TEL AVIV, ISRAEL, 45 DAYS BEFORE DAY ZERO
"So you're from Tel Aviv your entire life?" Jack asked Rachel as she steered the car out of the grounds of Ben Gurion airport.
"General area," she replied. "Grew up in Rehovot, that's just south of here, then moved to the city after high school when I started my army service. Lived in the barracks for year and a half but then me and two of my girlfriends got an apartment downtown. "
Jack was definitely beginning to feel awkward. Here he was on the other side of the world, riding in the car of a young woman he had just met in an airport interrogation room no less. He didn't want that awkward silence for the next 15 minutes or however long it took to get to his base depending on the traffic, which was certainly increasing. At the same time, he was a little mesmerized by Rachel as she tapped her steering wheel to the Hebrew music coming from the radio now.
"Your English is really good," Jack told her, trying to strike up more conversation, "Maybe that's why they assigned you to the airport."
"Thanks! I have American relatives, and spent a summer working with my cousin at a state park in Maryland," she told him. "Definitely was a great opportunity to practice. So yup, I get to be at the airport! Pretty sweet gig to be honest. A lot of my high school friends are out doing checkpoint duty in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. A lot of girls also get stuck doing that secretary stuff at staff HQ. I would be bored out of my mind, drive me crazy. Here I get to work with an awesome crew and talk to people all day, plus I’ve gotten to know most of the folks in the food court and the duty free shops. They always hook me up with good deals."
“So you’re not just the interrogation specialist?” Jack asked her.
Rachel laughed. “No! Interrogation room’s just part of what my unit does, and besides for a real interrogation session they’ll do it off site with the real experts. We do all kinds of things, general security for the airport, passport control, screening departing passengers, and the coolest part is aircraft inspections.” She took out her phone to show him some pictures. “That’s me in the main cabin of a brand new G6, and this is from the cockpit of the new 777.” The last pictures were her doing the classic stewardess pose in the jumbo jet engine along with a British Airways cabin crew member and climbing into an overhead bin in order to “inspect” it for explosives. “Something different every day.”
"Certainly gets exciting when suspected terrorists like me show up," Jack said slyly.
"You were something else, ya know that? It was that Saudi Arabia thing that flagged you, then the X-ray machine showed a flash drive model that's mostly sold in Pakistan, to top it off, you had to get smart with me," she remarked with a quick wink in his direction. "Usually, it' s just a quick chat, a luggage search and you're on your way. It's interesting meeting folks from all over, sometimes I have to explain the process to them. I know how we do things is a lot more thorough than other places, but we are in Israel after all. I'm glad most travelers are very understanding."
Jack stared ahead at the freeway, the high-rise downtown of the city coming into view in the afternoon haze beyond the large blue highway signs written in both Hebrew and English. Here they also used kilometers, just like almost every foreign country. So he had no idea how much longer they had. The freeway was well-maintained, certainly better than the 405 or the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles. Desert palm trees lined the median. So far, Jack's first impression of Tel Aviv was that it was a cleaner, more exotic version of California, but looking to his right at the neighborhoods below the highway viaduct, he couldn't help the heavy military presence on the streets. Humvees were parked at several street corners and Israeli soldiers carrying machine guns conducted intermittent patrols. Some of the buildings also had a drab Middle Eastern look, in contrast to newer part of the city. He was a bit disconcerted to see an Iron Dome missile interceptor not far off the highway.
"Lots of Americans visit Israel?" Jack inquired curiously. "A lot with the base?"
"No it's a very small American contingent," Rachel told him. "It's on the IDF's Givatayim base. I'm there sometimes for events and to use the pool. It's a joint forces agreem where we have some American military stationed here, and we do a lot of joint exercises. The US Army has its own section of the base though. As for American tourists, we mostly get two kinds. First is the church groups. I can't even count how many church tracts and Bible verses I've gotten. I'm the first person they meet in Israel and they're already trying to evangelize, can you believe that?" Rachel tried to act out an encounter. "So here I am, going through the suitcase, making sure nothing illegal's there, and some preacher from Louisiana would be like oh yeah here's a tract with some Bible verses, feel free to keep it for yourself! Are you saved?"
Jack couldn't help but burst out laughing with her. The laughter really was like a catharsis for him after the difficult few days back home in California and his most likely future with BXJ Technologies lurking on the horizon. Rachel took the exit to the Givatayim district of the city, entering a wide avenue lined mostly with shops and apartment buildings.
