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NEMESES

For The Innocent: Book Six



by

Bret H. Lambert



Copyright © 2019 Bret H Lambert

All rights reserved.

Distributed by Smashwords

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this ebook with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Cover Design by Joshua D. Lambert

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Other Titles

FOR THE INNOCENT

VINDICTA

REGINA MARIS

PRAESIDIUM

HAVOC



CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine


ONE

Khalid ibn Mahmoud Aziz eased himself into the pilot’s seat of the massive Boeing 747-400 jetliner. His brown eyes were wide with wonderment, and a broad, toothy smile spread on his smooth, dark skin. It had taken him twenty-five years, but now, at the age of fifty, he was in command of the world’s largest commercial airliner. He ran his hands, shaking slightly, over the controls. He was giddy with excitement, like a boy with his first car. It had been his dream since he had been a boy to fly, and as a man to fly such a plane as this. His father, Mahmoud Aziz, would be proud were he still alive. Closing his eyes, he said a little prayer, and thanked his father for first arousing his interest in aviation so many years before.

The immense jetliner was parked at the terminal building of Dhahran International Airport on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia. It was almost two hundred and thirty-two feet in length and boasted a wingspan of nearly two hundred and twelve feet. It stood almost sixty-four feet from where the wheels met the ground to its highest point. Its maximum take-off weight was an unbelievable eight hundred and seventy-five thousand pounds, and each of the four PW4000 turbofan engines provided upwards of sixty-four thousand pounds-per-foot thrust to make it move. He would fly the behemoth, with more than five hundred souls aboard, at a cruising speed of five hundred and eighty miles per hour, and at an altitude of forty-five thousand feet.

Khalid ibn Mahmoud Aziz was a happy man.

He was the first of the crew to board. He had wanted to be alone for a bit with his plane. My plane, he thought with pleasure. The others would be along soon enough, and the preflight routine would commence, but for now it was just him and his plane. He rose from his seat and wandered about the vast interior. His hands touched the seats with near-reverence as he walked up and down the aisles. All on board would be his responsibility, and his alone. The mere thought caused his heart to race; it was an awesome responsibility.

He was near the rear of the aircraft when he heard the cheerful voices and noises of the food services personnel coming aboard to stock the galleys. He watched from where he was; he knew most of them, but there were one or two new faces. He called out a greeting as he made his way forward. There was playful banter as he weaved his way amongst them to the staircase that would return him to the flight deck in the hump. He found his number-two flipping through the preflight checklist.

“Good morning, Khalid,” said the younger man as he glanced up.

“And a glorious morning to you, Omar!” responded ibn Mahmoud Aziz exuberantly. “I thought Ali Mouhammed al-Wasem was my co-pilot on this flight.”

“He called in sick quite suddenly,” responded al-Amili, adding with a laugh, “Something about flying with you!”

“Very funny! He is just afraid of heights! Are you ready for today?”

With a curious smile on his lips which his friend did not notice, Omar al-Amili said, “I am always ready for today!”

“A long day, this one,” pointed out ibn Mahmoud Aziz as he went through the preflight checks with his co-pilot. “From here to Kuala Lumpur, non-stop, is nine hours.”

Al-Amili shrugged. “We’ve flown longer.”

“Ah! But not non-stop!” grinned ibn Mahmoud Aziz.

“I will be here with you, so you needn’t worry,” said al-Amili in a failed serious tone.

“Thank Allah for that!”

Two hours later the preflight was complete by all crew members, and the galleys were fully stocked. Ibn Mahmoud Aziz stood near the aircraft’s forward entry with the purser. They greeted each and every passenger as embarkation proceeded on schedule. More than five hundred people filed into the immense Boeing 747-400 and made their way to their assigned seats. It was going to be a full flight, with most of the passengers being Malaysians returning home. He recognized several different languages and greeted the speakers in their own tongue; it was something that always caught the traveler’s off-guard but pleased them nonetheless. It was something his father had encouraged to improve the rapport between the passengers and man in charge.

When, at last, the final passenger was welcomed aboard and had seated, ibn Mahmoud Aziz climbed the stairs to the lounge area in the hump, and then went forward to the flight deck. He was greeted at the door by the senior flight attendant, twenty-eight-year-old Rana Sabbagh. “All is ready?” he asked with a note of affection in his voice.

“Yes,” she replied, but there was something in her voice that caught his attention.

“Is there a problem?”

She glanced nervously into the flight deck, and then gestured for him to follow. She went several paces to a quiet area of the lounge. From her skirt pocket, she produced an envelope and handed it to him. “I was given this by a member of the ground crew,” she explained. “I was directed to hand it over to you just before departure.”

He looked down at the plain envelope. His name was scrawled across it in Arabic. “What is it?” he asked hesitantly.

“I do not know,” she told him. “Oh, Khalid, I am afraid!”

He smiled bravely at her. “Afraid of what? Give me the envelope, and then you get back to your duties.” His hand touched hers as he received it. “There is nothing to be afraid of, Rana. I am sure this is just a message from the corporate office; perhaps I am getting a raise!” He laughed lightly as she smiled nervously. “Now, off you go!”

He watched her go, his brave smile still on his face. As soon as she was out of sight, the brave smile evaporated. He held up the envelope and looked at it. He wanted to tear it open but there were instructions, in small print, to wait until they were airborne. He pursed his lips as he contemplated his options. A voice from the flight deck pulled him from his reverie and he hurried to his seat, tucking the envelope into a shirt pocket.

Omar al-Amili glanced over at the aircraft’s captain. “All is well?”

“Of course,” said ibn Mahmoud Aziz dismissively. “Let us get aloft, my friend!”

They worked together getting the jumbo jet to the runway, powered up the engines while both stood on the brakes, and then released the plane. Slowly it began to roll forward, and then it began to quicken its pace. Within a minute, the giant aircraft was barreling down the runway at one hundred and eighty miles per hour. The nose lifted, and the rest of the wide-body jetliner gracefully followed. The plane banked away from the airport and toward the east, all while still accelerating and climbing. Fifteen minutes later, the plane had reached level flight over the Persian Gulf.

