Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar

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Jack Be Nimble Book 4: A L io n a b o u t t o r o a r by B e n E n g l i sh


Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar Ben English This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living, dead, undead, or wandering the streets of San Francisco, would be pretty amazing, now, wouldn’t it? Copyright © 2011 by Ben English All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical without the express written permission of the author. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author. Cover art modified, original photo property of Mercedes Adams. Bronze lion along the Paseo del Prado in Central Havana, Cuba. Published in the United States of America. English, Ben E. (Ben Emery), 1971 Jack Be Nimble: The Crystal Falcon / Ben English -1st ed. 1. Novelists—Fiction. 2. Crime—Fiction. I-Title. ISBN-13: 978-1468132991 ISBN-10: 1468132997 ebook ISBN: 978-1-4658-7365-1

Visit the author’s website: www.BenEnglishAuthor.com


T h e Jac k B e n i mb l e Se r i e s

Gar g oy l e T yro T h e C rys ta l Fa l c o n A L io n ab o ut t o r oar


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This one is for Stephen Victor English my son who is a lion about to roar.


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Contents Foreword 9 Augury 13 Not Yet

17

Provocateur 26 First

32

Marduk 49 Motion, Captured

56

The Prayer of Ajax Was For Light

60

The Falcon and the Falconer

66

Any Landing You Walk Away From

86

Ascendance 92 Under the Banyan

96

From a Long Way Off

100

Miles To Go Before I Sleep

114

Vantage 115 Zeroed 119 Caramel Apple

125

For Want of a Nail

132

Trail of Breadcrumbs

136

Gravity 145 Born and Bred in a Briar Patch

149

Contingency 161 The Story About the Well

163

Share of Patience

166

Temple of the Pagan God

171

A Place to Stand

174

Not His First War

181


Treehouse 187 What Raines Wrought

190

Slips Past

204

The Verge

208

Vertical Sprint

212

Second Set of Eyes

218

Sirena 239 Marionette 241 Grandfather’s Cello

250

The Center Cannot Hold

254

In the Air

271

Meet Me at the Well

273

Flanked 277 Buried 281 The Prayer of Ajax and the Song of Achilles

283

Further Up and Further In, Part 2

294

Beacon and Memory

298

The Only Cure for Grief

304

Archimedes’ Principle of Buoyancy

308

The Signal

311

Jack be Nimble

314

Epilogue 322 End Notes

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Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar

Foreword

Written on the back of a rain-spattered, unfinished form requesting fuel for a Bell 430 helicopter, flying out of Havana. No official flight plan was ever filed for this aircraft.

I

t was all supposed to be so simple. Jack’s not here to set this up for you, and Alonzo’s getting the

helicopter ready, so it looks like this Foreword business falls to me. He’d better remember to fuel up. My name is Ian Whitaker, and in my regular day job I usually preface that with Special Agent. Then I flash my shiny badge. I’m not carrying a shiny badge today. And today is turning out to be anything but simple. The papers and TV newsboys are calling what happened last night in Havana a “drug-related terrorist attack.” Bottom line is, we won—or thought we won—and Jack and Mercedes were headed back to southern California. He’s obligated to work on a film today, but the real idea was to get Mercedes home where she’d be safe while we mop up what’s left of the mess in Cuba. Then, as soon as Jack gets back, we go after Raines. My official report hasn’t been written yet, but Alex Raines, the technologist, is the architect behind more than his share of the chaos you’ve seen in the headlines over the past week. He and his private army / assassins / whatever you want to call them have led us on a not9


