24 Season Zero: Day of Reckoning

Chapter 16

IMAM'S OFFICE

There was a loud crashing sound, then the large glass windows overlooking the mosque's inner courtyard disintegrated into hundreds of pieces, the shards raining down on the imam and the others in the room as they took cover. The TAC-288 sniper bullet hit Jack in the back and he immediately collapsed to the ground, both Rafi and Minaj looking at him in shock then out at the shattered windows. Three more bullets from Rachel's sniper rifle entered the room, one of them smacking the wall next to Minaj who crouched behind a sofa, still holding onto Ismail. The glass vase on the imam's desk also shattered as did another window by the courtyard.

Minaj went toward the broken window firing furiously with his M-16, the sound of gunfire echoing across the wide expanse of the Ibrahimi Mosque. "You bastards!" he yelled in Arabic at the unknown targets, firing outside the window in the rage. Yet more bullets slammed into the office, one of them almost hitting Rafi.

"Shit, it must be the Hamas reinforcements. I told them to hold them back!" Rafi yelled. He looked at the imam and saw a victorious smile spread across the unholy man's lips.

"You're coming with us!" Rafi said and shouted to Minaj. "We need him as a hostage!" Bullets from another source also began impacting all over the room as they herded the imam toward the stairwell Jack had come up. Another bullet struck the railing, then the gunfire centered in one them.

Across the way from their position, Rachel reloaded and fired another eight bullets into the imam's office, several of them narrowly missing the CIA agents.

"We need to leave them!" Rafi screamed to Minaj as he continued to fire his gun out the window. It was clear that the gunfire from Rachel and the other sources were concentrating on the stairwell. They both glanced at Jack's motionless body on the ground.

Minaj shot Ravid in the foot and angrily dragged him to the stairwell, shoving him down, the imam painfully turning over several times as he tumbled down to the landing where Remy's body was sprawled. Rafi followed but more bullets slammed into the wall in front of him.

"Dammit!" he shouted and turned back, crawling along the floor. They were forced to retreat through the other stairwell as Minaj continued to provide cover fire.

IBRAHIMI MOSQUE / QISSARIYA MARKET

Ravid cursed in Arabic as he attempted to get up and his broken feet and legs gave way. "Remy! Remy!" he shouted, checking his head of security for a pulse, but the French Algerian's large eyes stared sightlessly at him.

Ravid grabbed Remy's cell phone and immediately dialed the Palestinian security detachment assigned to protect the mosque. He received confirmation that Hamas had indeed dispatched additional Palestinian police reinforcements to the area and that they were most likely engaging the Americans.

"I do not want the Palestinian police! We need real Hamas commandos!" Ravid screamed into the phone, "The Americans are here! They have killed many of my men!"

"That is all we can spare, imam!" a Palestinian police chief said through the phone, "You need to hold them off with the help of my men who are already there!"

He next call was to Nakkash, who was still pacing around the narrow walkway lined with copperwares and other kinds of pots and cooking utensils within the Qissariya Market.

"Nakkash, is everything still secure? Everything is fine?" Ravid asked nervously, panting uncontrollably, the pain from the bullet wounds and beatings obvious in his voice.

"Yes, Imam," replied Nakkash, looking outside at the crowded market where several Hamas terrorists stood guard inconspicuously. The presence here was notably less numerous and less visible than around the mosque or in Khan Yunis. "You sound like something's wrong, what happened?" he asked with concern.

"The Americans were here! They attacked the mosque! They almost killed me, they…."

Nakkash's eyes narrowed. "Was it Jack Bauer? He and the Zionist sharmoota, they were there?"

"Bauer was here, our men shot and killed him but there are others! He came with Palestinian collaborators, they were blasphemous Crusaders! At least one of them was from the illegal church that we burned down. They tortured me, threatened to kill Ismail and desecrate his body with pigskin! Can you believe that they dare do this? I need more backup, what the police are doing is not enough!"

"What did you tell them?" Nakkash asked immediately, "You resisted the pressure?" He silently thanked Allah upon hearing word of Jack's apparent death, but the Christians working for America could still be a problem.

"Yes, Nakkash, thank Allah the reinforcements came on time before they could question me more! I told them you are at the Islamic University! They believed me! We must send some people there to wait for them and kill them! Inshallah, they will pay for this!"

"I'm glad, imam. Allah has truly answered our prayers. Jack's people will never get to me in time. I will call Mahmoud and see what forces he can spare to relieve you."

"Hurry, Nakkash! Jack shot me, I cannot walk, I need to get to a hospital!"

