The Italian freighter docked at the sparsely used Brooklyn Commercial Port located at the edge of the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. A small maritime community perched on Upper New York Bay.
The late November sun began sinking in the western sky as the ship's first mate directed the lowering of the boats thick ropes used to moor the freighter tight to the docks anchors. Banks of lights began flickering on brightening the shipyard. Time had passed before the gang plate lowered allowing access to the newly docked ship.
Dockworkers readied equipment for the offloading of the large cargo ship. Cranes rolled into position. A line of trucks formed a queue waiting for the first container to arrive. Aboard the ship, the crew rushed about making last minute adjustments. Men moved about the gang plate. Greetings made, orders issued.
In all the activity a solitary figure left his station aboard the freighter. On his shoulder, the man carried a bundle of gear winding his way among the cargo and workers. With his wool cap pulled low he turned the collar of his jacket up leaving his face partially shadowed. With an air of purpose, the man strode down the gang plate careful not to attract undue attention from the surrounding workers.
Amid the rehearsed chaos of the docks routine movements, the lone man walked casually away from the Italian ship on a course that would carry him away from the shipping yard and into the town scant blocks away.
Passing between rows of single metal containers the man dropped the cumbersome bundle before peeling the wool cap off his head, which he tossed aside. A few steps further the crew issued raincoat fell to the ground.
Arriving at the edge of town unseen the figure stepped into an alley and threaded a straight route west from the large body of water and toward the farthest part of the city where he assumed the crew of the Italian freighter was less likely to frequent.
The damp air combined with the chilly November evening brought with it a bone-numbing chill even for a man used to harsher climates. Undeterred, the man placed foot after foot increasing the distance from the shipyard and further onto American soil.
When the man had traveled far enough to avoid the accidental meeting of his former shipmates he left the security of the darkened alleys. Standing at the edge of a shadowed building corner the man surveyed the street and businesses on the lighted sidewalks, flickering neon signs advertised shops still open at this hour.
The noise emanating from a weathered pub tucked between two dark adjoining buildings caught his attention. The man cautiously walked from the corner, eager to trade the cold night air for the heat of the bar.
Pausing briefly in the doorway, he scanned the pubs interior before weaving his way to an empty booth near the back. While waiting for the waitress, the man shivered silently welcoming the warmth of the room.
Seated facing the door, the man discreetly studied his surroundings. Instinctively noting the few means of exit, a habit that was automatic to a man of his lifestyle.
“What’ll it be,” the waitress asked as she placed a menu on the table.
“A black coffee,” Lev Zhernakov replied in an almost accent-free voice. A couple of years had passed since the ex-Russian soldier killed the traitorous Russian Directorate and fled his homeland. The two short years felt like a lifetime. Since that time Zhernakov practiced speaking English with a single goal burning in his mind. Find the American’s who backed the corrupt Frolov and in part caused the death of his team in the Ukraine and his near death.
He spent the last years traipsing throughout Europe working toward the day he reached American shores. Now it was the fall of 2023. His determination remained. The group that the traitor Yuri Frolov received orders from lived within these borders, and he would stop at nothing to hunt them down.
The sun was still in bed when Zhernakov left the small maritime community. A cold and misty morning found him miles from the New York port town, his feet beating a steady tempo along the wet asphalt road. With his head down and his collar up against the cold predawn, he marched toward his destination, the west coast of the continental United States.
An hour later and miles farther a slip of dawn began weakening the dark of night. Zhernakov navigated a curve in the road, his visibility a mere few yards. A woman’s scream alerted him to trouble ahead. Zhernakov debated leaving the road for the shelter of trees growing close to the highway.
Then a young boy’s cries for his mother rang from the fog. Not your trouble the ex-Russian soldier told himself. With a foot already into the tangle of trees, the woman’s pleas echoed again.
Zhernakov shook his head recriminating his action. He turned and padded back through the damp grass to the roads edge. Using the surrounding mist as cover, he warily moved closer to the voices.
“Please. I need my car. You can't leave the children and me stranded out here,” a woman’s voice begged. The request answered by a loud slap of skin against skin closely trailed by the woman crying as she fell to the ground.
“Remove the kids and the mother's things out of the car,” a man’s voice commanded. “Jerry. Where’s the hose? I’ll drain the gas out of the truck.”
“Under the toolbox,” a second voice replied. “You had better hurry. If anybody comes along and sees us, there will be hell to pay.”
“Relax. I’ve got little Bertha with me. Let some son of a bitch try!”
“Put that gun away you jackass. No need to pull that out. Hurry and siphon the gas tank.”
