Jack darted across the hallway first to make sure there were no hostiles in sight, then motioned for Rachel to join him at the entrance to the cafeteria. Jack made a quick glance into the cafeteria and saw two terrorists standing guard, acting very fidgety but thankfully facing the other way. He showed Rachel his PDA one last time, mapping out the route she was to take toward the top of the gym while he was to approach the auditorium via the instrumental music classrooms where the Americans were being held.
"Two hostiles in here. Follow my lead through the kitchen. There's two exits from the kitchen heading in opposite directions." He checked the heartbeat sensors. "I'll keep the hostiles in the kitchen occupied. There's two of them in there."
"No, we should both….."
Jack shook his head. "I have this handled. Head up to the top of the gym, avoid contact with hostiles if possible and check in with the information on the terrorists' suicide vests. I'll be fine, believe me."
She finally nodded her agreement. "Understood, but you let me know if you need any kind of backup in case I'm in a position to respond."
"It shouldn't come to that, just keep yourself safe," Jack told her, giving Rachel a gentle squeeze on the chin. "Remember this is all that stands between us and the rest of our lives in America. Let's go get these bastards." They both stepped into the doorway to the cafeteria and fired silenced gunshots. The first terrorist was shot in the back of the head by Rachel and Jack shot down the other one just as he was turning around.
"What was that?" a voice said from the kitchen as they heard the bodies falling to the ground. "Faieez? Sohrab?"
Jack and Rachel both crouched under one of the lunch tables. Jack motioned for her to hide on the seats rather than the floor. "What is going on?" A terrorist came out and looked across the seemingly empty cafeteria filled with tables. "Faieez? Sohrab?" he called out again. "Where in the name of…."
Jack popped up and cut him off with a shot to the head. Another terrorist came out and saw his partner fall. The second terrorist immediately flattened himself on the ground and scanned the area seeing no feet. Jack reached below the seat and shot him once in the chest and once through the head, the terrorist's dead body sliding back toward the kitchen. "We're clear," Jack told Rachel as they darted toward the kitchen. Jack checked the heartbeat sensors one last time. "Okay, two men at the opposite end of the kitchen, I'll keep them occupied, you dash toward the nearest hallway access toward the gym section. Remember, find a secluded hiding spot up there and don't attract attention, the assault team will take down most of the terrorists. Try to get as good a look as possible on the make, model and serial number for the vests. There might be several different kinds for security purposes. Nakkash Bin Rahal might be a psychotic madman but he always makes sure everything's covered."
She nodded. "Okay, got it." They both went into the kitchen, Jack firing his gun down the far end as Rachel quickly went through, ducking as several bullets flew in her direction. Jack glimpsed Rachel going through the opposite doorway and focused his attention on the two hostiles in the kitchen. One jihadi needed to reload and improvised, hurling a meat cleaver toward Jack. The meat cleaver embedded itself in the wall right next to Jack but Jack was unfazed. He fired with his Uzi this time, gunning the man down in hail of bullets. The other terrorist charged and fired at the same time, forcing Jack to take cover. Jack took a shot and hit the jihadi in the arm. Jack's clip ran out.
"Dammit!" he yelled angrily and tossed the gun aside. Jack charged forward pushing a metal cart filled with food, using it as a shield as the jihadi opened fired again. Jack suddenly leapt up and grabbed a shelf connected to the wall, propelling himself forward and kicking the haji through the air. The haji landed on a hot cooking surface, burning his flesh and clothes and screaming in agony. Jack reached for his pistol, aimed it at the jihadist and splattered his brains on the wall.
Timur Sokolow saw the massive grounds of Ariel Sharon High School come into view as the helicopter flew over the sea of lights that was Tel Aviv's northern suburbs. He was worried that things were proceeding too fast, but they must have had a new faster protocol at the Dimona facility getting the nuclear warheads ready to their launch positions. Sokolow knew that his true nature might be revealed too quickly and prayed to Allah that they would be able to survive the new IDF and American assault that no doubt would come. He wanted all of these hostages dead, but knew that their priority but getting Nakkash out alive so they can complete what the task that had truly set out to perform on this day. But at least it would be closure, Sokolow thought to himself. He would either be in the arms of Allah or among his Muslim brothers in a new caliphate of which Palestine would eventually become a small part of.
