24 Season Zero: Day of Reckoning

Chapter 8

HERZLIYA NEIGHBORHOOD, TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

The Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter landed on a front lawn several blocks away from Ariel Sharon High School. The drones and fighter jets flying over Tel Aviv masked the sound of the helicopter's rotors as they twirled to a stop. Captain Henderson and General Wasser disembarked first followed by an assault team consisting mostly of IDF special forces along with a few U.S. Army soldiers, including Darius Greene and Lance Sizemore. By now, Prime Minister Weinstein had ordered the immediate area closed to news crews and declared the airspace over the Tel Aviv area closed to all civilian air traffic including news choppers for security reasons.

The winter sun was already descending in the western sky as the team gathered at a makeshift command post located four blocks away from the school. Wasser projected the schematics of the school and the surrounding sewer system onto a screen as he briefed the rescue team which was divided into four squads plus the snipers deployed on perimeter at various locations near the school structures.

"According to our latest intel, the hostages are being held in three places. Half the student body is in the auditorium and the other half is in the gym, while the Americans are being held in the band room. The gym and auditorium are wired with explosives but not the rest of the building. All teams will insert via the sewer system that connects this neighborhood with the school grounds," Wasser briefed them, "Alpha and Bravo teams will emerge through the pond at the center of the courtyard. Charlie will blast through the first floor bathrooms in the north wing, where we believe resistance is light, and make your way toward the central portion of the school. Delta team," he continues, looking toward the Americans, "Will enter the school property through a manhole in between the soccer field and the outside doors in between the auditorium and the band room. Delta will secure the American hostages and then proceed to join Alpha team in storming the auditorium. Bravo and Charlie will take the gymnasium. The priority is taking out the terrorists with the explosive vests and the ones triggering the charges."

Henderson nodded for Wasser to continue. "This operation requires perfect coordination. We must attack all of these locations simultaneously and overwhelm the enemy. When the order is given, the sniper teams will take out the terrorists in the room the moment the insertion teams breach the school. We believe resistance is light around the courtyard and that Alpha and Bravo teams will be able to go from the pond to the surrounding corridors quickly."

VENTILATION SYSTEM

Jack's phone buzzed and he saw that it was Henderson. "Yes, sir?"

"How are you two holding up?" Henderson asked.

"Still safe, sir. Not bad given the circumstances. We're about to engage..."

"Hold off on that," Henderson said quickly, "Myself along with the IDF are commencing a rescue operation as we speak. Our teams will be inserted underground via the public sewer system. The plan is a quick blitz of the locations where the hostages are being held, which we have thanks to you."

"I appreciate the compliment, sir," Jack replied.

"I must also thank Private Friedman too," Wasser chimed in quickly. "Israel owes you for your service. You will receive a decoration for your actions today."

"Thank you, sir," she replied, "But honestly Jack deserves most of the credit. He's the reason we're still alive." As troubled as she was by what she had just witnessed, that was her honest assessment.

"What's your current position?" Henderson inquired.

"Ventilation system between the first and second floors, off, um, Room 124," answered Jack.

"That places you close to Delta team's position, that's our team, Bauer. We'll be in radio contact on approach if you can meet up with us."

"Copy that, Captain," Jack replied. "We can engage the hostiles elsewhere in the building, draw them away from the courtyard when the teams are entering through the pond."

"Negative, we don't want Bin Rahal getting any hint of resistance. If they think you were both killed, let's keep it that way. We should be inserted by the time they discover the bodies of Farad Zubaydah and his patrol, if they discover them at all."

"I understand, sir." The line clicks dead.

Jack turned to Rachel. "What happened back there...I'm sorry you had to be there for it. I wish there was another way. Right now I want to throw up as much as you probably do."

Rachel just looked at him for a few moments, though her face now looked more dazed than disgusted. "It's just so much to take in," she said, "Plus everything else that's happened today. I honestly don't know if what you did back there was right or wrong, but I really didn't think you'd go that far."