OUTSIDE THE IBRAHIMI MOSQUE – SEVERAL MINUTES LATER

"Son of a bitch, I knew it!" Jack said as he and Rafi both listened to Nakkash and Ravid's conversation on the phone. Jack had placed the listening device on Remy's phone before charging into the office and securing Ravid. There was also a remote tracking device that he hoped was working and homing in on Nakkash's true location. The sniper fire unleashed on the imam's office was simply cover for them to pretend they were compromised by Ravid's men so they could realistically leave him in just the right spot for the trick to work. Jack, who had a Kevlar vest over his back had been in control of the situation the entire time. Of course Rachel had repeatedly questioned the necessity of actually shooting him, even in the Kevlar, but Jack insisted it was necessary to make it as convincing as possible since they only had one shot at this.

Jack spoke into his radio again. "Rachel, Merina, good work. We're leaving the mosque now. We need to make sure our egress route is secure."

"Okay," Rachel replied, obviously short of breath. "Dammit, Jack we have incoming hostiles from the northeast. It's the Palestinian police that they mentioned on the phone. They've arrived in three vehicles, they're approaching the mosque on foot."

Close to ten of the Palestinians fanned out in the ruins surrounding the mosque and into the mosque itself. The police captain led the way into the mosque with several men, gasping as he saw the trail of dead bodies Jack and the CIA agents had left throughout the area. Fear that Jack and other American agents were still in the area caused them to advance slowly around the two courtyards approaching the imam's office.

"I want you to secure the sanctuary, make sure Imam Ravid is okay." The captain looked up at the minaret and saw a weapon hanging over the railing, its owner obviously dead. "I'm taking that position up there. We have snipers in the surrounding buildings that our colleague are trying to clear. I need that vantage point."

Jack glanced two Palestinians advancing through a deserted hulk of a building and hid behind a column at the mosque. He motioned for Rafi and Minaj to be stealthy, then all three men came forward at once, quickly shooting down both Palestinians silently. Another policeman approached the position where Merina was, but Jack saw this.

Merina zoomed in on another hostile making his way through the rubble and fired a single shot through his brain. Suddenly a round of AK-47 fire slammed into the wall next to Merina and she quickly rolled out of the way as more hostiles opened up. She fired her Desert Eagle in the direction of the gunfire, the hostile dodging out of the way. Minaj charged forward, opening fire and getting the cop's attention. The Palestinian cop squeezed off two rounds at Minaj, both of going wide. Minaj returned fire with the M-16, killing him with a long burst to the chest, the Palestinian disappearing behind a pile of rubble.

The Palestinian captain now reached the top of the towering minaret, opening the small weapons cabinet located inside. Obviously this mosque was built with armed defenses in mind. The captain chose the only sniper rifle in there, an Iraqi Tabuk model that was part of an arms shipment from Saddam Hussein years ago. The captain crouched inside the minaret and moved his scope around, scanning and zooming in at all the nooks and crannies in the demolished buildings across the way. There was nothing at first. Cowards he thought angrily, thinking of all the men he and Ravid had lost. Suddenly, a flash of light caught his eye, then he looked down and saw another one of his men fall dead in the middle of the street.

The captain zoomed in at where the flash was last seen and saw Rachel crouched in her position trying to acquire more targets. "I have you now, you shameless woman," he said aloud to himself as he got her in his sights. "Too bad you won't know who killed you.". Rachel was completely oblivious to the imminent threat facing her. As the Palestinian's finger reached the trigger, however, a bullet from Merina's gun slammed into his brain, his dead hands dropping the rifle over the edge of the minaret.

Rachel looked in shock as the Tabuk rifle landed with a thud on the ground. "You're clear, Rachel," Merina said. "I have you covered. We're ready to retreat now. Jack and the others are almost back in the van."

CIA VAN, SHUJA'IYYA DISTRICT, GAZA CITY

Nobody wasted any time to be on their way, the van pulling away from the hidden alleyway the moment Jack's shoes left the pavement as Minaj floored the accelerator. He wanted to make good time here in Shuja'iyya knowing once they hit the less damaged commercial heart of the city they would have to slow down to avoid attracting the unwanted attention from the Hamas authorities.

"Is the trace and wiretap still working?" Jack said, panting from the exertion from his mosque experience and coughing from the dust and heavy particulate matter the van had picked up.

Rachel pushed him hard against the wall of the van, Jack shocked by the impact. "Don't EVER make me fucking do that again!" she screamed at him in a mix of anger and distress. Jack remained silent for a few seconds as Merina took off her headset and played the audio so that everyone in the van could hear. It was the conversation between Ravid and Nakkash on Remy's phone, which Jack had bugged. "What if I missed, or if the wind direction changed? I could have killed you!"

