Excerpts – Strengthen The Things Which Remain

Illo back jacket

“Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain.” Revelation 3:2

 

 

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Donalson

MC DILL AEROSPACE FORCE BASE

TAMPA, FLORIDA

UNITED STATES GREEN ZONE

JUNE 10, 2030

CHAPTER ONE—CALL OF DUTY

The dream ended and Battlefield Marshal Jack Donalson of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne awoke breathing heavily. His hairless scalp and hairless brows were coated in a cold sweat and the metallic disc of the neural net interface at the base of his skull felt like it had just come out of a freezer. He didn’t have time to muse about the dream which had been the same as it always was. He needed to bring himself fully awake and get moving. He stepped in to the white-tiled master bathroom of his apartment, slid back the glass shower door and pulled the sprayer from its sliding wall clip. Leaning inside the stall, careful not to get his gray Army gym shorts and lower body wet, he commanded the water spray to full strength with a temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The shower complied and he doused his head and neck. Finished, he ordered the shower off, replaced the shower head and grabbed a charcoal gray towel from the towel rack and wiped down his head, face and shoulders. He checked the chronometer on the vanity. He didn’t have any time to spare. He had to get downstairs pronto for a breakfast meeting with Kirby, the newest member of his squad.

He tugged on the black carbon-fiber under garments which fit him like a thin scuba wetsuit. He then slipped into his one-piece black BDU jumpsuit. He looked into his dresser mirror to assure his uniform was inspection-ready—old military habits were hard to break. His yellow name patch and his U.S. Army patch were velcroed in place over their respective pockets.  The six yellow stars on his right collar and the Army Airborne emblem on his left collar were fastened evenly on their trim lines. He reached over to his dresser and grabbed his carbon-fiber web-belt. He slung it around his waist and the rectangular buckle fastened automatically into memory position.

A quarter-hour later, in the Facility Officer’s mess Donalson and his assigned tactical buddy for the night’s combat mission, Lieutenant Colonel Kirby, finished their bio-engineered breakfasts. Donalson wanted to vet Kirby as he was a new Boomer Cyborg who’d just been commissioned for active duty.

Donalson leaned forward, “Kirby, I’ve read your bio, but—“

He was interrupted by the subdued announcement which came over the Facility’s acoustically-focused smart intercom. “Battlefield Marshal Donalson, Lieutenant Colonel Kirby report to Room 404 ASAP. Repeat: Donalson and Kirby report to Room 404 ASAP.”

“Any ideas?” Kirby asked.

“Room 404—an unscheduled intel briefing.” Donalson said. “So much for our one-on-one.”

Shortly, they exited the elevator on the fourth floor and walked down the long corridor. They arrived at a gray door on the right side of the wide hall with the black room number 404 embossed on it. Donalson knocked twice, hard.

“Enter,” a man ordered.

They walked into the non-descript briefing room with its large, front wall screen and a number of theater chairs across the middle. Donalson closed the door behind them and they moved down the wide center aisle.

Perez was standing at the front of the room in a beige linen suit and a crisp, white open-collar shirt. His tan, alligator leather left shoe was propped casually on a metal desk chair positioned beside him. The young intelligence officer’s baby face was obscured by a full beard. He brushed back long strands of straight, dirty-blond hair from his eyes, took out a pack of Gauloises cigarettes and lit one with a red Bic.

Kirby coughed hard when he entered the smoke-filled room. Donalson held back a laugh at Kirby when he choked again and swallowed hard, eyes bulging in surprise. Most Federal buildings had long ago forbidden smoking inside, but in this room smoking was allowed. The room doubled as the CIA’s briefing and interrogation facility in Central Florida for the War on Terror. Operatives like Perez performed long hours of interrogation here, and the putrid habit was tolerated. Donalson doubted Perez could go two minutes without one of those nasty French cigarettes.

“Marshal, Colonel Kirby, please be seated down front here. We can be real cozy.” He spoke with a hint of a Cuban accent. “You super-troopers know from your preliminary military briefing yesterday, that you are being dispatched by South American Command to counter this bloody spring offensive launched by the Light Wave guerrillas near the capital city of Manaus. It’s in its second month and has taken quite a toll on the civilian population and the Brazilian regulars.”

“The numbers look pretty staggering, Perez,” Donalson interjected.

“Yes sir, you are correct, Marshal Donalson,” Perez said. “The latest civilian body count is past ten thousand in the capitol’s environs and at least five thousand-two hundred Brazilian soldiers have been killed in action as of yesterday.”

“Perhaps you will ask next, how can these insurgents be so effective and devastating?” Perez continued, stuffing his unfinished cigarette into a large, black ceramic ashtray shaped like a cupped female hand with neon pink nails painted on each finger. “Army Intel has verifiable proof that the insurgents out of Venezuela are using a logistics staging area in and around the river city of Fonte Boa to reinforce their siege of Manaus. The Brazilian Army units are in strategic retreat near Manacapuru and all of their efforts to repulse the offensive have failed miserably.”

“Some of that we already know,” Donalson replied. “That’s why General Carson and I are being sent in with our teams in a night drop. We’re to take out the insurgent’s staging area on the river with a pre-emptive, shock-and-awe strike. Then, the 82nd Airborne regulars will come in and mop up behind us.”

“Again, correct.” Perez said. “However, now we come to the rest of the story—my part of the story—which is why we are even here in this wretched, windowless room talking on such a nice balmy, beachy Florida summer’s day. We should be at the marina enjoying cocktails and admiring the scenery offered by the fairer sex.”

“So, why are we hearing from The Company?” Donalson asked.

“I will come straight to the point: while your Boomer Cyborgs are conducting their combat maneuvers, you and Kirby here are going on a little side excursion. We have intel that the Pan-Asian Hegemony has provided Venezuela and the insurgents with the latest and greatest in the form of a mobile nano-frame military logistics IT system. Your mission is to verify same, carry out a Big Data snatch for the intel AI in orbit and then destroy said system with white phosphorous incendiary charges. Marshal, we’ve chosen you for this important mission because of your extensive knowledge and experience with the Optitron Labs technology in the Big Data extraction drones.”

