Pestilence

Pestilence

The bombing of an American Embassy in Africa pulls Special Agent Jack Randall out of his current doghouse status with the FBI and sends him on the trail of one of the worlds most wanted terrorist. While sifting through the debris, his team discovers a mysterious shipment of medications. Medications they soon discover that are valuable enough to kill for. Jack is forced to embark on two missions, catching the terrorist responsible for the bombing and discovering the source of the medications.

The trail leads him from the deserts of Africa, to the Centers for Disease Control, and on to the higher offices of the United States Government. As the team uncovers the true nature and purpose of the medications, Jack is faced with a decades old plot involving secret treaties, biological warfare, and deadly plagues.

As a result, he learns the awful truth behind the deadly diseases of the last forty years, as well as a shocking plan for the future. Unless Jack can stop it, the future may arrive too soon.

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The first two chapters of Pestilence:

 

World population projected to reach 7 billion in 2011.

October 20, 2009 – CNN

 

 

ONE

 

          Muzzammil Hassan was one week past his sixteenth birthday. If the day went as planed he would not see his seventeenth. As he watched the men work he thought of the small party his parents had thrown for him. Like most families in his country, his was large and poor. His mother and father had worked hard for the extra food to serve that day. His father had spoken proudly of his son to all that were present, but Muzzammil knew he would never rise to the successes his father had predicted; it was enough to simply stay alive in his country. Muzzammil knew suffering. He had lost a sister and uncle to AIDS, and two brothers to the tribal warfare that often plagued his country. His hope was that his decision would not only bring pride to his father, but provide for his family. He had been promised repeatedly that they would be well cared for and would never again suffer from hunger or lack of medical care. That his family name would be spoken with honor and reverence and he himself would be elevated to a place of distinction few of his people could hope for.

          But the price was great. He thought of the words he had spoken into the camera a short time ago. He had delivered them with force and volume as instructed and could only hope that his fear had not shown through. It was a speech he had heard growing up from others before him. He had learned the slogans before he was ten and delivered them with a fury he had not felt before today. The men he now watched working had observed silently until he was through, and then applauded his performance before returning to their shovels and buckets.

          The men worked tirelessly as they had throughout the night. The bags were pulled from the pallet left by the forklift. There had been over two hundred total, but they were now down to the last ten. The bags were emptied into bathtubs that had been pulled from the rubble of the city. The mixing was performed by men wearing masks and supervised by the Arab. Muzzammil did not know his name, and neither did any of the others. While the man spoke his language, it was obviously not his native tongue. He barked at a man holding a jerry can of diesel and the man quickly poured some more into the tub until barked at a second time. The mixing resumed until it was to the Arabs approval and he signaled to other men waiting nearby. They reached into the tub wearing leather gloves over the plastic ones they had donned first. This protected their hands from the nails and other small pieces of metal that had been added to the mix. The fumes were strong, and the Arab positioned himself in front of one of the multiple fans they had set up to circulate the air. The men packed the thick slurry into five-gallon buckets that were carried to the truck. Here the buckets were handed up and then down into the large tank where Muzzammil briefly saw the hands of his friend Hanni accept them. This was followed by the muffled noise of him packing the mixture inside the tank. Muzzammil smiled at his friends’ discomfort. Being young and skinny as he was, he was chosen for the job of packing the truck by default, as he was the only one who could fit through the opening. At least he had a gas mask that kept the fumes at bay. The heat could not be escaped. The empty buckets soon emerged and were passed back for another load.

          Muzzammil’s thoughts were interrupted by a hand on his shoulder and he turned to see the robed man they all looked to for guidance standing over him. His one good eye sparkled with pride at Muzzammil, and he smiled at the boy before watching the last of the bags of ammonia nitrate being mixed in the tub. As the mixing process was finished and the last bucket loaded, the men slowly approached and offered their prayers and admiration to Muzzammil. All under the careful eye of the robed figure standing behind him. Hani, his skinny friend, was the last to leave. Muzzammil looked from his friend’s sweaty face to the red irritated skin of his arms and legs. The mark of the gas mask ringed his face and gave a comical frame to the lopsided smile he offered. What little he had to say would not come, he simply smiled, clasp his friends hands in his own, and with a nod departed the garage.

