THE BOARD ROOM IN THE Dallas office tower wasn’t anything special. A long, rectangular polished mahogany table, twenty-four high-backed chairs, stainless steel carts at either end stocked with breakfast items and beverages, both attended by servers.
What was special were those gathered around the table.
Among the eighteen people were the four CEO’s of the biggest oil companies on the planet. The only way Shyloh could get them all in the same country, in the same city and around the same table was to lure them with the suggestion Cascadia may consider returning assets recently ceased when they nationalized the oil industry and the possibility of access to the vast deposits of natural gas in the country’s northeast and the oil reserves off its west coast.
If things went as planned the four chief executive officers and likely a few of their lieutenants would be dead within the next few minutes.
“Look, Mr. Tam, we didn’t come all this way to received a lecture on climate change.” Warren Dodds headed up a multi-national that had swallowed all the smaller oil companies in America. It was the only company still privately owned, mind you the board of directors comprised only billionaires. The others were owned by governments that invested in foreign markets to insure supply and profits for their own country. Two were ministers of state the other a crown prince.
Assassinating them could have repercussions if it could be traced back to Judith and her team.
“According to international law, Cascadia is obliged to pay the deprived parties full value for their assets. If you’re not letting us back in, then you need to anti up seven billion dollars.”
The others around the table nodded.
Shyloh wanted to ask, or what? But he already new. These were the people who were supplying the money to recruit and equip the mercenaries with orders to undermine and destabilize his new country. Cascadia could either capitulate and spiral into anarchy or fight back. Shyloh chose to fight back.
“Gentlemen. I hoped by meeting you face to face I could impress upon you the need to rethink your current strategy. I hoped by sharing Cascadia’s vision of planetary health, social justice, and personal well-being you might consider using your wealth and influence to invest in a sustainable future rather than prop up the past, a past that has brought us to the brink of societal and environmental collapse.”
“Spare us the apocalyptic scenarios and your naïve, unrealistic, and, I’d even say, delusional solutions.” This was the prince, a distant relative of a ruling royal family who’s people lived in servitude, too tasked trying to survive from one day to the next to even consider a better future.
“I’d be more concerned about your country’s immediate well being than a distant and unpredictable future. What is it your Bible says, ‘One generation passes away, and another generation comes, but the earth abides forever.’”
“No doubt the earth will abide, your highness. The question is will it be inhabitable for humans?” Shyloh stood. Judith, who sat beside him, stood as well. “Thank you for your time and your patience.” Shyloh hesitated. “Goodbye.”
That was the code word and once uttered all hell broke loose.
At either end of the room, the servers set off stun grenades hidden in chafing dishes beneath mounds of crepes and ham steaks. Searing flashes and excruciating loud bangs disoriented Shyloh, but Judith had his arm and was pulling him towards the door. Screams and shouts were interspersed with 9mm handgun fire, the clatter of broken glass and eight round magazines hitting the floor as the shooters reloaded. Smoke grenades, also courtesy of the servers, were filling the confined space with a dense, blinding cloud.
“Terrorists!” Judith shouted once they were out of the boardroom. Frightened staff had come out of their offices and cubicles and were standing in the hall. “They’re killing everyone. Run, take the stairs.”
Nobody waited around. Terrified secretaries and executives ran for the exit.
Two security guards pushed past Judith and Shyloh toward the black smoke billowing out of the boardroom. There was more gun fire. Judith seemed to stumble, but recovered.
They entered the stairwell with dozens of others; some crying, some praying, some shouting encouragement. Down they went, twenty-seven floors. The throng grew as they descended.
“You’re bleeding.” A woman pointed at Judith’s back.
“Judith?” For the first time Shyloh looked at his friend. She was pale, her lips blue. Her left arm hung limp and blood was coming out from under the sleeve of her suit jacket, running down her fingers and dripping on the stairs.
“It’s nothing. When we reach the lobby go left and down the stairs into the underground parking lot.” Judith stopped on a landing and slumped against the wall as people rushed by them. She was having difficulty breathing.