Zhernakov listened to the conversation as he inched closer. The limit of the fog shroud began to weaken as he drew closer. Stopping while still invisible, he strained his eyes to make out the scene.
A baby started to cry. The little boy ran to help his mother. Zhernakov found one man bent close to the open gas cap of a truck, the man’s hands busy feeding a hose down into the tank.
Zhernakov melted deeper into the fog. The long grass muffled the noise of his steps as he moved around the back of the truck. Close enough to reach out and touch the man.
The dark mass of the woman rose from the wet grass and rushed toward the truck, her hand swinging toward the distracted male. Her fist slid harmlessly off the man’s back.
“What the …” the man let go of the hose and raised his fist to strike the woman. Zhernakov’s left hand shot out of the mist and clamped onto the man, his right hand delivering a powerful blow to the side of the guy's head.
Drawn by the commotion, a second man rushed toward Zhernakov. The Russian soldier released his grip on the first man and spun to face the impending threat, the rushing force of the man’s body carrying the two men heavily into the side of the truck. Zhernakov deflected a flurry of punches aimed at his head before sweeping aside the man’s attempts and delivering a set of devastating punches of his own.
Zhernakov had hold of his attacker when the metallic click of a firing pin sounded from behind. Instinctively Zhernakov spun his body dragging the beaten man in front as a shield.
A bright flare lit the mist. The thundering boom of the exploding bullet and the smell of spent gunpowder followed closely. With all the force of his body, Zhernakov tossed his human shield in the direction of the gunshot.
The gunman hesitated as his friend hurtled through the early morning fog toward him. Zhernakov dove at the two men now lying on the ground entangled. The Russian’s fist struck the gunman’s body as his other hand grappled for the firearm.
The men wrestled on the wet ground. Zhernakov’s hand clamped tightly over the shooter’s hand, his other hand pounding into the man’s body. The gun began to turn. A second shot erupted into the morning air. The report of the weapon resonated across the forest and was quickly replaced by haggard breathing. Slowly Zhernakov began to rise from the scrum; the gun clutched in his hand.
The second man moaned as he began to stir. Zhernakov lowered the barrel of the weapon. A loud crack ensued as the metal of the handgun met the man’s head. Then quiet again. Zhernakov gulped a deep breath and straightened. His eyes left the two men on the ground as he searched for the woman.
In the lifting fog, he saw the woman clutching her children tight. The little boy’s eyes were large, tears building at the edges while he watched the Russian.
“They’ll be out for a while. You had better get moving.” Zhernakov advised the woman. Taking a step forward his head became light. He noticed the little boy pointed at his body.
“You’re bleeding.” Zhernakov heard the woman exclaim moments before he lost consciousness and slid to the ground.
Lucas regarded the American President. This impromptu meeting called by the United States President and relayed by a White House aide sent to seek Lucas out, interrupting a climate summit currently underway in the city of Boston. The aid pulled Lucas aside during a black tie affair, the summation of days of lectures presented by the scientific communities reports on climate progress. The President’s assistant insisted Lucas meets with the American commander in chief.
Sam Bankenridge paced the grand hotel suite while airing his concerns to the man many now considered the most influential in the world. Bankenridge was halfway through his second term in office as President of the United States. On being elected for the second term, the American leader had been pressured to fulfill his promise to the man responsible for bringing him to power.
Bankenridge doubled down on the removal of fossil fuels from American society. Short of outlawing the continuing use of oil derivatives, his cabinet capped exports of oil shipped to the country and inside the States borders carbon taxes rose exponentially while pouring billions of tax dollars into the renewable energy industry.
Faced with numerous studies providing evidence that the majority of the population would suffer severely with the change of direction, his cabinet explained the strain on the economy and the displacing of hundreds of millions of Americans as a learning curve. President Bankenridge and his administration maintained that the habits of the American people needed to conform to the new world conditions to save the struggling planet.
During his first term, his newly appointed government began implementing the new energy policies. Among the outcries and scare tactics, he held course. Then his administration faced the standoff from a coalition of mid western states. Governors from the Oklahoma border west to the Rockies unified to defy the ruling parties new laws. The combined states formed a new governing party and filed separation notice from the remaining states.
The election for his next term suffered from the loss of the midsection of the country. The saving grace stood with the remaining American states. In the year 2020, the majority of the American population still resided mainly on the East and West coasts. The fugitive state’s small population failed to vote Bankenridge out of power.
The next several years progressed with a fragile truce. Both sections of the divided United States bargained in good faith. The country ran, products continued moving from coast to coast, and the bad feelings between the two governments temporarily set to the side.
