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Directorate Headquarters, Near Washington, D.C.
Mai Fisher worried her thumbnail, her gaze fixed on the wall-sized screen. The video feed came from a drone the size of a Cessna 150 circling high above the Syria-Iraq border. A single Land Rover kicked up dust on a dirt road, its driver apparently unconcerned, given the slow rate of speed.
Beside her, Head of Analysis Elizabeth Drake looked away. The video from the circling drone made her nauseous. On Mai’s other side, her Chief of Staff, Paula Shaw, tapped on her tablet, handling other matters while Mai watched this mission unfold.
On the screen, the icon of the drone’s fuel gauge indicated it approached the point of no return. If that happened, it could still complete its mission, but it wouldn’t make it back to its base on Minicoy Island in the western Indian Ocean. If it couldn’t make it to the ocean, to crash where it couldn’t be recovered, its remote pilot would initiate self-destruct, rendering it into postage-stamp sized debris, useful to no one. Worse-case scenario? The whole drone could become the weapon instead of dispensing missiles to do the job.
The budget wienies within the United Nations Intelligence Directorate always complained when a drone was lost, but Mai could justify every one. Besides, it didn’t happen that often. The CIA bewildered Mai with its propensity to wreck drones left and right in some obscene competition with The Directorate to score more kills.
“Do we have confirmation from our ground asset yet?” asked O. Luther Hunt, Mai’s deputy. The deep timber of his elevated voice filled the mostly female-staffed operations center with manliness.
“Still trying to reach him, sir,” said a young man at a computer console. He spoke in Arabic into his headset, murmuring to someone on the other end.
“Shaw, if we have to crash the drone into that vehicle, how far away is the recovery team?” Mai asked.
“Ten minutes,” Shaw replied.
“Tell them to keep that interval.”
“Roger that.” More typing and swiping on her tablet.
Mai stepped up to the translator and laid a hand on his shoulder. “What’s Mahmoud’s issue?”
The translator replied, “He’s trying to get to a secure area, where no one can hear him.”
“Where is he now?”
“Just finished Friday prayers at the mosque.”
“Bloody hell,” Mai muttered. “Tell him if he gets me what I need within—” She looked at the fuel gauge icon again. “Within two minutes, he gets a bonus. If he doesn’t I may not be so discreet about hiding the fact he’s working for us.”
The translator looked up at her, eyes wide.
“Don’t edit,” Mai said. “Shaw will tell me if you did.”
He nodded and began to speak into his headset, his tone authoritative. Mai looked at Shaw, who nodded.
A minute and thirty seconds ticked by before the translator looked up at Mai and said, “Confirmed. The target is the passenger. The driver his second-in-command.”
“How bloody stupid can you get?” Mai said. She donned her own headset and said, “Come in, Minicoy Base.”
“Minicoy Base here,” came the pilot’s voice, cool and calm, over the room’s speakers.
“We have a go. Fire at will.” Mai looked at the fuel gauge icon. The drone would likely run out of fuel with the runway in sight. “Minicoy Base, I trust you’ve practiced dead stick landings.”
Mai refocused on the screen. The drone stopped circling and began to descend to weapons range. “You can turn around now, Elizabeth,” Mai said.
The drone centered on its target, its camera zooming in. A slight bobble, and two plumes of exhaust streaked away from the drone. The weapons system’s aiming software kept the crosshairs on the Land Rover.
“Missiles away,” said the pilot.
The translator breathed hard and fast. Shaw had stopped typing. Everyone stood statue-still.
A boiling cloud of smoke and fire enveloped the Land Rover, obscuring it from view. The drone pitched up, came around, and circled again. Its camera showed a black smear belching dark smoke against the tawny sand. When the smoke cleared, a crater gaped where the Land Rover had been. Mai spotted an axle and what might be the Rover’s motor. Everything else had evaporated.
“Strike confirmed,” said the pilot.
“Good shooting,” Mai said. “Bring your bird home. HQ out.” Mai turned to Shaw and got a fist bump. “Shaw, have the team move in and collect DNA for confirmation.” Mai switched to a different line. “Situation Room, did you copy?”
U.S. President Ngare “Gary” Ibori replied, “We did, Mai. Good work.”
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