Shyloh lifted her limp arm and draped it over his shoulder. He put his other arm around her waist and lifted her. She leaned against him. “We’re almost there, just one more flight to lobby.” They started down.
The lobby was chaotic. First responders, police, and military were coming in while frantic workers pushed past them to get out. No one stopped them on route to the parking lot.
“This way, sir.” A man dressed as a chauffeur led them to a limousine parked close by.
“We need to take Judith to a hospital,” Shyloh said to the driver and body guard in the front seat.
“No,” Judith said. “To the airport as planned. We’ve got to get you out of here.”
“What about the rest of your team?”
“They’re not our people. It was a joint-op with locals.”
“You think we were the only ones who wanted those bastards dead?”
The limousine exited the parking lot and into the bright Texas sunshine.
“We’re twelve minutes to DFW,” the driver said.
The vehicle passed through airport security and was out on the tarmac pulling up to the corporate jet they’d arrived in only three hours before. Along the way Judith lost consciousness. The driver and the body guard, both members of Cascadia’s special forces, carried their commander into the jet.
Once airborne, the soldiers applied battlefield first aide.
“She’s been shot in the back below the right shoulder blade. The bullet or bone chips have punctured her lung. There’s internal bleeding.”
“What are her chances?” Shyloh could see a froth of blood forming on Judith’s lips.
“Not good. She needs immediate surgery,” the soldier said.
“Land the plane.”
“No.” From somewhere just this side of consciousness, Judith answered. “We have to get you back safe.”
The soldiers looked at Judith, then Shyloh, then at one another.
“I’m the head of state. I out rank your commander and I order you to land this jet at the nearest place that has a hospital.”
Shyloh could see Judith’s men were eager to comply. The life of their beloved commander was of more concern than that of the head of their country. He felt the same way.
“That would be Salt Lake City, sir.”
“This is a mistake,” Judith whispered. “I’m a soldier, I know the risks.”
“Save your breath, were landing and taking you to a hospital.” Shyloh only hoped it would be in time.
Upon landing at SLC, the private jet was ordered to taxi to a remote runway and then surrounded by armed military vehicles.
“We’re going to be boarded, sir.”
“Of course.” Shyloh watched out a portal as portable passenger stairs were pushed up to the aircraft door by six commandos. The hatch opened and four battle-ready soldiers ascended followed by two men and a woman carrying side arms and wearing bullet-proof vests over street clothes.
“Mr. Tam, I’m Agent Wills, special agent with the Utah Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I’m afraid we’re going to detain your crew and passengers.”
“I understand, but my colleague was shot escaping the terrorists and needs immediate medical treatment.”
“We were notified, and an ambulance is standing by to take her to the Salt Lake Regional Medical Center.”
“I want to stay with her.”
The agents looked at one another. “Okay.”
A military convoy accompanied the ambulance through the city streets. Within a half hour of landing Judith was on an operating table.
Shyloh sat in the surgical waiting room along with a colleague of Agent Wills, whose name he’d forgotten. It didn’t matter, she wasn’t there to keep him company. The room was empty except for the two of them which, upon reflection, was strange for a large hospital.
He regulated his breathing, slowing his pulse, calming his state of mind.
Shyloh had seen a lot of dead people in his life. As a freelance writer he’d sought countries in conflict to understand what brought them to where violence seemed the only way to resolve differences and how it might have been avoided. He’d become immune to death and carnage, but except for a few associates, the dead had all been strangers and he had never been responsible for killing them. Until now.
He wasn’t bothered by the morality of what he’d done, but he was concerned about what the resulting karma might bring.
Throughout his life he’d been confronted with, and often the victim of violence, but he never considered it as a means to an end, because it didn’t end. This likely wouldn’t either, but it would buy time. Time for Cascadia to stabilize, to grow strong and revered, to fight back one way or another.
Agent Wills entered the room. “General Wolfe is still in surgery.”
“Any indication on how it’s going?”
“Too early.” Wills pulled a chair over and sat across from Shyloh.
