*** A waste dump near Washington DC ***
Garbageman Jed, nicknamed Pepperoni or simply "Pep" because of his food preferences, waved his arms to his colleague in the crane that was about to grab the huge container.
"I tell you, there's something in there! I hear sounds… scratching and knocking!"
"Maybe cats again", his colleague answered. It was spring time and they just had rescued some baby cats last week. If he'd ever find one of those people, he knew what he'd love to do with them…
"Or a raccoon. – Okay, let me have a look! Let's open the damn thing!" The rusty metal squeaked and cracked while the upper hatch of the container was opened. Thankfully, it wasn't an especially stinky junk, but only the 'normal' kind of stuff coming from offices. While Pep climbed up to take a look inside, the crane operator already got a glimpse of a human arm amidst the junk. From his position, he couldn't exactly tell, if the junk was falling or the arm was moving. And immediately an ugly thought crossed his mind. One of the boys claimed he had found a corpse once – did that disputable honor now fall onto him as well?!
"Hey, Pep, don't-"
But he was already on top of the container and spotted the arm himself. And it was moving, no doubt. He bent down, shoved some trash aside and discovered more of the person that had been buried within.
General Diane Beckman tried hard to keep her dignity and military earnestness, while she sat at the wobbly table in the breakfast cabin of the garbagemen, wrapped in towels and still dripping water on the floor. As she didn't know what had happened during the past day she thought it safer not to call the authorities or the NSA. The enemy might in fact have overrun vital areas – even though the radio in the cabin didn't mention anything besides the usual drabble. But terrorists were unlikely to broadcast their plans BEFORE, weren't they?! So there seemed to be a small chance she still would be able to stop the bad guys!
"Excuse me, do you have a phone around here?" she asked.
"Yep, of course… Ma'am! I'll go and fetch it!" Pep said, turned around to a row of lockers, but then snapped back, holding the just opened beer can in Beckman's direction. "Do you want a cold beer, Ma'am?"
"No thank you", she answered as politely as possible. "The soda is enough for now. But I'd need that phone."
"Sure, sure!" For some minutes, he dug through his belongings, and finally handed her an antique Nokia phone.
"Thank you very much!" Beckman dialed the specific secret number that put her through directly to the Oval Office. Some time passed. She sincerely hoped the President wasn't at some meeting or jogging in the garden! But finally the familiar voice reached her, already alarmed because she had used the emergency number…
The astonished Pep the garbageman heard things like "National Security compromised", "Arrest Stevenson immediately" , "Asap top clearance meeting", everything eventually crowned by a "Yes, Mr. President!" He wondered if he was probably in one of these Candid-Camera shows… Or if maybe that "24"-Marathon last weekend hadn't been that a good idea…
*** Flat Point Creek Airforce Base ***
Stephen Bartowski had been chained to the desk in the old operations central. The space in front of him was occupied by four computers, screens and various other high-end equipment. On the main screen spread bits and pieces of the intersect source code, useless so far. But they waited for him to finish the giant puzzle of which only he, Orion, knew the code of completion. On another screen, he saw life footage from different corners of the country, showing eagerly waiting adepts of the new age. He shivered and clenched his fists.
"You should start working, Mr. Bartowski." The icy voice of the woman startled him, but he didn't turn around. "You have already lost your son; wouldn't it be a pity of you'll lose your daughter as well?"
His stomach cramped. I wasn't hiding well enough, not far enough! I didn't go far enough to protect them!
"The faster you work, the faster you're reunited with your loved ones. See it that way!" She placed a memory chip in front of him. "This is the contribution from one of our members. You remember Ted Roarke?"
Stephen felt yet sicker and angrier.
"He can't wait to see the truth blossom, just as I do. And just now he's paying your daughter a friendly visit… So… get to work!" Her last words were whispered into his ear. Then he heard her high heels clack away. He stared at the chip, the data on the screen. His mind was empty.
Behind him, the "bouncer"-type growled: "Get to fucking work! It's fucking hot in here and I don't wanna sit here forever!"
A desperate thought crossed Stephen's mind. Maybe, if I enrage those watchdogs enough that one of them kills me? It might not work with Vincent, though… but that other guy… that other guy seems nervous and angry and easy to provoke. God help me! "And what do you think you'll get in reward once this is over?"
"Do you think they share anything with the likes of you?"
"What's that supposed to mean, eh?!" Slowly, the bulky man rose from his chair. "Getting smart?!"
"Do you really think they pay you the big bucks? Oh, you don't know those people. For them, you're a no-brainer, someone they laugh about. And you-" A hairy hand grabbed Stephen's shoulder and he involuntarily fidgeted.
"Calm down, man." Vincent stepped in between. "You can finish him after he's done here."
"Watch out I'm not finishing YOU first!" the "bouncer" hissed.
"What about fetching some water, before we start to melt? I saw a box with bottles standing the in the next floor, right behind the entrance door."
