Authors: B.B. Gallagher
Copyright © 2016 BB Gallagher. All rights reserved. With the exception of short excerpts used in articles and critical reviews, no part of this work may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in any form whatsoever, printed or electronic, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
ISBN (e-book): 1519273355
ISBN-13 (e-book): 978-1519273352
For my wife and best friend, Alyssa
I am a Spartan.
I am a Spartan who does not exist.
I am a Spartan who safeguards our country from enemies both foreign and domestic.
I am a Spartan who preserves the virtuous state through true Justice.
I am a Spartan for life; death is the only discharge.
I am a Spartan who fights for the Common Good of all.
I am a Spartan, and nothing is as it seems.
Loi Kolay Village, Kunar Providence
Korengal Valley, Afghanistan
June 26th 2016
Xander Whitt adjusted the focus on his sniper scope and scanned the road leading to the small Afghani village 150 yards away. The Loi Kolay village had a scarce market where local vendors offered dry crops and thin poultry. The destitute villagers trudged about in search of food, as the year’s harvest had already wilted. A network of stick and stone huts speckled the dreary hills on which the village stood. Some huts were stacked on top of each other like blocks, forming the one central complex at the heart of the village. After roaming the village for hours, Xander turned his crosshairs to a billowing sand cloud in the distance and searched it for any discernible shapes. A caravan of Jeeps emerged from the cloud and sped toward the village.
“There they are,” Xander noted, eye to scope.
The local residents retreated to their huts in fear as the Jeeps skidded to a stop at the edge of the village. Seven armed men got out, one of which Xander kept between his crosshairs.
Perched across the valley, Xander mentally reproduced a snapshot of the mission file from his photographic memory. He had received a dossier photo of Samir Vashad and recognized the man’s jet black greasy hair, which spiraled down in winding curls to his shoulders, and the goatee that framed his square chin.
Xander’s memory then reproduced the text of the mission file.
US intelligence has decoded a stream of online terrorist network communications. The thread revealed a transfer of funds between Samir Vashad and an anonymous buyer—code name: Agent Zero. The true identity of Agent Zero remains unknown. Further analysis of online chatter confirms Agent Zero is planning an attack on US soil in the Washington, DC, area.
Mission: Set up reconnaissance on the meet and intercept the target.
Xander listened through his earpiece as Vashad approached an unidentified elderly man and exchanged greetings.
“Assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.”
Vashad was a man of faith, who greeted the fellow Muslim with the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah. But Xander was focused on the elderly man.
That can’t be Agent Zero. He must be a courier.
Xander was able to decipher through his scope that the meeting was quickly shifting to a professional tone.
“My employer informs me that Agent Zero has been receiving attention regarding the next target,” Vashad said, as he adjusted the bag that hung from his shoulder.
Employer? Vashad is just a middleman?
“You mean this one?” The elderly man held up an object wrapped in cloth and handed it to him. Vashad folded back the cloth, but Xander could not see what was inside.
“What is this? This isn’t what my employer asked for,” Vashad said, bewildered.
“Yes it is. It is the target,” the elderly man replied. “And if I could please have what your employer has for us?” At that, Vashad handed his small satchel to the elderly man. He dug through the bag and flipped through a stack of bills, both Afghan afghanis and US dollars.
“That will be enough for your transit and operations stateside. My employer also assures you safe passage—off any watch lists. I hear your employer is hiring some help. You know we have armies dedicated to killing Americans here,” Vashad explained.
Xander listened to their words in his earpiece, as his crosshairs roved over their throats. Their Adam’s apples ascended and descended to the rhythm of the Arabic tongue.
“I’m unaware of Agent Zero’s affairs,” the elderly man said. “I am just the messenger.”
“Praise be to Allah.” Vashad smiled, bestowed a quick parting blessing, and stashed the target in his coat.
Commence interception of target.
Xander immediately swept the perimeter of the village and found the most distant man. His crosshairs settled on the man’s forehead and Xander fired. The bullet soared across the valley through the dry desert air and descended from the ridge, until it reached its target. The man fell limp behind one of the Jeeps. Two other men had heard the noise, unsure of what it was, and moved to investigate. As soon as they turned the corner and saw their comrade’s lifeless body, two more pops put them down next to their friend. Vashad and his men scattered, while the elderly man remained static. A black SUV quickly pulled up from around the village and a bodyguard quickly got out and threw the elderly man inside. Together, they sped off into the desert. Xander steadied his rifle on the accelerating SUV, but a cloud of sand billowed up from under the spinning tires, momentarily blinding him. He turned his scope from the vehicle and scoured the village for another target.
From his vantage point, Xander found a man with a long beard running to the far side of the village. He tracked him through the scope and shot a round, catching the man at his knee in midstride. His knee bent sideways like a chair leg, collapsing. The man’s screams echoed through the valley until Xander silenced him with another round to the chest.
Four down. Three to go.
Two of the remaining targets took cover behind a Jeep, but in different positions. They were shooting in every direction. Xander could not settle on a good line of sight, as the men took proper cover. But then a thought occurred that made him laugh to himself.
They have no idea where I am. Easy picking. They must not know that cars and trucks tend to make good grenades
Xander aimed for the gas tank of the Jeep and fired three rounds with pinpoint accuracy. The vehicle exploded and a fireball formed, enveloping the scene. Xander dropped the rifle and sprinted down the slope into the valley. He jumped down ledges and ridges, rolling end over end to cushion each leap’s landing. During his pursuit, he saw Vashad retreat into the complex. Each hut was connected along the ridges so he could be in any one of them. Xander ran the 150 yards in under twenty seconds. When he reached the structure, he scaled its facade and ascended to the top of the complex in one fluid motion. He pointed his silenced Glock 9 mm down the roof access hatch.