“Were people killed?”
“Six dead and three in critical condition.”
“Did you capture the terrorists?”
“Not yet, but we will.”
“Has any group come forward to take responsibility for the terrorist attack?”
“How about I ask the questions? Tell me what happened?”
“We were just concluding the meeting, in fact I was getting up to go.”
“Because it was over.”
“There was an ear splitting blast, painful, disorienting. Then shouting, screaming, gunfire and the room filled with thick, black smoke.”
“Did you see who was firing?”
“No, Judith had me by the arm and was pulling me toward the door.”
“Lucky for you she was there.”
“Yes. General Wolfe has seen a lot of combat and knew how to react. Otherwise...”
“Have you heard of the Patriot movement?”
“Yes. An anti-government, pro gun militia organization based on conspiracy theories about the suspension of constitutional rights and freedoms and the implementation of a New World Order,” Shyloh said.
“You know a lot about an extremist fringe group.”
“I understand significant parts of Idaho are in their control. Idaho borders on Cascadia. It’s my job to know our neighbours.”
“Idaho is not in their control. There are pockets of extremists–”
“You asked if I knew of them. The answer is yes.” Pockets of extremists? They’d established a provisional government in Coeur d’Alene.
“We believe the attack was carried out by two members of the Oath Keepers, one of the more radical groups associated with this movement.” Wills stood and paced. “What we don’t understand is how they knew about the meeting?”
“I’d like to know that as well since I barely escaped with my life and General Wolfe has been seriously wounded and may not survive.”
“Perhaps there’s a leak. Don’t the Oath Keepers claim their membership is made up of former law enforcement officers and military veterans. Maybe some aren’t former, but current.”
“I resent that implication. The FBI has not been compromised and–”
“Are you serious, Agent Wills?
“The United States of America is–”
“Deconstructing,” Shyoh said. “Neighbourhoods of major cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, and even Washington, DC are under the control of ethnic gangs. You’ve got white nationalist militias vying for supremacy in the mid-west, and Black Lives Matter organizations taking charge of inner cities while the rich live in gated suburban enclaves protected by armed guards hired by private security firms.
“The mid-west is a dust-bowl, your coastlines are eroding and malaria and dengue fever are infecting thousands in the southern states as the global warming allows the mosquito’s habitat to spread north.
“Your dollar is worth half of what it was internationally twenty years ago, banks are failing, municipal and state governments are declaring bankruptcy, and unemployment is at unprecedented highs.
“And you’re telling me sensitive information can’t be bought from a local law enforcement person who has lost his pension, seen his wages rolled back and is concerned his paycheck might bounce?”
Agent Wills’ face was red. “We’re detaining you and your crew until we get more answers.” He turned to his colleague. “Don’t let him out of your sight and if he tries to go anywhere use whatever force necessary to stop him.”
An hour later the surgeon entered the waiting room. “General Wolfe will be fine. She’s been transferred to acute care as a post-op precaution. I expect a full recovery.”
“When will she be able to travel?” Shyloh said. He was eager to leave. Judith hadn’t divulged her plans to him but now he understood. All it would take was for the FBI to arrest one of the men who carried out the attack in the boardroom. While decrying torture by other countries the American government and its agencies didn’t hesitate to use it when it served their national interest.
“She’s incredibly strong, but still I’d give her a couple of days.”
The surgeon left and two men in suits entered the waiting room. “We’re from the Dallas field office. Agent Wills wants us to escort Mr. Tam to a hotel where we can ask him some further questions.” They flashed I.D.
“Wills said not to let him out of my sight, so I’m coming with you.”
“No, you’re not.” One of the men drew a gun with a silencer on it from inside his suit and shot the young woman three times in the chest.
In the hospital corridor they were met by two uniformed law enforcement officers and escorted down a freight elevator to an underground parking lot and then all five got into a police cruiser.
“Who are you?” Shyloh said.
“Where are you taking me?”
“To last strong hold of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.”
“Where’s General Wolfe?”
“In an ambulance behind us.”
