In Columbus Circle, Manhattan, another unsung hero worked. An unlikely one too, if one was inclined to judge by appearance. She was about as far from any stereotype of a spy that you could get: short, around 5"4', with pixie-cut blonde hair, sharp grey business suit with a black shirt, with the jacket presently draped over a nearby chair. And she was presently arguing, with consummate calm and professionalism, with a phone.
"You can take your apologies and shove 'em, Jean-Paul. You owe me for the tip I gave you for the Albanian cartel bust; you know, the one that got you that promotion, the office with a view? You owe me, which means that you are going to clear my team's entry through customs, and look the other way as they do their surveillance and maybe we get lucky and catch another tip which will earn you another truckload of brownie points ... oui ... so glad you agree. Merci beaucoup pour votre assistance, Agent Marten. Au revoir."
Narrowly preventing herself from slamming the handset down, she stood at the floor-to-ceiling windows that made up two sides of her spacious apartment's office, appearing to stare out at the spectacular nighttime cityscape of New York, but in truth she wasn't seeing it. Mind racing ahead, she was calculating the variables, weighing the evidence, deciding her next move to stay ahead of ally and enemy alike. It had been nearly ten years since she had left Metropolis, passed her Justice League responsibilities on to Victor and Barbara and set out on her own terms to make a difference in the world, and this was why.
The idea of Watchtower, Inc. had been born out of her own skillset and a startup loan from the billionaire backers of the Justice League, Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne. Originally, Watchtower had been a relatively tiny fish in a sea of much larger and more aggressive private security and espionage firms, a fish which had rapidly grown into an internationally renowned and highly regarded all-rounder, a kind of jack-of-all-trades but master-of-most. Watchtower Security wasn't the largest such company, but its high standards and ironbound ethical code had given it a solid reputation thus far in its decade or so of life. Of course, the industry was probably going to take a nose dive thanks to Black Arrow's actions in Washington, but that wasn't a problem she could influence.
Officially, despite being the owner, Chloe Sullivan was on the company books as a high-level executive, just below the Board of Directors, but to her, and a few key members of the firm, Watchtower Security was a front. An honourable and upstanding one, in truth, but a facade nonetheless. Behind the corporation, behind the competent and professional personnel who worked out of the company headquarters across town lay a highly sophisticated worldwide covert surveillance and espionage network that was conceived as a way to provide justice to far more than just the United States. The Justice League of America was all well and good, but ultimately, there were far bigger problems out there.
Through anonymous tips and a network of friendly contacts in various governments, (like the one Chloe had just been talking to, although none of them knew her real name or organisation), Watchtower kept the peace. It wasn't about defending or 'cleaning up' a city – she left that to Clark and the super-friends in Metropolis – but preventing wars, catching mass murderers, and putting a crimp in the individuals and cartels that traded in arms, drugs and human misery. Over the last ten years, the Watchtower Network's small cadre of analysts, hackers and infiltrators had, under her direction, expertly maneuvered through the shadowy underworld of global crime and espionage like ghosts while its more reputable sibling operated private investigation and VIP protection services in trouble spots around the globe. Chloe had access to but rarely used the legitimate company assets, preferring to pretend to be a 'client' and hire her own company through a third party if she needed a more open investigation. Combining the two halves of Watchtower gave her access to an information network that any government would kill for – hence the ultrasecret method of operation. It didn't hurt that her ever-useful hacking skills allowed her to be tapped into actual government databases; but again, she was careful about using those. Too much activity could lead to discovery, drawing the attention of the world's intelligence agencies, and Chloe doubted that the fact she was 'one of the good guys' would cut much ice if the CIA or FBI traced the hacks back to her.
Decision made, Chloe spun around and strode to a second larger desk on the other side of the room, a huge semi-circular affair with a full half-dozen screens arrayed on it. These presently displayed a graphic of satellite orbits, financial information on several of the known members of the coup, Sam Fisher's file, and an encrypted communications program which allowed her to contact her field operators free of even the slightest possiblity of interception. Sitting down, she turned to the latter screen and selected an agent code-named, 'Archangel,' checked the time, and opened the channel. The other end of the encrypted voice-over-IP call system took a few seconds to connect before the screen switched to a webcam view of the recipient.
