PLEASE NOTE: The Incógnito Quatérno An Espionage Thriller in Four Parts will soon be released in print. The first three Incógnito episodes Life on the Lam and The Honey Trap and Burning Down the House are NOW AVAILABLE as Amazon Kindle eBooks. The fourth episode, Red Pearl, is currently under development and nearing completion.
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WHILE THE WORLD SLUMBERS in dreams of global economic partnerships, an organization of political whackjobs — The Committee — implements its macabre plot to turn the world into a nightmarish conflagration and then seize the reins of global power from civilization’s ashes.
With humanity’s fate hanging in the balance, two special operators — one Chinese and one American — work together to prevent
TUNGUSKA ELECTRONIC MUSIC SOCIETY — AQUASCAPE SUNSRISE
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THAT WAS THEN . . .
“I WAITED FOR DUSTY. Thought we were goin’ together. Yunno . . . Otherwise I’d have been on time . . . and blown to smithereens with the rest of ‘em,” says Frank Diago. He shakes his head. Looks down at his hands uselessly resting in his lap. At a loss for words, the whole event still fresh in his mind. Overwhelming.
“Yeah. Could say you’re one of the lucky ones, Frank. A few more folks were down there in the parking area waiting for the tram. Otherwise, they’d have been gonners, too,” says Jack. “Soon as Dusty and I arrived we did a cursory walk-through. She goes inside the house. I walk the exterior. Everything seems normal enough to me. Security certainly was lax. Folks goin’ in and out the back door without pause. I was thinking about that when Dusty appears on the back porch. Thought she was simply waving to me. Couple seconds later I look over to the right. I see Alec sitting in some beater of a car. Looks to be fiddlin’ with his phone. Only it was no phone. It was a fuckin’ detonator givin’ him trouble.”
Jack pauses. Looks around the room. Eyes vacant. Reliving the whole thing in his head.
“Yunno, Frank, the whole thing’s so clear to me now. But then . . . well, I turn back to Dusty and shrug. She’s standin’ there on the back porch lookin’ right at me. She knew, Frank. She fuckin’ knew. An instant later everything goes up in a torrent of flames. And Dusty just comes apart, Frank. Vaporized right there in front of me. And I’m don’t nuthin’, Frank. Just standin’ there like a dummy. It was just horrible.”
“She’d convinced me that the two of you were an item, Jack. ‘Cept I still wasn’t sure what y’all were really up to. Yunno?”
“Just tryin’ to fool ya, Frank. She the lowly assistant and me, I was . . . I dunno . . . some kinda chump, I guess.”
“Instead, the two of you were black ops.”
“Yeah. So now ya know. I first went under with the Blacklite Program in 2002. In the aftermath of 9/11. Recruited me right outta Afghanistan. Dusty entered the program some time later. I’m not sure when. But, she was a real pro. Yunno? Certainly surprised me that night when I first met her. That was right after you and I got caught in that rainstorm when we were down by the ballpark. After we split up I was just sittin’ on this bench at the bus stop. Yunno. All lost in thought about what I was gonna do next. She came onto me so quiet, I never noticed. Coulda spit in my eye. Shot me in the head. I wouldn’t uh had a clue. Course I wasn’t paying attention . . . but still, she was that good, Frank. Like smoke she was, Frank . . . and that’s just how it all ended for her.”
Jack stares down. His own two hands uselessly resting in his lap could belong to someone else. Both men sit in silence, unable to speak for the longest time.
“So then it was Alec, The Italian, who blew the house up,” says Frank. “Dunno what he coulda got out of it.”
“Just makin’ a point was all. He’s like that. Always been an extreme sorta guy. Yunno, we served together in ‘91 during the first Iraq war. Took turns savin’ each other’s lives, too. But there’s nuthin’ subtle about ole Alec. Most likely he was running some scam on The Committee. Probably had ‘em between a rock and a hard place, only they and still wouldn’t pay up. Yunno, it’s always about the money with Alec . . . nothin’ else.”
“Well, you’re absolutely right about all that,” says Frank. “And now that we’re coming clean, putting it all out there, I’ll bring you up to speed about what I know.”
“Sure, Frank. Let’s hear it all.”
“First off, I figured you and Dusty were pretty worried about me. Thought I’d fallen for all the Committee’s bullshit . . . plus being overwhelmed by my new career jump, taking over Chief’s fiefdom. I know how to play a role pretty well, too, you know. Fact is, our old friend Mike Farrago was the one who put me on their trail. These people are way more than the usual political nutjobs in this town. These fuckers are way off the chart. Least their leadership certainly is. See, there’s more to all this than you might think. It runs so deep, gets so amazingly crazy, you’d never believe what they’re about to set in motion.”
“Sure, I hear ya, Frank. We got whacko nutjobs all over the place wanna take over the country. Only the guys we’re talkin’ about are a totally different breed. They’re actually out there killin’ people in order to get this thing uh theirs . . . whatever the fuck it might be . . . off the ground. And it’s gonna get a whole lot worse before anything gets better. That’s what I’m sayin’ here, Frank.”
AND THIS IS NOW . . .
“A FLURRY OF HEADSET static rouses Jack from a fitful sleep. The interior of the giant C-17 aircraft is dark and shadowy, but for a scattering of red night lights. They’re in a steep dive. All the equipment and jump gear affixed to Jack’s body rises up on him.