"Rachel, the last thing I want is for you to think I'm some kind of monster. We both tried everything we could to make him talk in the little time that we had. I don't want to come across as making excuses but we got the information we needed out of him and our superiors are acting upon that now. Deep down I know I still won't be able to forgive myself for what I did, but I hope you can forgive me. Or that at least you understand. Please tell me that."

"Jack, I really don't know what to think right now," she replied. "There probably wasn't an alternative but just seeing what you're capable of, Jack, I just didn't expect that. I don't think I've fully processed everything yet. I….." she hesitated, "I think we should focus on right now, on finishing the mission and getting out of here. We can deal with everything when this is all over."

That obviously was not the response Jack was looking for but at least she had said "we". There was still some hope that they could pick up where they had left off after they both dealt with the trauma of what they experienced. Or maybe she was just saying that so he wouldn't be discouraged, and remain at the top of his game. But, Jack forced himself to have that glimmer of hope. Jack's feelings for her burned deeply, in a way that shocked even himself.

Within the past four hours, Jack had not only killed people for the first time, but even gruesomely tortured one of them before practically executing him. He had to tell himself it was justified, that it was him or them, the hostages or these terrorists. Yes these were bad people, and he was justified in killing them and there was probably no other way to extract that information from Farad, but Jack was still shocked at what he had done. Rachel was also still struggling with the realization that she too had killed several men within the past couple hours. All of them had been shooting at them, and it was her survival mechanism taking over, but she still didn't completely feel at ease about it.

Police officers who took a life in the line of duty are often given counseling and placed on leave for a while but there's no time for Jack to come to grips with what he had done. The crisis was ongoing and there would most likely be more killing involved. Part of him wished desperately that Rachel was given the same training that Henderson had given him, about adapting to the situation, and doing whatever it takes. He had watched Henderson and Army investigators torture a suspected terrorist who had been planning attacks on American-owned petroleum infrastructure in Kuwait. That most likely prevented Islamic State from turning Kuwait's largest oil and gas export facility into an inferno, but Jack had still thrown up after watching the waterboarding session. Henderson infused in his squad the mentality that they were always at war, that the world was crawling with enemies and that the rules could be bent sometimes.

The other side of him loved Rachel precisely because she didn't come from that kind of background. Despite having compulsory military service, her world was still quite different from his. Jack felt guilty for lecturing her earlier about questioning vs. interrogation. Her innocence and optimism was a refreshing alternative to his own world-weariness and his unexplained anger at the world around him. He would hate for her to change. Jack didn't want to come across as unstable or dangerous like those people who tortured dogs and cats for fun as a kid. He also should have been more understanding and more patient with her earlier. He remembered how he did also snap at her and insult her when they first met, and it was a testament to Rachel's personality that she took it in stride and laughed it off after the truth about the planted devices in his suitcase was revealed. Maybe she was attracted to his wild side, but he didn't want to push his luck with her especially now that things were really getting off the ground between them. Jack knew he had to fight to keep her, though he would first have to fight to get the hell out of this building alive.

DEFENSE MINISTRY / ARIEL SHARON HIGH SCHOOL

IDF Chief of Staff Timur Sokolow ordered his secretary to hold all his calls and strode back into his spacious office, closing the door behind him. He punched in a secret code to a safe on the wall and took out a secure satellite phone that only he had access to, one of the special privileges awarded him because of his position in the Israeli government. Everything had gone according to plan so far. The Prime Minister's reluctance to negotiate with Hamas at first was of course expected but that would soon change. And now General Wasser had finally revealed the plans for the rescue operation. Sokolow dialed a secure number on the satellite phone.

Nakkash's cell phone rang and he saw a restricted number but he knew it had to be Sokolow. Hamas operatives usually used disposable cell phones with limited minutes, not this kind of high-tech stuff that was not readily available in the Palestinian territories.

