New Beginnings, Unknown Allies
I'm a soldier. I'm not much of philosopher, but if you want to know what I believe, then I believe the greatest threats to our freedom actually start small. They begin as random events most people never even notice. But they grow. They multiply. They start chain reactions that threaten the entire world. Some people call it fate. I call it Chaos Theory – but believing in Chaos Theory doesn't mean you have to surrender to it. That's where we come in. We find those threats before they get out of hand, and eliminate them – quickly, quietly, and relentlessly. We take the lives of a few to protect the lives of many, committing acts of war to protect the greater peace.
Lt. Commander Samuel Fisher, Fourth Echelon.
"We have a new mandate." Sam Fisher looked up at the others around the table, green eyes hard. "You've all seen the news reports. President Caldwell is throwing Third Echelon to the wolves, labelled it a rogue agency, as 'part of the problem, not the solution.' Given that, some of you are probably wondering why we're here now, wondering why I asked you to gather here today."
Those gathered around the table didn't interrupt to indicate their agreement or interrupt. They were the best and brightest of America's intelligence community, but their speaker was a legend. Even in the clandestine world of espionage and black ops, his name was associated with a string of spectacularly successful intelligence coups for the United States.
The removal of the Masse Kernel cyberweapons that had wreaked havoc on American infrastructure, and the assassination of President Nikoladze, who was threatening to detonate a suitcase bomb on US soil.
The capture and extraction of East Timor guerilla leader Suhadi Sadono, and the retrieval of a weaponised smallpox virus from LAX.
Defusing the East Asia Crisis by capturing the rogue JSDF Admiral Otomo, thereby preventing World War Three.
And in the last week, whispers of Fisher's name had circulated concerning the eleventh-hour defeat of an attempted coup in Washington itself, which had knocked out the entire District's power, caused hundreds of casualties and very nearly culminated in the assassination of President Caldwell in the Oval itself. Those whispers had just been confirmed by the files Fisher's listeners had just read.
Things had calmed down now, due to the rapid intervention of the Army and several reassuring broadcasts from the President concerning the damage and response effort, but after the initial few days of panic, the public had begun to demand answers.
A quick conference between the President, Fisher, and Anna Grímsdóttir (the President's mole in the coup's leadership) had determined that honesty was, for the most part, the best policy, and the unvarnished truth had been revealed to the media in the still blood-spattered Press Room, minus the involvement of Fisher, Grim and Victor Coste.
That an American intelligence organisation would go so far off the edge as to directly attack its own government had shocked even those hardened journalists so badly that a full ten seconds of complete silence had resulted before the tsunami of shouted questions had washed over a clearly battered-but-still-defiant President Caldwell. Also left out of the media was the potential involvement of the shadow government organisation that had backed the coup, currently only known by the codename 'Megiddo,' and although those sitting at the table weren't aware of it yet, that organisation would now be their only target.
"The folders in front of you contain the complete and unredacted account of the coup attempt in Washington seven days ago. You've all read them, and you may have already known some of it through your own sources. The most troubling aspect of these facts is that Reed, Galliard, and Samson did not act alone, and indeed may have been merely pawns in the control an organisation that we have only begun to scratch the surface of. This 'Megiddo Group' or whatever they truly call themselves, now represents a clear and present threat to the national security of the United States."
There was a collective flicker in the attitude those listening: indrawn breaths, narrowing eyes.
Fisher himself straightened from his previous position at the end of the table, shifting from leaning on his palms to stand in an 'at-ease,' posture that quietly telegraphed his military background. He knew that those around him in this ad-hoc conference room were experienced and intelligent enough to pick up on the bombshell he had just dropped.
'Clear and present danger' was a significant phrase, a legal test used by the Supreme Court to determine the extent that the constitution gave protection to citizens during crisis situations. This little speech was getting interesting. If the Supreme Court had given permission ...
Anna Grímsdóttir continued the speech from her place sitting at Fisher's right hand. She, too, was known to those listening; a tough, no-nonsense leader, hacker, tech expert and analyst who had had the skills and sheer cojones to work undercover for over a year as Reed's second in command, infiltrating the coup ring.
"The Supreme Court, in a secret session at the President's behest, have ratified the legality of Executive Order One-Three-Six-One-Niner, signed the morning after the coup, which gives provisions for the creation of a new clandestine agency, codenamed 'Fourth Echelon,' to actively investigate and eliminate this 'Megiddo' threat using any and all means, regardless of whether these enemies be foreign or domestic. We have the authority to call upon or requisition any asset in the possession of the United States; however, given the public backlash now underway against Third Echelon-type agencies we are not to compromise our operational secrecy, which places significant limits on our method of operation. We also have the added constraint that our enemy almost certainly knows that somebody will be coming after them; I doubt Sam's or my own actions in preventing the coup have gone unnoticed to a group with as long a reach as they appear to have. However, our approach will be radically different from any other agency."
As she finished, Fisher looked every one of his audience in the eyes one by one. "I intend to give no quarter or warning to these traitors. I warn you now; this will be a fangs-out operation from the start. There are no rules of engagement, no limits on force, no line we will not cross to get to the truth, and shut down this blight on our nation, this threat to our freedom; potentially to that of the entire world. We have no idea of the true extent of what we are up against – it could easily, indeed is almost certainly international in scope. If anyone has any ethical issues with this line of attack, please speak or walk away now. Unlike the late and unlamented Colonel Reed, I do like subordinates that can think for themselves. If it helps, the Supreme Court approved this idea unanimously."