"Oh the other hand, the other Americans we get are those Jewish kids on those Birthright trips."
"Never heard of that."
"Free trips to Israel for Jewish college students from the US. I actually get assigned to do some of the tours and stuff. Show them around, help them get in touch with their heritage, and the ultimate goal, convince them to make aliyah. To actually move to Israel. Which is weird for me cause I'm thinking about the opposite. My time left in the army is less than a year. I've been applying to colleges in America in addition to Tel Aviv University. I really want to move there, be a teacher maybe."
"You could have gone straight out of high school, or left the military early and just went," Jack pointed out as they entered the grounds of the military base, “Maybe skipped your required two years in the IDF.”
Rachel flashed her Israeli military ID card to the guard at the front gate and they were waived through with no hassle.
"It was too late," she said then became more serious. "Plus, I was raised here my whole life. I feel l owe it to Israel to serve, even if I end up leaving."
"At least you know what you want with your life. I wish I was so sure," Jack told her honestly, "You're not young, I'm getting old."
"Don't worry, you'll figure it out, Jack," Rachel told him, "Anyway, here you are."
They drove across a wide airfield into a separate section of the base where Jack could see the Stars and Stripes rising up into the desert sky. There was a mess hall, barrack housing for the US Army detachment, and officer's quarters. The rest of the facility was integrated.
Jack got his stuff out of her trunk and he went back and thanked her through the window. He didn't want to push the luck, but what the hell, he decided. The worst that could happen was she would say no. Nothing to lose, why not go for it? But he wanted to take it easy and not straight out ask her out on a date right on the spot.
"You mentioned you come here for events and use the fitness center for free. Maybe I'll see you around," Jack said. "We should stay in touch."
"Sure." Rachel took out her Sprint smartphone and pushed the button for the Facebook app then typed something in, pulling up his profile. "You're the only Jack Bauer on all of Facebook! There are at least fifty other people with my name."
Jack looked at his funny picture, taken by one of his friends at an LA Lakers game. He was glad he had changed the one with Marilyn. "That's me. The one and only."
She made sure Jack saw her send the friend request. "Yeah, let me know what's going on! Hit me up, especially if you're ever downtown. My friends and I have a couple favorite spots, we can met up if y'all are in the area. I'm always down for a good time."
HAMAS POLITICAL HEADQUARTERS, GAZA CITY
Due to the lack of air conditioning in much of the Gaza Strip, the windows of the Hamas terrorist organization's main political office were always left open and one often had to speak loudly to be heard over the haggling of the carpet vendors, camel jockeys, and food hawkers in the traditional Arab marketplace next door. Yet Hamas spiritual leader Muhammad Ajaz spoke even louder than usual as he strutted passionately around his spacious but Spartan office. There were a half dozen militants gathered around, all carrying AK-47s and other Russian made weaponry.
"This is madness! Where in the name of Allah did you people get this idea? You are both out of your minds! You do not begin carrying out an operation without my consent! It was Imam Ravid who came up with this, was it not? Tell me!" Ajaz screamed. Nakkash Bin Rahal, Hamas's military commander, and his top operative Mahmoud Al-Harazi remained silent. Both knew that when Ajaz was like this, the rants that followed were part of the question. Sometimes his questions were simply part of his rants. However, something was different this time. Nakkash had his cell phone on record, and the conversation was being broadcasted out into the streets below.
"Who on Earth does Ravid think he is?" Ajaz raged, "Ravid thinks getting money from the Saudis and renovating that mosque makes him above me? We have worked with him but I am the spiritual leader of Hamas! Imam Ravid is nothing! And you, Mahmoud and Nakkash, are both nothing if you stand with him. I can have you both killed for this affront and dishonor toward me! I have been Allah's loyal servant for twenty years!"
"And how exactly have you served Allah?" Nakkash spoke back softly but with a disrespectful, sarcastic tone he never dared to use before, despite his long-time disagreement and falling out with Muhammad Ajaz. "What have you done for Palestine in all your illustrious years of service?"
Ajaz was about to lose his mind as he spat out his words in a furious rage. "We built up Hamas! We waged war against the Zionist enemy. Our rockets and martyrs now spread fear across all of Israel. Because of me, the PLO is collapsing and Hamas is in control of Gaza. Because of me!"
"In other words, all you have done is elevate yourself above our other Muslim brothers," Mahmoud responded coldly.
