12 Jul 1974 1530LT (1330Z)
The scorching hot sun burned through the dusty haze, painting Mdoukha with a burnished golden glow. The ancient village, little more than a clutch of mud huts haphazardly thrown up alongside a stone road, sat high up on the Eastern edge of the Bekaa Valley, hard against the mountains marking Lebanon’s border with Syria. Little had changed since the same road had been trod by Roman legions two millennia ago, save the granite being worn down by generations of wandering feet, ox carts, and recently the stray car.
Twelve-year old Mustaf al Shatar sat on the ground; his back braced against the olive tree. The weathered, scarred tree inhabited a tiny, narrow space between the main street and the open fronted ramshackle cafe. The shop served dark, bitter Turkish coffee to old men who sat and argued the day away. The arguments always covered the same topics, the unbelievable injustice the Western World had visited on the Palestinian people and retribution to be exacted on the Israelis when they regained their rightful homeland.
Mustaf half listened to the chatter as he idly tossed pebbles at an ant struggling to carry its load back to the nest. The hot afternoon sun, barely filtered by the scraggly blue-green leaves, beat down on his shoulders.
The young boy watched the dust swirl in thick clouds behind the cars as they roared up to the bedraggled two-story building across the street. Mustaf counted more than a dozen as they stopped only long enough to disgorge their robed and turbaned passenger’s. Papa was hosting an important meeting in their cramped second floor apartment. He sent Mustaf out to watch over his seven-year old sister, Rachel. With so much traffic, it wasn’t safe for her to play alone on the street and the apartment was much too small for her and all the important guests.
The Mercedes and Citroens roared off as fast as they arrived. Parking and waiting anywhere near here would only draw the Israeli’s war birds. Even the tiny farming village was constantly under their prying eyes.
Mustaf tossed another pebble, smashing the ant just before it reached the fissure in the gnarly old olive tree’s bark that it called home. He looked around for another target to vent his frustration. Sitting out here babysitting a little sister was beneath the dignity on a Palestinian freedom fighter. He should be upstairs with Papa, planning another daring raid across the no-mans-land into Israel. He was a warrior, not a child.
Maybe Papa really wanted him to guard the meeting. That was it! Papa knew Mustaf was smart and brave. Papa knew that Mustaf would figure out the real mission. He would sit out here and guard against any surprise attack from the Israelis. If they came, he would shout out a warning and charge into the fight.
His right hand drifted under his robe so that he could feel the soft leather of his sling. He clenched his jaw tightly and looked grimly up and down the road. He carefully selected a half-dozen stones of just the right size and shape, and put them in his other pocket. He was ready.
Rachel scampered by on some imaginary errand, clutching her doll in one hand as she chattered to some make-believe friend.
Mustaf wasn’t quite sure what Father did for Uncle Yassir, but he knew it was important and dangerous. Father was fighting for the return of Palestine and the end of the Jewish invasion. Someday Mustaf would be a famous freedom fighter, too.
This house was so very different from the one they had just left in Beirut. A faint smile flitted across Mustaf’s young face as memories flooded back; the bustling market, all his friends, the house he loved and the busy excitement of the city.
Then, early one morning, Father appeared unexpectedly, weeks before he was supposed to return. He spoke quietly and quickly to Mama. Words that Mustaf couldn’t hear. But he sensed the fear descending over Mama. The family rushed out of the Beirut house, leaving everything behind, even his best soccer ball.
Father drove the small Fiat at breakneck speed, out of the city and across the broad valley. He barely slowed for the military checkpoints that dotted the road. The guards seemed to know they were coming and waved them on through. Still, the trip took all day, jolting over dusty, bumpy back roads, avoiding villages along the way. At last Papa screeched to a halt in front of this house.
Today would likely be the last day in Mdoukha. Then they would be off to some other tiny apartment in some other dusty town. Papa explained to them every move was necessary to protect them from the Mossad and the Israeli bombs. Papa kept them moving too much for Mustaf and Rachel to have any real friends, only make-believe ones and, of course, each other.
Momma complained every time they moved. Mustaf listened through the paper-thin walls as Papa and Momma argued long into the night; Momma complaining that the children had no friends and were not getting any education. Papa yelling back that friends were a luxury they couldn’t afford. Except for reading the Quoran, schooling would come when they had a homeland of their own.
Papa was a leader in the holy fight to regain their rightful homeland. He was a fighter who had won many battles against the Israelis. Scores of freedom fighters in the fedayeen followed Papa on his jihad.
Papa trusted no one outside the family, except possibly a very select few in the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Mossad had agents everywhere. The hated Israeli secret service would search out and kill Papa and the family if they could. Mustaf learned early that a leader in battle had to be as wary of betrayal as he was fearless. In family was the only trust.
Maybe they would be lucky this time and go to Damascus for a few months. Mustaf hoped so. The short time they lived there when he was four or five, when Rachel was born, was the happiest time of his young life.
Damascus was such a big, bustling city. There was always something exciting to do and, for the only time in his life, Mustaf felt really safe. He could explore the warren of streets in the old city; enjoy a thousand adventures as he rushed through the bustling crowds.
“Mustaf, come play with me,” Rachel wheedled. She grabbed his hand and tried to pull him upright. “You be the Papa and I’ll be the Momma.”
She cradled her doll and smiled down at it. “Little Bea will be our baby.”
Mustaf growled in his most manly voice, “Silence woman. I am on duty. Father ordered me to guard our house.” The boy stood and pulled his sling from under his robe. “No Israeli will sneak up on us.”
“Oh, Musta,” Rachel giggled. “Father only said that to keep you busy. Now, come play with me.”
Mustaf shook off her hand and growled, “I am a freedom fighter. I don’t have time to play baby games. I have to guard Papa’s meeting.”
“Oh, pash!” Rachel cried, tears coming quickly into her deep brown eyes. “You aren’t guarding anything. You’re just being mean. You don’t want to play with me! I’m going to go tell Momma.”