Khalid ibn Mahmoud Aziz released control to his number-two and slid his seat backward. From his pocket he produced the envelope and stared at it. Finally, with a quiet sigh, he opened it with a finger. He pulled a single folded sheet of paper from it. His heartbeat quickened noticeably as he unfolded the paper. His brown eyes scanned the typewritten Arabic; his throat got very dry.

“What have you there?” asked al-Amili gently.

“What?” gasped ibn Mahmoud Aziz, startled.

“A message?” pressed al-Amili.

Folding the letter, ibn Mahmoud Aziz nodded erratically. “Yes, it is a . . . message.” He rose from his seat. “Excuse me,” he said rapidly. “I must . . . I need to . . .” He hurried from the flight deck.

Passengers were coming into the lounge that occupied most of the jumbo jet’s signature hump. He tried to greet them civilly, but he was distracted, and he was certain they saw his distraction. He entered the lounge lavatory and bolted the door. Sitting on the closed toilet lid, he brought out the letter and stared at it. Surely this is someone’s idea of a joke! he told himself soundlessly, repeatedly. It had to be! He saw his reflection in the mirror and was startled by who looked back at him; the man in the mirror was terrified. He blinked. But if it’s not a joke, he thought, then there is no option. He took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. He had no way of confirming whether his family was in danger, or not. The instructions were clear: he was to contact no one, merely comply. His once-proud stature deflated on the toilet seat; if he did not comply his entire family would be butchered. He closed his eyes. From his aging mother to his baby niece, they would all be sacrificed for his non-compliance.

His beautiful world was gone.

• • •

Ra’s Tannūrah was a vast industrial complex on the peninsula of Saudi Arabia’s east coast that projected into the Persian Gulf. It served as a major oil port and operations center for Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company. It was located south of the industrial port city of Jubail, and across Tarut Bay from the old port city of al-Dammam. It was a sprawling complex, and the man in charge was Malik Hassam bin Nasser.

It was his first day on the job as the head man. From his spacious office overlooking the expansive complex, he reveled in his new position. It had taken him decades, literally, to get to where he was. He started as a boy in the oil fields doing manual labor for very little money. He had been ridiculed by his friends and family, told to find work elsewhere, but he had had a vision. It had come to him in the night, when he was a teenager, as he slept on a ratty pallet under the stars. He had worked hard, studied hard, and fought hard to get to where he was.

A mentor had appeared several years before who had advised him, encouraged him, and directed him. The nameless man had been of indeterminate age, with black hair that was neatly combed back from a high, intelligent forehead; there had been some grey at the temples. His was a Mediterranean complexion, bin Nasser had thought at the time, or perhaps Southern or Southeast Europe, or even Western Asia, or Central Asia. The Arab considered, even today, that perhaps his mentor was from certain parts of South Asia, or North Africa. He remembered the piercing black eyes, cold and terrifying. There had been the black eyebrows, thick but not bushy, and the clean-shaven face with a straight aquiline nose. When combined with a high forehead, he had found the face to have a certain characteristic of deadly intelligence. They had met only once, but he remembered admiring the polished mahogany walking stick with a solid gold wolf’s head handle, and the large emerald ring on the right ring finger.

His mentor had occasionally sent word by messenger at critical times in his life, guiding him further up the ladder. He had been taught to be ruthless and crafty, and it was those skills that had gotten the results which those, senior to him, had demanded. He smiled. He had made a name for himself, albeit with help from the unnamed counselor, and, finally, he had been justly rewarded him with this position, and the wealth that came with it. His family and friends had long since become silent; he made a point of having no dealings with any of them. His mentor had suggested severing contact, warning him that his success would attract freeloaders. And now here he was, ultimately responsible for billions of dollars in crude oil, and the infrastructure required to ship it around the world, not to mention to manufacture fuels for local use. There was nothing he could not do now.

There came a light knock at the mahogany door that separated his capacious office from his staff. “Come!” he barked.

An older man, clad in a pristine white thawb, entered with some trepidation. The ankle-length garment swished about his legs as he walked quickly across the plush carpet. On his head was a white keffiyeh, held in place by a black agal. In the man’s hands was a long, narrow box, which he presented to bin Nasser with a slight bow. He murmured something in Arabic, and then backed out of the room.

Bin Nasser watched the man go, a smirk on his face. He himself preferred Western attire but knew better than to wear such clothes as word would get back to those who elevated him to this position. He opened the box, removed the polished mahogany walking stick with its solid gold wolf’s head handle, and tossed the box aside. He stroked the smooth wood before walking about his spacious office with it, using it as a decorative aid. He rather liked the image reflected back at him when he paused in front of a full-length mirror in his private bathroom. Success had finally come to him.

He was sauntering about his office, walking stick in hand, when he was interrupted by another knock. A scowl masked his face as he bellowed, “Come!”

This time it was a young man in a suit who entered, with a manila envelope in his hand. The young man quickly crossed the expensively carpeted floor to where his superior stood. “This just came for you by special messenger, sir,” he said in a quick, nervous voice. “It is marked for your eyes only, sir.”

Bin Nasser did not bother to look at the young man, but he did glance at the large envelope. “Put it on my desk and get out,” he growled.

The young man bowed, and did as he was told, glad to have escaped. No one liked dealing with the new complex manager; he had lost the coin toss.

Alone again, bin Nasser turned to look at the envelope on his desk. “Now,” he murmured, “what is it about you that is so damned important?”

It occurred to him that it might be a communiqué from his mentor, whom he had had no word since the previous year. He tilted his head slightly to one side as he pondered the possibilities. What suggestions, or directions, would he offer this time? he wondered. He walked over to his huge, highly polished teak desk and reached out for the envelope. His hand shook slightly, which annoyed him. His name was written in flowery Arabic script across the front; the handwriting was unfamiliar to him. Lifting it, he found the manila envelope to be very light. In much smaller script, beneath his name, were instructions directing him to open it at the enormous window that allowed him to look out over his dominion. Odd, he thought fleetingly. He briefly debated with himself on whether he should comply, and, in the end, decided to humor the faceless author. He went to the window with envelope in hand and stared out over the sprawling complex. Standing there, bathed in the warm light that poured into his office, he tore open the manila envelope and extracted a single sheet of paper.