Perez turned partially back toward the wall screen, thumbed a small remote and the screen lit up with an infrared view from orbit of what looked like a large warehouse. “This is the suspected location of the high-intensity combat logistics system: an abandoned warehouse near the southern edge of Fonte Boa. The Pan-Asian system is believed to be in a standard military IT trailer. As you know, the 2024 Treaty of Kyoto prohibits the Hegemony from introducing such advanced technology into the Western hemisphere for any and all military uses. We believe it is this very logistics system, which has made the insurgents’ spring offensive so formidable. You are to terminate this system with extreme prejudice.”

“Understood, Perez. Sounds like good training for you, Kirby. Your first black ops mission as a Boomer Cyborg.”

Perez finished, “Your mission intel directives will be embedded in your combat Rules of Engagement, as usual. Thanks in advance for your good work, troops. Strengthen the things which remain!”

TRANSATMOSPHERIC TROOPSHIP REAGAN’S REVENGE

ORBITAL RE-ENTRY

APPROACHING AMAZON BASIN, BRAZIL

JUNE 11, 2030

Donalson nestled in the nanotech cocoon of his tactical drop-pod along the upper starboard-side flight surface. Donalson’s Boomer Cyborg squad of eleven combat veterans made ready in their drop-pod bays. The bays ran laterally along the remaining span of the flight surface behind him and tapered back to the twin tails of the black ops aerospace vehicle. The launch almost two hours ago from Canaveral Aerospace Base had been flawless, and they’d completed their orbital maneuvers with precision and timeliness. The de-orbit burn of the world’s most advanced combat space-plane forced Donalson against the acceleration restraints as the stealthy black hull of the C-71 Supernova troopship screamed into the upper atmosphere just over the Andes. Donalson with his squad and Lieutenant General Carson with his squad began the high velocity combat drop into the state of Amazonas, Brazil.

Still linked in to the U. S. Aerospace Force Orbital Command and Control System, Donalson ran his final checks before switching to drop-mode. The intermittent wail of the drop klaxon brought him out of his internal review. He switched over to combat-mode and locked down the gold-tinted helmet visor of his charcoal-gray EVA combat armor, revealing the six black stars of his Battlefield Marshal insignia above the sealed visor. The suit’s heads-up display ignited with familiar colors in front of his eyes, and the on-board com systems chirped with comforting sounds inside his headset. The battlefield-imaging tactical display of the Drop Zone at Fonte Boa on the Amazon River blossomed out before his eyes. The patchwork satellite image held familiar red, yellow, orange, blue, and aqua geometric shapes superimposed in their slow iconic dances.

“Colonel Lacey,” he called to his second-in-command on the encrypted squad intercom link, “I have indications of non-combatants in some of our target areas.”

“Roger that,” Lacey replied. “Human shields. Villages wrecked by the bombings and artillery barrages. Poor scattered refugees on the run. The insurgents use them for any and all purposes. Over.”

“Copy,” Donalson replied and cursed to himself in one of his old favorite German oaths from the eighties—verdammte Sache—damned thing: human shields. They could prove to be very problematic for the squad’s entire mission.

The scramjets kicked in on Reagan’s Revenge and the large, hypersonic combat craft rolled to starboard. The drop-pods of all twelve of Donalson’s squad blew out in a precisely timed sequence from their electromagnetic launch tubes, pulling 4Gs. Out and down, like guided meteors, the stealthy smart-surface drop-pods wailed like banshees and headed earthward into the Brazilian jungle night below. The squad’s over-the-horizon, shock-and-awe surprise assault should begin at 0200 Hours as planned, as his drop-pod made its guided descent.

 

The clay road beneath them suddenly turned into an asphalt pavement scarred with potholes. They ran past several ramshackle commercial buildings on either side of the street. Donalson and Kirby took cover in the shadows of a dilapidated brick building on the right. It showed as empty with no infrared images of life present. They hunkered down in a dark, shallow entranceway and called their drop-pods for the planned ILSS equipment delivery. For good measure, Donalson summoned two Yellow Jacket surveillance drones. Their drop-pods signaled that the personalized shipments were en route via Super Yellow Jacket logistics drones and that the additional surveillance drones were also dispatched. Their ETA: 2.5 minutes. Nothing was moving in this seemingly abandoned industrial district.

The high whine of the surveillance drones—each a foot-long mini-helicopter—approached from the south at flank speed. The drones flashed Donalson with a blue-white recognition strobe and hovered on their thrumming rotary wings over the dark sidewalk at an altitude of twenty feet. Next, Donalson and Kirby received a red laser pulse from their slowly descending logistics drones. The larger ILSS mini-choppers circled in front of them on the street at a height of about ten feet. The black shapes of their respective equipment packs hung two feet beneath each drone’s belly in their carrying harnesses. The logistics drones slowed further, moved closer, and hovered in front of each of them. Donalson signaled for equipment drop and the logistics drones complied. Each pack harness released and the just-in-time deliveries dropped into Donalson’s and Kirby’s extended arms. Then the Super Yellow Jacket drones rose and retreated back to their respective drop-pods at 180 knots, barely clearing the building roof lines. The two special ops soldiers slung their fifty-pound CIA mission packs onto the backs of their EVA armor suits and the pack frames automatically locked into their carrying harnesses. Donalson ordered the two small Yellow Jacket surveillance drones to fan out in front of them on slow, whisper mode, and head toward their proximity target.

“Either the power was out from our initial attacks, or the insurgents had the power shut down by intention,” Donalson said. “They may be expecting us. Let’s move out.”

The drones relayed their infrared visuals to Donalson’s tactical display. Donalson and Kirby set out at an easy jog down the middle of the street and soon arrived in the vicinity of the target warehouse.

They approached the dingy,’70’s era warehouse on the right side of the street. A high cyclone fence with concertina wire around the top edges encircled the building and its broad asphalt parking area. They ducked into a blasted-out storefront some distance away from the warehouse in order to make their final preparations for the assault. Donalson ordered the drones up to a low-surveillance height of 150 feet. He dispatched one to the north side and the other to the southeast side of the building.

He received the Sit Rep readings from the drones.

