LATE OCTOBER. AIRBORNE OVER CENTRAL EUROPE, 11 YEARS BEFORE OPERATION NIGHTFALL
Jack Bauer drifted in and out of sleep as the Delta Airlines 747 jetliner sailed smoothly through the dark night sky at cruising altitude. Jack was used to planes, having traveled extensively with his father on his business trips and vacations around the United States and internationally but this trip was different. He looked around the mostly darkened economy cabin where most of the passengers were asleep. The computerized monitors displaying the plane's position showed them a somewhere over the Bavarian Alps of Germany but he could see nothing as he lifted the shades and glanced outside the window in the pitch black. Flying east what seemed like a dozen time zones and getting up at 4 AM in Los Angeles felt like forever, maybe even longer that it actually was. Jack had taken an early morning AirTran flight from Los Angeles to Chicago, then transferred to Delta for the second leg that would take him halfway around the world. His mind couldn't help drifting back, especially to the night before. He would have some serious decisions to make in his life, decisions most people his age had made already, but father's wealth and the Bauer family's privileges had afforded him more time. But in the next few months, as his final tour of duty in the United States Army ends he would have to make a decision that would determine the rest of his life.
THE NIGHT BEFORE – BAUER RESIDENCE, SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA
Jack had just walked to the printer in his room, getting his copy of his airline ticket when he got a Facebook alert on his phone. Please let this be Marilyn, he thought. But no such luck. Jack had many girlfriends throughout high school and college but Marilyn was the one he had grown the closest to. She was the one had accepted him and his style, surfing in large waves on the California coast even when the lifeguard stands were closed and shuttered, riding his motorcycle a speed on the tough curves along the Pacific Coast Highway or weaving back and forth between cars on the Harbor Freeway. She could even put up with his stubbornness and his hot headedness. Yet they had grown apart after Jack's military assignment took him to other parts of the country and the world. But that message was just one of his friends posting on his wall, telling him to have a good trip, and to be careful in the Middle East. Another friend thanked him for serving the United States and doing his part to defend the free world.
"I'm not even going into a combat zone," Jack wrote back on his phone "but thanks for the support." While the battles against radical Islamic terrorists raged in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, Jack’s final deployment was with a small U.S. contingent in Israel. Yes, it wasn’t exactly quiet there, but the locals handled most of the threats that came up, and the Americans were there mainly to serve as advisors and as backup during special emergencies that might arise.
He walked down the stairs into the opulent living room of the Bauer mansion. It seemed his father Philip had definitely had Jack's life all planned out for him. Philip Bauer was a leading member of Los Angeles society and of the wealthiest men in California. His company, BXJ Technologies, became a Fortune 500 company less than a week after it became publicly traded on the NASDAQ and stocks had shown considerable growth, especially in light of new military conflicts around the world. Unlike his brother Graem, Jack had always felt out of place in this environment. Something about the lifestyle he had grown up around was empty. He wanted adventure, to see the world beyond beach resorts, first class section airplanes, and fancy motorcoaches.
"Jack!" Philip Bauer called out, emerging from the pool deck. "C'mon. We need to have a talk, especially cause I know we won't be speaking much once you're abroad."
Philip had a serious tone in his voice, though not as harsh as he could be. Jack knew his father was disappointed in him, having not already been like Graem and chosen to enter his family's business. Jack walked out through the screen doors and into the crisp, dry, Southern California night. It was quiet except for the chirping of crickets in the bushes scattered throughout the yard and the trickling waterfall that formed the end of the mansion's sparkling outdoor swimming pool, lit up in the bright turquoise color at night.
"Yes, dad?" Jack says simply, stepping out onto the deck overlooking the pool. He knew this was going to be another lecture, another one of those pressure sessions about where he was going in life.
"Jack, one of the things your grandfather taught me was that you always plan for the future, as far ahead as you can, because you never know what to expect."
Jack maintained his silence and let his father continue. "I know I've been through this before but every time it's more urgent. BXJ Technologies has been in this family for 20 years. It defines who we are. The growth we're seeing is unprecedented. Even I'm amazed by the kinds of DOD contracts I've been able to obtain, won't be around forever, and as much as I love your brother, he can't run things on his own."
"Dad," Jack replied, "I promised you I would think about that, and I will." Though in truth his mind had been drifting more and more away from BXJ Technologies.