Jack took out his heartbeat sensors and cursed. This was where the thirty or so American hostages were being held and it was impossible for the sensors to distinguish between friend and foe in there. Jack did know that the heartbeat patrolling the hallway along the recital rooms was a terrorist and acted accordingly.
Jack snuck up behind the man, a Somali jihadist, and grabbed his gun, shooting him in the knee. The man was about to scream in pain but Jack punched him against the wall and covered his mouth. "How many of your men are guarding the Americans?"
"Fuck you, godless infidel!" the Somali said, gritting his teeth.
Jack fired again, this time shooting the man in the shoulder. "I….will never talk! Go to hell, kafir!"
Jack grabbed the man and shoved him into a janitor's closet. He opened a bottle of cleaning solution and dumped it on the man, the Somali screaming in pain as the chemicals entered his open wounds. Jack then took out his pocketknife and brought it up to the man's cheek. "You will speak now, or I swear to God I'm going to cut your mouth open so wide you won't ever speak again." Jack made the first incision, going straight through the Somali's cheek into his mouth.
"Ahhhh…..okay…" the Somali jihadist said nodding desperately.
"Everyone does eventually break," Jack said to himself darkly, "Glad this didn't take as long as last time." He glared at the Somali with intense hatred. "I'm waiting for an answer."
"There are three men inside, two along the back and one in the middle, where the band leader stands…..whatever that thing is called." Obviously a Somali terrorist observing sharia law wouldn't even know about the basics about non-Islamic music.
"Thank you," Jack told him and shoved the pistol into the Somali's mouth. "Since Allah's so great, you probably won't mind meeting him now." He pulled the trigger and made sure all his weapons were reloaded before going back into the hallway.
Erika Rogers was definitely at the end of her rope. She was exhausted and emotionally devastated through the ordeal, the constant taunting by the hostage takers and especially by the death of two of her traveling companions just a couple hours earlier. She should have listened to her mom and her friends back in Ohio and West Virginia who had warned her not to come to Israel. She thought it was that typical American paranoia that grated on her sometimes. After all some people were paranoid about Mexico and Cancun was perfectly safe. The paranoia about a few cases of Ebola, the rush to buy guns after every shooting spree. Erika learned too late that ultimately, it was better to be too paranoia than too complacent. Paranoia might not be healthy and it certainly won't make you happy, but at least it kept you alive.
Suddenly there was a loud crash and the American she had recognized earlier charged in. She had thought both Jack and his girlfriend, the future Mountaineer she had exchanged Facebook info with were both dead. Before the shock could register, though, her ears exploded with the sound of gunfire as Jack shot down the terrorist on the podium and took the others by surprise. Erika covered her head and tried to take cover and in her peripheral vision saw a hail of Uzi bullets slam into another terrorist the man screaming briefly before collapsing forward and falling dead on the floor.
Erika felt a strong arm grab her by the her and yank her off the ground. She cried out in pain as she felt herself flung forward. It was the last remaining terrorist, a cruel Pakistani monster dressed in filthy Islamic rags. Erika tried her best to fight back, flapping around as the Pakistani held her in front of him. There was nothing human about this creature, he was like one of the Orcs in the Lord of the Rings movies. Erika saw the Pakistani's gun spit out a burst of fire. She saw Jack dodge out of the way and prayed that he was still okay. Suddenly she was deafened by another quick burst of gunfire. Erika felt a sharp pain in her ears and fell to the ground, but was surprised that the Pakistani had actually let her down. They she saw the Pakistani's body on the ground a few feet away, everything above his neck a mangled mess.
"Hey, you okay? Can you hear me? Everyone stay calm!" Jack called out.
"Yeah…..I think so," Erika said, letting the tears fall. "Is it over?"
"Almost. Listen to me, how many more are there in the practice rooms down there?"
"Two, I think, they come and go."
"Any more hostages in that area?"
"No," Erika told him. "Thank you…..Jack. And Rachel, is she alright?" she asked in the West Virginia twang she's begun to pick up from her time in Morgantown.
"She's fine," Jack told him, hoping it was really true. "Stay down, all of you."
