Chapter 1: Terror
Abdul Jamal Al-Fayed carefully raised the edge of the high-tech tarp that protected him, his rifle and scope, and a video camera with a powerful telescopic lens attached. The equipment was of the highest quality, and designed to work as well at night as it did during the day. He shivered as a cold, wet gust of wind swirled out of the darkening Washington D.C. sky, and crept under the tarp.
His assignment was to watch another windswept rooftop, and report the status of a six man mortar crew. A secondary task was providing cover fire if they were attacked during their mission. The mission must succeed. Abdul had been in position for over twenty-four hours, which was nothing for a sniper of his training and expertise.
In his previous life, as Jerome Parsons, Abdul had been a highly trained and decorated US Army sniper. He had once spent five days moving half a mile to get into position to take one shot, in Iraq. He didn't have as many kills as the vaunted 'American Sniper, ' but he had been respected by other Army snipers. Unfortunately, that respect did not translate to respect in his old neighborhood.
Jerome got out of the Army, as a sergeant, and returned to his home in Baltimore. He quickly remembered why he had joined the Army in the first place. The dirt, the crime, and the utter hopelessness swallowed his days, and his nights were plagued by nightmares. The nightmare reality of trying to support his mother, brother, and sister during the day was a lesson in futility. There were no jobs to address his daytime nightmare, at least none that he was willing to do. The code of ethics that he learned in the army wouldn't allow him to accept jobs like security for drug dealers and pimps He attempted to get help from the VA for his night terrors, but was turned away by putting his name on a waiting list.
One of Jerome's neighbors, and a childhood friend that he trusted, invited him to attend prayers at a nearby mosque. At first, Jerome declined the invitations.
"What are you trying to do? Why would I go pray in a mosque?" Jerome asked his friend suspiciously. "I just spent a year killing rag-heads that were trying to kill Americans."
"Where are the people you profess to have protected, now that you need help?" his friend had scoffed bitterly. "They let you get blood on your hands, and then left you hanging, dude. All I'm trying to do is find you some help so you can sleep at night. Once you get your head straight, you'll probably be able to get a job. Maybe they can help, and maybe not. If not, no harm, no foul. If so, maybe you and your momma can eat something beside Ramen noodles for supper every night."
Jerome continued to resist his friends invitations for several months. He couldn't find a job, and his unemployment benefits expired. His mother's food stamps were reduced because he was living in the same house. Between him and his mother, they could have had more of an income if he moved out. But if he moved out, he wouldn't be able to protect his family from the druggies and the bangers. The nightmares got worse, and the VA continued to insist there was nothing wrong with him, on the rare occasions he was able to get an appointment. Jerome finally agreed to go with his friend, out of desperation. Six months later, Jerome adopted the Muslim religion, and changed his name to Abdul Jamal Al-Fayed.
Abdul began getting requests for advice on military matters, after prayers. His advice was appreciated. He had enjoyed the respect he received in the army, and hadn't realized how much he had missed it. That respect was his again. The requests for advice turned into weekends in the country, showing other Muslims techniques for small unit combat, the handling of weapons, and marksmanship. Abdul's self respect grew with the obvious admiration of his students. He was paid for his time, so his family didn't go hungry. The nightmares receded, now that he had a purpose, and a way to successfully accomplish that purpose. He was happy.
In 2013, a few of his 'trainees' disappeared, and when Abdul pressed for their whereabouts, learned they had gone to Syria to fight with ISIS. Abdul seriously considered joining them. In Abdul's mind, his country had betrayed him, and no longer deserved the allegiance he had sworn just a few years before. He was asked to stay where he was. He was more valuable within the US, and was told to consider himself behind enemy lines.
Abdul trained men, and watched them go to war for three years. He watched the news, and occasionally one of his students would be featured. He was proud of them, their skills, and their dedication, but he still felt he should be with them. He was heartbroken when their dedication resulted in their deaths. Finally, Abdul received activation orders, along with state of the art equipment to carry out an assignment.
The high-tech tarp that covered Abdul and his equipment was the same color as the rooftop, and it blocked his body's heat radiation. A drone security flyover wouldn't see him, and a physical inspection of the rooftop would need to be very thorough for him to be spotted. Abdul heard choppers flying, and the softer hum of drones, as they searched for threats to the nation's political gathering. Abdul hadn't been detected.