"You've had a lot of time to think, Jack. I don't think you recognize how fortunate you are, being born into this family. Many kids out there, like Sam's, can't afford to spend years exploring what they want to do with life. You wanted some adventure, some time to discover yourself, I gave that to you. I paid for most of your tuition at UCLA so you can major in English literature, you wanted to do that online program at Berkeley for your criminology Masters, fine. Wanted some adventure in the Army, you're doing there now. I was hoping all that would finally get all that restlessness out of your system. But it's time to understand your destiny, Jack. Your destiny is with this family, with our company. Everything I've built from the ground up, this is my dream, Jack, and it won't be complete without you."
"When I wanted to discover myself, dad," Jack told him, "I couldn't guarantee that the person I found is the one you had in mind. I mean no disrespect to you, Graem, or to this family but I need to go my own way. I need to discover who I really am."
"You spent the last five years discovering it, Jack! You're going have to come into the real world," Philip said, taking a puff on his expensive Cuban cigar. "This assignment in Israel is your last before your discharge from the Army. The real world is knocking and you don't have much time."
Philip started to walk away but then paused. "I'm going to be transparent about something you probably know already. I'm disappointed in you Jack, I really am. I want you to think long and hard about things when you're over there. Don't let me down, son. Don't let our whole family down."
BEN GURION INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, TEL AVIV, ISRAEL
"Wake up, buddy!" the American businessman next to Jack nudged him and Jack jerks awake. The seat belt sign had been turned back on and as he opened the window cover he was greeted by bright sunlight.
The pilot's voice came on the intercom, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking, we are now on our final approach into Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport. Local time here is 10 AM, temperature is 83 degrees with scattered clouds. Please make sure your seats are in their full upright position and that your seat belts securely fastened. On behalf of our entire crew here at Delta, we would like to welcome you to Tel Aviv or to whatever your final destination may be."
Jack could feel the plane's landing gear come out as the jet made a wide turn over the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and Jack saw Tel Aviv's downtown skyscrapers as well as the modern suburbs surrounding the city. There was a lot of history in this region, particularly in Jerusalem and Biblical towns like Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jericho, now under Palestinian Authority control, but Tel Aviv itself was a modern metropolis. Large parts of it looked more like Southern California than the Middle East. Within minutes, the Delta Airlines plane had docked at a jetway at the international arrivals terminal and Jack immediately stood up to stretch his legs, even before the seats in front of him cleared and he made his way into the airport terminal.
Jack saw the long line at customs and the security checks as he got his two large suitcases from the baggage claim. Ben Gurion Airport had a notorious reputation for strict security, and regular travelers to Israel knew to expect at least ten times the amount of scrutiny experienced at American airports, even after the new TSA rules went into effect. However he hoped his American passport and military ID card would help. The luggage scan and the body scanner weren’t too different than what he had experienced at LAX, Jack thought to himself. As he waited at passport control he took out his phone and checked his emails. Still nothing from Marilyn, nor any text from his father checking on him and asking about his flight.
"Next, sir," the airport security officer, wearing an Israel Defense Forces uniform said, motioning him forward. Lost in his thoughts he hadn't even realized that the people in front of him, a group of pastors and deacons from a black church that had been on his plane, were already done being processed.
Jack nodded politely and handed the man his passport. The security officer took a look at his picture, taken several years ago and definitely showing a California surfer look and looks at him, then flips over a few pages. He looks at it for a long time, then said something into his radio.
"Please step aside, Mr. Bauer," the man said in a commanding tone of voice. All pretense of politeness was gone. "Wait here." Two other IDF soldiers, a man and a woman, both no older than Jack, approached him. "Follow us." Jack was taken into a back room, a barren place that looked like an interrogation area. "What's going on?" Jack asked innocently. "Can I help you?"
"We need to ask you some more questions," the man said. "Tell me about yourself again." "My name's Private First Class Jack Bauer, United States Army, it says right there. What more do you need?"
"We know who you are, and we're asking the questions," the female guard said in an abrupt tone of voice. Jack sighed. He had just landed and this was not going well.
"Is this your first trip to Israel? Is this your first passport?" she asked with authority. Jack's frustration began to rise. She was definitely younger than him, maybe not by that much, but she was just a little girl to him. He was tired of putting up with shit all day. Now he was stuck, while his commanding officer, Captain Christopher Henderson, was waiting outside to pick him up. He wasn't about to be talked down to by these two conscripts.
"Yes it is," Jack replied impatiently, "And I don't see the relevance of that question."
"We decide what's a relevant question," she said. "What address are you going to be staying at when you're here?" Jack noticed that she was also staring at some printouts and some X-ray images of his luggage.
"I don't know. I'm with the US Army, people from my base will be picking me up, this is my first time here, am I not convincing enough?" Jack snapped.