"Having a good night, Watchtower?" The man speaking was one of the Watchtower Network's team leaders.
"Isn't it the morning for you, Eyal?" Eyal Malach had been a Mossad katsa, or case officer, before a crisis of faith in his agency a few years before. He had been initially wary of Watchtower's job offer, disliking the idea of essentially becoming an international vigilante, but had warmed to the idea after a few trial-run operations. He and his team were technically based in Egypt, where he could best utilise his personal network of contacts, but they spent so much time on the move they rarely had time to do much more than resupply before the next crisis came up. He was thorough, creative and dependable, with a surprisingly lively sense of humour for someone who had been, in effect, a state-sanctioned assassin.
"Yes, but it's two in the morning for you. Have you OD'd on coffee yet, or have you cut back, neshama?* You're no good to us dead from sleep deprivation, you know. Or from a heart attack. "
"I know, I know. Stop trying to big brother me, you're several thousand miles away. Anyway, I've got a lead for you on this situation in Washington."
Eyal tensed slightly, switching from casual to business in a heartbeat. "Where, or who?"
"The where is the Caymans. I've got financials from the now very ex-Vice President Samson. He had a bank account under a different name in the Islands, relatively new, just a few months. Big deposit into it a couple of weeks ago, almost twenty million – which itself vanished about twenty minutes after the Reed was killed in Washington and the Army took back the White House."
Eyal actually looked impressed; he was a hard man to surprise. "They knew? Within twenty minutes? Must have had some extra players that the Americans missed, maybe a surveillance team keeping an eye the White House, making sure Reed and his traitors completed the assault. Caldwell hadn't even made her broadcast by that point."
"Maybe, but I think it's more likely they had a source in the Army, someone in the communications loop, who heard they'd rescued Caldwell and informed his handlers. Problem is, there's no way to know who knew, and I can't possibly investigate all the soldiers and marines who were flooding into Washington at the time, rounding up Black Arrow. Anyway, the Caymans mission should be fine for your guys, just a simple in and out. I'm not even asking you to break into the vaults this time."
"Very funny. That mission gave me a few extra grey hairs, as I recall. I don't appreciate it when you accelerate my natural aging."
"Knock it off. Least you're not bald, which is more than several members of Team Two could say after a few of my more...um...'high-priority' missions."
Eyal laughed. "Very true, neshama. Very true. So we go in, get the bank mangers codes out of the safe, access the computer, find out who made the transfers."
Now Chloe was smiling. "See, you've got a plan already. Easy. I'm not expecting much. These people are very good, they've been around for a long time as far as we can tell, with nobody being any the wiser. Don't get caught, obviously, since if the opposition is as paranoid as I think they are, they'll know someone's on to them. Also, there's an American black-ops group on the case, affiliated with the NSA, newly formed specifically to deal with whoever was backing the coup. I don't know much yet about them, but they've been authorized to do pretty much anything, inside or outside the United States. Caldwell set it up personally, got the Supreme Court to sign off on the carte blanche."
Eyal was concerned now. "That's big news, Chloe. Your government's never gone that far before."
"Oh, they have. Trust me, they have. It just didn't go very well the first time. But now they're desperate, and need results fast to counteract at least some of the panic and paranoia that will result from the coup attempt. The new black ops team are solid; the leaders were the ones who prevented the coup, which is why they're in charge – their loyalty isn't in question. Watch your back though, since even though they're allies, I don't want them to know about us, at least not yet. It'll be hard to persuade them that you're the good guys if you get busted, since if I faced with traitors at every turn like they are, I sure as hell wouldn't believe there's a vigilante espionage corporation running around out there trying to make the world a better place. Best we retain our anonymity, but throw them a bone."
"What'd you have in mind?"
"Leave the intel. If they follow the same lead, they'll end up in the same place. I know you'd usually erase just the data we stole, but this time leave it intact."
"Sure you can't just hack it from New York?"
