24 Season Zero: Day of Reckoning

Chapter 12

STAGE AREA

"You, American!" Jack heard a shout and saw a Nigerian Muslim terrorist also on a separate catwalk. The terrorist screamed an Islamic prayer and opened fire with two machine pistols. Jack ran along the catwalk as the terrorists below also opened fire. Jack was backed up into a wall and fired furiously down below, hearing the firing from down there disappear as the gunmen in that position were either taken down or retreated. He noticed that the Nigerian Muslim was closer to him now, despite the catwalks wobbling.

"I am coming for you, kafir! I will kill you in the name of Allah!" the Boko Haram recruit screamed in his African accent, firing again. The Nigerian Muslim hurled a grenade across the open space separating him and Jack's catwalks. Jack caught the grenade and tossed it back just in time, rushing down a set of rickety stairs and taking cover. The terrorist tried to retreat but was swallowed up by the explosion, running around in flames and diving to his own death onto the backstage area below.

Several assault teams rushed through the auditorium, taking down all the hostiles wearing the explosive vests. Nakkash had already retreated but left a small contingent to fight to the death, including Sokolow who had volunteered to be martyred to advance the holy battle he had devoted most of his life to. Sokolow spoke quickly with Nakkash who ordered him to abandon the auditorium and go for a concentration of Israeli soldiers near the gym. Jack fired below, shooting down three separate terrorists. A fourth one emerged from behind the curtain but the soldiers fired two rounds through his back moments before he was about to kill Jack.

Jack finally reached the bottom of the stairs and found himself behind another set of curtains, where Nakkash's audiovisual equipment was set up. Despite his strength, Jack retched and threw up as he saw the decapitated heads of the executed hostages in a pile on the floor. He had heard about the executions of course but nothing could prepare him for the ghastly sight of these innocent defenseless children savagely butchered in the name of the terrorist cause.

"Bauer! I'm securing the auditorium now, you okay?" Henderson radioed. His men had already taken over the first floor of the auditorium but they were still taking intermittent fire from the upper gallery as the American soldiers told the hostages to take cover. Darius took a grenade and hurled it as hard as he could up into the upper level. They braced their ears for the explosion that was as loud as they had expected. There still was not guaranteed safety outside the building as Nakkash's helicopter and the group of Hamas fighters and allied international terrorists were still in control of part of the roof and taking out the chopper with an aerial strike was out of the question

"Close call there, but I'm fine, sir. It's clear this was where Nakkash was broadcasting from. It's a complete bloodbath down here, this is sick." Jack paused. "Any word on Rachel? She hasn't checked in with me."

Henderson didn't want to answer at first, having just received word of her situation.

"Sir? Is something wrong?" Jack asked again. A lump immediately formed in Jack's throat. It was over here, but what about her? He had promised her it would be okay, and she was the one who found the intel on the vests that saved the hostages.

"Bauer, she's alive, but she's been taken prisoner. We just received word they're taking her to the helicopter. My assessment is that they intend to use her as a hostage to fly out of Israel now that the Timur Sokolow plan won't work anymore."

"Sir, I'm going in pursuit to secure her. We can't let Nakkash leave this building with her!"

"Copy, team 2, the IDF team's heading up from the gym area to secure her. We're still mopping up inside the auditorium and escorting the hostages to safety in the cafeteria and adjacent classrooms.

SCHOOL MAIN OFFICE

"Looks like there's no sign of anyone here. They must have all gone to their other positions to fight back our assault," the Israeli team leader radioed to command as he and a colleague entered the principal's office, seeing the bodies of office workers and students strewn around the area. Suddenly out of nowhere, a silenced Uzi burst rang out. The team leader felt a sharp pain in his side as bullets entered him. The shooter obviously knew the placement of the vests. The other soldier took a round straight to the head. And the shooter would know, since it was none other than Timur Sokolow. The communist turned Islamic convert pulled out a knife and looked the team leader in the eye before slitting his throat, purposely doing it so he would bleed out slowly.

"Sir, the terrorists have Private Friedman. General Wasser ordered us to extract her. They are taking her to the roof, to Nakkash's helicopter!" a young soldier radioed.

Sokolow picked up the radio from the dying team leader and spoke in Hebrew, pretending there was poor reception "I...say again..."

The soldier repeated himself as Sokolow quickly began changing into the commando outfit of the first man he had killed in this room.

"Sir, we are ready," the soldier who had been on the radio said from the doorway.

"Good, after you," Sokolow told him in Hebrew just as he finished putting on his combat gear.

