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DANGEROUS LIAISONS

PROLOGUE

Owen Sprague left the corner building at precisely 1500 hours and turned to the right to walk to his safe house two blocks away. He carried a small bag with him that looked like any other gym bag. Within that small duffel were the broken down parts of an elite sniper rifle. He walked calmly looking straight ahead. In the distance, he heard police cars approaching from the western part of the Syrian City of Damascus.

By the time he had walked one block, the police vehicles raced by him in the opposite direction to where he was going. He lowered his head as they passed and kept walking. In less than three minutes, he took another right and up a narrow alleyway to the fourth small building on the left. He opened the door and climbed the stairs.

When he got to the top floor, he walked down the corridor to the second door on the right. He knocked several times in what seemed like a coded entry request. A few seconds later, the door was opened, and he quickly entered the room.

Sprague nodded to the individual inside and went immediately to a cooler on the floor by a four-person couch set against the back wall. He opened the lid, grabbed a warm beer and, sat down on the couch. He looked up at the two men standing before him in the room as he took a long drink from the 12 ounces can.

“Wasn’t much of a problem taking him out,” he finally said to one of the men. “The shot was fairly simple in that it was direct with little competing ambient weather. Any immediate news from the street?”

Nathan Doerfler returned his gaze for a moment and confirmed that Sprague had not been detected as the shooter during the process. It had been a “clean kill”, by the CIA’s book, if you will. No collateral damage had been done. One-shot, one kill, through the left temple.

The third individual was Harvey Jenkins, a career CIA operative who was a descendant of Turkish grandparents. He had been stationed in Kusadesi on the east coast of Turkey for a couple of years and was due to rotate back to Langley in 30 days. Jenkins had just arrived in Damascus the evening prior.

The city would be in a frenzy to find the sniper. The target had been a key member of Parliament who had been a strong advocate of the genocide of hundreds of nationals over the previous two years. The man was attending a meeting with a military hierarchy to discuss up-coming plans to neutralize a specific segment of a population located some 35 kilometers from the city’s geographical location. The inhabitants of this town had openly voiced their views regarding the unjust treatment of civilians and were recruiting from other locations to rise against the Government. The action had to be taken before the uprising crisis spread to other regions.

With the Parliament figure now dead, others would scramble to vie for leadership within the group. It would be like a piranha frenzy with individuals looking for opportunities to undermine the status of others within the leadership hierarchy.

The safe house door burst open and two gunmen entered and began firing their Kalishnikov AK-74 weapons. The first rounds struck Jenkins in the chest, killing him instantly. Doerfler and Sprague hit the floor next to their weapons and once secured, returned fire with their semi-automatic weapons. Doerfler’s first shot hit one of the individuals in the head. Blood sprayed widely against the near wall. Sprague fired twice and hit the remaining intruder in the chest knocking the individual back into the corridor behind him.

Sprague got up and went over to Jenkins. He looked over at Doerfler and indicated ‘no’. They immediately secured their bugout bags and weapons and headed for the stairs leading to the roof. On the way up, Owen depressed a switch on a small transmitter and was rewarded with a green light. This was going to be tight, he thought.

They reached the upper landing and heard voices on the bottom floor. Individuals began bursting into first floor rooms looking for the shooters. They then started for the stairway, reached the second landing and, repeated their room-to-room search.

By this time, Doerfler and Sprague had reached the roof and raced over to the edge and, jumped onto the adjacent building’s roof, a six-foot leap. They heard the whirling rotors of a Lakota Helicopter nearby and knew that their escape was another building away.

The Lakota was to extract the three operatives on the following building’s roof that had just enough space for the aircraft to land. The jump for this building was ten feet. Sprague easily made the transition from the other building’s roof and raced to the aircraft.

Doerfler nearly made it completely but misjudged his leap. He ended up grabbing the roof’s edge and struggled to get over it. Owen turned around and saw Nate hanging over the edge and raced back to help his friend.

He got to Nate’s position and grabbed one of his arms above the wrist, just as Doerfler’s other hand dropped away from the edge due to fatigue. Owen pulled with all of his might and was able to get Nate to his chest where the latter was able to haul himself over the roof’s edge. They both got up and raced for the Lakota whose rotor blades were spinning at maximum rpm. The Crew Chief helped Owen in first than Doerfler.

By this time, the individuals had reached the roof of the building and spotted the Agents boarding the Lakota. The Leader put his rifle to his shoulder sited it and fired a round at the fleeing men. The bullet struck Nathan in the back and he reeled forward toward the open cargo door. The Crew Chief caught him and, with Owen’s help, got him into the aircraft.

As the Crew Chief got into the Lakota, a round glanced off his Kevlar fight helmet and he collapsed onto the floor of the helicopter. The pilot, seeing his Crew Chief on the floor, raised his collective quickly as bullets pinged off the aircraft’s fuselage. The Lakota banked hard right and raced off to the west.

The dazed Crew Chief was trained in medical support and immediately applied pressure to Nate’s wound. He gave Doerfler something for the pain and Nate drifted off.

Twenty minutes later, they were in a secure location. Nathan was carried off of the aircraft and transported to a trauma unit converted from an old building at the outskirts of a small village. Owen accompanied him into the room and was told that the medical staff had it from there.

A CIA member approached Owen and asked to be briefed. He filled him in on the specifics and then went through a series of questions from the CIA Officer. The latter was satisfied with the information he received and left Owen by himself.

Two hours later, medical personnel appeared and told Owen that Nathan was going to be fine. The bullet went through the body and didn’t hit any critical organs. Nathan should recover very quickly.

Sprague thanked the individual, left the building and, walked over to where personnel could recover from their mission. He found a cot in the back corner of the room and laid down. He quickly fell into a fitful sleep.

USS CHEYENNE, PHILIPPINE SEA

The USS Cheyenne, a Los Angeles Class submarine, sat silently 400 feet beneath the surface of the water 40 miles east of the Parcels near the Spratley Islands in contested territorial waters in the Pacific. The Philippines claimed ownership of the Sratleys as China sought to infringe its military presence on them. Diplomatic talks concerning who possessed the area had been ongoing for years with little results. As a result, China had slowly encroached upon them by establishing a military complex resulting in ostentatious opposition by the Philippine Government. The United States had been involved with a diplomatic solution to ownership claim for years. As a result of this latest incursion upon the Spratley Island soil, the US Government had sent the Cheyenne to monitor any resulting African Federation additional movement to further entrench itself in the area, as well as to protect Philipino shipping near the Spratleys and the nearby Scarborough Shoals.

Aboard the Cheyenne was the Commander, Timothy Ryan, a Veteran of 16 years of naval service. He was a by-the-book officer who also was known to improvise to secure needed results in an emergency. His complement of highly experienced submariner men and women respected their Skipper’s ability to both show restraint and action when necessary to protect them in all situations.

The Cheyenne had been in the area for several days. It would communicate back with higher Naval Headquarters consistently concerning any movement of African Federation shipping, both military and civilians in the area. Thus far, there had been little in the way of confrontation between the African Federation Navy patrolling the area and other nation fishing vessels. If unprovoked actions were to occur, the Cheyenne had permission to fire on the perpetrator without warning. The African Federation had been informed of this potential action.

Cdr. Ryan knew that tensions were very high between all nations involved with claimed ownership of the area. His mission to protect the lives of Philipino nationals was a ‘fluid’ one. Any military intervention by the Cheyenne was to be executed judiciously with the safety of the Cheyenne Crew paramount in the decision-making process.

On the afternoon of the fifth day, a Philippine trawler was seen off of the Spratley’s. It was not alone. Off to its starboard side was a African Federation frigate that had its forward mounted gun trained on the fishing vessel. Without warning, the warship fired on the trawler hitting it amidships. A huge explosion followed resulting in the trawler splitting in half and quickly sank below the surface of the water.

Ryan immediately ordered a torpedo loaded in one of the sub’s tubes. He received a tactical solution and ordered the weapon fired at the frigate. The torpedo ran true to the African Federation warship and detonated on its forward bow. There were multiple explosions before the ship quickly sank.

Ryan immediately ordered the sub to surface to look for any survivors. The way the blast hit the lifeboats, finding survivors appeared to be a remote possibility. The Commander, nonetheless, knew if was the right thing to do.

