Back | Next

Chapter Seven

When Amy Townsend woke up, all she knew was that she didn't like the situation at all. She was seated on some sort of metal chair, there were bars across her thighs and butt, which she could tell was naked, rather than a solid bottom. It was pretty uncomfortable seat but that wasn't the worst of the situation. There were metal restraints on her wrists and ankles. The room was echoey, like it had rock or concrete walls, and girls were crying. It also stank, shit and piss and a smell she could only define as "fear."

Amy was a twenty-year-old student at UGA from Bainbridge, Georgia, working on her nursing degree and letting ROTC pay for it. She was pretty in a square-jawed way with brown hair and pretty green eyes, but many of her friends considered her to be a bit "butch." She wore her hair fairly short, above the shoulders, and between being in shape from weight lifting instead of aerobics or cheerleading and her standard rolling walk which was anything but feminine, she tended to have a hard time finding guys that could look at her as a female rather than "just another one of the guys." This despite a rather large chest.

She kept her eyes shut, head down, and moved her ankles slightly. She could move them side to side pretty freely but only forward or back about four inches. When she moved her right foot forward, something pulled on her left. And she felt a yank that wasn't from her after a moment.

She opened her eyes and looked down. She was fully naked and her ankles and wrists had metal bands on them. The bands each had a ring welded to them, shutting them closed. They weren't coming off short of a hacksaw. There was a chain, one for the feet, one for the wrists, that ran through metal rings on the seats, which turned out to be more of a long bench, then to the rings on the restraints. She looked to either side and saw she was part of a line of five girls, all similarly restrained. Some of them still appeared to be asleep or unconscious. There was a gap to her left, then another line of five girls. There was another line of girls in front of her as well and the girl directly in front of her was awake, crying, and had apparently relieved herself on the floor, explaining at least part of the smell.

She thought back, her brain getting more and more coherent as whatever drug had been used on her leached away. She remembered being royally pissed that she had been surprised. She usually had good situational awareness but the van had just come out of nowhere when she was crossing a student parking lot, headed home from a late class. She'd gotten one solid kick in when they got her in the van, struggling and screaming as loud as she could, then two men had gotten restraints on her and started stripping her. She'd refused to give in to hopelessness or despair, even when they took her to the warehouse and she saw the other girls and realized that the men were terrorists rather than just your generic serial rapists. She'd seen a couple of the girls stripped, loaded in what looked like coffins and then somebody had stuck a needle in her deltoid and that was the last she remembered.

"We are so totally screwed," the girl next to her whispered, fearfully. "We are so screwed."

"We're not screwed, they are," Amy said, quietly but definitely, keeping her head down. "I don't care where on earth we are, there are very violent guys who are gearing up right now to come rescue us."

"In your dreams," the girl said, bitterly. "Cliff won't care, he only cares about the oil."

"Oh, we so don't want to be having this conversation," Amy said. "I'll bet you a dollar, most of us get out of here. Alive. But you can give up if you want. Feel free. In the meantime, I'm Amy."

"Britney," the girl said. She was a short, fine-boned blonde with small breasts and a refined face that was twisted in fear. "God, I'm scared," she whispered, gritting her teeth. "You know what they're going to do to us, right?"

"Yeah," Amy said, slowly lifting her head. There was a single door at the far right end of the room. Two soldiers in purple camouflage guarding it. Who in the hell used purple camouflage? At the end of the room, in the center, was a dais and on the dais was the sort of table she'd only ever seen in nightmares. Metal, like a surgical table, with restraints on it. On the left was a camera, a regular TV news type camera, and lights. In the center of the end wall, directly behind the dais, was a large mirror that was obviously one-way glass. "This is truly going to suck."

"How can you be so . . ." Britney stopped and shook her head.

"Because unlike you, I trust the 'rough men' that Orwell talked about."

"What?" Britney said, confused.

"'People sleep soundly in their beds because rough men wait to do violence to those who would harm them,'" Amy replied, quietly. "Like I said, they will come for us."

"They didn't come for any of the other hostages in Iraq," Britney said, bitterly. "And how are they going to find us?"