Jack's breathing slowed as Minaj turned the car onto Omar Mukhtar Street, one of Gaza City's most prominent east-west thoroughfares which connected the teeming slums of Shuja'iyya with the city's coastal district and port area. "Like you saw, there was no other way to get the information we needed. You know what he was able to withstand in Pakistan. As you can see, he was even willing to risk his own son's soul for his cause. I trusted you and your skills enough to take that risk, setting up this plan." Jack told her.

She shook her head and gave him an annoyed sigh like she really needed to clear her mind. "You….you give me too much credit, seriously! It's like you weren't even scared. How can you be like this, Jack? You….you were like a machine, I was watching you!" She continued to scream at him, clearly distraught. Minaj stared at the street ahead while Rafi and Merina tried not to judge her on her emotional outburst.

"I'm very scared, Rachel," Jack admitted, "I may look calm but inside I'm as fucked up as you are right now. I just force myself to hold it because I'm even more scared of what will happen if we don't get to Nakkash in time. And if I act nervous, it's only going to make everyone else around me more nervous. I'm going to have a hard time dealing with this when it's all over, but if we can get through today alive, we can survive the aftermath."

Rachel calmed down a little. "I'm glad you're a normal person," she said in a sarcastic tone without thinking. She immediately began to regret her choice of words and cringed at how it probably came out, but their nerves were all shot. She didn't know how much more of this she could take, from being shot at for hours, then kidnapped and almost raped, and finally being asked to fire a sniper bullet right into Jack's back and not miss his Kevlar vest. Yet she couldn't even bring herself to think about what the next few weeks would be like. There was right now, and the chaotic Gazan streetscape passing by served as a clear reminder of just how deep in the woods they still were. She was afraid, and she was angry. Angry at the situation, at the bloodthirstiness of the world around her, at people like Nakkash and Ravid who needed hatred to get them through their days.

"I try to think normally," Jack told her. "For the past 20 hours or so people have been trying to kill me. The best sharpshooter in the IDF trying to NOT kill me sounded like a good deal."

Rachel also stopped hyperventilating at this point. "I swear, Jack, I do want to kill you sometimes." She rolled her eyes at him a little, but what came next from her was just a slight, very weak smile as the entire perspective about Jack's plan at the mosque just sunk in. Of all the crazy shit they'd done that day, that was probably the safest, most controlled part. Probably even safer than that girl in the iron globe at the circus with motorcycles driving all around her. Jack thought that was a cute look on her face, but decided to wait for a better time to mention it to her.

Merina also jolted her mind back to the current situation. "Trace should be coming on soon….don't worry, Jack, the satellite takes time to process it, even if they hang up down, the conversation's long enough for us to get an updated location."

GIVITAYIM IDF BASE

"That's it," Jack said into the phone in a relieved tone of voice, "I got their position nice and clear." He was already thinking of how their extraction out of Gaza was going to work. Sure enough, there was a bright green dot on the new PDA Jack held in his hands, on an English language map of downtown Gaza City. "It's confirmed Ravid was speaking to Nakkash, just to verify we're showing Nakkash on the third floor of a building in the Qissariya marketplace about four clicks north of our current position."

The men gathered in the Pentagon and in the Givitayim operations center in Tel Aviv all had the same coordinates on the map. "Roger, our voice recognition software confirmed it, that's Nakkash Bin Rahal all right. He's on the third floor of the market property."

"Is the air support from Incirlik in range? Or any drones? Let's obliterate that son of a bitch and call it a day," Jack said. This was finally over, he thought.

"There's one problem, Jack," Henderson's voice replied, "Yes the Air Force is right off the coast of Beirut now, but its not as simple as firing a guided missile on top of Nakkash's position."

"Sir, what are you talking about? The nukes are already in the air. With all due respect and I don't say this lightly but this is the worst time to be worrying about collateral damage right now! I don't need to remind you, sir, of the hundreds of thousands of American men and women in uniform all across the Gulf will die!" Jack shouted into the phone. "We need immediate extract before the whole of Gaza comes here. We're outnumbered and outgunned and we've lost enough American lives today!"

"Calm down, Jack, that's not the reason! We have the BXJ research team that designed the guidance systems on teleconference with us right now. The missiles are on a preprogrammed path and destroying the component won't stop them. We believe Nakkash is only holding on to it in case of any mishaps. You'll need to secure the device undamaged and manually disarm the Jericho-Seven warheads."

"This is insane!" Jack screamed, punching the side of the van. "It's suicide. We're going in blind. We don't know how many men we're up against. Nakkash could have an entire army guarding the site."