No sound. No movement.
Xander dropped down into the top unit of the complex—rags and rusted pans hung about. Each hut was a depressed and impoverished shack where the families of poor farmers would live. Xander passed through what he guessed was a kitchen and came upon a family of six huddled in the corner. The kids quivered, terrified at the sight of the soldier. Xander brought a finger to his lips, and then waved in either direction, asking,
Where is he?
The mother, arms around all five children, understood him and pointed down, indicating the floor below.
In one quick swoop, Xander produced a candy bar and offered it to the trembling children. They each cracked a smile and Xander continued onward through the units. He studied the infrastructure of the complex, noting where walls and supports would be located below. A stairwell led down to the second floor. Xander inspected the stairs and was careful to skip over the steps he thought would creak. He halted when the next unit came into view.
Vashad’s long, greasy curls shifted and bobbed with each panicked breath. Xander had made the right decision entering through the roof. Vashad was positioned behind a wall across from the entryway to the lowest unit—he had assumed Xander would be coming through the front door. Xander flanked him. It was time to take him down.
He considered the grenades strapped to his right leg, but decided to use the combat knife on his left ankle. He brandished the blade and sketched out a plan in his head.
I need Vashad’s attention westward out of the complex. If I hit the hand holding the gun, I could disarm him and take him out with a melee afterward. I need to make him talk.
Xander took a roll of duct tape out of his bag. It was the best projectile he had at the moment. He aimed and threw the roll through the empty window frame. It landed on the street in front of the complex. Vashad heard the pebbles flitter and turned westward. Xander popped from his cover and hurled his knife through the air, end over end. It slashed Vashad’s hand and severed the tendons of Vashad’s hand. Vashad’s hand spasmed, causing him to drop his gun. Xander charged shoulder first. He collided with Vashad with such force that they crashed through the wall. Interlocked, they fell one story, landing with a thud on the dirt outside the complex. Dried mud and sticks flew like debris from an explosion.
Xander straddled Vashad, whose chest heaved in an attempt to find a breath. He snatched the bloodied knife that was lying on the ground next to where they landed, and then raised it and drove it into Vashad’s open palm, pinning it to the earth. Vashad screamed in agony.
“Who are you working for? What is the target?” Xander yelled.
“I don’t know!”
“I’m going to ask you again: who are you working for? Who is helping Agent Zero get stateside?” Xander rummaged through Vashad’s pockets and found the object wrapped in cloth. It was heavy. He shoved it into his combat pack.
“I don’t know! It’s been dark communication the entire time. I just fly back and forth to the States and make drops!” There was desperation in his voice.
He’s telling the truth, dammit…
“You must have been given a name. Who do you work for?”
“No, I wasn’t! I swear, I don’t know!” Xander didn’t like the answer and so twisted the knife in Vashad’s hand. The man screamed as his bones stirred within his palm. Xander leaned down to his ear and spoke a stinging whisper. Vashad grimaced in anguish.
“Listen to me, Vashad. You messed with the wrong country, I promise you that. I am going to take you back to base and find out everything you know, any way I have to.” The adrenaline had murdered Xander’s patience for pleasantries, but he had already seen honesty in Vashad’s eyes.
He doesn’t know anything. He’s just a pawn.
Xander swung his bag off his back and rummaged through it for his satellite phone. After dialing a number, he got to his feet and walked out into the open, launching a canister thirty yards from his position. Crimson smoke started billowing out of the can, forming a cloud around him.
“This is Rattlesnake, this is Rattlesnake, requesting extraction. Red smoke is out,” Xander said.
“Copy that, Rattlesnake. Extraction is en route,” a voice responded. Xander hung up the satellite phone.
As the red smoke enveloped him, Xander was left to a whirlwind of his own thoughts.
Then his phone rang.
Caller ID: Unknown
Vashad’s cries of agony sounded in the distance. For a moment, Xander questioned whether he should pick up the ringing phone and with caution finally did.
“This is Rattlesnake.”
“You should have taken it easier on Vashad. He doesn’t know anything.” The voice on the other end was filtered through distortion but somehow calm and intellectual. Xander listened intently, sensing something ominous.
“Who is this?”
“I believe I’m the person you’re looking for.” The voice almost hissed through the satellite phone. Xander’s mouth dropped at the realization.
Xander spun to survey the valley through any clearing in the smoke he could find, but was unable to spot any possible position for Agent Zero.
“Sorry I couldn’t make the trip.” At this, Xander’s eyes turned skyward toward the distant satellite that Agent Zero must have been monitoring.
“There’s the face I know so well,” the voice said.
“You know me?” Xander asked, trying to glean any information he could, knowing the conversation would be short.
“Of course I do. I know you very well. You were always the best recruit, Xander Whitt.” Xander shuddered and his world turned. The sound of his name stung. Only a select few people knew his real name.
“I don’t know any terrorists. I’ve killed every one of them I’ve met,” Xander snapped in anger.
“The difference between a terrorist and a patriot is merely a matter of perspective.”
Xander did not respond to the malevolent voice; rather, his mind fastidiously processed every detail of the conversation. “Who the hell is this?” he growled.
“All in time, Xander, but to find that out, you are going to have to follow the trail,” the voice hissed. A fear swept over Xander as he reached for the intercepted target. Agent Zero was one step ahead of him.
Agent Zero knew I was getting close and planned everything knowing I would intercept this… This package was meant for me all along.
“That’s right, Xander. You and your brilliant mind have probably realized by now that the package you now have in your possession was intended for you all along. I knew you were coming for me, so I figured I’d make this interesting.”
Xander took out the heavy cloth-wrapped item from his bag and unwrapped it slowly. It was what appeared to be a brick-shaped stone with an engraving on it that read: