The young analyst glanced quickly around the room, his eyes darting between the flickering computer screens and scores of other technical personnel. His knee bounced with nervous energy, resonating with the frantic mood pulsing through the communications center. As he waited impatiently, he reached forward and grabbed his coffee mug and took a quick swig. It had gone cold. From a television on the wall to his right came the sound of yet another news reporter trying to present a different perspective on the same story that had dominated the media for more than a week.
“…as ocean levels continue to rise across the globe. This only adding fuel to the already heated environmental debate that is drawing new lines of separation between members on both sides of the aisle. But while some argue over the potential cause of this global catastrophe, others believe that the issues of greatest concern are the ghastly death toll and the millions of displaced people in nearly every country, seeking refuge by moving inland. Already, the burden of supporting these refugees is being seen…”
“What did you want?” sounded a coarse voice from behind.
The analyst jumped, spilling his coffee. He quickly wiped at his wrinkled slacks but the coffee had already soaked in. Giving up, he turned to address his superior. “Have you been watching any of this?”
“I’m well aware of what’s happening,” the older man said, his eyebrows wrinkling into a scowl. “It’s on every news station on the planet. But we still have jobs to do. And yours is to gather data on your target.”
“But that’s why I called you over here. They’re the ones that caused it!”
The older man’s once impatient body language softened. “Show me.”
“Ok–so, I was going over the surface contour data from the satellites when I noticed that the ocean levels were rising faster in the southern hemisphere. And that gave me the idea to run a simulation, comparing the current mapping data to the…”
“Skip to the point, Matthews!”
Setting down his mug, the analyst leaned forward and grabbed hold of the mouse. Frozen on one of the four screens at his workstation was a distorted satellite image. “This is their South American facility,” he mumbled to his superior without making eye contact. He pecked a key and un-paused the video footage, the distortion disappearing immediately.
“This is last week,” he said. “Watch the atrium roof.”
The older man stood with his arms folded, watching the screen.
In the midst of a lush jungle was a compound with high fences topped with razor wire. The interior of the compound had been cleared of all vegetation. At the north end sat an enormous rectangular building with a circular glass roof at its center. A six digit time display showed at the bottom right corner of the screen with the seconds ticking by.
At 10:06:54, the glass roof exploded upward, scattering shards of debris in every direction. A dark object materialized in the void where the roof had been. When it sprouted wings and began to rise in elevation, it became obvious that it was some sort of bird.
The analyst paused the footage and increased the magnification. “You see this rectangular box on the roof?” he said, pointing to the screen. “It’s an air-handler manufactured in Germany. I tracked down the schematics and got dimensions. It measures sixteen feet on its longest side, which…”
“…puts the wingspan at about thirty feet,” the older man interrupted. “What the hell are they doing down there?”
“…synthetic biology? Who knows?” replied the analyst, un-pausing the footage. “But watch this.”
When the time display read 10:07:22, a geyser of water came bursting through the hole in the roof. The analyst zoomed outward, showing the compound engulfed in water in a matter of seconds.
“The amount of water is just unreal. Check this out,” he said, typing in a new time signature. The footage jumped forward a few hours, showing the entire valley flooded.
“Where is all that water coming from?” the older man mumbled.
“I don’t know. It’s way too much to be an underground river or something. But it stopped,” the young man said simply. “Here, look at this.” He punched in a new date and the image switched to the present, showing a live feed. He clicked a few times with his mouse and zoomed in again.
“See? The water used to be surging all over this area like it was still coming up from underneath the building. But now the water’s calm…” The analyst trailed off as he noticed something new. “Hmm…,” he said, clicking the mouse to zoom in even further.
“That’s a dive team,” the older man said, leaning closer to the screen. “…five of them, and a boat.”
“…four,” the young man corrected.
“There are only four divers. The fifth isn’t in a wet suit. See how he’s swimming away? It looks like they’re chasing him.”
“Go back!” the older man said. “Show me how he got in the water.”
The analyst quickly scrolled the footage backward until everyone disappeared, then played it again. “There’s the dive team arriving. They’re getting in the water,” he mumbled as he carefully moved through the footage. “And there. The other guy just comes up out of the water a half hour later. And there’s the dive team coming after him.”
The older man squinted, then stood up straight and grabbed the analyst’s phone from his desktop. He punched a button and waited for the call to be routed.
The analyst grinned. “Are we going to take him in?”
The older man nodded. “We have six teams in the area on standby. This could be a major breakthrough for us.”
