Art Adkins
Author & Leadership Instructor
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Mindwalkers - Chapter 45

Chapter 45

The trip out of the jungle was made without mishap.  It was a short walk to the helicopters and they were flown to the Tross.  Once airborne, June plotted a course for the heart of Colombia at the urging of Colonel Torres. 

Before leaving, Slade had visited Cody in the military transport that was to fly him State-side.  He had recovered a lot of his strength, and though still ashen in appearance, he was upbeat and in good spirits.

“I understand you cared for me and carried me on your shoulders through most of the Amazon,” said Cody.  A nurse was monitoring his vital signs and she nodded at Slade that it was okay for him to remain.

“Yup and I expect payment in the form of a beer at the Black Dog Bar and Tables in Cedar Key.  You’ll like the place.”

“Deal.  What about the crocodile?” asked Cody.   Seeing the surprise on Slade’s face he laughed.  “Angelica told me about it.  Said you impressed the daylights out of the Chief.”

“I don’t ever want to see another one of them.”  Slade extended his hand and shook Cody’s.  “Take care of yourself.”

“You do the same.”

Slade turned and was walking out of the plane when Cody called to him.

“Slade.  Thank you.”

Slade waived back at Cody and left without answering.  He was certain the FBI agent would have done the same for him.

June had landed the Tross in a lake outside of Bogata and the Colonel had posted a considerable number of soldiers around it and entrusted them with its safe keeping.  They had been driven to a military base.  The purpose was to devise a strategy to take out Gunter.  They had been at it all afternoon and into the night, but finally the plan was taking shape. 

They learned they were at the Colonel’s private training facility outside of Bogata.  The site was expansive and the soldiers were well drilled.  They were inside an operations center and maps adorned the walls.

“This is the latest aerial maps we could obtain from your government.  We’ve had them enhanced.  There are gun emplacements all around the perimeter.  Gunter has spared no expense in erecting fortifications to provide defense.”  Colonel Torres was indicating sites with a laser pointer.

“Do we know how many men are committed to providing security at the Island?  And are they trained?” asked the Lieutenant in charge of the Seals.

“We don’t know exactly how many, but estimates are about one hundred fifty to two hundred men.  They are all mercenaries.  Some are very well trained and others are guns for hire.  They are all deadly.”

“What’s the plan?” asked Slade.

“We hit the Island from three sides.   Two of the attacks will be a diversion to divide their forces.  The main attack will be here.  It is not the main lagoon, but is sufficient to land and deploy soldiers,” said the Colonel.

“Support?” asked June.  “Are we going to have cover fire?”

“You men shell the Island?” asked Dustin Zane.

“Yeah.  If we could soften up the entrenchments, especially the machine gun encampments, it might make this more palatable.  If we go in like this we’re sitting ducks,” said June.

“You will have cover fire and support.  The US Cruiser First Contact has been sent to the area.  She is steaming full power there now.”  Colonel Torres stopped when he saw June and Dustin Zane exchange looks.

“He knew all along,” commented June.

“And couldn’t tell us,” replied Dustin Zane.

“You two want to fill in the rest of us,” said Slade.

“Later.”  June smiled at his friend.

“Then let us move on.  Here are the two pictures of the civilian hostages taken from America and here are the three abducted at the research facility in the jungle.  Commit their faces to memory.  They are to be rescued.  All computer data banks are to be preserved if possible.”  Colonel Torres looked around the room.

“What about the array?” asked Slade.

“It is to be destroyed.  Shelling the Island will not harm it.  Gunter has constructed a very elaborate defense of metal and concrete to hide and protect it.  It will take us planting charges to remove it.”  Colonel Torres turned to the SEAL Lieutenant.  “That is where your group comes in.”

“Just get us to it,” replied the Lieutenant.

“Will do.  June we will need your flying boat for the insertion.  It’ll get some of us in close and on the night of the attack there will be no moon.  Darkness should work in our favor.  Anything else?” asked the Colonel.  Fielding no questions, he added, “Dismissed.”

The men stood up and filtered out of the room.  Everyone except Slade.  June and Dustin Zane glanced at him but proceeded to the door. 

“Something on your mind, Slade?” asked Colonel Torres.

“A few things.  First, let’s start with your willingness to come after me in the jungle.  I understand Juan Domingo was your friend but you lost others at the research lab and they were acquaintances, if not friends of yours.  I think you’re hiding behind Juan to disguise another reason.”

“What do you mean?”

“You deploy your troops to find me and help my friends in doing so.  You have to answer to someone, Colonel.  And I’m betting that someone is knee deep in this just like you.  I’m not buying the revenge angle, so try another one.”

Colonel Torres walked over and locked the door.  Returning to where Slade was seated, he pulled back a chair and sat down.

“I was told you had a very keen analytical mind.  I did not realize just how quick you were to gather in the facts.”