After the Cheyenne surfaced, Ryan scanned the waters for anyone who might still be alive. After a few minutes of searching, he started to give up hope of finding anyone hanging on in the water. He was about to order the sub to prepare to dive, when he noticed some movement on a piece of wreckage. Ryan focused his binoculars on the area and found that there was one individual clinging on to a small raft. He ordered the Chief of the Boat to rescue the African Federation sailor immediately.

When the rescue vessel reached the Taiwan rubber raft, the senior non-commissioned officer in charge was amazed to find a boy approximately eight years old holding onto a rope on the raft’s side. There was no adult sailor anywhere nearby. The boy was conscious and smiled at the American sailor as the latter reached down to pull him into the five-man raft.

The boy was Caucasian, dark blond hair, and light blue eyes. One of the sailors began talking to him in African Federation. He was surprised to hear the response in the same language from the boy.

“Yes, I am fine, thank you. The water was getting a bit cold, so I am grateful for your getting me out of the water. I couldn’t get enough energy to climb into the raft. Am I the only one who has survived the explosion?”

“Yes, you are,” said the Senior NCO. “We are taking you to our sub where medical personnel will look you over to make sure that you’re alright. Johnson, put a blanket around the boy.”

The sailor did so and the boy responded with, “Thank you Petty Officer Johnson.”

Knowing the proper rank of the Cheyenne’s sailor surprised everyone aboard the raft. The NCO knew that the Skipper was going to have a lot of questions for this boy when they reached the submarine. He knew he would have.

WASHINGTON, D.C., THE PENTAGON

Lieutenant Colonel Byron Scott was a career Officer with 17 years of active duty service rendered for his Country. He was Infantry Branch qualified and also bore the Ranger tab for qualifying while attending the arduous and highly competitive course as a First Lieutenant at Fort Benning, Georgia. Colonel Scott was also recognized as Military Intelligence Branch certified, as he had transferred to that specialty following his training at Fort Huachuca, Arizona after a tour in Iraq.

Scott was 39 years of age, married with two children. He was a proud Alumnus of The Citadel and had graduated at the top of his class. While overseas during his two tours in Iraq, he was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He was admired for his analytical ability to see the ‘big picture’ through deciphering minute details in a complicated pattern of communication transmissions by foreign nations. In other words, LTC Byron Scott was a “Spook” operating in a non- conventional capacity for the Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA. His clandestine service was put to task through a desk oriented status deep in the bowels of DIA Headquarters.

During his two years working at the DIA, LTC Scott had developed relationships with a other foreign Nationals via unconventional meetings. While jogging one morning near his work, Scott heard another runner coming up behind him. This was not unusual as the Lieutenant Colonel was not the fastest jogger on his much traveled track route.

When the person behind him came up beside Scott, he slowed to keep pace with the American Officer. After a few pleasantries that joggers frequently share while running, Scott asked what the other did for a living. He was very surprised to hear that the Oriental state he was a African Federation Spy and that he had sought the opportunity to meet the Colonel one morning while jogging on the trail.

“Colonel Scott, you and I have a lot in common,” Kim began audaciously. “I have been wanting to talk with you for a while now. I’m glad this morning has offered me that opportunity. Please keep jogging. I’ll slow down the pace for you just a bit. But, please keep running. We may be being watched.”

Scott looked briefly over at the man who was about the same height and kept jogging. He was at first taken back by the other’s forthright speech, but then, this was how international figures became acquainted with one another from time to time in Washington, D.C. wasn’t it?

“Sir, my name is Major Byun Kim. I have some important information for you that will have direct import on the nature of our two Countries’ peaceful ties with one another, or not.”

Scott maintained his composure and said, “What can I do for you Major Kim?”

The African Federation Nationalist proceeded to tell Scott about African Federation intentions to take Taiwan by force in the next few weeks, particular date unknown.

“This is not new to us, Major. We know of China’s interest in occupying Taiwan for years now. What makes this information of specific and immediate interest in terms of what we’ve seen of your Country’s behavior of late? As far as I know, our State Department has had substantive talks about non-aggressive action in the Region. What can you tell me of what you believe is about to change in this relationship?”

“Last evening, Washington’s time,” Kim began, “Your Los Angeles Class Submarine, the Cheyenne, sank one of our frigates near the Spratley’s with all hands aboard lost. When you get to your office this morning, you will learn of the specifics of this unprovoked attack on one of our ships. Our Country is prepared to go to war with the United States and taking Taiwan is the first step, Colonel Scott.”

“By the time I do get to my office, Major, this will be old news and the US diplomatic efforts will be alive and well in curbing what we both know would be much more of an inconvenient result if both the United States and China decide to swap inter-continental ballistic missiles with one another.”

“Colonel Scott, there is a child involved in all of this. A very special child. One that the African Federation Government wants very much to get its hands on and quickly. Aboard the fishing trawler that the African Federation frigate sank, an eight-year old boy was aboard with his two uncles. All supposedly perished aboard the fishing vessel when the frigate blew her to pieces near the Spratley’s.

“African Federation ships sailing to the area found no survivors from either the frigate or the trawler. There were plenty of bodies, but none that was identified as that of an eight-year old boy. We have reason to believe that the boy is still alive and that the Cheyenne may have rescued him. Your submarine left the area en route to Subic Bay shortly thereafter. Another left the Philippines to resume patrol in the Cheyenne’s place immediately.”

“Who is this boy that you’re speaking of, Major? And, why is he so important to China?”

“Our jog is now over, Colonel. If I’ve been found to have shared this information with you, I will be accused of treason by my superiors. You will soon receive the full report from the Commander of the Cheyenne. But, in the interim, you are now fast-tracked with intelligence information that may allow you to find out what the United States plans to do with the boy. Have a great day, Colonel.”

SEVEN MILES WEST OF DAMASCUS

Nathan was “out of action” for a couple of weeks as he nursed his leg back to health. Owen was given another assignment, this time a “hit” in the City of Aleppo 216 miles North of Damascus. It was a four hour ten minute trip by road and passing through the Cities of Horns and Harna along the way.

Sprague and two others left their desert location just after the sun went down. They arrived in Horns 90 minutes later and immediately went to Saint Mary’s Church, famous for its black stones. They parked their SUV behind the Church and exited the vehicle. They were to meet a contact there who was to provide them with up-to-date intelligence regarding the presence of Yousef Alamadi, a notoroius Terrorist in Syrian President Al Asad’s infamous group of serious agitators. The President’s plan to rid the Country of rebel partisans was to create havoc in the cities thereby throwing the blame to the opposition. Information would be fed to the citizenry that rebel leaders were the ones plotting to assume responsibility for governing the people instead of the nationalist forces. And that their agenda was one of forceful adherence to laws that were extremely harsh and rigid.

Sprague and the other two met their contact in the sacristy at the front of the Church in the very early hours of the morning. Their source for information was an old man in his 70’s who believed ardently that individual freedom for all Syrians was paramount for existence of the youth in the future. The man had once been a university teacher and had been forced to go into hiding for promoting a democratic way of life for his countrymen. He had been tortured by the present Asad Regime for his ‘radical’ teachings.

He motioned the other three into a side room that had no windows. He lit a lantern after closing the door and proceeded to outline the daily habits of the target in Aleppo. The subject for assassination was a corrupt businessman with strong ties to Asad. He had been undermining a coalition that believed in justice for all Syrians by having key figures pointed out to Asad’s military for their incarceration and/or elimination altogether. The CIA had an interest in furthering democratic principles in Syria and Aleppo, one of the three largest Cities in Syria, that was crucial in counter-acting the Damascus Regime’s reign of absolute rule of its people.

When the elderly zealot completed his professorial-like instruction of the daily routine of the intended target, he looked Sprague in the eye for a long moment. There was an all-knowing look about him that Owen had seen before in others. His Cousin Shawn Crawford displayed the intuitive gaze exactly as this man. Only, there was something quite distinct and different in the way this individual looked at you.

As Owen turned away, the man grabbed him by the arm and said, “Those who know you well wish you safe passage throughout your journey.” The elderly one turned on his heel and left the sacristy. It wasn’t so much as seeing a person leave a room; it was more like he vanished before he reached the doorway to exit the room altogether.

Sprague noticed a piece of parchment on the floor where the man had been standing. He bent down and picked it up. When he opened it, it had the following message written on it.