Nakkash spoke up again, his voice rising as the people in the streets outside began cheering him. "You are making the same promises you did twenty years ago, and what is happening?" he demanded rhetorically. "We are no closer to liberating Jerusalem! Our proud people languish in these refugee camps as the Israelis expand their settlements. Our Muslim brothers worldwide are all under attack! The Americans and British occupy the holy sands of Arabia, their jets fly miles from the pilgrimage mosques! Their puppet regimes plunder the wealth of the Muslim world to satisfy the West's greed for oil!"
"We are Allah's true warriors!" Mahmoud shouted.
"That is enough!" one of Ajaz's guards yelled and the armed men looked especially alert.
"Down with Ajaz! Allah akbar!" an angry Palestinian man screamed from the middle of the mob outside and was joined by a chorus of similar chants. The mob started throwing stones and anything else they could at the building. "Down with Ajaz! Allah be praised!"
"We gave you a chance to accept change," Mahmoud said as the mob stormed the first floor of the Hamas political building. Hamas gunmen loyal to Ajaz opened fire on the crowd. Several waves of attackers fell dead but the crowd kept coming. Many of Ajaz's gunmen were now defecting or fleeing. Mahmoud and Nakkash grabbed Ajaz and dragged him out into the balcony overlooking the market square where the mob had gathered. As Mahmoud held Ajaz in front of the crowd, Nakkash approached with a traditional Arab curved knife, a scimitar.
"What you are planning will doom our people," Ajaz begged. "If you succeed with this madness, the Americans will destroy us."
"Shut up, you cowardly old fool," Nakkash snarled.
With one swing of the blade, Nakkash separated Muhammad Ajaz's head from the rest of his body then hurled both into the crowd below, the demonstrators cheering and stomping on both parts of his body.
AMERICAN MILITARY FACILITY
Upon entering the command building, Jack was immediately greeted by Private Lance Sizemore, one of his buddies whom he had met on his last deployment. Jack told Lanc what Henderson had done and his old friend laughed about it for a while. Unlike Jack, this was only Lance Sizemore's second deployment, and his first time outside the Unite States except for a Caribbean cruise. Lance was in the same boat Jack was except it was more normal for him, given he was only 19 years old. He graduated high school in George, Utah, not knowing what he wanted to do with his life and joined after speaking with a military recruiter at a county fair.
"Something like this happen to anyone else?" Jack asked.
"Not that I know of," Lance replied, "I mean, if it's a common trick then the locals would be onto it and it would ruin the practice for them. He's like a fox, man. Honestly, thank God Henderson's on our side and not the other." Jack certainly agreed with that sentiment.
Captain Christopher Henderson looked at the clock on his wall, then glanced out at the window, surprised to see Jack Bauer coming through the gates of the compound. A few minutes later, Jack appeared outside Henderson's office in his dress uniform. Have to be impressed how quickly he managed to change, Henderson thought. To be honest, Henderson felt that Private Jack Bauer showed a lot of promise. He was a natural leader during basic training at Fort Riley and his stamina and instinct surpassed most of the other recruits. A part of him was proud that he had bested Jack though. Of course Jack had never saw that trick coming.
Henderson, however knew that one could never be too careful. Yes, America was still safe, but it was an island of peace and prosperity in an increasingly dangerous and unstable world. From the terrorist training camps of the Middle East, the coca fields of South America, the bullet ridden streets of Mexico's border towns, the chaotic ethnic battlefields of Ukraine, and the hostile communist regimes of China and North Korea, possible threats to the United States were emerging everywhere. Even as he expected complete obedience from the subordinates under his command, Henderson himself never hesitated to bend the rules or go into the grey area when he felt justified. He was the highest ranking US officer on this base. His superiors operated out of Camp Patriot in Kuwait. The main purpose of this task force was to provide training to local military and serve as an emergency response team in case fighting broke out in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, or Egypt and American citizens had to be evacuated at a moment's notice.
Jack did his best to act confident as he walked to the door and another soldier motioned him in. He immediately saluted Henderson, who returned his salute.
"At ease, private," Henderson said. "Have a seat."
