The rain came down in sheets, obscuring us from their view.
No one would see or hear us.
Not before it was too late.
Navigating the fence was easy.
Long ago it might have been electrified, but today it wasn’t. Jonah cut the mesh and I held it back as our five-man team entered the factory compound.
The crumbling buildings and roads covered an area of more than two square miles. In times gone by, this would have been a loud, busy place. Now it was empty and abandoned.
The hard wind echoed in the empty buildings, creating a hollow, haunting cry. while the incessant deluge hammered on the tin roof of the lower building and dripped loudly from crumbling gutters onto broken concrete floors. All of the buildings—but one—were dark and foreboding, their cavernous empty hallways dark as hollow eye sockets in a skull.
We hugged the shadows, moving stealthily from doorway to doorway. Sly took point, followed by Jonah, two more of Ebony’s crew and I made up the rear.
The building with lights was up ahead to the right. Our destination was within its walls.
We had a date with some very bad people.
We shouldn’t be here.
With my father on our tail, we should lie low, but we figured life was short and we had a job to do. Our quest was never more real than now. The escalating violence between the fanatics on both fundamental sides cost more and more innocent people their lives and their livelihoods. Fundamental Christians targeted innocent Muslims and fanatical Muslims returned the favour. Like in every war, the greatest damage was collateral. Innocent people died. Not the zealots.
We couldn’t go after the Christian king-pins now we were in their crosshairs, so we turned our attention to the soldiers. More accurately, to the recruiters.
Ebony fed us with information on new endeavours the ever-creative recruiters were fabricating to gather as many lost souls as possible and turn them into killing machines.
We’d noticed a clear increase in recruitment over the past month. They needed new meat to sacrifice to the cause. The recruitment efforts were becoming more brazen and had moved from individual enrolment to mass events. The dark web was full of them. And that led us here, to an abandoned factory on this miserable night in the pouring rain.
Sly held up his hand and we dropped into a crouching position. There was movement up ahead.
It was too early for the would-be recruits. They had been told to come at midnight, now—two hours earlier—only the recruiters and their thugs were in the compound. You could debate whether the recruits were innocents, but maybe we weren’t too late to save some of them.
I could always hope.
We crouched in the shadow of a heavily damaged building. Bullet holes showed its most recent use as target practice. The windows and doors were broken, glass shards littered the floor and made it difficult for us to avoid cuts as we knelt on the debris.
Three shadows passed ten metres from us. They made no attempt to conceal themselves, secure in the knowledge that no one knew what they were up to. No one who shouldn’t be there.
Jonah glanced my way and looked mildly disappointed when I shook my head. Not yet, my big friend. Patience.
Two minutes after the men disappeared into the dark we moved into the shadows behind the lit building. Sly took out a small camera on an extension and slipped it through a break in the window pane. He scrutinised the image on the hand-held and shook his head. No one there. We continued along the side of the massive factory hall and slipped through a dark recess into the building where a few camping lights set out a path in the dark. Sly sent his companions onwards to circle the entrance while Jonah and I pushed further into the bowels of the ruins, following the trail of lights.
Seven people stood in the centre of the cleared area. One women and six men. Heated words echoed in the empty space as the Asian woman and the man we identified as the leader argued over who would approach the recruits. The rest stood by silently, waiting for an outcome. Finally, the woman threw up her hands and stomped off back through the hall to the exit, followed by her adversary’s derogatory laughter.
My phone vibrated in my pocket, the agreed sign everyone was in position. We’d decided earlier to get in and out as quickly and quietly as possible. We would terminate the recruiters with minimal bloodshed and take their bodies with us to dispose of at a different location. The recruits had to come here and find an empty building without a sign of a struggle. One thing we did not want, was to make martyrs of the bad guys and push the recruits further into the Establishment’s arms. We figured the would-be soldiers would leave in disappointment, hopefully disillusioned. The woman leaving didn’t help. We would have to catch up with her later if she was still on the premises.
No loose ends.
The group dispersed, three moving to the opposite side of the clearing, one coming our way and the other two fanning out to the sides. I saw Jonah slink away after the man on the left, Sly tiger-crawled to where the guy on the right stood lighting a cigaret. That left me to take the one approaching, the would-be leader.