The Israeli soldier nodded and without warning Sokolow took his pistol and killed him with a bullet to the head. Sokolow thoroughly enjoyed this kill. Before he was enlightened by the truth of the Koran, he had killed Arabs and Muslims during the fighting in Lebanon, and he was filled with guilt whenever he thought of the days that advanced his career in the IDF. His only consolation was that the Hezbollah fighters his unit had gunned down were now in paradise at the right hand of Allah being doted on by the 72 virgins. These recent kills were for the glory of Allah. The men he shot were infidels whose presence on this soil the Arabian conquerers had claimed for Islam all those centuries ago was a deep insult to the Arab and Muslim people.

Sokolow then emerged in the office, his face barely visible in his gear. After all this team had been put together on short notice and they were probably not too familiar with each other and despite his Polish birth, Sokolow spoke Hebrew with an Israeli accent.

"Where is..."

"We were ambushed by an Arab but I took him down. We must move out now to rescue Private Friedman. The quickest way to the auditorium roof is through stairwell #3, follow my lead," Sokolow ordered the soldier, impersonating their dead squad leader.

The team heard the crackling of automatic weapons fire though it wasn't as furious as before. Of course there were more terrorists scattered around the school but some of them were trying to take cover and ambush the Americans and Israelis.

"We are approaching the roof, we should have Friedman secured soon," Sokolow radioed back.

As the six-man team entered the top of the narrow stairwell, Sokolow offered to take the lead, checking out the roof, like a good leader would. At the top of the ladder leading to the roof, out of view of the other soldier, Sokolow took out the suicide vest he had gotten off a dead terrorist earlier and manually activated it. He pretended to slip and fall off the ladder, landing in the middle of the clump of soldiers.

"There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger," Sokolow quietly mouthed the Arabic shahada, the most popular final prayer for holy martyrs, as a content smile spread across his face. With that, Sokolow pushed the manual detonation button. The explosion tore through not just the stairwell, killing the entire Israeli squad but brought down several classrooms, cement and beams slamming down into the first floor. Fortunately no hostages were killed though windows shattered hundreds of yards away and half the school seemed to shake on its foundations.

DEFENSE MINISTRY

"Here's a live feed of the drone footage," an IDF captain said as the grainy video of the school rooftop was broadcasted onto one of the main screens in the conference room. "The building suffered some structural damage from Sokolow's bomb but it's not in danger of collapsing. We have both Private Friedman and Bin Rahal inside the helicopter. Looks like they're preparing to lift off at any moment. Maybe Bin Rahal is waiting for some more surviving terrorists to join him before they take off."

"Good, that will be all." Doron said, looking at the men around him, including Ambassador Cornett before continuing after the soldier left the room. "I don't think it will be possible to secure Private Friedman before that helicopter takes off. I want the Apache positioned three miles east of the school. Whether they head toward Gaza, the West Bank, or Lebanon it will be in a position to take out the chopper pending your approval, Mr. Prime Minister. I can have General Malachi and his resources in the military intelligence section handle this so that it cannot be traced back to us."

"With her on board?" Weinstein almost exploded, pointing to Rachel's official military photo.

"Yes!" Doron replied forcefully. "Yes, look at that pretty young face! If Nakkash gets away with her, that face will be on TV every day both here and around the world while they hold her hostage and make more demands from our government. That is the girl who will be raped by Hamas terrorists every day and tortured for months or years, all of that recorded and sent to the news media unless we give in to more demands, and we are done giving in! They can use her as a bargaining chip when we go to Gaza to seek retribution for what's happened in Tel Aviv today. I do not need to remind you why Nakkash was released from prison after all his years of terrorism! It is worth sacrificing one soldier, a soldier who understands the risks, to prevent this from happening again! We both know we must never negotiate again so this is better for Private Friedman too! One way or another, she's dead. This way is quick and easy compared to the Hamas way."

"Does the Apache crew know one of our own is on board?" Prime Minister Weinstein asked, shaking his head.

"They don't, and even if they do, they are bound to follow orders," Doron said. "I don't know why we must spend more time debating this. I am trying to protect this government, Jakob. I am trying to protect you."

"Just get this done and do not ever bring it up again," Weinstein replied, "As far as I'm concerned I don't remember the conversation we just had."

Doron then turned to Ambassador Cornett. "And you were not paying attention to this either, you were distracted by something, or you had to step outside for a minute to take a call from Washington. Is that correct, ambassador?"

Ambassador Cornett couldn't believe he was hearing this. He could never imagine such a conversation happening in the Pentagon or the White House with American leaders, but over here in this part of the world they did seem to operate under different circumstances. He prayed that even as America dealt with increasing terrorist threats, it would never become like this place or any of the other countries he had served in during the course of his diplomatic career.