The harsh shadows of the blustery evening let him know the time was near. Abdul smiled to himself, as he contemplated getting vengeance on the body of men that had betrayed him and so many others.
Abdul flipped switches on his optics. His view through the rifle scope leapt into high relief, and he knew the video optics were just as clear. He pressed a button on the rifle scope to check for infrared signatures. There were none. He pressed the button again, leaving IR mode. Infrared emissions could also reveal his position to the enemy.
Abdul, formally known as Jerome Parsons, sipped at the water in his camel pack, and patiently waited. It wouldn't be long now. Preparations for tonight's State of the Union address were hitting a fever pitch, judging from the lights of the capitol building. Abdul was pretty sure the gathering was the target of the mortar crew, but that wasn't his concern. His assignment was to protect the crew from attackers and report their success. It didn't occur to him that they might fail.
Six men appeared in Abdul's scope. He carefully studied them, and confirmed that two were setting up a mortar, while the other four established a perimeter on the roof top. He scanned for threats, and didn't see anything. Abdul swung the scope back to watch the men set up the mortar, and frowned. Two of the security men were prone. As he watched, another member of the security team jerked, and slowly, unnaturally, lowered to a prone position on the rooftop.
Abdul felt a prickling run down his backbone. The man hadn't been shot. He had been neutralized, and physically lowered to the rooftop so the others wouldn't be alarmed. But there was no one near the man that could be responsible. He flicked the switch to IR, and the only heat signatures on the roof were the men he was supposed to protect; men that he had trained, and who respected him.
He focused his sights on the lone remaining security man, and gasped when a shadow near the man seemed to ripple. The man's heat signature was interrupted by something before he slumped, and the rippling disappeared. Abdul was not a superstitious man, but...
Abdul quickly moved his sights back to the mortar men. The rippling in his IR sight appeared again. He squeezed the trigger, aiming at where the rippling had been.
Caleb was still, perfectly blending with the shadows of the night. Three other men were strategically placed near him, also concealed by the darkness. They were half a mile from the Capitol building, which was bright with lights. Soon, a convoy of limousines would deliver the recently elected President, Scott McGowan, for his first State of the Union address.
The four men would seem to be wearing dark battle fatigues with full helmets, if they were seen in the full light of day, and they weren't attempting to blend into the background. Their outfits blended perfectly with the lighter darkness caused by reflected light, and deeper shadows devoid of light. They wouldn't even be detected if an enemy used an IR scope because their heat signatures were suppressed to blend with the background radiation. It was simply a matter of controlling the frequencies the armor responded to.
Armor in use by the armed services was hot, and often restricted movement. The armor in use by Caleb and his team was constructed of nanobots, and the men had nearly complete control of them. Professor Hawthorn, better known as Bran, had developed the nanobots with the help of the only alien Companion on earth.
The nanobots did more than provide exterior armor, though. They also gave human bones the consistency of spring steel, maintained arteries, protected vital organs, and restricted bleeding when wounded. Since the exterior armor was the only manifestation of the nanobots that could be seen with the naked eye, hosts with Companions simply called it armor.
Caleb didn't know what he was waiting for, but he felt like this was where he should be to eliminate something dangerous. In Iraq, he had often had 'gut feelings' when on patrol. There were usually casualties among his men when he didn't follow those feelings. There were usually enemy casualties when he did follow his intuition. It didn't take him long to began listening to his 'gut feelings'. His ability to understand those feelings increased when he became a host.
"Noah said that intuition and premonition were the same thing," Al, Caleb's Companion noted in his mind. "He said both were a form of precognition that can be improved and enhanced."
"Are you talking about our four year old son, or his Companion?" Caleb asked, amusement in his thoughts.
"I don't think there is a difference," Al replied after a moments hesitation, his thoughts slightly troubled. Getting back to his subject, he continued with, "He said that precognition is a talent, similar to singing or drawing. Everyone may be able to use precognition to some degree, but some can develop it into a functional talent."
"Do you think Noah and his Companion identifying themselves as a single entity is a problem?" Caleb asked, concerned for his son.
Al's hesitation was longer this time, but he finally said, "They are fused the same as you and I, and all the other host/Companion pairs, that have decided to use the armor. If something kills Noah, his Companion dies, too. The difference is, you and the other hosts once lived your lives as singles, without Companions. Every host that I have had, in thirteen billion years, once lived as a single. A host/Companion pair like the children has never happened before. You and the other hosts have a different sense of self identity than the children. The children were together with their Companions since their brains had developed enough in the womb to support a Companion. The childrens' self identity encompasses their Companions. I don't know what that will mean as they mature. I do know the children of host/Companion pairs are different than other human children."