He blinked.

The sheet of paper was blank.

With a deepening frown, he looked inside the envelope only to find that it, too, was empty. He allowed the envelope to fall to the floor as he returned his attention to the blank sheet of paper in his hand. Slowly, the rage began to build. Someone is being funny, he thought to himself angrily. He glared at the door to his office. Someone out there! It did not matter who the culprit was, he decided, as he would not waste his valuable time to find out; he would fire them all. He smiled cruelly. That was the only way to deal with such insubordination. They will quickly learn to fear me! he thought gloatingly.

It was then that something outside caught his eye. It had been a transitory flash, a reflection of sunlight off a shiny surface. He looked out over his domain, but whatever had caused it . . . There it was again! He stared, transfixed. This was not possible. Something was not right here. He stepped closer to the window and looked hard. But there it was, coming low from the south, from out over the Gulf.

• • •

Khalid ibn Mahmoud Aziz was in a daze when he left the lavatory. He could not think straight. His mind whirled as he tried desperately to rationalize what was happening to him. He made his way through the passengers who were enjoying the lounge’s amenities, oblivious of their curious stares. He entered the flight deck, locked the door, and resumed his place at the controls. He gazed out the window at the far horizon. He felt lost.

Omar al-Amili glanced over at his friend. “What is it, Khalid?” he inquired gently.

After several seconds, the jetliner’s pilot turned his head to look at his number-two. “I . . . don’t know . . . what to do . . .”

Al-Amili’s eyebrows rose slightly as he asked, “Don’t know what to do about what?”

With a shaking hand, he handed over the folded paper. “This.” His voice was barely audible.

Al-Amili took the paper and unfolded it. He read through it quickly, then again more slowly. “Well,” he murmured, “this is a problem, isn’t it?”

“If I do not obey, they will kill my family, all of them!” cried out ibn Mahmoud Aziz. “But if I obey . . .”

“Yes,” nodded al-Amili, “that is a problem.”

His brown eyes again staring out at the horizon, the pilot grieved, “I don’t know what to do.”

“Perhaps it is nothing,” suggested al-Amili flippantly. “Perhaps it is a hoax.”

“No,” said the distraught pilot. “No, this is no hoax. Whoever gave the envelope to Rana Sabbagh terrified her, and you know as well as I that she does not frighten easily.” He was quiet for a moment, and then added, “This is no hoax, but I cannot possibly obey. I . . . cannot . . .”

“Then you sacrifice your family,” said al-Amili casually.

Ibn Mahmoud Aziz turned his head slowly, his brown eyes narrowed. “You do not seem at all . . . surprised, Omar.”

The younger man smiled broadly. “You must obey, my friend, it is your duty.”

There was quiet in the flight deck, other than the steady drone of the four massive engines. The two men looked at one another. “You are one of them?” asked an incredulous ibn Mahmoud Aziz.

Omar al-Amili’s laugh was biting, cruel. “I am part of something bigger, you fool! All of this is planned. This is jihad!”

“Against the Saudi royal family?” declared ibn Mahmoud Aziz.

“The Saudis!” spat al-Amili angrily. “They are nothing! We are the Illuminatos Societate Libertas! There is nothing we cannot do, which includes forcing you to do our bidding.”

“You are insane!” gasped ibn Mahmoud Aziz. “You cannot possibly expect such a plan to succeed!”

A deathly silence filled the flight deck. Al-Amili focused his dark eyes on the man in the captain’s seat. “We will succeed,” he whispered with a cold smile, “because failure is not an option!”

“I cannot allow it,” murmured ibn Mahmoud Aziz as he regained his composure.

“Cannot allow it?” questioned al-Amili with a smirk. “You cannot not allow it! This mission will be successful, and your family will still perish!”

Ibn Mahmoud Aziz came out of his seat before he realized what he was doing. He threw himself onto the younger man, wrapping both hands around his neck. He was unable to focus on anything but the color-changing face as he squeezed. He felt hands groping at his own face, and thumbs pressing violently into his eyes. The pain seared through his head as he struggled to break the other man’s hold. At last, no longer able to deal with the pain to his eyes, the older man released his own grip, broke free, and staggered backward to tumble into his seat. He could see nothing definitive, just an obscure shape moving toward him. He lashed out, flailing his arms until he struck something. There was a grunt, followed by a curse, and then he felt something slam into his midsection.

Al-Amili stepped back from the fatally wounded man. In his right hand he held a bloodied jambiya, with its short-curved blade and medial ridge. His dark eyes were wide and wild, and his breathing was coming quick and shallow. It was the first time he had actually stabbed anyone, his first time in close combat, and he found it thrilling. He looked from the dagger in his bloody hand to his dying friend and smiled.

Khalid ibn Mahmoud Aziz felt the warm liquid on his stomach before he felt the pain. He was puzzled as he brought his hands up before his injured eyes. He could tell, though not clearly, that they were covered in a red, viscous liquid. Gradually, his mind translated what his eyes saw with what he was feeling in his midsection; he had been stabbed. As his eyes became less clouded and his vision returned, somewhat, he looked at the smiling man who stood over him. “Why?” he gasped.

Al-Amili shrugged. “It’s nothing personal, Khalid,” he replied indifferently. “You were just unlucky enough to be assigned to this flight. I told them that using your family as a threat to get you to do our bidding probably wouldn’t work.” He hesitated, and then added, “That is why I am here, to ensure that the job gets done.”

“Who . . .?”

Al-Amili wiped the blood from the curved blade of his dagger on a clean area of the dying man’s shirt. “Who? My instructions came from Azad Shirazi, the Iranian; you probably don’t know him. He is of the Inner Circle, but the mind behind this . . ., ah! That would be Alexander Shaitan.”

