the grate as Simon had done earlier.
"Looks clear," he whispered. "But have them Tasers and tranquilizer guns ready -- unless you'd prefer I pop 'em with me nice silenced Beretta ..."
Despite Sullivan's warning, the group encountered no guards when they climbed up and out of the storm grate. Hugging the windowless concrete wall of the building and keeping to the shadows, they could see and hear heavily armed guards 'running in circles', frantically searching for an enemy that wasn't there.
Another package of acid putty allowed them to open a padlocked door into an electrical room lined with fuse panels and circuit breakers. They pulled the door closed behind them; it would take close inspection to reveal the condition of the lock, and that looked to be unlikely for the next ten or fifteen minutes.
"Weapons ready," Simon said. "If there are any live guards left in the building, they'll be around the Level 4 lab. Take them down without killing them, if possible -- but don't risk your own life."
The pale-green concrete-block walls of the maintenance area soon gave way to corridors lined with alternating panels of brushed aluminum and white-painted plasterboard. The floor, too, changed from shiny grey concrete (coated with a sealant to make it waterproof, Simon guessed) to black and white tile laid in a checkerboard pattern, and the hanging fluorescent light fixtures were replaced by recessed lighting.
"This is why yer pills still cost an arm and a leg twenty years after the R. and D.'s been paid for," Sullivan said. "Bloody decoratin' costs."
Simon held one finger to his lips. "Hush. Remember, you're invisible to cameras -- not inaudible to microphones or ears."
Simon took the lead as they went deeper into the complex. They had gone some distance without encountering any guards -- the series of explosions, followed by random gunfire by Suwiryo's 'cavalry' around the now-breached outer perimeter, had drawn most of the plant's security forces outside. This wouldn't last for more than a few minutes, however; the POLRI would soon arrive and force Suwiryo and company to flee, and the guards would be returning to their posts.
Simon heard voices around the next corner -- speaking Bahasa, or at least some Malaysian dialect -- and signaled for the group to halt. A few seconds of listening convinced him that there were only two guards there.
He drew his compact tranquilizer dart gun, and with hand signals, managed to get Sam to give him a second one. He primed both units and held one in each hand as he rounded the corner.
The two guards fell to well-placed tranquilizer darts before either had time to sound the alarm.
"Thus endeth the unguided tour," Sam whispered as he reclaimed his dart gun.
"Tranquilizers and Tasers ready, ladies and gentlemen," Simon said quietly. "I'm afraid the time limit on our diversionary tactics has expired."
Everyone in the group complied, except for Sullivan. When Simon turned to move on, instead of readying his non-lethal weapons -- originally issued to Ivan Semeniuk -- Sullivan pulled a small pistol from his pocket and attached a silencer.
They were lucky enough to avoid any more guards until they had almost reached their destination. Despite Simon's warning, most of the guards were still out of position, probably still in transit from their attempts to deal with the apparent attack on the outer walls. But the guards at the entrance to the Level 4 lab had never left.
Simon used a mirror to peer around the corner and down the short corridor leading to the airlock. He held up three fingers, indicating that three guards were on station.
The length of the corridor made things tricky -- it was within the theoretical range of both the dart guns and the Taser units, but the guards might have time to sound the alarm -- or pull a trigger -- before the relatively-slow projectiles could bridge the distance.
Before Simon could work out a strategy, Sullivan trotted past him, raising his pistol as he came around the corner, and fired three shots in rapid succession. The three guards fell, each fatally wounded by a bullet through the visor of his helmet.
"Sullivan!" Simon hissed. "Why didn't you wait for --"
"For what, Simon lad? You couldn't Taser or tranq three men standin' together that far away without one soundin' the alarm, or puttin' a fistful of bullets through yer scruple-bound ass. These bastards must've known what's in that lab, and what it's to be used for -- look at 'em, lily-white American boys all."
Simon sighed heavily. "You're right," he said, "but I don't have to like it." He pulled his handheld computer from an inside pocket and quickly reviewed a simplified schematic he had extracted from Stephanie's blueprint files.
"Start setting your charges," he said. "We'll provide cover. Flyers -- you know the plan!"
Sullivan grinned and nodded, holstering his pistol. "Music to me ears." He unbuckled his backpack and withdrew a thin, flat package, which he fastened to the outer airlock door.
Simon stood about a meter behind Sullivan as he worked, literally guarding his back. Meanwhile, the Nightwatch pilots backtracked to the end of the corridor leading to the Level 4 lab airlock. Ed Wendell took up station at the intersection with the corridor they had followed on their way in; Bill Starsmore and Sam Abukoda went left, and Allison Corwyn and Jan Aardsma went right to guard the approaches.
The blueprints had revealed that the lab was surrounded by a ring corridor with secure storage rooms around its outer perimeter, and only one way in from the rest of the building. Sullivan quickly worked his way around the outer wall of the lab, with Simon following. At calculated intervals, Sullivan placed charges and inserted radio-controlled detonators. If the charges were detonated simultaneously, the inward-directed blasts would nearly cancel each other out -- after vaporizing everything in the way -- leaving the rest of the building relatively intact. It took only seconds to place each charge, but several minutes passed before they worked their way back to their starting point at the airlock door.