"They will," Amy said. "If you can't hold tight to that thought, you're just going to break long before you make it to the table. And if you do, don't go crying on my shoulder."

"Start packing," Senior Chief Adams said, walking into the room where Charlie Platoon was getting ready for the evening's snatch mission. "We're locked down." Adams was the platoon's senior enlisted man, and usually passed the immediate "word" while the officers dealt with the rest of the "head shed."

"What the hell?" PO2 "Spooky" Vahn said, looking up. Vahn was a short little Vietnamese sniper that the rest of the team thought proved the truth that fighting the Vietnamese was a losing proposition. "What about the mission?"

"Scrubbed," the chief replied. "We're packing and taking a transport to Qatar. Everybody is scrambling in every direction."

"The girls," PO Third Sherman said, high-fiving his buddy PO Third Roman. "We're going to go rescue us some pussy from durance vile. If that don't get us laid, nothing will!"

"Navy SEALs," Roman shouted. "We're here to get you off! Errr . . . out!" They high-fived again as the new meats looked at them in amazement.

"Whatever," the chief said, shaking his head. "All I know is we need to be packed in one hour. So get with it."

"We're fully dialed in," the secretary of defense said. "We've got aerospace deconfliction and penetration planning going on, but it's not going to be easy."

"Don, if I've told you once . . ." the President said.

"We've got planning started on penetrating and taking their airspace, Mr. President," the secretary of defense said, smiling faintly.

"Now why couldn't you just say that?" the President asked, sighing. "I mean, we both trained in it, right? So why can't we just call it that? Never mind. Go on."

"Aleppo Four is right behind a major air-defense network that extends to Damascus. The airbase that the plane landed at is a fighter base. We're probably going to see air-to-air combat. And until we get that suppressed, we can't send in any sort of conventional force. Even if the helicopters or transports get through holes in the SAM belt, they'll still be cold meat to fighters."

"And as soon as we attack, Syria will know what we're going for," Secretary Powers said. "And if we cannot, in fact, prove that the girls are there, or if they are moved and Petty Officer Harmon doesn't detect that and we strike an empty base, the international and political repercussions are going to be enormous."

"We have them definitely tracked to Aleppo Four," the national security advisor pointed out. "The usual suspects will scream bloody murder. Other than that, I don't see the repercussions."

"It will seriously undermine the coalition if we cannot prove they were there," Powers said with relentless logic. "We need every bit of help we can get."

"Can we take down Syria?" President Cliff asked. "I mean, all the way down? Full regime change as in Iraq?"

"That would be . . . extremely hard," Brandeis said. "We don't have the forces to hold down both Syria and Iraq. We could probably ravage their army, but taking the cities and holding them would be problematic. We may send heavy forces in to support Operation Immediate Freedom, but I'd suggest a withdrawal immediately after the operation."

"That leaves us at Iraq, 1991," Cliff pointed out. "Which is one of the reasons my father lost his office. If we take territory, we hold it. If it's just a raid, fine. But if we take territory with heavy forces, we hold it and call for a regime change in Damascus. And then scrape up everything we can find to finish the job."

"Syria not only controls its own territory, but the Bekaa Valley and, effectively, Lebanon," Secretary Powers pointed out. "Even if we could take Aleppo and Damascus, we've discussed the problems with taking the Bekaa Valley and Lebanon. We simply don't have the troops."

"Then try to keep it to a very large-scale raid," the President said. "If we have to send in an armored division, we have to. But try to avoid it. I don't want to take ground and then give it back. That makes us look as if we lost. To the American people, and to the world. Don't give the RIFs an inch. And leave behind nothing but ruins. I want that whole facility trashed before we're gone. Smoking craters."

"That we can arrange," Secretary Brandeis said. "Once the air defenses are trashed, we'll fly C-17s over and drop MOABs on the whole thing. When they're in ground contact mode, they leave really nice craters."

"I wish I knew what was happening to the girls," the President said thoughtfully.

"I think we'll find out," Minuet replied. "And we won't like it."

