The strategic military outpost was such a closely guarded
secret it didn’t even have a name, only a number—site 243.
It sat in a rugged, windswept valley far away from cities
and centers of industry. Its architecture was minimalist; a
cross between a high-end refugee camp and a low-rent
university. Tents, trailers, and a handful of cheap concrete
buildings made up its “campus.” The only outward signs of
modernity were the Pizza Hut, Burger King, and Subway mobile
restaurant trailers which made up the outpost’s “food
It was just after three a.m. when the attack began.
Lightweight Predator SRAW missile systems took out the
fortified entry control point along with the watchtowers.
Mortar rounds blanketed the campus, obliterating key
infrastructure and force protection targets. When the
heavily armed assault teams breached the perimeter, the
outpost was in complete chaos.
The well-trained soldiers tasked with 243’s security were
no match for the men who now overran their positions.
Dressed in black, with specialized night vision goggles
and suppressed weapons, the professional combatants appeared
only long enough to engage each soldier with an economy of
surgically placed rounds before slipping back into the
darkness, often before their victims’ lifeless bodies had
even hit the ground.
At the main concrete structure, a detachment from the
assault team used a shaped charge to blow open the fortified
door. As they rushed in, they heard the high-pitched whine
followed by the thump of a limited EMP device being
detonated. It was part of 243’s emergency protocol meant to
destroy the facility’s data. The men in black, though,
didn’t care. Their superiors already had a copy.
With night vision goggles impervious to electromagnetic
pulse, the men swept through the rest of the building,
making sure they killed every occupant. From there, they
moved on and cleared two more buildings while their
teammates took care of the remaining tents, trailers, and
Fifteen minutes later, three helicopters landed and the
team was extracted. As they lifted off and disappeared back
into the ink-black sky, not a single member of military
outpost 243 had been left alive.
A man in a blue linen blazer pushed away the hand of his
subordinate. “I know how it works,” he said, placing the
tiny bud into his ear and activating the video on the smart
His liver-spotted hands cradled the chrome device in his
lap as he watched the scenes from Mongolia. It had been the
most expensive and dangerous undertaking of his life. Though
his club was actually a haven for members of the espionage
community, he also sensed the presence of some of history’s
greatest sociopolitical figures around him at this moment.
Had he looked up to see the smiling ghosts of Lenin, Stalin,
Marx, or Mao, he wouldn’t have been surprised. Great men who
change the world shared a bond that transcended time, and he
was on the verge of becoming just that, a great man who
would change the world.
Though they were alone in the club’s library, he kept his
voice low. “We’re confident that all of their data was
The subordinate nodded. “We have the only copy that
“And the personnel?”
“Everyone associated with the program has been
terminated. The Chinese have gone berserk trying to figure
out what happened. They have no idea who hit them.”
“Excellent,” said the man in the linen blazer. “Let’s
keep it that way. Now, what about our network?”
“The network is fully intact and ready to go
This was an incredible moment, the man thought as
he plucked the bud from his ear.
He removed the SIM card from the phone and handed the
device back to the subordinate. “I want you to initiate
stage one as soon as possible.”
“So I have your permission to activate the network then?”
“You do. And whatever happens, don’t lose sight of the
Alison Taylor hadn’t planned on going out drinking after
work, but it was a gorgeous summer night, the sales
presentation was pretty much complete, and everybody else in
her department was going.
It was supposed to be only one drink at RL, but as things
often go, one drink led to another and then another. The
party worked its way south hitting Pops, Shaw’s, the Roof
bar atop the Wit Hotel, and finally some seedy dive bar just
west of the Loop. Before any of them knew it, it was four
a.m. and their presentation was in less than five hours.
To counteract the heavy volume of alcohol they had
consumed, someone had suggested the nearby 24/7 pharmacy for
charcoal tablets and caffeinated beverages, but the idea was
put on the back burner when they noticed that the tiny
burger joint across the street was still serving. “There’s
nothing like grease to absorb the alcohol molecules in your
system,” one of them said.
After cheeseburgers and fries, they conducted an
unsuccessful search of the pharmacy for charcoal pills,
loaded up on energy drinks, and then headed for the subway.
Since two of the women lived in the suburbs, Alison
invited them to stay at her apartment where they could
borrow clothes and head into work with her in a few hours.
The fact that one of the women was five inches shorter and
the other seventy-five pounds heavier was lost on all of
them in their drunken state.
They spent the subway ride cursing the bright lights of
the train compartment, downing Red Bull, and wondering how
much sleep they could grab at Alison’s before having to
leave for the office.
At Division Street, they stumbled up the steps from the
Blue Line platform and out onto the sidewalk where they
began to head east. It was in the crosswalk at Milwaukee
Avenue that the unthinkable happened.
A taxicab came flying around the corner and slammed into
Alison. Her friends watched in horror as she was tossed into
the air and then landed, headfirst, fifteen feet away.
All of it had happened so suddenly. Everyone was in
shock. As the taxicab sped away into the night, neither of
Alison’s friends had even gotten its number. The only thing
they would be able to remember was the color of the vehicle,
and that its driver appeared to be Middle Eastern.