Josh was up early, sitting quietly looking out through the windscreen. It was 6am and still dark outside. He felt more comfortable in the dark, protected by the shadows. The street lights shone dim light down the near empty street. The postman passed by on his early rounds, not paying attention to the solitary man sitting in his car.
A voice came through in Josh’s radio earpiece; “All call-signs, Zero, radio check over.” It was the hourly check call from the operations room at office headquarters.
Putting his hand in his jacket pocket, Josh prepared to acknowledge the check call in sequence, along with the other operatives on the ground. A string of acknowledgements was radioed in turn, “Alpha okay. Bravo okay.” Josh pushed on his radio’s pressel switch in his pocket and spoke into his hidden microphone, “Charlie okay.” Other call-signs likewise radioed through that everything was fine, and the net went dead silent again.
“Operation Sting Bolt” was in full swing—a joint operation with the London Metropolitan Police. Josh was waiting patiently for the order to go. The raid was planned for 7am, so in the meantime he had to sit tight, keeping observations on the target address further down the street.
Waiting was something he disliked, but with an operation of this much importance, everything and everyone had to be ready. He was just one piece of a larger game that involved over fifty personnel—armed police, undercover operatives, and technical teams. This was an operation that could bring down one of the biggest terrorist cells the country had ever seen.
Josh knew his orders, he was “eyes and ears” only and backup if needed. The police were to take the credit for this one. It was their operation despite the significant work the “office” had contributed. Josh had also played a part in the Op; a minor part corroborating low-level intelligence. He didn’t care though, about getting any credit, just wanted these guys taken out.
Half an hour ticked by and Josh was beginning to prepare himself, mentally and physically. He brushed his hand over the outside of his jacket and felt the hidden armoury underneath—SIG Sauer P226 pistol and HK MP7 submachine gun. The magazine of the MP7 pushed into his body making it a little uncomfortable, but it wouldn’t be long now until the operation would be sprung into action.
Fifteen, ten, five minutes to seven. “All call-signs this is Zero, radio check over.” The control room came back on the net for a final check to make sure everyone was ready. As before, Josh acknowledged the check call in sequence with the other call-signs on the ground. He was feeling calm and eagerly waiting for the order to go.
He kept checking his synchronised watch for the last five minutes; finally, it changed to 07:00hrs. The firm voice from Control came up on the net again. “All call-signs this is Zero, stand by, stand by. Operation Sting Bolt is a go. I repeat operation Sting Bolt is a go. Charlie acknowledge over.”
Josh pushed his radio’s pressel switch, “Charlie roger, out.”
Suddenly, two strings of heavily armed police, ten in each string, appeared from both ends of the street out of the vestiges of the night. Dressed in blue overalls and wearing Kevlar helmets, balaclavas, goggles and carrying automatic rifles, they shuffled quickly along the pathway. The multiple tapping sounds of light boot steps on the path made little noise as they stealthily made their way. With both strings of armed officers working as cohesive units, they moved fast, converging at the front door of the target address Josh had been watching from afar. He knew the plan inside out, as well as the contingency plans if things went wrong. Every eventuality had been covered; every possible outcome had been meticulously examined with one goal in mind—capture or kill.
CRASH! A sudden loud noise broke the early morning silence.
A handheld battering ram had been used by the point men of the police entry team, to smash through the locked front door. The point men immediately stepped aside, giving way for the rest of the team to rush in through the open doorway. They began shouting, “POLICE!”, as they stormed inside the building out of sight to Josh. His orders were to observe only at this point, but he was itching to get involved. Less than thirty seconds in since the initial building breach, a hail of loud shots sounded out from the address, echoing loudly in the quiet of the morning. Josh pulled his weapon out from under his jacket in preparation for the order to go in.
Control spoke on the radio; “All call-signs this is Zero; phase one complete, phase two initiated. Bravo and Charlie remain on the plot. All other call-signs return to HQ. Bravo and Charlie acknowledge over.”