"Scott," Doron repeated again, going for familiarity. "What we are doing is terrible, it is ugly, I know that, but it is our only choice. Deep down you know that it has to be done, and besides this matter is not an international issue. This is an internal decision we are making for our own government."

Cornett nodded. "I understand your position, even though it is not how we would do things in America," he said simply. Logically, it did make sense from a tactical standpoint, sacrificing one soldier in order to make sure Nakkash's reign of terror was permanently ended and to save Israel from dealing with either a protracted POW crisis or having to surrender to more Hamas demands. But he thought back to the picture of that 20 year old girl and listening to her voice in those radio transmissions. It was partly because of her, along with Jack, that these hostages were being rescued and this crisis was coming to an end. He wanted to speak up, but even more he didn't want to challenge his hosts so openly as a new ambassador. His mind drifted to that future ambassador opening in Amsterdam and the Third World dumps he had served in for most of his career.

Plus there was no guarantee this young woman would survive her captivity in Gaza anyway. The odds certainly weren't in her favor, not by a long shot. At least that was what the ambassador told himself to assuage his own conscience.

BACKSTAGE AREA

"What was that?" Jack asked as he was knocked to his feet by the explosion.

"It was Timur Sokolow," Henderson replied after a long silence as everyone else was also in disarray and he first had to make sure the hostage rescue operation was still running smoothly. "He blew himself up, we don't know if he took a vest from a terrorist or if he had his own explosives."

"Shit!" Jack cursed. "What's the situation on the..."

Henderson knew what he was going to ask. "I'm sorry Bauer. That WAS the team going up to see Rachel. The helicopter is still undamaged, that area's fine, but with the rescue still going on and the hajis still putting up resistance in several parts of the building we don't have the resources to go after Rachel at the moment."

Jack was on his feet running in less than a second. It was probably one of the quickest and most obvious decisions in his life. "I'm going after her!"

"Bauer, no, hold on..."

Jack raced up several flights of stairs onto the third floor, to the hallway near the courtyard. The quickest way to the auditorium roof now was through the greenhouse and up another ladder. The area still had terrorists who were not in view in the initial aerial assault, but it was now or never.

GREENHOUSE

"Emir, I see someone here at the greenhouse. We are taking him down!" Bilal yelled urgently into his beeper. He didn't know if the movement he saw was Farad Zubaydah or an Israeli or American soldier and he didn't care. Whoever it was, they must be put down.

Jack almost ignored the muzzle flashes of the jihadis greeting him as he charged into the greenhouse. He managed to get in one shot as he rushed into the enclosure, shooting down a terrorist straight ahead. Bilal saw him and fired at Jack but missed. Bilal cursed angrily and motioned for his men to sweep the area. "Kill him!" he ordered simply in Arabic as he turned his weapon around again. Jack fired a long burst into one of the large water pipes leading into the greenhouse shattering it and sending scalding hot water falling down onto the terrorists. Two terrorists were overwhelmed by the water, flapping around in pain uncontrollably. Jack mercilessly pumped them both full of lead before they could get up. He quickly swung his gun to the right as he saw another jihadist take aim. Jack killed him with a quick round to the chest, sending him flying over some flowerpots and tumbling to the ground a short distance away.

"Ahhhh!" Bilal screamed as his own skin was badly scalded on his head and face. Jack hurled a throwing knife into the throat of a terrorist and opened fired in Bilal's direction but his opponent ducked, the bullets slamming into the glass panes of the greenhouse instead, sending shattered glass raining down on both of them. Jack saw Bilal trying to make a run for it and opened fire, but Bilal dove over a table in the greenhouse, rolling along the ground and reaching for another weapon. Jack emptied his clip in Bilal's direction but the terrorist was already out of the way.

"Dammit, that son of a bitch!" Jack cursed as he rushed toward the area where his opponent was. "I don't have time for this shit," he said to himself, Rachel's fate the first thing on his mind. Bilal let out a shrill cry and charged forward with a knife but Jack deflected the attempted stabbing motion and slammed Bilal into a wall and shelf filled with sharp plants including prickly pear cactuses. Bilal screamed in pain as hundreds of needles punctured his skin. Jack then followed up with a roundhouse kick that pushed Bilal to the edge of the greenhouse. For a few moments Bilal tried to regain his balance but was unsuccessful and fell backward, screaming as he plunged down to the courtyard far below.

THIRD FLOOR/ DEFENSE MINISTRY

"Jack, I'm issuing you a direct order as your commanding officer. Stand down immediately! Jack that's an order! You will do as you're told or I'll see to it that you are court martialed and given a dishonorable discharge, perhaps after a few years in the brig for you to reflect on your actions!" Henderson yelled at him angrily.

