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Chapter One

Mike Harmon stuck his laptop in his jump bag and tossed the latter over one shoulder, standing up and stretching his back. He had been sitting in the coffee shop for nearly three hours and he wasn't as young as he used to be. Fifteen years in the teams had left him with degenerative damage in half the major joints in his body and a back that was compacted enough for a fifty-year-old.

As he wandered out of the shop, he glanced at his image in the plate glass window and grimaced. Brown hair, brown eyes, a "regular" face, neither handsome nor ugly, shoulders a bit wider than the norm, middle beginning to bulge a bit despite regular exercise. Not the most prepossessing figure and certainly not, by any stretch of the imagination, a big man on campus.

He'd thought that going back to college would be a cinch. With both his career and his marriage foundered on the rocks, time to go find some time in the sun. After years of eighteen-hour days, how hard could homework be? And then there were the lovely young coeds, long legs flashing by, skirts swirling and flirting, practically begging to be snapped up by a not particularly bad looking former SEAL.

Well, the homework wasn't actually that bad, or it wouldn't be if it weren't for the classes he had to take. History. How bad could it be? Greeks and Romans and Persians and the Renaissance. Egyptians and feudal lords and maybe memorizing a bunch of dead guys' names.

Little did he know. That was "old history." His current major course was "An Introduction to African Pre-Colonial History." As far as he'd been able to determine, his definition of what constituted "history" and the definition used by the University of Georgia History Department didn't come from the same dictionary. Sure, the old time historians made stuff up. Livy read like something written by Tom Clancy and Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars was written with political image in mind with only brief touches on reality, something like a Democratic stump speech. But it had brief touches on reality and it was at least written. Prior to the "colonization" period, Africa had no writing and, apparently, no problems worth discussing. His professor attributed every ill of Africa to the colonialism of the White Man, ignoring the ongoing tribal wars that dated back thousands of years, not to mention the Arab slave traders that benefited from them. He'd had to see the first episode of the mini-series Roots and had been loudly shushed when he started laughing in the first fifteen minutes. Slave traders didn't get off their boats and go chase bush-bunnies around. They bought them from Arabs, not fucking "Islamics," Ay-rabs. And the Arabs bought them from the tribes, who were constantly at war with each other.

Sometimes it was all Mike could do to not stand up and punch the stupid bastard, especially when he got started on "modern colonialism," by which he meant the War on Terrorism. Mike wanted to scream "Have you ever been in Mogadishu you ignorant son-of-a-bitch?" Hell, the conditions in Africa were better when the English and the Germans and even the French and the Belgians had been in charge. He'd read Conrad's Heart of Darkness a couple of times during down time on the teams. And he'd been in Congo, not that there was any trace of it going in or out. And Congo now was "Heart of Darkness" on fucking steroids. The only thing worse than having the Belgians in charge was having the fucking gomers handling things.

But, of course, the problem with the gomers wasn't that they were totally fucked up gomers. Oh, no, the problem with the gomers were all the fault of colonialism and "western military adventures." Well, he'd been on one "western military adventure" in Congo and as far as he was concerned the best thing to do was spray the whole damned place with anthrax, including the fucking gorillas, shoot anyone that tried to leave and start over.

Attitudes like this, of course, didn't sit very well with his professors. It also didn't fit very well with the pretty little airheads that were being fed a steady diet of leftist propaganda bullshit. And no matter how he tried, he'd always end up opening up his mouth and pointing out that it was leftist propaganda bullshit. That the problem with the gomers was their fucking culture, which was totally fucked up and had been before colonialization and was going to stay that way until somebody beat some sense into their heads. At which point terms like "militarist" and "baby-killer" and, with the real intellectuals, "myrmidon" would start getting tossed around.

What was funny was that some of the most leftist, ball-busting, bitches seemed to get off on his being a former team guy. There was one little brunette wearing a beret just like that fucking terrorist Che that he swore was getting ready to go down on him right in the middle of the damned argument. But he'd blown her off instead. The hell if he'd get told he was a mindless myrmidon and then fuck the little bitch.

Sooner or later, something was going to give. His really bad side was starting to peek out and that was something he feared more than failure. It violated the warrior code. Courage in Battle, Loyalty to the King, Protection of the Innocent. Sometimes it seemed it was the only thing he had left. He was not going to become a fucking rapist.