"Different, how?" Caleb demanded.
"Children born with Companions are more aware, and are more insightful than other human children," Al promptly replied, seeming to be unloading a burden that he was glad to shed.
"Have you discussed it with the other Companions?" Flan asked.
He felt something in his mind that made him think of Al nodding, before Al said, "We have followed the development of the children closely. There is nothing unhealthy, or wrong with them. Their actions are commendable in all ways. Some actions have been startling, but still commendable. JJ placed Noah, Nate, and Briana in a normal preschool, daycare center. She just wanted to see what would happen. Within an hour, the three of them had organized the other preschoolers. There were more than thirty, three and four year olds, and had them studying animal books together. The manager for the daycare center called JJ, not understanding what was going on. It took some fast talking by JJ, and maybe a little mental pressure, to convince the manager that the kids had simply decided to behave that day. JJ said that it didn't take nearly as much convincing as she thought it should have, and suspected the children may have already been influencing her."
"That is not the way to remain unnoticed," Caleb mentally muttered in concern. "I'll talk to the kids about it, tonight," he promised Al.
"Caleb, listen to yourself!" Al answered angrily in frustration. "What you just said is another example of what is unusual about them, but doesn't seem wrong. Noah, forty-six months old. Briana, Buck and Bailey's little girl is a month younger. Flan's boy Nate is only thirty-nine months. You just said, in all seriousness, that you're going talk three and four year olds about going unnoticed, and fully expect them to understand and comply. Caleb, is that normal?"
"I would use different words," Caleb mentally defended himself, but knew how weak it sounded.
"The point is, they are different from other children. They aren't bad, and seem very capable, but they are children, and we don't know what to expect," Al continued, ignoring Caleb's defense. "Humans have done a very good job of documenting human development. We can precisely predict most developmental steps in humans. None of the seven children of host/Companion pairs, have followed those steps. We are troubled, because we don't know what to expect. I have been in existence for a long time, and the unknown is extremely rare."
"Maybe we should all get together, and state our concerns, and see what happens," Caleb suggested.
"As crazy as it sounds, that is probably exactly what we need to do," Al replied. "We'll talk later. Right now, I think you were right again. There are men coming."
Caleb focused, and the faint whisper of footsteps could be heard.
"They're coming," Caleb mentally warned the other three members of his team, via their Companions.
"It looks like there are six of them," Jimmy Walcott, former Texas Highway Patrol, now part of a special Marshal's unit, replied in kind.
"Check your stealth," Caleb ordered the group, via their Companions. "Hold in place until they get set. They should drop their guard slightly, until they begin the attack."
Caleb didn't need to admonish his team to take the men alive. That was a given. There was little the men could do to hurt them, and they were more valuable alive than dead. Even if they wouldn't talk under questioning, the team could get the information from the terrorist's minds.
Caleb and his team were armed with silenced pistols and batons. Their weapons were enclosed by the armor so they wouldn't be seen. They carried weapons to prevent questions from the backup team, who were not hosts, and didn't know about Companions.
Four men settled into guard positions, and the other two continued setting up the mortar. Caleb moved to the nearest guard, and touched his shoulder.
At the speed of thought, Caleb learned the man's mental signature, an identity more precise than finger prints or even retinal scans. He froze the man's muscles, preventing him from dropping his rifle. Caleb carefully extracted the rifle from the man's grasp, and set it on the ground beside him. Then Caleb put him to sleep, carefully easing him to the rooftop. The man wouldn't wake up until Caleb, or someone else with a Companion woke him.
"Jimmy, you're next," Caleb silently ordered. "When he's finished, go in order. Report when you're finished."
"Done," Jimmy reported, moments later.
"Done," Flan, the next team member reported.
"Done," Singer, the last team member reported.
"Jimmy, you and I take the mortar men," Caleb silently ordered.
Each man carefully moved across the rooftop. Their armor reflected sound, like any other frequency, but was able to reflect audible frequencies out of phase, nullifying sound waves. The armor didn't completely silence their movements, but the men would need to be very alert to hear the slight resonance of their steps over the sound of the wind.
