Chapter One - Waking Up

Sunrise was not for another two hours, but it did not matter. Christina’s cell chirped cheerfully from the nightstand beside the bed. She pulled a pillow over her head and groaned into it. The man beside her opened his eyes and stared at the digital clock in the darkness. Christina sat up and grabbed the phone, flipping it open and pushing it to her ear.

“Hello.” She said.

The grogginess of sleep left her face as she listened to the voice on the other end. The man beside her sat up and donned an expression of concern as he watched her listening to the voice on the phone.

“Now, sir?” She asked.

“Yes, sir. I’m on m way.” She said.

Christina closed the phone and set it back down on the stand. Without looking at him, she pushed herself out of bed and headed to the shower. A moment later he followed her in.

“What’s going on?” He asked.

“Nothing. I have to go is all.” She said.

“It’s four in the morning.” He said.

The look on his face said he did not understand. Christina smiled at him, he was a nice guy, sweet, but he would not last. Part of her wondered if she would ever be fortunate enough to find a man capable of lasting in her life. The rest of her pushed such thoughts aside as trivial and irrelevant. There would be time for men later and if not, none of it mattered anyway.

When she left he was sitting in a chair staring at her. His eyes were sad and they said every word he did not know how to say. She gave him one final look as she closed the door. He was nice to look at and she knew he probably would not be there when she came back. The click of the door latching was goodbye and they both knew it, though neither said it aloud.

Fifteen minutes later, Christina was crammed in the back of a black Chevy Suburban. No one was talking as the vehicle sped up the highway in a convoy of identical SUV’s. Christina knew there was nothing to be said. They all had received a nearly identical call and now they were heading off to an unknown location for an unknown reason. There was only a single certainty in the unknowns; it was no training mission.

The convoy exited the road and pulled off onto a grassy field. There was a single, large tent erected and beneath were a handful of men drinking coffee from Styrofoam cups. Christina stepped out of the vehicle and onto the grass just as a boom of thunder echoed through the field. She looked off into the distance and watched another bolt of lightning scorch the sky. Silently she counted the seconds until the resulting thunder reached her ears. Twelve.

She pushed her way under the tent to join the rest of her assembled peers. It was impossible to see from the back where she stood but the voices were enough to convey the seriousness of the situation. An uneasy silence fell over the crowd as a man at the front asked for their attention.

“Is everyone here now?” The man asked.

“Yes, sir including a dozen of our best trainees. We have about another hundred agents on their way, but given the deadline they mostly likely won’t arrive in time.” Another male voice responded.

“My name is Merrick. For those of you who don’t know me, I am the special agent in charge of DC operations. Three days ago we intercepted internet communications indicating an imminent attack on the east coast. The threat was classified as credible and a full scale investigation began.
Twenty-four hours ago satellite imagery located a moving radiation signature classified as probable nuclear material. Verified tracking of the signature lasted for thirty-two seconds before the signature was cloaked, likely being encased in a sealed lead container. We were able to narrow our search to DC and surrounding communities.

Three hours ago, we received a pre-recorded message from a group calling themselves the Alliance for a New America, or ANA as they are better known. One hour ago we captured the man believed to have built the bomb for ANA. Through interrogation we have secured information to shut down the detonator.

The important details are as follows;

One: The President will not negotiate with nor acquiesce to the demands of terrorists.

Two: The deadline has been set at 8:00AM

Three: We must assume the threat is credible and imminent.

Our job is to find the bomb and shut it down. Interrogators are continuing to pry information which may help narrow our search, but in the absence of new information we will conduct a street by street search. Profilers have highlighted the most likely positions and we will begin with them.

Agent Andrews has your team assignments. Trainees report to Agent Miles for your assignments.”

As the crowd dispersed, Christina made her way to the front. The grim faces worn by all were testaments to the near hopelessness they faced. Gathering with her fellow trainees, Christina felt overwhelmingly small and insignificant. If agents with years and even decades of experience were not equal to the challenge then how could she hope to provide any assistance of worth?