“Thanks for the compliment, but you can save the platitudes for someone else.  What do you get out of this?”

“A new research facility.  You’re correct, Juan Domingo was a friend.  A very close and dear friend, but he knew the risks as well as I.  We need to continue our close alliance with your government.  My country does not have all the technological advancement of yours.  We struggle with our internal problems, but we realize the path to advancement in the world is by forming partnerships.  Old members of our government did not understand this and it led to greed and corruption.  We are trying to change that.”  The fierceness in the Colonel’s voice could not be mistaken.

“But how does a remote research facility help the cause?”

“Because the whole world watches your country.  No one watches Colombia.  We can do and say things your government could never dream of doing.  We are committed to a better place for our people.  We want to help others as well.  By working with your government we have been introduced into a world we did not know existed.  New technologies, better equipment and more access to world decisions.  The people who make decisions are the ones who dictate the course of history, Slade.  Your country controls the world, even though some may argue the point.  By working with your intelligence community at the research lab, we have been included in some of that decision making.  Juan Domingo was the first.  I am to be the second.”

“You’re helping my government cover up things they should have never become involved in.  There’s a reason Colonel why some things are kept secret.  If I was you, I would worry about becoming a pawn in a high stakes game.”

“You are correct and we understand this.  If any of this fails, Colombia will carry the burden of the failure and the scrutiny of the world as well.  But if this does fail, it will be easier for us to resurrect our standing in the international community than for your country.  Out of this perilous journey lies a great reward for my people.  Trust me, Juan and I agonized over this decision many times.  In the end we thought it best for everyone.  Your country and mine.”  Colonel Torres had become animated as he spoke.

“Which brings me to the second part of my analysis.  The research lab?  Is it going to be used for scientific purposes or a weapon of war?  If it’s the latter, count me out of your mission.  I have other things to do.”  Slade stared hard at the career military man as he spoke.

“Slade, some things should never be experimented with.  We will conduct research to cure, not harm.”

“One last thing.  Who is controlling this operation? I know it’s not the FBI – Cody was as much in the dark as I was.  I don’t think Lance knew the breadth of the operation and his assistant, Sheila, knew only what he did.  So who is pulling the trigger on this one?” asked Slade.

Colonel Torres looked Slade in the eye.  The man did not wince or quiver when asking questions and the Colonel liked that about him. 

“You already know.”

“Tell me.”

“Hal Prince.  He sent us in to find you.”

“And Hal provided the maps of the Island?  And the US Navy Cruiser for fire support?”

“Yes.  He has an interest in this and he said you had been briefed.”

Colonel Torres watched as Slade left his seat and walked around the room several times.  The Colonel did not interrupt Slade, but let him pace.  It was obvious he was tracking down an elusive thought.  Finally, Slade stopped and returned to his chair.

“What else do you know about this operation? I’m not buying the Island is the sole focal point of the exercise.  There has to be more.” Slade could tell the moment he spoke the words the Colonel had no idea what he was talking about.  He was a military man who saw an opportunity for his country and nothing more.  He thought he had explored all of the possible scenarios but Slade was not convinced he had.

“I don’t know anything more.  Just what I’ve told you.  Why?”

“I’m not sure, but something is bothering me about this.”  Slade stared off into space and when the realization struck, he snapped his fingers.  “The computer data banks.  Who asked you to recover them?  Hal?  Did he say why?”

“Yes, it was Hal, now that you mention it.  Asked me several times to recover them.  All he said was that they would want to know what was on them.  To study Gunter’s research, I guess.”  Colonel Torres looked over at Slade, puzzlement on his face.  “Why?”

“Who were you to give the data bank information to?”

“A member of the SEAL team.  Hal said they had an information technology person on board.”

“Which one?”

“The smaller man with light brown hair.  Jones I believe is his name.”

“Thank you.” 

Slade stood up to leave.

“Should I do something?” asked the Colonel rising to his feet.

“No.  I’ll take care of it.  When do we leave for the Island?”

“First thing tomorrow morning.  It’s quite a trip and we’ll need to refuel and go over final preparations.”

“See you in the morning.”

Without another word Slade left the meeting room.

It had taken Slade twenty minutes to locate where the Navy SEALS were bedded down.  He had used the pretense of thanking the lieutenant in charge for his rescue from the jungle.  After exchanging pleasantries, Slade left the barracks.  Jones had not been present.

Slade drifted into the shadows and started to slowly conduct a spiral search of the compound, always keeping the barracks with the SEALs in sight.  The outer perimeter of the compound was under watch by the Colonel’s men.  Jones would not go there.  He would seek a remote place if Slade was right.

Spiraling out on the third pass is when Slade caught the muted light.  It was dim, almost indistinct.  The type of light a cell phone would cast.  The user was doing their best to keep the light hidden.