Jack knew something was fishy. Henderson and Wasser had been supporting him and Rachel this entire time, and now they were in a rush to extract him. He needed some answers, and he knew it wasn't going to come from Henderson, at least not easily.

"Goddamn it!" Henderson cursed, shaking his head. He stood up and violently pushed his chair back against the wall. He had tried his best to remain silent but his weakness, his consideration toward Jack Bauer ultimately took over. "Bauer, you're going to get yourself killed." He didn't add that he certainly didn't want the death of one of America's top business executives' sons on his watch.

"I owe it to her!" Jack shouted his reply into the phone. "I'm going to pursue them and get her back whether you want to help me or not. I'm not going to let her be taken by these bastards and slowly tortured to death!"

"That's not going to happen, and that's why I'm ordering you to stand down and await extract back to base." Henderson yelled in frustration. "It comes directly from the top of Israeli command. They don't want a drawn out POW crisis. You know the implications and the stakes. Son," Henderson sighed, hating himself for being open about this. He couldn't think of any other way to get Bauer to back down before he got himself killed. He had lost enough brave young Americans on this day and he couldn't afford to lose Jack, his most competent recruit as well as a hero once word of his exploits today went out. "They're not going anywhere with her. The IDF has orders to blow the chopper out of the sky before it enters enemy airspace. It's time for YOU to come home, Bauer."

"What the HELL are you talking about, Captain?" Jack demanded. He was outraged and at the same time could hardly believe it was true, like he had misheard something. "You're saying they're going to kill her?"

"Bauer, it's the best option they've come up with. I'm just a spectator here, it's their operation, remember that!" Henderson told him, trying to recover from his slip at revealing the plan to Jack. "They can't let Nakkash get away with what he's done and they don't want a drawn out hostage crisis that ends with Private Friedman raped and dismembered for the world to see or more concessions against these terrorists."

"Sacrifices must be made in war," Defense Minister Doron cut in in his accented English. "Your commander Captain Henderson has ordered you to stand down."

"Yes, Bauer! This is your final warning before you're charged with insubordination and dereliction of duty!" Henderson said sternly this time, "I WILL NOT repeat myself again. Stand down, soldier!"

"Like hell I will!" Jack screamed before angrily disconnecting the call. Jack's mind was spinning and at this point it was orders be damned. After everything they had been through, after everything they had done to ensure the hostage situation was successfully handled, after the courage both of them had shown, this was the gratitude coming from the higher ups. Especially Rachel who wasn't really trained for this kind of combat, with only basic firearms training, yet took it upon herself to do everything she could for the children trapped in the school. He was going to save his girl, and nothing was going to stand in his way. Henderson will probably keep his promise of court martialling him and giving him a dishonorable discharge but that was the least of his worries right now. He was willing to sacrifice far more than that for the girl he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.

HELICOPTER, SCHOOL ROOFTOP

The two burly terrorists dragged Rachel's weak body along the inside of the chopper and roughly shoved her to the ground in front of Nakkash. Rachel averted her eyes from the Hamas commander, fear and panic sweeping over her. How can this be happening? She listened to the sound of the IDF and US Army helicopters circling the neighborhood hoping a sniper bullet from somewhere would take out Nakkash but it didn't happen.

Nakkash grabbed her arm as she struggled. Nakkash gave her a brutal backslap across the face, knocking her into the window of the chopper before she fell onto the back seat. She could taste the blood oozing out from a cut in her mouth from the impact.

"Nakkash, it's pointless. Regardless of how many of us you killed today, it's over. You won't get away with this," she said desperately.

"I will, and that is why you are here." Nakkash told her with arrogant confidence. "I can tell you have not seen anything like this until today. You live in your bubble in Tel Aviv, taking selfies on your phone, trying on new clothes at the mall while we Palestinians and Muslims suffer oppression every day, as we watch your planes drop bombs and missiles on our mosques and on the homes of our freedom fighters. I watched my parents get dug out of the rubble when I was four years old. I watched brave warriors, men younger than you, shot and killed in front of my eyes by Israeli commandos before I could walk. Have you ever seen Gaza other than on TV sitting on your comfortable couch at home, eating a nice snack? You are about to see Gaza, Friedman. You are coming back with me to my world, and you will help me make sure I get what I want!"

ARIEL SHARON HIGH SCHOOL

Jack grabbed the radio off of Bilal and made a connection with Nakkash.

"Bilal? You made it?" Nakkash said in a surprised tone in Arabic.

"I understand you have a hostage with you," Jack said in English. "You should consider a trade. I'm the one you want."