“Your safety is our most precious order of concern. Beware of those around you who would profess innocence.” It was signed with two letters, “T.E.”

Owen considered the message as cryptic as it was and placed it into a pocket. He turned toward his other two companions and told them that they must leave immediately. There was a feeling of urgency in their departure that Sprague could not define why it was so important to leave the City quickly.

His instincts were correct. Ten minutes after they left the Church, it was surrounded by Syrian soldiers who went through the sacred building and destroyed much of the Church pews in the interim. How they knew that Owen and his companions were there was a mystery. They were lucky that they had left when they had. It would have been a no-win situation had they lingered longer.

Since they were being sought, they left the main highway toward Harna and took very rough back roads to the City. These were more like trails than anything else and the edge to the cliffs beside them as they traveled was disconcerting. Owen decided to skirt around the City and continue on to Aleppo.

They arrived in the middle of the night and met a CIA Agent assigned to the District by the Company. He was surprised that they were a bit late getting in and Owen explained about driving the ‘donkey’ trails to the City. The Agent raised an eyebrow and told them that they were even lucky that they arrived. Those ‘roads’ were hardly wide enough for a cart.

At the safe house, a run-down building that had two floors, the Agent up-dated Owen and the other two about the daily habits of the intended target. He also outlined the egress and escape routes out of the City once the target had been liquidated.

After continued conversation, questions and answers about the mission, Owen and the other two found some cots and went to sleep. Their assigned target was to meet another jihadist in the late morning in front of the central bank at 0900 hours.

SUBIC BAY, THE PHILIPPINES

The Commander, West Fleet, US Navy, Admiral Ralph Kinsey,waited impatiently in his office. Cheyenne’s Commander Ryan was supposed to accompany the boy rescued in the East Philippine Waters following the engagement with the African Federation Frigate and be in his office ten minutes ago. The CINCPAC Commander couldn’t believe that a boy approximately eight years old could be the only survivor during an exchange between three vessels, one being a submarine under his Command.

A knock on his door brought him back to the moment. His Aide announced Ryan and the boy who entered the office. The Commander dismissed the Aide and told Ryan and the boy to have a seat on an expansive couch sitting before his desk. He then came around his desk and sat in an overstuffed chair to their left. Before the 3-star Admiral could utter a word, the boy initiated the conversation.

“Your naval vessels arriving in the vicinity of the Spratleys in a week’s time will all be sunk in the Philippine Sea, Admiral Kinsey. Many of your Officers ans Sailors will be lost unless you listen and heed what I have to tell you.”

The boy’s bold approach to address the CINCPAC was astonishing, but the threat to his naval vessels in the Philippine Sea took him aback considerably. Admiral Kinsey stood looking at the youth for a long moment and then smiled.

“This must be some kind of a joke, Ryan. Who put him up to this nonsense? And how does he even know about any potential ship movements in the foreseeable future? How old is this boy and what is his name?”

“Sir, We have not been able to get anything out of him from the time he came aboard the Boat. This is the first time he has said anything at all.”

Kinsey looked intently at the boy and asked, “Who are you, young man?”

“My name is Christopher, Admiral. I come to you from the future and am here to warn you about making a huge mistake in sending your naval vessels west toward Taiwan in three days time. The African Federation know of your plans and will be waiting for you to arrive. Their sudden attack will come initially from the Spratleys where they will lure your fleet in. It will be a disaster for your fleet, Admiral.”

“What do you know of the international concerns relating to this part of the world? There is nothing at the moment that would make one pause to consider any type of engagement with another foreign power.”

“The United States has a role in stopping military incursions as a result of a lapse in territorial oversight. Manila’s defense treaty with your government could possibly draw the United States into a conflict where China could overwhelm the Philippines and take possession over the natural gas deposits and sought-after fishing grounds. Admiral, you know very well that at the moment the African Federation and Asian leaders are at a stand still in resolving the disputes of territorial control through diplomatic means. This failure to reach a solution could undermine international laws governing maritime disputes and encourage a destabilization of arms enhancement,” countered Christopher.

“For someone so young, you appear to be well read about the potential conflict that can be even compared to a waiting powder keg situation. How old are you, young man?”

“My age is inconsequential to this message, Admiral Kinsey. It’s important that you pay strict attention to the dialog when Asian and African Federation leaders meet within the next two days to continue their discussion of the Spratley’s control. This is all the information that I have for you, Admiral. Please do not disregard it.”

The boy then turned to Commander Ryan and asked, “Where can I get something to eat, Commander?”

Ryan looked at Kinsey who then said, “Take him over to the mess, Ryan. Then, hand him over to Dependent Services. Tell them that I want him closely watched while he is on this Base. I may have a further chat with this boy ‘from the future’ in the coming days.”

MATTHEW (MATT)

Navy Lieutenant Commander Matthew (Matt) sat in his hide approximately 200 meters from his intended target’s location. He lay silently and unmoving ever since he established his position just below the crest of the hill overlooking the encampment situated in the valley below. He gazed through his Leopold scope sitting camouflaged atop his sniper rifle and watched a flurry of activity around several of the buildings to his immediate front.

His target had yet to show out of the main building sitting in a cluster of three others all in a row on the Ethiopian forest floor. Matt had established himself in his position shortly after midnight. It was now 0900 hours. The bugs had been gnawing at him constantly, but he resisted the urge to move even the slightest.

His target was a African Federation military officer who had arrived in the area to meet with Ethiopian guerrilla militia for the purpose of establishing a coordinated plan of attack against pro-Government troops. The African Federation were adamant about establishing a foothold in the Country as they had done in neighboring Eritrea. China’s world influence was extensive and Africa was next on its geographical list to submit to its total repressive ideology.

The United States recognized China’s steady world outreach and had come to an agreement with the Ethiopian Capital of Addis Abbas to stymy any further incursion of African Federation influence into its Country. The meeting involving the African Federation official and the guerrilla leaders served to solidify a relationship that was just forming between the two factions. The United States knew of the reputation of the visiting African Federation Officer who had been influential in laying the ground work for disrupting other government attempts to establish a democratic policy in the region.

Two men came out of one of the buildings followed by a third. They looked around the area and one of them motioned toward the open doorway. A fourth person came out into the bright sunshine. It was Matt’s target. He focused the Leopold’s cross hairs on the individual’s head and slowed his breathing. Matt gently squeezed the trigger of the Austrian-made rifle and a suppressed 7.62 mm round exited the weapon with a mere pop.

The round traveled the distance to the target in mere milliseconds. The projectile struck the African Federation officer on the left side of his head. Its tremendous inertia penetrated the skull and exploded out the other side spewing fragments onto one of the other individuals next to him.

Matt slowly pulled the rifle to him as he watched his target fall to the ground. He exited his hide with plenty of concealment to his advantage. Matt had planned his shot and extraction well. His escape enabled him to take advantage of the terrain’s masking as he continued to a draw between two hills. Matt quickly descended down toward the side of a river and pulled out a rubber flotation device from some nearby bushes. He put the small raft into the water and jumped into it.

The current was swift and he soon found himself far from his entry point into the water. As he drifted down stream, he toggled a switch on a small GPS-like device twice. Matt then took four caribiners from his pocket and attached them fore and aft and left and right on his raft.

Ten seconds later, a Lakota Helicopter came around a bend in the river and flying 15 feet above the water. It hovered above the moving raft and slowly lowered itself with four straps hanging from the fuselage. Matt insured that his special gloves to offset the static electricity were secured and grabbed the lines one by one. He attached each to a point on the raft so that all four corners were hooked securely. When he finished with the last one, a crew member aboard the helicopter told the pilot to raise the collective control, The raft was lifted out of the river. Matt was soon miles away from the point where he had taken the shot and out of danger.

ALEPPO, SYRIA

Owen got the others up from sleeping two hours later. It was still dark outside. His contact at the safe house came over to Sprague and gave him a satchel. Owen opened it and surveyed the contents. He looked up at the other individual and nodded.

“You will find the vehicle in the compound two blocks from here. It is a new Mercedes that belongs to Yousef Alamadi’s driver. The vehicle is not secure so it is easy to get to especially in the early morning hours. You must hurry to complete your task as daylight approaches.”

Sprague got the others up and told them what was going to happen. His plan involved him only. He wanted the others to provide security near the vehicle site. They discussed their exit scenario following the mission. There were no subsequent questions following the briefing.