          The robed man took a seat next to Muzzammil and they both watched silently as the Arab moved around and under the fuel truck. Although less than half the size of a semi-truck, it still carried a 5000 gallon capacity. More importantly; it was indistinguishable from the other government owned gas trucks in his country. The steel reinforcements added to the front end and heavy bumper were hidden to all but the most careful observer. An effort had been made to preserve the well-used appearance of the truck, as anything out of the ordinary would compromise their mission. The Arab had been insistent on every aspect of the operation, and all of his wishes were followed. The fertilizer had been purchased in various quantities from several places and stockpiled until it was needed. The diesel fuel had been slowly siphoned from several trucks and saved as well. While the fuel was not necessary for the reaction the Arab desired, he had explained that its addition would increase the chemical energy of the mixture, hastening the violence of the detonation, and providing more of a shock wave. Now the man was busy completing the wiring he had started a day ago. After a few minutes in the cab of the truck, he walked to the two men and took a seat facing Muzzammil.

          “You remember the instructions?” he politely asked.

          “Yes”

          “Good, please tell them to me one more time?”

          Muzzammil recited the instructions he had memorized the night before. “I drive the truck on its normal route at its normal time. I obey all traffic laws and do not speed any more than the other traffic. At the last intersection, I attach the cord on the wheel to my wrist and grip the wheel. I then wait for traffic to open up in front of me before using the space to speed up as much as possible. Others will help by shooting at the guards. I drive through the barrier and get as close to the building as possible.”

          “Good, and then?” the Arab pressed.

          “I simply pull my hand away from the wheel.” he replied.

          “…and grasp the hand of Allah as he welcomes you to paradise” the robed man finished.

          “Yes, Teacher.”

          The Arab looked at the boy for some time. Muzzammil met his gaze without faltering.

          “They will speak your name around the world my young friend. You are already known to Usama, he speaks of you with pride.” the Arab lied.

          Muzzammil’s back straitened with the statement. He stood as the other men did.

          The Arab adjusted the boy’s cloths before stepping back to look him over.

          “The clothes fit you well.” He checked his watch before looking at the robed man.

          “A prayer, before you depart.” The man announced.

          Mats were pulled from nearby chairs and the three men knelt on the floor together. When finished, the boy was escorted to the truck and the two men watched as he climbed into the drivers’ seat. They looked for any hesitation or muscle quiver. Any sign of the boy changing his mind. The Arab pointed out the cord on the steering wheel and the boy nodded. A squeeze of the shoulder before the man left to open the garage door.

          “I am very proud.” The robed man stated.

          “Thank you Teacher. I am proud to serve our cause.”

          “The world will know your name tomorrow, all of your brothers and sisters await you. Allah be praised, go now, my son.”

          Muzzamil started the truck and with only a slight jerk eased it out the door and into the rising African sun. The door was quickly pulled shut behind him.

          The Arab searched his pockets for a cigarette as he walked back to the robed man.

          “He will do it?”

          “I have no doubts.” The robed man replied.

          “If he develops any, we will help him.” The Arab pulled the remote detonator from his pocket.

          “I do not think that will be necessary, but we cannot have him captured. It is becoming more difficult to find men willing to do these things. You will take care of the family as promised?”

          “Funding is becoming more difficult, but improving the lives of his family will cost little. The boy is a fool, but it will be done. After all, we may need more “volunteers” in the future. Come, my friend. This building will burn in less than thirty minutes. We must depart. And I wish to be well on my way out of this country. By the end of the day it will not be safe for either of us.”

          “Yes, the Americans.” The robed man replied. ”Let them come.”

          “Oh, they will my friend. You angered them once before, and they robbed you of an eye. I imagine they will want more this time. I would not underestimate them.”

          “Yes, I will be leaving as well, but not for long. I will see you again?”

          “Perhaps; Allah willing, but most likely not.” The Arab offered no explanation.

          “I understand.”

 

 

          Djimon increased the speed of the forklift after rounding the corner. After driving daily for three months now, he considered himself an expert. He had not spilled anything since his first day. He had feared that day was his last, but the Americans were forgiving, and he had been given a second chance. He had been offered the job after befriending one of the many officials who worked there. His sister was employed by the woman and watched over her child while she and her husband worked. While Djimon’s job did not allow him access to the embassy itself, he worked right next door in the warehouse moving supplies all day and loading and unloading trucks.

          Djimon was very proud of his job and worked hard for the Americans he had come to respect. The constant flow of humanitarian items he moved everyday had removed any doubts he’d had before. Other boys his age would curse the Americans, saying they were taking over their country and treading on their beliefs. Djimon knew better. The job he did everyday had proven it. How could he deny the generosity of his employer when he himself moved every pallet of food, medicine and clothing that came through the building? He saw the destinations on the crates. All for his countrymen and all for free. They paid him well, treated him with respect, and fed him twice a day, also for free. He had discovered chocolate from the Americans, and they would often dip into certain crates before they left the docks so he could take it home to his younger brothers and sisters. Not once had they questioned him on his religion or interfered with his prayers. No one had tried to convert him, or offered him anything that went against his beliefs. While his employers drank alcohol and ate things he found foul, he had soon realized that his people also did some things that the Americans found unpleasant. But he had come to accept them as he had been accepted by them.

          Today his supervisor was a man named Ken. A simple name he had easily remembered. Ken, he had learned, did not work for the American government, but for one of the drug companies that were supplying the medications that fought AIDS. Medications his country needed desperately. Ken was a stern man, not as friendly as his other bosses. When the medications arrived they were always brought by the same three men; a driver, a passenger, and a man who rode in the back with the pallets. All of them heavily muscled and heavily armed. They were polite but serious men, and Djimon feared them greatly. The violence in his country was a fact of life, and Djimon knew the look of men who were no strangers to the deliverance of death. He always worked quickly to unload the crates when they arrived; the sooner to get the men on their way. Today was no different, and Djimon was now placing the crates in their proper locations according to the numbers stamped on each.

          But he had a problem. He had been treated to a good breakfast by the Americans. Complete with orange juice, which he loved. He had drunk his fill to the amusement of the bosses and was now going on several hours of driving back and forth with a full bladder. There were three crates left, but he had to pee. Now.

          The current pallet on his lift contained shrink-wrapped boxes of medicine vials. Today they were yellow tops, as opposed to the red tops that had arrived last week. It had confused him at first. The vials were the same in every other way; same size, same shape, same number on the side. Yet he was told he could never mix the boxes. The yellows went in their designated area, the reds in theirs, and were stored in separate ends of the warehouse.

          Surely he could park the lift in the red zone for a moment? Just long enough to pee. He looked around for Ken, who usually watched his every move when moving the drugs. He saw him at the other end of the warehouse. He was talking on his cell phone and not looking his way. Djimon quickly parked the forklift in the red zone, leaped off and ran toward the bathroom on the other side of the office. He only needed a minute.

 

 

          Muzzamil stared at the street light. Normally he was impatient and often would run the lights, but today they seemed to be blinking green just for him. He dared not run it. His truck was heavy and slow, and the cargo too precious.

          He squeezed his eyes shut in a silent prayer and mopped the sweat from his face. He had always been comfortable in the African heat; it was all he had ever known. But today he was sweating. Despite the sweat in his eyes, his vision was unusually sharp today. He found himself noticing every little detail of life swarming around him. He was also keenly aware of his heart beating in his chest. Something also unusual, but it had been with him since he had departed the garage. The act he was about to perform was keeping the adrenalin flowing through his system.

          A blaring horn forced his eyes open. The light was showing green.

          “Allah Akbar.” he mumbled as he slipped the truck into gear.

          He could see his target over the cars in front of him from his elevated position in the truck. Keeping his acceleration slow, he opened a gap in the traffic in front of him. He looked for the promised snipers on the buildings around his target, but saw nothing. Soon the gap was large enough and he floored the gas pedal, working the clutch and gears, coaxing as much speed as he could from the heavy vehicle. The weak point in the concrete barrier was marked with graffiti and he kept his eyes focused on his target. He was within one hundred meters when he heard the first shots. Two of the guards at the gate fell to the pavement, and the third took cover behind the kiosk. As he shifted gears, Muzzamil ducked down as low as possible as bullets from the embassy rooftop shattered the windshield into a spider web of cracks. The truck had reached its top speed and he angled not toward the gate and its snake-like concrete entrance, but to the outside barrier ringing the building. The embassy had not upgraded the perimeter with concrete and steel posts as other embassy’s had, and was instead utilizing pre-formed concrete fencing of the type seen on highway projects. They were not anchored down and the graffiti directed him to the joint where two barriers met. Muzzamil sat up and braced himself before impact, gripping the wheel tightly, he must not let go too soon. Shots continued to ping the truck around him, but the shooters had the wrong angle to reach him in the drivers’ seat.