"I'm sorry, son," Henderson said back, his voice gentler now. "We'll have air support on site the moment you secure the device. You've all made it this far, Bauer, against any kind of odds stacked against you today. For what it's worth, I'm looking at live satellite imagery at the marketplace now and there isn't a visible Hamas presence. Only five or six hostiles that we can observe from here and most of the market is open air. They're trying to be as discreet as possible while the rocket launches attract our attention. I know you're up for this. And remember, thanks to your quick thinking, they have no idea you're coming!"

QISSARIYA MARKET, GAZA CITY – 18 MINUTES TO TARGET

Jack and his team had to come up with an assault plan on the spot as they arrived in central Gaza. Minaj stopped the car along a busy street about two blocks from the bustling, chaotic Qissariya Market, which was closed to vehicular traffic.

"Remember, keep circling the perimeter until you get word from us," Jack told him. Minaj nodded and made sure all the weapons on the transport van were fully loaded with plenty of ammo left over. Jack hated having Rachel come along but there was no other choice. While Hamas had not yet banned women from driving the day the Taliban did, a female driver still attracted undue attention. Additionally, Minaj was a local who spoke Arabic and knew his way around the area.

"We're going to cover you at all times," Jack told her.

"I can take care of myself," she told him, some confidence back in her voice. She was dressed in a black veil again, posing as a Palestinian housewife doing her daily shopping in the traditional Arab market. The sounds of fighter jets and explosions could be easily heard from about a mile away, and they could see thick black smoke rising into the sky where more Hamas targets had been struck by the Israeli Air Force. Jack could sense the mixed mood among the people in the streets. Some were angry and defiant, while others simply went about numb at yet another round of fighting.

"I can't believe this market's still packed," Jack commented.

"This is all I've known my entire life, Jack," Rafi said sadly as they entered the market, not drawing any attention from several Hamas terrorists standing guard. "It's the same for everyone here. Tomorrow is never guaranteed If you die, you die. If you make it, the only thing that you can be sure of is more violence. Things have been getting better tomorrow for the past thirty years now. I'm so sick of all of it."

"This is the ticket out of here for all of us," Jack reminded him.

Jack wondered how these people would react if they knew their Hamas overlords had stolen nuclear weapons, and how they felt about the terrorist attack at Ariel Sharon High School and all the innocent students that were executed.

"We're approaching Nakkash's last known location," Jack said, showing his PDA to the rest of the team. "We're only a block away from the market."

"How are we going to handle this, Jack?" asked Merina.

"We've got 17 minutes from now till the estimated detonation time of the first warhead in Saudi Arabia." Jack told them. "This doesn't include the time it takes for the experts in the Pentagon or in Israel to guide us through disarming the missiles. We need to blitz these guys as fast as we can. Take them by surprise. I hate going in mostly blind but we don't have a choice right now."

Rachel was the first to nod. "I'll follow your lead, as always."

"Of course in an area like this the sensors will be useless. We have to keep our eyes open for any hostiles in the area." His radio alerted him to Henderson's call back form base.

"Jack please tell me you're at the target."

"That's affirmative, sir. We're at the market about to move in on Nakkash."

"Satellite footage shows several armed men in the structure directly to the west of your position, the three story interior section of the bazaar. Of course we don't know how many hostiles are inside but that must be it."

"Thanks for the intel, Captain", replied Jack, "We need to hope and pray that means Nakkash and the device are still in there."

"We have the schematics here," Rafi said, looking at his CIA equipment. "It's a copperwares shop." He thought for a moment. This wasn't his usual shopping area, being from the southern edge of the Gaza Strip, but he had been here several times in the past on trips to Gaza City. "It shows that's a private specialty store, we should have less civilians once we approach it."

"Rafi and I can take the service corridor through the gold market, and surprise the hostiles on the roof and help clear the way for you."

"Are you sure, Rafi? It's going to get hairy there."

"I trust you with it, and besides if the device is the version designed for the Israeli military, it's most likely going to be in Hebrew and you'll need Rachel to translate." He looked at her and then back at Jack. "Keep her safe." Like his wife, Rafi had taken a liking to her, fully knowing the irony that the first young woman he had been able to connect with since his daughter's death was an Israeli. But then he was also a Christian now.

Jack nodded. That certainly made sense. "This is it, guys. We only got one shot."