They exited the safe house from a back door that led to a narrow alley way leading to the compound where the Mercedes was parked. There was no one around at this moment, but call to prayer was soon to occur. They had very little time to execute their plan.

They reached the compound in less than five minutes and two of the men helped Owen climb the wall to the top. He dropped quietly onto the surface below. The Mercedes was the only vehicle inside. He took the satchel that was around his shoulder and opened it on the ground in front of the car. He took out a device and set a timer on it quickly. Owen then moved under the car on his back and, when he got to the middle under carriage, he stopped and affixed the device to one of the supporting beams of the Mercedes. Owen flipped a toggle switch and a green light lit up. He quickly maneuvered out from under the Mercedes and went to the compound gate. Owen unlocked the latch, opened the door, and walked out of the compound. The men went over to him and he confirmed the placement of the explosive under the vehicle. They left the compound and soon reached the safe house. The call to prayer had just begun.

At 0855 hours, Owen, covered in the accustomed attire of the region, walked slowly toward the Central Bank. He stopped in the park that lay opposite the Bank and across the busy main street of Aleppo. He sat down on one of the benches and massaged his leg as though he were afflicted with some leg problem.

At precisely 0900 hours, Yousef exited the Bank and climbed into the waiting Mercedes out front. He moved into the back seat and sat on the opposite side of the driver. As the vehicle started off, Owen cycled a switch on the detonator within his tunic. The timer had a delay of ten seconds. At the end of that time, the Mercedes exploded with a thunderous roar. Windows along the street shattered and pedestrians fell to the ground injured from the shrapnel created by the blast.

Sprague got up from the bench and walked with a limp back to toward the safe house. Half-way to his destination, emergency vehicles were heard arriving on the scene with horns blaring. As the other pedestrians had stopped and gawked at the explosion site down the thoroughfare, he paused in a crowd of people and stood with them for a long moment. He then turned and continued the short distance to the safe house.

SUBIC BAY

The following day after Christopher met with the CINCPAC in his office, Commander Ryan decided to pay him a visit over at Dependent Services. When he checked in and asked to see the boy, the Navy Seaman said that he had left that morning. The boy was allowed to go as a Navy Captain had shown up in a sedan and said that the CINCPAC wanted to see him right away.

“Did you get a signature from the individual who checked him out?”

“Yes Sir, I did. Here’s the log.”

Ryan looked at the list of individuals on the form and found Christopher’s name. Beside it was the printed and signature name of one ‘J. Hunter King. Capt, US Navy’.

“Who is Capt J. Hunter King?”

“Sir, I have no idea. I thought he worked out of Admiral Kinsey’s office. He provided the appropriate credentials. I did note that there was a remark on his identification that he was a Navy SEAL and he had the pilot wings of a Master Naval Aviator on his uniform.”

“Thank you, Seaman.” Ryan gave back the clipboard to the enlisted man and walked out of the building. He decided to go to the front gate and check the out-going personnel log for this morning. The individual on duty presented it to Ryan who leafed through the pages until he came to the approximate time the boy might have left the Base. He found the name ‘J. Hunter King, Capt., US Navy’ inscribed indicating the latter had departed the Base approximately ten minutes following Christopher’s checkout at Dependent Services.

Who is this Captain J. Hunter King, mused Ryan. He decided to double-check with Kinsey’s Office to see if authorization had been given for the Officer to take the boy off Base. He arrived at CINCPAC moments later, parked his vehicle, and went inside the building.

After clearing himself with security personnel inside, he climbed the stairs to the second floor where the Admiral’s Office was located. Ryan announced himself to the female seaman at the front desk who, in turn, picked up the phone and told Kinsey that Commander Ryan was there to see him.

Ryan asked the CINCPAC if he had seen the boy this morning before he left the Base. In addition, he told Kinsey that a Capt. J. Hunter King had taken the youth off Base in one of the sedans.

Kinsey said that he knew nothing at all about the boy’s status and thought Dependent Services was monitoring the whereabouts of the boy. King’s name did ring a bell as he remembered a former Naval Academy Classmate by the name of John H. King. The latter hated to be called by his first name and his middle name “Hunter” stuck. King was found missing in action following an operation he participated in during the Iranian incursion in 2022. His body was never recovered. It obviously can’t be the same individual.

“Get Base authorities started on finding the boy immediately. And, check if anyone remembers seeing King around the Base in the past couple of days. I want that boy back.”

The chances of getting the youth back to the Base were remote at best. King had taken Christopher from Dependent Services for the purpose of transporting the boy ‘back to the future’, or Australia, in the year 2078.

Christopher was the Son of The Entity, a Cosmic Being that supported Good over Evil in the world. The Entity was from nowhere specifically. Prior to the extinction of Planet Kepler within the past few years and, the Earth’s assimilation of all of its people, the Entity worked closely with scientists of that Planet in attempting to rectify Kepler’s sun from burning out completely. Eventually, no solution was discovered and its people were transported through a worm hole to Earth just prior to Kepler’s extinction from its sun’s last tremendous burst of solar energy that incinerated the Planet.

Christopher and King had driven to a remote and abandoned airstrip where the F-193-B Leopard was sitting in the bright sunshine. King parked the sedan some distance from the aircraft and they ambled over to it. They both climbed into the cockpit through the bottom hatch and strapped themselves in. Christopher threw several switches and the advanced fighter’s engines roared to life. They were soon airborne and ascending to cruising altitude.

In a matter of minutes, the aircraft was completely engulfed in a mysterious bluish-colored cloud. The Leopard shook uncontrollably for a short time before the air smoothed out as they departed the confines of the blue mist.

On the nose of the fighter was the land mass of Australia 2078. They had just transitioned through a time portal and jumped 50 years into the future. Christopher made a call to Sydney Flight Following and were immediately scoped by the controller at the Maritime Defense Base.

“Christopher, welcome back to the present, young man. Please proceed to the inbound approach for arrival to Runway 22. Winds are 180 at 12 knots. Altimeter is 29.15. Contact the Tower on 127.4 when intercepting Alpha. Have a good day, Christopher.”

The boy repeated all information back and then said, “Nice talking to you, Robert. Good day.”

Once on the ground and the engines had spooled down, King looked over at Christopher and asked, “How did you enjoy swimming in the South Philippine Sea for awhile?”

“Wasn’t too bad, Uncle Hunter. A couple of sharks kept bumping up against me until they retreated after I zapped them once. Didn’t want to harm them, but they did get the message that I wasn’t on the menu for lunch.”

King chuckled as they both unstrapped and exited the Leopard. Their Plane Captain met them both at the ladder’s bottom and assumed control of the aircraft. A sedan was waiting for them outside and beside the hangar to take them over to Base Headquarters.

On the way over, King said, “History does show that Admiral Kinsey was supposed to be dissuaded from sailing the fleet from Manila by information provided by an 8-year old boy. Any guess as to who that might have been, Christopher?”

“Most likely a distant cousin, Uncle Hunter,” the boy quipped.

SPECOPS HQS, FLORIDA

Not many get the opportunity to tour the Special Operations Headquarters in Florida due to its on-going clandestine activities all over the world and the planning that goes into each mission.

This was ‘Home’ to Matt who had devoted his entire military career to SEAL and Delta Force Training. These two very mission capable segments of the military force defined ‘the best of the best’ in all of the services. Hundreds of men and women had attempted to complete the highly rigorous training only to fail at different times during the programs. It wasn’t always the biggest and strongest that made the cut, but often times the thin railed sailor whose drive for success matched each and every grueling aspect of the training regimen. The will to succeed and the commitment to do so were essential motivators in achieving the sought-after end goal of being recognized as Spec Ops. Matt was such an individual who relished the challenge that such programs provided. Instructors were amazed at how he overcame the intensity of each and every segment of the course curriculum. In every instance, his performance garnered recognition as the best in his class.

Matt was a native of Portland, Maine. He had gone to Cheverus High School, studying a Jesuit curriculum indoctrination that served him well. He had lettered in three sports: baseball, basketball and football. The latter was his best achievement as he won top honors as a running back his Senior year. He had gone on to The Naval Academy where he earned a Commission as an Ensign. His first duty assignment as an newly-pinned Officer was SEAL training.