"You were flagged for many reasons," the male soldier told him, "It says here that you flew to Riyadh twice in the past year. What kind of business did you have there?"
"I was stationed there at the King Khalid military base. I flew home to visit my family. That should be obvious."
"We'll decide what's obvious," the girl said as they opened up his luggage and went through it carefully. They typed his info into a computer. "It also says you attend the University of California – Berkeley even in your service. That campus is notorious for its political activism and its hostility to Israel. Online program, but still. you have any alternative reasons for being here in this country?"
"Look this is bullshit," Jack said, "And as a US citizen and active duty military I don't have to put up with this. You're....even with that uniform getting to your he you're just some girl fresh out of high school. In America you wouldn't even be allowed to buy a fucking beer. You remind me of a Chihuahua, like that little Taco Bell dog, trying to act like a pitbull."
"You're definitely not helping yourself here," the man told him, "We have the right to refuse your entry to Israel. Or even to place you in detention. Not one, but two flights on Saudi Arabian Airlines to Riyadh, not on US military transports. Was there something you wanted to hide?"
"No!" Jack growled, "We don't get luxuries like that when we get statewide R and R. US carriers stopped flying to Saudi Arabia after the Dhahran barracks bombi Stop wasting my time. Once I get my superior officer on the phone you will regret this."
"There's no reason for this," their commander said, coming over. "My name is Sergeant Shapiro. In addition to your interesting travel history we found a suspicious device in your jacket." He showed Jack his suitcase. "This flash drive was hidden in the side pocket."
Jack was silenced. He had no idea what it was. Then part of him began to panic. "We will have to analyze this. Put him in holding."
THREE HOURS LATER
"Jack Bauer," Sergeant Shapiro said leading Jack back into the interrogation room. "I was right about you. You wear that uniform, but I don't believe you really s for it." He took out the flash drive.
He put it in a laptop and turned it around so Jack can see. "This is what our security experts decoded from the flash drive. Can you explain this?"
The screen showed a video of Habib Marwan at a rally where Islamic terrorists are flying their guns into the air and shooting American and Israeli flags. Then Jack was shown the schematics to an apartment building. Jack was silenced, then Shapiro got up and handed Jack a cell phone. "It's your commander." All the IDF personnel left Jack alone in the interrogation room.
AMERICAN FORCES FACILITY, ISRAEL
"Captain Henderson, sir," Jack began respectfully, "There must be some mistake. You know me, I trained with you at Fort Riley. I don't know....."
"Yes, a mistake indeed," Christopher Henderson replied from his office, a utilitarian affair with few decorations except for some flags and insignias for the United States Army and some pictures of US military equipment. "Weren't too careful with your luggage, were you, Private Bauer?" Within the Army, Christopher Henderson had a reputation for being a smartass and having unconventional ideas, especially his mind games. He was loved by few, hated by many, but grudgingly respect by all. With years of combat experience in Vietnam, Panama, and Desert Storm as well as covert operations around the world, he was one of the division's most skilled operators.
"So this was just some kind of joke?" Jack asked. He was not only angry, but embarrassed, and couldn't even show his outrage to his superior. "Sir, they made a fool out of me just it was all some kind of joke."
"It's not a joke, it was an official real life training simulation. Our Israeli friends wanted to test their security protocols at the airport. The soldiers on the ground knew nothing about this. It's comforting they're doing their jobs well, it means at 7 PM tomorrow evening, a truck bomb will NOT bring down a 10 story apartment building in Haifa. Our CIA friends stateside wanted to run an operation sneaking materials covertly aboard civilian airliners. They practice at LAX and O'Hare, but these skills can be used in the field in Moscow or Beijing. I'm sure you fell right asleep the moment the airport cab picked you up in Santa Monica. Driver even offered to carry your bags for you. Do you even remember what that driver looked like?"
"I should have been more careful, sir," Jack told him, a sense of embarrassment coming in. "I will perform better, I promise, Captain Henderson. I'm sorry to ha kept you waiting."
"Oh, I'm not waiting, nobody's waiting. I'm at base HQ at the American compound. I'm sure you'll manage to find your way here. Report to my office immediatel upon arrival. Welcome to Israel."
Son of a bitch, Jack cursed to himself.
IBRAHIMI MOSQUE, GAZA STRIP, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
"There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet! Allah akbar! Takbir! Allah akbar! Death to the Zionists! Death to all infidels! Glory and victory be to Allah!” Imam Amjad Ravid screamed into his bullhorn as the congregation followed, ending the Friday prayers at one of Gaza's largest and most radical mosques. After the prayer service though, three men remained in the mosque, walking into an inner courtyard usually reserved only for the imams and sheikhs and, at certain times, members of the Palestinian leadership. There was much infighting and jostling for power within the various Palestinian factions that ruled the territories, but this mosque where the leaders of the PLO, Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah all came to pray and meet, and discuss the jihad all have sworn against the State of Israel. The three men remaining in the courtyard were Imam Ravid and two of his most devoted followers, Mahmoud Al-Harazi and Nakkash bin Rahal.