Now in Bankenridge’s second term the truce began falling apart. Sorties carried out by militant eco-activists continuously tested the new alliances defenses attacking oil production. Then years of civil wars and infighting among oil producing countries resulted in a near shut down of oil.
The Protected States now threatened his bid to ensure a constant fuel supply for his nation's government to operate and to maintain the countries security. The Arabic countries from which the States still imported the majority of oil to run the country were now caught up in wars in their countries. The world supply of oil became much smaller.
The refusal of the Protected States to sell sufficient amounts of the product to shore up the depleted supplies bordered on the verge of treason. Several of Bankenridge’s inside circles began talking about war with the deserting states. The President sought a more peaceful solution.
His administration appealed to the American public in a massive campaign regarding the welfare of the entire nation. The public adds backfired. The country now found itself being ripped apart by violent protests, mostly against the President's clean energy policies. People wanted the oil industry back along with the millions of jobs that disappeared with the energy sector.
The American President stopped his pacing and faced Lucas, “This is your fault. Shut down the oil industry and save the environment. People will soldier on through the bad times and emerge with a new concept of life. Or some god damn thing like that!”
Lucas sat nonplussed. He looked at Alice seated to his side. Turning his focus back to the American leader he replied, “Times are tough everywhere Sam. You needed the Foundation's support to become the President. Don’t you remember? You agreed that the habits of the world had to change. We had to eliminate the consumption of fossil fuel if there was to be a planet left for our children.
So what are you asking? Ignore the work we’ve accomplished thus far in easing the damage to the world's heating climate so you can reintroduce a glut of oil for your purposes. Is that your idea of leadership?”
“What in hell am I to do. The oil fields of Los Angeles are drying up. The few thousands of barrels they produce fall well short of keeping this nation moving. Our ports in Texas are next to silent, and the big oil companies have chosen to cut production drastically.
How am I supposed to run a country without oil? Arm the military with those useless ELECTRIC CARS!” President Bankenridge shouted.
Lucas’s eyes darkened. Cowards. He hated cowards, like the man standing in front of him now. Before he could refute the President, Alice broke her silence.
“Grow a pair, will you. Hard times call for hard measures. Give the rebels an ultimatum. They either play along or you repossess the chunk of America they are laying claims to. You are the “PRESIDENT” of the United States…now act like a damn president!”
A solitary figure crouched in an alcove on the 35th floor of the Continental Oil Tower. A gleaming skyscraper of glass and steel buried deep in the heart of the Houston business district. Counting the seconds, the expected footsteps of the night security guard grew louder as the watchman entered from the far end of the hallway. Every so many footsteps brought silence while the guard paused briefly at each office door rattling the doorknobs to ensure the doors were locked. Then the steps would start again repeating the process. The man could be heard humming as he made his rounds, the jangling of keys on his belt adding to the rhythm of another monotonous evening.
Soon the humming and the footwork stepped to the same beat while the sentry performed his hourly ritual. The level of attention paid to the tedious task by the bored security guard adequate, but routine. In his ten years on the job, not a single event had broken the time-tested pattern, so the night watchman walked his rounds with the voice of latest country artist filling his earphones, the man's mind miles away in thought.
The figure shrunk into a tighter ball hidden at the bottom of the dimly lit alcove. As the guard approached, she held her breath worried that the even the quiet exhaling of breath might alert the guard of her presence. With eyes cast down, her sightline tracked the dimly lit shadow of the guard as it slid across the carpet, moved past the corner and then was closely followed by the physical form.
The guards timing was impeccable. The strict routine of the building patrols carried out like clockwork every hour of the night. The female figure started the countdown again and at the predetermined amount of time eased from the shrunken position to cautiously peek into the hallway. She watched the back of the guard disappear down the opposite end of the corridor.
Glancing back to the direction the man had started, the figure eyed the cameras in the ceiling. Her mind studiously plotting out a course that would take her undiscovered into the office of the Continental Oil’s CEO. With the route memorized, Netanya Kalb slowly rose, checked once again on the guard's progress then on soft-soled shoes moved quickly from the alcove. Her carefully placed footsteps resembling a macabre dance as she traced a zigzagged trail to her destination. The trek to the office a time restricted game of hide and seek with the rotating cameras.
Stopping tight to the wall adjacent to the CEO’s door, Netanya waited while the ceiling camera swept passed the office door and continued on its endless circuit. A new countdown began in her head as she rushed to the door, a pair of long thin picks ready to attack the lock. She had 20 seconds before the camera finished its arc and reversed directions. Her last attempt took close to 18 seconds. A time she hoped to better this time around.