Agent Miles faced the gathered trainees. He was not a stranger to them. He had overseen their Bureau training for the last several months. Christina looked at those who were standing with her and she knew without doubt she was with the finest in her class. She was proud to stand with them, to be counted as one of them.

“As none of you are agents yet, this is strictly a voluntary assignment. All I ask is that if you have any thoughts that you might not be up to this today, leave now.” Agent Miles said.

No one so much as flinched.

“As you just heard, we are short handed and because you are my best students I have nominated you to help here today. You won’t be entering the field but you will be providing a vital role here, helping to coordinate our teams with the best information our analysts can offer.” Agent Miles continued. “Baines, Williams, you two are on maps. Keep track of all team locations and mark off all areas as they are cleared.”

Christina Baines tuned out the rest of the assignments and moved off with Jack Williams to study the maps. The two had been paired up in their first week and were comfortable working together. Jack handed her a box of push pins and began reading off team assignments for her to mark. Agent Miles approached them as she inserted the last pin.

“Everything under control here?” He asked.

“Yes, sir.” They replied.

“Sir?” Christina asked.

“You have a question Baines?”

“More of a request, sir.”

“Spit it out.”

“It appears we are going to have a bit of down time.” She began.

“If you think this work is beneath you, you are welcome to go home.”

“It’s not that sir. I was hoping I could get a look at the data.”

“You think you might find something that our best experts missed?” Agent Miles asked.

“I uh…” She stuttered, suddenly feeling unsure of herself.

“Let her look at it.” Merrick said.

Merrick had been working at a nearby table and did not even turn to look at them, but his order was clear enough. Agent Miles looked annoyed but made no more objections. He pointed her to a portable computer where he logged into the secure files.

Christina was not sure whether it was appropriate or not to offer gratitude so she kept quiet and sat down at the computer. Methodically she began reviewing page after page of compiled information. She scanned each page without really reading the analyses but allowing the raw data to percolate in her consciousness.

The information on the suspects was sparse but it did give sightings and likely locations. The more she looked at it the more she felt certain there was a pattern emerging but it was elusive. She scrolled through the information and began marking key locations on a map.

Agent Miles paced behind his trainees, insuring they were on top of the their assignments. He kept glancing at his watch and shaking his head. Every so often he would pause behind Christina Baines and peer over her shoulder at the computer screen. On his latest pass, Merrick joined him and the two men looked at the map she was creating with puzzlement.

“There’s a pattern here. I can feel it.” Christina said.

“If there is, everyone has missed it. The computers determined the locations were completely random.” Merrick said.

Christina looked behind her, startled that anyone had heard her. Then her eye fell on the newspaper in Merrick’s hand.

“Can I see that?” She asked.

Merrick handed it to her. She unfolded it to see the front story in full. It was about a missing scout troop of ten year old boys. Three days ago they had gone missing on a hike. Christina pulled up the location on her map and searched for nearby structures. The result came up with three, she marked them on the map.

“What are you doing?” Agent Miles asked.

Merrick scowled at the screen.

“Sir, excuse me sir!” a trainee called out.

“What is it?” Miles asked.

“We’ve got a confirmed rad signature at location violet. Should I have all teams converge?”

Merrick looked between the trainee and Christina’s screen for a moment as if he was unsure. The data on her map was starting to make a small amount of sense to him but then the computers had confirmed there was no discernible pattern.

“Roll all cars. Tell them to hold until I arrive. Miles, you're with me.” Merrick ordered.

“It’s a feint, sir.” Christina said.

Merrick turned to look at her.

“It all adds up. They’re in the hills here. The winds will carry the material for them they don’t need to be that close. I’m positive of it.”

“I can’t risk this operation on a hunch Baines, and especially not when we have a solid lead.”

“I understand, but what is the risk of Williams and I checking this out? If I’m wrong no harm done but if I’m right it could make all the difference.” Christina said.