12 MINUTES TO TARGET

Nakkash's eyes were glued to the computer screen as he saw the first two missiles approach their targets. Unknown to Jack, the first impact was not King Khalid Military City, but the Iraqi government center in Baghdad. Khattab, Arya, and a handful of other terrorists patrolled the area but their guard was down due to the mistaken info that Jack had been killed and that the CIA agents were in disarray. On the rooftop, the other guards were smoking cigarettes as they watched the Israeli airstrikes hit to the east and north of downtown Gaza. This time, there were no leaflets or warnings. The Israelis' priority was to kill as many of the Hamas terrorist as possible, and the warnings allowed them to slip away. So far, three major Hamas command and control centers had been hit with at least 300 Hamas members dead, but these terrorists took comfort in the fact that in less than twenty minutes, the Great Satan would be dealt a terrible blow. Nakkash also smiled at the thought that Jack Bauer was dead. The arrogant, smug American infidel who cowardly killed his men back in Tel Aviv, who had murdered Ihim in Khan Yunis and martyred so many of his brothers.

He had no way of knowing that Jack saw how approaching the front of the building from inside the bazaar. A Hamas terrorist in paramilitary fatigues blocked the entrance to the section of the bazaar Nakkash was in.

"This area is closed," said the terrorist brusquely.

"Please, sir," Jack replied in Arabic, "My brother's wedding is coming up, we need to buy…."

"What part of closed do you not understand, you foolish dog?"

However this had allowed Jack to take the extra few steps forward to guarantee that the bullet from his gun made a perfect hit right into the man's heart. The terrorist fell back against a wall and dropped into the interior corridor.

"Come on, we need to clear the first floor," Jack said. He and Rachel both entered the building, quickly shooting down four hostiles on the first floor and proceeding to the second.

They rounded a corner in the stairwell and saw another terrorist approaching. Rachel took him down with two bullets to the chest. The next hostile managed to get a few shots off that went into the ceiling before Jack gunned him down, sending him backward to the room where the nuclear guidance system was located.

Nakkash was in the next room over and his eyes went wide at the sight of Jack charging into the area with the signature vengeful look on his face. It was like he had seen a ghost. Didn't Imam Ravid tell him Jack Bauer was dead. Nakkash retreated further back into the copperwares shop, shouting into his radio. "Send your men back to the bazaar! Jack Bauer is still alive! He is here!"

Khattab was also calling frantically as he and Arya ducked and fired in Jack and Rachel's direction. "Jack Bauer is here! Do you hear me? It is Jack Bauer!" Arya grabbed his Iranian army pistol and squeezed off more shots, forcing Jack and Rachel back through the door as Khattab also joined in. Nakkash himself grabbed an AK-47.

"We don't have time!" Jack said and rolled into the room firing as Rachel also opened fire. Arya fired back again and an additional terrorist had entered from outside. As Jack went for the device, Rachel aimed her M-16 at the terrorist, blowing him away, his body shattering a window as it fell out of the building.

"Subhan Allah!" Arya screamed like a maniac, taking out the detonator for a suicide vest and wrapping his arms around the device. Jack knew that despite the risks, he had to go for it. Without the device, there would be no way to abort the nuclear warheads.

Jack saw Nakkash and Khattab retreat and told Rachel to take cover and brace for the explosion. Jack shot Arya in the arm and tackled him just as the clock counted down. Jack kicked the device back to Rachel, who secured it then shot Arya again and practically threw him into the next room which contained Persian rugs. It was fortunate that the rugs were as it dampened the explosion that followed.

Nevertheless the explosives tore through the shop, blowing a hole in the floor and sending what was left of Arya into the floor below. Both Jack and Rachel were in a daze and completely disoriented, but Nakkash and Khattab were left in no better condition. In the chaos, all of their weapons had seemingly disappeared. Jack did not need to muster his rage as he went for Nakkash. He would rip the life out of this savage animal who was attacking his country. Nakkash pulled a dagger and rushed Jack, trying to slash Jack in the arm and upper body. Jack blocked three of Nakkash's blows then look out his own knife, going after his opponent.

Nakkash kneed Jack in the chest and swung around again with the dagger, stabbing Jack in the shoulder, Jack screaming in pain and anger. Because of Jack's quick response, the wound was not too deep and he was able to return to the fight quickly, kicking Nakkash in the face and then his hand, sending the dagger flying across the room.

"You will not stop me, you American infidel!" Nakkash growled, his fists and teeth clenched in hate. "Right now, I will make you pay for your insolence, for all of the mujahideen you killed, for what you threatened to do to Ismail…."

Jack punched Nakkash twice in the face, knocking him against a pottery display and over it. Jack wanted to follow through with a brutal kick while Nakkash was still down, but Jack's nemesis swung out of the way and kicked Jack in the foot, sending him sprawling onto the floor. Now it was Nakkash's turn on top, and he viciously kicked Jack repeatedly, then grabbed him and threw him across another vending display. Nakkash then came forward with a large coat rack, trying to bash Jack's head in. Jack was quicker and charged forward, Nakkash's blows hitting the ground instead.