Jack did as he was told as Henderson paced around the room. The embarrassment was coming back to him. Another part of his mind made him resent his superior officer's tactics and paranoia about the world. This was technically the second time Jack was under Henderson's command. First there was the grueling training at Fort Riley, but Jack been transferred to a different division during his deployment to Saudi Arabia. Over there, Jack's unit was responsible for security and operations at King Khalid Military City, a major allied facility northeast of Riyadh that was an important staging area for American soldiers during Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Sunni insurgency. Jack was young restless and wanted to be deployed to Iraq where most of the action was, but no such luck. His last tour was spent patrolling the perimeter in the 120 degree heat, looking over the barren, empty, lifeless expanse of the Arabian desert After his new unit was pulled out of Saudi Arabia, Henderson became his commander again.
"Glad you were able to find your way here, as resourceful as you are."
"I apologize once again for my lack of caution," Jack offered respectfully, "I realize what a grave mistake it could have been."
"Things happen, Jack," Henderson said, still packing the room and taking a look out the window at the airfield and barracks. "I trust such mistakes won't be repeated."
"No, sir, I promise it will never happen again."
"On the other hand, Private Bauer, you were quite adept at finding yourself back here so quickly, navigating through the local public transportation system. Bus actually came on time?"
Jack avoided this trap, just in case Henderson had seen him get out of Rachel's car from his window. "To be honest, I got lucky. Someone was nice enough to give me a ride. quickly added, "She's local military, has security clearance to this base."
Henderson didn't comment but Jack saw him suppress a smile. "You've been in-country for what, less than ten hours and you're already meeting the ladies. Anyway, this isn’t Saudi Arabia and you are free to do what you like off base, as long as you stay focused on our job here. That must always come first and must never be compromised. Do I myself clear, Private Bauer?"
"Yes, sir." "Good, I will see you and the rest of your squad at 0650 tomorrow morning. You're dismissed."
35 DAYS BEFORE DAY ZERO. ISRAEL-GAZA BORDER
The long, snaking tunnel deep beneath the fortified Israel-Gaza border was too narrow for most smuggling operations, but that didn't matter to Mahmoud and Nakkash. The weapons they were planning to use for their attack were already in the country. Their sympathizers in the Jordanian government had arranged for that diplomatic shipment, ostensibly two truckloads of food aid desperately needed in Sangala, where a major famine was occurring. It was much faster to sail there from Ashdod than from any Jordanian port, the driver had explained. The trucks indeed contained plenty of grain and wheat destined for West Africa, but they also contained more than fifty Hamas's most elite fighters. Most of them had crossed from Gaza into Egypt, taken a Red Sea ferry to Jordan and rendezvoused in Amman. In addition, there was an entire arsenal of Russian-made weapons purchased on the black market that thrived along Jordan's borders with Iraq and Syria.
The tunnel was dank and several parts looked like it might collapse at any time. So both men felt a great relief as the tunnel began to rise and then ended at a metal grate. Several Arab men quickly opened the grate and they found themselves in a basement storeroom.
"Salaam aleikum, Ali," Mahmoud greeted the leader of the men in Arabic.
"Aleikum salaam, mujahid," replied Ali, an Israeli Arab store owner and longtime Hamas contact. "I hope it was not too difficult. We have not used this tunnel in years."
"All the better," Nakkash replied, "Then the Zionist infidels are not alert to its existence."
"They suspect nothing," Ali replied confidently as he led the two Hamas terrorists up a staircase into a corridor. Ali provided them with some brand new Western clothing to help them blend in.
"Have you been contacted by our people yet?" Nakkash asked.
"Yes," Ali said, "Malik's teams are in place at our safe house in Tel Aviv. Bilal has been observing their target for the past month. Nothing has changed. We know all of their security protocols. We even know when the Americans will be there."
Minutes later, Nakkash and Mahmoud made their way into the Islamic halal supermarket that Ali owned. Nobody gave them a single look in the crowded, bustling establishment. "Then I will make the finishing touches on my end of the operation. I am counting on you, Mahmoud," Nakkash said to his closest friend, "All of Islam is counting on you."
"I will see you again, in this life or the next," Mahmoud replied as they embraced. Then the two most dangerous men in all of Hamas walked out of the supermarket into the crowded Arab bazaar, going in opposite directions.
30 DAYS BEFORE DAY ZERO
Jack couldn't get Rachel out of his mind, but the first week or so he never got a break. Captain Henderson's training regimen was even more grueling than what the average serviceman in the US Army experienced but Jack told himself it was for the better. It seemed his platoon was on the obstacle course and shooting range even more than the Israel Defense Forces personnel was.
