6 of 7 | Chapter 4


“Who hired you?” he asked quickly.

Everyone watching held their breath.

“I … am an agent of … Zakariyya Al Hakam, leader of the Shammas clan,” he gasped.

“What was your mission?”

“I had only one job: to terminate Sean Steersman,” he confessed, now shaking with sweat beads forming on his forehead. The darkness seemed to vibrate as they listened. The security commander wanted to stop the broadcast, but the prospect of more information was too much to resist. He stood forward and before the reporter or Steersman could frame the next question, he spoke. “Where did you get the missile?”

Natalie felt irritation and a feeling of impotence as the commander usurped her role, but from habit, she automatically signaled to Frank to get the commander in the shot, something Frank knew was not strictly permitted, but he didn't need to be told twice.

The prisoner struggled, but the words were wrestled from him as if by physical force. “It came via Italy. Valencia Sargasso's smuggling network took care of delivery and Mendoza Otero completed the transaction in Trieste. It came from there.” He started to shake, his eyes losing focus.

“How were you intending to carry out the mission?” asked Natalie. “Were you just going to fire the missile into the crowd?”

The terrorist didn't answer. He sat struggling, breathing in ragged gasps. No one in the room could understand his sudden silence, except of course Steersman, who had switched off the device.

“Do you hear me?” Natalie asked, a note of hysteria entering her voice, but as she realized that the prisoner was not going to speak, she seemed to regain her focus and turned to face the camera.

“We have heard some extraordinary allegations, names that are known to us all have been connected to what may have been a truly horrific attack, killing or injuring hundreds if not …”

An earth shattering crash interrupted her. Everyone flinched, and the camera image flickered.

“Jesus, what was that?” exclaimed Natalie, with a small squeal of fright.

Security personnel came out of the darkness, their presence in the office becoming apparent as they move from their hiding places in the vast outer reaches of the office. The camera panned across the room. A rumble echoed and died away leaving an oppressive silence.

The commander, moving to stand next to Steersman, whispered into his two-way, “unit four, five, seven and thirteen, report.” There was no answer. White noise was the only reply in his earpiece, sparsely interrupted by snatches or sentences, urgent voices cutting in and out in fragments.

“We've been hit … attacked … the office … siege … red warn … ready ….”

The commander heard all he needed to know and with quick hand movements started to give orders to his men, each of whom flicked off the safety switches on their weapons and then scattered, receding into the gloom like ghosts. The commander ordered two soldiers to guard the three civilians, and pushed the prisoner to the ground himself, staying next to him.

A moment later another explosion ripped through the night, shaking the floor. The vibrations seemed closer and appeared to come from the hall. Gunshots followed; the staccato clacking of automatic weapon fire and the deeper buzz of machine guns. The walls shook and dust fell from the high ceilings.

Again silence. They heard the drumming of boots getting steadily closer, then a pause, and then more gunfire.

The commander and two guards had turned to face the entrance, bringing their guns up to aim, when the ceiling exploded and collapsed, reduced to rubble as soldiers in black abseiled into the room, the red lines of their laser sights roaming the floor, searching through the thick dust. The steady whir of helicopter rotors could be heard above the noise of gunfire and destruction.

Natalie covered here head, lying on the ground, unable to move. She could do nothing except lie there, frozen, the words ‘Who are they? Who are they?’ revolving in her mind. Her reporter instinct began to kick in. They look like commandos, but what are they doing here? Is it some kind of mafia attack? Terrorists? They are too well organized, too disciplined.

She barely had time to process any of it before she was picked up by one of the guards, and, along with Steersman and the prisoner, was dragged into the back office towards the emergency exit. Meanwhile, the firefight continued between the security forces and the enemy soldiers. The element of surprise gave the mercenaries a clear advantage, but years of training, intimate knowledge of the building, and months of contingency planning gave the security force the edge they needed to keep the mercenaries at bay.

Frank was frantically trying to film as he was dragged from the room and the world watched on as pictures were broadcast to billions of screens across the globe. Steersman and Natalie were both shouting at him as he resisted the guards' attempts to pull him to safety, their voices inaudible above the clatter of gunfire and percussion grenades. Natalie felt lost in the intense confusion, yet she tried to remember what it was she had to do, tried to relay what she saw into the microphone, but she was mute against the sounds of warfare.

The entrance from above opened a second front which made things seem rather hopeless for the security forces. The commander left the prisoner on the floor, and quickly moved back with the others, knowing that remaining in proximity to the terrorist would only endanger his own life. As soon as he'd stepped away, two bullets plowed into the prisoner's back and another into his head. They were followed by more shots to the body, but they were wasted. He already felt nothing.

The commander tried to re-establish a connection with his men and finally managed to gain contact. His second in command informed him that a mercenary force had attacked the building, arriving in gunships. There had been fifty. He also informed him that the EBI and three units from the European Security Forces were on their way to the city. Security staff remaining outside the tower could do little to assist other than wait for reinforcements and secure the exits. The commander knew he didn't have too much to work with: a semi-hysterical reporter, a mad cameraman, a pen-pusher and eighteen soldiers, two of whom were dead and four more injured.

He knew that mercenary attacks were all about surprise, fast destruction, and a quick getaway. They were obviously aiming to corner him and inflict a decisive blow. It seemed unlikely that escaping via the emergency exit would improve the situation, so the commander decided that his best course would be to fortify and maintain their current position for as long as it took for ESF units to arrive. These thoughts all occurred in the blink of an eye and were followed by concise orders that were the result of years of training and combat experience. Over the racket of automatic rifles, the men all acknowledged his orders and acted as one.

Steersman moved over to him and asked for a gun. A handgun materialized and was quickly handed to him. He had never used any form of weapon before and measured its weight in his hand uncertainly. The gun appeared to be much heavier that he had imagined. He'd never felt any desire to learn the tricks and techniques of weapons handling and combat, but as he saw mercenaries approaching their position through the thick haze of dust and grenade smoke, he held up the pistol and fired, eyes closed. Opening his eyes, he saw a mercenary appear from the gloom and come for him. The mercenary held the gun up and as he was about to pull the trigger, lights burst inside his skull as something struck him on the side of the head. The soldier felt something smash into his arm, then another blow to his body and he crumpled to the floor.



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