The Ibrahimi Mosque, partly renovated and expanded with money from wealthy Persian Gulf oil sheikhs, showed its age, especially the old part of the compound which was built by the Turks when the Ottoman Empire ruled all of Palestine, yet it still seemed to rise like a faded jewel above the dilapidated, crumbling cinder block apartments and bazaars of Gaza City. Imam Ravid was not Palestinian by birth. He was the son of illegal Pakistani aliens in Dubai and had joined al-Qaeda several years ago as he discovered his family's faith. After fighting alongside the Dawn Brigade in Chechnya, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and ISIS in Iraq, Ravid came to Palestine to join the ultimate jihad to retake the holy land and liberate the Temple Mount in the name of Islam.
Amid the poverty and hopelessness of the Gaza Strip, Ravid found an easy following, especially given that Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood had already laid a foundation radicalizing the young men of Gaza, especially of the refugee camps. In the local narrative, the existence of Israel was the reason for their troubles and dejection and the barrages of rockets and waves of suicide bombers sent across the border on a regular basis was simply the response. It was here that they found Mahmoud and Nakkash. Both grew up on this skewed narrative. Mahmoud and Nakkash had known each other since they were three years old. They grew up together playing soccer and selling candies on the litter-strewn streets of the Jubailya refugee camp and the cluttered, graffiti-sprayed bazaars of Gaza City. They also experienced tragedy together as one day, as they went about their errands together, an Israeli Tomohawk cruise missile hit a Hamas rocket factory buried a block from their parents homes. Four city blocks were vaporized in seconds as the Hamas arsenal detonated. Nakkash and Mahmoud's parents and siblings were among the 76 people killed.
Instead of blaming Hamas for deliberating placing a weapons cache in a crowded neighborhood, the local propagandists and the liberal international media portrayed it as a wanton attack by the Israeli military. Amid their grief, they found comfort in the mosque and its Islamic madrasa, where Imam Ravid gave them food and shelter and taught them the Koran. Ravid also taught them that their experiences were shared by Muslims throughout the world, and that their enemy was not only Israel, but the entire West, which occupied the holy sands of Arabia on which Mecca and Medina stood. Ravid spoke of his time in Dubai, that prosperous city on the Persian Gulf that had turned its back on Islam and sold its soul to the West. He told them of foreign prostitutes walking the streets of Dubai, of the fancy shopping malls filled with decadent Western products, of large nightclubs where Arab and Muslim women in scantily clad clothing filled their bodies with alcohol as they danced to Western pop music. Islam was under attack on all fronts, and the only way to restore the glory of Allah was through jihad, or holy war. Ravid then preached about the rewards of paradise, the 72 virgins that Allah promised any man who died fighting against the kafirs, or nonbelievers.
"The time has come," Mahmoud Al-Harazi said to the others. "The shipment and men crossed into Israel from Aqaba, Jordan yesterday on a truck with diplomatic plates. They will join the men we already have ready inside Israel."
Nakkash Bin Rahal held his Koran tightly and nodded. This was the moment he had been waiting for. All the training, all the trips to Afghanistan, all the struggles he had faced, pointed to this. "It will take us a few months to get everything in place, make sure the enemy's plans have not changed. But inshallah, we shall strike a great blow for Islam. Allah will watch from his throne in paradise and rejoice at what we will accomplish."
"I am proud of you, sons, and I am honored to bless this mission." Ravid said softly then all three men bowed their heads as Imam Ravid chanted a Koranic prayer and asked Allah to bless their operation. "We beseech thee, Allah," Ravid said toward the end, "Grant us victory in your name, the most Merciful and in the name of your prophet Muhammad, peace be unto him. Allah akbar."
"Allah akbar!" the men all repeat.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL
Jack was still fuming, though not as badly as he walked out into the parking lot of the airport. At this point the sun was already low in the sky given that it was October already even though it was still warm. I need to take it easy, Jack thought to himself. Being hotheaded like that had often gotten him in trouble before. Jack was in a foreign country, and he was there as an active duty member of the United States military. He represented not only himself, but his uniform, and the country he served. It was nasty for Captain Henderson to play this trick on him, he thought for a while, then he forced himself to calm down. It was actually quite a clever operation, Jack had to admit.