"Who are you, American infidel?" Nakkash demanded angrily as he realized Bilal was dead too after all. He had lost far too many brave men on this mission, and the funeral processions for these martyrs would clog the streets of Gaza City for days to come, but he was well on his way to carrying out his real plan.

"I'm the one who made your day go to shit," Jack replied, then switched to Arabic. "You've also known me as Farad Zubaydah for most of today."

"You will show your face, coward!" Nakkash screamed, not just Rachel but even several of the terrorists wincing at his outburst.

"My name is Jack Bauer," Jack finally said. "I'm the one you want. I'm the one who killed your men, and I'm the one who can get you out of this country in one piece."

"What are you talking about, Jack?" Nakkash retorted, "Now that I know your name, my men will come after you. You will never be safe as long as you are breathing. We will put a price on your head and you will be a hunted target wherever you go. I swear you will never be free of this!"

"Nakkash, I'm coming up on the roof now. Again my name is Jack Bauer. My father is Philip Bauer, the founder and CEO of BXJ Technologies, one of the largest Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. My father has the ear of the American President. They WILL negotiate for me, much more than for Rachel. You don't need her. Let her go, and I will surrender myself to you in exchange. I gave up the Farad game, you can see I'm serious about this. Do we have a deal?"

Jack now approached the helicopter, which was clearly in view now, continuing to walk slowly toward it. He was greeted by a burst of gunfire and quickly flattened himself on the roof.

"Hold your fire!" Nakkash finally ordered the terrorist who had shot at Jack, then spoke into the radio. "Take off your fucking jacket and kick it away from you! Stand up with your hands in the air, take five steps forward and stop!"

Jack complied and Nakkash took out his binoculars, zooming in on Jack's face. He took out his PDA and checked Jack's profile against the information on Philip Bauer's family. Sure enough, it was a match.

"Are you sure about this, Emir?" asked Khattab.

"Yes, mujahid, it is certainly him. His father is an American businessman who supplies some of the weapons the Israelis use against us. BXJ Technologies is one of the largest military contractors in America."

Khattab nodded and pointed his gun at Jack. "Come forward now!" he barked.

"The deal was to release Rachel Friedman!" Jack shouted.

Nakkash grabbed Rachel and yanked her toward the door, waving his gun around before pointing it at her head. "Jack NO!" she screamed out to him through the noise. "Everything about us? All that stuff between us just wasn't as real as you think, Jack! It was just supposed to be fun. It was just an adventure to remember when I look back on my army days! Don't give yourself up, I'm not worth it Jack! Don't do this for me!"

Jack's mind spun in a million directions. Why was she telling him that now? His mind raced back to their time together. Their romantic dates, those times on the beach, those long passionate slow dances at the bar. Or maybe she was just saying that so he wouldn't surrender himself to take her place. It had to be that, he wanted to convince himself. He didn't know what was real anymore except that the girl he had imagined a future with was about to face certain torture and death, or at least an experience that would traumatize her even more than this day already had.

"Your girl will be released once you reach the chopper!" Nakkash shouted. "Do not test my patience, kafir!"

Jack stepped up his pace and reached the chopper and the terrorists began kicking and beating him, cursing wildly in Arabic as they thought of their dead brothers. Yet the physical pain was nothing compared to what was in his heart as Nakkash slammed the chopper door closed and Rachel sobbed in the clutches of the terrorists. They soon felt the aircraft lift off from the school and rise into the night sky.

"Why, Jack?" Rachel said through her tears, "You shouldn't have come for me!"

"Shut up, woman!" Nakkash hollered at her in his thick Arabic accent, his eyes wide with a fanatical expression on his face.

"You promised you would let her go," Jack said to Nakkash, his face twisted in rage.

Nakkash grinned arrogantly with an evil glint in his eyes. "The Koran allows using deception against the nonbelievers in times of war," he said, then nodded toward Rachel. "I also promised the mujahideen a little preview to the virgins of paradise to boost their morale and the promises to my fellow Muslims, those must be kept." He then gave Jack a mocking laugh as if to say "you pathetic idiot".

Jack could see Rachel visibly wince and tremor at hearing this. Despite not understanding Nakkash's earlier conversation with his men, Rachel knew what was most likely in store for her in Hamas captivity, but hearing it openly verbalized really made it hit home for her. A fire was ignited deep in Jack as he witnessed the woman he loved being threatened in such a fashion, by the same people who had taken over a high school of all places and beheaded children on live TV without any sign of remorse. Jack knew that all the talk about if only they could understand us, if only we could talk there could be peace was bullshit. If these brainwashed jihadists could spend the time with Rachel that he did, chatting on Facebook, driving along the coast listening to music, having a romantic picnic on a quiet hillside, their hatred would only increase, not decrease. The very idea of a free willed, independent woman who left her hair uncovered and liked drinking a few cold beers every once in a while, who wanted a job and an education and who served in uniform repulsed the jihadists to the core. There truly was no peaceful way of dealing with these people. They had to be defeated and annihilated, plain and simple.