“Shaitan . . .” gasped ibn Mahmoud Aziz in pain. “Iblis . . . Satan . . . the Deceiver!”

As he put away his dagger, al-Amili said to the dying man, “You will never know what his plans are for the world. It is glorious!”

“You are a fool!” declared ibn Mahmoud Aziz with a sudden burst of waning energy. There was blood in his spittle; the curved blade had punctured a lung.

Al-Amili settled himself into his seat and strapped himself in securely. He reached over and disengaged the auto-pilot. Taking control of the aircraft, he put it into a gently starboard turn and began to descend. “It is jihad,” he said matter-of-factly.

Ibn Mahmoud Aziz shook his head weakly. “It is madness!” he wheezed.

• • •

He became aware of the ringing telephone on his desk and tore himself away from the image out over the Gulf. He lifted the receiver and snapped into it, “What is it?” After listening for a moment, he added, “Of course I am aware of it! Do you think I am a fool? I am aware of everything that goes on here!” He slammed the receiver down in the cradle. The anger he had felt was gone, replaced by uncertainty. And fear.

Malik Hassam bin Nasser hurried back to the window, placed his hands on the warm glass, and stared at the approaching object. He could not fathom what was coming, or why. None of it made any sense to him. There was no logic, no reason. None of what was unfolding was part of his plan.

“This is not supposed to be happening,” he murmured incredulously.

He watched in shocked disbelief as the Boeing 747-400 jetliner dipped just enough to start shearing through the fifty-thousand-barrel fuel and chemical storage tanks along the waterfront at five hundred miles per hour. One by one, in rapid succession, they erupted in great balls of fire and black smoke. The jumbo jet rocked as shockwaves caught up to it from behind. Suddenly, it banked, and its starboard wing cut through several pipelines. As the giant aircraft began to cartwheel toward him, thousands of gallons of fuel and chemicals spilled out, and the flammable liquid swiftly spread, igniting. He saw hundreds of workers scattering, running for their lives; some were lucky and died quickly.

“This cannot be happening!” he declared as he watched his world erupt before his very eyes.

The jetliner began to come apart, and then it burst into a somersaulting inferno. Fiery pieces flew at great speed in every direction. The mangled flight deck separated from the destroyed body of the jumbo jet only to hurl toward the large window that allowed the immobile overlord an unobscured view.

“What is happening?” he screamed at the devastation of his world.


TWO

Jebel Uweinat. The mountain range deep in the Libyan Desert where Egypt, Libya, and Sudan met was the stronghold of the world’s most dangerous terror leader. The highest point was atop a plateau that was known as the Italia plateau, on which there were two cairns which had been erected in the 1930s. The western part of this massif consisted of intrusive granite which was arranged in the shape of a ring. It was approximately twenty-five kilometers in diameter, or about fifteen-and-a-half miles. The mountain range rose more than two thousand feet above the desert floor. Upon its pinnacle was a fortress that was originally built in the tenth century to guard the early trade route.

Within the thick walls of the antediluvian fortress, black-clad men and women busied themselves with the final repairs to the huge gated entry, which had been breached by the enemy’s gunship. Work on the four towers, also victims of the gunship, neared completion. The courtyard, which had been literally shredded by canon and miniguns fire, was restored, with its flourishing vegetable garden near the ancient well. Heavily armed men walked along the stone ramparts, constantly scanning the horizon with binoculars for any unexpected visitors. Those who had previously failed had been unceremoniously thrown over the massif’s precipice; that is to say, those who had been so unfortunate to survive the attack.

Across the courtyard, with the aid of a mahogany walking stick, his hand tightly grasping the gold wolf’s head handle, walked an angry man of indeterminate age. He limped from an injury sustained just a few years earlier; he had almost been killed then, but he had an uncanny ability to survive personal attacks. Only months before, he had narrowly escaped being killed when a bomb blew up the car in which he had been traveling. Inexplicably, he and his two companions had exited the vehicle just moments before it had been torn apart by a powerful explosion. He could not remember what had made them pull over and abandon the machine. An inner sense, perhaps? he wondered thoughtfully.

As he walked, those around him scurried to get out of his way; they knew not to vex him. One young man did not move quickly enough and received the heavy gold handle alongside his head. He dropped to the ground, stunned, a trickle of blood at his left temple. No one dared go to his aid until the terror leader had passed. The man entered his office, crossed the stone floor, and took his place behind his massive mahogany desk. Two men stood in silence before his desk.

Alexander Shaitan stared at the report that lay open on his desk. His black eyes scanned it a second time. This is not possible, he thought to himself. This is not part of my plan! He glared at the two men who stood before his desk. “Someone,” he said in a frighteningly quiet voice, “please explain to me what happened here.”

There was the nervous shuffling of feet, but no one spoke.

“Shirazi,” said Shaitan, “the jetliner was not to be used until next week; what happened?”

Azad Shirazi, formerly of the Iranian Republican Guard Special Forces, shook his head. He uneasily stroked his dense black mustache. His bushy black unibrow seemed to move of its own accord. There was an ugly scar along length his left cheek that gave him the appearance of a pirate. He reeked of the clover-laced cigarettes he chain-smoked. “I do not know. I thought you had moved up the date.”

“Why would I do that?” asked Shaitan as he fought to control his impatience. “Why would I alter my plan?”

“I . . .” began Shirazi.

“And why would I destroy a complex that I have spent years infiltrating? Years! And have only now gained control?” roared the terror leader. There was an uncomfortable lull, and then he turned to the other man and quietly asked, “What are your thoughts on all of this?”

Fernando Espina de la Capilla, formerly of Nicaragua’s Milicias Populares Anti-Sandinistas, cleared his throat. He absentmindedly stroked his own large black mustache; it concealed part of his pock-marked face. His empty black eyes stared back at Shaitan. “We were betrayed, obviously, Jefe,” he responded.

“Betrayed? Do you think so? Pray tell, by whom?” pressed Shaitan dryly.

“By someone who knew of your plans, Señor,” pointed out the Nicaraguan in a confident voice.