"We have been waiting to hear from you. I was getting concerned," said Nakkash.

"Honestly didn't have a free moment until now. You can imagine the crisis mode all this has placed us in," Sokolow said in Arabic with a sarcastic chuckle. "At least I have the secure phones now so we do not have to talk in those ridiculous codes anymore. You've done great today, inshallah."

"Allah smiles upon us, mujahid," Nakkash replied with pride and satisfaction. "So you have something for me?"

"Yes, there will be a rescue attempt happening within the next half hour."

"Already?" Nakkash demanded then began shouting angrily in Arabic, pacing around the room. "They really don't even care about their own children, do they? They think I am a coward, that I give orders from behind and send others to die. That is what the Western media says. I will show them! I should have already shown them by coming here myself. Everything I've threatened, I will carry it out myself! I will trigger the explosives and kill everyone here in addition to the soldiers they are sending in here!"

"I know, exalted Emir," Sokolow said evenly, "But I urge you to remember what we've discussed, what you yourself proposed. We cannot achieve our endgame if you destroy the school now. Our goals are still within reach, brother. After you wipe out the assault team, kill some more hostages. Your second deadline will have approached anyway. Do it more brutally, less clean. I will use whatever influence I have to push for concessions. Remember what we discussed. They only need to make slight concessions in order for us to carry out the true plan."

Nakkash breathed in and out deeply trying his best to calm down from his burning rage at the Israelis' failure to meet his initial demands. Sokolow was right, Nakkash had to admit. This day was about much more than just those demands. They might very well get a complete Israeli evacuation of the Palestinian territories but that was not the endgame. No, that wasn't entirely accurate. Once their entire plan was carried, Palestinian statehood would be all but guaranteed as an added benefit to their real victory.

"I assume you've obtained the operational details from the men on the ground, Abdul?" Abdul Hamid was the name adopted by Timur Sokolow upon his conversion to Islam. It was of course known only to Nakkash, his most senior operatives, and Imam Ravid.

Sokolow reviewed the details of the insertion plan that Henderson and Wasser had come up with.

"It's just as we had expected," Nakkash said. "We will be ready for them."

BACKSTAGE AREA

Nakkash and Khattab walked behind the stage and out to a corridor near the gym. Bilal walked over, meeting them on the edge of the brightly lit indoor basketball court. The bleachers on both sides were packed with hostages and six armed terrorists with suicide vests and Russian assault rifles guarded the students.

"Still no sign of Farad or anyone on his team. My men checked everywhere. We did not notice anything unusual in our patrol, all is quiet. All the hostages are accounted for," Bilal said in Arabic. "I wonder if the Israelis have already managed to insert someone here."

"I doubt that. Not with our defenses," Nakkash replied. "However they are indeed coming now."

"Give the order, and I will join my father in paradise," Bilal said. "I have dreamed of this moment since before I could walk."

"That time may soon come, but not yet, Bilal," Nakkash replied. "We will show them our power, and they will have no choice to give in to our demands. Make sure your men are ready."

SEWER SYSTEM

Perhaps because they were in the sun-scorched Middle Eastern desert, the sewer lines in Tel Aviv were not as dank as the New York sewers and subway tunnels so often depicted by Hollywood, Captain Henderson though as they made their way down from a manhole set on a cordoned off suburban lane lined with Mediterranean-style villas. Only a trickle of water ran along the bottom of the large storm drain.

"ETA seven minutes to the courtyard. We're almost below the school property," Henderson said.

"Roger," Darius Greene replied. "Sir, I still can't believe they were able to mount such an attack. I wonder where, or who, they got their intel from."

"That's something we'll have to sort out after we take out Bin Rahal and his followers," Henderson said simply. He also knew something was fishy about everything that's happened but right now his orders were to infiltrate the school. He was comfortable with the people who had knowledge of his operation. Whoever the terrorist source was, their days were numbered, Henderson thought.