“Bravo, roger that.”
Josh spoke into the mic of his radio to acknowledge the order; “Charlie, roger, out.” He pushed his weapon back under his jacket, with the feeling of disappointment the operation had gone according to plan—well almost. He knew there were casualties, most likely fatal. He wanted in on the action but not this time—once again.
The operation had been planned over three months; the part Josh had been involved in anyway. More than likely, it had been going on for much longer—during the undercover and intelligence gathering stage. It seemed now that Josh was only getting to see the tail-end of operations, and was purposely kept out of the really meaty stuff. He seemed to be in someone’s bad books, and was being kept on a very short leash. And he suspected he knew why, and by whom.
Sitting in his car, he continued watching the early morning activity from a distance. More police were entering the building along with SOCO—the crime scene team. The paramedics were still on standby though, a sign that none of the terrorists had survived; all part of the risk of getting involved in terrorism. Josh also knew the risks of his own job—being a government operative—and the only person to blame for any dire outcome, was ultimately him.
“Charlie, Bravo over.” Josh’s radio piped up again. It was Malik Asif, the other remaining member of the team who had been instructed to stay behind with Josh. He was situated at the rear of the property, on the adjacent street.
“Send over,” answered Josh, speaking into his mic.
“Channel two, over.” Malik wanted a less formal chat on the net, and requested a change of radio channel, so that only they would be heard.
“Channel two, out.” And Josh reached for his radio, turning the knob to channel two. “Go ahead Malik.”
“Josh, my side’s secure, nothing much happening. Got the police swarming the place, so just seems like routine stuff now. How’s it your side mate?”
“Yeah, same here. Lots of uniforms in and out,” replied Josh.
“Okay, I’m coming round to your location,” said Malik.
“Roger that. I’m changing to one.” And Josh switched his radio back to channel one.
Just as he had changed channels, he heard a single shot, originating from the rear of the target address, from Malik’s side. Josh knew there was a problem, as Malik had not radioed out but was silent. Josh started his car, pushed it into gear and screeched off.
“Zero, Charlie, shot heard, wait out.” Josh immediately radioed control with an initial contact report that a shot had been fired.
Staying in low gear, for speed, he came to the end of the row of houses. He pulled out of the junction without stopping, narrowly missing a car, and drove into the street at the rear of the target address. Speeding up the road, Josh could see several armed police pointing their weapons from defensive firing positions. He slammed on his breaks, stopping in the middle of the road, and jumped out. He pulled out his submachine gun and took up a firing position next to his car, using it as cover.
“What happened?” Josh shouted to a nearby officer.
“Single shot fired, man down, no eyes on the shooter!” shouted the officer.
Josh suspected one of the terrorists had remained hidden and had taken an opportunity to escape. And without looking, he knew Malik was the “man down”. Without thought for his own safety, he sprinted past the armed officers to Malik’s car. The door was open and Malik was lying on the floor, blood seeping through his upper garments. Josh quickly unzipped Malik’s jacket and removed his weapon, placing it beside him on the ground. He ripped open the rest of his upper clothing, revealing a small bullet hole centre of his chest. Blood was flowing out and Malik was looking pale from the blood loss. He wasn’t responding, and Josh could see he was on his way out. Josh put the palm of his hand over the hole and pushed down hard to stem the blood flow.
“MEDIC! MEDIC!” Josh shouted, knowing the paramedics were already on the scene.
The medics though, were prevented from attending, due to the uncertainty that the shooter was still watching, and perhaps wanted a further target. Without waiting, Josh pulled Malik up off the ground, flopped him over his right shoulder and stood up. He ran with the dead weight on his back, into the rear of the target address, through to the other side where he knew the medics were waiting. He carefully lowered Malik down onto the road.
“He’s got a gunshot wound to the chest!” he shouted to a paramedic, who immediately took over.
