Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
SOUTHWEST OF THAMUD
MITCH Rapp began to maneuver once more, weaving via an expansive boulder subject earlier than dropping to his abdomen at its edge. A fast scan of the terrain via his binoculars offered the identical end result it had each time earlier than: reddish dust masking an infinite collection of pronounced ridges. No water. No flora. A burned-out sky beginning to flip orange within the west. If it had been ninety-five beneath zero as a substitute of ninety-five above, he may have been on Mars.
Rapp shifted his gaze to the suitable, concentrating for fifteen seconds earlier than recognizing a flash of motion that was both Scott Coleman or one in every of his males. All had been carrying camo produced from material particularly chosen and dyed for this op by Charlie Wicker’s girlfriend. She was an expert textile designer and a flat-out genius at matching colours and textures. For those who gave her a couple of first rate pictures of your working theater, she’d make you disappear.
A few contrails appeared above and he adopted them along with his eyes. Saudi jets on their strategy to bomb city targets to the west. This sparsely populated a part of Yemen had turn into the unique territory of ISIS and al Qaeda, however the Saudis largely ignored it. Viable targets had been exhausting to have interaction from the air and the Kingdom didn’t have the abdomen to get bloody on the bottom. That job had as soon as once more landed in his lap.
Glad they weren’t being watched, Rapp began ahead in a crouch. Coleman and his staff would comply with, watching his again at good intervals like they’d in Iraq. And Afghanistan. And Syria. And nearly each different shithole the planet needed to supply.
The Yemeni civil warfare had damaged out in 2015 between Houthi rebels and authorities forces. Predictably, different regional powers had been drawn in, most notably Iran backing the rebels and Saudi Arabia getting behind the federal government. The involvement of these nations had intensified the battle, making a humanitarian catastrophe spectacular even by Center Japanese requirements.
In some ways, it was a forgotten warfare. The world’s soiled little secret. Even amongst U.S. authorities officers and army commanders, it could be exhausting to seek out anybody conscious that two-thirds of Yemen’s inhabitants was surviving on international assist and one other eight million had been slowly ravenous. In addition they wouldn’t be capable to let you know that starvation and the lack of primary providers had been inflicting illness to run rampant via the nation. Cholera, antibiotic-resistant micro organism, and even diphtheria had been surging to ranges unheard-of within the trendy period.
And anyplace that may very well be described utilizing phrases like “forgotten,” “rampant,” and “warfare” ultimately grew to become a magnet for terrorists. They had been yet one more illness that contaminated the weakened and wounded.
An unusually excessive ridge grew to become seen to the northwest, and Rapp dropped to the bottom once more, finding out it via his lenses. He may make out a niche simply massive sufficient for a human about 300 yards away.
“Whatcha acquired?” Coleman stated over his earpiece.
“The cave entrance. Proper the place they stated it could be.”
“Are we transferring?”
“No, it’s backlit. We’ll let the solar drop over the horizon.”
“Roger that. All people copy?”
Bruno McGraw, Joe Maslick, and Charlie Wicker all acknowledged. The 4 males made up about half the individuals on the planet Rapp trusted. In all probability a tragic state of affairs, however one which had saved him alive for lots longer than anybody would have predicted.
He fine-tuned the deal with his binoculars, refining his view of the darkish gap within the cliff face. It was exhausting to consider that Sayid Halabi was nonetheless alive. If Rapp had been any nearer with that grenade, it could have gotten jammed within the ISIS chief’s throat. However even when his purpose had been manner off, it shouldn’t have mattered. The blast had introduced down a good portion of the cavern he’d been hiding out in.
The collapse had been intensive sufficient that Rapp himself had been trapped in it. Actually, he’d have died slowly within the darkness if Joe Maslick wasn’t a human wrecking ball who had spent a lot of his youth digging ditches on a landscaping crew. Oxygen had been getting fairly scarce when Mas lastly broke via and dragged him from the grave he’d made for himself.