The grumbling continued for a few more seconds, but then he huffed loudly, just as a volcano that finally erupts in an explosion of only vapor. "Okay. And I'll have a smoke, too."
Vincent nodded and gestured to the door. "Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on the professor."
A moment later the door closed behind his companion and Vincent took his seat again, looking around casually before fixing his glance at Stephen's back. Two of the computers were equipped with webcams to monitor Orion and thus, the things going on in his back as well. Vincent estimated their angle and then, without looking, he retrieved a tiny device from his trouser's pocket. Carefully, his index finger moved over the controls in the silvery casing. A little blue light started to blink.
And suddenly, the content on Stephen's main screen started to change… the code froze, a new window detached from its center, filling its empty blackness with new text. And the man codenamed Orion stared, held his breath… and then whirled around to face Vincent. Pure astonishment.
Vincent's suppressor equipped H&K targeted him. "Get to work!" His voice was as stone cold as his glance.
*** An apartment in Charleston ***
The five people had acquired the empty apartment to set up their base. On the outside, a sign still tried to attract new tenants. One of the heavily armed men stood guard next to the window, the other next to the door. Their three companions sat on camping tables in the middle of the room, focused on their laptops.
"Dammit! I can't get in!" One of them murmured in his native Kenyan dialect.
"What?" The guy from the door asked in Arabic.
"Can't get access!" He repeated, now in Arabic as well. The other two cyber terrorists nodded. "It's somehow blocked. We tried the access codes Stevenson gave us but-"
"That bastard double crossed us!" A long nasty, especially colorful Arabic curse followed. "Never should've trusted a man who's ready to betray his country for money!" He spit onto the floor. "Can you hack in SOMEHOW?"
"I already tried," a young, fair haired man answered. He was a math genius originating from Bosnia and one of the most valuable members of the organization. "Every time I manage to slip something into the network, it is nullified a few seconds later! It's… it's… I've never seen something like that before! As if someone's waging a counterattack right now, spread across the whole network! All my access points are blocked!"
"That's not possible!" The boss grabbed him, yanked him away from the table, took a look himself and was – of course – just as helpless, when the command lines deleted themselves and were replaced by other code frame work. He cursed again. "And Ismal is in the air already! – Majid, give me that radio unit!"
"But we can't contact him now! If the network isn't down, the NSA will monitor every frequency!"
"TRY to bypass the mainframe! Dammit! TRY something!"
*** Meanwhile / Near Washington DC ***
The small aircraft approached the suburbs of the Capital. Inside, a black clad assassin named Ismal waited impatiently for the lights of the city to go out. He shot a glance at his watch. They were damned close already and still nothing had happened! He wondered if he was about to be set up by his own comrades… Nervously, he checked his night vision gear and arms again. The parachute was fine as well. Only the announced black out was missing!
*** In Nevada ***
Agent Casey sped on, the police car with its shrieking alarm siren close at his wheels. He tried to shake him for minutes now, but the officers had remarkable driving skills! Casey had stolen the sports car right from under the nose of its owner and they drove way above the regular velocity. But what choice did they have?!
"Maybe we … could stop and explain everything", Chuck said from the rear seat, both hands clasped around the grips at the doors. "I mean, we're the good guys!"
"We don't have time for that! Every minute we lose because we have to explain something to somebody and he checks back and forth with his superiors or OUR superiors gives the enemy more time to pull it through! AND, if the NSA is compromised as well, we'd alert the enemy!"
"Look out! Construction site!" Sarah yelled.
Casey veered out just in time, took a short cut through the greenery – the car made a tortured sound – and ended up on the exit they were heading to in the first place. He could only hope the police wouldn't install a road block ahead… If he recalled correctly, Flat Point Creek was only a few miles away now. They needed to cross some space – and some fences!
*** Flat Point Creek Air Force Base ***
Vincent heard steps approaching the operations central. So his companion was coming back! He stood up, took position right behind the door; in the narrow gap between the two webcams on the computers. The door opened and the other man felt the hard punch of a suppressor in his chest. The split of a second later he collapsed in Vincent's arms. He lowered him down, still taking care not to get into the camera's range and closed the door again.
Stephen took a deep breath.
"My son … isn't dead, is he?" he asked, turning around to see what was happening behind him.
Vincent cracked a smile. "I hope he and his friends are catching up with us right now. I left him a clue. – Focus on your work! We don't have much time until they figure out what you're doing!"
"You could've just told me!"
"I needed it to look convincing." Vincent answered while placing his various firearms and additional ammo in a strategic circle around his position behind the door. "And you've never been a very good actor! - Have you isolated the Trojan they use?"
"I'm inserting a destructive sequence into their code right now. But they're still on it. Who are those guys?"
"Project Termite. The real, dangerous, Fulcrum. They cut a deal with an islamist terror faction this year. I procured the code from one of their agents!" Again, steps could be heard from the corridor. Hasty ones this time. Vincent got his weapon ready. "I hope a little crossfire doesn't interrupt your focus."