"We're not even on combat footing right now, this is bullshit," his shooting partner, Sergeant Darius Greene complained as they both squeezed off more rounds with their M4 Carbines at the shooting range. Jack's aim was perfect, all of the bullets hitting the head or heart of the target. As for Darius, despite, or maybe because of his ghetto childhood in Philadelphia, still needed more practice. Darius was proud to have not touched a gun before he joined the military. Darius was one of the few young men in his neighborhood who graduated high school. Most of his peers from the drug-infested streets of Philly were dead, in prison, or on their way to prison. While Jack joined the Army for adventure for Darius it was an escape route, a ticket to college and eventually a life in the suburbs.
"I think our Captain's of the opinion that war is always imminent," Jack pointed out, pulling a full magazine into his weapon. "I can't disagree with his assessment. You don't always see things coming. Let's not forget how Jack Ryan became President, half the government wiped out in that attack."
Darius nodded. "Yeah, you do got a point there, homie. You know, though, you always seem pissed off about something. You alright, dawg?"
Jack squeezed off more rounds and reloaded. "No, just frustrated. Personal stuff, you know. My dad's pushing me to join his company back in L.A. I'm not sure that's really for me. I feel trapped, like I'm not in control of my own life."
"You serious, man?" Darius exclaimed. "I wish I had a rich daddy like you, nice comfy job. I'd kill someone to trade places with you. You got it made, man." "You don't understand," Jack told him. "Damn straight I don't. I really don't get you sometimes."
BEN GURION INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, TEL AVIV
Rachel Friedman sat down with her laptop at the food court inside Ben Gurion airport's arrivals hall. It was 11 PM and most of the food court was empty despite the airport being open 24 hours. Her shift had just ended, but she decided to redeem one of the coupons for a snack. Besides, funny enough, she liked the quiet terminal at night, where she could use the free Wi-Fi and work on her online college applications. Despite the intermittent announcements over the PA system, the terminal right now was much quieter than her apartment, where she no doubt would be distracted by her roommates. Rachel decided to spend some more time working on her college essay. She was naturally a night person and her brain worked much better now than at 10 AM. She much preferred her late shifts over her 7 AM ones.
As she squeezed the vinaigrette dressing on her light Israeli salad, Rachel was distracted by Facebook and saw that Jack Bauer had once again checked in at the Givitayim military base, and posted some pictures of him in the bunks along with some other soldiers from his unit. Rachel hadn't talked to Jack since that day but she did comment to "like" some of his Facebook statuses. Rachel knew he was probably even busier than she was. There was someone about that American that left an impression on her. She wasn’t sure if she liked him in that way though she was at least open to being friends. In any case, Rachel wasn't particularly on the prowl for a relationship at this point. She was still young, just wanted to enjoy life as much as serving in the IDF allowed her to and plan for her future. If something came along great, if not, whatever. It was still nice having Facebook friend from the US, though, being able to look through Jack's pictures of his previous life in California, though she was shocked there were so few with his father or brother.
Yes, why would someone from a background like Jack's join the military in the US? In Israel, military service was mandatory for all citizens, men and women. But Jack didn't fit the profile of most recruits. He wasn't openly super patriotic, like the folks she met that summer in Baltimore's mostly white blue collar eastern suburbs. He obviously also wasn’t banking on the Army as a ticket out of an economically depressed small town or ghetto, nor was he one of those Mexican immigrants doing it to get citizenship. Jack was a rebel, she figured, and despite Jack's comment about her not old enough to buy a beer in America, in some ways he was still younger at heart than his actual age.
She wondered about her counterparts in America who were also applying to college. Most would be in their senior year of high school, playing sports, maybe working just part time like her cousin still did at the state park. Tell me about yourself. What makes you special and unique? The most generic question ever, every admission officer's apparent favorite. Then a thought entered her head as Facebook send her another alert, this time Messenger on her phone. Jack Bauer left another status about being at the shooting range.
Jack Bauer had been through all this before he got into UCLA, one of the most prestigious universities in the country, and again with Berkeley. Plus despite the compliments he gave her regarding her language skills, she was still uneasy with her written English. She wanted to ask her cousin but realized it was still in the middle of the day on the East Coast and she was most likely in class. She looked at her Facebook chat section on her screen. Jack Bauer was still online and active, probably trying to relax after another long day doing live fire exercises.
Jack it is, then, she thought and began typing.