He was a tall man, rough looking, thin in a wiry manner. His cheekbones were pronounced with the skin stretched over what in this light looked almost skeletal features. His frame was sinewy, but the manner in which he walked belied the first impression of a weak man. He wouldn’t be a push over.
He passed where I was hugging the shadows, completely unaware of my presence, his attention on his phone.
Again I felt the vibration in my pocket. I counted to ten, the determined amount of time before we all sprung into action at once. On ten, I moved up behind him, my garot taunt between my hands. A muffled sound caused him to stop and turn his head towards the right. I saw his body tense and quickly slid the think piano wire over his head and pulled back. His body fell back onto me, unbalanced by the suddenness of the attack, his hands pulling at the thin wire that cut off oxygen. I pulled harder as he scrambled to get his footing and in a reflex tried to grab me. I sidestepped, holding on to the handles and pulled even harder. The gurgling sound he made resonated in the quiet building and seemed like a shout. In reality it was a whisper as the life ebbed out of him.
He stopped struggling and I gave another hard yank on the garrotte, breaking his neck with the sudden change in direction. He was dead.
I pulled the corpse out of the path of lights into the darkness.
To both sides of me I heard the soft sounds of something heavy being dragged over the concrete floor.
Three vibrations indicated my companions inside had taken care of their targets. Four additional answering vibrations filled the quota. Only the woman left.
We waited in absolute silence. Straining our ears to hear any sound. Nothing.
I picked up the body, threw him over my shoulder and started down the building, avoiding the lights, but following that general direction out into the open air of the night. Jonah joined me and I could only just make out Sly in the dark distance, we were making our way to the vehicles the recruiters had arrived in. The others were already there.
The bodies were unceremoniously dumped in the back of the cars.
There was no sign of the woman. We assumed she had left.
I felt relived. There was still some part of me that was reluctant to harm a women, even if she was the enemy.
Sly and the others each took a car and left the compound. Jonah and I made our way back to the hole in the fence. Our own vehicles were located two blocks from the fence and needed to be retrieved.
‘That went well,’ Jonah commented.
I nodded. It had been a quick mission. One that the Establishment would feel. They lost six of their recruiters and a large number of would-be recruits in one sweep. It would be a blow. We had no doubt they would know who was responsible. Too much of a coincidence after my father’s visit.
Jonah crawled through the fence and stood upright making room for me to struggle through the small opening. Bending my knees, I ducked my head and held the wire to the side.
A sharp pain in the centre of my back and a second in my side pushed the breath out of me as I stumbled through the fence and fell at Jonah’s feet. He was already pushing back through the mesh to confront a man brandishing the bloody knife I’d felt. Jonah rushed him—oblivious of the weapon—and tackled him to the ground. They rolled in the slick mud, both trying to get the upper-hand. Jonah held onto the attacker’s wrists, twisting viciously in an attempt to dislodge the knife. But the man was strong and pushed back.
I struggled to my feet, blood gushing from the deep wounds the hunting knife had inflicted.
I was almost upright when another figure brandishing a machete came out of the dark behind the fighters.
The Asian woman we had seen earlier raised the big weapon above her head, aiming for the Big Man’s neck as he struggled with her companion. I dove back through the hole, rolled on the ground and jumped up behind her. With one hand on her neck and the other on her head, I quickly snapped her neck.
Her companion wasn’t faring any better. Jonah let go of his wrist and chopped into the upper-arm holding the knife. A loud crack announced another broken bone. Jonah caught the knife before it hit the ground and in one fluid movement brought it up in between the man’s ribs, effectively stopping his heart.
We looked around, all senses attuned to any sounds of more unexpected company, both breathing heavily.
I was badly shaken. My hearts beat rapidly and out of sync, pushing massive amounts of adrenaline through my veins.
We scanned the area, our backs to each other in defence.
‘No one,’ Jonah whispered.
‘Let’s get out of here.’
We shuffled towards the hole in the fence, one stood guard while the other slipped through. I figured we were far enough away from where the recruits would be, so we left the bodies. We made our way to the vehicles and drove off into the darkness.