Jack kicked Nakkash in the groin and punched him in the solar plexus, causing him to drop the coat rack, then did a roundhouse kick into his side. Nakkash tried to kick Jack again, but Jack blocked this too and elbowed Nakkash in the nose, shattering it, then followed through with a fist right into his chin, sending broken teeth and blood spraying forward. Jack was now blinded in hatred at the animal before him. Jack bashed his head against a windowsill four times, the fight temporarily leaving Nakkash as he stared back at Jack in a daze. Jack kicked him in the stomach again, then picked him up, dragging him over to the hole in the floor caused by the explosion.

Through his pain, Nakkash continued to mutter Arabic obscenities, cursing Jack and the United States, swearing vengeance, swearing that other jihadists would chase him down and kill him. This only added to Jack's rage as he forced Nakkash to the hole, shot him in both knees, and threw him into the hole. Nakkash landed on the floor far below with a thud, sending dust particles flying through the air. The impact shattered his spine, Nakkash screaming up at Jack as he twitched uselessly.

Yet Jack was not done yet with his enemy. He eyes a large kerosene container at the edge of the room that was often used for cooking and heating given Gaza's intermittent power supply. He carried the container over to the edge of the hole then dumped the liquid kerosene onto Nakkash and all over the floor around him.

COPPERWARES SHOP, QISSARIYA MARKET

The current situation definitely wasn't what Jack had in mind, with a stampede of shoppers rushing in all directions through the narrow passageways of this typical Middle Eastern bazaar, knocking over tables of Arabic coffee and shish kabobs and vendors tables selling a variety of goods. All this commotion which resulted from the massive explosion in the copperwares shop, would definitely alert additional Hamas paramilitaries and Palestinian police to the area who might also have thought it was a drone strike.

Rachel pointed the gun at Khattab and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. She tried again and noticed the gun must have jammed, cause she knew there were still bullets in it. She immediately dove for cover over a table as Khattab opened fire. However his gunfire was also cut short as Jack, who at this time was fighitng Nakkash, sent a throwing knife into his arm, causing him to drop the gun. Rachel knew it was near hopeless, but it was better than nothing as she charged Khattab, who was probably at least fifty pounds heavier and more muscular. She kicked Khattab in the chest, but Khattab swept her right off her feet, Rachel landing painfully on the hard surface of the bazaar floor.

Soon, Khattab was upon her like a demon, huffing and puffing wildly with rage. He grabbed Rachel's throat and began squeezing it, Rachel desperately trying to use his feet to force Khattab away from that position so she could escape or find another way to fight back.

"It ends here, sharmoota!" Khattab screamed as he squeezed harder. "You and your American boyfriend thought you could defeat the people of Allah? Let me tell you something, you Jewish bitch, there IS one infidel I respected. His name was Adolf Hitler!"

Rachel mustered all the strength she had and spit in Khattab's ugly bearded face even as her world began to darken. Khattab continued, "After our jihad drives the Americans and British from our holy lands, after the caliphate becomes a reality, we will reclaim Palestine for Islam, and we will finish what Hitler started with your people. I want you to die knowing you had failed, because nothing can stop the will of Allah!"

Khattab slammed Rachel's head against the ground, nearly knocking her out and blinding her in pain.

"Do you hear me, sharmoota?" Khattab cried, "Allah's will shall be done! Allah akbar!"

At that moment, however, Jack slid a pistol along the ground even as he fought with Nakkash, and it went straight into Rachel's hand. Khattab was preparing to slam her head into the ground harder the second time when she fired three shots into his chest. Khattab gasped in shock and pain and let go of her head. Rachel discharged one last bullet that passed through Khattab's lower chin before lodging in his brain, the terrorist falling over sideways, his lifeless eyes staring back at Rachel like a zombie's.

Rachel pushed Khattab's body off of herself. All the fear, terror, and sadness inside her from the day transformed itself into a level of rage she had never felt before, that she didn't even know she was capable of. Part of her hatred of Nakkash and these terrorists stemmed from the fact that now she could take a life and feel nothing, even if these lives were probably worth less than that of a rat or a cockroach. A simple death would not be enough, not after everything he had done, all the innocent people including children he had enjoyed killing, not after everything he had taken from her personally.