Two forty-one-foot fast boats—Combat Assault Craft—tethered to rails are parked across from Jack’s uncomfortable bulkhead seat. They are alive with their Navy SEAL crews preparing for the HALO drop.
With their target now visually acquired, the plan calls for Jack to jump first. His last HALO jump — some twenty years ago — was into Afghanistan. Now they are all looking at him like he’s the rookie. Fact is he’d been jumping into the shit while most of these swing-nuts were still shitting in their diapers.
Once Old Man Jack is outta the way, they’ll push out the fast-boats. At least the boat crews won’t have to worry about Jack entangling their chutes. With their target ship below them sporting a radioactive signature hot enough to seemingly melt lead, everyone wears an additional layer of uncomfortable protective clothing. It binds and it itches. Subsequently, everyone is in a shitty mood and anxious to get this exercise over done with.
Having been airborne some six hours, Jack figures they’re southwest of Guam somewhere.
A sudden shift in the aircraft’s attitude tells Jack they are nearly position for the drop. Now the big ramp at the rear of the aircraft begins its descent, filling the cavernous interior with a brilliant light from outside. In the distance a blaze of coral blue announces the presence of the Pacific Ocean. Jack stands, stretches his arms and legs, disconnects his oxygen line and activates his bottled oxygen supply. During a HALO jump from 26,000 feet a myriad of things can go wrong, least of all the bends.
The jumpmaster urges Jack forward, toward the C-17’s now gaping maw. Then suddenly the aircraft’s flight plane shifts and the ramp reverses direction. The jumpmaster waives Jack off. The operation’s an abort. But why?
As the blue opening slowly diminishes with the ramp’s closing, Jack spots their target vessel down on the surface spewing huge flames and plumes of smoke.
Jack waives his arms in protest, but the jumpmaster shakes him off, motioning Jack back to his bulkhead seat. Only Jack’s having none of it. He hasn’t come this far under circumstances this dire simply to pack it in now.
Jack edges toward the ramp. Soon it will be closed. Just as the jumpmaster makes a move to stop him, Jack dodges his grasp. Hitting the deck rolling, he slides through the opening and out into space.
Suddenly he’s free and in the air and all alone. Twisting as he falls. Hardly the way to begin a HALO jump. The more he struggles to correct his spin the worse it becomes. Unable to distinguish up from down, the blue of the sky and the blue of the ocean’s surface blend together. His vision dims. None of this is good. It’s the worst that could happen, blacking out in the midst of freefall.
Jack closes his eyes, turns up his oxygen feed, stops trying to make sense. Ever so slowly he extends his arms and legs in an attempt to catch some air and achieve what he remembers to be a stable flight position. With eyes closed, he slowly, calmly counts to ten.
Opening his eyes, ocean and sky are where they’re supposed to be. He’s closing at an alarming speed onto the burning ship below. Now it’s all up to his muscle memory to find an updraft. You can’t see them. You can only feel them. All this is difficult to accomplish wearing all the added protection meant to deflect harmful radiation.
And then he senses the first indication of an invisible air current around him. It hits his stomach then peters off. A slight adjustment of arms and legs puts him into the seam, where he bounces off the airflow once, twice, three times. It’s just enough to reduce his airspeed to the point where he might safely pop his drag chute without the counter-force snapping his arms and back. Jack clenches his abdominals, pops the drag chute.
BAM! His descent terminates for the briefest moment during which he releases the drag chute and pops his glide chute. Hopefully, this will act as an airfoil he can manipulate to literally drop him onto the target vessel’s deck. That is, if Jack can resurrect his twenty-year-old skillset.
Back in the day, Jack could execute a HALO drop all the way to a stand-up finish, nine times out of ten. Hitting a land target on the money is one thing. Usually it’s forgiving, except for crashing into a tree or a rock face. Hitting a water target is something entirely different. You miss and you’re in the soup with all your gear dragging you down.
Given the small size of the target vessel, safely hitting the deck is out of the question. Plan B calls for a water landing and shedding his heavy gear as fast as possible.
Closing onto the ship in his final approach, Jack senses something out of the corner of his eye. Turning slightly to his left, he spies a black drone the size of a vulture riding on his tail—and, no doubt, shooting video all the way to his splashdown.
So who the fuck’s flying this thing up here in the middle of nowhere?
With merely seconds to spare, the only logical thing is to flip this bird the bird. When you’re about to die on camera, you might as well go out with a smile on your face. Eh?
Immediately Jack is underwater, oxygen mask ripping loose as he sinks into the deep. Jack reaches down his right leg, finds his KABAR strapped there and pulls it free. In total darkness, he cuts away his flight harness. It comes apart easily. Only now he’s desperate for a breath. He feels around for the tube that used to connect with his oxygen mask. Finds the end of the tube, but it’s too short to reach his lips. And the oxygen tank, attached to his flight harness, is slipping away into the deep.
Jack twists. Lunges. Grasps the tube with both hands. Pulls and pulls the tube to his lips. Inhales. Then exhales. He needs to suck down enough oxygen to get back to the surface, but all the while, the weight of the flight gear drags him down. He sucks in a lung full. Lets loose of the gear. Now to kick and pull his way to the surface. And it’s a loong way up.
Just as the first surface light comes into focus, his lungs give out. Jack drinks the ocean. His momentum subsides. His strength abandons him. His legs and arms are paralyzed. He sucks more ocean into his starving lungs. Just as his vision fades, he spots a swarm of rapidly approaching bubbles.
What next? A tasty meal for a hungry shark, no doubt.
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