          The impact threw him forward and his nose crunched as his face impacted the wheel sharply, almost causing him to loose his grip on the wheel. His view was a kaleidoscope of sun, glass, and the interior of the truck as he was thrown violently around the cab. His face struck the wheel a second time as the truck suddenly stopped and listed to the right.

          Muzzamil pulled himself up and assessed his position. It was strangely quiet. As he gazed through the shattered windshield he discovered he had penetrated the barrier and come to rest against the wall of the embassy itself. He looked down to see his hand still gripping the wheel in a white knuckled grasp. The wire was still attached to his wrist. His hearing suddenly returned as a bullet impacted his chest. He saw his blood pour down the front of his shirt to join that streaming from his nose. He breathed deep and coughed, adding more blood to the mixture. His gaze once again fell on his left hand.

 

 

          Ken Gates was not pleased. He had just received a verbal lashing from his boss half a world away and was now looking at an empty forklift. Worse yet, it was parked in the red zone with a load of yellow tops still on the skids. He’d told the boy very plainly how important it was to not mix the two. Something he kept an eye on at all times. The goal of this drug treatment was too important, and while Ken was sure he wasn’t privy to the whole plan, he had received the lecture and taken the shot. He was committed. He really had no choice. Everyone was committed, one way or the other, everyone.

          He was about to hop on the forklift and move the pallet himself when he heard the sounds of gunfire. He stopped and listened closely, but sound was dampened in the large warehouse. As he listened he heard the sound of the toilet flushing. He turned to see Djimon hurrying around the corner from the bathroom. He opened his mouth to admonish the boy for his violation, but before he could do so, the wall in front of them disintegrated in a ball of fire, throwing debris across the room, crushing them both.

 

 

          The Arab smiled as the sound of the explosion echoed across the city. His view of the building was now one of a giant dust cloud that moved toward him, assisted by the dry wind. He had given the boy as much time as he could, and while he would get the credit for his sacrifice, the Arab had been forced to use the remote device. He now carefully disassembled the device and added it to a small metal waste can he had previously filled with paper and bits of wood. Only when every surface was exposed, both internal and external, did he set the paper aflame and place it out on the balcony. He did not worry about being seen as the sky was now blacked out by the dust cloud rising from the embassy and traveling on the wind. He left the room, and wrapping his head in cloth, exited the building into the chaos of the street. Joining a group of fleeing people, he moved swiftly down the street away from the embassy. The wind moved the small sandstorm he had created along with him.

          His day would now consist of a long walk out of the city, followed by a day and night in the African bush. He would then be given new papers and smuggled on a truck across two borders before arriving in Sudan, where he would be welcomed as a brother. A hard journey, but a small price to pay.

 

 

 

90% of the ocean’s edible species may be gone by 2048

November 13, 2006 – USA Today

 

 

TWO

 

          Jack cupped both hands around his coffee mug as he leaned on the railing and gazed out over the deserted beach at the Atlantic. The only movement he saw this morning was the wind blowing snow across the dunes and the slow progress of a container ship on the horizon. It was the same view he’d had for the last month of his mandatory vacation.

          He sipped the coffee and tried to think of what was on his list for the day. Not much. After his last investigation had come to its climactic end on live television, he had been in the press for some time, again. Not something his wife had approved of. The FBI had been forced to initiate an internal investigation into him and his team under the pressure of a few politicians, all hoping to score some political capital against their rivals in the current administration. The hearings and depositions had become regular additions to the news cycle for several weeks. They had picked through every aspect of his past from his days in collage through his time in the military, his inherited business, and finally his days with the FBI.  Thankfully a member of the Senate had become exposed in a nasty sex scandal, and the press had turned their attention to a juicier subject.

          The fact that Jack had been under the bare light bulb of the investigation that produced no wrongdoing by him did not sit well with the oversight committee. Despite the Director of the FBI backing him, the Attorney General had suggested some time off. It was delivered with a medal no one would ever see, and a personal letter from the President himself, but it still did not ease the pain of being sidelined. He had tried to look on the bright side. It did give him the time off he had promised Debra. She had been forced to leave her teaching job due to the press following her every move. The charity work she did had at first suffered also, but had enjoyed a surge in donations once the story got out that the FBI’s hero favored their cause. Their time together had been strained, but they had gotten through the tough part, and were now finding new routines to replace the old. Well, at least she had. While their relationship had improved greatly since his last case, there were still some things to work out. They were both trying.