Rachel scampered across the street, her black hair streaming behind her just as another large black Mercedes screeched to a halt, barely missing the little girl. The back door flung open. A short, fat man dressed in wrinkled khaki fatigues and wearing a checkered turban clambered slowly out. A grizzled salt-and-pepper beard hid a pudgy face and beady black eyes.
“Uncle Yassir,” Mustaf called out.
The little man looked up and glanced across the street just as Rachel darted toward the apartment building. He smiled and waved at Mustaf and headed around behind the car, his arms opened wide to greet the boy.
Rachel ran from the house, happily calling, “Uncle Yassir! Uncle Yassir! Candy! Did you bring candy.”
Uncle Yassir smiled and waved at the young girl.
Mustaf heard the roar before he saw anything. Four jets flew low and very fast. They just cleared the ridge top before screaming down the valley directly toward them. Mustaf barely had time to recognize the distinctive shape of an F-4 before he saw the black bombs fall away from under the wings. The vision of the Star of David on each wing burned into his brain as the jets past overhead, the screaming engines shaking the very earth.
Mustaf watched in horror as the bombs dropped away and glided down, right at him. They fell in awful slow motion, coasting over the olive tree and across the street before slamming into the apartment. Piercing the walls and roof of the house, leaving holes where they flew through the dried mud and wood.
Time slowed to a crawl. For a split second, nothing happened. Mustaf dared to hope they were duds. Then the house disappeared in a roaring blast of yellow, orange, and black. It hit Mustaf just a millisecond before the pressure wave tossed him to the ground. His world went dark.
Mustaf slowly shook his head and blinked. The branches of the olive tree came into focus. Something wasn’t right. There weren’t any leaves on it. Where had the leaves gone? The acrid smell of smoldering rubber and plastic burned his nostrils.
Mustaf eased himself up until he was sitting. The big jets came roaring down the street again. He could see the white Star of David painted on the sides of the American made F-4 Phantom jets as they roared overhead. He thought he saw the pilots smiling and waving.
The pain changed in a flash to pure hate. Someone would pay. He would make the Americans and their stooges, the Israelis, pay. If it took all his life, they would pay. Mustaf yelled in absolute rage, shaking his fist, daring the pilots to come back and fight. He would kill them! He would kill them all!
He looked across the street. Uncle Yassir was just rising from behind his limousine. The car was shattered, torn from shrapnel tossed from the explosion. But where was the apartment? Where were Momma and Papa? There was nothing but a burning, twisted pile of rubble where the old building had once stood. Heavy black smoke swirled and twisted in a massive column reaching toward the sky.
The bitterness of his failure hit Mustaf with a hammer blow. Papa had sent him out to guard the family. He had let the Israelis attack. It was all his fault. If he had been quicker, stronger, braver; Papa and Momma would still be here.
He slumped to the ground, tears welling from his eyes. Then he saw the doll’s torn, bloodstained arm. He knew he had lost everything.
He pulled himself erect, using the olive tree to steady himself. The world swayed and whirled for a few seconds. The dizziness passed. He felt a strange burning pain from his cheek and felt the hot and sticky flow of blood running down the side of his face.
Uncle Yassir lifted the boy by the shoulder. “Come, my son. We will fix your first war wound. Then we will teach you how to use that hate. Your battles have only just begun.”
15 Mar 1998 0130LT (0130 Z)
Mustaf al Shatar pulled the black hood over his head, carefully adjusting the cloth. It mustn’t block his vision. His smoothly shaved face felt strange. His thick black beard normally hid the old scar, but the angry red welt was plainly visible as it zigzagged across his cheek. Mustaf ran his fingers lightly over the tortured tissue, reflecting that this was only a reminder of a much deeper scar in his heart. Rachel would be avenged.
A fleeting smile crossed his face. A good, devout Moslem should not shave the proof of his manliness, but the exigencies of battle with the infidel necessitated a clean shave. Mustaf was a practical man and knew that Allah would smile on any action that brought grief to the enemies of the true faith. Tonight was a time for revenge.
It felt good to be on an operational mission again, back amongst men of action instead of the political animals that inhabited the PLO headquarters. Uncle Yassir had taught him well, both in the arts of battle and in the political infighting needed to build an army. Mustaf had excelled at both, but only the rumbling growl of an AK-47 or the sight of the enemy’s blood brought any joy.
Mustaf glanced around at his small team. These five had been with him in the training camps in Syria and Libya. They had fought with him in the Golan Heights and the occupied territories. They were men he trusted with his life.
Six men in black coveralls crowded in the back of the speeding van. Their pockets bulged with extra clips of ammo and grenades. Each had a wickedly sharp assault knife strapped to the inside of their left calf, just above cloth and rubber combat boots.
Moussiari sat at Mustaf’s right, just as he had for the last twenty years, ever since Uncle Yassir had brought the young orphan boy to the training camp hidden high on the Eastern side of the Bekaa Valley. Moussiari was a young freedom fighter then, but already blooded from the fighting in Beirut and a couple of airliner hijackings. Uncle Yassir charged Moussiari with guarding and training the boy. Mustaf learned the techniques of battle at Moussiari’s hand and the value of loyalty from the man’s devotion. The big man saved Mustaf’s life twice on earlier missions.
Moussiari pulled open the aluminum trunk sitting in the center of the van, between their out-stretched legs. Six gleaming new AK-47 assault rifles rested inside, carefully secured in black foam.
He grabbed a weapon, flung the action back and tossed it down the line. The man sitting next to the rear door caught the rifle, slammed a magazine home and slid a round into the chamber. Moussiari picked up the next AK-47 and passed it down. He repeated this until there were only two left. He held one up for Mustaf before taking the last one for himself.
Mustaf snatched the Kalashnikov from Moussiari’s hand and worked the action, ramming a round into the chamber. The rough, powerful shape of the Russian automatic rifle felt good. It had been too long since he had last felt the weapon’s heavy recoil or heard its deep bark.