He thought back to his training at Fort Riley, Kansas. They would do mock battles, infiltrating terrorist compounds, rescuing hostages, even retaking a hijacked airliner. But all those were really staged. Here, all three sides had to do their job. IDF's security forces indeed had to screen every arriving passenger at the airport and perform luggage checks and interrogations to the best of their ability given that Israel was one of the most targeted countries by international terrorists. Sneaking materials on board a commercial flight is something an intelligence operative might also have to do in certain circumstances and he was sure some trainee in Los Angeles or Chicago was getting a pat on the back. As for him, he wasn't careful enough. Like Henderson said, it wasn't just about you, it's also about your luggage. Hence t reason people who don't "look or act like terrorists" are still subject to random TSA checks at American airports, Jack made a mental note to remind his friends. Of course terrorists liked to use those who would arouse the least suspicion. What better than a US Army soldier?
Jack went to currency exchange and got some Israeli shekels in exchange for his American dollars and got himself a Coke at a vending machine outside an airport terminal then looked for ground transportation. Thankfully the signs were also in English in addition to Hebrew. He checked the timetable and found a bus stop where a city bus would be departing for the district where the American facility was in thirty minutes. He was supposed to be with his unit hours ago. All this was getting to him, his conversation with his father, his detention, the fool that Henderson had made of him. Above all he was angry at himself for falling into one of Henderson's traps.
Jack was walking across a small parking lot, adjusting his sunglasses in the bright Middle Eastern sun when a Ford Focus came to a stop several feet away, pulling over to the shoulder on the airport loop. An attractive young woman got out of the car and jogged a few yards over. She was dressed in jeans and an American Eagle t-shirt and wore a pair of sandals, but Jack recognized her as the young soldier in the interrogation room.
"Private Bauer, right?" she asked. It was like she was a totally different person compared to earlier. She had an easygoing smile and a friendly demeanor. "Yeah," he said in a tired voice. "But Jack would do."
"What are you still doing here? I thought your unit would have sent someone to get you."
"Not Captain Henderson," Jack replied, "I deserved it though. I did make a fool of myself."
"Me too, I guess," she said, "Looks like I need to work on making myself more convincingly tough! Gotta give it to you, actually Jack. That Chihuahua thing was actually really hilarious"
"I do owe you an apology, you did a good job back there" Jack told her, slightly embarrassed now. His anger was completely gone now, and for some reason he found his mood lighten up. He had hoped to serve his last tour in Europe or Asia, someplace cooler, but there was something about this girl that started to turn his mood around. For the first time he noticed how attractive she was, with a slim body, her light brown hair tied up in a long ponytail, light green eyes, and some cute freckles on her face.
"No!" she said with a laugh, "I got a kick out of it. Seriously, it really cracked me up even though my friends there are definitely going to bring it up all the time. I'll probably never be able to live it down. Taxis are back there, by the way, you're going in the wrong direction."
Jack shook his head. "Don' t have money for a cab, didn't know things were so expensive here. Finally went through the currency exchange and managed to interpret the timetable for the buses. Route 24, leaves in half an hour."
"Make that an hour, It's always late, though it might be on time by American standards," she quipped. She paused for a few seconds. "If you're going to the US military facility in Givatayim, I can give you a ride. I live in downtown Tel Aviv, so it's on the way for me, less than a mile off the freeway."
"Are you sure?" Jack asked. He looked at all his luggage and thought was waiting another hour for the bus then chugging it all with him, then walking to the American military facility once he got to his final stop.
The girl popped open the trunk of her Ford Focus. "Just get your stuff in the back and hop in, it's no big deal, seriously. I won’t bite, I promise."
A local radio station was playing "Easy" by Rascal Flatts and Natasha Beddingfield. She turned down the radio and rolled up her windows and letting the AC cool air inside her car.
"Thanks again, Private....." Jack looked at her uniform in the back then remembered there was no English on it. "Private Friedman, when I have that on," she told him, "And Rachel when I don't. Nice to formally meet you, Jack." She offered her hand and Jack shook it, relaxing into the seat. "Likewise."
Rachel pulled into the afternoon traffic leaving Ben Gurion airport, picking up speed as the departures area and the parking garages sped past them as they approached the on-ramp for Israel Highway 1. The whole matter with his father and BXJ Technologies was pushed to the back of his mind. Part of him knew he wasn't strong enough to stand up to Philip Bauer and the destiny that had been planned for him. If that was the case, this was his last few months to live free, and he should make it count while it lasted. Little did Jack Bauer know the real destiny that fate had planned for him.