…17…18…the lock tumblers clicked. Netanya dove into the office shoving the door closed then engaging the door lock. Resting on the floor, she calmed her breathing and in her mind ran through the room's layout. Now that she was out of the camera's view, she had time to complete her task. Her last visit to this office was one month ago, and she hoped that the tiny cameras she had planted were worth the effort.
Sliding the CEO’s chair close to the desk, she climbed onto the solid top and stretching on her toes reached a hand above the twin ceiling lights, her fingers feeling for the small shape of the hidden camera. For a brief second, she felt a stir of panic before the tips of her fingers rubbed against the tiny plastic box.
Netanya spent the next few minutes gathering the rest of her concealed arsenal of electronic recorders. With all the devices accounted for, she returned to the desk digging a specialized thumb drive from the inside of her suit. The drive was a model often used by the agents at Shabak. It served a dual purpose. When first installed it transferred the computers files to a predetermined email address and once the download was complete the drive released a virus that melted the circuit board when the computers password was next entered.
The downside to the drive, it had to be simultaneously installed when the power button was activated. If her timing were off, any safeguards built into the computer would come into play rendering her task pointless and without a doubt notifying the buildings security.
Netanya breathed air deeply forcing a calm to flood her body. Slowly exhaling she gently lifted the laptops cover enough to display the power button then with steady hands she lined the drive up with the computers port while her right hand hovered over the power symbol.
Netanya let out the last of her breath, then with skilled hands moving in perfect harmony her left hand slipped the drive into the waiting slot while her other hand depressed the metal button. A flashing light indicated the laptop’s response. She stood motionless. The screen flashed to life then just as quickly returned to sleep mode.
Retracing her steps to the buildings 10th floor, the Israeli agent crept back into a supply closet, exchanged her gear for a set of street clothes. The change complete, Netanya casually walked to the stairwell and down to the lobby, straight past the front security desk, her face partially shielded from the desk attendant. She paused at the main doors, her hand resting on the handle while she waited for the guard to remotely release the door lock.
“Leaving early tonight?” the voice of the attendant questioned assuming she was part of the night cleaning staff. Netanya remained facing the door, mumbled a barely audible reply, flashing her hand in the air waving the forged security card. Her heart sped faster. A tense silence chewed up seconds before the metallic click of the lock signified her release.
In a house on the outskirts of the city, Netanya sat hunched over a kitchen table reviewing camera video from the CEO’s office. A second figure sat mesmerized by pirated files from the same office.
Charles Ryan whistled in enthusiasm at the information garnered from the hacked computer of the Continental Oil’s CEO. Damning information laying proof that Continental Oil had sold out years earlier to the People Of The Earth Foundation. Under the guise of the independent holding company, false reports were produced showing a severe shortage of oil stock while millions of barrels of black gold left the state for a facility in the western part of the country.
The video Netanya studied contained even more damaging information for the oil company and the POTE. The acting CEO discussed the illegal transactions with directors of other major oil companies. A bevy of executives who, with the help of Netanya’s colleagues in Israel were discovered to be appointed figureheads, the leaders of an oil cartel operating under the umbrella of the POTE Foundation. A disruptive collusion aimed at starving the North American free market of oil products.
FBI agent Charles Ryan hid a smile as he sat at his desk in the Colorado field office. The FBI agent sat at his desk reading stories obtained from newspapers across the country. Ryan scoured the Internet on his latest purchase, a digital reading paper.
The FBI agent marveled at the timely invention from the techs at Silicone Valley. A small square of material that was the thickness of a few sheets of paper combined with the computing power of a modern laptop. Since the start of the climate struggles the use of paper products had grown scarce. The fuel to manufacture pulp became too expensive and with the decimation of forests for heating fuel created a void for innovation to fill.
A week had passed since he had met Netanya in the house on the edge of Houston. He returned to his home state and back to work while she traveled to New York and with the assistance of an anonymous group of hackers released the damaging files and videos to the World Wide Web. Links and videos appeared on several national news outlets.
The greatest pleasure to Ryan arrived from the saturation of the nation's press with follow up stories of outrage and protests from shocked American's left without jobs and homeless due to the subterfuge of the POTE and the undermined oil industry.
Protests not unlike the ones of years past but the storyline differed. People were now marching against the lying corporations and the corruption leading to a false green future.
Karma at its best, Ryan supposed. When Netanya had reappeared into his life a scant few months ago with the suggestion that a change of tactics may be needed to halt the undermining of the world economy, he had his doubts. With the recent cyber attacks against the left, anti-oil establishment, he now found a new hope growing.