Mustaf leaned back against the van’s metal side and tried to ease the tension in his taunt muscles. He smiled as he remembered how it was always like this just before a mission, as if his body was coiling to strike.
Where had all the time gone? Had it really been five years since he last led a team of fedayeen on a mission of jihad? What would his Wahabi say if he knew that his star pupil had wasted his time playing political games?
Mustaf shrugged. Such was life. Politics bred power. Power was the name of the game. Righteous causes counted for nothing. Alliances for even less. He would grab as much power as possible, and then the world would feel his pain. He would avenge the murder of his family.
Moussiari asked quietly, his voice heavy with worry, “Are you sure you want to do this, my leader? The team can finish this mission. There is no reason to endanger you.”
Mustaf glanced across the van. The big, dark featured Iraqi could always be counted on to be at his side or covering Mustaf’s back.
“My friend,” Mustaf whispered. “I need to do this. Do you want our men to think I am some weak political animal like Uncle Yassir, ready to bend whichever way the wind blows? The rifle is my right hand, the bomb my tool. Allah must be avenged! Our cause is righteous.”
Moussiari glanced around the darkened interior. He lurched forward as the van raced around a sharp turn. Mustaf’s hand on his shoulder prevented Moussiari from being thrown into his master.
Moussiari grunted, “These men have served you for years. They know your bravery. Master, I beg you to stay behind. This mission is too dangerous. There is too much to lose.”
The van screeched to a halt. The rear doors swung open. Harsh blue-white light shattered the darkness. The lead pair of fighters leaped into the brightness.
Mustaf pushed Moussiari toward the door. “It’s too late to back out now. We can only pray to Allah that the Americans know nothing of our mission and that we serve Allah’s will.”
The pair ran across the narrow alley and followed the group into a darkened doorway. It was peaceful and quiet, beautiful as only an Iberian summer night could be. No shout of alarm, no spray of bullets to greet the fighters, only a warm breeze gently scented with olives and almonds. If they could just make it upstairs and to the front of the building.
Mustaf once again rehearsed the plan in his mind. It all seemed so easy, and so perfect. Israel’s Chief of Mossad meeting the American Director of Central Intelligence at the American Embassy in Lisbon. The broad boulevard separated this apartment flat from the Embassy’s front entrance. It was an easy shot. A pair of rocket-propelled grenades would smash the cars, then a spray of automatic rifle fire would kill the dazed survivors. Mustaf smiled. A classic ambush in the middle of a safe European capitol.
Mustaf’s team quickly dispersed to the three top floor apartments, setting up their killing field. Uncle Yassir’s agents rented the apartments years ago, just as they had in most of Europe’s capitols, in case they would ever be needed. Two men to an apartment, one ready with an RPG, the other lugging extra rockets and ammunition clips for their AK-47s.
The pink-gold dawn was just lighting the Tagus River when Mustaf slid into position behind the center window. He glanced across the tree-lined boulevard at the white colonnaded façade of the American Embassy. A Marine guard in dress uniform stood just outside the heavy wooden double doors, ready, even at this early hour, to let America’s friends in and to stop America’s enemies.
Mustaf leaned back and relaxed. There were still several hours to wait. The meetings weren’t scheduled to start until ten o’clock. These infidels believed in the comfort of sleep. There was time for him to rest for a few minutes.
The incessant, annoying buzz awoke Mustaf. Why would someone be calling him on the cell phone? Only a very select, very trusted few fedayeen knew this number. Mustaf snatched the miscreant device from his pocket, jammed down on the talk button, and growled, “What?”
The excited voice was familiar, a brother from the camps, his source in Arafat’s inner council. “Run, Mustaf! You have been betrayed. Arafat sold you out to the Mossad. It’s a trap!”
The line went dead.
Mustaf dropped the phone and stared sightlessly at the flyspecked white wall. It couldn’t possibly be true. Uncle Yassir was his mentor, his father figure. How could the man who had replaced Papa betray him like this? But somehow Mustaf knew it was true. He had risen to the point where Yassir saw him as a threat to his power. With Uncle Yassir, one thing was certain. If you threatened his power base, you would be destroyed.
The first explosion shattered the apartment to the right and blasted a huge hole in the adjoining wall. Mustaf could barely see through the choking dust and smoke. The shattered shapes of his fighters, blown apart by the missile, were barely visible. Automatic weapons fire poured into the apartment from somewhere across the street. Bullets rhythmically pocked the walls, tearing huge gouges out of the plaster.
A streak of light passed across his vision milliseconds before the second missile smashed into the apartment to the left. The explosion was deafening.
Moussiari stood at the window and opened fire. Mustaf could see the AK-47 jump and buck but, strangely, he couldn’t hear the roar he knew so well. The missile blast had deafened him. A burst of machine gun fire found their apartment, stitching a neat pattern across the wall. Another burst tore through Moussiari, spraying the air with a pink mist as the fedayeen fighter was slammed back and fell heavily at Mustaf’s feet.
“Mustaf, my brother,” the older fighter moaned. “Help me. I can’t move.”
Mustaf knew that they were in a hopeless trap. Nothing left but to escape and fight another day. No sense being a martyr for the cause. That was for the stupid foot soldiers. A leader had to stay alive to lead. He dove out the door and dashed for the stairs just as an explosion erupted in the apartment. Another missile must have found their hiding place. The damned Americans had worked out the angles of attack like a fine science. Bullets zipped through the air like a thousand angry hornets.
Mustaf crawled down the hallway as bullets rent the air above his head. It was only thirty feet, but it felt like a marathon as he struggled to make it to safety. Finally he reached the stairwell and tumbled down the stairs, only to slam into the landing below. In the relative safety of the landing, he tore off the black hood and coveralls, revealing the blue-gray caribinari uniform that he wore underneath. He left the coveralls lying on the landing beside the AK-47 and dashed on down the stairwell. By the time anyone found them, he would be long gone. A pair of explosions and more machine-gun fire erupted above and behind him as he tumbled pell-mell toward safety below.