Matt earned the reputation of someone who mastered internal toughness as he went through every exercise with determination. Nothing deterred him. Following graduation from SEAL training, he earned his Jump Wings at Fort Benning, Georgia His academic achievements caused him to be noticed by others in the Defense Department. The Central Intelligence Agency was interested in what Matt could bring to the CIA table and he was subsequently interviewed for future recruitment consideration.

The military had other immediate plans for him as they sent him off to Special Operations Warfare School in Florida. There, he didn’t disappoint either as he excelled in every category of training as a Member of a Delta Class. Matt’s recent mission of wet work in Ethiopia was one of several he had accomplished in the past six months.

He had just returned from Headquarters where he learned that he was being transferred to Subic Bay in The Philippines. His mission was to take over a Spec Ops Detachment and get them trained for potential assignment to an area that was heating up in Taiwan. Matt didn’t mind the change. He knew a few of the enlisted personnel in the unit to which he was being transferred. To go ‘operational’ was always an opportunity to excel and learn from new adversaries.

This was not going to be an ordinary duty stint. Matt felt that this assignment was going to give him all that he could handle and more in the way of new challenges. He walked to his vehicle and drove off to his BOQ room. He had serious packing to do.

The next morning, he was taken over to the airfield for his COD flight to the Aircraft Carrier Abraham Lincoln. The lengthy trip gave him time to study the Operations Order that was just released TOP SECRET by the Commander-in-Chief Pacific, or CINCPAC, a few hours earlier.

As they all were, this OPORD was detailed in its different sections of Situation, Mission, Execution, Logistics and Command and Control. He knew what the situation was, but his document went more in detail, as did the other sections. The portion of the plan that outlined his Unit’s play in the overall scheme of things was tucked away in an Annex at the very end of the Order itself.

He didn’t like the scheme of things involving his Unit’s mission parameters. Matt felt that the risk assessment poured into the action was under rated. He knew many of the men and their abilities to get things done. But still, as he read the Annex a third time, there were certain things he would have put into the plan that would have made it more fluid in the Unit’s favor.

When his plane landed aboard the Boat, Matt was met by his second-in-command, Lt. Riley Greene. The latter walked him over to the island and into the ship itself. They proceeded to the Aviator Ready Room where they were met by seven other Navy SEAL personnel. They quietly acknowledged one another and Matt asked for all to be seated.

“Has everyone here had a chance to read the Operations Order and, specifically, our part in the mission located in the Annex?”

Each individual nodded in the affirmative. Matt then told Greene to carry on with the briefing to discuss the specifics of what their intended purpose was to achieve during the operation. When the Executive Officer was finished, Matt asked if there were any questions. There were none. The men were dismissed and Matt asked Riley to hang back.

“What’s your assessment of this ‘boondoggle’”

“Exactly as described, Skipper. We’re going to have to watch one another’s back especially when we board that African Federation ship in the middle of the night. I’m not feeling too good about what we’re about to do.”

“Get some rest, XO,” Matt replied. “I need to talk to the my next in command to get some answers to questions that need to be asked.”

THE PENTAGON

When LTC Byron Scott reached his office cubicle in the Pentagon, he found a visitor sitting in one of his two chairs that flanked an ordinary looking coffee table located in front of a modular wall. Scott stopped briefly when he spotted the individual as the other rose to his feet. The visitor was a lean young man, perhaps in his early 30’s, blond hair and blue eyes. He had the demeanor of a commissioned officer when he extended his hand to shake Scott’s hand.

“Commander Scott, my name is Shawn Crawford. I apologize for surprising you like this and for not having an appointment to come to see you. I understand that you met briefly this morning with a African Federation Operative, a Byun Kim.”

Scott immediately went on the defensive as he asked himself who was this guy and how did he know of his conversation with Kim. His clean-cut suit made Scott think of this man as NSA, or even CIA. Lord knows that one can’t sneeze around this place without the ‘spooks’ knowing of it and writing up an After-Action Report about the incident!

“Who are you exactly, Mr. Crawford, and what business did you have in following me this morning?”

“No need to be defensive, Commander. I wasn’t following you at all. And, please, rest easy. I am the only one besides Kim who even knows that you two conversed this morning while jogging. My interest lies in the intelligence information as it pertains to the movement of US Warships in and around Taiwan in the next few days.”

“How could you possibly know about these US plans? The movement of these vessels are above Top Secret Clearance. Even the Commanders of these vessels have no idea of the scope of this operation as they are even now in the process of crossing the Pacific to their staging areas and still awaiting orders.”

“Let’s just say that I am a very intuitive individual, Commander. This operation will end combative in nature and plunge this Country into a war with China, a war that nobody wants. The African Federation hierarchy appears confident presently that the United States is incapable of defending Taiwan because of the political posturing it is showing to the world.”

“I know all of this, Mr. Crawford. And, I also envision in the next few days a ratcheting up of African Federation military forces preparing to invade Taiwan with the anticipation that the takeover will be a cakewalk. I have spoken in confidence to several of my contemporaries that, given the present operation plan to defend Taiwan, it is going to turn out badly for our forces.”

“Agreed. And, that’s why I’m here today. I am in a unique position to assist in making this impending confrontation a positive result for the United States.”

“And, how do you propose to do that?” Commander Scott for some reason had decided to humor the man. He admitted to himself that his interest was piqued over this individual’s knowledge of what was going on in the Pacific with US Naval forces advancing westward into what most assuredly was going to conclude badly for Kinsey’s fleet.

“You remember the boy that was saved by the US submarine’s crew and subsequently brought to Admiral Kinsey’s Headquarters?” Crawford asked.

Scott indicated that he was aware of the fishing boat incident and the boy being saved from drowning in the Philippine Sea.

“The boy disappeared from the Base the day after he was brought to the CINCPAC’s office for interrogation. There was an Officer by the name of King seemingly involved with the boy. King was the last to see the boy on Post and was believed to have taken him off-site via one of our military sedans. All attempts to find the two have been in vain.”

“Commander, I know where they both are at the moment. I can take you to them; but first, there is something that I want you to witness. This may be a bit out of your league of comprehension, and, I don’t mean to sell your intelligence short by saying that. I believe I can help you to keep a war from brewing immediately in the Philippine Sea.”

Scott looked at Crawford for a long moment. He decided to trust his Visitor at his word and decided to humor this man.

“What are you proposing, Mr. Crawford?”

“I want you to trust me for a moment. Commander, please step outside your office. I want to show you something.”

As soon as Shawn finished his sentence and once outside in the corridor, a wisp of blue mist became visible at the bottom of the cubicle’s door behind them. It rapidly enveloped both men until they vanished altogether. Scott felt disoriented at first, but, as the mist cleared, he began to recognize the shape of a huge official-like building before him. It was raining, but he somehow wasn’t getting wet from the heavy moisture falling about him. He looked to his right and saw Crawford looking at him intently.

“Commander, you have been transported to Mainland China. The building you see before you is the Headquarters for the African Federation military and its hierarchy.”

“What in the world?” Scott asked incredulously. As he was a student of the African Federation military, he was well familiar with what their Headquarters looked like, albeit from space satellite footage captured frequently during the course of a month and carefully scrutinized by Pentagon officials. Still, this was a truly surreal experience and he started to ask Crawford how all of this had happened.

Motion to their front caught his eye. Two African Federation soldiers on patrol had suddenly appeared behind one of the buildings and were walking toward them. Scott looked about for some concealment, but Crawford held his arm tightly and told the former not to move.

The soldiers were approaching in ‘drill’ formation as if they were on the parade ground. The two walked right by Crawford and Scott as though they were never there. They soon disappeared around the corner of the next building

Scott had frozen in place as the two soldiers passed by them. He continued to look at the corner at where they had turned and disappeared. “What the hell just happened?”

“Commander, no time to explain right now. Inside that building to our front the African Federation military hierarchy is conducting their plan of attack to, not only take over Taiwan, but also to continue their move toward the Philippines. With Kinsey’s fleet out of the way after they engage the African Federation in the Philippine Sea, there is no stopping them from advancing farther east. By the time the dust settles, the Philippines will be occupied and the African Federation military will next have their eyes on the Hawaiian Islands. We need to get inside the meeting area and listen to their planning so that we can stop their advance, in effect, to the United States.”