He'd always managed to restrain that side of himself, even with the Philipino B girls and the Thailand whores, when it didn't matter what you did, as long as you paid the mamasan. One of the reasons he'd just left the little bitch in the beret hanging was if he'd taken her home it would have been a grudge fuck, with emphasis on "grudge." And she'd have gone home sorry and sore. Which was all well and good if it was lined out in advance and agreed to by both parties. But that wasn't where that particular relationship was going.

So his right forearm got over developed, his anger got hotter and hotter and there didn't seem to be any release in sight. He very much needed to kill someone. Just about anyone would do, but one of the little airhead bitches was getting even farther up the list than his professors.

Thoughts like that had carried him, unthinking, to the areas by the library and the English department buildings. His path wasn't even vaguely in the direction of his apartment; in fact it was in the opposite direction. But there were quiet pathways where occasional young ladies wandered by, most of them so totally fucking oblivious they wouldn't have noticed if he threw a rock in their direction. It was a sick addiction with a very specific name: "stalking." He'd pick a dark spot, stand still as if he were simply drinking in the night and wait. Sooner or later some brainless bitch would walk past, totally defenseless.

Sometimes, just to get a rise out of them, he'd cough. And they'd notice the dark figure in the shadows, their eyes would get wide and they'd hurry past. He never looked at them then, he'd totally ignore them, but he could tell by their hurried steps, quite often clicking away in their high heels, how much he'd frightened them. Sick, but oh so very fun. And he considered it to be instructional for the little idiots. It might teach them to keep some situational awareness.

He also considered it keeping in training. There were plenty of non-idiots among the girls on campus, girls who knew damned well that college campuses had the highest rate of rape in the U.S. And, nine times out of ten, even with the ones who were alert, he could avoid being seen even standing in plain sight. His team name was "Ghost" and it had been hard earned. It was an ability he'd had even before he was on the teams and one that he'd raised to a high pitch in various third world shitholes. He could just . . . blend.

If he put on local clothes and spent some time watching local moves, he could move among the populace of half the world unnoticed. A little heavy-set, jaw a little square, shoulders a little broad, but nobody seemed to take that into account. Grow a little stubble, cover his haircut and he was anything from an Arab to an Afghan. As long as he didn't open his mouth: he'd never had language training and his Arab extended to "where's the bathroom" and "lie on the floor and put your hands on your head."

The spot he'd chosen overlooked Baldwin Street, which ran between the English building, Park Hall, and the Military Science Building. He'd thought about going ROTC and maybe bucking for an Army commission. But even with his background his physical damage—he was paid for being "50% disabled" and might go as high as 100% in time—made it unlikely that even the Army would give him a commission. And if he did get one, at his age, he'd probably end up in supply or civil affairs or some such bullshit. Better to eat the shit at the college, get his history degree and go looking for a teaching job. Coach track or swimming, teach history and just . . . veg.

He stopped vegging as he spotted a nice young quarry, blonde, nice tits in a midriff top, ruffled miniskirt revealing long, shapely legs and black high heels clicking along on the sidewalk heading west on Baldwin. The fashions had come together nicely in the last year with just about everything a heterosexual male wanted to see women wearing being the "in" thing. It was like some over-sexed ancient Greek god had told fashion designers exactly what he wanted them to push. She was probably coming back from some of the clubs over on Broad—she was "club" dressed—headed down to the dorms along Lumpkin. And too stupid to stay to the more traveled and lighted ways. Probably a freshman, he thought.

It was as professional a snatch as he'd ever seen. The custom van slowed down, the door opened, a man stepped out in a trot, the bag went over the blonde's head, she was lifted into the van before she could even start kicking, the door closed and the van started to accelerate. It took no more than a couple of seconds. As far as Mike could tell there was no one in sight of the snatch, certainly no one in easy view and if you hadn't been looking right at the girl you probably wouldn't have been able to process it. Whoosh. The girl was just . . . gone.

Except the van had to stop at the west end of Park Street, where it intersected Lumpkin, and Mike realized he was already down the hill in a sprint, off the low wall by the sidewalk, his jump bag banging on his back as he accelerated down the middle of the road, no cars in sight and it kept him out of the view, mostly, of the driver. The van started to pull out onto Lumpkin and Mike leapt upwards, landing lightly on the ladder at the back of the van, crouched. If he lost track of the van the girl was going to disappear, probably into an unmarked grave.