Henderson checked his PDA which showed the positions of the other assault teams. He radioed Jack.

"Bauer, we're in the storm drains leading into the school," Henderson radioed. "The map shows we're directly under the South Wing but we'll be emerging through an exterior manhole just outside the auditorium, near the soccer field. We'll be assaulting the auditorium then heading to the band room to rescue the U.S. citizens."

"Yes, sir, understood. Can't wait to get out of here, sir."

"We will give you the go-ahead to engage once the teams are inside the building. We're going to blitz these bastards from all directions, that's when we could use some help from you lovebirds."

"Sorry, sir" Jack replied in shock.

"C'mon, Bauer. You didn't even have to refer to her by her first name earlier, or somehow end up together on the far side of the city with an IDF girl who never trained with us. The day she dropped you off on base I had some of our people find out who she was. Intelligence gathering and surveillance practice is ongoing, Jack. Always find out everything about the terrain."

Jack didn't know what to think. So Henderson did play more of his games and he knew it was more to train the other guys than any actual fear of Rachel being some kind of mole or threat.

ARIEL SHARON HIGH SCHOOL

"Alpha and Bravo teams are under the courtyard now," Henderson radioed Jack. "Are you and Private Friedman ready to engage on my call?"

"Yes, sir," Jack replied, making sure both his and Rachel's weapons were fully armed and ready to fire. They had used up some of their ammo taking down Farad and the two waves of terrorists in the mechanical room as well as during the initial firefight before they were able to access the ventilation system. Jack made a mental note to stock up at one of the armories in the building if the terrorists hadn't completely raided both of all the weapons. Alpha and Bravo teams at this time had reached a wide part of the drainage system beneath the courtyard, where there was a small pond set amid a garden and some trees.

Unknown to them, more than a dozen terrorists had surrounded the courtyard, pointing assault weapons and rocket launchers into the pond, waiting for the IDF special forces team to emerge from there. The plan had been to drain the pond then emerge, while the majority of the terrorists were scattered around the school. None of them knew their chief of staff, Timur Sokolow, was the highest Islamist mole in Israel.

The terrorist Bilal glanced around the auditorium then went into the corridor leading backstage while Malik left six terrorists to guard the hostages, then headed toward the courtyard, joining the other Hamas fighters waiting for the Israeli soldiers to emerge from the pond.

"Just the scenario we had envisioned," Nakkash said, smiling as he embraced Bilal. "We will fight them off, but in the slight chance they overrun us, have the men ready to martyr themselves and turn this place into a permanent graveyard."

Captain Henderson silently led the team to a metal ladder leading up to a storm grate at the edge of the soccer field where it met the auditorium. The area was also cluttered with sheds containing athletic equipment and was near an entrance to the locker rooms and the swimming pool area. Henderson checked with the Alpha team leader, who confirmed that his men were operating the blowtorch, cutting open the water control system beneath the artificial pond that led to the storm drains and sewers below. Henderson took out a screwdriver and began unscreweing the grate from the outside. Lance Sizemore took an observation device, sticking it through the grate and saw no hostiles on the roof overlooking them at the moment.

FIRST FLOOR BATHROOM

Khattab smiled as he set the explosive charges inside the boys' bathroom, placing three charges in each stall. This should give them a good surprise, he thought. Back at the Defense Ministry, Timur Solokow had just finished reviewing the assault plans, after having convinced General Wasser that he might offer some improvements or insights given his own experience in the special forces. He saw the update and cursed to himself.

Nakkash picked up his phone as he saw Sokolow's new call come in.

"I just saw the final assault plan, the teams are in place as we speak but we have the American assault team going someplace close to the gym, outside."

"What? I thought….."

"We had not expected them to take part by Captain Henderson, the commander of rapid response team at Givitayim, convinced my superiors of how valuable they are."

"We don't have the traps set in that area!" Nakkash screamed. "My men are mostly around the courtyard ready to fight off the incursion there."