“Alright.” Merrick took a set of keys out of his pocket and threw them to her. “Take my car and check it out. You don’t make a move without contacting me first, understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Miles, you’re driving.”

* * * * * *

Christina studied the decrepit farm house on top of the hill. Weeds, dead grass and bare dirt surrounded by a flimsy chain link fence constituted the yard. The house itself seemed to be made of nothing but rotting wood supported on the backs of not so well hidden termites. The remnants of paint curled up and away from the planks and then back into them. Overhead, rain threatened to fall and in the distance a flash of light and thunder echoed the mood.

Christina watched as Jack Williams put the car in park. Together, they stared again at the instrument on the dash. They looked each other in the eye, neither quite ready to speak. Christina looked back up the hill at the house and took in a deep breath. Jack closed his eyes and spoke, “Do you think this is it?”
She looked back at the instrument on the dash and then again at Jack. Her tone was sarcastic when she answered, “Maybe we just found the nation’s most secret launching site.”

“Right. I better call Merrick.” He said.

“I’ll check the perimeter.” Christina said and exited from the car.

She removed her sidearm from its shoulder holster and released the safety as though she’d been doing it all her life. Her heart throbbed in her ears and adrenalin shot into her veins. She stayed low to the hill wishing her clothing choice for the day had been beige instead of black. Circling up the hill toward the front of the property she spotted an open window on the side.

Cautiously she moved closer to the fence in the hope she might be able to hear something. The sounds of murmuring voices spilled out into the cool air. Unable to understand the words she focused instead on the variations in pitch. “Four, maybe five.” She thought to herself before making her way back to the car and Jack.

“You were right, it was a feint. They‘re on their way here but the clock is winding down and Merrick doesn‘t think they‘ll get here with enough time.” Jack said as soon as Christina arrived. He was standing by the open trunk with his own sidearm trembling in his right hand. The look on his face confirmed the worst.

“Merrick wants us to go in?” She asked although it wasn’t really a question.

Jack nodded and said, “It’s your lead, Chris. I can’t decide right now whether you’re lucky or cursed. How the hell did you figure this out?”

“I don’t know, it just made sense to me. Why couldn’t Merrick have listened to me? Never mind that now. How long do we have left?”

“Ten minutes, a little less.” He said and holstered his gun in favor of the shotgun resting in the trunk. He filled his pockets with extra shells.

Christina grabbed six extra magazines for her sidearm, stuffing them into the waistband of her slacks. “I guess training is over, huh?”

“I was expecting my first storm would be with an experienced agent and a shit load of back up. All said though, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be here with.” Jack said with a smile and the best look of support and confidence he could muster.

“Thanks,” She replied. “There is an open window on the east side. I heard voices coming from it so it is probably well covered. I’d bet they know we’re here and that we are going to make a try. Our best bet is probably the rear door, it has poor coverage from the inside and we can make a clean approach. We stay in tight formation and move fast. If they decide to detonate early it’ll be a million people dead. You with me, Jack?”

“Yeah. Merrick said the whole thing is timer driven. Once it was set the only thing that can be done is to stop the timer. I’ve got the shut down code in my jacket pocket. What about the scouts?”

“We can’t be sure they are here or even alive. You heard Merrick this morning, everything is secondary to shutting that bomb down. We do what we can for them, but we can not hesitate in there.” Christina said with a heavy tone in her voice betraying her true feelings on the matter.

“Alright. I’ve got your back.” Jack said.

They moved together up the hill and stormed the back door. They split to either side of it and then in a flurry of motion, Jack spun and kicked hard into the door. The crack of splintered wood and the slam of the heavy door onto the floor was nearly lost in the barrage of gunfire from within. Jack narrowly turned out of the bullets path and his face paled as he realized how close to death he had just come. He signaled Christina with his left hand, indicating there were three men.