Crawford told Scott to follow him without worrying about being detected by anyone. They entered the building and proceeded down a long corridor until they came to a door open on the left. Crawford peered in and nodded his head. They both entered and stood to the side of a curved wooden table. Around it sat the highest ranking African Federation military personnel.

Scott felt naked standing there ‘in plain sight’, but soon relaxed after he noted that no one saw them standing nearby. The Officer sitting at the head of the table was in the process of outlining the African Federation strategy for the Taiwan takeover. He spoke for over five minutes and then turned his attention to a map slide that showed the West Coast of the United States. The man spoke in earnest and there was no doubt he was talking about an intent to invade America following their overrunning the Hawaiian Islands.

The Chairperson then said, “We will have to work quickly now that our Parliament contact in Damascus has been assassinated. I have to presume that the Americans knew of his importance to our plan to steam roll the American Navy. We must proceed with our operation,” he said emphatically as his fist hit the table in front of him.

Crawford listened for a few moments and told Scott that he had heard enough and that it was time to leave.

They stood outside the building a few moments later and Scott was the first to speak. “I don’t know or understand how all of this happened, but it certainly felt real to me. If indeed this was reality, then we witnessed a strategic outline of the initial thrust to take over our Country.”

Crawford responded by telling him that everything they had heard was going to happen in the not too distant future. He then told Scott to take a look at his chronometer watch. “What is the month and year on that time piece of yours, Commander?”

Scott looked down and was amazed to see that the date two weeks from then was displayed on his wrist watch. He looked over at Crawford who merely nodded and said, “It’s time you got back to the office, Commander. You’ve got some work to do.”

THE ABRAHAM LINCOLN AIRCRAFT CARRIER

Owen Sprague’s successful mission in Syria for the Central Intelligence Agency was a short-lived celebration among close friends when the Navy re-called him to duty aboard the Lincoln. He was flying in a flight of two F-56B Advanced Fighter Aircraft over Taiwan’s airspace on routine patrol. His Wing man was Cdr. Tim O’Hara who had just been transferred from a desk job at the Pentagon a few weeks before joining the Battle Group. O’Hara was a seasoned Pilot and had aerial combat time previously. As a matter of fact, he was one of very few Aces aboard the Lincoln’s present company of Aviators, having shot down eight enemy aircraft in prior conflicts.

Owen’s experience was nonetheless remarkable in that he had three enemy aircraft shot down in previous engagements. The two Aviators were fast friends and had gone through naval aviation training together. In fact, they both had Major League Baseball playing time during parallel living experiences.

But, this was an incredible story of human achievement to be mentioned in another book at another time.

“Looks like another quiet night, Owen. Let’s climb to 20.000 feet and stretch our pattern a little. Should give us a good vantage point to the west and the African Federation Coastline.”

“Wonder when the ‘other shoe’ is going to drop, Brother. Intelligence Summaries (INTSUMs) have more and more African Federation fighters infringing on Taiwan’s airspace every day and night for the past week. Pays to be ever watchful for their big push, when they make it.”

Just then, a flight of two F/A-24 Cheetah aircraft from the Taiwanese Air Force announced they were approaching and replacing O’Hara and Sprague for night patrol responsibilities. O’Hara, the Flight Leader, acknowledged the hand-off and said they would remain on station until they had eyes on the Taiwan flight.

Sprague spotted their ascent 10,000 feet below. The Cheetah Flight Leader said they would remain at 10,000 feet and told O’Hara that he was relieved and could return to base. The two American Aviators banked their jet aircraft and started for The Taiwan military airfield.

On approach, Sprague and O’Hara picked up a distress call from the Flight Leader they had just left moments ago. They were being jumped by two flights of two JF-35 African Federation Fighter aircraft over Taiwan airspace. The two Americans could tell that the dogfight was going to be short-lived, unless they went back to assist.

Sprague was on final approach when he pushed his throttle forward and, in effect, did a ‘touch and go’. O’Hara was in the ‘break’ when he adjusted his altitude and joined Owen at 2,000 feet. Sprague took flight lead as Tim cruised off his right wing in battle spread formation. They arrived at the aerial ‘party’ just as one of the Cheetah’s exploded in front of them.

The other Taiwanese fighter had all he could handle. Two of the JF-35’s were focusing on it as the flight of two remained at hi-cap formation. When these two saw the two F-56 Advanced Fighters approach, they descended quickly to gain the advantage.

Tim and Owen split up quickly and climbed toward the approaching threat fighters. Each -35 then exited their formation and each went after the other American fighters separately.

The Taiwan pilot was not only good, but an excellent dog-fight adversary. Through numerous maneuvers, he was able to gain the advantage on the pursuing JF-35 and cripple the aircraft with his guns. The African Federation wing mate immediately maneuvered to the Cheetah’s seven o’clock position and was lining up to take the missile shot on the Taiwanese fighter. He never had the chance as in the meantime his threat warning blared that he was being targeted from behind. He just had time to turn his head to see the F-56 threat behind him when his aircraft exploded. Pieces of the JF-35 aimlessly fell to the sea below.

Owen had his hands full with the other African Federation fighter. The latter was able to position himself at Sprague’s six o’clock after several moments of ‘aerial dancing’. The pilot raked Owen’s fighter on the fuselage’s right side before the American was able to dumped the nose to escape the withering cannon fire. The JF-35 quickly followed the F-56 below and was lined up for the ‘kill’ shot when the African Federation aircraft exploded. Two Taiwanese Cheetah’s then raced quickly toward and passed Sprague’s damaged fighter on either side before climbing to altitude. Owen’s F-56 had lost all maneuverability and he ejected from his fighter 2000 feet above the ground. His parachute deployed as designed and the pilot hit the ocean surface with a jolt. His emergency beacon came on upon contact with the water. After 15 minutes of ocean swimming, Sprague was picked up by an Air Force rescue helicopter and taken to the mainland.

O’Hara had heard the exchange of communication over the radio and knew that his wing-man was out of danger. He radioed the airfield that he was returning to base and soon landed. When he exited his fighter, Sprague was still en route to the Base. As the helicopter finally settled on the tarmac, Tim raced over in a one-quarter ton vehicle to join his friend. Sprague exited the chopper with a wide pout that suggested he should have been received by a marching band and the Base Commander. O’Hara gave him a hug and told him that if he ever got himself in a similar situation in the future, he would shoot him down himself! Owen then asked O’Hara what was for dinner.

They went down to the galley two hours later and went over the aerial battle. Their self-critique did little to calm the nerves and soon reverted to talking about other subjects. As baseball was of a huge interest to both of them, they discussed their dreams of playing professional ball once their naval commitments were completed.

Tim had received professional offers from several Major League Teams while playing at the Naval Academy. Owen had taken enough leave time to attend the Major League Baseball Umpire Training Camp. He finished the top in his class of 102 individuals looking for a spot in professional baseball as an umpire. Both had to turn down their respective offers due to the commitment owed to the United States Navy. They both knew that age would be a factor in realizing their dreams once severed from the service.

THE PHILIPPINE SEA

Admiral Kinsey’s fleet reached Taiwan waters and immediately went on the defensive. A African Federation aerial attack was imminent according to the latest Intelligence Summary. The report was accurate when African Federation J-15s and J-20s met the battle group with a wave of attacks 11 days later resulting in three ships being taken out of commission. The Abraham Lincoln was left relatively unscathed having suffered only minor damage. Its aircraft downed 14 African Federation fighters with only three losses during aerial skirmishes.

Washington diplomats scurried about trying to keep the American-African Federation confrontation from escalating.

Commander Scott was transferred from his Pentagon post to Subic Bay where he joined Plans and Executions Division in what was known as the Joint Strategic Operations Center, or JSOC. There, they took what intelligence was available and finalized operational schemes to meet the threat at hand. The plans of maneuver were filtered down through channels to the actual fighters on the ground, or in the air.

Scott’s ‘journey’ to the African Federation mainland with Crawford proved beneficial in that the insight he developed from being in the same conference room with African Federation military officials allowed him to see the grand African Federation plan in total. Once the Communists had taken hold of Taiwan, the Philippine Islands were next in their cross-hairs. Scott had listened to what they were going to do to move forward. He had taken the time to formulate a counter-attack proposal that would stop the African Federation from achieving their goals. He went to the Chief of Staff and told him that he had an idea what the threat posture was going to be like in the near term.