"This is only the beginning, Jack!" Nakkash yelled through the pain of his shattered limbs. "Your people will never be safe! America will never be safe! You have won nothing, Jack! I will curse you from the grave, the wrath of Allah and his holy warriors will be brought forth upon you when you least expect it. One day, you…."

Jack took his pistol and pointed it at the kerosene container, preparing to ignite it in flames that would cover the entire room below.

"Go ahead and kill me, Jack! I embrace martyrdom! I have been ready for it my entire life!" Nakkash struggled through the crippling pain and shattered body.

"I want to do it, Jack!" Rachel's voice came from the side. Jack saw her look at Khattab's body in disgust and walk over. "I want to make him pay. Trust me on this one, Jack."

Jack suddenly remembered why she wanted to do this. He remembered their time in the Hamas jail cell, and Ihim's anger at Rachel. The bravest sons of Arabia who have devoted their lives to jihad denied paradise because they were slaughtered by a woman. Rachel must have remembered this as well. Nakkash Bin Rahal wanted to die a holy martyr, and be seen as that way by his people. They were not going to allow that to happen.

For the first time on this day, in fact for the first time in his violent life, Nakkash felt a sense of dread, helplessness, and pure terror. "Jack, please! You have been a worthy enemy and I accept my defeat by your hand! Please grant me this mercy! You know of the ancient codes! Do not deny me paradise!"

"The innocent children you slaughtered and all the soldiers who died yesterday are in paradise," Jack snarled at Nakkash without any hint of sympathy. "Paradise is no place for you." Jack nodded to Rachel, who pointed the gun first at Nakkash, then moved it so that it was pointed at the kerosene container.

"You cannot do this to me, woman! Please, you must understand! This is war! I did my duty to my homeland and my God!" Nakkash continued to scream, directing his pleading at Rachel this time. The green eyes that stared back at him had never been so hateful. "What kind of a person are you?"

"I thought you knew," replied Rachel, "I'm an infidel bitch!" With that, she fired several shots into the broken, overturned kerosene container, igniting it in white hot flames that quickly spread across the basement and raced toward Nakkash.

"NOOOOOOO!" Nakkash screamed as the flames engulfed him. He flailed hopelessly for nearly twenty seconds, shrieking uncontrollably from both the physical torment and mental anguish that he deserved. "HELP ME! NOOOOOOOO!" the screams came at a higher and higher pitch until they finally faded away.

As Rafi and Minaj engaged some hostiles on the rooftops, Jack and Rachel quickly got back on the phone with the Pentagon. Before she joined Jack's final confrontation with Nakkash, Rachel had set up a datalink between the device and the Pentagon which was up and running by now.

"Okay, there should be something on the device that says recall or abort," one of the military men said from the Pentagon.

Rachel looked at the screen and read the Hebrew lettering. "Okay, I see it…..got it…" She followed some of the new instructions.

"Is it safe to dump in the Saudi desert?" asked Jack. "What about the nuclear material?"

"The command's going to inactivate the warheads and close off the nuclear compartment so only our own people can access it."

Four of the missiles went offline as Rachel typed in the disarm codes provided to her by her superiors. The digital map showed their trajectory stopping before reaching Riyadh or the Persian Gulf states. But there was still one problem.

THE PENATGON

"One of the missiles is already too close to its target to be recalled," Jack said, double checking the map.

"Our estimates….."

"We didn't expect this target," Jack said, "Sir, it's Baghdad."

"You gotta be kidding me," the SecDef said from the Pentagon, with Henderson still listening in. "We withdrew most of our forces from Iraq."

"The coordinates are clear, it's the Green Zone which includes the Iraqi Parliament and most of the government ministries."

"Dammit, they want to wipe out the entire Iraqi government to make way for their caliphate. Civilian losses will be devastating." It all made sense now, targeting the Arab world's first serious attempt at Western-style democracy.

BAGHDAD, IRAQ

The first line of defense was the Patriot missile defense systems at Baghdad International Airport, located on the western edge of the city. By the time the alert from the Pentagon came, the missile had not only entered Iraqi airspace, but was making its final approach from the north after coming down from Mosul. The Iraqi Army detachment at the airport was immediately placed on alert and responded as quickly as possible, with men rushing into their command post and others at the Patriot battery itself making sure everything was online.

Major Saad, the ranking officer at the Iraqi air defense command center , looked intently on his screen, reading off the rapidly changing coordinates of the missile flight path. "Hold…hold…..fire!" he ordered. The Patriot interceptors opened up, firing into the sky toward the projected path of the warhead. The interceptor missile raced out of its launcher and over the desert outskirts of Baghdad, fast approaching its target. At the last minute, however, the Jericho-Seven missile made a sudden jerk to the east and the Patriot interceptor flew on, unable to reacquire its target.