At the bottom, he pulled the caribinari sergeant’s hat from his pocket and jammed it onto his head, completing the look. It was not perfect, but it would do. He took a few deep breaths, clearing his thoughts. When he took the next step and opened the door, he had to be in character. Mustaf was now a harried Lisbon police sergeant suddenly on the front line of a terrorist attack in his peaceful city.
A door on the floor below smashed open. Two figures in black combat garb dove through.
Bulky armored vests and heavy helmets hid their features from Mustaf, but he could easily see that these were the first members of the SWAT team, making their way up the stairs to cut off his escape. Their M-16 rifles danced like deadly cobras as the pair darted forward. Two more team members dove through the door immediately behind them.
Mustaf smiled. These men would be easy prey. One well-placed grenade would take them all out. Either they didn’t listen or they were trained by amateurs. Professionals didn’t bunch up so they could all die with a single stroke.
Mustaf leaned down the stairwell just enough so the lead gunner could see the uniform and yelled, “Hurry, before they get away. Apartments on the third floor. Hurry!” He waved vaguely upward.
Mustaf barely dared to breathe. He had just about exhausted his command of Portuguese. If the SWAT team stopped to interrogate him, they would easily detect the imposter. His hand dropped involuntarily to caress the butt of the 9mm Berretta in its shiny patent leather holster. He consciously pulled his hand away from the pitiful little weapon. These four would turn him into chopped meat before he fired the first round.
The SWAT team dashed past him with barely a glance as they headed to the ambush.
Mustaf walked slowly down the stairs and out the door. Bright morning sun greeted him as he exited the building that was meant to be his tomb. He slowly strolled down the alley, past the line of police vehicles and out onto the boulevard. American armored cars blocked off both ends. Combat garbed Marines stood behind the vehicles and crouched behind the tall palm trees in the center of the boulevard, their eyes fixed on the smoking apartment. No one even glanced at the caribinari sergeant as he slowly trudged down the sidewalk and rounded the corner.
Mustaf’s mind was seething. Everything was changed. There was no going back to the PLO now. It was time for a larger game. The Palestinians could worry about the trivialities of their homeland. It was time for him to free the Moslem world from the tyranny of the American Empire. If he could just make it out of Lisbon and slip across to Libya, Mustaf knew how he would do it. It was all so easy when Allah revealed his plan.
01 Jun 1998 0930LT (31 May 2330Z)
General Liu Pen sat back and listened. The briefing was excruciatingly boring, as usual. Every minor diplomat or small time spymaster laboring in the employ of the Peoples Republic of China seemed to find it vital to report every useless tidbit of information they stumbled across. They didn’t seem to realize that the director of Peoples Army Intelligence Corp had important duties to attend to.
Located deep under Tiannamen Square, The Central Command of the Peoples Intelligence Service was not listed on the tourist guide for Beijing. The concrete bunkers, secretly constructed during the sixties, could withstand a full blown nuclear assault from either the Americans or the Russians. Chairman Mao could never quite decide which was the greater threat. Their function to protect China’s leaders against nuclear annihilation was largely obsolete, but the bunkers had a new purpose. The massive concrete walls and tons of earth above shielded his command center from any prying eyes. No electronic sensor, no matter how sophisticated and sensitive, could reach here.
From this hidden location, his tendrils reached out to all of Asia and beyond; sifting each tiny bit of intelligence; sorting, evaluating, filing every morsel. And General Liu Pen sat at the center of the spider web.
Liu Pen’s eyes drifted away from the briefer and toward the map of Asia, nearly filling the wall to his left. China, of course, dominated the central part of the map, but Liu Pen focused further to the South, to the broad underbelly of Asia.
For untold centuries China’s threat had been to the North and West. First from hordes of Mongol barbarians swarming across the empty plains, then from the Russians with their tanks and missiles. In today’s world, those threats were gone. The danger was from the South. It was from an odd mixture of Western capitalist economic power and fundamentalist Islamic poverty mixed in the stewing cauldron of the tropics. But, in that boiling mix of greed, hunger, and hate, Liu Pen saw an irresistible opportunity. It was not without risk, but a prize so valuable was worth some risk.
The General sat backed and gazed at the map, lost in thought. The giant fans, barely whispering, drew the outside air in, and after filtering it through several levels of defense, delivered a gentle zephyr of jasmine scented air across Liu Pen’s cheeks.
“Our friend in Libya has reported in.” The briefer finished one subject and moved on to the next.
Liu Pen shifted slightly and turned his stare back toward the briefer. This was a subject that he was interested in. The briefer hesitated before he continued the briefing, almost as if he was tantalizing the General with a morsel before revealing the main course.
“And what does he report?” Liu Pen asked quietly.
There was the barest hint of exasperation in the General’s voice. The three other officers, seated around the polished wood table sat upright. These men, General Liu Pen’s personal staff, sensed the danger. The briefer was trying the General’s patience and he was not known as a patient man.
“He reports that the mission was successful,” the briefer droned on. “Mustaf al Shatar received the warning and escaped the Israeli/American ambush. He has safely arrived at the desert camp. He is blaming the PLO for betraying him, apparently as an attempt to remove him as a political threat to Arafat’s power. Mustaf has taken charge and broken all ties with the PLO. He is attempting to establish his own operation. From all indications, he suspects nothing of our involvement.”
Liu Pen turned to his Chief of Staff, a squat, fat little man with beady black eyes, who squirmed at the General’s direct gaze.
Liu Pen held his stare for the barest second before he said, “Have our friend offer Mustaf all the support he wants. We want him deeply dependent on our assistance. Then we will steer him toward our Indonesian operation.”
The Chief of Staff nodded and broke into a half smile as he answered, “A perfect match. Bring the Moslem terrorist in to help the Islamic revolution.”
He templed his fingers in front of his face. His black eyes beamed out over the tips as he continued. “I shall, of course, hide our presence. The disruption will panic the West.”