Most of the girls had woken up when the first change occurred. Two men in regular camouflage pants and black T-shirts, with masks on their faces, carrying AK-47 variants, came in and relieved the more gaudy guards. They were followed by a couple of unarmed men in similar garb who went to the video equipment and started setting up. They hooked into cables that went to the walls, power and a video feed as far as Amy could see from her position.

Last a group of soldiers, unarmed, with masks on their faces came in followed by two masked civilians and an unmasked man in a suit. He stepped up onto the dais and looked around the room, hands clasped in front of him and smiling.

"Good evening, ladies. My name is Jamid Halal and I'll be your host for what you're about to endure. Let me cover a few things before we get started. Some of you are, I'm sure, positive that you're going to be rescued. You're not. Not only does the United States government have no idea where you're being held, but even if they found out, this facility is guarded by over a battalion, that's six hundred, of the most elite commandos. Not to mention a large group of mujahideen such as these gentlemen," he added, gesturing to the guards by the door. "Furthermore, it is surrounded by heavy air defenses that will shoot down any approaching helicopters or such. And this country that you are in has an effective air force which is more than a match for the American Air Force. Last but not least, if they do try to rescue you, my friends here," he gestured at the guards, "will be more than happy to kill every one of you. And so will I. I will be more than happy to put a bullet through each of your heads." He looked around at the renewed crying and smiled, happily.

"Yes, please, cry. I like it. Soon you will find out just how much I like it," he added as the two men who had accompanied him opened up their bags and pulled out rubber aprons. "These gentlemen over here," he added, gesturing at the soldiers, "are from the elite commandos that guard this facility. There are, as I mentioned, six hundred of them. That works out to twelve apiece for each of you." He looked around and grinned, staring at crying faces, his smile getting wider and wider. "Oh, this is lovely. Such a sight. Please," he said, turning to the video technicians, "make sure you occasionally get a shot of the audience. They are such a wonderful sight. And," he added, turning back to the girls, "you'll, of course, get a clear view of the proceedings. At first those of you in the back may have trouble watching, but as time goes by, you'll have a better view. We intend to take about two hours with each of you. That is one hundred hours or so. In one hundred hours, your ground forces defeated Saddam Hussein's forces in 1991. They called it the 'one hundred hour war.' This is our one hundred hour war. In one hundred hours, we intend to defeat the United States. For all time. We will break your country on its weakness," he finished, his eyes finally going cold as he looked at the front row of girls, each of whom was staring at him like a mouse in front of a snake. "I think," he said, slowly, looking back and forth at the row and then finally pointing to the girl on the left edge of the middle aisle, a short girl with light brown hair and shapely breasts. "I think we'll start with you."

"Noooo!" she screamed as the two men in aprons came forward along with a couple of the waiting soldiers. One of the aproned men pulled out a key and undid the lock for her hands while the other slid out the chain. The two soldiers grabbed her by the wrists and held her as her feet were undone, then she was lifted up, screaming, and dragged to the table. The soldiers secured her in place while the aproned men locked the chain back down. At no time had they lost control of the chain so that the other girls could snatch it away.

The camera was brought around so that it could focus in on her face and "Jamid" came around to her, holding out a microphone.

"What is your name, miss?" he asked in an interested tone, very much like a television interviewer.

"Clarissa," the girl said, her eyes screwed shut and face in a mask of terror. "Please don't do this to me," she sobbed. "Please!"

"Clarissa what?" Hamid asked.

"McCutcheon. Oh, God, you don't need to do this. Please!"

"And where are you from, Clarissa?"

Clarissa just shook her head, too panicked to answer.

Jamid looked nonplussed for a moment, then nodded at one of the men in aprons who reached under the table and came up with a pair of jumper cables. When the first one touched her Clarissa looked up with a muttered: "What's that?" then screamed and arched when the second touched her skin. She slumped back as the cable was withdrawn, sobbing.

"And you're from . . ."

"SNELLVILLE!" the girl screamed. "I'm from Snellville!"