          While his wife spent her full time at her charities now, he had surrendered the house in Kenwood to escape the press and placed himself in exile at the beach house he had inherited from his father. The drive was too far for the Washington press, and the winter cold meant his seasonal neighbors were not due for a month yet. Jack had the entire dead end street to himself.

          He’d avoided the TV for the first couple of weeks, but soon his thirst for news overwhelmed his dread of seeing his own face on the screen. He had found time to read the directions for the remote and had discovered his father had programmed the same “favorite” channels in as he would have selected. Something he hadn’t come to a complete opinion on yet.

          The problem was Jack had nothing to do. He was no longer a corporate business man. Although he kept tabs on his fathers company, (his now, but he would never see it that way) he found little pleasure in reading quarterly reports and expansion summaries. The people he had left in charge when he left to join the FBI were doing fine work, and would most likely be better off without him jumping back in for what he hoped would be a short leave of absence.

          He had already skimmed through the library his father had gathered and gone through four novels. He had made $17.00 in the process as his father had a habit of using whatever bill he had in his wallet at the time as a bookmark, only to be left behind for the next reader. Jack had actually counted the books, and using an average based on his earnings so far, estimated a profit of a couple grand if he read them all.

          The wind had a bite and was picking up, so Jack retreated into the beach house to refill his cup. He was searching for the remote when the phone rang. He eyed the caller ID suspiciously, but it showed his wife’s cell number. He thumbed the button for the speaker phone.

          “Hi, Honey.”

          “Are you out of bed yet?” she asked.

          Jack smiled. “Aren’t you funny today?”

          “Well, you were up late last night, thought you may have slept in a little.” He could hear her smile as she poked at him.

          “You know there’s no coffee maker in the bedroom.” he shot back.

          “Sorry, I forgot. Should I pick one up for you?”

          “No, I’ll manage somehow.”

          “I plan on leaving early today so I should be out there by four or so. How about dinner?” she asked.

          “Out or in?”

          “You feel like cooking?”

          “Out it is. How about The Half King? I feel like a steak.”

          “Okay, any word from the office?”

          Jack could hear her tone. She asked the question because she knew it mattered to him, but her tone said she hoped the answer was no.

          “Not yet.” was all he replied.

          “It’s not fair Jack. They can’t just leave you hanging like this forever. I don’t like you being there and me being in town. If they won’t call you back in then I think we should talk about some options.”

          “Not yet Deb, lets give it some time.”

          “Then when, Jack? You can’t keep putting it off forever. Sooner or later you may have to accept that your time with those people is over.”

          Jack didn’t like the “those people” comment, but he didn’t feel like fighting about it now, especially on the phone.

          “Let’s talk about it tonight.”

          “Don’t brush me off Jack. I have to call you just to get you to talk about it. It’s the only way I have your attention. It’s not right and it’s not good for you or us. Promise me we’ll talk tonight.” she pushed.

          “Okay, I promise.”

          “Good, I’ll see you about four then. I love you.”

          “Love you too.”

          Jack frowned at the phone as it emitted a dial tone over the speaker. He was forced to admit that she was right as he pushed the button ending the call. He knew what her options would be. Return to the board of directors, make more money, come home every night, play golf, schmooze with her rich friends and repeat. Everything he had worked hard to avoid. The children conversation hadn’t come up in awhile, but he was sure that as soon as one of her socialite friends got pregnant it would be on her tongue the next day. Jack didn’t hate the idea of kids; he just wanted to do some other things first. Dinner was not going to be fun.

          Jack refilled his mug and wandered into the living room. He found the remote under the book he had left on the end table next to his favorite chair. A “man-chair” his wife called it. Large, leather, and very comfortable, Jack had spent several hours a day in it over the last month. He thumbed on the big screen and hit the favorite button. Robin Meade of CNN appeared.

          “…possible new evidence in the Leslie Evans case. The five-year old went missing from her Virginia home three months ago and investigators are no closer to naming a suspect…”

          Click.