“And who might this someone be?”

“That I do not know,” admitted Espina de la Capilla.

“You do not know,” murmured Shaitan coldly. He eyed the thirty-year-old Central American with narrowing eyes. “Well, Señor Espina de la Capilla, I want you to find out who is responsible,” he finally instructed, “and I want you to bring that person to me. Alive.” Espina de la Capilla acknowledged with a silent nod. “Alive,” Shaitan reiterated, “or I will kill you, very slowly.” Again, the Nicaraguan nodded. “As for you,” continued Shaitan as he turned his attention back to the Iranian, “you will need information on InterOps so that you can formulate a plan to finally eliminate them.”

Shirazi stiffened under the glare. “I will contact our usual sources.”

“You had better do more than that,” suggested Shaitan in an unfriendly voice.

“Of course, Excellency!” added the Iranian quickly. “I only meant that I would start with our usual sources.”

“Their leader is a wheelchair-bound invalid,” growled Shaitan, “and two attempts have failed. Failed! Why is that? Why is it so difficult to kill him? I want him dead!”

“He has good people with him . . .” started Shirazi, and then he realized he had made a grievous error.

“Ah,” murmured Shaitan as a hateful smile touched his lips. “So, he has good people. It would only stand to reason, then, my dear Azad, that I do not have good people. That would be the only explanation for the failures, am I correct?”

“Excellency, I . . .”

“You may have a point, Shirazi, you just may have a point.”

“I will take care of it personally,” said the Iranian as he wondered how. “I will put together the perfect team.”

“What you will do personally, my dear Azad, after you have gathered your intelligence and assembled your perfect team, is lead that perfect team.” Shaitan smiled ever so slightly as the Iranian blanched. “You will be the one to finally do away with him.” Shaitan stared at him with his piercing black eyes. “He thwarts me at every turn. He delays me. He prevents me from attaining my goal. Enough is enough. I leave it to you to kill Erik Rächer.”

There was only the briefest hesitation. “It shall be done,” responded Shirazi with a curt, nervous nod. Any other answer would have been suicidal.

“And, my friend, failure is not an option.”

“Of course, Excellency.”

Shaitan glanced over at the pondering Espina de la Capilla. “What?” he demanded.

After a lengthy pause, the Nicaraguan replied, “There is one person, Jefe, who was aware of your plans, and who seems to want you to fail.”

“Oh? And who might that someone be?”

There was a second lengthy pause as the man wondered if he had gone too far, but now it was too late. “Your . . . daughter.”

Silence fell heavily upon the room.

Shirazi nervously cleared his throat as he wondered if he would actually live to see the end of the day. Shaitan’s face had darkened like thunder, a look which the Iranian was all too familiar. Someone usually died following that look. He glanced at the man standing beside him and edged slightly away.

“You think so?” Shaitan finally asked in a quiet voice.

Espina de la Capilla shrugged. “She is a possibility, that is all I say, Jefe.”

The stillness was substantial.

“Then bring her to me,” said the terror leader softly. “Personally. Alive.”

With a nod, Espina de la Capilla said, “I will do my best, of course.”

“You will be successful,” Shaitan told him, “or you will be dead.”

Sí, Jefe,” acknowledged the terrified Central American.

Sitting back in his chair, Alexander Shaitan looked hard at the two men. They were loyal lieutenants, but they were also expendable. “You have one week to accomplish your respective tasks,” he told them quietly.

“But it may take longer to get the intelligence . . .” began Shirazi, who then suddenly stopped talking.

“My dear Azad,” said Shaitan with an exaggerated sigh, “if you cannot do what I expect of you in the time I have generously allotted, then I will find someone who can, and without reservation.” He paused for effect. “Do you understand?”

“Yes, Excellency,” said the Iranian.

“Good,” Shaitan said with a smile. “Now, get out, both of you.”

The two men left quickly without any further word. Once they were outside, the door securely shut behind them, they visibly relaxed. They walked across the courtyard in the direction of the dining hall where a queue was already forming.

“He asks the impossible,” murmured Shirazi quietly.

“He expects the impossible,” countered Espina de la Capilla. “After all, that is how he got where he is.”

“He has had more than six years of failures against InterOps,” the Iranian pressed, “but he expects me to succeed within a week!”

“My task is no less difficult than yours,” added the Nicaraguan. “In fact, it could be more difficult. Taking Tika alive? Mm, no easy feat, that.”

“Perhaps now is the time he was replaced,” muttered Shirazi.

Espina de la Capilla stopped walking and gently took his colleague by the arm. “Such thoughts are very dangerous, amigo.” He glanced nervously about the courtyard, but there was no one within earshot. “A slip of the tongue with the wrong ears close by,” he continued in a hushed voice, “could be the end for you!”

Shirazi nodded with a sigh. “Yes, I know you are right. I am just so . . . maddened . . . by the man and his demands.”

“Better to be maddened and alive,” suggested Espina de la Capilla as they began walking again.

“We have much to do, and little time in which to do it,” said Shirazi, annoyance in his voice.

• • •

The leader of the Illuminatos Societate Libertas, the Enlightened Society for Freedom, watched the two men through the window beside the door. He knew what they were thinking; he knew what everyone was thinking. Should either return alive he would have to deal with them. He glanced to his left as an obscure door opened and a giant limped into the room; he carried a polished silver salver in his massive hands.

Gustav Kleinemann was seven feet tall and weighed in at three-hundred-fifty pounds. His blond hair was cut in a crewcut, and his blue eyes seemed to be in constant motion. He was a former member of Germany’s defunct Bewegung 2. Juni (2 June Movement) and the still-active Revolutionäre Zellen (Revolutionary Cells), and he was Shaitan’s personal valet. His left leg from the knee down was artificial, having lost it in the attack on the fortress by InterOps. He was a twin, the older twin, his brother, was dead.

Ihr Tee, mein Herr,” he rumbled softly as he set down the tray on the desk. He deftly poured the strong, dark tea into a plain white cup and handed it to his leader.