Josh ran back through the house to the other side, to assist with locating the shooter. The armed police had already fanned out over the open wasteland at the rear, to extend their perimeter, but they were simply securing the area—nothing more. Call-sign “Hotel One”—a police helicopter on standby for the operation—had been called in immediately and was hovering overhead, searching for the suspect, but so far nothing was being reported.
Josh pressed the transmit button on his radio, to give a “situation report” to the control room. “Zero, Charlie, sit rep, over.”
“Bravo is down, single bullet wound to the chest. He’s with a Papa unit right now. No sign of the shooter or firing point. Hotel One is on site. Over!”
“Roger Charlie. Remain at location until further notice. We have direct comms with Hotel One and have re-assigned all call-signs to assist in the search. Zero, out.”
Josh walked back to move his car from obstructing the road; parking it near the terrorists’ house. He looked over to Malik’s vehicle; the crime scene team were busy putting up a white screen around it. Police were beginning to respond to the neighbours emerging from their homes, who were hoping to get an eye-full. Still dressed in pyjamas and night gowns, officers instructed them to keep inside, but curiosity had them peering out through the windows. This wasn’t an everyday occurrence in this quiet middle-class neighbourhood.
The police and forensic teams had begun settling down into the routine of the preservation and evidence gathering stage—forensics busy documenting, photographing, and bagging evidence, while police kept the spectators and newly arrived news reporters away. This was how it was: months of planning and preparation culminating into a brief dramatic scene that would only last minutes.
Josh opened the boot of his SQRV—Surveillance and Quick Reaction Vehicle—and pushed back the cover that hid his weaponry. He made his MP7 submachine gun safe—removing the magazine from the weapon and round from the chamber—and placed it inside the car. He pulled the cover back over and closed the boot. His job was done, but he had to follow orders and stay on site.
He took the opportunity to look around, to get more facts. He hadn’t been involved in Operation Sting Bolt as closely as he wanted, so wasn’t privy to everything. He began thinking about Malik and why he was slow to respond, which was most unlike him. Josh was beginning to hypothesise what had happened.
“We were on the radio…we stopped talking…shot fired. I raced around. His car door was open...he’s on the ground…bullet wound centre of chest.” Josh was imagining the situation in his head, picturing the possible scene Malik had faced. “He was facing the shooter…his weapon still concealed—not drawn. Why didn’t he challenge? Where was Armed Response?” he thought.
Josh approached an armed police officer standing guard near the back door of the house. “Was a good Op, hey?” said Josh casually, as though just wanting to make small talk.
“Yeah, looks like we hit the jackpot today. Beers all round tonight,” replied the officer from behind his balaclava.
“Yeah, good stuff, beers all round for sure.” Josh was building a rapport with the unknown officer. “It was my colleague, got hit over there.” Josh nodded in the direction of Malik’s screen-covered car. “Did you see what happened?”
“Nah, I was inside. There was another team out here.” The officer then walked off to stop a nosey neighbour who had appeared from her home to get a closer look.
Josh continued, approaching and asking the other officers if they had seen anything of Malik getting shot. They all said the same story, that they were inside and another team was securing the rear of the house. But Josh couldn’t find anyone from the so-called “other team” to clarify what had happened. It was as if they never existed.
He spotted a suited man walk out from the terrorists’ house through the back door, with a police sergeant from the Counter Terrorism Specialist Firearms Unit. Clearly, the “suit” was of some higher rank and importance involved in the operation. They appeared to be walking around making assessments of the situation. Josh approached them, taking the opportunity to ask some questions.
“Excuse me sir.” Josh knew he would get further by granting them some importance. Both men looked at him.
“Yes?” replied the “suit”.
“I’m looking for the team tasked to secure the rear of the address during the breach. Just trying to get some intel on the shooter that took out my colleague. These guys said they were inside.” Josh indicated the officers he had already questioned. “But I can’t find any of the unit that was covering the rear. Any ideas sir?”