“But the West are our friends,” Liu Pen retorted sarcastically. “Haven’t you been paying attention to the new world order? We are all friends now. We live in a time of peaceful cooperation.”
His smile shifted to a serious grimace. “Let Mustaf know where his aid is coming from. The man has a pathological hatred for America. He will need to know most of the plan before we can use him. But not all.”
The briefer cleared his throat. “May I continue, General?”
“Do you have more drivel that demands my time?” Liu Pen shot back, the heat of his voice betraying the General’s annoyance.
“Just one more item,” the briefer stuttered, taken aback by the blast. “Our new agent is in place. She arrived in Hawaii from Los Angeles two days ago. She will make contact with our target asset in a few days.”
Liu Pen nodded and rose. It was a signal that the briefing was over. The briefer gathered his notes and scurried out of the room, followed by the rest of the staff.
Just as the Chief of Staff reached the door, General Liu Pen called him back. “Two more things for you to do. First, develop a plan to have Mustaf al Shatar meet Admiral Suluvana. We need them to start working together quickly. Time is not on our side.”
The Chief of Staff nodded and asked, “And the second thing?”
“That briefer. Get him out of here. I’m thinking command of a border crossing somewhere in the Gobi Desert should be just about suitable for his talents.”
7 Aug 1998 1315 LT (0215Z)
Admiral Suluvana grasped the rail and braced his legs against the ship’s gentle roll. It felt good to be back at sea again, even if he felt like super-cargo on this new frigate. The starboard bridge-wing of a warship was where he belonged. The sea air blowing through his hair and the afternoon sun warming his skin were just the right combination for a sailor.
The short, middle-aged Indonesian admiral pulled the blue ball cap a little lower so that the scrambled egg encrusted brim shielded his eyes from the sun’s glare. Long exposure to salt and sea spray weathered his face to the color and texture of old leather. Years of squinting into the sun carved deep furrows in his brow.
The sea was an unbelievable cerulean that only existed in the deep waters of the tropics. The warm air brought a salt tang to Suluvana’s nostrils with just the spicy hint of exotic islands. It was a great day to be at sea.
Suluvana glanced around for a minute. This was the finest ship to ever fly his flag. The Salawal and her three sisters joined the Indonesian Navy less than a year ago.
He could not quite understand why the Americans were discarding them. The American Perry class seemed ideal for the restricted Indonesian waters, small enough to safely maneuver the many intricate passages, large enough to demand respect, and with enough modern weapons and sensors to handle any contingency.
The Salawal was a manifestation of their largesse. The SSQ-56 sonar was fantastic for searching the island strewn waters for submarines, while her radar could search out and track any surface ship within fifty kilometers and any aircraft out to twice that.
The Americans sailed with the Perry class frigates for many years before finally coming to the realization that they could safely pass their much-vaunted technology on to the primitive masses. They had only recently decided that their friends in Southeast Asia should have these magnificent ships.
Suluvana well knew the Americans were using the Salawal and her sisters as a bribe to ensure Indonesia’s continued cooperation. Their secondary motive was to strengthen the current government against the threat of internal revolt.
Just the barest hint of a smile flitted across Suluvana’s dark features. The irony was delicious. The Americans were arming the very revolution they so feared. With Allah’s will, he would use their own weapons to drive the infidels from his homeland.
Suluvana strode out to the edge of the bridge wing. He grasped the rail and tensed his shoulder muscles against its unyielding steel. This was the little exercise he could accomplish onboard. There simply was not enough room. Even walking around the ship was difficult with the crew snapping to attention whenever he approached. He tensed each muscle separately, holding the tension for a full minute before relaxing. First the arms and shoulders, then the solar plexus, and then moving down to the leg muscles.
While doing his exercises, Admiral Suluvana stared out to sea. It would be interesting if he could spot the periscope before the Salawal’s sonar sensed the submarine.
What was that, maybe five or six kilometers out, broad on the starboard bow? Suluvana thought he could just see tendrils of green smoke whisping upward from the sea’s surface. He grabbed a pair of binoculars and focused on the spot. Yes, a pair of green flares smoking on the surface and just beyond he could faintly see the smallest white feather caused by a periscope moving through the water.
Captain Balewegal, the Salawal’s commanding officer, stuck his head out the bridge wing door and shouted above the wind, “Admiral, we have regained contacted on the JAHIDIR at a range of three-seven hundred meters. This SSQ-56 sonar is magic. We detected submarine just minutes after he launched his torpedo attack.”
Admiral Suluvana slammed his binoculars down onto the small steel table. An empty coffee cup skittered across the surface and fell to the deck. The white porcelain cup shattered into a thousand shards. He screamed, “You idiot! Don’t you have the slightest understanding?”
Balewegal stared at the irate senior officer, not comprehending why he was in such a tirade. With all his previous anti-submarine ships, he had never detected a submarine. Now that he finally could report success, his Admiral was furious. The taller, slightly overweight Captain shrank back, vainly trying to hide behind the bridge gyro repeater.
Admiral Suluvana stopped yelling at the helpless junior officer. The effort would be lost on Balewegal. The man had no real intelligence, he served only as a pawn in this great game. But a loyal one; and loyal pawns are to be valued.
Suluvana turned away to gaze toward the submarine. He smiled slightly. Out there a few thousand meters was the answer to all his problems. These new KILO class boats were amazing. They could silently sneak close enough to Indonesia’s finest, most modern ships; and deliver a coup-de-grace with impunity. Even the Americans feared their stealth and torpedoes. With enough of them, he could control all of Southeast Asia. With the four he had, and with skillful placement, he could easily command all the sea-lanes passing through Indonesia.
“Signal JAHIDIR that the exercise is completed,” Suluvana said. “Let us return to port and celebrate our successes. Between JAHIDIR’s uncontested command of the undersea and Salawal’s prowess on the surface, our naval forces are supreme. No on will dare contest our control of the sea lanes that traverse our sovereign waters.”