"You will fight them off," Timur said, "Allah protects his warriors. The Americans will be operating alone after you get the other teams. I am confident you and your team will succeed."

SHARON HIGH SCHOOL

The Alpha team leader finished removing the filtration system beneath the pond while Bravo team also looked on. At this time, Charlie team was ready to blast its way into the bathroom on the first floor. "All teams, go!" he ordered.

As the filtration system was removed, liquid did pour back as expected, but it was not water. Suddenly, all the men felt nauseous and terror as the liquid filled with corrosive chemicals poured onto them, eating away at their clothes and skin.

The team leader and several of his men screamed in pain as the chemicals ate their skin down to the bone. Then a barrage of automatic weapons fire and rockets met the survivors as they charged up into the courtyard to avoid the chemicals pouring down into the drains. Malik fired a bazooka that detonated right next to the pond, collapsing part of the ground, causing half the garden to collapse into the sewer system, exposing the other soldiers below.

"Allah akbar!" Malik screamed as he fired two more rockets straight into the newly exposed positions. One rocket hit the center of Bravo Team, killing four men instantly. The lone survivor from Alpha fired up, killing a terrorist shooting his AK-47 from the second floor, but then he was shot with no less than seven rounds of automatic gunfire that covered almost every inch of the courtyard. Several IDF soldiers from Bravo had also survived the initial barrage but they were no match for the merciless gunfire coming down on their from elevated positions on all four sides. The terrorists shot all the fallen soldiers several times to make sure they were dead, laughing in glee as they chanted Islamic slogans.

The blasting charge beneath the bathroom detonated the entire batch of explosives set in the area and Charlie Team was vaporized instantly.

Lance saw a terrorist on the roof and squeezed the trigger on his sniper rifle, sending the body tumbling down from the roof. By this time, Bilal was climbing back to the roof to check on the men there.

SECOND FLOOR

"Go! We're engaging the enemy now," Henderson radioed Jack.

Jack nudged Rachel silently and nodded. She unstrapped her Uzi from her shoulder and the two exited the vent in a janitor's closet. Jack checked the heartbeat sensors and saw three hostiles approaching the hallway from the same direction. He opened the door from the inside and emerged from the hallway followed by Rachel.

A terrorist gasped in Arabic as both Rachel and Jack opened fire on them. All three Arabs collapsed in a heap on the floor.

"Shit!" Henderson shouted as he realized what was going on after his team had already emerged from the sewers. "It's an ambush! They knew ALL of our ingress routes. The other teams are down! Repeat the other teams are down! The terrorists will be converging on this area soon."

"We're making our way to you now. We should be able to access that area through the second floor window," Rachel said, looking at her PDA and interpreting the Hebrew language schematics for them. The part of the building housing the locker rooms and swimming pool was a lower structure that almost connected with the second floor of the main building. Inside, terrorists were swarming toward the area where the Americans had inserted.

SCHOOL EXTERIOR/LOCKER ROOM AREA

"What is this" Bilal demanded in shock. "What is happening?"

Several terrorists were rushing over from the roof. "The Americans came from out here. We lost a man." They fired down at the grate Delta team had used to access the school grounds.

"Find them! Kill them all!" Bilal screamed then radioed Nakkash. "The Americans are here! They are somewhere in the building."

"What is your position?" Nakkash demanded immediately.

"Approaching the roof, they came through the sewer below us, by the athletic shacks."

"Find them! We will send men there at once!" Nakkash radioed several of the terrorists. "Take them out! Yallah! Yallah!" he yelled in Arabic motioning with his hands frantically.

SECOND FLOOR/LOCKER ROOM AREA

"Take cover!" Henderson said, grabbing Darius as the young sergeant fired a burst of gunfire at several approaching terrorists as they retreated into the doorway. Lance squeezed off two more shots, killing another man that had approached on the roof. Suddenly there is a sickening clang as a grenade fell in the narrow area between two exterior walls.