Fight the establishment with the same deviousness and false truths invented by the green movement she had said. So far her tactics were paying off. Thus began the crucial game consisting of one side moving followed by the other faction providing countermoves.
A global round of chess where the world’s well being became the end game.
The blanketed windows of the prestigious row of brick townhouses on Arbat Street hid the quick successive flashes from the silenced pistol. Three men lay dead inside the plush walls of number 513 Arbat Place. The living quarters of the Russian Special Operations Directorate, Yuri Frolov, situated slightly over a kilometer of the Kremlin.
The flashes of gunfire signaled the end of the impromptu meeting between the head of the Russian Federations Of Special Forces and the ex-Special Forces captain who had returned from the failed Ukrainian mission and presumed dead.
Lev Zhernakov stepped over the sprawled body of Frolov’s personal guard as he slipped through the door and tread lightly toward the end of the hallway on the building's fourth floor. Ignoring the metal door leading to the stairwell, Zhernakov stopped facing a window set in the end wall. Easing the window open, Zhernakov raised his leg and silently climbed onto the metal landing of the building's fire escape.
Stepping to the side of the opening, he stood with his back to the wall letting his eyes grow accustomed to the darkness on the backside of the tall brick structure. Several deep breaths calmed his adrenaline-fueled heartbeat. The chilled winter air cut through his thin black clothing as he waited, ears strained to detect signs of pursuit.
Hiding the glow from the dial of his watch, Zhernakov cursed at the time displayed. 4:a.m. The Director had proved to be a tougher subject to pry the truth of the failed mission deep in the Ukrainian country then the Russian Special Forces Captain had realized. Even with a gun pointed at his temple, the Director sneered at Zhernakov’s questions.
In the gloom of the unlit alley, Zhernakov stared blankly at the darker blots of fluid on his black leather glove. As seasoned as the old guy was, Zhernakov had extracted the information he was risking his life for by returning to Moscow. But the window for his escape was closing in on him.
With a final survey of the shadows and noises of the deserted alley, Zhernakov climbed lightly down the metal stairs into the depths of the ice-covered lane. A sliver of moonlight reflected off the frozen mounds of snow providing different degrees of shadows for Zhernakov to guide himself away from the apartment of the former Special Operations Directorate.
Using the depths of the shadows to aide his escape, Zhernakov stuck to the thick cover provided by the night and the tall buildings that crowded around as he worked east away from the center of Moscow. Walking briskly, Zhernakov passed from the revitalized quarters of Arbat Street for the poorer, less appealing streets of eastern Moscow.
By five in the morning, the Russian Captain slunk around the alleys of downtrodden tenements, kilometers east of the center of Moscow, the homes of the working poor. Smells of coffee began to mix with the coal-laden exhausts emitted by the tenements heating systems. Lev Zhernakov walked steadily, his eyes studying the curtained windows of the ground floor apartments, his body chilled but ready
Voices sounded out of the dark around the corner of the building. Gliding deeper into the shadows, Zhernakov eased his way to the corner, his back tight to the rough wall, his eyes peering into the winter night.
At the edge of the wall, he waited using his ears to probe the area 90 degrees from his sight. A loud bark of laughter broke the silence closely followed by a muffled reply. Slowly Zhernakov slid his head past the corner as his eyes searched for the source of the noise. A sight Zhernakov had been hoping to find. A small group of men stood huddled around a metal barrel, a fire burning inside warming a group of homeless people struggling to survive the brutal assault of the Russian winter.
Zhernakov studied the group before turning the corner and, with his head shadowed by his cap, approached the men huddled tight around the barrel. Within a couple of meters, he purposely ground snow under boots alerting the strangers of his presence. The men turned in his direction parting as he walked close to the roaring fire.
“A cold night my friends,” Zhernakov said inching closer to the burning barrel with his cold hands extended over the heat.
The cluster of men remained silent eyeing the intruder. “What brings you out on a night like this comrade?” a member of the group asked suspiciously.
Zhernakov lifted his head sizing up each man individually before speaking. “I need a new coat; maybe I can trade with one of you?”
A man slightly bigger then the Russian Captain snorted. “You must have frozen your brain. Who would be crazy enough to give up a warm coat for yours?”
The men looked at each other sharing in the joke. A metallic click cut off the laughter forcing the group of homeless people to reconsider the stranger.
“I have a feeling that you will,” Zhernakov, said sternly, the barrel of his gun pointed at the bigger man’s forehead.