MAINLAND INCURSION

Matt and his Team were halfway across the East China Sea with the intent of infiltrating the southern end of Fujian Province and the Xiamen Airbase located along the easternmost part of the provincial territory. The airbase was home to the first alert squadron of an elite African Federation Aviation Wing. The organization of the unit represented JF-31, JF-10B and J-16 Advanced Fighter Aircraft. The situation was to assess further deployment of enemy aircraft on the Base. Their mission was to discreetly access the air base without getting caught and to egress from the location at another set of coordinates to rendezvous with Navy Fast Boats waiting off the coast. The plan of execution was to neutralize as many aircraft on the ground as possible and to incur hard point infrastructure damage. The latter’s focus was to be on making the runways non-serviceable for all arriving and departing aircraft. Command and control would rest with the Team Leader, or Matt. Logistics were what each man could carry to execute his primary responsibilities. Communications were internal once on the ground.

It was a cut and dry operations order. If they were about to be captured, they would be on their own to effect escape and evasion using the training learned from real life exercises conducted in other remote places in the world. In other words, these men had seen enough combat and lived through tortuous treatment in the past so much so that they believed in operating in a ghost-like environment They were the best in completing assignments requiring stealth and expediency.

Suddenly, one of the men heard splashing in the water as if someone was swimming toward them. The soldier at the throttle turned it down to a whisper as the others readied themselves for whatever was approaching their craft. Seconds later, a small hand reached up and grabbed the side of the small boat. A head bobbed up from the water and the men were surprised to see a boy clinging to the boat’s side. He looked at the men gaping at him and said, “Hello, Matt. I’m here to assist you in completing your mission. Permission to come aboard?”

Matt was the first to speak. “Gunny, get that boy aboard!”

“Nice evening for a swim, don’t you think?” the boy asked the soldier next to him. The man sat in disbelief at seeing a boy, in the water, all alone, in the middle of the night. The boy, who looked to be about 14 years of age, merely said, “Yes, Sir, I get that look a lot.”

“Matt, do you know this kid?” one the men asked.

Matt came over to where the boy was sitting and asked, “Who are you and why are you here?”

“I told you. I am here to help you accomplish your mission tonight. Commander Scott sent me.” He let that sink in.

Matt knew Scott from military school where the former had attended and the latter had served as an Instructor, They were not close at all. It had been just a teacher-student acquaintance. But he did remember Scott as a forward-looking tactician and a man who talked like he enjoyed the risk in a mission, the greater the better to overcome.

The boy knew what was going through Matt’s mind and said, “Operation Razor.”

Matt was taken aback momentarily at the mention of this particular military clandestine action. It was a quick action scenario that Scott had insisted was thorough and decisive when he talked about it one day in class. To achieve success, each man in the operation had a specific assignment. Timing for success was the key. Matt had been intrigued with the type of mission parameters that ‘Razor” outlined. He nodded to the boy.

The boat’s motor was nearly silent as it propelled the craft, men and boy through the water. In five minutes, they were a mile from the coastline when the boat slowed to a crawl. The African Federation were noted to patrol these waters heavily.

Suddenly, a high-powered spotlight came on and focused on the boat. An African Federation patrol vessel had been sitting in darkness the entire time.

The boy startled Matt and the others when he went over the side and into the water. As he did so, the African Federation boat powered up its engine and started over toward Matt’s position in the water. A minute later, the spotlight went out suddenly and the African Federation vessel slowed to a halt some 30 meters from Matt and his crew. Two minutes later, a hand reached over the side of the American boat and a head surfaced.

“A little assistance, please,” the boy said as he attempted to climb into the back of the vessel. Two of Matt’s men quickly pulled him into the boat. The boy sat there shaking the water from his head and then looked at Matt and his men and said, “I believe it’s safe to continue on with the mission.”

Matt looked at the boy for a quick second and told the men the situation of being found was now no longer a concern. One of the men began steering the craft toward the shoreline. The boy sat smiling.

As the small craft passed the African Federation vessel, all noted an eerie silence aboard the latter vessel. There was no sign of the African Federation sailors at all. All of the men turned toward the boy and wondered the hell had just happened.

Matt still couldn’t get his head wrapped around the fact that the boy’s presence was not only mysterious but downright impossible. What was a boy doing swimming in the East China Sea far from shore with no evidence of any craft at hand whatsoever? And one that knew him and Scott as well!

After by-passing the African Federation patrol boat, there was a need to traverse mines that were placed 50 meters offshore. Matt and his senior NCO sat together and looked at the latest map showing where these mines were supposed to be laid out. The boy came over to them and smiled.

“Matt, I can get you through the minefield between here and the shore. If you trust me to navigate and steer this boat, I can get you on land quickly.”

The NCO looked at Matt for a moment and suggested that the young man had done everything right thus far, Why not let him perform another “miracle” and get their show on the road.

“How do you know all of this? Excuse me for not asking, but who the hell are you really? I need to have some answers quickly before I put my men in danger. Now, give me what I want to know.”

“Matt, my name is Christopher. I am the Son of Sir Shawn Crawford and Lady Lynn Roberts. My Father has been instrumental in formulating a plan with the Pentagon to stop this situation with the African Federation from getting to the point of a full blown world war. Now, how I got in the water is another story, one that I will be willing to share with you once you have achieved your mission. I certainly hope by now that I have earned your trust with neutralizing that patrol boat. Matt, time is short. Let me get you and your men to shore without further discussion.”

Matt looked at him in the ambient light for a long moment and then turned to the sailor steering the boat and said, “Let him take us through the field.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA 2078

Sir Shawn Crawford and Admiral J. Hunter King were cruising at 35,000 feet in the out-dated Swan Fighter Aircraft, a product of the early 21st Century. The aircraft contained a weapons load out comprising air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground munitions and two 40 mm Gatling Guns, one both in the nose and in the rear of the fighter. The purpose of their flight was not to joy-ride or talk about the great old days when they were both serving in harms way during other century’s conflicts, but to provide assistance to Matt and his Team in Fujian Province. They had just traversed The Entity’s Portal and found themselves flying at Mach 4 over the Philippines and in a westerly direction.

In the middle jump seat between the two Pilots sat Commodore Roberto “Bob” Gonzales, Sydney Australia Defense Department’s premier helicopter Pilot.

In the back cargo compartment of the Swan was a miniature version of a Comanche Helicopter. The aircraft’s size had been modified to fit one pilot who operated the controls and armament systems. It was aboard the jet fighter for the purpose of providing close air support to Matt’s Team once they were found to be engaged. The arrival time of the Swan was coordinated with Christopher aboard the insurgent boat, this information being unknown to Matt and his Team.

THE INSURGENT TEAM

Matt and his Team marveled how well Christopher navigated the waters around the perilous minefield. The boy seemed to know where each munition was placed and deftly maneuvered the boat in and around them. It look only five minutes to reach the shore, although, for the Team, it seemed like a lifetime.

Once on land, they dragged the boat into the nearby brush, concealed it and moved out toward the African Federation airfield. Fifteen minutes later, they were at the wire that surrounded the periphery.

One of the men took out a electronic test kit and placed it by his side. He unhooked an antenna from the side and extended the metal rod. He turned to the control module of the kit and began to slowly turn a dial. As he rotated it to the right, a high frequency pitch developed. He continued to turn the dial until he reached the maximum level indicated on the instrument. The man reached over and picked up the antenna and placed the tip on the wire. There was a brief and low-sounding snap as he made contact. He looked over at Matt and nodded.

With the electrified aspect of the wire neutralized, several men quickly began to cut the wire to gain access to the outer edge of the airfield. They moved quickly around the airfield apron with the exception of two of them. They placed charges at the end of the runway and then ran to the center of the southwest-northeast active and put charges on either side. They timed all explosives for 30 minutes and left for the established rally point.

Matt, the other members of the Team and Christopher (who lagged well behind and promised to stay with the boat) moved stealth fully toward the airport tarmac and the adjacent hangars. Patrols in light one-quarter ton vehicles seemed to be everywhere. They were able to effectively time their movement to the closest hangar and get inside before the next vehicle had made its rounds.

One of the men placed a charge on each fighter housed within the building, while the others egress ed through a far side door and raced to the adjacent hangar. They entered and duplicated the effort in the previous hangar. All munitions placed on the idle fighters were set so that the timing of the explosions would be simultaneous.