"Well, Clarissa from Snellville," Jamid said, backing away from her and looking at the camera. "This is the last two hours of your life. We'll be capturing all of it in living color, and sound. Oh, most definitely sound. Bring over the boom mike, focus in on this lovely young example of American womanhood," he added, gesturing the camera to the side and then waving at the soldiers who reached for their belts with grins. "And let the fun begin."

Mike jerked up at the sound of helicopters and banged his head on the low ceiling.

"Fuck," he muttered, holding his forehead and scooching around in the tunnel. "Shit." He quickly slid into the chimney and shimmied up, interested to see who was coming in by helicopter. There hadn't been any explosions so it probably wasn't good guys.

By the time he made it to the opening, all he could see was a line of guards. But there was a tall figure descending from the now stopped helicopter and he was trying to place the face when he heard the crunching of footsteps approaching. He ducked back into the tunnel, quietly, and watched as two set of camouflage covered legs walked past. The butt of an AK was just visible with one of the men. So now there was a roving guard to contend with.

As he was beginning to draw back into the tunnel, a man came out of the side building and hurried towards the front of the main building. He was heavyset, somewhat fat looking, with brown hair like Mike's, wearing a white lab coat. But what caught Mike's attention was the gas mask on his hip and the fact that he didn't look like a local. If Mike ran into him on a city street, he'd have pegged him as a Serb or a Russian. He had that sallow complexion that the Russian men got from too much borscht and vodka. And he didn't move like a local. Middle Eastern men strolled, even when they were strolling fast. They walked with weight centered although sometimes with their head down, putting their legs out in front of them, almost a sashay but not as graceful. Europeans tended to walk with weight forward, legs and arms pumping, always looking up, as if to push through resistance. Arabs didn't swing their arms and kept close personal space to the point of holding hands in public. Europeans tended to spread out more and it was one reason they tended to find Arabs and other Middle Easterners odd and uncomfortable. Middle Easterners would get right inside of what Europeans, and especially Americans, considered to be "personal space" and always appeared a bit effeminate. To American males, it always appeared as if Arab males were coming on to them.

Mike wasn't too sure what that said about the respective cultures, but that guy definitely was not local. And with the perimeter guards and all the activity, there was no way he could call in until the sun went down, which should be soon given the shadows.

He slid back down to the bottom of the air shaft and tried to be patient. But who knew what was happening to the girls. Nothing good, he was sure. He looked at his watch, willing the sun to go down, and worked some mental exercises. As he was doing that he heard noise from topside and chimneyed up to investigate.

A group of soldiers were carrying something towards a truck, with other soldiers gathering around for a look. As the group spread to lift the object into the truck, Mike got a flash of a limp white arm, a blood-covered torso and light brown hair. Then the body was lifted into the truck and it drove away.

"Oh, those motherfuckers," he said through gritted teeth. "I am going to so fuck them up." He didn't know how long they had worked on that poor girl, while he had been sleeping! But he knew he was on short time now. But they had to be ready to kill the girls at a moment's notice. And with all the guards and everything else around, whatever happened was going to need something to help it out, a distraction at least. But whatever it was, it had to happen fast.

He slid down to his hide again, gathered up his gear, slid on his "harness" and secreted everything he could around his body. Then he moved back up to the entrance and waited, wrench in hand. He timed the guards and they came around on a thirty-minute or so schedule. By the time they came around the next time, it was dark and he waited until their footsteps had dwindled, then undid the bolts and slipped out of the hole.

He nearly died of fright when he realized the large side entrance now had sentries on it. He was in shadow but they had to be blind not to notice him. He stayed nonchalant, though, casually replacing the grate and using the wrench to apparently bolt it tight, then moving down the line of grates. He passed around the back of the building, aware that at any moment the perimeter guards might appear, until he hit one of the vents that had a smell of sulfur to it. Then he quickly undid the four bolts holding on the grate and slid into the darkness, pulling the grate shut and attaching only a single bolt. As his hand slid into the darkness of the air shaft he could hear the guards approaching.

As soon as he was sure they were clear he slid into the shaft and looked down the drop. This one had a functional fan and he considered how to handle that. However, the power leads were pretty plain, and on top. So he slid down and planted his feet above the spinning blades then carefully undid the power leads with his Leatherman tool. One of them sparked and shocked him as he was undoing it, but it was only a brief jolt and he even managed to hold onto the tool. He moved the leads to the wall, then put his foot on the blades to stop them spinning as quietly as possible.

He slid down the shaft, quietly, watching every move, then shimmied to the grate at the entrance. This one had a filter on it so he couldn't see through. But he also didn't hear anything from the other side. He lifted the filter out on his side then pushed out the grate and lowered it. The room on the far side appeared to be some sort of locker room. He slid out into the room, put the filter and grate back on and looked around.

He knew he was on borrowed time, that the girls were on borrowed time, but getting caught was still going to screw things up. Speaking of which, the time Pierson gave him was almost up; he should have called in. Too fucking bad: he was busy. Speaking of which, there was a telephone on the wall. He couldn't read Arabic, but he knew the numbers and it had an extension number on it. He picked it up and got a standard dial tone. Hmmm . . .

He checked the lockers, which were unlocked, and found a bunch of laundry that really needed washing. On the other hand, there were some shirts that made more sense, locally, than his black T-shirt and he found a perfect pair of shoes and a keffieh rag. In a few moments, he was the perfect image of a modern major raghead. And what the hell, he had a wrench; a wrench was nearly as good as a clipboard. He balanced the wrench in his right hand, put on an expression of hopeless fatalism, and shuffled to the door.

The corridor beyond, as far as he could tell, headed out. But he didn't look around because there were guards at the far end. There was a double set of doors, obviously in frequent use from the dirt, almost across from the locker room. He stepped into them and looked around. Ahah. Even better. The room was filled with chemical suits and respirators. He quickly shucked his clothes and pulled on a chemical suit and mask, then picked the wrench back up and stepped through the far door.

He had never been in a chemical plant but this one looked pretty much as he'd envisioned. There was lots of piping on the ceiling and big tanks. There were some people crawling on the tanks and he kept an eye on them as he worked his way along one wall. Suddenly, he heard English and stopped to check a dial.

"Can you people not understand the words 'quality control'?" a man shouted in a thick eastern European accent. Mike ducked his head around the tank he was using for cover and saw his friend from before waving his arms at two other figures in suits. "The temperature has to be kept to precisely one hundred and fifteen degrees Celsius! Not one hundred. Not one fifty! One hundred and fifteen! The entire batch is ruined! Now we have only the original test batch to show! Am I to explain this to your president? He is depending on this to stop the Americans and you have put us back by six months."

Interesting, but not really getting him anywhere. Mike kept moving along the wall, trying to look like a worker who was trying not to work, and headed for the back of the facility. He'd noticed that most of the markings were in French, those wonderful people. Where the Germans just built the bunkers, the French built the chemical plants. And here they were, both of the finest lights of Europe, perfectly represented. The point, though, was that he could quite often decipher what was in the tanks. And when he came to one that was marked, quite clearly, H2SO4, he knew he'd hit pay dirt.

A pipe ran out of the bottom of the very large tank to a pump, then went vertical across the high room. Mike followed the pipe, keeping behind tanks, until he found where it started to split up. He went around to the rear of the room and cautiously removed his chemical suit, hoping like hell that whatever mix they made in this place wasn't filling the air, then pulled out a bunch of the Semtek and some detonators. There was a phone conveniently situated near where the pipes branched and, after putting his suit back on, he spent a short time partially disassembling it, then finding some wire in a maintenance area. From time to time he'd look at a gauge or wave his wrench at a pipe, and twice people passed him but paid little or no attention to what he was doing. Finally, he found a ladder and climbed up to the branching, trailing wire behind him. He rigged the Semtek, most of this bunch, at the branch, then ran the wires from the detonator down behind some pipes to the phone. He also ran a wire across to the tank and fitted just about the last of the Semtek behind it.

When all the material was in place he carefully attached the last wire, wincing as he always did. But there was no immediate explosion. Now, as long as the phone didn't ring, the material wouldn't detonate. And he definitely wanted to be out of the room before it did.