“Kirby. Use standard intrusion procedures on the north entrance. I’ll approach from the southwest along that concrete loading dock wall and enter there.”

“Roger that, sir,” Kirby replied.

Donalson pulled up the latest data feed from the orbiting intel AI that he needed for them to continue.

“Kirby, forty-seven infrared images of human forms dispersed throughout the building. A cluster of seven images in the center of the warehouse structure. Probable that’s the mobile IT facility with its operators and technicians.”

“Roger. Those human images on each side of the building—possibly the sentries on the main entrances.”

“Right,” Donalson agreed. “The lone figures sporadically scattered throughout the building could be the human shields Lacey mentioned.”

“Human shields, sir? They can be bad news.”

Donalson brought up the Rules of Engagement on his Sit Rep display and forwarded them to Kirby’s display. He skipped over the first two standard rules and read the third, marked in bright crimson text as a CIA directive:

PROXIMITY TARGET FONTE BOA—TOP SECRET AND CRITICAL; EXECUTE MISSION PARAMETERS WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE; IGNORE COLLATERAL DAMAGE CONSTRAINTS FROM COMBAT MISSION RULES OF ENGAGEMENT.

 

Donalson commanded, “‘Ignore Collateral Damage Constraints,’ Kirby.”

“Roger, sir; understood,” Kirby muttered.

“Breach the perimeter with shock-and-awe entry per SOP. Follow instructions to the letter.” Donalson commanded.

Kirby took out two clips of explosive bullets, placed one into his deployment belt pouch and locked-and-loaded the other clip into his M7 bullpup rifle. Then Kirby placed two blue-coded clips of non-lethal rounds into another deployment pouch. Donalson mirrored Kirby’s actions and then noted Kirby pulled out a blue, egg-shaped cylinder from his mission pack. Donalson pulled out his own Blue-Egg electric fence jammer and prepped it for deployment.

“Move out,” Donalson commanded.

“Roger.” Kirby sprinted off into the darkness.

 

Donalson girded himself for the coming assault and looked at the tactical displays from the two surveillance drones: there was no movement around the building, except Kirby. Donalson’s EVA suit power reserves were at eighty-three percent. He was ready. He sprinted past several buildings, stayed close to them, and broke out into the clear across a field of low grass, which led to the nearest gate of the perimeter fence. He flipped the arming switch of the blue cylinder and threw it ahead of him with a ninety-mile-per-hour fastball pitch. It struck the cyclone fence at about mid-height. As the device approached the links of the fence, a fine mesh web spread out from the cylinder’s body and latched on to the fence. In a tenth of a second, a studded spike deployed from the bottom of the cylinder and drove itself into the pavement with an explosive burst. After a blue-white flash and sparks briefly lit the night, Donalson sprinted at fifty miles per hour; he hit the fence with his EVA armor at full force and burst through the chain links, tearing steel into a larger-than-man-sized opening. Staying low, he ran alongside the low concrete wall and up to the edge of the building.

Donalson grabbed his mission pack and took out the compact, green-black, folded shape of the Optitron Labs Mantis Data Extraction smart-drone. He pressed an activation stud on the bottom of the convoluted device and the smart-drone with its superluminal chipset took form as red and green LED’s lit up. Six robot insect-like legs deployed to full length and two front mandible arms sprung outward. Donalson set the device on the asphalt on all six legs, touched the small control screen on its back and set the data upload rate to a thousand zettabytes per second. Donalson threw the drone up and over onto the roof of the building and ordered it to find the IT system trailer target, ASAP. Tactical infrared visuals from the swift-crawling drone came in on his heads-up displays as the Mantis moved to the center of the roof and to a location above the supposed mobile IT facility.

Donalson grabbed his M7 rifle from his shoulder, aimed at a metal door located up a short flight of stairs, and fired off four rounds on semi-automatic with precision. One round blew out the door lock and the other three rounds blew out the door hinges. The door flew forward and spun out onto the concrete landing. Two stunned sentries in gray BDU’s rushed down the dimly-lit hallway inside, raising their rifles. Donalson fired two quick bursts and the Venezuelan soldiers seemed to fly apart, torn by the explosive rounds from the inside out. Donalson lunged up the stairs, through the door and past the remains of the dispatched soldiers.

He ran down a short, dark hall. His infrared display indicated a small, shirtless old man in a pair of oversized cargo shorts slumped and tied in a metal chair at the entrance to the inner hall. Dead. Donalson drew closer. The bound man had sustained shrapnel to his head either when Donalson fired the rounds at the metal door or when he dispatched the sentries. The man was an Amazon Indian. A human shield. Donalson hated the moral dilemma presented by human shields, but the CIA mission directives always had priority.

They had to swiftly and efficiently complete this critical mission. From their deployment pouch, he pulled out two non-lethal blue clips of rubber bullets from their pouch, stashed one clip and locked-and-loaded the other one. He returned the explosive bullet magazine back to his deployment pouch for further use on exit.

A powerful kick to the metal hall door, and it clamored as it slid on the slick, sealed concrete floor. Donalson leaped through the doorway into the large, poorly-lit warehouse. Where was Kirby? He should have entered from the north entrance to the warehouse by now.

“Kirby,” he called him on his encrypted com. “Do you copy?”

Dead air.

A single fluorescent light on the ceiling shined down upon a fifty foot silver-gray, lozenge-shaped trailer near the back of the warehouse. Two sentries stood beside chairs behind a folding table in front of the trailer’s single, windowed door. They’d spotted him and held their rifles at the ready, their jaws slack. Probably never saw a Boomer Cyborg before. And they would never see one again. Donalson fired off two short silenced bursts of rubber bullets into the heads and faces of the guards.  They slumped to the floor before they could shout out or fire a single round at him.

Donalson received a confirmation from the Mantis drone. It had cut its way down through the roof and had moved into position above the trailer. He ordered it to deploy its data extraction universal connectivity probes downward into the walls of the trailer and into operational proximity within the trailer’s data communications grid. Donalson raced to the door of the trailer, tore it off its hinges with his left hand, and fired several well-aimed rounds, using only his right arm and hand. Three more soldier-technicians in the interior of the trailer went down. Donalson surged up through the open doorway, took aim, and fired. Three more technicians were taken out, slumping senseless to the floor. Only one person remained in the trailer behind a second door at the back of the trailer. Possibly the Officer in Charge. Donalson had to take him out quickly and cleanly.