DEFENSE MINISTRY, JERUSALEM

Moshe Doron dialed an extension on his secure satellite phone. "General Malachi?"

General Malachi, in addition to being Doron's chief military advisor, was the person Doron relied on for off the books operations that required plausible deniability. He was the one who got his hands dirty so that Doron's could remain clean. This usually involved covert operations in foreign countries but today was a special case.

"Yes, sir, Minister?" Malachi replied.

"I have some orders for you that you may find distasteful, but they are in the best interests of the State of Israel. As you know the terrorists at Sharon High School have captured one of our soldiers, a young woman. We cannot let Bin Rahal escape Israeli airspace with her. You will issue the command ordering the destruction of the chopper. We will make sure Bin Rahal is dead and avoid another POW crisis."

"Yes, sir. It will be done."

Doron hung up the phone and they watched the continued drone footage from above the school. Something caught Cornett's eye, another figure approaching the helicopter. "Wait, zoom in!"

Doron manipulated the image until they could see Jack Bauer being seated inside the chopper.

"Stop that right now!" Cornett shouted. Doron was silent at first.

"This matter concerns my government now. I insist that you call off the operation."

"Captain Henderson knows, he ordered Bauer to stand down, he is disobeying orders from his superior officers."

"Nonetheless Jack Bauer is still the son of one of the most prominent business leaders in the United States!" Cornett said, "Trust me you do NOT want to be explaining to the President of the United States and to the CEO of BXJ Technologies what happened today. You will call off the strike now or you will be explaining your actions to the President of the United States within the next 10 minutes!"

"Stand down!" Weinstein ordered, looking at Doron who looked very unhappy but complied.

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

The Chinook helicopter lifted higher up above the school and flew toward the south, first approaching the bright lights of downtown Tel Aviv and the heavily populated Israeli coast. The Apache helicopter from the Israeli Army banked to the left and saw it straight ahead.

"We have a visual, we are ready to engage!" the pilot said, not even knowing there were hostages on board.

"Negative," Malachi replied, "Do not engage. Stand down."

HELICOPTER - AIRBORNE OVER SOUTHERN ISRAEL

Jack looked at Rachel as they flew above the city, the voices of the terrorists seeming to fade away. Her head hung low in sadness and hopelessness. Her stunning green eyes, usually warm and playful, stared blankly ahead. It was a devastating look Jack had never seen on her before, not even in the past eight hours or so as they were trapped in the school with Nakkash's entire terrorist force trying to hunt them down.

"I know you're lying, Rachel, about us not being serious." Jack said even though he wasn't quiet sure of anything anymore. "You didn't want me to come after you, but you can't get rid of me so easily." He tried his best to lighten things up for her given the circumstances. "You know, even if this really is just a fling, now you know the measures I'm willing to take to make it last a little bit longer."

She wasn't in the mood for humor at the moment. "I screwed up, Jack. I got myself into this. Now they have even more leverage compared to if it was just me. You could have gotten out of this. That's what I was trying to get you to do, even if that meant making you hate me. I figured at least you'd be alive." Rachel paused for several seconds. "But thank you, Jack, for sticking it out with me. You'll never know how much it means to me, even if its probably a little too late."

"Hey, please don't think like that okay? You...you're a tough girl. You honestly really surprised me," Jack said softly, "We're going to find a way to get through this, just like we've gone through everything else today."

Jack's mind cleared a bit as the adrenaline from the battle wore off a little and he was able to think as the chopper continued heading south in the direction of the Gaza Strip. Rachel had been serious enough about him to mention him to her parents. And if she just wanted a temporary foreign boyfriend to brag to her friends and fellow soldiers about, she would have slept with him already instead of giving him the couch the night before. Everything pointed toward Rachel being genuine about her feelings for him, up to not wanting to rush into things too quickly. Despite her current condition, Jack knew Rachel was quite possibly one of the bravest people he'd ever known. Even as she dreaded her own fate, she tried her best to get Jack to turn away in order to protect himself.

"I just got off with Ihim," Khattab told Nakkash, referring to the local terrorist commander responsible for the section of Gaza City they were heading for. "They are ready for our arrival, and for the next stage in our mission."

Nakkash snatched Rachel's cell phone out of her pocket and handed it to Khattab. "Take a look through this. See if there is anything useful. " Khattab smirked and slid open the smartphone, also taking her military ID as Nakkash continued, "Find out who she is. This way her government cannot deny her existence when we announce her as our prisoner."