          “…the Dow is expected to open lower today as the housing market continues to struggle. New home sales are at an all time low, a full 58% down from this month last year…”

          Click

          “…local city Councilman Warren Dickerson has been charged with five counts of embezzling city funds and three counts of falsifying records by a grand jury today. Two other Councilmen are also expected to face similar charges involving the use of city funds for personal reasons…”

          Click

          “…Hello America! Billy Mays here…”

          Click

          “…just in from our state department desk; The United States Embassy in Tanzania, Africa was bombed by terrorist early this morning. It is reported that a fuel truck carrying explosives broke through the perimeter barrier and exploded against the south wall of the building. As you can see from the footage on your screen, at least half the building is in ruin. I’m told that the sections destroyed housed the main offices and work areas of the embassy. The staff quarters and housing are located in the back and appear to be still intact. The warehouse structure adjacent to the building was also partially destroyed. The warehouse held mostly relief supplies for a country plagued by food shortages and disease. There are 22 confirmed dead and as many wounded at this time. That number is expected to rise. An hour after the bombing, a group calling itself Al Qaeda in Africa has claimed responsibility. A video, showing a young man believed to be the driver of the truck, delivering a speech denouncing the presence of American influence in the small country, aired on the Al Jazeerah network and was picked up by the wire services. No other information is available at this time. Stay tuned to the BBC for further updates as this story develops.”

          Jack thumbed the mute button as he scrambled out of his chair and raced down the hall to the bedroom. He fumbled through his cloths on the floor searching the pockets. Where the hell had he left it? Was it even on? Did the battery die? He fell to the floor and searched under the bed. There, that pair of jeans. He dragged them out and riffled the pockets. There it is. He looked at the screen and saw nothing.

          “Damn it!” He palmed the dead device and raced back down the hall to the kitchen junk drawer. So full he could barely open it. He rummaged through the mess, but didn’t see what he needed. Now what?

          The remote?

          He returned to the man-chair and pulled the back panel off the remote. He stole an AA battery, swapped it for the dead one in his department pager, and turned it on.

          “Come on baby, work for me.” Jack pep-talked the device and the tiny screen lit up, and after blinking for a few seconds, delivered a message.

          “888”

          “Yes!” Jack pumped a fist in the air.

          Now where the hell was his cell phone?

 

 

 

          John Kimball ignored the looks he got from the passing platoon of paratroopers as he ran down the packed orange clay of the firebreak. The North Carolina winters were mild, and while the temperature was good for a run, the damp clay stuck to his running shoes and made for a slippery surface. He noted a couple of paratroopers sporting orange coatings on their otherwise grey PT uniforms, the victims of their own carelessness. He caught up to another platoon running in his direction and matched speeds to the cadence of the Sergeant leading them. He enjoyed the off-color song, knowing it would have to change to something more traditional as they neared the post again. He turned north after a mile and headed back to his own duties.

          While he wore military clothing similar to theirs for his morning run, his longer hair and non-regulation mustache marked him as one of “Them”. The fact that they were in area J of the Fort Bragg training zones, just south of the Delta Force compound, gave credit to their assumptions. While the compound appeared on the maps as an impact area; clearly marked off-limits due to live gunfire and possible unexploded munitions, everyone knew what it was and who it supported. The triple-fence perimeter and snake-like concrete entrance just added to the mystery. Rumor had it that the majority of the space was underground, and they were right, especially all the latest editions. One of which John Kimball was in charge of.

          As he neared the gate, the guard waved him down from a distance. He complied by slowing to a jog, placing his hands on his head, and jogging backward for a few yards. Picking up a walk for the last 30 meters, he pulled his ID out from inside his shirt and held it up.

          The guard held out a laptop size item similar to a computer. John swiped his card before wiping his hand on his shorts and placing it on the screen. The computer announced with a beep and a green light that he was allowed and the guard let him pass. Passing through the airlock-like double gate, he then stretched out his stride till he was past the Delta buildings and into his own. Like theirs, his had no label of any kind, not even a number to distinguish it from the others. All the buildings were simple red brick with windowless metal doors. Some of his people used the last two numbers of its grid location to identify it, but that was as far as it went toward getting a name. His building only differed in the amount of climate control equipment on the roof. Obviously much more than was needed for a building of its size, it was not unusual in this neighborhood. But only the people working there knew the real reasons for the equipment.

          The sound of the door chime was drown out by the C-5 Galaxy aircraft passing overhead as it took off from Pope Air Force base, probably carrying a load of gear, or troops, or both, heading over to Afghanistan. The flights were regular now, or so he was told. He couldn’t hear the planes from his office.