"Nope, already tried. The archive servers we want are only online long enough to be updated once every twenty-four hours, which only takes twenty seconds or so. Then they are physically disconnected from the main network, so I can't remote access, but they can be accessed from the manager's office terminal only. Hence the need for a physical intrusion. Get the intel, leave it for the NSA, and get out clean. I'll get you the bank layout and security plan by the time you land. Anything else?"
"No. We'll get a flight out this afternoon."
"Alright. Safe travels."
Chloe hung up, picking up her train of thought from before. The game was beginning. Whoever was running this shadow-government group would be careful, knowing there were hounds on their trail though. They would begin to clean up after themselves, seeking to eliminate any and all evidence that could put anyone on their scent, whether physical or electronic. That meant the Caymans would be very time-critical, but Eyal could handle it. What was her next move ...
For the next half-hour, Chloe contacted two of her other teams, cancelling their assignments, putting them on alert to move at short notice on any lead that developed out of the Caymans mission. Counting the New York-based Team One that was already in Washington, four of her six operations groups were now solely focused on the emerging coup conspiracy. That left her short on Watchtower's other covert commitments, but that could be dealt with later.
Fisher met his new team for the second time in a small, windowless conference room, accessed through a door in the side of one of the massive hangars of Andrews Air Force Base in DC. Andrews AFB had been sufficiently far outside the EMP zone that it had gone almost completely unaffected, and as such had become the military's primary staging point for rebuilding and security operations ongoing in the capital.
"Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for showing up. I'm not big on small talk so this is simple. I'm the boss, and will be the primary field operative. Grim is second in command, and will be the Operations manager and Chief Analyst. Some of you guys know each other, may have worked together, but in the interests of time you'll have to get to know each other on the fly. Literally, by the way." Grim nearly laughed at the confused expressions around the table as Sam continued. "Our headquarters is a heavily modified C5 Galaxy. Actually, it's a mostly modified C5 Galaxy, because the Air Force isn't quite done with the refit yet. They've been working round the clock for the last four days to get everything installed and tested, and it's going to be another few hours until they're done. Now you know why I said to pack light. Oh, and I hope you all like flying, because we're going to be doing quite a lot of it."
There were a few rather intrigued expressions at this announcement. "The plane is codenamed Paladin. It's our new home. It's being outfitted with all the communications, decryption, intercept and analysis equipment you guys will ever need. And all the weapons I'll ever need. I will be the primary man on the ground. My specialties are in infiltration and close-quarter combat. I don't do undercover work or human intelligence stuff – bluntly, I'm an assassin, and you guys are the spies. If you have to get into a place, you talk your way in. I don't; I break in, shoot the guards, hack the computer, steal the files, whatever. I've been doing this since the 1980s and I haven't lost my edge, as certain parties found out in Washington." This with a grim smile. "Now, let's get on the plane, and get familiarised. We're a long way behind in this game; we've got almost no intel, very few leads and an enemy that has probably guessed we're coming. Saddle up people – it's going to be a long few months."
Sam, Grim and Sam's old comrade Victor Coste, brought willingly out of retirement to, as he put it, 'get Sam out of the trouble he keeps getting his sorry ass into,' gathered at the foot of the enormous tail ramp of the behemoth cargo aircraft. The new refit had made it perfect for the Fourth Echelon's needs. The cargo section, big enough to fit no less than five Bradley APC's at once, had been refitted into three sections. Immediately behind the cockpit and crew areas up front was the server farm. As such a small team, Fourth Echelon's support staff were going to be heavily reliant on the latest pattern-recognition and analysis software that was available, and as such were going to need powerful computers to process that kind of data. They were, unfortunately, rather bulky and required their own generators to keep going even with the power generated by the aircraft engines, but the advantages overshadowed those problems. Although Sam could have chosen to rely on more powerful computers on the ground, and would in fact still have access to them, the possibility that their communications would be intercepted, jammed, hacked or simply blocked by the vagaries of Mother Nature meant that they had to have to have their own systems. Aft of the servers was the command centre, comprising a central touch-screen table computer, with eight all-in-one terminals around it, four across the forward partition and two to each side for the analysts and hackers to work at. Furthest aft, open to the command area and the tail ramp was the armoury, equipment storage and general cargo area. Above all of that was what had been the troop deck, running the full length of the aircraft. This had been altered to permanent living quarters for about twenty people, along with a galley and ablutions up near the air crew area, whose own galley had been removed to make room. Underneath the flight deck itself, where the nose hatch and ramp would be on a normal Galaxy, the Air Force had set up a full communications suite of the most advanced encrypted gear available.