Regardless of all that, the intel on Halabi appeared fairly strong. Some time again, somebody at NSA had decrypted a scrambled Web video exhibiting the person standing within the background at an al Qaeda assembly. The preliminary take had been that it was archival footage dredged as much as preserve the troops motivated. Deeper evaluation, although, instructed that the photographs could have been taken six months
after the evening Rapp thought he’d lastly floor his boot into that ISIS cockroach.
The video had led to the seize of one of many individuals at that assembly, and his interrogation led Rapp to this burned-out plain. The story was that Halabi had been severely injured by that grenade and was hiding out right here convalescing. The sixty-four-thousand-dollar query was whether or not it was true. And if it was true, was he
nonetheless right here. Clearly, he was wholesome sufficient to be going to conferences and beginning the method of rebuilding ISIS after the beating it had taken in his absence.
The solar lastly hit the horizon, inflicting a right away drop in temperature and enchancment in visibility. Ready for full darkness was an choice, nevertheless it appeared pointless. He hadn’t seen any signal of exterior guards and evening versus day would have little which means as soon as he handed into that cave.
“We’re on,” he stated into his throat mike.
“Copy that,” got here Coleman’s response.
Rapp angled left, transferring silently throughout the rocky terrain till he reached a stone wall about twenty yards from the cavern entrance. Staying low, he crept alongside the wall’s base till he reached its edge. Nonetheless no signal of ISIS enforcers. Behind him, the terrain was equally empty, however that was to be anticipated. Coleman and his staff would stay invisible till they had been wanted. It was not possible to anticipate the setting contained in the cave, and Rapp was involved that it may get tight sufficient to make a power of multiple man counterproductive.
When he lastly slipped inside, the one proof that it was inhabited was the churned dust beneath his toes. He held his weapon in entrance of him as he eased alongside a passage about three toes huge and ten toes excessive. The acquainted weight of his Glock had been changed with that of an early-model Mission crossbow. His weapons tech had modified it for stealth, pushing the decibel degree beneath eighty-five on the bow. Even higher, the pitch had been lowered to the purpose that it sounded nothing like a weapon. Even to Rapp’s practiced ear, it got here off extra like a bag of sand dropping onto a sidewalk.
Crossbows weren’t the quickest issues to reload and there hadn’t been a lot time to coach with it, however he nonetheless figured it was the most effective device for the job. The quietest pistol he owned—a Volquartsen .22 with a Gemtech suppressor—was strapped to his thigh, however it could be held in reserve. Whereas it was impressively stealthy, the sharp crack it made was too loud and recognizable for this working setting.
The darkness deepened the farther he penetrated, forcing him to maneuver slowly sufficient for his eyes to maintain tempo. Primarily based on what had occurred final time he’d chased Sayid Halabi right into a gap, it made sense to prioritize warning over pace. Mas may need forgotten his shovel.
A faint glow grew to become seen on the finish of the passage and Rapp inched towards it, avoiding the rocks beneath his toes and staying on the comfortable earth. As he acquired nearer, he may see that the hall got here to a T. The department going proper dead-ended after a couple of toes however the one to the left continued. A collection of tiny bulbs wired to a automotive battery was the supply of the glow.
One of many downsides of LED know-how was that it made hiding out in caves so much simpler. A single battery may present mild for days. But it surely additionally created a vulnerability. Energy provides tended to not be as broadly distributed and redundant as they was.
Rapp reached down and flipped the cable off the battery, plunging the cavern into darkness.
Shouts grew to become audible nearly instantly, however sounded extra aggravated than alarmed. Rapp may inform that the voices belonged to 2 male Arabic audio system, however selecting out precisely what they had been saying was troublesome with the echo. Principally a bit of name-calling and arguing about whose flip it was to repair the issue. When all of your mild got here from a single improvised supply, occasional outages had been inevitable.
One of many males appeared a couple of seconds later, swinging a flashlight in his proper hand however by no means lifting it excessive sufficient to offer element to his face. It didn’t matter. From his youthful gait and posture, it was clear that it wasn’t Halabi. Simply one in every of his stooges.
Rapp aimed across the nook and gently squeezed the set off. The sound profile of the crossbow and the projectile’s impression had been each excellent. Sadly, the accuracy at this vary was much less so. The person was nonetheless standing, seemingly perplexed by the fletching protruding beneath his left clavicle.