"What is the password, shamoota?" demanded Khattab. "Do not make me repeat myself."

Rachel found no reason to resist at this point. She had no access to any classified information and there certainly weren't confidential secrets on her phone. Khattab was able to read the mix of English and Hebrew on her phone as he went through her pictures and her Facebook account. Listed near the top were some of her pictures with Jack. Khattab smiled and showed the phone to Nakkash.

"This explains everything!" Khattab exclaimed evilly, showing Nakkash a picture of Jack and Rachel on a street together.

"Why of course," Nakkash said with a chuckle. "I knew it. I can never understand you nonbelievers." He looked at Jack and waved the phone in front of his face. "So, Jack Bauer, you would sacrifice yourself for her, for a woman you are not married to, for your temporary little cunt? Tell me, infidel, is this Jew whore's pussy such that it cast an unholy spell on you?" This filled Jack with an imaginable rage. Nakkash knew nothing about the nature of their relationship, the close friendship they had initially struck up, and their very decision not to rush into things too quickly. In Nakkash's mind, the very fact that two young people of the opposite gender would hang out with even other outside an arranged marriage was an affront to the Sharia laws. But then, of course, there was nothing remotely rational about radical Islam.

"I swear, you will not talk about my girlfriend that way. We chose to be with each other, cause, you know, this arranged marriage thing you still believe in isn't particularly trendy anymore. So no, I don't expect a deranged lunatic like you to understand." Jack spit right in Nakkash's eyes and the terrorist erupted in a rage. He sucker punched Jack in the stomach twice until Jack doubled over, then kicked him viciously, constantly attacking Jack like a rabid animal for more than twenty seconds.

"I thought you knew your position was obvious," Nakkash said to him, shaking. "I will not bow down before America, infidel. I am in charge, and you will give me the respect that I command. If you continue with your American arrogance, I will remove your fingers one by one, and still keep you alive so you are useful to us. And I will do the same to your bitch whore right here." Jack seethed in fury and had to bite his tongue to the point of tasting blood to keep from exploding at Nakkash again, for his own and Rachel's sake. Yes, Nakkash wanted them as hostages, but Nakkash was also so unhinged by his hatred that his stability couldn't be counted on.

Nakkash went through the phone further, hoping there was more intel, but realized that Rachel really was just a low level conscript who had no military ambitions besides finishing her mandatory service, in a peaceful environment no less. Yet she still had pictures where she posed with her fellow soldiers making goofy faces.

"I see that you are proud to be a soldier, are you not? Border controls? Airport security? Keeping Muslims off the land that was taken from us?" He was looking at one of her military pictures taken in the airport terminal, her, two more young soldier plus a pilot and stewardess from British Airways that they had become pretty good friends with.

"Every time I go on duty, I'm doing my part to protect the lives of innocent people, unlike you who takes pride in murdering children in cold blood. So yes, I'm proud of what I do in the army," she told him.

"Your people have stopped nothing," replied Nakkash, "You are all enemies of Islam, and Inshallah, you will all pay the price. What happened today, and what will be happening soon, is necessary. The day will come when the banner of Islam is raised over Jerusalem. You know I am ready to do anything and kill anyone to bring forth that day. Today, we will light a flame that will spread across the dar-al-Islam, and this flame will devour everything in it's path until we achieve Allah's victory."

"You Americans are stupid, Jack, to trust us," Nakkash taunted Jack. "We don't play by the same rules you do. We are not bound by your laws and standards. For example," he turned to Rachel again, eying her with a predatory look. "Even when you search us Arabs at the border crossings, or I guess in your case the airport you need to put a show of decency. Even when you have to disrespect our Muslim woman with patdowns at your airport. You do a lot of those, do you not? I am sure it is entertaining to you."

Actually Rachel only had to conduct pat downs of passengers only occasionally, and she was always respectful about it and indeed they had rules about how invasive security procedures were, but there was no point in answering his rant. Nakkash had never flown through an airport before anyway. He slithered around the tunnels like a dirty snake. "Now, it is time for me to demonstrate a Hamas security check before you enter our territory."

Nakkash's muscular hands went straight to Rachel's chest as he squeezed and roughly fondled her breasts. Jack slammed his knuckles against the side of the helicopter in helpless rage as Rachel recoiled in pain and disgust. Her natural female instincts took over and she headbutted Nakkash in the face, cutting his lip, causing him to let out a roar. Nakkash then grabbed her by the throat until she began choking, then finally let go. Rachel fell to the ground gasping for air. "So you are a fighter despite your spoiled, comfortable upbringing," Nakkash commented, licking the blood off his lips. "Looks like our mujahideen will not be disappointed at all. I am beginning to hope your superiors really do not negotiate with us too quickly. Even if nobody negotiates for your release, we will still keep your around for fun for a while before your are executed. Would be good for our morale."