Shaitan accepted the hot beverage with a wordless nod, his eyes still on the departed duo. “You still have connections in the Revolutionäre Zellen?” he inquired after taking a sip of the steaming beverage.

Jawohl, mein Herr,” replied the unbending giant.

Shaitan was quiet for several minutes, sipping his tea and thinking. All the while, Kleinemann stood in rigid silence. Finally, the terror leader placed his empty cup on his desk and touched the corners of his mouth with an immaculate white napkin. “I would like them to do something for me,” he said with a satisfied tone. The German remained silent. “I would like them to go after Rächer and the rest,” continued Shaitan. He glanced up at the towering man. “After all, Gustav, they were responsible for Oskar’s murder.”

Kleinemann bowed slightly at the waist. “Jawohl, mein Herr.”

“It isn’t that I do not trust Shirazi to succeed,” continued Shaitan, accepting a second cup of tea, “but I do not trust him to succeed.”

Ich verstehe, mein Herr.”

“Yes, you understand,” susurrated Shaitan. “I will leave the details up to them; however, they want to do it does not matter as long as it gets done.” He looked into the enormous man’s blue eyes. “I will reward them generously; if they are successful.”

Jawohl, mein Herr.”

“As for Espina de la Capilla . . .” Shaitan murmured thoughtfully. He got up from his chair and walked across the flagstone floor to the window. He watched the two men disappear inside the dining hall. He turned on a heel and said to the giant German, “Nadya Jayadiputri,” he said. “Where is she?”

Gustav Kleinemann, his expression blank, thought for a moment before replying. “Buru.”

“The prison island?” Shaitan’s dark eyebrows rose slightly. “That can present a problem.” He began pacing with steepled fingers touching his lips in thought. “Arrange for her release, Gustav; the cost is immaterial. The Indonesian prison system is notoriously corrupt, and I want her out within twenty-four hours. I have a mission for her.”

Jawohl, mein Herr.”

“And Laurent Ndashimye?”

Kleinemann again thought for a silent moment. “Rwanda.” Then he added, “Cyangugu.”

“Not in prison, I hope,” said Shaitan with some sarcasm.

Nein, mein Herr.”

“Good. Contact him, as well; I have a mission for him.”

Jawohl, mein Herr.” As he bent slightly to take up the tray, the nearby telephone rang. Kleinemann lifted the receiver. “Sprechen,” he growled. A moment later he held out the apparatus to his leader. “Der Mann, mein Herr.”

“Ah!” declared the terror leader, quickly returning to the desk. He settled himself before accepting the instrument from the German. “That will be all, Gustav.”

Jawohl, mein Herr,” nodded the towering valet, who deftly picked up the salver and exited the room.

Shaitan waited until the door closed before speaking into the mouthpiece. “How nice of you to call,” the terror leader said as he leaned back in his chair and allowed for a small smile. It was not a pleasant smile; people were going to die. “I have a little job for you . . .”


THREE

The Indonesian archipelago consists of approximately seventeen thousand islands that vary greatly in size, and a vast majority of them are small and uninhabited. It is estimated that, of the almost nine thousand islands that have been named, just over nine hundred are actually inhabited. East of the Banda Sea was one of those unnamed and uninhabited islands, officially speaking, that was the remains of a partially sunken dead volcano. Though nameless to the world, and indeed rarely marked on any map, to its former inhabitants, who disappeared under rather suspicious circumstances, it was called Pulau Rahasia, the secret island, home of Orde Baru. The remains of the volcano’s crater formed a small cove that opened via an inlet to the surrounding sea.

In the cove was a modified Martin P6M-2 SeaMaster, covered in camouflage netting that shielded it from prying eyes above. A dozen women busied themselves about the seaplane to guarantee that it was ready for departure at a moment’s notice. Overseeing the operation were the pilot and co-pilot, Syasya and Azlin. The two women took great pride in their status at being the handpicked aircrew to their leader. They studied each undertaking, checking and rechecking, though they knew that everything would be perfect. The terminal consequences of doing a poor job ensured everyone did their very best.

“It is true, then,” said thirty-year-old Syasya as she physically examined the fuel level.

Azlin nodded. “She was not happy.”

“Well, I wouldn’t think so,” admitted the older woman. She shut and secured the cap, and then turned to the twenty-eight year old Malaysian. “Any word on what she intends to do to rectify that little failure?”

Azlin glanced quickly about. “We dare not call it a failure!”

“Set back, then,” the Indonesian pilot grunted. “She is a lot like her father in that respect.”

“I have only heard bits and pieces, of course,” said Azlin as they walked along the narrow floating dock beside the aircraft. “She plans to strike at him again, naturally, but with the intention of finishing old business.”

“Of course.”

“Rumor has it,” went on Azlin, “that she intends to strike at InterOps, as well.”

Syasya stopped and looked at her taller friend. “Really? InterOps? Now that is a daring undertaking!”

“I expect we’ll have a role in that,” said Azlin with a smile.

“We may have a role in both!” exclaimed her shorter friend excitedly.

It was then that the two women were approached by a short woman with her thick black hair in a bun. Her brown eyes were hard, and her eyebrows were arched as in a state of perpetual surprise. The large nostrils on her broad nose were in a constant state of flaring, reminding the two aviators of an angry cow. “She wants you!” commanded the woman with a growl.

Syasya looked at Guadalupe Alarcón with contempt. She did not like the Mexican, and, because of that dislike, she did not trust her. “We will be along shortly,” the Indonesian said softly, knowing the response would annoy the messenger.

“Now!” snapped Alarcón.

“Yes, yes,” said Syasya dismissively, and walked past.

Suppressing a smile, Azlin followed her friend. “I’ve never seen that color on anyone!”

The pair made their way along a path that weaved through the jungle’s undergrowth to a thick steel door painted a muted color that blended in with the side of the extinct volcano. They each entered their personal code into the hidden keypad, then stepped back as the door soundlessly opened. They quickly entered the darkness beyond as the heavy door immediately began to shut. They remained where they were until the door had shut and thick bolts had been thrown, and only then did lights come one. They were inside a ten-by-ten-foot room, opposite them was another steel door. Again, they entered their personal codes before that door opened to allow them entry into the lair itself.