“What’s your name and unit?” questioned the “suit”.
“Brannon, office support.”
“Ah, spies! We have a real-life spy here Sergeant Crofts,” said the man, looking at the heavily armed officer standing next to him. “Brannon, we have multiple police units here drawn from all areas, some have been stood down and are being debriefed as we speak. We will find the terrorist responsible for your colleague.”
“I appreciate that sir. Sorry, I don’t know your name?”
“Sir Godfrey,” and without saying anything further, he walked off with the sergeant.
Pulling out his mobile phone, Josh speed-dialled a number and put it to his ear. The call was answered almost immediately.
“Flash, Brannon. I need a favour.”
“Brannon, I’m in the middle of integrating a four-phase….”
Josh interrupted before Flash could bore him any further with his tech-talk; “I need to find out who a “Sir Godfrey” is and his connection to Sting Bolt. Call me when you have something.”
“Well that’s easy. He’s a politician, and his connection would be that he is an advisor on the operation. He was there from the start. I’m surprised you don’t know that,” answered Flash.
“Thanks Flash. Been a bit kept in the dark lately,” and Josh hung up.
He walked unchallenged into the house—having free access and some authority; afforded to him by the secret government organisation he works for. It was an ordinary terraced house in a middle-class suburb, mostly made up of families of various races and religions: White, Indian, Pakistani, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians. All were living in harmony, trying to survive and live the best way they could. The downstairs had a pokey living room and kitchen, with a steep stairway going up to the bedrooms. Looking at the scene inside, all of the action had obviously taken place upstairs—catching the terrorists by surprise, which was the plan.
Josh climbed the stairs, bumping past a crime scene officer on his way down with an armful of packed evidence bags. At the top was a flurry of activity for such a small area. There were at least four people in white coveralls from the forensics team busy marking out, photographing, and bagging items. They were all too busy to pay any attention to an outsider—Josh, except to keep him from contaminating their crime scene. He remained outside the room they were busy processing.
Standing in the doorway, Josh was craning his neck to get a better look at a dead body. From his angle, all he could see was a bare hairy muscular leg hanging over the edge of a bed. It looked like the surprised man had attempted to get out of bed during the raid, but was stopped short with a bullet or two. Strangely though, the leg was that of a white man and not a tanned Muslim, as expected. Intrigued, Josh stretched a little further. He was suddenly given an eyeful of the dead body, as the forensics team moved out of the way to focus on the window area.
Josh began experiencing a feeling he hadn’t felt for some months; a familiar feeling he now knew the meaning of. The strange mind-absorbing sensation of déjà vu—the indication of a “Time-fold”—seemed to be warning him of something. He knew the sign. And as always, the reaction distracted his attention.
“Why is this happening again? I thought it was over,” he thought, as his mind briefly recalled the incident in the bunker four months earlier. “Who is this person?”
His head cleared, allowing him to fully inspect the corpse lying on the bed. Seeing the pale face of the man produced a further reaction of disbelief. The deathly looking face appeared very different than when he was last seen alive. Not just different from the fact that something was missing from the body—a life-force or something—but the age. He was almost unrecognisable. The last time Josh saw this person alive was when they were both in their teens. It was his old school friend that had died at the young age of fourteen. It was the same friend that appeared before him as a “ghost” where he used to live; the same friend that first started the sequence of déjà vu and Time-fold events.
Maybe beyond four months ago, Josh would have been completely stunned and at odds with what he was seeing, but not anymore. He knew that what he was looking at was in fact a facsimile, or wrap-over, as Professor Montague had explained to him back in the bunker. Simply put, it was his old friend, but not of this lifetime, and not of this dimension.
Somewhat still surprised, Josh instinctively knew this operation was intimately connected to his past, to the string of events that led him to Sofia, the underground bunker, professors Montague and Balantyne, and to View Corp. He had no doubt in his mind that events were starting up again, that his past was coming back around.