Christina turned into the doorway just enough to give her right eye a view and her gun a clear shot. It was a risky move but time was against them and they could not afford to be stalled. She squeezed off two rounds before retreating. The sound of metal clanking to the floor was followed by a hollow thud that could only be a body falling. She had hit her mark. The response from inside was immediate. A second barrage of gunfire erupted, spraying the doorway with splintering wood.

Christina could hear the whisper of footsteps getting closer. The look on Jack’s face confirmed what she felt, they were in trouble. The sound of gunfire was suddenly replaced by a single echoing click. Either the gun was empty or it had jammed. Jack and Christina didn’t wait to find out. They turned into the doorway and took their advantage. Jack rocketed off a shot gun blast that hit the first man square in the chest and threw him backward. Death had come as a surprise to him and his face would forever show it. Christina fired a single round into the second man catching him center forehead. He twitched as he dropped first to his knees and then face down onto the floor.

They were in. Quickly they moved up the hallway past the dead. Christina stopped as she came to an opening on the left side. Jack paused opposite her and silently indicated the immediate view was clear. She turned into the opening, gun first. A quick gaze around the room confirmed it was empty, but a shadow at the far side gave away the location of at least one more gunman. As she moved toward the empty room positioning herself to attack the owner of the shadow a boy’s scream turned the world upside down.

From her half in the room, half in the hall location she saw the young boy first. Jack had turned with his shotgun aimed straight ahead at the boy and the man behind him with an assault rifle. The assault rifle was pointed at Jack and he registered the reality but he was all too aware of the consequences for the young boy if he fired his own gun. Christina tried to alter her momentum and angle for a clear shot.

The assault rifle fired. Jack Williams threw himself at Christina and they crashed into the empty room and rolled on the floor. Christina knew it had all gone bad in that instant. She felt the warm gush of blood on her as they rolled to a stop. She had no need to check herself for wounds, she knew it was not hers. Jack’s eyes blinked at her. For an instant there was nothing but the two of them. Reality intruded as the gunman dragged the boy down the hallway with him. Christina grabbed her sidearm from the floor just as he entered the room. Even as he swung his aim toward her, she fired.

The man dropped to the ground cursing her to his death. The boy stood in place petrified with fear. Christina‘s subconscious told her the shadow had moved. Her gun hung open and empty in her hand. Reflex took over as she heard the creak of wood giving away the shadow‘s new location. Her fingers expertly ejected the empty clip and even as it fell to the floor she grabbed a spare from her waistband and locked it in place.

The boy remained unmoved as the latest gunman entered the room firing his rifle as he went. Christina dived into the boy carrying him into the hallway and knocking the gunman off balance. He couldn‘t turn quick enough. She unloaded the full clip into him and replaced it all in the breath of a moment. The fifth man lay dead. Christina turned to the boy.

“Are you hurt?” She asked.

He looked at her in silence.

“Are you hurt?” She asked again putting her hand on his shoulder.

“N-no.” He finally spoke in a whispered voice.

“Are there others like you?”


“Where are they?”

"D-down the st-stairs in the b-basement.”

“Are there more guards?”


“How many?”


“Okay. You are going to be alright. I want you to go straight out that door and run until you get to the street. Don‘t look back just run. Can you do that?”


“Good. Now go.”

The boy ran out the way Christina and Jack had come in. Christina checked her watch and saw that she was quickly running out of time. She hurried to Jack and knelt down next to him. He was still alive but his breathing was shallow and he was no longer conscious. She reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a small white notepad with a sixteen digit code written on it. She started to move on toward the basement stairway and stopped. She reached into his jacket again with her left hand and pulled his sidearm from its holster.

“Hang on Jack. I‘m going to stop that bomb and then we will get you some help. Just hang on.”

Armed with a gun in each hand, Christina Baines moved with precision to the basement stairway. She paused at the top to listen for any sign of what she was facing below. Only silence remained and that was going to be a problem. Her footsteps would echo on the concrete steps as she descended and she knew there was no place to gain cover. The armed men below had every advantage including time.