They walked side by side along the featureless corridor, nodding the occasional greeting to those they met. Finally, they found themselves outside their leader’s suite, the nerve center of the organization. Syasya pressed the small black button on the keypad beside the steel door; moments later there came a ‘click’ and the door opened. They slipped inside, pulling the door shut behind them. They padded across the outer room that was the study, and went straight to their leader’s desk, a sizeable bit of weathered teak planking that had been the deck of a 19th century coastal trader. There was some artwork by Indonesian artists, mostly batik, on the cold stone walls, and a number of intricately carved hard wood pieces. They stood before a woman in her early thirties.

She was seated in a custom-carved mahogany armchair. Her black silky hair fell past her shoulders in lustrous waves. Her large, almond-shaped, brown eyes were focused on the duo. “Please,” said Tika in a gentle voice, “sit, my friends.” Once the two were seated she stood up so that she could look down at them. “We have a problem,” she began in the same gentle voice. “It would seem that Alexander Shaitan did not die in the bombing at the villa in Tavernes.” They sat in silence. “I know that he will come after us,” Tika continued, as if speaking to herself, “after me.” She allowed herself a small smile. “Of course, he has to find us first; in the meantime, we will strike him. He is at his fortress in the Libyan Desert believing, naturally, that he is safe. We will bait him, draw him out, and then we, Orde Baru, will strike!”

“What is it you would like us to do, Nyonya?” asked Azlin.

“Somehow, we must lure him out of his hole,” Tika said as she continued to move about the study. She stopped to feel the material of a colorful batik wall-hanging. “What would draw him out?”

There was a quiet pause, and then Syasya answered, “You.”

Tika turned her head in a playful manner and smiled coyly. “Yes, that would do it, wouldn’t it?” She released the cloth and returned to her mahogany chair. As she settled into it she said, “But I also want to attack Rächer.” She noticed the momentary glance exchanged by the two women. “This is not news,” she said, an edge to her voice.

“There . . . has been talk,” admitted Azlin.

“Ah!” declared Tika with a smug smile as she sat back in her chair. “There would be, of course, in the absence of information. Well, that is of no matter as the ‘talk’, after all, is correct. You are two of my closest confidants; you have been with me from the beginning. I ask your thoughts, therefore.”

After nearly a minute of thoughtful silence, Syasya said, “Going after Rächer would be simple enough, just a matter of putting together a hand-picked team which we could deliver to the island.”

“To Ranzia,” chimed in Azlin, “Shaitan’s former headquarters. We must arrange for a boat to pick up the assault team there and transport them to Momanzia. Our plane would draw unwanted attention.”

Tika smiled. “Sangat bagus! Yes, very good, indeed.”

“The other,” sighed Syasya, “will be more difficult. Only you as bait could possibly draw him out, but even that is not a certainty.”

Silence descended on the trio again as they pondered the situation.

“Perhaps,” murmured Azlin, “if he thought you were going to be some place specific . . .”

“What do you have in mind?” asked Tika, watching the younger woman carefully.

“Well, perhaps if it were leaked that you would be leading the team against Rächer . . .”

Syasya sat up straighter. “That just might do it. He just might see it as an opportunity to dispose of both his problems at the same time!”

Tika pursed her lips in thought for a moment. “He is very suspicious,” she finally said. “He would not expose himself on a rumor; he would demand solid proof of my presence.”

“And perhaps a challenge through the grapevine?” suggested Azlin.

“What do you mean?” asked Syasya. “A challenge to his manhood?”

The younger woman shrugged and smiled mischievously. “Well, after all, he is a man with an over-inflated ego.”

“I like the way you think!” laughed Tika. “Yes, I will lead the team against Rächer, and we will leak that information. And if he doesn’t rise to the bait, well, I will still have the satisfaction of finishing off the head of International Operations, LLC!” She looked at her Indonesian pilot. “I will want a former Gerakan Pembebasan Indonesia colleague of yours on this, Syasya.”

The other woman regarded her leader with a slightly puzzled expression. “A former colleague . . . of mine, Nyonya?”

“Oh, yes. Nadya Jayadiputri.”

Syasya was quiet for a moment, and then replied, “She is in prison.”

“I know,” admitted Tika. “I also know people within the prison system with secrets who would be . . . distressed . . . if those secrets were leaked to the newspapers. I will get her out.”

A frown touched Syasya’s brow. “I don’t know about her, Nyonya. She is . . .”

“Unbalanced?” laughed Tika.

Iya nih, Nyonya,” the troubled woman said. “Yes, she is unbalanced.”

“Even better!” declared Tika with a gleam in her brown eyes. “The plane is ready?”

“Of course, Nyonya,” Azlin said quickly, seeing the distraction in her friend’s face.

“Good. Oversee the loading of the necessary supplies for the operation,” Tika ordered. “I will arrange for a boat to meet us at Ranzia in three-day’s time; and I will arrange for Nadya to be released in the next twenty-four hours.”

“And the leak?” asked Azlin as she stood up.

“Ah, yes, the leak,” murmured Tika. “I will arrange for that as well.” She smiled cheekily. “It will be so nice to see Father again . . .”


FOUR

Buru Island. The third largest of the islands within the Maluku Islands archipelago, it lies south of the Seram Sea and north of the Banda Sea. In the 1960s and 1970s there was a prison, known as General Suharto’s Gulag, which had held thousands of political prisoners; it was officially closed down in 1980. Unofficially, however, there were still a dozen or so prisoners, extremists who could never be allowed in the general Indonesian prison population elsewhere, and certainly never be allowed their freedom. They were all but forgotten to the world, and all but ignored as human beings. A decade earlier, when the prison had been officially shut, there had been almost one hundred who had not been released or transferred; in that time, those remaining had whittled down their own numbers. It was all about survival, power and control within the confines of the thick walls; the occasional new arrival learned very quickly or died.

