MARCH 4, 2019
BOLAN PASS, BALUCHISTAN, PAKISTAN
The beep came when Logan Keller least wanted to hear it, in the place he least expected to. Crouched down behind a sandstone outcropping in the hills of the Bolan Pass, his team moving into position around a lonely roadhouse, the last thing he wanted was the voice SIX whispering in his ear. Not that he didn’t respect the man, of course, but it was nearly go time, and getting helpful advice from Hereford, half a world away, probably wasn’t going to help the situation on the ground any.
He waited a moment, then another, then answered. “Sir. Team One Leader here.”
“Team One Lead, this is SIX.” The familiar voice came over the line, crisp and clear. The years in England had worn away a little of the Los Angeles lilt to his words, but it was still there if you listened for it, still strong when he got angry.
It was strong now.
Privately, Keller wondered what he’d done to piss the Old Man off. Thus far, the operation had gone like clockwork. INTEL had been correct; there were four trucks loaded with explosives and the components necessary for rigging sophisticated IEDs parked outside the roadhouse, and the team’s sniper, Lt. Fred Franklin, had confirmed the shipments. En route was the man who’d be orchestrating the weapons’ use on the other side of the Bolan Pass, in Kabul or Herat or Ghazni or someplace else where innocent people shouldn’t have to worry about getting blown up every time they walked down the street.
“Sir, we have confirmation from Haider that Takfir is en route. Team One is deployed around the roadhouse, Team Two is in support position, and we are good to go.”
There was a crackle of static. “Abort the mission, Keller.”
Logan blinked in surprise. “Sir? Did I…”
“I said abort the mission. Your orders are to stand down.”
“What?” Logan didn’t bother to hide his disbelief. “We are deployed, Command. We have been working toward this for two years, sitting up to our asses in sand for the last six days waiting for this moment, and you want me to pull out?”
The voice on the other end of the line sounded weary. The members of the field teams always called SIX “the Old Man”; it was meant as a term of respect, but today of all days Logan understood how much the role could age a man. “Team One Lead, right now it doesn’t matter if you’ve got Takfir sitting in the corner with bells on. The politicians have had their say, and what they’re saying is that they don’t want active cooperation in the field between US and European Federation forces.”
“Pardon me for saying so, sir, but that’s bull.”
“That’s politics.” SIX gave a heavy sigh. “So pull your people out of there, or at least the Europeans. They’re under orders to go home on the next flight out. US and UK personnel will be kept under your command, but RAINBOW as we know it is kaput.”
Logan blinked and looked around. “We’re in Baluchistan. What are they going to do, walk home?”
“That’s your problem. I expect you to find a solution. Command out.”
Shaking his head, Logan lowered his rifle and picked up his field glasses. Zooming in, he picked out the other members of his team where they were positioned, nearly invisible against the yellowing stone. They were ready, poised for the moment when they would be unleashed on the murdering madman who, even now, was making his way toward their position.
And he had to call them off. Had to tell them a working partnership of years was over, years of putting nationality and origin aside to strive toward a common good was over, that RAINBOW was over.
And that smug bastard Takfir would never know how close he’d been to never bothering the world again.
In the distance, he could hear the sound of a truck’s engine laboring as it climbed a steep hill. It backfired once, a pale imitation of a gunshot that echoed through the barren hills. Time was running out.
“Team One, Team Two, this is Team One Lead. I hate to say this, people, but I just got the order to pull the plug.”
“What?” The response was almost deafening. It was Arnavisca, Rifle One-Two, who spoke. “Sir, we have him. I can see him. We can’t pull out now.”
“According to SIX, as of five minutes ago the politicians took their toys and went home. We’re not allowed to play together any more.”
“They can’t be that stupid.”
Keller took a deep breath. “They just were. RAINBOW no longer exists.”
“You get that, Rifle One-Two?” It wasn’t phrased as a question.
There was a moment’s pause, a hiss of static. “Sorry, Command. That one, uh, broke up in transmission. I didn’t hear any of it, really.”
Logan felt a grin creeping across his face, tried to fight it and lost. “The rest of you? Did anyone hear that message?”
A chorus of responses came back. “No, sir.” “Nope.” “What message?”
“Why the hell are they calling us when we’ve got a job to do?”
“I’m glad nobody’s getting distracted.”
“You do know what you’re doing here, right?” Fred Franklin’s voice cut through the chatter. The team’s senior sniper sounded agitated.
Logan thumbed a switch and took the communication over into a private channel. “You mean by not calling off the op?”
“I mean by disobeying a direct order to stand down and disband the team ASAP. There’s going to be some hell to pay when this is over with, and you’re the one they’re gonna stick with the check.”
There was a cloud of dust visible on the horizon now, moving closer. It had to be Takfir’s truck.
He shrugged. “You heard the team. I couldn’t pull them out now if I wanted to.”
“That’s a cop-out and you know it.” Franklin sounded angry now. “Listen, Logan, I’ve been with RAINBOW since the beginning. I was there when we took down those sons of bitches who were holding kids hostage; I was there when we went in after those missiles and half of us didn’t come back. But no matter where we have gone and what we have done, we have always followed our commanding officer’s lead – spoken or unspoken.”
There was a pause. “You went after Dieter in Morocco, even when you were told to to stand down.”
“Yeah. We did.” Another pause. “On SIX’s orders. Think about it.”
The truck was visible now, a black Range Rover colored tan by the dust. It bounced over the ruts in the road and began the last ascent to the high plateau where the roadhouse waited. Inside the building, Takfir’s contacts were agitated. He could see them start to spill out, standing by the parked vehicles and unloading crates marked with big, black Cyrillic characters.
“We can go home later,” he whispered to himself, and opened the main comm channel. “Okay, people, on my mark. And…go!”