Pausing with a slight smile hinting on his grizzled features, he added, "That may be of some comfort, if you feel you can trust the Supreme Justices to make ethical decisions for this nation, of course."
No one spoke. They weren't greenhorns, or wet-behind-the-ears rookies; mostly, anyway. There were a few young rising stars, but they were smart enough. They knew what they were getting in to.
After a brief pause, Fisher continued. "You were asked to attend this meeting because you are the best that our intelligence community has to offer. You are the first members; the core, if you will, of this little agency. We will be recruiting others as we go, but there simply hasn't been enough time to gather or vet all the potentials in the time available. Additionally, none of you have especially close family ties that would allow you to be blackmailed – but if you are threatened in that way, say through threats against your parents, siblings or a former spouse, for example, you will have the full backing of this team and all the considerable resources of the US government we can access to assist you."
Fisher relaxed slightly. He could tell they were all in, from their posture and alert interest. He hadn't picked this bunch because they were averse to risk.
"This will be a very different experience for many of you. Fourth Echelon will not be working from a fixed location but is intended to be highly mobile, to move to the threat while denying our enemy an obvious headquarters to attack, infiltrate or surveil. In the sealed envelopes in front of you," he gestured to the small brown envelopes in front of each new team member, sealed with red string around two clips that had to be broken in order for the message to be read, "are your instructions for finding the first of these headquarters. Memorise them, and then leave them here. Go home, pack, and make your excuses to those who might notice your absence. You're all experienced operatives; you know how to do that, and we'll cover for you with your bosses at your respective agencies. Tomorrow, make your way to the location using those individual directions, at the times specified. Then we can get to work."
At this clear conclusion, the agents around the table picked up their envelopes, read them carefully, then one by one put them down and stood up to leave. Eventually, just Fisher and Grim were left.
Fisher moved to sit in the chair opposite Grim, unable to prevent a slight grimace as he moved. Grim noticed, and smiled at him, carefully concealing her worry behind wry humour.
"You absolutely sure you're not getting old, Sam? Unable to hang with the young dogs anymore?"
Fisher glared, but it was somewhat half-hearted. "Unless you've forgotten, Grim, I've been awake for about seventy-two hours, ever since the President gave us the green light for this brainwave of yours. I'm still good for fieldwork; just give me some sleep first."
"What, you don't believe me? Pulled your ass out of the fire in the White House, I seem to recall. Even after you shot me."
"Jesus, are you ever going to stop reminding me? It's been a week already. It was only a flesh wound; and I did apologise."
"Doesn't mean I'm ever going to stop reminding you that friendly fire, isn't. You look over the new data on Galliard and Samson?"
"Yes. We've got detailed financials, phone and email logs, lists of known associates – extremely long lists, by the way. You want to start there?"
"Yes. Cross reference with the FBI databases for any suspicions of corruption in their corporate and political contacts. I have a feeling that Galliard was pretty low on the totem pole, despite being a CEO, and Samson was too damn stupid to have been let into the secret too far – he was just a patsy. Check their personal finances; Black Arrow and White Box's corporate accounts too while you're at it; someone had to fund them, there's got to be a money trail somewhere. What about Reed?"
"Another pawn, the fall guy in case it all went south - which it did, obviously - but they wouldn't have let him think that, would've rubbed his ego wrong."
"He may have met some of the more senior members of this Megiddo group though, if they wanted to stroke that ego to get him on board – did he disappear for any covert meetings while under your eye after he took over?"
"A few, yeah, mostly to meet Black Arrow and White Box. Double-check?"
"Yeah. Have your new team focus on Samson and Galliard tomorrow, you focus on Reed. He was Echelon-trained, a professional, very security conscious, to the point of total paranoia probably. His records will be much better hidden than the other two. What about any physical evidence, contents of Samson and Galliard's safes for example?"
"President had the Secret Service courier over the portable contents of Samson's White House office and safe along with a preliminary report yesterday, and the search warrant for them to get into his house is being executed now. They'll deliver that tomorrow morning, along with the contents of Galliard's houses and offices that local cops seized in DC and New York a couple of days ago."
"Good, that's a start." Fisher lapsed into thought for a few seconds. "Let's get going. I gotta say goodbye to Sarah and Vic if I'm going to be disappearing again for awhile."
"Sure. Drop you at Andrews?"
"Yeah, my car's there. See you tomorrow, oh-eight-hundred."
Grim teased him again as they got up to leave. "Thought it'd be oh-six-hundred. Bit of a late start, old timer?"
"There you go with the old man thing again..."
In New York, high up in a Manhattan skyscraper, another interested party watched events develop, but from afar. Monitoring and influencing events from the shadows was time-consumingly inefficient, but that was the price paid for total secrecy. Her small teams could hardly compete with the global reach of Megiddo or the US government.
She would have to settle for nudging the good guys in the right direction. Even with that help … Fisher was going to have his work cut out for him.
Edit: 25 May 2013