He knew that, at heart, he was a rapist. And that meant he hated rapists more than any "normal" human being. They purely pissed him off. He'd spent his entire sexually adult life fighting the urge to use his not inconsiderable strength to possess and take instead of woo and cajole. He'd fought his demons to a standstill again and again when it would have been so easy to give in. He'd had one truly screwed up bitch get completely naked, with him naked and erect between her legs, and she still couldn't say "yes." And he'd just said: "that's okay" and walked away with an amazing case of blueballs. When men gave in to that dark side, it made him even more angry than listening to leftist bitches scream about "western civilization" and how it was so fucked up.

The van was an older modern custom van like Mexicans tended to drive and from inside he could hear the struggle going on and the muffled cries of the girl followed by slaps. While it made one side of him angry as hell, another side was so turned on he could barely stand it. But the good news was unless somebody saw him on the back of the van and vectored in the police, he stood a good chance of being able to kill someone and not go to jail. This was probably a bunch of fucking illegales who'd decided they wanted to party with a coed. And they were going to be seriously fucked up, armed or not, as soon as this damned van stopped. He might even get laid out of it, if not by the blonde, who was going to be pretty fucked up from this experience, then by some girly who'd take pity on the poor hero.

The van headed south on Lumpkin through the university area and towards the south side of town. It was late and if anyone saw him he couldn't tell. There weren't even any cars behind the van or he'd have waved at them or something. He wanted to get his mad out by killing some of the bastards in the van, they were ripping cloth now, but he figured at least trying to be the "good citizen" instead of the "vigilante" would be a good idea. He couldn't bring in the police himself, he'd left his cell phone charging by his bed before going to class and hadn't been home to pick it up. And unless someone saw him soon, the van would get into darker, and less populated, areas where he might never get spotted.

He kept hanging on to the ladder, swinging through turns, crouched down to stay out of sight, half hoping some cop cruiser would pull up behind them and half hoping it wouldn't. Most of the cops stayed up towards the center of Athens on Friday and Saturday, closer to the action. And, proverbially, there was never a cop around when you needed them. This time, especially. Not even any fucking cars. The van had gotten off of Lumpkin and into neighborhoods that were mostly dark this time of night. Neighborhoods with speed bumps that were a real bitch to hang on through. The route appeared to be planned and he started wondering if he was really dealing with a group of Mexes. The snatch looked professional, to his trained eye, and the egress also looked professional. Which either made it a group of long term serial rapists, even funner to kill, or . . . something else.

The van finally pulled into an industrial complex, closed and dark, and slowed through a series of turns. Mike got a look at a dead end, a parking lot with a few cars, a person standing in the shadows and . . .

He was off the back of the van, tumbling as quietly as he could into a roadside ditch, before his mind fully processed the MP-5 the sentry was holding. He hadn't seen any phone booths in miles, the buildings around the guarded one were all dark which meant no getting to a phone easily. And a sentry meant that this wasn't just a simple snatch for pussy, this was . . . something else.

He dropped the jump bag and leopard crawled down the ditch, heading for the building. The sentry was at the front and his brief glimpse hadn't spotted one on the side. But there were some windows. He needed more intel before he figured out how to call in support and the windows might tell him something.

As soon as he was around the side and out of sight of the front sentry he leopard crawled across to the wall of the brick building and crouched in the shadows at the base. The window was about eight feet up, which was a long damned jump for a guy who was five ten and a bit out of shape, and he knew he didn't dare make much sound. He squatted and then sprung upward, his hands clamping onto the narrow sill, the entire evolution completed in near perfect silence. He waited for a moment to listen for reaction, then slowly chinned himself up to the window.

The room was mostly open with some metal boxes that looked a bit like coffins lining the walls. The van was parked inside and there was a container vehicle pulled in with its doors open. The blonde, now sans everything but bra and panties, tied hand and foot with fast-strips and with a gag stuffed in her mouth, was on the ground near a table in the middle. One of the boxes was being loaded into the container vehicle and, as he watched, the doors were closed and the vehicle pulled out. It was a red container with "OCCP" on the back and a symbol like a flower. The doors were dented towards the top. The license plate was out of view. He got all of that in one brief glance and then went back to examining the room.