Nakkash now spoke to both of them, motioning out the window. "Say goodbye to everything you know. We will be in Gaza in fifteen minutes. We don't care about things like human rights or democracy. To us, everything, the only thing, is Islam. This is why the jihad will triumph, Jack. And just so you know, you and your pathetic Zionist bitch did not fuck up my day, like you Americans would say. You only think you did." With that, Nakkash stopped talking to them for a while and the only sound that filled the air was the sound of the helicopter engines carrying them southward.

Rachel closed her eyes as there was nothing to see from their position anyway. She estimated that based on their flight time, if they were heading straight to the Gaza Strip, that they might very well be over the suburban coastal city of Rehovot now, where she had grown up and where her parents and older brother still lived. She cried at the thought that she might never see them again, that she would never again have dinner with them on that back porch on those lazy summer evenings where she could sometimes smell the sea breeze coming in from the Mediterranean, or sleep in her old bedroom with the desert palms from their little front yard waving in the sea breeze. Her brother had spent most of his military service along the Lebanese border and been in one skirmish against a ragtag team of Hezbollah fighters but was now helping his friend manage a cafe, his war days behind him. Yet her own ordeal might just be beginning.

To a certain extent Rachel still couldn't believe the past 12 hours were real. Everything was working out so perfectly. Everything about her life had been falling into place, her plans to pursue her dreams in America, finding someone who she really should might be the one, who was seriously considering settling down in whatever state she ended up in. Even meeting a potential new friend who went to WVU, if that was where she ended up going. Now she might never make it to Morgantown or anywhere else for that matter. She glanced at Jack whose eyes were expressionless as if wary that even a wrong look could send these terrorists into another wild fury. What hurt the most for her was that he had come along for her, and how his fate was probably the same or worse than hers.

"Emir! Mahmoud is on the line!" Khattab informed his commander.

"The package is safely in Gaza?" Jack heard Nakkash say, "Yes, make sure Ali continues to take all the necessary precautions..."

KHAN YOUNIS, GAZA STRIP

Instead of continuing to torment their captives, Nakkash and the other terrorists were speaking frantically in Arabic about some kind of weaponry. Jack heard the sounds of the Israeli aircraft fading away. They must have made demands to the IDF to stop their pursuit of the chopper. They rode in silence for most of the remainder of the flight.

Obviously Jack didn't have a good view out of the chopper but he saw the glow of Israel's string of coastal cities fade away into mostly darkness dotted with a small smattering of lights as they crossed into the Gaza Strip. He was able to catch a few glimpses of Gaza City's imposing mosque minarets and crumbling tenements as the helicopter began to descend. Instead of landing in Gaza City, however, the chopper continued south for a short while longer, approaching the sprawling, overcrowded Gazan town of Khan Younis, a massive Third World slum with overflowing sewers and trash strewn dirt streets and ugly cinder block homes seemingly built one on top of another.

Jack felt the chopper descend then the landing on a concrete rooftop. The doors quickly opened and Nakkash and Khattab were the first ones out, greeting the large army of terrorists on the ground. Jack could also catch a quick glimpse of his surrounding, the sand colored cement and tin buildings and yet more mosques. The stench from the open sewers was overbearing as the stench from these terrorists who bathed maybe once a week. They were about four stories above the ground and they could see armed Hamas members patrolling the typical Middle Eastern looking street below in Jeeps and Russian-made military vehicles with mounted machine guns and grenade launchers. The terrorist quickly herded them through a dilapidated, overcrowded tenement building and into one of the jeeps. Hamas murals calling for the destruction of Israel and the United States could be seen on several of the taller buildings, often covering an entire facade, as well as murals depicting masked terrorists holding automatic weapons with the Dome of the Rock in background. They were blindfolded and driven for about ten minutes to another location before their blindfolds were removed. It looked like they were in some kind of courtyard or assembly area.

"Move it! Yallah! Yallah!" Jack heard a man bark. This was Ihim, the local Hamas commander, a towering thug with a thick black beard with a green Palestinian kaffiyeh tied around his head. As they saw more of the roof and entered an outdoor stairwell, Jack and Rachel were met by even more terrorists. Nakkash followed them down for a while then grabbed Jack, ordering Ihim to place Rachel in a prison cell.

"Ah, Jack Bauer," Nakkash said. "It is time for you to call your father."


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