A soldier leapt onto the grenade, sacrificing himself as the explosion ripped apart his body. Henderson gasped and cringed but maintained control as the remaining Americans burst through some double doors into a hallway next to the locker room entrance. They were met by a furious barrage of gunfire. Another American soldier fell after taking several rounds in the chest. Henderson and Lance fired down the hall as they retreated toward the locker room. "Shit, the explosion destroyed my PDA," Henderson radioed. "We're in the locker room area." A Palestinian was shot several times in the chest and fell backward screaming.

"We'll draw some fire away," Jack replied.

"Looks like we're going to hunker down together," Henderson said. He, Lance, Darius and three other Americans were left unhurt. They dragged the wounded man into the locker room.

"The locker room opens into the indoor pool deck," Rachel informed them. She played around with her PDA a little and expanded the schematics. "There's another egress through the pool mechanical room, the maintenance area. The other option, shit, the other option is through the pool itself. The drainage system at the bottom."

"That may be our only bet," Henderson replied. "Radio General Wasser, have him send a team to access the bottom of the pool. We're going to have to blast a larger hole to reach the drains, hopefully that's not also booby trapped."

"I don't think it's bobby trapped," Jack replied, "Nobody would have thought of going in or out through an 8 foot deep pool when the pond was more obvious, and easier if it wasn't compromised." Jack's tone was dark as the existence of a mole or at least a leak entered his mind again.

LOCKER ROOMS

Rachel pulled Jack into a history classroom as they saw two more terrorists rushing toward them. "Shit, we don't have time for this," Jack said. "There will be more on their way soon."

"We're near the courtyard area," Rachel told him. "I'll draw some of them away with the grenade. From here we have to dash down the hall, rooms 210 through 220 face the pool structure. We can hop from this ledge and access that point."

Henderson held out a heartbeat sensor and saw several terrorists in the women's locker room on the other side.

"Sir, I'll take them out, keep them confused," Lance said.

"I can go with them, sir. I think we should split our forces, increase our chances of survival given the situation," offered Darius. "Of course it's your call, Captain."

"Go do it!" Henderson said with a nod. "Pitts, how you doing?" he asked turning to the wounded man. Pitts didn't reply and seemed to be going into shock. "Apply pressure!" he calmly ordered one of the other team members. This was far from the first time Henderson had been in battle and his steely confidence helped motivate the Americans here with him.

Lance and Darius went into the girls locker room through a side entrance. Darius motioned for Lance to be quiet as they saw two terrorists in Arab kaffiyehs and dishdashas come in. The soldiers each took out their combat knives, preferring to be quiet and keep the terrorists in the area guessing. They saw the reflection of a terrorist in the mirror and ducked behind two open lockers so that when the terrorists also looked at the mirror, they saw nothing.

Darius came silently and slit the first terrorist's throat as hard as he could then disappeared back behind the locker. The second terrorist took several long seconds before noticing his partner was no longer next to him. At the same time he was distracted by his handheld radio as Nakkash's voice came on.

"All clear….." he began then turned around, seeing his partner's corpse on the floor. Before he could speak again, Lance hurled his knife, lodging it right in the terrorist's neck. He gasped and collapsed onto the tiled floor. The gurgling sound in his throat disappeared as the life drained out of his body.

SECOND FLOOR CLASSROOMS

Jack and Rachel cowered underneath one of the teachers desks in the history classroom as two Muslim terrorists came in, one of them tossing a grenade. There was a thundering explosion as pieces of the ceiling came tumbling down onto the desks, knocking several desks over but the desk protected them.

"Allah akbar! Death to the infidels!" the terrorists screamed as they charged through the door one after another, unleashing a seemingly endless stream of gunfire. The globe on the desk was blasted apart into several pieces then the windows all shattered, raining pieces of broken glass onto the floor. Jack then used all his strength and lifted up the desk, firing several shots. Two more terrorists came in. Jack shot a terrorist coming through the door with a bullet that also hit his partner, killing both of them.