The morning grew chillier as the clock hands rounded past another hour. Zhernakov’s feet felt like blocks of ice as he trudged closer to the Kursk train station. The closer he walked the busier the sidewalks around the terminal became. Mixing with the rush of commuters entering the station, Zhernakov warily let his eyes roam the station's floor tracking every man wearing the army fatigues of the posted guards.
Lev Zhernakov left the safety of the entering crowd and edged into one of the restrooms spread throughout the vast train terminal. Walking directly into an empty stall he latched the door and closing the lid he sat down, his cold fingers fumbling with the frozen boot laces.
Carefully and painfully he removed each boot and set them aside. Wiggling his toes to get the blood flowing he used his hands to rub warmth into his numb feet. Several people came and left the washroom before Zhernakov laced his boots.
At the ticket counter, he inquired about the next train heading east toward Siberia, smiled while he peeled rubles off a roll he removed from the dead Directorate’s pocket and paid for private sleeping quarters. Shrugging deeper into the thick wool jacket, he pulled his cap lower to cover his forehead and found a chair in a crowd of commuters waiting for the Siberian Express.
With his eyes on constant watch, the Russian Captain sat and digested the information he had risked his freedom for by returning to the city where the decision was made to have him and his crew sacrificed while involved in the Ukrainian crisis.
The answer he had dragged out of the Special Operations Directorate had left his head reeling. If he were honest with himself, the deception his crew had died because of would not have surprised him if the director had said the orders were from within the Kremlin. In Russia, one expected to be deceived and betrayed by the Politburo.
The fact that the Directorate was acting on orders from across the ocean and worst of all, from deep within the United States, had shaken him. The mission to destroy the Ukrainian Gas Coop had no benefit for the greater good of the Russian nation.
Inside Zhernakov fumed at the level of betrayal shown by the high-ranking Russian official. A ploy cooked up by an American capitalist foundation designed to pit Russia against its neighbors. The journey from the Ukrainian countryside to discover the truth had already burned up the past nine months of his life. If the rest of his life was spent entering the United States and exposing the men behind this deplorable act, he could live with that.
The train conductor’s call for the boarding of the express train to Siberia sounded throughout the terminal. Pressing his hand against the coat pocket containing the Directorate’s confession and relevant files relating to the botched Ukrainian mission, ex-Russian Captain Lev Zhernakov embarked on the next leg of his dangerous journey.
Cries of agony rose up from the tattered and tired group huddled under the rocks to avoid the scorching desert sun. A fierce wind batters the barren landscape uprooting exposed clumps of shrubs, the only vegetation left on the dying planet.
Another vision. This one, a city in ruin with crumbling skyscrapers, and roads marked with long abandoned vehicles scattered among twisted ribbons of asphalt. Tendrils of smoke drift into the air and mix with columns of flames from ravaging fires. Small packs of humans skitter about the mangled roads scurrying to escape the devastation as the city falls into ruin.
A different vision brings a new nightmare. Global coastal regions reclaimed by the rising seawaters. A family stranded by the flooding water, the father looking on in desperation, the mother cradling her newborn tight to her chest, tears of grief dripping onto the child’s face. The baby’s eyes open and he begins to cry. The boy’s cries grow louder and louder.
Lucas’ eyes shoot open. The baby’s crying is closer now, chasing away the waking nightmares that consumed his mind. Lucas sat perfectly still while his mind wrestles between dreams and reality. Slowly his brain recognized the familiar surroundings of his cabin retreat; his chair positioned overlooking the side of Adams Mountain. Shaking off the remnants of the visions and grounding himself with a longer look at the welcome site of the mountain vista outside the window he walked from the room to check on Alice and their newborn son.
The couple had only returned to the States a few days earlier after their forced stay in the Burundi capital where Alice had undergone hours of emergency surgery to save both her life and the life of their newborn son, the result of the fall from the hilltop. The second day in the hospitable, Alice gave birth to their boy. The premature delivery proved necessary considering Alice’s condition.
Lucas grimaced at the memory of his son, Mathew. The newborn was taken from his mother and rushed from the delivery room to the hospital's prenatal wing where he remained for the following month as doctor’s fought to keep him breathing.
Lucas stayed by Alice’s side as she regained her strength at both the hospital and then as guests of President Nuru. Alice was on her feet and against his pleading divided her attention between their hospitalized baby and her work for the foundation. Several times he reprimanded her for the grueling workload she resumed while recovering. Alice shoved aside his concerns smiling and insisting that the world was still in need of guidance from its Climate Prophet.