Lights flashing, sirens wailing, the emergency vehicles sped through the traffic. Once outside the city limits they pulled into a large field. Within seconds a helicopter appeared, landed and Shyloh and Judith were transferred to the aircraft.
Once airborne, an older man in combat fatigues came back and sat with Shyloh.
“Give me your cell phone.”
Shyloh handed him the device. He smashed it under his heel and threw it out of the chopper.
“I’m Roger, pleased to meet you.”
Shyloh shook the man’s hand.
Roger look down at sedated Judith. “Took part in joint operations with Judith in Afghanistan and then again in North Africa. She’s a hell of a soldier.”
“Who are you and where are you taking us?”
“Judith contacted me and asked if my people might consider working on a mutually beneficial op. When she told me who she was targeting, we didn’t hesitate. Multinationals are enslaving the people. A blow against them is a blow against the New World Order and victory for freedom and the American way.”
“You’re part of the extremist Patriot movement?”
“They’re the extremists, we’re for old-fashioned values. But yes, Patriots, Oath Takers, Three Percenters and about thirty thousand other folks who want to protect individual freedoms as laid out in the constitution. We’ve established our own state, and it’s governed by grass roots democracy not corporate lackeys. More true Americans are coming to us every day or working on our behalf in whatever way they can. Our roots go deep and spread wide.”
“Where are you taking us?”
“Some place safe and eventually home. You’re lucky we snatched you up when we did or you might have never made it out of their clutches.”
Shyloh wasn’t so sure, but he’d be grateful to whoever brought him and Judith back to Cascadia quickly and safely. Things could be sorted out later.
The helicopter flew low and fast. The city disappeared and scrub desert got greener on the flanks of the mountain ranges the aircraft navigated between.
“Welcome to Idaho,” Shiloh’s companion said. They landed in a field and were taken by a four-wheel-drive vehicle down an abandoned logging road to an old mine site. Men appeared, opened the wooden doors to a shaft in the side of a low mountain and the vehicle drove in.
“Drones won’t find you here,” Roger said. “We’ll continue overland tonight.”
The journey continued after dark for five nights finally arriving in the tiny settlement of Porthill on the Cascadian border in the southeast corner of the country. The people Shyloh met during that time had three things in common; they all opposed the New World Order and engaged in groundless conspiracy theorizing, they were all white, and all were armed to the teeth. At times he wondered if he and Judith would have been better off staying in the custody of the FBI under house arrest in Salt Lake City, not like they had a choice?
Shyloh was bemused at how the Oath Takers, who were current and former military, police, and first responders and had swore an oath to ‘defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic’ justified collaborating in a joint military operation against their own country?
Right now they seemed more concerned with strutting around in army fatigues and posing with the guns and ammo belts than thinking about alliances with foreign powers. But why should that surprise him? Weren’t these the same people who voted for Donald Trump decades ago, a man who sought the support of the Russian government to get himself elected. One thing was certain, there was a bloody confrontation brewing between these people and their own federal government. When it happened, they’d no longer be playing soldier, it would be for real and it would be deadly.
Despite Cascadia’s shortcomings and its continued challenges Shyloh felt more optimistic about his fledgling country than its mighty neighbour. He hoped he made it home.
The journey had been a rough one and Shyloh was concerned about Judith, but the Patriots, or whatever they called themselves who escorted them were well equipped and medically trained and she got good care under the circumstances.
“How close are we to the border?” Shyloh said to the driver. Others from local militia chapters had replaced Roger along the way. Tonight Shyloh was riding up front in a crew cab pickup with Judith stretched out on the back seat. Another truck was following them with an undetermined amount of men and arms in it.
“Close enough.” The truck stopped. “We’ll let you out here. This road leads to the border.”
“Can’t you drive us there? Judith is injured.”
“They’re touchy about strangers approaching the boundary other than at designated crossing points. And designated crossing points are still controlled by the feds.”
Shyloh helped Judith out of the back seat. The darkness was absolute. A flashlight lead them to a stump at the side of the road where they sat.
