Out this week from Momentum. I enjoyed Steve's first one. The Foundation.
“Twenty seconds.” One pulled a balaclava over her head. “Gun it.”
The driver nodded and put his foot to the floor, the engine roaring as the vehicle sped across the Harvard Bridge and onto Massachusetts Avenue. The windows were tinted, so the pedestrians who glanced at the vehicle as it sped past couldn’t see the deadly cargo inside.
“Ten seconds. Everyone check in.”
As the van took a hard right onto Vasser Street, the rest of One’s team checked in. The team – four in the van with her and one located strategically on a rooftop near the campus – were as slick as ever. One smiled under her mask. She didn’t need to do the check and knew they’d be ready, but fifteen years of habit was hard to break.
One was jolted in her seat as the van mounted the curb and then pulled to a stop. Two slid the door open, climbed out and broke into a run. She too was running as soon as her feet hit the ground. Three and Four would follow, while Five would stay at the wheel. As she moved, there were squeals of panic from nearby students. She ignored them. They were irrelevant unless they got in the way.
The team crossed the sidewalk and reached the entrance of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department in seconds. She pointed at Four and he moved into the building with his submachine gun raised. The others followed him in and they split into pairs.
“Remember, we’re looking for Daryush Daneshgahi.” She paused. “We need him alive.”
From the foyer she went left with Two, while Three and Four went right. They had intelligence that Daneshgahi was a creature of habit and would either be in his office or his lab. She had her weapon raised and was moving briskly when an alarm started to wail. It was a surprise it had taken this long.
Her headset crackled. “One, this is Six. Campus police are starting to arrive.”
One spoke into her voice-activated microphone. “Copy.”
They reached Daneshgahi’s office and took up positions on either side of the door. One waited as Two turned the handle and pushed the door open quickly. She entered the room and swept from side to side with her submachine gun, then quickly lowered the weapon. The office was well lit and empty. There was nowhere he could be hiding.
She cursed under her breath and the distant boom of a high-caliber rifle seemed to punctuate her profanity. Six was on the rooftop, tasked with keeping any police away from them, and he’d started the boom boom. While a few officers weren’t a problem, with each passing second more would arrive.
She left the office with Two in tow as she spoke into her headset. “He’s not in the office. Moving to check the cafeteria.”
As she rounded a corner, a shot boomed. She flinched but kept moving toward an MIT police officer, who stood with his pistol drawn. He looked about fifty and very scared. Her silenced weapon barely made a sound as it delivered two rounds into the officer’s chest. His eyes widened as crimson blossomed on his blue shirt. His pistol fell to the floor with a clattering sound as his body followed. One fired once into his face and didn’t break stride as she stepped over him, with Two behind her.
Her headset crackled. “This is Three. We’ve got him. We have the target. He was in the lab.”
“Good job.” She felt a mix of relief and satisfaction. “Begin exfiltration.”
She pictured the entirety of the exfiltration in her head as she moved. The snatch teams would move through the buildings and then onto the lawn, southeast across the campus. Five would drive to pick them up, while Six would shift position to cover Killian Court and their escape route before withdrawing. The whole team would be in and out with Daneshgahi in less than seven minutes, as planned.
She waved at Two and they moved south through the building and out into the courtyard. Once outside, they kept moving, scanning their surroundings and the top of buildings for shooters. The few students that remained ran when they spotted the armed commandos. Maybe MIT grads were intelligent after all. Smarter than their campus police, anyway.
She looked at her watch. By now Six would have taken his final shots. He’d be abseiling down the Maclaurin Building and moving to meet them at the extraction point. Radio silence meant no hitches. It had gone reasonably well so far and they were in the last minute of the operation. Nobody challenged One and Two as they reached the edge of the campus and crossed Memorial Drive.
She glanced at Three and Four, who were already crouched with weapons raised and facing outward. Two joined them in a covering position while she looked at Daneshgahi, face down on the lawn with his hands cuffed behind his back. She lifted him up. His face was the illustration of terror, but he kept quiet. Looked like he was pretty smart too.
A shot drew her attention and she turned towards it. She needn’t have bothered, because her team put down the police officer quickly. A few seconds later, Five pulled the van to a stop in front of them. She slid the door open, bundled Daneshgahi inside and climbed in. Their prisoner gave a small whimper of protest as the rest of the team joined them.
Six arrived at the van just as One was closing the door. The sniper’s breathing was heavy and something had obviously taken longer than it should have, but he’d made it. She didn’t need to ask and he didn’t need to answer – if he hadn’t made it, he’d have been cut loose. That was the business they were in.
As the door slammed shut and the engine roared, One looked over to Daneshgahi. The Iranian computer scientist was watching the floor and she could feel the fear radiating off him. She took the hood that Two was holding out to her and placed it over Daneshgahi’s head. He started to cry.
FEMA would like to assure the public that, despite the recent terrorist attacks, its ability to provide disaster assistance remains intact. Staff are working hard to provide coordinated relief to all locations affected by these attacks. Citizens in need of support or those with something suspicious to report are encouraged to contact the new National Security Hotline.
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Jack Emery stared at the news bulletin as the massive Reuben sandwich in his hand continued to sag. Though he was meant to be on vacation, you couldn’t take the news out of the newsman. He took a bite without taking his eyes off the screen, his brain working overtime to process the ramifications of what he was seeing. A half-dozen attackers – good ones – had gone to a lot of trouble to snatch one MIT student.