Jack opened the doorway to the narrow corridor with the practice rooms off to the side. He rolled two grenades and heard several screams as they both exploded. Jack charged through the smoke, seeing that all the terrorists in there were down except for one who was recovering from the shock and reaching for his gun. Jack shot him to death before he could pick up his weapon. Up next was the auditorium.
Rachel used her own heartbeat sensor and saw there was only one terrorist coming toward her from around the corner. She checked the time on her phone and knew that Timur Sokolow's chopper would be here at any moment and they were waiting for the assault to begin. I still have the element of surprise, Rachel thought to herself. She popped around the corner and the jihadi coming in her direction indeed was shocked by the encounter. Rachel took her silenced pistol and fired a single well-placed shot straight into the terrorist's heart, killing him instantly.
She then went up into the mechanical room and accessed the elevator shaft, climbing up a ladder toward the upper levels of the school. She almost reached the top when she heard some movement down below. A terrorist must have seen his dead comrade in the hallway. Rachel cursed herself for that oversight. She should have taken her time to hide the body. Well it was too late now, she thought as a terrorist also entered the elevator shaft from below, shouting in Arabic. He caught a glimpse of Rachel and opened fire, the bullets echoing up and down the shaft.
"There is someone up there, a woman!" the first terrorist shouted, then spoke frantically in Arabic into his phone.
"Die, bitch!" the second terrorist screamed, unloading his AK-47 in her direction. Rachel quickly shot out the four elevator cables, sending the elevator crashing down the shaft. The free falling elevator hit the first terrorist and then the second, sending them crashing down into the bottom and then crushing them in a loud boom. Rachel heard footsteps entering the broken elevator as a terrorist went to examine what happened. She pulled the pin off a grenade and dropped it down the shaft. The blast tore open the elevator and splattered the haji below into a dozen pieces.
AUDITORIUM – BACK STAGE
"What are you saying there was a woman in the shaft?" Nakkash demanded into his phone, "Did a hostage escape? Was it one of the soldiers from the previous assault?" He didn't remember any female soldiers from the last failed rescue operation. "Answer me!" By then the two terrorists were already at the bottom of the shaft with the elevator on top of them.
"Bilal, go check it out! Brother Timur is almost here , we only need to hold off for a while longer. Make sure there are no more surprises!"
"As you command, Emir," Bilal replied and headed out of the auditorium, taking another terrorist with him.
"Khattab, stay here with me, make sure nothing gets through here until we are ready to retreat!"
"Are you sure?" Defense Minister Doron spoke into the phone and confirmed something in Hebrew. He finally turned to the other men gathered in the conference room. "We have a much worse problem that what is going on."
Cornet looked up from the table. What could be much worse? The Prime Minister motioned for him to speak.
"Minutes ago, one of our military convoys carrying the mobile nuclear warheads was ambushed in the Negev Desert. They knew we were coming. All the soldiers on the convoy were killed and six of the warheads are missing."
"Six?" Weinstein demanded. "How in blazes did this happen?"
"It happened thirty miles outside of Dimona. They terrorists demolished this bridge here," Doron briefed them, pointing to the map. "That is before the weapons were to be dispersed to their different launching points. As difficult as it is to accept, there must be a traitor at the highest levels."
"You think so?" Prime Minister Weinstein asked sarcastically. Cornett's mind was already preparing what he was going to say when he got in contact with the Pentagon.
Doron looked at the other map showing the location of Timur Sokolow's helicopter flying west toward Tel Aviv. "It must be Sokolow. He is intimately familiar with our nuclear readiness protocols in a situation like this. Nobody else had the kind of access that he does."
"I want his flight recalled back to Jerusalem immediately!" Weinstein ordered, "I also want an immediate search of his office here."
Neither Cornett nor the Israeli leaders he was dealing with could fathom how this was possible but the evidence was beyond dispute.
"Sir, he was the one who advocated for the weapons to be moved out of Dimona!" Doron exclaimed, "This all makes sense now. Bin Rahal's demands that we retreat from the Golan Heights and West Bank, he knew the Syrians would advance and we would want to go on nuclear alert in response to their army's advance. Sokolow planned this the whole time!"