A chime went off in his headphones. The signal from the Mantis drone. His tactical display lit up with the words: BIG DATA UPLOAD COMPLETE. The drone had completed the extraction and had transferred it up to the orbital intel AI. A current, encrypted Big Data snatch like this would allow the uber-spooks at Langley to break into the Pan-Asian Hegemony’s South American theater military systems, and a new round of cyber-warfare could begin. Pan-Asian Hegemony—Zero. Optitron Labs superluminal technology—One!

The door at the back of the trailer opened and a Venezuelan officer in dress-gray’s exited holding a nine millimeter semi-automatic pistol. The bearded man fired at him several times.The small caliber handgun rounds bounced off Donalson’s CNT armor. Donalson swatted him once in the head, and the officer went down with a dull thud on the hollow raised-floor of the IT system trailer. A warbling alarm from the surveillance drone positioned on the north side of the warehouse warned Donalson of trouble. The infrared tactical image from the Yellow Jacket showed five light armored vehicles approaching from the south, about five hundred yards away.

They had to get out of here and get this mission over with.

“Kirby! Do you copy? Objective reached and engaged. Do you copy? Over.”

No response. Donalson looked at the Squad Roster status indicators. Kirby’s vital signs indicator had gone red. In the rush of the attack on the trailer, he’d not noticed it.

“Lacey,” he called the Colonel on his com frequency. “Do you confirm we’ve lost Kirby? Over.”

“Roger,” replied his second-in-command. “Kirby must’ve had lethal damage after his proximity raid. You didn’t have any indication?”

“Negative. I haven’t seen Kirby for a quarter-hour.”

Scratch one nanotech-human hybrid three point five billion dollars!

“See you at the river for the extraction, Lacey—over.”

Donalson grabbed the mission pack from his back and took out two six-inch diameter, incendiary white phosphorous charges. The United States of America was playing dirty in this current brush-war conflict and breaking all the rules. The U.S. military Joint Chiefs were not going to allow the Brazilian Conflict to become another Vietnam. He set the time on the incendiary charges for sixty seconds, armed them and slapped them down on top of two of the nano-core blade server cabinets on the back wall of the trailer. He rushed out of the trailer, down and across the warehouse floor and back out the hallway he’d come in.

In the hall, his audio filters picked up the cries and screams of women and children somewhere nearby in the warehouse offices. Their deaths could not be helped. He took out the partially-spent magazine of explosive rounds and swapped it out with the non-lethal blue magazine. Donalson leapt down over the steps, onto the driveway, and raced back out the hole he’d punched in the fence. He set off down the street to the north at forty miles per hour, the exoskeleton of his EVA suit barely strained with the nominal pace.

He had to meet up with his squad at the rendezvous point on the northeast side of Fonte Boa, near the river. A high-speed, stealth U.S. Navy Styx-class cutter was going to extract them. A bright yellow-white flash caused his infrared dampers to kick in as the incendiary charges detonated, blowing through the roof of the warehouse above the IT trailer. He looked back over his shoulder. The center of the building was engulfed in a fifty-foot-high column of deep yellow flame. Scratch one Pan-Asian logistics network.

An internal indication from his implanted neural net processor received an encrypted transmission via his helmet’s satellite receiver. It was one of those rare, undetectable data bursts he received from the clandestine Optitron Labs advanced technology platform, his old friend, the NADIR onboard the geo-stationary satellite, the TelOs Nine. The terms of the secret armistice of 2023 said he was never to access the NADIR again, but Donalson was still very much in communication with—and in control of—the orbital NADIR. He and Sammy, still had the security access, and command and control of the outlawed orbital device they’d serendipitously co-invented over twelve years ago. The U.S. military and the CIA did not have the capability to detect this superluminal data comm with the NADIR. They would never know he was violating the terms of surrender. By design, the whole Optitron Labs advanced technology shell game had been so convoluted for the past decade that the U.S. government was satisfied to enjoy the nanotech advantages of the fractional spinoffs of the full capabilities. The Optitron Labs technology made the Boomer Cyborg program possible.

His neural net implant and the integrated superluminal chipset received and decoded the data burst: It was an urgent text message from Sammy’s son, Isaac Kissinger, with the Mossad Underground. His thoughtful contingency, a nano-frame interfacing device—the stripped-down version of the original Tel Aviv NADIR prototype—made these covert communications reality. Donalson had never trusted the Pax Europa Security Forces any further than he could throw them, since they’d occupied Israel three years ago as part of the seven-year peace-keeping agreement with the Arab nations and Iran. The treaty agreement he despised. Pax Europa—Donalson had come to detest that name. He read the message with the codec in his neural net implant:

(NADIR-TEMPORAL CODEC TIME-STAMP: 06-12-2030 @ 0330 HOURS) COVERT MOSSAD UNDERGROUND OPERATION COMPLETED IN TEL AVIV THIS PAST NIGHT. OPTITRON LABS BIO-MED DIVISION RAIDED BY PESECFOR. DOCTOR SAMUEL KISSINGER’S ENCRYPTED DATA CAPTURED. MOSSAD UNDERGROUND EXTRACTION OF DR. KISSINGER FROM ISRAEL IN-PROGRESS. WILL ADVISE.

 

The Brazilian localized time-stamp provided by his temporal coder-decoder informed him that, as with all transmissions from the NADIR, this message came from twenty-four hours in the future. So, he had to factor that in to his thinking. Signals from the NADIR moved backward in time, exactly by one rotation of the earth. He and Sammy had never completely understood this phenomenon from any theoretical standpoint. It was just the way the meta-relativistic device worked in real-world application. The best meta-relativity explanation that he, Sammy, and the engineers at Optitron Labs had ever come up with was that it had something to do with the earth’s gravity well. Of course, there was presently no way to test this theory.