          Proceeding through another set of doors that automatically locked behind him, he didn’t bother glancing at the cameras that followed his progress to the elevator. Once on board, he slid his card again through a slot on the wall before punching his floor. The doors shut and then sealed with a hiss before descending. What the neighbors did not know was that while the building had four stories above ground, they were all utilized for air handling purposes. A variety of pumps, filtering units, electrostatic dust collectors and climate control equipment crowded the space. All functions were backed up and then backed up again. There were technicians stationed in the spaces twenty-four hours a day, and the facility had the ability of being sealed off entirely from the outside world for up to six months.

          It was staffed much like a nuclear reactor, as it was even more dangerous. Thus it had been placed where everyone accepted secrecy, and no one dared to question.

          The elevator arrived at S-12, or sub-floor 12, and the doors broke their seal before opening. Kimball stepped out a few feet and turned to enter the men’s locker room. Here he disrobed completely and after a quick shower, moved to the large locker at the end of the room. Removing a jumpsuit in his size he pealed the sealed plastic from around it. The plastic went into a specially marked bin and he quickly donned the garment. Once dressed, he passed through another door into a glass airlock. Holding his arms up, he was blasted repeatedly by jets of air, similar to what one would be subject to passing through a security checkpoint at a major airport. He waited while the air was sucked up through the floor and the computer processed the sample. It took a few seconds for the advanced bio-sensors to do their job, but eventually the glass door opened with a buzz, allowing him to proceed.

          “Good morning Mr. Kimball.” a guard greeted him.

          “Yes.” he simply replied. He had long since ceased caring what others thought of him. The man was just a guard, not worthy of his time.

          He proceeded down a sealed concrete hallway devoid of any decorative additions other than the ominous biosensor every ten meters until he reached his office. Here he was greeted by the usual pile of paperwork stacked neatly in his IN basket. Everything else in the office was neat and orderly. John Kimball was a detail man in a detail business, one where the smallest mistake could mean death. It showed in every aspect of his life.

          He had not even sat down yet when he heard a knock on his door behind him. He turned to see one of his operations people. Although he was dressed the same as John, the similarity ended there. The baggy jumpsuit did little to hide the man’s physique or body language. If that didn’t say “field operative”, the haircut certainly did.

          “What is it?” John asked.

          “We have a problem sir; terrorists have bombed P-13. Our storage there has been compromised. We are unable to locate the caretaker. He may be dead.”

          Kimball absorbed this without emotion. They had little threat of exposure at this point. With the caretaker gone they would have to move fast to clean up the agents before they were mishandled, or worse, compromised and sold on the black market.

          “You have people in the area?”

          “No sir. The team is currently at P-18 setting up a secure storage facility. If we pull them out it will raise some questions, and possibly leave the agents without a caretaker.” he replied. “We have a transport crew of three within twenty hours distance, but that’s all.”

          Kimball thought this through. One of the big disadvantages of the project was the lack of personnel. While need-to-know was applied, some always did need-to-know, and one cover story did not work for all contingencies.

          “Safeguard the agent in place at P-18 and move the crew to P-13. Assign a new caretaker and get those three men there as soon as possible. I want updates every half hour.”

          “Yes Sir.”

          Kimball rounded his desk and sat down. Picking up the remote, he thumbed on the TV and surfed till he found CNN. A helicopter view of the embassy rubble slowly moved across the screen. He waited patiently till he saw a view of the warehouse next door. One end was in rubble while the other was intact. He knew exactly where every vial ever made was and the picture gave him reason to suspect that the vials were not mixed. He debated taking more measures to secure the agents, but chose not to. Secrecy was still their best option. The program was almost at the point it could be deployed if the time came. He could not afford to attract attention at this time.

          He considered calling some old contacts he maintained from his days with the CIA. But then he would owe favors, and they would be curious as to what he was doing since he had left. Hard to collect a favor if you didn’t know what someone was capable of. One of their best biological warfare hunters just disappearing in the middle of an armed conflict was not unusual, but for him to stay gone was. There were still plenty of people that needed watching. North Korea, Iran, China, Pakistan, our new/old friends the Russians, the new government of Iraq, and, of course, every terrorist group out there. He decided he would just stay quiet and off the radar. He would most likely get what he needed from the press anyway; it would just take a little longer.

          He turned the TV off and picked up a report on Arctic Tern migration. They had been tracking them very closely this year.

 

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