* * * *
The chopper skimmed low over the treetops, flying parallel to the undulations in the terrain. The large-leafed vegetation bent low from the downdraft. A hundred yards ahead was a gap in the otherwise thick jungle treeline. Seconds later, the helicopter passed over the clearing and a two-lane blacktop road that ran east and west. The chopper swung around to the east and descended into a nearby meadow. When it was still several feet from the ground, five men jumped out and landed in the knee-high grass, moving quickly toward the road. Their camouflaged clothing blended perfectly with the surroundings, as did the camouflaged tape wrapped around the automatic weapons slung across their backs.
The team leader took point and ran for the treeline on the opposite side of the road, while the others followed. Once inside the cover of the vegetation, the team changed direction and began to move west, keeping the road a few yards to their right.
They moved quickly and silently through the dense jungle for a hundred yards before the team leader held up his hand and brought them to a halt. He put a finger to the spiraled cord coming from his ear and listened, then motioned for the others to move toward the road. Two of his men continued another twenty feet up the road and laid out a spike strip before returning.
As soon as they were in position, the team leader could hear the distant roar of an engine. It grew slowly in volume until an uncovered green jeep came into view around a bend in the road. He summed up the situation with only a glance.
Two men in military fatigues. One driving, the other in the back pointing an automatic weapon at the third man…the prisoner.
The jeep was moving at roughly forty miles an hour when it hit the spike strip. A loud pop cut through the roar of the motor as the tires shredded instantly. The jeep skidded on the wet asphalt as the driver struggled to maintain control, coming to a stop directly in front of the men waiting in the trees.
The timing was perfect, exactly as planned. The team leader brought the stock of his silenced weapon to his cheek and peered through the scope. When the crosshairs were centered on the side of the driver’s head he squeezed the trigger. The gun coughed a three-round burst and the driver’s head pitched violently to the side, throwing him over the driver-side door.
The other soldier in the rear of the vehicle reacted quickly, jumping to a stance and spinning toward the trees, firing wildly into the jungle.
The group fired in unison, and the soldier in the jeep fell backward with several hits to his midsection. It was over just as suddenly as it had begun. The team moved out of the trees and fanned out, surrounding the vehicle.
“Come on out,” the team leader said in the friendliest voice he could muster. But there was no reply. “Come on…you’re safe now,” he repeated. Slowly, he approached the back of the jeep and peered over the tailgate.
A man cowered in the back, keeping his head down.
“Can you understand me?” the leader asked, but the blank look in the other man’s eyes told him the answer. Instead, he waved for the captive to get out of the jeep.
Cautiously, the man rose up on his knees and looked around. He seemed to be assessing the situation. Finally, he got to his feet and moved to the back of the jeep.
The team leader moved back, allowing the man to crawl out of the vehicle, inspecting him as he waited. He appeared to be in his late thirties, with a muscular build and Mediterranean features. He was dressed like he had just walked off a movie set, wearing a black toga, short cropped pants, and leather sandals that laced up his calves. His chest was protected by some sort of primitive armor that looked like leather. This guy’s definitely not a local. “We’re going to the helicopter now,” he said, pointing over the man’s shoulder.
The man turned to watch the rest of the team make their way back along the road. He appeared reluctant, but finally started moving with the team leader following close behind. When they rounded a bend in the road, the captive turned around with a look of intense fear in his eyes.
“Afraid of flying?” he asked. “You’ll be fine.” The group leader pointed again, indicating that the man should follow the other soldiers who were already climbing into the chopper.
The captive appeared frightened of the machine, but eventually moved forward, limping on a badly injured foot. One of the crew members leaned out and offered him a hand, which he cautiously accepted.
When everyone was aboard and seated, the chopper lifted off the ground and began to move back in the direction from which they had come. The team leader looked over at the man and saw that his eyes were closed and his head was back against the seat. His skin looked pale and it was obvious that he was getting motion sick. He reached over and touched the man’s leg to get his attention.
When the man opened his eyes, the team leader pointed two fingers at his own eyes, then pointed out the window. “Keep your eyes open and watch the trees.”
The other man seemed to understand.
As everyone watched the passing jungle, the team leader inspected the strange man whose rescue was the objective for this mission. Whoever he was, he was definitely a long way from home.
Copyright 2008-2010 by Jason Tesar
Purchase the full novel in paperback or ebook (for iPad, Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, and more).
Or, click here for the FREE download of Book One.
Or, click here for the FREE download of Book One.