"Upstairs next," Sullivan said. "Can't get into the drains under the floor, more's the pity. We're damn lucky the place is compact and self-contained, though."
"This is taking too damn long," Simon said. "Once POLRI arrives, Suwiryo's men will have to run for it and our diversion will be gone. Then the guards will return to their posts, followed by half the bloody Indonesian Army."
"We'll be fine," Sullivan said, "if we don't waste time chit-chattin', that is." He trotted toward a fire exit door in the approach corridor with Simon close behind.
The radio headset on one of the dead guards hissed, and Bill sprinted back to the Level 4 lab airlock door from his post at the intersection of the approach corridor and the outer ring. The rest of the pilots regrouped as well -- they knew that any unexpected noise meant trouble.
"Baker, report! Any activity near the lab?"
"Shit, that's torn it," Jan said. "We're gonna have company real soon."
Sam dropped to the floor and placed his mouth close to the microphone. "Uh, Baker here," he said. "Everything's quiet."
Allison looked at Sam and shook her head. They had no idea what Baker sounded like; the odds that whoever was on the other end of the transmission would accept Sam's attempt at impersonation were miniscule at best.
"Baker, is that you? You sound funny. I'm sending the rover group down to check on you."
Sam shrugged. Worth a try, he mimed. Then he stood and crushed the guard's headset microphone under his booted foot.
Bill keyed his radio mike. "Simon, Sullivan, the jig's up! They know that the guards at the lab entrance are down!"
"Everybody except Sullivan and I, head for the tunnel," Simon replied. "We'll set the last charges and follow as soon as we can."
Bill cursed. "Damn it, Simon, if you don't get out of there, Stephanie will kick my ass!"
"Go, Bill! Get everybody back to the sewer tunnel, or I'll kick your ass!"
Shaking his head, Bill signaled the other pilots to follow him and set off at a dead run.
"Just you and me again, is it, Simon?" Sullivan said. "Well -- 'you do things your way, and I'll do things my way, but we'd better do them fast', right?"
"You remember that?" Simon asked. They had spent precious seconds searching for a way to enter the area over the lab, so far without success. Stephanie's blueprints for this part of the second floor were apparently out of date.
"I don't think either of us will ever forget anything about that day," Sullivan replied. "It changed my life, that's for sure."
"Not enough to give up on blowing people up, however," Simon muttered. "Where is the bloody door? There must be one!"
Finally, they found a door marked 'Lab Environmental Control -- Authorized Personnel Only'. They could hear the rattle of automatic weapons fire and the crack of flashbang detonations echoing up the fire exit stairwell.
"Shit! They've run into trouble!" Simon hissed. "If the guards start disarming the charges you set downstairs, there's no guarantee we can sterilize the lab!"
"Then we'd best finish here before they get brave enough to start tamperin' with things that're obviously meant to go boom," Sullivan said.
Simon went to work on the door. One last package of acid putty and an application of the undocumented but very useful electronic lock scrambling ability of the stealth field generator got them inside.
It took less than a minute for Sullivan to place the last few charges, but instead of standing after he had armed the last detonator, he sat back on his heels and sighed
"I guess this is it," he said. "You don't need me anymore."
"Sullivan, what do you mean?" Simon asked. "If you're finished, come on -- we're probably going to have to shoot our way out as it is!"
"You knew about me special explosives," Sullivan said. "That means you also knew that nobody outside some pitch-black secret labs and blacker ops groups are supposed to have it."
"Sullivan, that's not important now," Simon said. "We need to destroy the lab and --"
Sullivan smiled. "I'll destroy it, all right. I'll not let a bunch of crazies who call themselves Christians slaughter thousands just for callin' the Lord by a different name. But I won't let you take me in."
"Sullivan, we're running out of time!"
"Yeah. I know that. I also know that there's an unfortunate problem with me remote detonator."
"The walls and the wiring in this place do a fine job of blocking the signal," Sullivan said. "I'll have to be pretty damn close for it to work at all. This spot right here will do fine, if I push the button before they start peelin' my little packages off the walls."
"You'll be killed," Simon said. "You can't --"
Sullivan grinned. "Sure I can. Now, if you aren't planning on goin' with me to see what Saint Peter says when he sees my face -- this one, or the one I was born with -- I'd suggest you run like hell."
"I have debts to pay, Litchfield, big ones," Sullivan said. "This'll balance a lot of those debts. Now, run!"
Simon looked at the Irishman, still almost sitting on top of the last charge, and extended his hand. Sullivan took it and they shook hands as they had when they first met, all those years ago.
"Goodbye, Sullivan," Simon said. He turned and ran. Getting out of the building with guards already looking for intruders was not going to be easy. Of course, the implosion of the Level 4 lab would make one hell of a diversion -- provided it didn't kill him in the process.
"Goodbye, Litchfield -- yer still an easy mark, yeh know."