It was an impossible journey. Christina knew it and equally knew there was no other option. She pressed herself as tightly as she could to the left wall and began the decent on her tiptoes. Every noise she made was amplified a hundred times in her ears. Amazingly she made it halfway down before she was heard. The instant she saw the man below with his rifle pointed up the stairs, she squeezed her triggers and jumped the remaining distance straight at the man below. Her shots killed him before he had a chance to fire his own weapon and even as the other two scrambled toward the stairs she was firing at them using the body of the man she had just killed to protect her.

In all the shootout had lasted mere seconds. Christina looked around the room and saw the scared faces of nearly a dozen boys. Lying on the floor in front of them was her true destination, a bomb on a timer sitting on top of a case full of nuclear waste.

The countdown clock showed only forty seconds remaining. Quickly she knelt before it, dropping her guns and pulled the pad with the shutdown code from her pocket. She breathed a sigh of relief when the timer shut off and deactivated with 12 seconds remaining.

Christina only then returned her attention to the others in the room with her. The boys were all terrified. For some reason even the deactivation of the bomb had not eased their fear. A noise behind her alerted her as to why. In her hurry to deactivate the bomb she had laid her guns down on the floor. They were useless to her there and she kicked herself for being so foolish and not checking the room before disarming herself.

She made the only choice she could. She took a chance and grabbed for the guns while throwing herself to the side. Just as her right hand closed around the handle she felt the biting sting of a bullet pierce her chest despite the protective vest she wore. The instant reaction to the pain was for her hand to release the gun and let it fall to the ground. She collapsed on the cold cement floor and prepared herself for the end.

The man was foolish though. He had her. He could have ended it all right then but out of some misconceived concept of idealism he felt the need to stand menacingly over her. He got close and looked her in the eye. “Now you die, bitch!” He said with as much venom in his voice as humanly possible.

She snorted a half laugh and kicked him hard in the groin with her right leg. At almost the same moment she used her left leg to propel her up and with her left hand she grabbed at his gun forcing the barrel up to his chin and then it went off. Christina backed away as the man looked at her in shock and pain.

His mouth opened as if to say, “How?” Instead of words a trickle blood flowed out and he stumbled backward and then fell to the floor.

Footsteps pounded on the stairs. Christina lunged for her dropped weapon with her left hand. She pointed it at the base of the stairs and waited to see the eyes. When she saw them it took every bit of self-control not to pull the trigger. A familiar face this time, a friendly face.

“Baines! The bomb?” He said.

“Deactivated, sir.” She replied.

“Are you alright?”

Christina collapsed to the floor at that moment. Adrenalin had run out. The man ran to her and lifted her heard from the floor. It was only then he saw the blood gushing from her chest.

“Get a medic! Right NOW!” He shouted.


Jon said...


I must say your writing skills for fiction are good. Your descriptions very detailed which is key to a good story telling. I caught one small spelling or grammar error. Very exciting. I've not had a chance to catch up with you and I'm glad I've taken a bit of time to enjoy your work. I hope to catch you somewhere on the net again sometime. I hope your still studing in school. Hows your family doing? I'm happy to see you enjoy your writing. I love it. Jon

Ashley J said...

Hi Jon,

It is great to hear from you. Thanks for the comment and I think I know the spelling error after taking another look, thanks. I am thrilled you enjoyed the first chapter, I was happy with how it came out.

School started back up for me at the end of September and so far it is going good. I'm still mostly taking general ed classes but I did fit in an extra lit class this term.

It would be great to catch up again and chat, but in the meantime I hope all is well with you and your family.

Love, Ash

Miss Mapp said...

You can certainly write, and you do it well. The dialogue is natural, the plot well laid out and the action flowing. I liked it. I confess I did not read to fully to the end, as being bird brained I wanted to channel hop - In a book this would not arise.
Well done Ashley.