One evening as the two sat enjoying the comfort of the President’s private mansion; Alice insisted that Lucas remind her of the events that led to her fall and endangered the life of their unborn child. With reluctance, Lucas began the story at the time of the activist’s clambering onto the small rise leading to the scuffle and her tumble over the edge.
“What will happen to the man? Rawasa. That is his name, correct?” she inquired.
“I’m not certain. I would think that President Nuru will hold the man accountable for the assault of her guards and the forced interruption leading to your hospitalization.” He answered. “I will insist she takes the attack very seriously,” Lucas added sternly, his final words ending the discussion.
A couple of days before the family left the African country; Lucas was rummaging through an English version of the countries national paper. An article buried a few pages in caught his eye.
“Burundi nationalist and tribal chief, Medard Rawasa was discovered by villagers in the early hours of the morning. His body was found dangling from a strut high on a metal tower, a cord tight around his neck. The local constabulary is classifying the death as an apparent suicide but tells reporters that a full investigation will follow …”
Lucas took the news in stride. When the mother of his child more time to recover he would let Alice know that justice had prevailed.
When the mother and newborn were pronounced fit to travel, Lucas made arrangements and returned his family to the house perched amongst the forested countryside in Washington State.
Charles Ryan sat frozen. His attention focused on the mirror and the reflection of Netanya Kalb as she paused at the pub entrance, glanced around the interior and then moved across the carpeted floor toward him.
A smile played at the corners of his mouth as he took pleasure in watching Netanya weave around the crowded bar tables moving in his direction. Ryan spun on his stool, a full smile lighting his face when she stepped past the final obstacle between the two.
“What is a lady like you doing in a rundown place like this,” he joked.
“I thought I would slum it tonight,” she replied setting her purse on the countertop and without hesitation threw her arms around him.
Ryan stood and circled Netanya with his arms. “I never thought I would ever see you again,” he mumbled in her ear, his voice choked with emotion.
“So what are your plans now that they’ve taken you out of the field?” Netanya asked seated on the couch's edge in Ryan’s living room. Ryan walked from the kitchen, a drink held in each hand. Handing one off to Netanya, he backed across the tight room settling into an armchair.
“I have no idea,” he sipped his drink then set it on the side table. “Lucas wins I suppose. If he can dictate his wishes to the head of my bureau what chance do I have at exposing the foundation's plans?”
Netanya sipped from her glass. “That’s it. I leave you alone for a few months, and you become a groveling company man. Really!” The Israeli agent left her chair and roamed the apartment. “The place looks bare,” she commented. “What happened to all your clippings?” she asked referring to the pinholes and tape marks left on the walls where Ryan’s files and investigation papers once hung. “ You gave up and took them all down?”
Charles Ryan followed Netanya’s reconnaissance of his sparsely decorated home. He lifted his glass and took a long drink from his glass.
“Part of the conditions for my dignified return to the agency. Wilkerson had fellow agents escort me home with orders to collect all my work related to the eco-terrorism and the POTE Foundation.” He emptied his glass with a tilt of his wrist. “The cupboards are bare so to speak,” he added glumly.
“I never pegged you as the type to cave into authority,” she replied.
“Yeah, well, I…why exactly are you here again?”
“Well. Firstly, to see you.” She smiled over the rim of her raised drink. “Secondly. As I told you, a decision came down from the U.N. to scrub the investigation, their idea not my superiors.”
“So you are going to dash my romantic fantasy by telling me this is business and not pleasure?”
A laugh escaped Netanya's mouth, “Let’s go outside and enjoy some fresh air,” she winked as she picked Ryan’s jacket off the back of a chair and tossed in this direction.
"Maybe it's time we attack this problem from a different angle," she said as the pair exited the apartment.
Burundi President Fabiola Nuru smiled back at her guests as she led the procession to a vantage point in the foothills of Mount Heha. The first female President of the African country swelled with pride, excited to show off the progress her countrymen had made with the American foundation's help.
She took hold of the outstretched hand of her personal guard, Tadeas Jengo; ground her foot solidly into the ground to prevent slipping then pushed off with her back foot while Tadeas held tight aiding in her climb of the rocky ledge.
While President Nuru caught her breath, the remainder of her protection detail provided assistance for the American visitors. With the aid of another man, Lucas helped Alice ascend the short rise as he carefully guided her up. With Alice now seven months pregnant he became overly cautious, the pending birth of the couple's first child providing fleeting moments of relief from his nightmarish visions.
Once the last member of the group was atop the rock ledge, Fabiola Nuru’s face lit with a broad smile before she turned and with her outstretched arm motioned across the valley below.
“Thank you again, Mr. Lucas,” she said. The sight the group gazed down upon causing the 40-year-old President to swoon like a schoolgirl.