Captain Balewegal nodded in agreement with the Admiral. He added, “And, my Admiral. With this technology in your able hands, we will be victorious in our quest.”
Suluvana glowered at the man. He growled, “You truly are an idiot! Did your mother drop you on your head when you were a baby? How dare you mention such a thing! I should toss you over the side and pretend you never existed.”
“But, my Admiral,” Balewegal sputtered. “We have planned for so long. The time is now near. Why?”
The Admiral interrupted before Balewegal could complete his thought, “Captain, if you would use your meager intellect for just one second, you would understand. Just the merest hint of what we are planning, in the wrong circles, would cause destruction to rain down on all of us. If you survived President Mustisanissal’s torture cell, you would spend the rest of your worthless life as a broken man. A forgotten prisoner deep in a Jakarta prison. And I would die a martyr, a victim of your stupidity”
Captain Balewegal sputtered, “But of course, my Admiral. I understand. It is just the two of us here. No one can overhear what we say, and, besides, my crew is loyal to our quest. There is no danger.”
Suluvana glared at the Captain. The silence was so intense that Balewegal thought for a moment that the very ocean had stopped its un-ending motion under the Admiral’s glacial stare. Finally Suluvana smiled and said, “Of course you are correct. When you signal JAHIDIR, tell Captain al Meshidar that I expect he and you at my quarters for dinner tonight.”
Balewegal stepped inside the bridge of the frigate.
Suluvana was left blessedly alone as the gray warship made a graceful turn. They would be back in port before the sun slipped below the horizon. There were many things to accomplish before dinner. He pulled General Liu Pen’s message from his pocket and re-read the text. So, the old Chinese spymaster wanted to speak with him about some Palestinian terrorist. Where could that lead?
03 Sep 1998 1013LT
Mustaf listened quietly as General Liu Pen spoke.
The summons to Beijing was a surprise. He had known for sometime that powerful, hidden players were pulling the strings around the Arab world. As rich and well entrenched as the Saudi’s were, he had sensed that someone else was behind the curtain. The hidden player was far more resourceful than those old desert Bedouins. Neither the Syrians nor the Iranians commanded anywhere near the capabilities that he had already seen. That meant someone outside the Islamic world was in the great game.
Mustaf suspected that the PRC was playing power broker in the terrorist world. This was the first direct contact he had enjoyed.
He sat in Beijing, in the Peoples Army Intelligence Corp’s ornately furnished headquarters. The richly carved rosewood paneling nicely accented the pair of ornately inlaid Ming dynasty chests. Low voltage spotlights discreetly illuminated priceless porcelains displayed along the wall behind the long teak table dominating the central part of the large room. The room screamed of history, wealth, and above all, power.
For an infidel, the Chinese general seemed inordinately willing to aid the jihad. He was offering billions of dinar and invaluable intelligence. His assistance would make Mustaf’s dream, a killing stroke against the West, a reality. It was almost too good to be true.
Since first climbing off the PRC transport jet at Beijing Airport’s military terminal, Mustaf had been given the Chinese military’s version of the “honored guest” treatment. The ride into his sumptuous quarters was in a very nice new Mercedes, windows heavily darkened so that no one could glimpse the lone occupant in the rear seat.
His minder, evidently a high ranking PAIC operative, discreetly informed Mustaf that any needs would be fulfilled, but that he should not venture out of his suite.
When the minder came to escort him to the meeting, Mustaf was more than willing to go. He felt like a tiger in a silk cage. But it had been worth the effort. There was very little chance that anyone would be able to tie his operation with the PRC or with Admiral Suluvana’s revolution.
Mustaf smiled inwardly. The old spy wasn’t being so magnanimous because he had suddenly seen the true path of Allah. His altruism had a hundred hidden catches. But, still, his money and resources were valuable. He was a tool to be used to reach Allah’s goal.
“This will probably be the only time we meet,” General Liu Pen continued. “The Americans and the Israelis are far too likely to catch some hint if we ever come face-to-face again. Our communications must be infrequent and circumspect.”
The General slowly looked at each of the other two men in the room. Admiral Suluvana was watching through carefully hooded eyes. There was no way to tell what the Indonesian was thinking behind that opaque mask.
Liu Pen turned toward Mustaf and said, “I think we have found a weapon to unleash on the West that will exact the blood revenge you demand. It is near perfect and, once we are finished, even you will be satisfied.”
Mustaf leaned forward, his attention drawn toward the General His purpose was obvious; to keep the West occupied while China pursued her own goals in relative freedom.
It required all of Mustaf’s will power to suppress the grin. China could do what ever she wanted, as long as she gave him the weapons he needed. Rachel would be avenged! The West would pay!
“We have come across a strain of mousepox that has been isolated and mutated by a group of Australian scientists,” General Liu Pen continued.
Admiral Suluvana snorted, “You called us to Beijing to tell us you had discovered a way to make mice sick?”
General Liu Pen raised his hand and smiled faintly. “Admiral, please allow me to continue. What I am explaining is every bit as subtle as employing those new KILO submarines we gave you.”
Suluvana sat back quietly. The veiled threat didn’t escape him. The PRC was supplying him with his weapons and could just as easily stop.
“As I was saying,” Liu Pen went on. “The Australians mutated the mousepox during their research. The strain they developed was absolutely immune to any known antidote. We now have a few grams of that virus and, more importantly, a scientist who says he can transfer the genetic structure to a smallpox virus.”
General Liu Pen turned to face Admiral Suluvana directly. “Now, Admiral. Do you see where our target is a little more than a few sick mice?”
Mustaf could barely grasp what he was hearing. Smallpox had nearly eradicated mankind several times since the Romans ruled the world. The disease was a horrible scourge, killing millions over the last millennia. Modern science had only brought it under control in the last century. Bio-weapons engineers dreamed of using smallpox as the perfect bio-weapon, but until now the weapon and the antidote had been in perfect synchronous.