“It will be dawn in few hours. All you need to do is head up the road and before you know it, you’ll have visitors. They’ve got all kinds of sensors to warn them of illegals trying to cross.”
The trucks drove away.
“How are you doing?” Shyloh said. He put his arm around her shoulders.
“I’m fine.” Judith snuggled closer for warmth. “I remember another night we spent alone in the mountains. You saved me then as well.”
The Cascadian Border Service found them as promised. They called ahead to Creston to make them aware of their distinguished guests. The media had reported the attack in Dallas but had no information about their leaders. No one knew where they were, if they’d survived, or were being detained. The welcome they received when they arrived in Creston was surprising and gratifying. People were cheering in the streets.
A flight back to Vancouver was arranged for Judith. There was still some unfinished business and with her injured it was up to Shyloh to take care of it.
The de Havilland Buffalo touched down in Fort St. John, an hour from Dawson Creek, the town held by the Free Cascadian Army, as the rag-tag group of disaffected locals and mercenaries called themselves.
“We have good intel the mercenaries hired by the oil company have headed back across the Alberta border.” Colonel Kalil Fayad was handpicked by Judith and had Shyloh’s full confidence.
That made sense, they fought for pay and now their pay cheque was in jeopardy,
“So who’s left?” Shyloh said.
“Their leader, Kevin Robert Fulton, who calls himself Gideon, and his group of a right-wing, religious extremists, formerly The Warriors of God, now the Free Cascadian Army.”
“A broader appeal, perhaps?”
Colonel Fayad smiled. “Gideon and his followers are suspected of attacking a meeting at a street front mosque in Vancouver a few years ago. Eighteen people were murdered.”
Kevin. Why hadn’t Judith told him the bully from their childhood had carried out attacks against non-whites and immigrants? On the occasion the captain spoke of he’d nearly succeeded in murdering Aiya. Judith was a fanatic about gathering intelligence, about knowing and understanding her adversaries. Had she given tacit approval to The Warriors of God and their acts of violence to give balance to what the radicals among Aiya’s followers were doing? The enemy of my enemy is my friend?
What else had Shyloh not known, still did not know about the relationship between these two women?
“Your advice?” Shyloh said.
“Ideally we get Fulton to surrender. I’m convinced that during his trial he’ll be discredited.”
Shyloh was impressed. Most military types would sooner fight than talk. Fayad wanted peace.
“One way or another I think it’s vital that this end. Now.”
Shyloh agreed, but better Kevin be labeled a criminal than a martyr.
“There might be nine combatants left in town. They’re his hardcore followers, the locals have lost their enthusiasm for armed rebellion.”
“If we can’t persuade him to surrender what is our other option?”
“Special Forces are strategically positioned at several locations on the outskirts of town. The firefight will be brief but decisive.”
“Not significant. These guys aren’t jihadists, so no suicide bombers.”
“We’re in contact, sir.” A soldier passed a cell phone to the captain who handed it to Shyloh.
“Hello, Kevin, this is Shyloh.”
“Gideon. I’m Gideon, leader of the Free Cascadian Army.”
“Look, Kevin, let’s cut the nonsense, this is not the ravine next to our high school and this time you’re outnumbered and out muscled. “
“And you’re still getting Judith to fight your battles.”
“If you and your men surrender, I promise you’ll not be harmed and you’ll all get fair trials.”
“And if we don’t?”
“You have less than ten minutes to live. Cascadia’s Special Forces are the best in the world.”
“They’re not the only ones with weapons. Besides, we have the police chief, the mayor and five city counselors here with us today to help with the negotiations.”
“In war sometimes there’s collateral damage,” Shyloh said.
Kevin paused, then laughed. “You haven’t got the guts. You were a wimp in school and you’re a wimp now.”
“Tell that to the four dead CEO’s back in Dallas.”
“Five minutes, Kevin.”
Four and a half minutes later, the hostages appeared in the street followed by the members of the Free Cascadian Army and their leader, just as Shyloh knew they would.
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