A chunk of corned beef and a dollop of sauerkraut breached the edges of his sandwich and fell onto his lap. He cursed, placed his lunch back on the plate and mopped at the mess with his napkin. It didn’t help. He looked like a freshman who’d been touched in the nice place by a cheerleader. Jack shook his head and looked back at the screen as he picked up his Coke.
A hand on his shoulder made Jack jump and spill the drink. He looked around, angry, until he saw Josefa Tokaloka’s smile beaming down at him. Though it had been only a year since they’d seen each other, the large Islander looked like he’d aged a decade. Jack grinned widely and stood to wrap his arms around Jo’s enormous shoulders. It felt like hugging a bronze statue.
Jo crushed him in a bear hug. “Making a mess as usual.”
Jack laughed and pulled away. “It’s good to see you, Jo. Meeting up was a great idea.”
“No problem, it’s been a while.” Jo’s smile slackened slightly. “Plus, I figured you could do with some human contact that didn’t involve people shooting at you.”
Jack nodded and jerked a thumb at the screen. “Can you believe it?”
“Given recent events?” Jo frowned. “Yeah, Jack, I can.”
Jo had a point. Jack had only been back in the US for a few weeks, but in that time there had been a dozen attacks across the country, all professional and brutally successful, targeting critical infrastructure and public gatherings. No group had claimed responsibility and no suspects had been identified. Casualties were mounting, panic was spreading and the authorities seemed impotent to stop the attacks.
“They’re all connected, Jo. I’m sure of it. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was the Foundation reborn.” Jack hated thinking it, but even though over a year had passed it felt like just yesterday he’d been fighting to stop Michelle Dominique and her corrupt think tank. He’d gone to hell and back to stop her, but not before Dominique had sparked a war, taken control of the largest media empire in the world and almost gained control of Congress.
Jo shook his head. “Doesn’t fit. The FBI tore them to shreds and their entire leadership is dead or before the courts.”
“Yeah, you’re right. But these are professional hits.” Jack sat back down and gestured for Jo to sit on the lounge chair opposite. “Makes Syria seem almost civil.”
Jo laughed softly as he sat. “How was it over there? You did some good work.”
“Tough. There’s not a lot of hope.” Jack had spent the last three months in Syria covering the siege of Homs. It had been hard, but had also provided a rich vein of stories for his new site, which focused on long-form investigative journalism that the rest of the news media could bid on to broadcast. It was the perfect deal for everyone: he had the skill and not very much money, while they had the chequebooks but had cleared out most of the journalists with the skill.
“So why Vegas?” Jo looked around at the table games and the slot machines. “Given your particular vice, I figured this would be one of the last places you’d want to spend time.”
Jack followed Jo’s gaze. While the attacks – and the fear of more – had subdued Vegas a bit, you could never fully clear out the stags and hens, the corporate getaways, the tourists and the addicted. They were like moths to flame. While there was gambling everywhere, it didn’t interest him. The booze did, though he was more in control of it these days. But what really drew him to this particular desert in Nevada was the fact that it was probably the least news-conscious place in America. Day and night passed without notice here and if it didn’t involve gambling, sport or entertainment then it didn’t rate a mention.
He thought he’d needed that time away from the news. After he’d won his second Pulitzer for the stories about the Foundation, he’d spent months working to get his estranged wife’s body repatriated from Shanghai and organizing her funeral. He’d thought that watching her casket being lowered into the earth would be a release, an ending. He’d been wrong – more pain had come up inside him. After that, he’d tried burying himself in his work. He’d thrown all of his effort into the new site. Then, needing stories to tell and an escape, he’d traveled to Syria. Upon his return, he’d wanted some time away from the news. In theory.
“I like it here.” He exhaled slowly. “Hell, I’m just glad to be back in the States, to tell you the truth. The site is going well and I’ve hired some other contributors. It was time for a break.”
“Glad to hear it.” Jo smiled slightly. His face looked gaunt and tired. “EMCorp wasn’t the same when you left, you know that?”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “Wasn’t?”
Jo’s smile widened. “I retired a few weeks after you left, Jack. I’d love to say it was because you weren’t there, but it was actually the love of my life who forced me to quit.”
“My heart surgeon.” Jo laughed and tapped his chest. “This fucking thing should have killed me, but the good people at New York Presbyterian kept me ticking a bit longer.”
Jack couldn’t believe it. Jo was the toughest hunk of meat he’d ever known. “Sorry I wasn’t there, mate. Why didn’t anyone let me know?”
“Well, I was too busy being cut open. I think Celeste wanted to tell you but Peter stopped her. He said you had to be left alone to heal. I don’t think she was very happy about it.”
Jack winced at the mention of her name, but before he could reply a drinks waitress approached. Given the length of her skirt, it was a good thing she had a beaming white smile and cute eyes, or else Jack might have struggled to look elsewhere. They made small talk for a moment before Jack ordered a beer. Jo went with ginger beer. As she shuffled off to get their orders, Jack’s eyes were locked onto her legs.
Jo gave a long, booming laugh. “Fall off the horse, Jack?”
Jack turned back to Jo, feeling himself flush red. “I never stopped liking women, Jo.”
“The booze, I mean.”
“I limit it to a couple these days.” He shrugged. “Hard to be a saint all the time.”