Now some hapless Australian scientists had found a way to make a totally incurable strain. A weapon capable of destroying most of mankind, a weapon totally without defense.
It was perfect. Revenge was within his grasp. Smallpox had been declared eradicated nearly a generation ago, except for some strains ostensibly kept “for science.” Even the vaccination programs had been closed down years ago. A few medical facilities were rumored to maintain some stocks of the vaccine as a precaution, but not nearly enough for an epidemic outbreak.
“You say this stuff, this mousepox, is immune to all antidotes?” Mustaf questioned. His eyes glistened as he rapidly shot out his inquiries. “How virulent is it? What is the death percentage? How contagious?”
Liu Pen held up his hand to stop the verbal onslaught. “There is still some research to complete and some production to finish before the mousepox is ready to use. Then we will be able to answer all your questions with operational proof.”
He smiled toward Mustaf, an evil grin that even stopped the Palestinian terrorist. “For obvious reasons, we can’t do this in China. We need a location where we can absolutely control the security; a place that allows us easy access.”
Suluvana brightened. “I have the perfect place, a tiny island in the Java Sea. Totally uninhabited now, there used to be a small mine there. Bauxite, if I remember correctly. The place is called Nusa Funata. I really pity anyone we put on it. Nothing but mangrove swamp surrounding a mountain jungle.”
“Perfect,” Liu Pen nodded. “Have it ready to go in three weeks. Doctor Aswal and his team will fly then. Mustaf, gather up a security team. The Admiral’s soldiers can guard the island, but we need someone else to guard the facilities themselves. I want people who know how to keep a secret.”
With that Liu Pen slammed his hands down on the table and rose. He turned and walked out of the room. The meeting was over. It was time for action.
10 May 2000 1815LT (0415Z)
“Conn, sonar. Regain contact on Sierra Two-Two, bearing three-one-five.”
The 21MC announcing speaker blared in Jon Hunter’s ear. The Commanding Officer of the nuclear attack submarine USS SAN FRANCISCO was anxiously waiting for this report. But the announcement still startled him. He glanced at the BQQ5 sonar repeater to see a faint squiggle just beginning to appear on the screen, confirming that they weren’t all alone in this part of the Pacific.
They had been playing cat and mouse with Sierra Two-Two, the Trident submarine USS NEBRASKA, for the last three days. Both submarines were doing their best to hide in the cold, black depths West and North of Hawaii.
Hunter reached over and snatched the 21MC speaker from its holder next to the sonar console. “Sonar, Captain, aye. Looks like he’s slowly drawing to the left.”
The six foot tall Commander hunched over the screen, his brow furrowed as he stared at the screen. His thick blond hair and fit figure belonged to a young man. Only the crows feet developing around his deep brown eyes belied his forty-two years, nearly twenty of them riding submarines.
Just a few feet forward of where Jon Hunter stood, six sonar operators sat poring over more sonar screens, each trying to draw every possible bit of information from the ocean outside the LOS ANGELES class submarine.
Master Chief Sonar Technician Holmstad, the sonar supervisor, took a quick glance over one operator’s shoulder and watched the passive broadband display for an instant. “Captain, Sonar. Sierra Two-Two bearing rate left zero-point-three degrees per minute,” he reported while he kept moving over to look at the next display. “Just starting to pick up a two-forty-seven hertz line on passive narrow band again.”
Holmstad was a fixture onboard. He had been the sonar chief onboard SAN FRANCISCO ever since she was launched, almost fifteen years ago. He made his name aboard the older STURGEON class boats when they went up North of the Kola Peninsula to hunt out the Soviet boats.
Hunter flipped the screen on his display over to passive narrow band just as Bill Fagan stepped over. Fagan, SAN FRANCISCO’s Executive Officer, was busy supervising the fire control party as they struggled to transform the sonar information into range, course, and speed information for the NEBRASKA.
“Captain, we’ve been picking up that two-forty-seven line at about two thousand yards. That’s about two thousand yards closer than our tracking solution has him.”
“Well, looks like you’d better move your tracking solution in a couple of thousand yards,” Hunter said dryly.
SAN FRANCISCO’s control room was so crowded that it was difficult to move. At least fifteen crewmen crushed into a roughly thirty foot square space already jammed full of equipment. The entire starboard side was devoted to the computerized fire control system. Six men, dressed in nearly identical blue coveralls, sat in front of flickering screens, deciphering the hieroglyphics, manipulating data, flitting from display to display as they labored to solve the problem of what was happening in the sea around the sub.
Two large glass topped chart tables filled the aft third of the control room. A team of sailors huddled over paper charts, chewing on every tidbit of information as it came in from sonar, fitting it into a mosaic. Everything to give Jon Hunter another look at what they thought NEBRASKA was doing.
From the forward port side of the room, the Diving Officer and his team drove the sub through the depths. Just forward of the Diving Officer’s seat, the helmsman and planesman controlled the submarine’s depth and course. Two of the youngest men onboard, barely legally allowed to drive a car, were driving the seven thousand ton monster with ease. They handled control yokes that looked very much like the ones that airline pilots used. The helmsman, sitting on the right, turned his wheel to turn the rudder and steer the sub. By pushing or pulling the control yoke, he positioned the fairwater planes to make SAN FRANCISCO go up or down. The stern planesman, sitting on the left, controlled the sub’s angle by pushing or pulling his control yoke, positioning the stern planes.
“XO, get a quick handle on what NEBRASKA is doing. We need to get up to copy the broadcast,” Hunter ordered. “Never can tell when Squadron will decide to tell us to do something else.”
Fagan nodded and chuckled, “Maybe they’ll get lonely and call us home. Don’t know about you, Skipper, but I’m getting mighty tired of babysitting these boomers. I’d even settle for a Squadron admin inspection if it meant I could get to the O-club for happy hour.”
“Careful what you wish for, XO,” Hunter answered. “Commodore Calucci and his boys would probably be waiting at the pier. At least out here we don’t have them trying to “help”.”