Once this mission was over, he would run his own intel checks using his Battlefield Marshal-CIA security clearance to see if he could pick up any additional international chatter, and get more directly involved with tracking Sammy. The fact that PESECFOR had obtained Sammy’s encrypted data at Optitron Labs was his—and the corporation’s—worst nightmare. It could mean the end of what little democracy and freedom remained in the world.

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Kissinger

EUROPEAN-OCCUPIED TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

JUNE 11, 2030

CHAPTER TWO—ESCAPE FROM TEL AVIV

The green neon of the Brewhouse sign and façade backlighting came into view as he turned the corner. He could just taste their bratwurst plate with its fresh broetchen. Making his way to one of the tables on the sidewalk outside, he waited for a server and then placed his order. When the pretty, svelte blonde returned with his favorite German beer he took a large gulp.

Entschuldigung, Vetter.” A young Arab man with a beard approached. A large gold crucifix hung over his black tank top and almost down to the waist of his black jeans. He wore a light hooded windbreaker with the hood thrown back behind his long curly black hair.

Kissinger had no idea why this stranger would speak to him in German. Nor did he understand why he called him cousin, so he didn’t reply.

Sie sehen aus wie einen gnadigen Mensch!” the man continued in a thick Bavarian dialect, calling Kissinger an honorable man.

“Yes, young man. What can I do for you?” Kissinger asked.

Ich heisse Anton, Mein Herr.” The Arab shifted on one foot, introducing himself.

“Well, is there something I can do for you?” Kissinger reached in his pocket to feel for coins.

Nein, Herr Doktor.

Kissinger froze. His credentials were not widely known in the eateries around Shabazi. He usually had his business lunches and dinners near the university area.

“I am here to help you,” The man switched to English which rang with a heavy French accent. “I understand that you are a man of vision: A man who is seeking ways to optimize ideas.”

Optimize ideas: The code phrase initiated by Mossad Underground, which was used by operatives who wished to contact him about his son, Isaac.

“May I sit down and have a smoke with you? I have just gotten some Gauloises from my brother in Paris,” the young Arab explained, pulling the chair slowly away from the table. “They are hard to come by with the embargo.”

“Certainly, young man, now that you put it that way.” Kissinger beamed back at him. “Perhaps I could have one of your cigarettes?” As the young Arab drew closer, Kissinger noted that he was about the same height and build as himself.

Anton seated himself, pulled out a pack of French cigarettes, and proffered one to Kissinger. Then he took out a green Bic lighter and lit Kissinger’s cigarette.

“Listen, cousin,” Anton commanded his attention with his low serious tone, “I am using a white-noise randomizer to mask our conversation. You are in great danger tonight. Change your plans immediately.”

Anton leaned forward. “Follow the contact protocol, Doctor. After we have talked a while, I will leave the table and go inside to the bar for a few minutes and then into the men’s room. I will disable any video cams or detection devices in the area. There are several stalls, look for me in one of them. I will leave my stall door partially open. Take either stall next to mine and lock your door. I am wearing pants and a wind breaker, which will fit you. Take your pants and shirt off and throw them over the stall divider. I will pass you my pants and the black windbreaker. We’ll dress in each other’s clothes. Zip the windbreaker up to cover yourself. Then, I will pass you an aerosol spray container and a small mirror. You will spray your hair and beard and they will look black, exactly like mine. I will dye my hair to look like yours. We’ll switch identities.”

Kissinger protested, “But what if someone else is in the rest room?”

“Don’t worry about that. I have some knockout gas; I can put them to sleep.”

“You’re forgetting the most important issue aren’t you?”

“I know—our wrist smart coms and vital signs monitors. We’ll move out of the stalls to the sinks to wash our hands. While we stand next to each other we’ll switch our smart coms and bands. I will engage a special chip in my smart com, which will artificially reproduce my vital signs when you have it on your wrist. Then, I will attach a similar chip to your smart com which will emulate your vital signs as I wear it. Public health monitoring will be none the wiser. Our heart rates will even speed up and slow down as we are walking and resting. It’s one of our latest innovations for disguise here in occupied Israel.”

“What if someone comes in while we are switching the smart coms?”

“Herr Doktor you ask too many questions. I am a highly trained agent with numerous hidden weapons and defensive devices. Leave it all to me; we’ll play it by ear. You’re my fourth extraction this month from Tel Aviv.”

“Extraction? Eh, very well, Anton. I will trust in your experience at this sort of thing. What do I do once we switch identities?”

Walk down the Shabazi to the Norma Jean at Elifelet 23. Go in and sit at the bar. Isaac will meet you there. He knows about the disguise you’ll be wearing.”

“Is that all?” Kissinger snuffed out his unfinished cigarette.

Anton shook his head. “Do not, under any circumstances, return to your flat or your office. Both are under surveillance. PESECFOR. Your son will tell you what to do next.” Anton emphasized his directive with the military acronym for the occupying Pax Europa security forces.

Kissinger leaned forward and shook the man’s hand. “Thank you for the smoke, young man. Truly enjoyable. It has been nice to meet you.”

“Don’t worry, Herr Doktor. You are under our protection.” Anton stood and pushed his chair under the table.

The young Arab snuffed out his cigarette. “’Wiedersehen, Herr Doktor. Gruess Gott.” He bade Kissinger farewell in his Bavarian dialect.

Gruess Gott.” Kissinger returned in German with the greetings of God.

Anton quickly moved away into the interior of the café and back toward the restrooms. The blonde wanna-be model returned with Kissinger’s dinner and asked if he needed anything else. He scarfed down his bratwurst platter and drank the rest of his beer. He gestured to the server that he wished to pay and within minutes he touched his smart com to the server’s NFC reader and added a tip. He stood and steeled himself for the ordeal ahead in the men’s room and headed inside to the back of the café. Anton was not sitting at the bar. He must be in the men’s room by now. Kissinger pushed the restroom door open and entered.

Five minutes later, Kissinger, now with darkened hair and a beard, made his way down Shabazi as directed, jostling through the crowds. He looked back over his shoulder and saw the disguised, receding figure of Anton moving up the other side of the street headed in the direction of his flat. So far, so good.