In the second hangar, a African Federation guard entered from a door to the front of the building and saw the Americans lay the explosives on the JF-31s housed there. He started to get on his radio to let his chain of command know that the base had been compromised and was immediately rewarded with a knife blade serrating his neck by one of the men watching as guard. As the African Federation soldier collapsed, the man grabbed the radio and notified his Team Leader of the event. The man in charge signaled all to complete their tasks and leave the building through the side door.

Matt and the Team members met at the wire where the current had been neutralized upon entry into the airbase. Christopher had remained with the runway group and was present when the hangar crew arrived. As they egress ed from the general area, the bombs went off simultaneously. The runway was completely left non-usable. The hangars housing the JF-31s were blown apart along with the aircraft within the walls. All in all it was a successful mission until flood lights turned on all around them when they approached the shoreline to retrieve their boat. One of Matt’s men tried to fire his weapon at a African Federation soldier that stood nearby and was shot in the arm by another.

The men were completely surrounded and told to lower their weapons. One of the men was a Medic and went quickly over to attend to the injured soldier. The individual in charge of the African Federation group ordered the Americans to stand in a line facing their captors. Ten Communist soldiers then stood opposite them and were preparing to execute each one of them where they stood.

Just before the order to fire was given, a bluish bolt of energy swept through the African Federation firing squad and turned each man to carbon dust. The Americans stood bewildered for the briefest of moments. In that time, Christopher came out of the darkness and over to the wounded American. He put his hands over the shoulder wound and closed his eyes. A bluish tinge of light emanated from his fingers onto the wound area. When the light dissipated, the injured man sat up. His wound had been healed leaving no residual mark of tissue damage.

The men stared at Christopher before Matt brought them all back to reality and told them to get into the boat. They hustled aboard and motored away from shore for the next five minutes. It was then that Matt noticed that Christopher was not among them.

“Where’s the boy?” Matt asked.

The next in command turned to him and said that Christopher wanted to be left behind to take care of some last minute loose ends at the airfield. Matt couldn’t understand what these actions were and started to have the Team go back to find Christopher. The Gunnery Sergeant next to Matt the said, “No Sir, The boy was explicit in his remarks that we get away from the area as fast as we could. He would take care of himself and join the Team much later aboard the Lincoln.

“How is he going to manage that?” Matt asked.

The Gunny then shrugged his shoulders and replied, “How did he take out every one of those African Federation soldiers who were about to execute us back there? If I were you, Captain, I’d trust in the boy and do what he says. My money is on him for joining up with us aboard the Boat.”

ABOARD THE SWAN

Crawford and his crew were circling overhead when Matt and his Team were conducting their destruction of the airfield and aircraft in the two hangars. They expected the results of the action below would draw an immediate response from the African Federation. They were accurate in their assessment.

To the North and Northwest, fighters were scrambled. Their target was the American fleet sitting in the Philippine Sea. The Lincoln Battle Group’s radar systems confirmed the fighter threat was in the air and heading toward their ships. In rapid return, American fighters took to the air to intercept the oncoming African Federation fighters.

A mass of aircraft on both sides streamed toward one another. What the world surely knew would happen was coming to fruition. How this initial conflict would spiral out of control was a certainty. To what end would the world be left in its wake was an unknown too terrible to speculate.

The Entity, an Intergalactic Being who preserved the balance of good over evil in the Universe, expected the present situation to occur. Acting through Crawford, a message of urgent reaction from the future was transmitted to the 2078 Sydney Defense Base of Operations to intervene and stop the aerial battle from even beginning.

What occurred next was simply unbelievable and amazing to those who were poised to initiate a world war that no one could recover from in its aftermath. A bluish cloud suddenly appeared over the East China Sea. It wasn’t evident to the naked eye at first and didn’t reveal itself to modern warfare radar systems.

The cloud mist began to expand quickly until the night sky was consumed by its presence. Before the aerial battle could even begin, a flash message was sent over an unknown frequency to all aircraft in the sky to stand down immediately, or there would be overwhelming consequences. It was given in a language that could not have been mistaken or misunderstood.

Above the mass of two approaching aircraft groups, the bluish mist began to dissipate until what was left was an immense aircraft structure that simply remained static above everyone else. A curtain of air appeared and stretched downward from the vessel to the sea below. It shimmered in the night sky and stood between the two approaching African Federation and American fighter aircraft. A African Federation J-16 ignored the warning from the ship above and fired a missile at the approaching American aircraft to its immediate front. The rocket hit the curtain of air and discharged a blinding ray of light back to the attacking fighter. The J-16 exploded leaving absolutely no trace of wreckage in the sky.

Several more aircraft on both sides also ignored the warning by firing their missiles. The results were the same. Each aircraft that expended ordnance completely disappeared in a tremendous fireball as their rockets bounced off the curtain and returned to its issuing fighter. An immediate stand down message was issued to all aircraft from both the African Federation and American fighter control units with the ensuing order to turn around and return to their base of operations. No one understood why this was happening, but all believed in the consequence of further aggressive action. A third world war had been averted.

THE ABRAHAM LINCOLN

The arrival of the African Federation military delegation aboard the Abraham Lincoln Aircraft Carrier was met with cautious expectations on the American side. An unknown party of mediators had appeared without announcement on the Lincoln three hours previously. A communique with serious overtone was sent to the African Federation Government in their capitol city for them to provide representation without delay on the Carrier. The message was clear: severe consequences would befall their regime for failure to heed this demand to appear.

Admiral Kinsey was present to accept the African Federation delegation at the specific time and location sent to both sides. With the Admiral’s group were three strangers who had mediated the truce between the two Super Powers only a day before the meeting. Shawn Crawford flanked by J. Hunter King and Roberto Gonzales stood behind the Admiral’s contingent party.

The immense aircraft that had appeared prior to the initial aerial aggression was still present in the same location, but lower in the sky above the Carrier Group. It shimmered in a menacing way as a sign that the impending cease fire should not be ignored for failure to initiate representation aboard the Lincoln would incur dire consequences to both representative Governments. The intent of such ‘consequences’ were spelled out explicitly so that both the African Federation and Americans understood the meaning should both sides not heed its directive.

The two key American and African Federation representatives were escorted down to a briefing room to sign the official cease fire document, Crawford, King and Gonzales accompanied the small group of men to witness the acknowledgment that both the African Federation and Americans understood the meaning of the document.

Prior to signing, both Country’s Representatives were asked to be seated and view a brief depiction of what would happen should the cease fire be violated. When the short video clip was completed, both African Federation and American individuals left the room visibly shaken. There would be no more aggression displayed by either Country. The video’s message was clear.

Aboard the Lincoln and sitting on the aircraft carrier’s runway was the Swan futuristic-looking advanced stealth fighter. Curiously standing alone and by the fighter was a 14-year old boy. His demeanor was that of a Junior Officer in that he stood rigid while watching the proceedings aboard the Carrier. Matt and his Team, who were present for the cease-fire ceremony, caught the eye of the boy who barely smiled at the group of men. They watched as the young man appeared to shimmer in the sunlight and then vanished from sight.

EPILOGUE

A week later in the Washington, D.C., area, a newly-promoted Navy Captain was jogging before work on a running path he used on a daily basis. Behind him approached another runner who slowed to jog along side.

“Congratulations on your promotion, Captain,” the man said with a smile. Scott looked to his right and recognized the other man immediately.

“Why, thank you. Colonel Kim. And a congratulations are in order for you, as well.”

“It appears that the boy we talked about the last time we met on this course had an impact on world events.”

“This is true,” Scott replied. “I understand the lad was present when your Premier met with a small delegation of ours a couple of days ago. Apparently, he made quite an impression on both our representatives. He appeared to have solidified the truce signed aboard the Lincoln.”

“Yes, indeed. I would love to meet this young man and get to know how he managed to ‘save the world’ from going down a most dangerous path.”

They both were interrupted in their conversation when someone behind them said, “Excuse us. Passing on your right!”

Two men and a boy ran by them effortlessly. Before they disappeared behind the next bend in the trail, the boy of 14 years of age turned back to them and smiled brightly. They overheard one of the men tell the other, “O’Hara, you’re going to have to do better if you’re going to out run Christopher and me!”

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