Hunter stepped over to the periscope stand that dominated the center of the control room. Two silver poles of the side-by-side periscopes rose out of the deck and disappeared into the overhead.
“Officer of the deck, make your depth one-five-zero feet, slow to ahead one third,” he ordered the young Lieutenant standing by the number two scope. Gold dolphins decorated the right breast of his blue coveralls; a cloth nametag with the name “Miller” embroidered on it was sewn to the left breast.
The submarine angled upward and slowed as it rose up to the new ordered depth.
“At one-five-zero, ahead one-third,” Lt Miller reported. “Clearing baffles to the right.”
Hunter nodded and answered, “Very well, Weps. We need to be up to copy the 0430 Zulu broadcast. You’ve got five minutes. Let’s ventilate for thirty minutes while we are up. We could use a little fresh air.”
SAN FRANCISCO swung around to the right so that the sonar dome in the submarine’s bow could look back behind when the boat had been, making sure that no ship was hidden there. Hunter bent over the sonar screen, watching as the previously baffled sector came slowly into view. Nothing appeared on the screen.
“Conn, sonar, completed baffle clear,” Master Chief Holmstad’s voice boomed from the speaker. “No new contacts. Currently hold one contact, Sierra Two-Two, currently bearing three-zero-four.”
“Captain,” Miller called out. “Hold one sonar contact, Sierra Two-Two, NEBRASKA. Request permission to proceed to periscope depth to copy the 0430 broadcast.”
“Proceed to periscope depth,” Hunter ordered.
Miller reached up into the overhead and grabbed the large red ring that circled the number two scope. “Raising number two scope,” he called as he rotated the ring.
“Speed five,” the Diving Officer called out, verifying that SAN FRANCISCO was going slow enough to raise the periscope.
As the periscope smoothly slid upward, Miller squatted down, waiting for the eyepiece to rise out of the deck. “Dive, make your depth six-two feet,” he called out.
“Make my depth six-two feet, Aye,” the Diving Officer answered. “Proceeding to periscope depth.”
The control room fell silent. Everyone’s attention was riveted on Miller as he rose with the scope eyepiece. He slapped the handles down and glued an eye to the eyepiece. With any sign of a ship above, either from Miller seeing it or from the sonar, the crew had to instantly respond to get them back down to the safety of the depths.
The submarine slowly rose upward until the periscope broke through the surface into late evening sky.
Miller danced the scope around in a complete circle, peering out in search of any shape that might be a ship bearing down on them. He saw only the Pacific swells illuminated by a full moon shining down from above and the last glimmers of the sun disappearing below the Western horizon.
“No close contacts.”
Everyone could relax and breathe again.
“Chief of the Watch, raise number two BRA-34,” Miller called out.
The Chief of the Watch reached up on the panel of switches, gauges, and indicator lights in front of him and flipped up on a small toggle switch. “Number two BRA-34 coming up.”
The 21MC speaker blared out, “Conn, Radio, in synch on the broadcast.”
Miller glanced over at the ballast control panel, where the Chief of the Watch controlled hydraulic, air and trim systems throughout the sub. A small section of the panel was devoted to controlling the various masts that filled the sail above them.
“Chief of the Watch, prepare to ventilate the ship,” Miller called out.
The Chief grabbed the 1MC microphone and called out, “Prepare to ventilate.”
Crewmen on-watch around the boat moved to align dampers and fans in the ventilation system so that new air could be drawn from outside and old air exhausted overboard.
“Raise the snorkel mast,” Miller ordered.
“Snorkel mast coming up,” the Chief of the Watch called out as he flipped the toggle switch that pushed the big mast up.
“Torpedo in the water!” The startling announcement came out of the blue, the 21MC reverberating with the information. Someone had shot at them.
Lieutenant Miller reacted automatically. “Torpedo evasion, ahead flank!” He yelled out. “Make your depth six hundred feet! Snapshot, tube two!”
The crew jumped into action. They had to out-maneuver or out-run the incoming torpedo and shoot back. It was the only way to stay alive.
“Torpedo bearing three-one-two!”
Hunter stomped up on the periscope stand and, in a commanding voice, ordered, “All stop. Make your depth four two feet.”
The fairwater planes slapped the surface as the boat bobbed upward until the main deck was awash.
“Torpedo bearing three-one-two!”
Fagan called from across the room at the fire control system, “Solution ready on bearing of incoming torpedo; weapon ready, tube two.”
Hunter ordered, his voice flat and dry, “Shoot tube two.”
A slamming, whooshing noise rushed up from the torpedo room. An ADCAP torpedo flushed out of tube two and raced off toward its target.
“In-coming torpedo bearing three-one-two,” Holmstad called out. “Own ship’s weapon running normal.”
Hunter whispered so that no one but the young lieutenant could hear, “Mr. Miller, you had masts and antennas up that would have been bent over with that little maneuver. I know it’s difficult, but in the future please try very hard to keep your head out of your ass.”
“But Skipper,” Miller pleaded, “We had an incoming weapon. We had to evade.”
“You’re supposed to be the Weapons Officer,” Hunter answered. “What are the chances of out running an ADCAP torpedo with the alertment we had?”
“Probably none, sir,” Miller answered sheepishly.
“Then we have to out-smart it,” Hunter continued. “NEBRASKA thought they were shooting at a submerged nuclear submarine. They know the standard evasion tactic as well as we do. They expected us to go deep and run. What they got instead was a surface ship stopped in the middle of the ocean.”
Miller’s face brightened as he understood what Hunter was teaching him, “Of course! He would shoot with Doppler Enable in and submerged settings. The torpedo wouldn’t even look at a zero knot target on the surface.”
“Conn, sonar, incoming weapon passed underneath and is opening. It missed. NEBRASKA is speeding up. Sounds like she is going to flank.”
The torpedo launch control operator called out, “Detect! Detect! Acquisition!”
“Own ship weapon speeding up. We got a hit!”