Within twenty minutes, he turned southward onto Slush and then back westward onto Eliat, past the Israeli Army Museum. Soon, he was walking the final distance down Elifelet to the Norma Jean. He looked back down the street behind him. No one seemed to be following him on foot or in a vehicle, and the crowds had thinned down here. He went in through the glass entrance and into the cool air of the dimly lit interior and sat at the less crowded end of the bar where the LED tract lighting was more subdued. He ordered a mineral water and took a sip.

He hadn’t seen Isaac since 2028, right after the European occupation. Kissinger was proud of his son who followed in his grandfather Aaron’s footsteps: serving in the military, the Mossad, and now, even in its current Underground incarnation. At the time of their last meeting, the Mossad Underground had contacted him at a university conference to meet his son at a nearby park. Isaac had informed him that Mossad Underground was extending its operations into Northern Europe, and he would be on assignment working with remnants of the covert, outlawed German military out of Hamburg. It seemed so strange—ironic—that the underground resistance from Israel worked with rogue German army and navy elements up in the German Neutral Zone. After the collapse of the Pro-Life League of Nations in 2024, Greater Israel had been on its own, with the United States its only clear international ally, as their country slid down the slippery slope to World War III.

The door to the Norma Jean opened, and Kissinger straightened. A lone figure came in and stood under some lighting in the foyer. Alexi Naumov. Why would his old protégé and colleague from Optitron Labs be anywhere near the Norma Jean? He’d taken an assignment in northern Europe years ago. Kissinger waved. Naumov approached, and Kissinger did a double-take. The man coming toward him was not Naumov—it was Isaac, also in clever disguise.

“Alexi.” Kissinger played along with the ruse. “Come and join me!”

His son played the part, shaking hands with Kissinger. Then Isaac gave him a friendly embrace.

“How long has it been? At least three years since I saw you at the conference in Basel!”

“Yes. It’s so good to see you after all this time. How are things at SA Gesellschaft? Has it been a good move for you?”

“Yes, quite good. I am on several large government stimulus projects up in the German Neutral Zone: Switzerland, Austria, and even the Bavarian Free State.”

Kissinger logged the veiled information Isaac shared about his most recent operations.

“So,” Kissinger asked, “how is it that you are in Israel at this time?”

“I just arrived yesterday to begin a new local project. By the way, our old friend Bobby Coleman just e-mailed me from Atlanta. You might find what he says interesting.”

Isaac took out his smart com mini-tablet from its holster, opened an encrypted e-mail, and handed it to Kissinger.

“You won’t believe what he is up to,” his son said.

Kissinger took the mini-tablet, reached in his shirt pocket and took out his wire-rimmed reading glasses. He started scanning the newly decrypted text.

DO NOT REACT. LAUGH AND AGREE. PESECFOR IS RAIDING OPTITRON LABS TONIGHT LOOKING FOR YOUR ENCRYPTED CORPORATE DATA. NEED TO GET YOU TO SAFETY, ASAP. EXTRACTION TEAM IN PLACE AT OLD JOFFA.

 

Kissinger took off his glasses, laughed, and handed the phone back to his son.

“That Bobby,” Kissinger said. “He never changes! It’s good to see that he is doing so well.”

“Yes, he always comes out smelling like a rose,” his son said as he took the mini-tablet and re-encrypted, then deleted, the bogus message.

“I have a date in Old Joffa. Why don’t you come with me, and we’ll have a few more drinks. Perhaps my date has a friend?”

“You old dog! Sure, I’ll go along. I have several favorite places down near the beach.”

“Let me get your drink for you.” Isaac motioned for the bartender and paid the tab.

Both men stood and went out the door into the deepening darkness of the Tel Aviv summer night. Once out on the street in the neon and LED lamps, Isaac reached into his left pocket, fidgeted for something and then searched his right pocket.

“Vati,” Isaac said, “we can talk freely now out here on the street, where there is a variety of sounds. I have just activated my white-noise randomizer, which will scramble our words. No one will know exactly what we are talking about, if we speak softly.”

“You’re sure of this?”

“Quite sure.”

“Where do I begin? Optitron Labs Bio-Med raided and compromised? The Tel Aviv division will be out of business,” Kissinger whispered.

“Mossad Underground will do everything possible to minimize the impact. Besides, the EU nations of the Eurozone are some of your company’s biggest customers. They may crack down on Optitron Labs here, but they need your 4G nanotechnology and medical equipment. They’re just too important to them for The Grand Recovery and all of the healthcare stimulus projects in Europe and Africa.”

“But,” he protested, “what about my office and my confidential corporate files? Surely they will be ransacked and my encrypted data seized off of the on-premise servers and my personal nano-frames. Unfortunately, my most critical files from the last ten years are not on our corporate cloud.”

“That is a great concern, but more importantly, we must protect your life, welfare, and the intellectual property that you have—up here.” Isaac pointed at his head with the index fingers of both hands. “We cannot risk you being captured and taken to EI-6 in Brussels. You know of their methods.”

“But if I just leave tonight with no luggage, no belongings, what will my housekeeper, Frau Stockmann, think when she realizes I’m missing in the morning? What about Van Kaas, the client from Holland I just met this evening? What will he think when I don’t show up for the presentation tomorrow? That’s a big deal!”

“Vati, these things will have to take a backseat to your safety. I could not bear to lose you, too.”

His son’s concern touched him greatly. “I know we both still grieve for Gabi and for Miriam, even after all this time. We only have each other in this dreadful, unhinged world.”

And it had been this way since September 11, 2001 when his wife, Gabi, and his daughter, Miriam, had been on vacation in New York City, touring the World Trade Center, along with Donalson’s ex-wife, Polly. Polly had been like family, even after the divorce from Jack. She’d been like a second mother to Miriam.

 

Within half an hour, they were on Russian Road and moving to the end of the residential street where they would cross over to the beach.

Kissinger leaned toward his son. “There seems to be someone following behind us. Should we turn away from the beach?”

“No, Vati. We don’t want to head away from Old Joffa. Everything will be fine. Let’s push on to the beach. Someone has our back—someone that you are not thinking about.”