There were seven subject males of apparent Middle Eastern extraction in view. One was at the table, talking on what appeared to be a satellite phone. Three were standing by the van, between it and the blonde. A fourth sitting in the open side door. There was an additional subject female on a metal table like a surgery or butcher table, naked. She appeared to be unconscious, had had an IV inserted and something like a cloth diaper put on her lower regions. As he watched, two of the subject males lifted her up and lowered her into one of the "coffins." The IV was inserted into a pouch in the top and the top closed and latched from the outside.

Mike started to lower himself, having seen enough, when he heard a light hiss to his lower right. He closed his eyes, willing his night vision to come back, and then looked down. A man in a light-jacket was pointing an MP-5 at him and gesturing for him to come down.

Mike, briefly, wondered why the guy hadn't shot him already. In a way the former SEAL wished the target had done so. He was embarrassed. He'd mentally been bitching at the girls on campus about their security and here he'd gone and completely lost situational awareness. It was . . . annoying.

He nodded at the man in agreement, smiled nervously, dropped down, apparently stumbling on the fall, and rolled into the man's legs. Reaching up, Mike gripped the barrel of the submachine gun and rotated it upwards, ripping the grip out of the man's hands at the same time, then slammed it into the target's stomach before he could cry out. As soon as he had partial control of the weapon, which was attached to the target's body with a friction strap, he rotated it, pressed it into the man's chest, rotated the safety lever to burst and triggered three rounds.

The entire action had taken no more than three seconds and the whole noise had been a grunt from the target and the sound of the MP-5's action. In the middle of taking down the target Mike had noticed, from the ribbed feel of the barrel shroud, that the weapon was an MP-5 SD, one of the quietest silenced sub-guns in the world. Highly illegal in the U.S. without the appropriate permits and uncommon among terrorists. On the other hand, Mike had spent more time with one in his hands than he had with school books, including high school. He searched the target's body and retrieved three more magazines, checked the level in the one in the weapon, reached up, tugged the collar of his T-shirt down hard, then snugged the weapon into his shoulder and ghosted towards the front of the building.

There was a sentry at the front and this one was apparently a rover. He knew he'd made two mistakes, one in not checking for the rover and one in losing situational awareness. Part of it was eagerness. He really wanted to kill these sons-of-bitches and he wanted to save the girls. From what he'd seen, they were being transported. Where was a big question. But terrorists, as these clearly were, weren't going to negotiate. If the police tried to handle this like a normal crime, all the girls were going to die. Terrorists of this type would only negotiate so as to get maximum news coverage and then kill the girls in the worst way they could manage.

He did a mental check and decided that this constituted a mission that he could do with a good conscience, if not legally. "Protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic." Kidnapping was a de jure and de facto stripping of civil rights, and local authorities, however much they were the legal group to handle it, were not going to be competent to do so.

Mike knew it was so much bullshit. But he also knew that if he managed to extract the girls, nobody was going to give a shit how he'd done it. The prosecutor that tried him would get tossed out of office so fast the door would hit him, or more likely her,knowing liberal bitches and their incredible stupidity, in the ass.

Fuck it. If he went for commo, the sentry would be found, the two girls would die and so, probably, would the others, wherever they were going. Then the whole operation would just up and disappear. It was take-down time.

With that in mind, he shouldered the MP-5 and ghosted forward along the wall. Nearing the corner he actually let himself make some noise, as if he was the roving sentry coming up to the corner. No reason to startle the guy until he had to.

When he came to the corner he stepped outward, still at tactical present, and leaned to the left. The target was standing by a personnel door, smoking a cigarette. Marlboro from the drifting smell of the smoke. The cigarette spun out of his lips and into the grass by the side of the entrance pad as the three nine-millimeter rounds impacted with the side of the target's head.

Twenty-one rounds left but only two spare magazines. Mike stopped at the target and found three more, including the one in the target's weapon, and stuffed them in his back pockets. The night was quiet, still no sound of alarm from the terrorists in the building. There was probably some sort of rotation schedule for the sentries. Time to get inside the decision cycle.

He gently checked the handle on the door and determined that it was unlocked. Then the decision had to be made, slow or fast. He finally decided on slow and casual. One of the sentries coming in for some reason. He pulled the door open and stepped through looking unconcernedly to either side. The view from the door into the room was blocked by a stack of the "coffins." When he cleared them to either side, he'd be in view of the terrorists. Time to go tactical again. He lifted the MP-5 to his shoulder and stepped to the side quickly.

Party time.


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