He then dropped the desk as he and Rachel both took cover. Rachel stepped to the side and squeezed off a shot, shooting down another hostile before he could pull the trigger. The two remaining terrorists both reloaded and opened fire again on the desk. A bullet managed to penetrate and whizzed by Jack's ear. He picked up the desk again and charged, using it as a shield once more. First, Rachel raised her Uzi machine gun and fired blindly in the general direction of the terrorists, causing them to pause and take cover. Then without warning Jack dropped the desk and fired a well placed shot into the first man. The last terrorist opened fire at Jack but Jack was already taking cover on the floor. This time, Rachel popped up from the protective teachers desk and fired a shot into the terrorist's shoulder.

The hostile screamed and aimed once more but Rachel took him down for good with a burst that sent him flying against the blackboard, smearing it with a large bloodstain as he fell to the ground in the front of the classroom.

They quickly left the classroom and Jack tossed a grenade upward through a third floor hallway window as they reached the area overlooking the courtyard. Fortunately nobody saw them, just the third floor explosion. A terrorist was blown apart while another one was critically injured, losing his left arm down from the elbow and screaming uncontrollably. Several terrorists on the third floor across the courtyard fired blindly at the explosion site, screaming in Arabic. The injured terrorist continued screaming as his comrades checked all over the area on the third floor, until Khattab came over.

"Help me, Khattab," the disarmed terrorist begged, looking in shock as his severed arm.

Khattab knew there was no help available for his man. He pointed his AK47 and fired a quick burst into his head. "I will see you in paradise, mujahid."

Rachel dialed General Wasser, who was pacing around the mobile command post. Outside the school, night had fallen, and the suburban neighborhood was dotted with streetlights and the glow of downtown Tel Aviv in the distance. Lights were also on all over the neighborhood as residents all tried to see what was going on and get updates on the situation inside the school.

"What the hell is happening in there? I hear all the teams are gone!" Wasser exclaimed.

"Team Delta with Captain Henderson survived but they have a wounded man that needs immediate extraction. Their only option is through the bottom of the swimming pool. The schematics show a drainage system that leads into the sewers through there. I'm going to send you the coordinates right now. We believe a team of terrorists is approaching their position. They lost radio contact with the outside but I'm conveying this message for Captain Henderson."

"Shit," Wasser cursed. "Okay, Private, I will be sending some men down there immediately. And Private Friedman, I want you and Bauer extracted along with them if possible. That's an order."

"Sir, Henderson had expressed a desire to stay in the building as well, we don't know what the terrorists will do. We need to…."

"You've done enough, Friedman," Wasser insisted, "And I am still the commander here. I am in charge of the base and Henderson is here as our guest. We're going to extract all of you and regroup in a safe location before another rescue attempt is made and after we sort out exactly what the hell happened. You've done everything you can. We need to get you out."

Rachel couldn't respond at first. She knew how many times she and Jack had been close to death, but so far they had been the only ones to put a dent in the enemy's forces and were able to operate stealthily. Over a thousand innocent children were still being held hostage and God knows how Nakkash would respond to this first attempt. She was surprised to have not heard any explosions yet.

"Private Friedman, do you understand the orders I've just given you?" Wasser asked sternly.

"Yes…..yes, sir," Rachel finally replied. Jack agreed with Rachel's commander. At this point maybe it was best that they retreat and reassess the situation. Sooner or later their luck would run out and if anything, she shouldn't take it upon herself to finish this mission single handedly. On the other hand, Rachel found it difficult to just leave these kids, no matter the odds, and no matter what her orders were, but it wasn't fair to keep Jack here too since she knew he would not let her remain by herself. This was not his country. It was not his war.

"We'll return with another team, I promise," Jack said, "At least I will. I'll insist on it, Henderson owes me this much. I swear these bastards will pay for everything they've done today."


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