They crossed the street and wound up in a partially lit small park with a fountain surrounded by a circular walkway, a number of date palms, and a well-kept lawn. The wide beach, beyond the adjacent rough, showed dark gray in the light of the street lamps. Waves murmured, and the salty breeze whipped around Kissinger. After several minutes of picking their way through the untended area, Kissinger looked back. Their stalker stood motionless by a palm tree in the park. They moved on and finally came out onto the smooth, deep sand of the beach where Kissinger could barely see by the light of the distant street lamps. He noted the stars were out, but there was no moonlight yet that night. They slogged on through deep, loose sand and then reached more compacted, damp sand closer to the water. Isaac picked up the pace and Kissinger hurried to keep up. They walked down the beach into an area of greater darkness.

A distant metallic snap sounded up ahead. Something moved not far from them, but it was too dark to see clearly.

“Something’s gone wrong,” his son said after looking at the glow of his mini-tablet screen. “Come with me. Quickly”

A figure lay crumpled in an awkward heap on the sand. Using the dim light of Isaac’s screen, they approached cautiously and looked down at the figure. The man was dressed in black with a black wool cap. His left arm lay at an awkward angle on the sand, his hand splayed onto the stock of his black bullpup automatic rifle. Kissinger immediately reached down to the man’s neck and felt for a pulse.

“He’s dead,” Kissinger murmured.

Kissinger surveyed the beach and saw no other movement or persons nearby. His son grabbed the discarded rifle, shook off the sand, and checked the action and the magazine.

“What should we do now?” Kissinger asked.

“Don’t worry, Vati,” Isaac reassured. “This man, Jacob—God rest his soul—was the contact. But now, I will take you on to the raft.”

Isaac abruptly raised the rifle back in the direction of the park. Kissinger could see a dark figure moving toward them and Isaac locked-and-loaded a round.

Before he could fire, a familiar voice called to them. “Herr Doktor, Captain Kissinger, it’s me, Anton. It’s okay.” A brief ultra-violet triple flash of light from the figure’s smart com band seemed to be some kind of covert signal to Isaac.

Kissinger breathed a sigh of relief as Isaac lowered the automatic weapon from the ready and the young Arab approached them and placed his hand on Kissinger’s left shoulder. Anton had already changed back into black jeans and a black tee-shirt and he wore a large black fanny pack around his waist. His still grayed-out hair was tied into a pony tail and he had on an urban field cap. Kissinger could barely make out the word Ghetto in white above the flat-brim.

“After you left to meet your son, I decided to double back and follow both of you myself, just to be sure. I disposed of the Kissinger electronic smart com identity per protocol and went to a nearby MU safe-house to change and get a new bogus identity and smart com.” Anton explained. “No one was following you until you got to Russian Road, but then I noticed a man starting to draw closer.”

“So, the man in the park was after us?” Kissinger asked.

“Yes,” Anton said, “Of that there can be no doubt. I sent an encrypted tactical message to Captain Kissinger’s covert ops team and let them know. Then I continued to follow your shadow to the small park.”

Anton recounted events from his perspective, “I watched him from the cover of some shrubs. I figured he might be signaling to someone. I caught him off guard and took him out with a micro-Taser I was carrying in my butt pack.”

“Unfortunately,” Isaac said, “The contact has been killed.”

“Yes,” Anton said, “This is not good.”

Gunfire erupted down the beach, lighting up the night. Off in the dark outline of some trees at the edge of the beach, several more muzzle flashes flared and then the reports of automatic weapons followed. The firefight stopped and then all was silent.

Isaac thumbed his smartphone and received an encrypted tactical message.

“It’s a message from my team,” Isaac said. “They were in the firefight you just saw and heard. When they received Anton’s message, they diverted the van down the beach to an area where the raft crew waited. That’s when they detected a PESECFOR covert ops team deployed in those trees down there. The PESECFOR team had already taken out Jacob. But, then, my team took them out.”

“Anton,” Isaac said, “I thank you, for your quick thinking back there.”

“What about the raft crew?” Kissinger asked.

“They are okay and ready to take you out to the naval vessel. We have to hurry! The sound of the firefight will soon bring other PESECFOR units, the police, or worse—an Avenger drone. Follow me, and I will take you to the raft.” Isaac reassured him.

“Captain Kissinger,” Anton said, “I will head back up to the park and see if I can do any good with the man I took out. I may be able to confuse the authorities if they come down Russian Road to investigate. Farewell, sons of Abraham!” The young Arab headed back in the direction he had come.

Kissinger was frozen in momentary shock, until Isaac coaxed him forward with a hand on his right arm. His son led him to the water’s edge. Breakers showed white in the glow of the city lights. The waves grew louder as they approached a black combat raft. Four men stood, holding it just out of the surf. Isaac stepped forward, spoke to one of them, and motioned for his father to get in. One of the raft crew gave him a heavy, black, hooded jacket and a dark, wool cap for his head.

“Infrared damping material to conceal you from the eyes in the sky. Good-bye, Vati.” Isaac hugged him. “I will contact you soon. May God be with you!”

“And may He be with you, Isaac. I will be praying for your safety. ‘Wiedersehen,” Kissinger said his farewell.

His son moved away into the darkness.

Kissinger was pulled into the large combat raft by two of the crew and the other two men were already pushing off into the surf. They dragged the raft out into the waves and deeper water and started an electric motor, which kicked in with an amazing burst of speed. The raft lurched and bounced away threading through the waves. Soon, the raft cleared the breakers and was in deeper water. Kissinger hunkered down for their journey to the rendezvous point. Fifteen minutes later a bright orange flash lit the horizon followed by a loud boom shoreward. Search lights raked the distant sky. An intense blue-white flash lit up the night. An Israeli EMP weapon. The raft cruised on silently for another fifteen minutes and soon a red light flashed in code nearby across the dark swells. The crew steered the raft to the beacon. A familiar dark form loomed before them. Even in the dim starlight and back-scatter of city lights that remained unaffected by the EMP, Kissinger made out the unmistakable shape and angles of the huge submarine. He’d never forgotten his previous sight of that vessel in the harbor at Tel Aviv years before. He could barely discern the Star of David on the dark conning tower. It had to be: he was being taken aboard the Sword of Jehovah, the former USS Rhode Island Trident sub, which had been providentially given to Israel by General Jack Donalson and President Robert Johns back during the Second American Civil War in 2022.

