Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Chapter 1

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons past or present is purely coincidental.

Dateline: New Delhi, India

06:53 India Standard Time

It was a beautifully warm early morning rush hour in New Delhi, India and people were hurriedly going about their daily business. The markets were already open and full of customers who had arrived especially early to hand-select the best fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices for their dinner tables and restaurant fare. The smell of the spices brought a small burn to the nostrils and water to the eyes, but it was familiar and fresh.

Along the crowded streets heading into town was beautiful, young Jagrati Malhotra - whose given name means "awakening" -  rapidly walks to her job at the computer support facility downtown. She works handling credit card transactions for an American company. It's all done by computer and the Internet these days and she is only one of several hundred men and women working at Elect-Co. Today, she is going to be late by fifteen minutes. Her tardiness will save her life.

As she turns down the street toward her office building, suddenly an explosion rocks the earth beneath her feet and she falls to the ground. She looks up from her hands and bloody knees to see the seventh floor of her office building - the floor which her company occupied - is engulfed in flames and the whole side of the building toward the street is blown outward as people in the streets run in all directions looking for safety and helping others who have also fallen down with the concussion of the blast. The rubble from higher up the building begins to roll down toward the street as flames and black smoke with the odor of burning rubber wire insulation permeates the area.

"Dear God!" she prayerfully exclaims as even more bricks and window glass fall through the billowing clouds of dark smoke and flames, then into the streets below. Jagrati wanted to run toward her friends and workmates to see what she could do to help the injured, but she could see that there was no way. Besides, her feet wouldn't move as she now stood there frozen in an emotional mixture of shock, fear, sorrow and helplessness. The horrors of this day, Jagrati would never forget as long as she lives.

At Langley, Virginia

Half a world away, the night shift is on deck at C.I.A. Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Only a skeleton crew is on board as the news of the explosion that rocked New Delhi scarcely a few hours ago comes across the wire services and from agents in the overseas field offices.

The whole street side of the office building has now collapsed and over 1,500 people are presumed dead or missing in the rubble as firefighters battle the continuing blaze while  police maintain a safety perimeter. So far, no terrorist group or organization has claimed responsibility and it looks doubtful that this was any sort of accident. The damage seemed too specifically targeted to only a certain area of the building to have been a mere accident.

Space-orbiting spy satellites were being retasked in order to get overhead photos of the street scenes from above. Those will show the blast radius and other special cameras could tell if the detonation was nuclear or conventional. That information should become available fairly soon. With the little known at the time, there is nothing to do but wait and gather as much information as possible. Meanwhile, …

Jace Marshall

In the bedroom of a nice suburban neighborhood home in Falls Church, Virginia, the telephone sitting on the cherry wood nightstand rings. The red LEDs of the digital alarm clock is the only light source in the room. It's 2:36 A.M. A strong right hand with a Marine Corps eagle, globe and anchor tattoo on his forearm reaches for the phone and picks up the receiver. His voice is broken and his head a bit foggy from interrupted sleep. "Marshall.... This better be good."

A voice on the phone tells him the news. Jace Marshall has been with the C.I.A. for a long time. He was transferred to the C.I.A. right out of the Marine Corps after he had completed Basic and Infantry Training and passed through Officer Candidate School. He'd like to think he's seen everything, been everywhere and done everything in his career. This assignment will show him a whole new threshold of bad. The voice on the phone continues. Jace answers, "How many killed?" (muffled, indistinct answer) "Has any terrorist group claimed responsibility?" (again a muffled response.) "Any wire photographs available?" (muffled reply) "Have our satellite photos come through yet?" (response) "Well, wrap-up what you have so far for me, will you? I'll be there in 20 minutes."

Jace was half annoyed to be awakened from a sound sleep. He had been busy on the Middle East desk for the past two years and he only recently rotated out to get some rest. However, nearby India, being a nuclear power, had been a place of interest to him for a long time, but there hadn't been anything of significance to work on from India in quite some time. He wondered, "Why there? Why now? Trouble with Pakistan? What, the hell, is going on?" Too many questions and not enough answers. He wished he could have had a few more hours of sleep, but he knew he could survive on less ever since he worked on the Middle East desk. This was going to be a very long day.

>>>> Next: Chapter 2 >>

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