Simon had to fight his way past two guards who were examining a couple of Sullivan's explosive charges. Fortunately, it had been quiet for so long that they had assumed the intruders were long gone; his Taser paralyzed one long enough for him to deal with the second man, using a modified arm bar and foot sweep to drive his helmeted head into the wall. Simon took a few seconds to drag both men a few feet away from the charges -- probably not far enough, but better than almost touching them -- and sprinted for the electrical room and the tunnel entrance.
Along the way, he saw evidence of a firefight -- one dead guard, scorch marks that looked like they had been made by one of Squibb's mini-flashbangs, and a blood trail. A second dead guard lay at the entrance to the electrical room.
Simon's heart sank as he saw that the blood trail continued to the outer door. At least one of his companions had been wounded -- but they were still moving, under their own power or assisted by the others. Who was it? And how bad was the injury?
He burst through the outer door and ran headlong into a guard who was examining the acid-burned latch. Badly winded, he managed to catch himself in the doorway and rebound.
With one hand, he caught the edge of the guard's flak vest as he threw himself forward for a second time. He pivoted, yanking on the vest, and managed to fall with the guard on the bottom. A shuto strike to the throat left the man choking and struggling for breath.
Simon rolled back to his feet and pulled the sewer grate open, then let himself drop straight down without touching the ladder. He landed hard, but executed a somersaulting breakfall that left him sputtering to expel a mouthful of fetid water he had almost swallowed, and again regained his feet. Shouting and the sound of gunfire told him that more guards were on the way.
He had barely started to run down the tunnel when the ground jumped under his feet, almost hurling him against the concrete wall. He raised his hand in a half-salute, muttered, "So long, Sullivan," and continued to run.
Nightwatch Institute Library,
"So Sullivan is dead," Callow said. "You're sure about that?"
They were seated at their usual table in the Popular Culture section of the Nightwatch Institute library. This time, Callow had made sure that no one was in the adjacent sections, although he told Simon that he had arranged for a noise-cancellation system to be installed to prevent any repetition of the breach of security that had occurred earlier. Simon had managed to stifle the impulse to mock Callow for creating his very own Cone of Silence -- but not by much.
"I barely made it out myself before the lab was destroyed," Simon said. "And it'll be weeks before Ed Wendell's arm is out of that sling. I don't see how Sullivan could have survived -- he was practically sitting on one of the charges when I left him, and the place must have been swarming with guards even if he did make a run for it."
"Hmph," Callow said. "From what you told me, he must have used a great deal of his limited supply of the vectored-force explosive to destroy the lab. If he also used some to rig the dais at the Waterworks, as you suspect, it is very likely that all the missing materiel is gone. Mind you, anyone who handles that lumber the wrong way will get a nasty surprise -- but that really isn't our concern."
"And your point is?"
"Sullivan is, as you said, very probably dead," Callow replied. "And if he isn't, he probably has very little or none of the vectored-force explosive left in his possession."
"In other words, you no longer care about him," Simon said.
"Without the special explosives, he would be just one more terrorist -- albeit one who seems to be targeting other terrorists," Callow said. "If I cared about him at all, it might be as a potential operative for the Lower Echelon -- given your qualms about killing."
"Jerry would say that you're the biggest walking pile of shite he'd ever seen," Simon said. "Then he'd probably shoot you on general principle."
Callow smiled. "As I said, he definitely sounds like a potential operative."
Totenkopf Clinic and Sanatarium,
Dr. Wilhem Strauss's private office was sparsely but expensively furnished, with small but apparently authentic modern statuary in niches in each of the walls, a huge desk of polished oak, and chairs upholstered in well-padded burgundy leather. The only light came from a brass lamp with a green glass shade on one corner of the desk; the heavy drapes were drawn, blocking the thin sunlight filtering through the clouds.
"Are you sure you want to go through this again?" Strauss asked.
"Unfortunately, yes. This face is a bit too well known for comfort," his patient replied.
"It will take much longer to heal this time," Strauss pointed out. "And we will probably have to use implanted scaffolding to grow new bone to fill some of the gaps -- your face will be quite fragile for a long time after the skin and muscle have healed."
"I hear yeh, Doctor. And the prospect doesn't thrill me -- I remember how much it hurt, and for how long, when we did this the first time. But I still have work to do -- keeping the peace, yeh know."
"Very well. If you'll just authorize payment --"
The patient handed over a cashier's check for half a million euros. Strauss passed it over a scanner built into the desktop and watched until a readout appeared verifying its authenticity and the availability of funds.
Strauss nodded. "We can begin as soon as it's convenient for you," he said.
"The sooner the better," Jerry Sullivan said. "Wake me when I'm someone else."
© 2004-2005 by Robert Moriyama. Robert Moriyama is an Aphelion regular with various stories and umpteen entries in the "Materia Magica" series featuring Al Majius, Githros, and company, appearing in this 'zine over the past few years, most recently "AntiMatters" (August, 2004). He is also participating in Jeff Williams's Nightwatch project, with the first tale, "Nightwatch: Dragon's Egg", in the June 2004 edition, and "Nightwatch: Jigsaw Creek", in the June 2005 edition. Since February 2005, he has also been filling (or trying to) the post of Short Story Editor vacated by the retiring (but not shy) Cary Semar.E-mail: Robert Moriyama