Lucas’ face remained impassive hidden beneath the robe’s hood. Without muttering a word, he stood transfixed near the crest of the outcropping overlooking the transformation of the African countryside.
The valley in the small African country was a community of activity with clusters of people toiling among bulldozers and giant cranes. A forest of soaring wind turbines sat in different stages of completion throughout the lush valley surrounded by piles of bulldozed trees from the remaining forests and nestled among the local farmland. Off in the distance, Lucas observed a family tilling the earth in an area surrounding the wind machines from an earlier installation.
“The people of my country will be forever grateful to your foundation for providing a means of self-reliance. The opportunity for jobs and the money my people earn installing these energy towers will mean great things for the future generations of Burundi.
A scuffle broke out behind the visiting dignitaries. The crowd that followed the traveling procession on the trek to the hilltop grew as men and women gathered on the trail. The crowd began pushing against the soldiers at the bottom of the small hill. An argument grew in volume, one man’s voice rising loudly above the scrum. Lucas spun around, his eyes quickly zeroing in on a noticeably angry man leading the fray, the carcass of a dead bird held high in his outstretched hand.
The young man waved the bird clenched in his fist threateningly toward the group standing atop the hill. Soon other voices added to the commotion. Native Burundi’s strained against the small platoon of presidential guards. The leader shouted loudly in Swahili. With raised brows, Lucas glanced at the President waiting for an explanation.
President Nuru turned toward Lucas; her face was apologetic. “The young man’s name is Medard Rawasa.” The Burundi President stopped as if the name alone explained the actions lower down the hill.
Lucas shrugged indicating his failure to understand. “Rawasa is an outspoken opponent of the miracle towers your foundation is providing.”
Pausing to gather her thoughts, President Nuru further continued. “Rawasa says that your metal towers are destroying the wildlife in this area. The tall steel towers are nothing more than a blight on this land. He says you should tear the monstrosities down and leave our country.”
The young man became more animated as he pressed against the line of soldiers. Medard Rawasa glared up at Lucas, his shouts intensifying, the growing crowd becoming restless driving the President’s guards backward. A couple of the President's protection detail became tangled with the protestors leaving their station. With a break in the line, several people trickled by the remaining soldiers and scurried up the small incline. Lucas stared down the crowd while pushing Alice behind his body for protection.
Medard Rawasa and several followers gained the top of the hill crowding Lucas and the African President. Angry words spewed from the activist's mouth, his face purple with rage. Other members of the mob continued climbing onto the small rock topped knoll, the area becoming quickly overrun. Spittle flecked Lucas’ face as the man relentlessly continued to berate the visitors.
President Nuru translated from inside a protective circle of her personal guards.
“Rawasa wants to know why you have come to our country to destroy our forests and farmland and replace them with these tall metal monsters?”
Lucas tried to respond but found the angered Burundi people shouted down his words.
“When the forests are gone, and your towers built, he asks how his people will make a living. The farmland and forests that feed the local tribes are being destroyed. He wants to know who then is going to provide food for the villagers?” President Fabiola Nuru shouted the last few words of her translation over the raucous.
More villagers climbed onto the rock ledge. With the area severely overcrowded, protestors began shoving and pushing with each other. Lucas watched warily as a growing stream of people separated him and Alice from the President and her protection.
The African’s surged closer, the leader still hollering in Lucas’ face. A member of the crowd tripped, brushing against Lucas’ side sending him off balance. As he staggered for his footing, a harrowing scream from behind his back flooded into his brain.
The crushing force of the protestors stopped. As a single person, the assembly looked past him. Lucas rose unsteadily. His first thought was Alice. Glancing at the protestor’s faces, he followed their gaze to the edge of the hill. When he failed to locate Alice in the crush of bodies, his eyes traveled down the steep incline.
Lucas’ breath caught in his throat. Lying at an awkward angle several yards below the ledge, Alice lay unmoving. Leaping past the stunned Burundi crowd, Lucas grasped at clumps of shrubs and rocks as he slid down the steep incline. Digging his feet into the hillside, Lucas skidded to a stop beside Alice. In desperation, his fingers searched her throat for a pulse.
Lucas held his breath while his fingers probed Alice’s neck, her head carefully cradled in his lap. Lucas' body froze when he noticed a pool of blood seeping from beneath her body. Involuntarily, his mouth began twitching as he held the mother of his unborn child.
As if answering some unspoken prayer, Alice’s eyes flickered open. A weak smile curled up the edges of her lips before panic shook her body as she whispered. “Our baby.”
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.