"Shit," Major Saad cursed to himself then picked up the phone, dialing his superior officers. "What just happened?"

"Sir, the missile has defensive maneuver capabilities," one of his troops manning the console said.

Saad looked at the map of downtown Baghdad and more of the projected missile path. The Jericho-Seven was now flying over the densely populated Shiite slum of Sadr City, quickly bearing down on the heart of Baghdad, where the Green Zone housing the Iraqi Parliament, the US Embassy and most of the central government offices lay along the Tigris River. "Get me the missile battery in the Green Zone immediately," Saad ordered.

"Yes, sir. They're on line now. We have three anti-missile sites in the Green Zone, one in the American Embassy, by the presidential palace, and the parliament building. The Americans on that site, some team leader from Starkwood, one of their contractors, they're already there. Palace and parliament coming online now."

Saad nodded. "We can't afford to take any chances this time. I want all of the batteries to open up simultaneously, box in the warhead within a certain piece of airspace so it can't outmaneuver it." He pointed to the map to a spot near the river. "Here."

The Patriot missile battery at the US Embassy was the first to respond, several smoke trails rushing up into the sky toward the west. Seconds later, more smoke trails went up from the two Patriot batteries manned by Iraqi Army personnel. The nuclear warhead veered to the south, evading the first few missiles. Then, within a half mile of the Iraqi Parliament, the interceptors from the final battery made a direct hit. There was a loud boom but a surprisingly small flash and explosion in the bright morning sky as the pieces of the nuclear warhead rained down into the river and the waterfront area. Aside from a few damaged rooftops and cars there was little destruction and no loss of life.

DEFENSE MINISTRY, JERUSALEM

"Patriot missile batteries in the Baghdad Green Zone just took out the last missile. The threat is neutralized, repeat, the threat is neutralized." The cheers and congratulations continued on and on in the conference room, and while Defense Minister Moshe Doron felt the same relief and gladness that the terrorist threat was over, he was not completely at ease.

"Iraqi security forces have the area cordoned off. US Navy divers will be arriving in Baghdad from Kuwait in the next ten hours. They will recover the intact nuclear material from the bottom of the Tigris River," Secretary of Defense Adler said via videoconference from the Pentagon. I think it's best that we keep all this out of wraps. The new Iraq isn't interested in following Saddam's footsteps."

Prime Minister Goldberg wanted to request that the nuclear material be returned to Israel now that the secret was out, but thought better of it. The Americans and everyone else already knew the existence of the Israeli nuclear program, and there was no reason to make it even more public. The Pentagon could do whatever it wanted with the recovered radioactive material. After all, America's weapons were far more advanced than these. Hopefully the Baghdad government could be persuaded to also keep quiet about this given that Nakkash had allied himself with a terrorist movement that was started in Iraq.

Doron quickly sent a text on his secure military intelligence issued cell phone and excused himself, walking down the hall to a break room, where General Malachi was standing by the water cooler, drinking Evian spring water out of one of those generic paper cups that populated water coolers the world over.

Doron closed the door behind him and walked over to the window overlooking the hills of West Jerusalem. There was a look of surprise on Malachi's face at the apparent privacy of this meeting.

"You needed to speak to me urgently, sir?" Malachi inquired as he finished his water. "The crisis is over, thank God."

Doron nodded and took a gulp too, then took a napkin and wiped some sweat off his forehead. He was evidently nervous about something. "The terrorist threat is over for now, and this time Hamas will finally pay the price, even though the truth of the stolen nukes will never be known. But there is a another important matter. One that must be handled in a timely fashion."

"And what matter would this be, Minister?" Malachi asked.

"Jack Bauer."

"I beg your pardon, sir, Jack Bauer was instrumental in stopping the attack…."

"Yes, Malachi, yes he was. He was an unexpected asset that turned out to be critical. But now he is a liability for me. Think back to the reason Jack Bauer ended up in Gaza in the first place, to save Rachel Friedman, after Henderson decided to lose his usual composure and foolishly tell Jack the truth about how we were willing to shoot down the helicopter with Friedman inside. This knowledge that he still possesses will destroy us if it gets out, even inadvertently, and that makes Jack Bauer a very dangerous man."

"And you want me to make sure that we are protected from this possibility?" Malachi said, choosing his words carefully.

"Yes," Doron replied. "Nobody else can know about this, but this will be best for everyone. Can it be done, Malachi?"

Malachi thought for a moment and nodded. "I have connections you do not know about. You know I live in the shadows."

"It's safer there, and that's where I need you to stay." Doron replied as he left the room.


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