Minister Doron's chief advisor, an IDF general named Malachi, rushed into the room and slammed a Koran on the table. "This was found in Chief of Staff Sokolow's office. I don't think it was meant to be found until Nakkash had already left the school with him as a 'hostage'."
"The terrorists in the Negev must have attacked the convoy earlier than they expected," Doron said. They all stared at the Koran and shook their heads.
"We need to launch the operation at the school immediately and keep he situation under control," Doron said, "The go-ahead is effective as of this moment."
AIRBORNE OVER TEL AVIV
Timur Sokolow answered the radio transmission from the Defense Ministry. "Yes, Minister?" he asked innocently, still putting on his act.
"You can take off the mask, Timur. This government should never have trusted someone with your background, the son of a radical Communist. We should never have let someone with your background immigrate to this country. Well we know the truth about you now," Doron said.
"And what do you know about me, Moshe? You think you did me a favor, allowing me to come from Poland after your American allies destroyed my country, thinking you assimilated me into this culture of capitalism and imperialism? This is a neocolonialist state just like America, and Hamas is fighting for the path of justice and righteousness. The only truth, Moshe, is the Koran. The only path is jihad."
"You will turn around immediately or you will be fired upon," Doron told him as an Israeli Air Force interceptor flew toward the area.
"You are a foolish man, revealing all your tricks," Sokolow said as he activated two heat seeking missiles from the helicopter controls. "I promise all of you, today you will see the triumph of the jihad." The two missiles flew at hear sonic speeds toward the interceptor plane. The Israeli Air Force pilots saw the warheads on radar and took evasive manuvers, banking to the east and releasing a large amount of chaff. One then two missiles struck the chaff, two large fireballs flashing across the night sky.
"We should try again," Doron said.
"Sir, we've missed our window with Sokolow's maneuver. He is now over densely populated areas and will be until he lands. We will get him, sir, don't worry."
US ARMY CHINOOK HELICOPTER
Just like deja vu, Lance Sizemore thought as the Chinook helicopter lifted straight up from its staging area in the residential neighborhood next to the school grounds. He clutched his AR-15 assault rifle tightly as the aircraft banked first to the west and increased its altitude to dampen the sounds of its rotors as it prepared to drop the soldiers off at the school for the final assault. Ideally, it would be a HALO jump but they were not Special Forces and with the timetable they had to work, getting another aircraft and Navy SEAL team from a major American base simply wasn't an option so they had to make do with what they had. Lance was filled with rage and determination as he thought of what he had experienced and witnessed on this day, his first taste of battle. Four US soldiers had died during the assault assault on the military base and three more during the botched rescue operation, horribly burned alive beyond recognition in the sewers that the terrorists had rigged with explosives. Now there was his friend Jack Bauer down there, who had managed to hold out for almost eight hours now along with his new girlfriend. More than a thousand innocent children were still being down there, including 30 American citizens in their late teens and early 20s. Well, if there was any of them that could survive down there, it was Jack Bauer.
Christopher Henderson made sure the teams made their final checks. "Drop point in 2 minutes. Our target is the auditorium while our Israeli friends led by General Wasser is going for the gym."
"Has Bauer or his girl gotten back to us on the detonators? We don't want the hajis imploding the entire goddamn building on us," Darius Greene asked and commented.
"We're still waiting for that info, but regardless its a go. Look we've trained for this. We're out of time. With Sokolow's betrayal and no way for Nakkash and his men escape they're preparing to detonate the explosives anyway. Of course I'm still counting for Bauer or Friedman to give us a lucky break, but in any case we're going in."
"Y'all ready?" Sizemore yelled, nodding at his fellow Americans with confidence and quoted from his favorite Toby Keith song. "We're put a boot in your ass, it's the American way!"
"Hoo-ah! Fuck all these hajis! I'm ready for some payback!" another young soldier yelled.
"HOO-AH!" the others all shout, all pumped up for battle and revenge.
The team of twelve Americans jumped out of the Chinook in the midnight sky more than thousand feet above the rooftop of Ariel Sharon High School. They switched on their night vision goggles and saw the shadows of the opposition on the rooftop. There were six terrorists since Nakkash had obviously beefed up his sentries on the outside after the losses they had taken from Jack and from the previous rescue operation. Henderson stayed behind for a bird's eye view of the battlefield while Darius motioned for Lance to draw his attention to two terrorists at a machine gun mount facing the soccer field on the opposite side of the school while Darius himself held his fire until they were in closer range.