There was one who had arrived only months before, a woman of thirty, with black hair and dark eyes. She stood only five feet tall. Youthful and slender, no one would have thought her to be the most cold-blooded terrorist in Southeast Asia. She had dealt death and avoided capture for years. Her luck had finally run out the previous year. Convicted of terrorism following a bombing at a Bali resort that had left a dozen tourists dead and even more injured, she had been sent to the prison on Buru Island to await execution. Under a heavily armed military escort, she had been delivered to the prison administrator with a suggestion that she should be placed in the general population and perhaps she would be killed by her fellow prisoners.

Nadya Jayadiputri was new, fresh and pretty. On the day of her arrival, she had killed a handful of her more amorous fellow prisoners. She was eventually subdued by ruthless prison guards who beat her senseless, and then locked her away in one of the solitary confinement cells. Never was the heavy steel door opened; her food, such as the bug-infested gruel was called, was slipped through a small opening twice a day along with a jug of fetid water. There she had patiently waited.

Beyond the grey stone walls, much of it covered with moss and lichens, was the office of the prison administrator. His name was Afif, and he had been in this position for less than a year. A man in his mid-fifties, little more than a glorified clerk really, he had irritated a well-placed bureaucrat within the Jakarta government. One day life was good in the busy capitol, the next day he was dropped off at the gates of hell. He stared gloomily out the dingy window at the overgrown parade ground, beyond which was the dismal prison itself. This was the day of the week that he toured the prison’s interior. He cringed at the thought of being so close to . . . them.

A rugged-looking man with tousled black hair in his mid-thirties poked his head in the door. “Whenever you are ready, sir.”

Afif sighed. He looked at the clock on the wall: eight o’clock. It would be different if he actually had something to look forward to afterwards, but there was nothing. He would generate more paperwork to send off to his superiors in Jakarta, paperwork that would go unread and buried in some basement somewhere in the sprawling city. But it had to be done. He rose from his creaking wooden chair, straightened his not-quite-white Balinese shirt, and moved toward the door.

“I dread this, Zukfikar,” he said to his lieutenant.

A former member of Kopassus, the Indonesian Army’s Special Forces, Zukfikar grinned easily. “Five minutes, sir,” he said. “In and out, and then the rest of the day is yours.”

Afif grunted as he followed the younger man out of the administration building. “To do what, I ask you? More useless paperwork that no one will read? What is the point?”

“You could take some time and go into Namlea,” suggested the former commando.

“And do what?”

“Well, sir, if I have to explain to you then perhaps you have been here too long!”

The two men laughed as they crossed the parade ground. “What bothers me,” said Afif, “is that I don’t even know what I did to get sent here. There was no explanation, no reason given, I was just handed orders and carted away. The worst thing is, you know, that no one will tell me for how long I will be here.”

Zukfikar stopped walking midway across the parade ground and turned to the older man. “Join the club,” he said, his smile was gone. “I have been here almost three years. My criticism of a military operation in Aceh in 1987 was not appreciated; I was relieved of duty, stripped of my commission, and assigned here. Indefinitely. I suspect that the same applies to you. You pissed off someone.”

Afif sighed. “It’s demoralizing.”

“Precisely why you are here.”

“Why do you stay?” asked the administrator, judging the younger man critically.

Zukfikar shrugged indifferently. “For now, there is nowhere I want to go, or need to be.”

“Surely there is some place you would rather be!”

“Well,” admitted the younger man with a mischievous grin, “there is a girl . . .”

“Come on!” declared an exasperated Afif. “Let’s get this over with!”

They walked up to a discolored steel gate beside which lounged a rather plump man in an ill-fitting uniform. The man was in a chair, leaned back on the two back legs against the wall, snoring happily. Zukfikar watched the napping man for several seconds before kicking the chair out from under him. The chair went down to the earth with a muffled crash, taking its occupant with it. The man’s eyes flashed fury as they focused on the two men standing over him. A string of epithets spewed from his mouth as he struggled to his feet.

“Yes, yes,” said Zukfikar with some annoyance, “we acknowledge your resentment at being brought out of blissful slumber, but we had a complaint: your snoring was disturbing the residents.”

“Open the gate, Buti,” said the administrator. “I want to get this chore over with as quickly as possible. I’ll start with that one in solitary.”

Buti gave a start. “But . . . she is gone!”

The two men stopped suddenly and turned to face the stout guard.

“What do you mean, gone?” demanded Afif. “Gone where?”

The man stepped back until his back was to the wall. “There were papers!” he exclaimed nervously. “Orders!”

“Orders? Orders from whom?” asked Zukfikar calmly, though his voice had a dangerous edge.

“It was from the Directorate General of Corrections!” declared a very frightened Buti.

“Why wasn’t I notified?” Afif bellowed angrily.

“It was very early,” Buti went on. “The paper said to release her immediately.”

“Who brought this paper?” asked Zukfikar, still in his threateningly calm voice.

The guard looked at the former commando with a blank expression. He hesitated for a moment, and then replied, “I do not know. He was a stranger to me, but he wore a uniform, and all his credentials were in order.”

“Fool!” exclaimed Afif as he turned on his heal and stormed back to his office.

Zukfikar smiled at the terrified guard. “We’ll get this straightened out, Buti, but I suggest you not get caught napping, at least for a while.” With that, he followed after the administrator.

As the lieutenant stepped through the door, he heard his superior roaring into the telephone. “I don’t care what time it is! Get me whoever is supposed to be in charge! I need to know who authorized the release of Nadya Jayadiputri, and why!” He put his hand over the mouthpiece and said to the younger man, “Damned bureaucrats! No one knows anything!”

“Someone knows something,” murmured Zukfikar as his brown eyes strayed out of the window.

The telephone was slammed down. “They’ll get back to me!” Afif roared in anger. “They’ll get back to me!”

“With your permission, sir,” said his lieutenant, turning to the furious administrator, “I would like to try to track her down.”

His anger seemed to melt away. “Can you do that?” Afif asked, almost wistfully.


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