The Sword of Jehovah, the means by which God had delivered Israel from the invading armies from the north, in 2028 during World War III, when the Mad Russian and his hordes of confederated Arab armies had dared to attack in an attempt to seize the country’s LNG bounty. This Trident sub, whose ballistic missile warheads had been converted by Israeli nanotechnologists into Neutron Ring Weapons and had been used in a matter of hours to end the shortest World War on record. Instead of a Six-Day War—a Six-Hour War. God’s neutron fire from above had taken out the invaders seeking a spoil in the Valley of the Passengers. Here she was still on secret Mossad Underground duty after all these years, and he was going aboard her to be taken to safety.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Pellegrino

U.S. PLAGUE ZONE

65 MILES EAST OF LIBERAL, KANSAS

JULY 20, 2030

CHAPTER TWENTY— THROUGH THE PLAGUE ZONE

The dream ended and Donalson awoke breathing heavily and in a cold sweat inside his sleeping bag. He’d dreamed about Milou. He had not had a dream about her for years—by design. It was The Dream, but this time Milou was in the dream instead of his ex-wife Polly.

Terrifying! He lay unmoving in his sleeping bag looking up at the night sky of early morning: the wonderful dream experience of being one with the woman he loved one moment and then experiencing the nuclear air-burst. It was strange that he’d dreamed about Milou, at all. Kissinger’d said it was the scheduled biofeedback conditioning they’d subjected him to. Donalson shivered inside the warmth of his sleeping bag. He turned onto his right side and looked at his wrist GPS chronometer: 0431 Hours. Less than four yards away, the campfire burned low. Just beyond the flame Milou stood with a thermal blanket draped around her shoulders. She stared up at the stars.

Donalson pushed out of the bag and walked over to her. She turned her head slightly. He touched her shoulder, and she turned tear-filled eyes toward him. Donalson wrapped her in his arms. Milou held tightly to him. He drew upon her comforting embrace to dispel the lingering terror of The Dream. He still loved her as much as he ever had.

Donalson finally released her and held her shoulders firmly at arms-length. “Milou, this mission we’re on—it seems beyond you. I know we’ve had some close calls, but why are you crying? Is it the Plague Zone?”

“No. Not that. I couldn’t sleep, and I’m not feeling well. That’s all.”

She moved back from him, sat down close to the low fire and red coals, and reinstated herself in the folds of the thermal blanket.

Donalson sat down slowly across the fire from her and folded his arms around his knees. The sky was lightening in the east, but bright stars still shown in the rest of the unobstructed Great Plains sky.

A bright flash of blue-white light flared on the southwestern horizon. It became the pinprick of an intense rising star with a discernible contrail. They both turned their heads and fixed on this unexpected sight.

“A missile launch from White Sands,” Donalson said. “It must be an Orion booster to be so bright this far north. It’s probably a Secret America shuttle. They’ve leased the space port from the Republic of Texas for a ten-year period. They send a bird up about once per month.”

“Secret America has that much clout and money?”

“Yeah, despite those rogue Texas Rangers we ran into—which are not the norm—the Republic of Texas has some interesting alliances and economic partnerships. They’re just doing what the U.S. is doing—using anything that remains in any way they can. When they took control of White Sands Proving Ground after the Mega-quake, they walled it in and annexed it to Texas. Then, they built up a formidable spaceport there, comparable to Canaveral.”

“I didn’t know that there was another operational American spaceport.”

“Most don’t, except for Westerners who see these launches from time to time. It’s not general knowledge, nor is it reported on by the U.S. news media. And, as you know, Texas has a news blackout within its borders. They manage the launches out of the refurbished Houston Mission Control.”

They leaned their heads back watching the blue-white miniature sun rise straight up over their heads for several more minutes. There was another brief flash and it was gone as suddenly as it came.

“A polar orbit,” Donalson proclaimed. “They must be going to the Secret America LEO space station.”

“You sure know a lot about this launch.”

“I have to. It’s not just my job; it’s an adventure.” He laughed and it seemed briefly like life was back to normal out on his back deck at the house in Alpharetta.

“It’s good to hear your laugh again.” She smiled.

“Yeah, I guess things have been awfully serious since we ran into you at your clinic. I’ve wanted to tell you some things that might help you better understand what has happened to me…what is happening to me.”

“What do you mean?”

“I have a dream, a terrible dream that repeats itself with little variation—until now. I just had it, and that’s what woke me up. Only this time, The Dream was different: you were in it. I haven’t dreamed about you for years. It was something they did to me…down at McDill. Kissinger thought it would be best if I never dreamed or thought too much about you.”

“How awful, Jack! They thought they had to manipulate your subconscious like that?”

“Sammy had them institute a biofeedback procedure. The procedure is supposed to make me dream about my ex-wife, Polly, instead of you. It was intended to help maintain my long-term emotional stability. And it has worked for a long time, until now. Of course, I haven’t had the biofeedback procedure for several weeks now, since my last restoration cycle at McDill in early July. I better tell Sammy. It must be wearing off. The portable restoration unit doesn’t accommodate the biofeedback protocols.”

“I had no idea this was the kind of thing you go through. I guess I had only thought about the physical side of it, being a doctor.”

“There’s more…” Donalson hesitated. “You remember my mom?”

“Janelle was the sweetest woman. I remember the last time I saw her before she passed away back in 2017 when we went to Hilton Head to arrange our wedding.”

“I can’t remember her, Milou. That is…I can’t remember her face—her voice. I can’t remember her from my childhood when I was growing up. I remember the facts of her life—just data—but I don’t have any good or bad memories of her. I know when and where she was born. I know when she died and where she’s buried…but none of the important human things. She’s just historical facts to me now. It’s not natural! Not natural…for a person to not remember their own mother.” He choked and looked down into the dying fire.

“Jack, I…” she trailed off, staring blankly at the low flames.

 

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