The terrorists' attention was focused on the line of military vehicles at the edge of the athletic fields. Lance aimed with his sniper rifle and shot one of the terrorists at the machine gun emplacement through the back. His comrade looked in shock at the body dropped dead but before he could respond, Lance also felled him with another bullet. Darius and another American opened fire on a group of three terrorists, killing all of them before they could get a single shot off. More silenced gunshots rang out and the rest of the Hamas fighters on the school rooftop dropped down dead like flies.
"Southeast quadrant, clear!" Lance radioed to the rest of the team as he scanned the area, seeing no movement. On a different roof, the one above the auditorium, they could see the Israeli Air Force helicopter piloted here by Sokolow where several Hamas fighters standing guard around it. Their orders were to stay clear of this area, and they better move fast before the helicopter guards realized there comrades from the rest of the roof weren't checking in anymore.
"Southwest, clear!" Darius radioed as well.
"Okay, prepare to enter from the maintenance stairwell to the side of the auditorium," Henderson ordered from the helicopter, as he checked another US soldier manning the heavy machine gun on the aircraft. "Await final check from Bauer and Friedman." Henderson breathed in deeply. "C'mon Bauer, git it done, son," he said to himself, though he wasn't exactly the praying kind of guy. Yes, his guys were well trained thanks to himself, but if even a single suicide vest detonated, that could mean dozens of dead hostages and losses among his men. He didn't even want to think at the moment about the US military operating in Israel against a Hamas force, even if Nakkash did have recruits from around the Muslim world. That would be left for the politicians to sort out. It was his job to fight the real, physical battles.
ABOVE THE GYM
Rachel broke another window and went onto part of the roof that was hidden from view, away from where the terrorists were patrolling. The top of the gym protruded above the rest of the school building and Rachel hoped to get a visual of the terrorists below.
"Bauer, Friedman, we're out of time," Henderson said, "The assault will begin in two minutes, ready or not."
"Sir we don't have the intel yet," Jack asked as Rachel also listened on the open line from her separate position. Henderson couldn't reveal the nuclear threat yet, or the new discovery that the school siege was simply a diversion for the real threat. Henderson knew that with Sokolow's cover blown, Nakkash will most likely order the destruction of the school and attempt to escape the scene.
"The reasons are classified, Jack," Henderson told him, "What I CAN tell you is that Chief of Staff Sokolow is a mole working for the terrorists and they were going to fake his hostage taking to leave the country. The assault team led by Sizemore and Greene have already parachuted onto the main rooftop and neutralized all the terrorists up top except for Sokolow's chopper which sits directly above where the hostages are being held. But you both have two minutes. Make it count."
Rachel hung up and went into one of the skylights at the top of the gym. She saw the helicopter coming in for landing above the auditorium instead, glad that luck was on his side for now. "Okay, I see four hajis with suicide belts, they're very close to the stands. If the airborne teams drop in through the central skylights they should be able to take them down."
"Do you have a visual on the vests?"
"I'm trying to do that now….." she took her binoculars and zoomed in on one of the terrorists, then another. "Okay, we have two models of explosive vests on the hajis. I'm snapping a picture of each and sending them to you now."
Henderson was impressed. Maybe they had caught a break since they truly were out of time. "Keep me updated but send Jack those pictures. We can only go for a rough visual now. We have to take the risks."
Rachel certainly didn't like that answer but she trusted their commanders, given that they saw the battlefield from above and knew everything that was going on. After all, it was their call. "Okay….um…the serial won't be visible on a picture but here…" She scanned it with the binoculars again.
"Okay, the first vest design uses North Korean explosives and detonators, must be from the black market. The Korean lettering is large enough to make out," Henderson said, " We know what the design is. The other is Russian, naturally. We need the serial number for that one."
Rachel zoomed in further, ignoring the incomprehensible Russian lettering.
"It should be to the top right of the Russian letters," Henderson told her.
"Okay, I see it now. It's 5-6-7-0-9-1."