Slade crept up behind the man.  He was wedged between a small tree and a mound of dirt.  The man was kneeling down and would furtively look around from time to time.  Ensuring he was alone he would go back to texting on the cell phone.

Easing along the dirt, Slade eased to within an arm reach of the man. Stepping forward, Slade delivered a blow to the side of the man’s neck, knocking him unconscious.  Slade caught him before he toppled forward.  Retrieving the man’s cell phone, Slade started to read the text.

“Hope you had a good reason for hitting one of our own,” whispered June, stepping out of the shadows and crouching down next to Slade.

“I’m not built for this clandestine stuff,” remarked Dustin Zane, joining the two men.

“How did you find me?” asked Slade.

“We saw you go over to the SEAL barracks and was about to join you when we saw you start to conduct a search.  Knowing you, we thought we would hang back and keep an eye out to see if you were followed,” said June.

“Was I?”

“Not that we could tell.  Now, what are you doing?” asked Dustin Zane.

“Our friend has been sending messages to a guy that had me kidnapped in Denver.  I knew this operation smelled and now I know why.”  Slade handed June the cell phone.  “I believe that is what they call a ‘safe’ channel.  My guess is it cannot be traced.  Read the text.”

“’Operation details complete.  Move tomorrow.  What items do I need to secure?’ The person on the other end said ‘everything for Montauk and Stargate.  Names, dates and location.’  That is all there is.”  June looked up from his reading.

“Seems like Hal did not tell me the whole truth.”  Slade looked over at Dustin Zane.  “Want to wake him?”

“Sure.  Let me search him first.”  Dustin Zane removed the Jones’s weapons and shook him several times.  Groggily Jones opened his eyes and started to reach for his sidearm.

“Forget it, we have them,” said June.

Instinctively, Jones reached for his coat pocket where he kept his cell phone.  Patting his pocket, his eyes locked on Slade’s .

“Where is my phone?”

“Right here.  Seems you and Hal have been carrying on a good conversation,” said Slade.

“You don’t know what you’re doing or what you’re messing with.  Give me the phone.”  Jones held out his hand.

“Who are you?  You’re not a SEAL.  I’m certain of that.  You don’t have the toughness they have.  A computer mole?  Which branch?  CIA?  NSA?” asked Slade.

“None of your business.  Now give me my phone.”  Jones had raised his voice and Dustin Zane slapped him behind the head.

“Keep it down.  No need to yell.”

“How about if I send a message?  You think Hal would be upset?  What does Hal want with the computer data banks?  What’s in them?” asked Slade.

“Give me the phone,” said Jones, but lowering his voice.

“Not until you answer the man’s questions,” replied June.  “We’ve got all night.  But I don’t think you do.  I’m willing to bet your friends don’t know you’re a mole.  You may be a SEAL, but a marginal one.  The Lieutenant is going to expect you back in a few minutes to get ready for the mission and finalize the ops plan on your end.  I also think this Hal character is going to be mighty upset if you don’t answer him or if Slade responds.  As a matter of fact, I wonder which one would make him angrier?”

“Trust me.  I cannot tell you what is in the data banks.  I’m not sure myself.”  Jones glanced at his watch, confirming June’s suspicions.

“Tell me what you know,” said Slade.  “Or we march over to your Lieutenant with you in tow.”

“I’m ready,” said Dustin Zane, grabbing the smaller man by the collar.

“Wait.  Wait a minute.”  Jones motioned for Dustin Zane to turn him loose.  “All I know is they want the names and dates when certain people were involved with Operation Stargate and the Montauk Project.  They want all the personnel data.”

“And they think Gunter has it?” asked Slade.

“Gunter doesn’t know he has it.  It was encrypted in a hidden file within the original program as a fail-safe measure by the originator of both programs.  He was killed by Gunter over a month ago. Gunter took the data from the man’s computer, but does not know about the hidden file.”  Jones looked at his watch again.

“Why are you so sure Gunter is not aware of the data?” asked June.

“If Gunter had the data he would have already revealed the information.  It’s supposedly that deadly.”  Jones glanced one last time at his watch.  “This meeting may have been a good thing.  Hal told me to trust you if I got into trouble.  You have to help me get the data bank information.”  Jones had addressed the last statement to Slade.

Standing up, Slade handed Jones the cell phone.  “Tell Hal that I’ll help you and he should have asked me in the first place.  Better not be late.”

They watched as Jones ran back to the barracks to join his team.

“Do you think Jones is his real name?” asked Dustin Zane.

“Nope,” said June.

“Is anything what it’s supposed to be around here?” said Dustin Zane.

“I don’t think so.  Come on.  I need to call Katherine again.  I told her I would call her later tonight,” said Slade.

Slade tried to dismiss what he had just learned but was unable.  What information was contained within the computer data bank?

Chapter 46