My pulses were still raging.
I berated myself.
Our complacency almost got us killed.
‘I wouldn’t put it that black and white,’ Jonah tried to lighten the sentiment.
‘You wouldn’t? And how would you describe our current predicament?’ Ebony shot back, her stare daring him to contradict her.
‘We have challenges,’ he tried.
Ebony brought her hands up to her face, rubbed her eyes and sighed. She plucked at a strand of hair that had escaped her cap, sighed again, and looked at the ever-smiling Jonah.
‘Okay,’ she said exasperated. ‘Let me summarise this. Make sure I have the right perspective.’
Jonah and I nodded. It seemed the safe thing to do.
Ebony turned and walked to the three moveable whiteboards arranged in a semi-circle near the computer set-up. She picked up several markers in different colours and beaconed us over. Naturally, we compiled. Failure would not go down well in her current mood.
She began to write on the central whiteboard, then turned to face us.
Why did I always have the feeling I was back in the school benches when she was like this? I felt disproportionately intimidated by the tiny five-foot-two computer wizard in front of me. I glanced at Jonah and saw he wasn’t much better off. Not even with his six-foot-six, two-forty pound frame.
‘Right,’ she started.
We were all ears.
‘Your dad,’ she pointed to me. ‘The self proclaimed Christian God, is now aware that you’ve joined forces with the big man.’ She pointed to Jonah. I nodded. She turned and wrote it on the central board.
‘He declared war on you.’
‘Technically yes, but I suppose we did that earlier…’ I stopped talking. Her stare was so intense it almost made me stutter. ‘Yes. Right. Not the time for semantics.’ I felt the blush rise and cover my cheeks as I averted my gaze.
I refrained from answering. Jonah stayed silent. He didn’t even gloat.
‘He doesn’t know about me yet,’ she continued. We both shook our heads and she wrote the statement down in a new list on the right-hand board.
‘Your family has technology that can transport them to wherever they want including cross-dimensional.’ Again the centre board.
‘We don’t have a way to trace them, or be forewarned.’ Centre board. ‘They are also the driving force behind The Establishment.’ Again. ‘The Establishment basically has control over the Christian Church.’
I was about to say something when she added, ‘and the other major religions as well.’ I nodded. My input no longer needed.
‘Your dad will have informed the Establishment so basically we’re at war with them too.’ It was starting to sound very bleak.
‘It’s just the three of us,’ She continued to write, not bothering to look at us.
‘Not just us,’ Jonah dared to contradict. ‘There’s the archbishop as well.’
‘Archbishop Benedict.’ She stated, turning to him with a cold stare. Jonah nodded enthusiastically.
‘The guy you think is our ally, who you haven’t heard from since you visited him months ago?’ she commented with an edge.
‘Well. Yes. But I’m sure he’s on our side,’ he stammered.
Another big sigh from Ebony. ‘Shall we put him down as a maybe then?’ Jonah nodded sheepishly. Benedict was added to the left-hand board under our names.
‘Let’s continue, shall we?’ When neither of us commented, she picked up her narrative.
‘Thanks to your archbishop, the big man’s picture is hanging on every cop-station wall.’ Jonah was about to say something, but decided just in time to keep his mouth shut.
‘And you,’ she pointed to me again. ‘Are quickly coming into the spotlight of the anti-terrorism squad.’
I was taken back. ‘Say what? When did that happen?’
‘Anti-terrorism has had their beady eyes on your mosque for a while,’ she explained. ‘They’re probing your background along with the other “persons of interest”.’
Shit. Not what I wanted to hear. That would put an even shorter deadline on whatever we could find at the mosque.
‘And to top it all off,’ Ebony continued. ‘I still haven’t deciphered the contents of the hard drive you downloaded.’ That really bugged her. Maybe more than all the other things.
She added all the comments to the boards. Our “good guys” list on the left board was pathetically short and the plusses on the right-hand board were even worse. The one list that stood out was the shit list. The centre board. Our challenges.
If you put it that way, it really was depressing.
She took a step back and studied the overview, then turned to us.
We didn’t contradict her that time.