Demo in place, he casually strolled towards the entrance, wrench in hand. As he was disrobing, the foreigner came into the room, carrying a sample case. He got undressed—his clothing clearly wasn't in the room—and more or less followed Mike into the locker room, muttering in what Mike took to be Russian.

The doctor went to one of the lockers, setting the sample case on the bench, and took out his clothes. As he was preparing to put his pants on, Mike swung the wrench into the back of his head.

It was a spur of the moment decision but one that Mike didn't regret. Win or lose, he'd taken the primary intelligence out of the WMD effort. And the doctor clearly had more access than a worker. He might even be able to find the girls. Or be told where they were.

Mike stripped out of his clothes and donned the doctor's, stuffing the body in the locker. Then he looked in the sample case. There were two things that looked like smoke grenades. One was labeled "Sarin" and the other "VX." There was a larger canister labeled "Sarin Area Weapon" and a can of what looked like wasp spray labeled "Mustard." Mike put that together with "test batch" and realized that he was, probably, holding live agents in his hands. That caused him to put the material back in the sample case and close it rapidly.

He picked up the doctor's glasses and looked in the mirror, trying for the proper expression of distracted and pissed off. The glasses made things a bit fuzzy but he could see well enough and he was pretty sure he'd gotten it right. The Herr Mad Scientist also had a pair of rubber gloves. Those went in the sample case. The last thing he did was pick up the belt with the gas mask and put it on.

He paused in thought, then shrugged, opening up the sample case and lifting out the rack with the samples in it. He still had about a kilo of Semtek left and he molded it into the bottom of the case. The nice thing about plastique was that it looked like plastic. Only a close examination would reveal it. He slid the detonators into his shoes, wincing. They shouldn't go off. He'd have been fine if they were NONEL; you couldn't get NONEL to go off without electrical current, period. But he wasn't positive with Skodas.

With that done, he hid the MP-5 and walked out of the locker room, practically running into a man in one of the purple camouflage uniforms.

"Doctor Chayanov?" the man said in passable English.


"You are late," the officer replied, grabbing his elbow. "Are those the samples?"

"Da," Mike answered in his best Russian accent. "Is terrible quality control. All of your people are shit, just shit."

"Well, you probably need to try not to say that to the president or the Great One," the officer replied tightly. "Be very polite."

"Da, I am polite," Mike replied as they hurried down the corridor. At the far end there was a door on the right guarded by two of the purple soldiers. That led to another corridor, with more soldiers, and the sound of the pumps from the facility on the right-hand wall. Halfway down the corridor was a single-person door on the left. The only door along either wall. This led to another corridor. That one dead-ended in a wall. There were two doors halfway down, with two guards in front of either door. If Mike wasn't completely turned around, and he had pretty good spatial referencing ability, the door on the left led to his hidey hole. They took the door on the right. The corridor was practically identical to the hidey-hole corridor, which added to the likelihood. The exception was that there was an exit at the far end and two guards were in front of one of the doors. If the design matched the other side, it was the "storage" room. He was taken to this room and stopped.

"You must be searched," the officer said. One of the guards handed his weapon to the other and then gave Mike a brief pat down, ignoring Mike's shoes. That was why the detonators were there; shoes and feet were untouchable to an Islamic. The guard looked at the locking blade knife and then gave it back. Then he gestured to the sample case.

Mike opened it up and pointed to the items in it. The guard looked at the officer and asked something in Arabic.

"He asks if these are bombs?" the officer said, glancing at the items uncomfortably.

"Nyet," Mike said. "Are not bomb. Are poison gas. Samples your leader asked to see."

"That's okay, then," the officer replied, waving at the case and not asking for the material to be removed for further search. "We are very careful of the life of our president."

"Da," Mike replied, trying not to roll his eyes. As he closed the sample case, he heard a muffled shriek and paused.

"We are entertaining some American young ladies," the officer said, looking at him carefully. "They are not enjoying the entertainment."

"Good, is all American bitches are for," Mike replied, closing the case.

"Glad you approve," the officer said, gesturing at the door. One of the guards opened it and Mike stepped into darkness.


Back | Next