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.
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