Rapp let go of his weapon and sprinted ahead, getting one arm across the Arab’s neck and clamping a hand over his mouth and nostril. The person fought as he was dragged again across the nook, however the sound of their battle was attenuated by comfortable floor. Lastly, Rapp dropped and wrapped his legs round him to restrict his motion. There wasn’t sufficient leverage to choke him out, however the hand over his face was doing a fairly good job of suffocating him. The method took longer than he would have favored and he was gouged a couple of instances by the protruding bolt, however the Arab lastly misplaced consciousness. A knife to the bottom of his cranium completed the job.
Rapp slid from beneath the physique and was recocking the crossbow when one other shout echoed via the cavern.
“Farid! What are you doing, fool? Flip the lights again on!”
Rapp yelled again that he couldn’t get them working, relying on the acoustics to make it troublesome to differentiate one Arabic-speaking male from one other. He loaded a bolt into his weapon and ran to the battery, placing the flashlight facedown within the dust earlier than crouching. The illumination was low sufficient that anybody approaching wouldn’t be capable to see rather more than a obscure human define.
A stream of half-baked electrical recommendation preceded the sound of footsteps after which one other younger man appeared. He didn’t appear in any respect involved, as soon as once more proving the grand reality of all issues human: individuals noticed what they needed and anticipated to see.
Rapp let the terrorist get to inside fifteen toes earlier than snatching up the crossbow. This time he compensated by aiming low and left, managing to place the projectile middle of mass. No follow-up was obligatory. The person fell ahead, touchdown face-first within the dust.
Sure that he wasn’t getting up once more, Rapp reconnected the battery. He was probably going to wish the sunshine. Issues had gone effectively to this point however, in his expertise, good luck by no means got here in threes.
Assist for that speculation emerged when a person who was apparently distrustful of the sound of falling sand luggage sprinted across the nook. Rapp’s .22 was in a clumsy place to attract, so as a substitute he grabbed one of many bolts quivered on the crossbow.
The terrorist had been a bit of too enthusiastic in his strategy and his momentum bounced him off one of many cave’s partitions. Rapp took benefit of his compromised stability and lunged, driving the bladed head into his throat.
Not fairly, however efficient sufficient to drop the person. As he fell, although, a small pipe sprouting wires rolled from his hand.
Not once more.
Rapp used his boot to kick the IED beneath the person’s physique after which ran in the wrong way, making it about twenty toes earlier than diving right into a shallow dip within the floor. The explosion despatched sizzling gravel washing over him and he heard a couple of disconcertingly loud cracks from above, however that was it. The rock held. He rolled onto his again, pulling his shirt over his mouth and nostril to guard his lungs from the mud. The sensible cash can be to show tail and name in a couple of bunker busters, however he couldn’t deliver himself to do it. If Halabi was there, Rapp was going to see him useless. Even when they entered the afterlife along with their arms round one another’s throats.
The sound of computerized fireplace began up outdoors however Rapp ignored it, pulling the Volquartsen and utilizing a penlight to proceed deeper into the cavern. Coleman and his boys may deal with themselves.
The cave system turned out to be comparatively easy—quite a lot of branches, however nearly all petered out after a couple of toes. The primary chamber of any dimension contained a cot and a few rudimentary medical tools—an IV cart, screens, and a rubbish can half filled with bloody bandages. All of it appeared prefer it had been there for some time.
The second chamber appeared to have been arrange for surgical procedures however wasn’t rather more superior than one thing from World Warfare I. A gasoline cylinder that appeared prefer it got here from a welder, a tray with a couple of devices strewn throughout it, and a makeshift working desk streaked with dried blood.
And that was the top of the road. The cave system dead-ended simply past.
“Shit!” Rapp shouted, his voice reverberating down the hall and bouncing again to him.
The son of a bitch had been there. They’d introduced him to deal with the accidents he’d sustained in Iraq and to offer him time to heal. A month in the past, Rapp may need been capable of look into his eyes, put a pistol between them, and pull the set off. However now he was lengthy gone. Sayid Halabi had slipped via his fingers once more.