It wasn't just the interior that had been modified. A fresh coating of brand-new 'Ironball' stealth paint had been applied, which although it wouldn't make them vanish off of radar screens entirely, it would reduce the radar-cross section significantly by absorbing the radiation energy of enemy radars and transferring it to heat energy, which then would be bled off back into the atmosphere. The Air Force had provided two flight crews from 1st Special Operations Aviation Wing, nicknamed the Air Commandos who were practically rubbing their hands with glee at the potential of the aircraft. The Air Commandos were specialists at getting large cargo aircraft behind enemy lines to air-drop supplies to Special Forces soldiers on the ground, and were very experienced at extreme low altitude manouvres, capable of flying enormous and ungainly aircraft like the Galaxy for long periods of time at heights that would have any sane person gibbering in sheer terror. The Air Commandos were one of the most highly decorated units in the US military, and rightly so. Even Sam and Grim had agreed they were pretty much bat-shit insane, and it wasn't like what they did for a living could be described as safe – and they were putting their lives in these pilots' hands, as they would probably have to use the Paladin to infiltrate enemy airspace at some point, and then the Air Commandos would come into their own.
The team presently carrying their gear onboard and setting up at the analysis terminals was as unique as the aircraft. Drawn from the best analysts and agents available, Fisher, Grim and Vic had chosen a broad spectrum of backgrounds, talents and training for their first recruits. CIA, NSA, military, federal police and even a man from Vic's own private security company, Paladin Nine, the Fourth Echelon team was an odd mixture of jacks-of-all-trades and high-level specialists, with more yet to be recruited.
When the team had stowed their gear and were back in the command centre, talking amongst themselves, Fisher, Grim and Vic walked up the ramp into the command area after a quick conference.
"We've got about four hours until the Air Force says we can leave. First objective is in the Cayman Islands. Grim traced one of the conspirators' bank accounts back to Grand Cayman Trust, under a false name. Money was paid in before the coup, but withdrawn shortly after it failed – too quickly for it to have been unrelated. I will perform an on-site physical retrieval of further intel from a redundant server not connected to the network that may have more details on the deposit and withdrawal specifically where they came from or went to. Further details and mission brief as well as a general intel file and briefing containing everything we know, which isn't much, is available on the terminals around you. Those terminals connect to a sophisticated data retrieval and analysis operating system called the Strategic Mission Interface, like our very own OS system. It's secure, efficient and relatively easy to use, at least for those of us not over the age of forty." He ignored Grim's smirk behind him. "There is a particularly in-depth file on the known leaders – the field officers of Black Arrow, Prentiss and Robertson; the owner, Galliard; the co-ordinator, Reed; and the substitute, VP Sampson. When we find whoever is behind Megiddo it will be through them. Get to know every aspect of their history, their financial records, their known associates. As we go through this case, you may find a name, a place, a bank statement that seems familiar, something completely insignificant that will turn out to be something important. This isn't going to be easy; our enemy is thorough, patient and willing to cross any line to cover its' tracks. But they will screw up, they will leave clues, no matter how tiny, and we cannot afford to miss a single one. You are all the best this nation has to offer. Now prove it."
Neshama – Hebrew for 'soul' – slang – a form of endearment, usually translated to a platonic form of 'darling'. BTW Eyal means Power, Potency or Strength, and Malach is Angel. I actually picked the surname at random out of a list of common Israeli surnames, but I suppose that translates to either 'Angel of Strength' or 'Powerful Angel', something along those lines. Anyway, that's the reason for the codename.
A/N: Joy, more Chloe. Next time on Watchtower, Inc., sun, sand and espionage in the Caymans.