Caleb and Jimmy reached for the mortar men at the same time, and Caleb's man slumped beside the mortar. Jimmy's man slumped at the same time, just before he grunted in pain as he flipped in the air and landed on his back.
Simultaneously, the sharp snap of a high powered bullet was heard.
"Down," Caleb yelled, dropping to the rooftop, facing the direction the bullet came from. "Sniper," he hurriedly reported over the radio. "Southeast of my position."
Caleb saw a faint flash, followed by the snap of another bullet, before a section of the parapet around the roof, far off to one side, shattered under the impact of the high-powered round.
"Rooftop, northeast of my position," he reported over the radio. "One half mile ... looks like it is the rooftop of the Monaco Hotel."
"Jimmy, are you okay?" Caleb called.
"Yeah, but that's going to leave a bruise," Jimmy called back.
"Better than a hole," Caleb retorted brusquely, as he searched the distant rooftop.
"He shouldn't have been able to see me," Jimmy complained. "How did he see me?"
"Good question, and a real good reason to find the sniper," Caleb growled.
It was too far to feel the sniper's mind, and he didn't see anything. Caleb knew, from working with good snipers, that not seeing them didn't mean a lot. Snipers were beyond sneaky, and could hide in the middle of an empty baseball diamond.
"Maybe it's another human talent, this ability to draw into yourself so others can't detect you it," Al mused in answer to Caleb's thoughts. "Reducing or closing broadcasts from human's quantum connection would be an incredible survival trait, in any environment. An assassin could go through any crowd, and just about any defense, with a skill like that."
There was another flash from a rifle muzzle, and the bullet struck near the downed mortar men, showering the men with tar and gravel from the roof top.
Caleb narrowed his eyes, looking at the distant roof, and then back at the men lying beside the mortar. He looked at where Jimmy had been standing when he was shot, and then back at where the sniper was shooting from.
"He has IR," Caleb announced. "He can see the heat signatures of the terrorists, and can see when their signature is blocked by our armor."
The distant rooftop moved, and a man stood, shrugging aside a tarp. The man ran towards the roof access, carrying his rifle in one hand, and drawing a pistol with the other. He stopped, and fired the pistol before he disappeared through the door. A small drone, only about four feet across, crashed to the distant roof.
"He's left the roof," Caleb reported on the radio. "He just went through the roof access. We can bottle him up in the building. Try to take him alive, but don't take unnecessary chances," he ordered.
"Armor normal," Caleb silently ordered his three companions, his thought urgent.
Their armor shimmered before retracting into what appeared to be normal, run of the mill, combat armor. A moment later, twelve members of the Washington DC Swat team rushed through the access door, their rifles covering all points of the rooftop.
Caleb held up an ID case and shouted, "Captain Connor, Presidential detail."
The next ten minutes was bedlam, but Caleb took it all in stride. He was no longer worried about Scotty's safety. He didn't feel that subtle pressure that warned of danger. He stiffened, remembering the sniper, and what Al had said about another human talent being the ability to shield someone's intention.
They had handled each member of the mortar and had pulled everything of value from their minds. Unfortunately, each had been touched by the demon, so there was little intelligence of worth.
"Fran, Singer, Jimmy. We need to get back to the Capitol building," Caleb called urgently.
"Scotty, we're done here," Caleb told his friend mentally, via their Companions. "I don't feel any other danger, but that doesn't mean the danger isn't there. Al pointed out that a sniper ability to conceal himself, could be another human survival trait. I really wish you would call tonight off."
President Scott McGowan didn't need to ask where 'here' was, or what had been done. He had been following the action on the roof via George, his own Companion.
"This is the State of the Union! Not some damn afternoon tea! I'm already late going in there, and I won't duck and cover if there isn't an immediate threat," Scotty replied irritably. "I'm going in and give my speech."
"Okay," Caleb answered, automatically accepting his boss's decision. "We're on our way back to the Capitol Building. Take your time. I want to be in the building before you step to the podium. You standing still in a known location worries me."
"I can do that," Scotty mentally snorted. "There's always someone else that wants to shake my hand," he said drily.
"Yeah," Caleb replied, knowing how much Scotty hated the pomp and false well wishes.
Scotty had once mentioned sharks when referring to Washington politicians, of both parties. After a couple of months in the nation's capitol, Caleb was pretty sure that Scotty was guilty of slandering sharks.