"Good work, that's all we need. Stay low, rescue is one the way, repeat stay safe."
"Understood, sir," replied Rachel, panting.
Henderson nodded from the drop plane flying above the scene. "The jamming signals are being activated now. We have sixty seconds before the explosives reboot into a new sequence and frequency."
Jack hoped that the commotion down by the elevator kept the terrorists occupied as she fired a silenced gunshot into a locked door, entering a service corridor leading to the catwalks above the stage. He silently stepped onto the catwalk, glad that it didn't creak. Below he could see several terrorists gathered in the backstage area behind the curtain, including Nakkash Bin Rahal himself. Nakkash was walking around frantically and screaming commands into his phone and motioning widely with his hands.
"They know about me!" Sokolow said in Arabic as he ran from the helicopter, leaving the rotors turning. "We need to get more hostages to make our escape. They know about…."
"We have the timing planned perfectly!" Nakkash shouted angrily, "What in the Prophet's name happened at Dimona? Were the routes changed?"
"No, they must have new protocols but it's too late now."
"If they know about the nukes they will not care about these hostages," Nakkash said. "We need to grab some and hope it works but I am ready to martyr myself. Mahmoud and Ihim know the backup plans for the weapons."
Nakkash radioed his men. "Detonate the vests in thirty seconds. Allah akbar."
The terrorists said their final prayers and reached for the detonators, yet nothing happened. "The signal…"
Suddenly the central skylight exploded with glass raining down onto the gym floor. Several airborne Israeli soldiers parachuted down and fired their weapons down at the targets below, killing three of the suicide bombers within seconds of each other. The fourth bombers cursed, realizing the signal was still jammed and raised his weapon to gun down as many of the students as he could. Before he could fire, a bullet slammed into his forehead.
"Gym is clear!" radioed the leader of the assault team. Two terrorists opened fire from another corner of the gym and the soldiers shot one of them down as well. Another jihadi fired a rocket at the skylight but the IDF troops were already well below it. Within seconds, all the terrorists in the gym were dead and the soldiers began securing the hostages.
However the rocket missed the skylight and slammed into the gym ceiling, collapsing part of the roof, including where Rachel was. She felt the concrete give way and quickly rolled toward a safer position just as a large chunk of the roof caved in, falling on the gym floor and not on any of the bleachers. Rachel thought she was safe but then the ground beneath her feet gave way. She fell through the roof and landed on one of the metal beams supporting the gym structure, except she was now above the empty auxiliary gym, away from the American soldiers.
At this moment Bilal emerged several yards away, also stepping on a beam. Bilal raised his weapon and fired in her direction, Rachel covering her head and ducking behind another beam, almost losing her balance. It was a thirty foot drop to the hard wooden basketball court below. Rachel fired back with her Uzi, managing to get Bilal to take cover as her bullets slammed into the beams around him. Bilal fired again and Rachel lost her weapon, hanging onto the beam with both arms, her feet dangling precipitously in the air.
"Bilal, what is your status?" his radio suddenly said.
"Emir, I have the shamoota pinned down! She is an IDF soldier! I am about to finish her off!" Bilal radioed his commander.
"We need her alive as an alternative hostage!" Nakkash ordered. "They know about Timur. The enemy is assaulting the auditorium as well. Take the bitch and retreat toward the roof. Timur's helicopter is still above my position."
Bilal's eyes flashed with hatred as he approached Rachel.
Rachel felt completely helpless as he saw Bilal approach. There seemed to be no humanity or reason in this man. There was nothing but an unholy, feral rage etched on his bearded face. "It's over, you know that! Our people are here!" Rachel screamed at him, despite knowing deep down that there was no reasoning with these terrorists. "Killing me won't make a difference!"
"It does make a difference to me! Unfortunately the Emir has other plans for you!" Bilal shouted. At that moment, several US soldiers entered the auxiliary gym from below and Bilal grabbed Rachel, holding her at gunpoint. Rachel wanted to fight back but couldn't given their position. "You will stay there, you Jewish sow, and follow my commands if you wish to live!"
Bilal fired several warning shots at the soldiers below. "Stay back or I kill her! I swear to Allah!" The soldiers complied and Bilal quickly retreated back through the corridor with Rachel.