Ben English so-merry chase from Paris to London to California to Cuba, and now, finally, toward one of his island research stations in the Caribbean. There’s a supply ship headed there now, loaded down with a shipment of his favorite food. Thanks to this sort of detective work, and quick thinking by Mercedes, we pretty much know where Raines is. A few of his men destroyed the airport on their way out of town, and she got aboard their plane. Doesn’t sound like the brightest idea, but she’s carrying Jack’s phone and knows we can track her location. Mercedes and Jack. They were only together a short time last night, but you should have seen them. Doesn’t take an FBI profiler to figure out what’s going on there. She was the one who put two-and-two together and figured out that the real purpose of the “terrorist attack” last night was to get the world’s political leaders and celebrities to all move through a narrow hallway where they were hit with some sort of airborne tech agent—nano-devices. We found something similar on another island run by one of Raines’ companies. He’d used the native population as guinea pigs for his medical and social experiments, many of them involving nano technology. Most of them in vitro. All I’m telling you is laid out pretty well in the last book, The Crystal Falcon. Matter of fact, while you’re at it, you should read all three previous books in the series, beginning with Gargoyle and following up right away with Tyro. What you are about to read will make a whole lot more sense if you have those under your belt already. We’re out of time. Alonzo wants to take off before the storm gets any worse, and the fuel truck hasn’t even arrived yet. Hope you’re ready for this. I’d still feel better if Jack were going in with us.

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Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar

Jack Be Nimble Book Four: A Lion About to Roar

The prayer of Ajax was for light;

Through all that dark and desperate fight,

The blackness of that noonday night.

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Give me a place to stand and with a lever

I will move the whole world.

- Archimedes of Syracuse

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Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar

Augury

The Island

H

e awoke hours before dawn on the last day of the world, tempting a grin. Raines always slept where he could see the sky;

no dark bedchambers for him. The bedroom in the master suite had more window space than solid wall; vistas looked out and down on both the rainforest mountain and the sea. The clouds hadn’t obscured the moon, and the sea stood revealed. The surf was vexed; waves muttered and quarreled without direction or meaning under the wind. Bright light from the moon and stars fell, colorless, everywhere. The storm was nowhere near them yet, but the water already churned as though the forerunning masses of air and energy extended below the surface, agitating from beneath.

For a long time he watched the moonlight reflected off the water

below, looking for patterns to assert themselves, finding none. This pleased him.

To say such things made Raines happy would reveal a lack of

complexity. Happiness was a simpleton’s abstract; either something was or it was not. A ball is round. The sky, under a certain wavelength of light and burden of atmospheric pressure, was blue. Raines felt deeply that to associate value to a concept like joy was a basic waste of economy. He’d sooner feel sentimental about a telescope or a weatherglass. He certainly didn’t require a barometer to feel the weight of this particular day. It would be the last of its kind. Tomorrow was a world 13


Ben English in need of a new name, and he would think of something suitable. The new society required a proper term.

Trees on the mountain slope danced under the masterless

wind, as given to chaos as the surface of the sea. Meadows of long grass danced as the air corkscrewed across them. Raines fancied he saw a helix pattern. The atmosphere immediately around his home and property seemed a touch calmer. This did not surprise him. Blossoms torn from the garden below drifted past his window, red, white, yellow, blue. He’d find a name for the new society very soon, perhaps today. The universe had a habit of bringing him answers, as long as he framed the question properly.

Reluctantly, he turned from the storm-to-be and took up his

computer. Marduk was online and checking progress on the various projects in the engineering labs which adjoined the house. The air mass to the southeast was about to be upgraded from a tropical storm to a full hurricane. His shipment of foodstuffs was due to arrive at the leeward dock well in advance of the weather. Havana was reeling. According to the press, terrorists had disrupted the Goodwill Games opening ceremonies and destroyed more than sixty percent of the airport. Offislanders were fleeing discreetly, and the games would be delayed, possibly discontinued altogether, depending on the severity and duration of the storm. A U.S. Navy ship in port, Bata’an, had already run electrical lines into Havana’s barrios; the ship’s nuclear reactor ensured power to hospitals and local clinics during the storm. Good for them, thought Raines.

One of his companies

provided the Navy with the components necessary to serve the Cubans in such a manner. Electrical power would keep the locals connected to the internet, radio, and television. The news stories which would 14


Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar flow during the next few weeks were an invaluable ingredient to the birth of his new society. People everywhere needed to know what was happening to the world. His plan counted on this. Most people, probably everyone on the planet, thought they needed a steady feed. Constant input was as dear as physical nutrition, and the denizens of the tarnished new Millennium demanded it. These people loved their vicarious experiences.

Loved their politicians,

televangelists, and gameshow hosts. Adored music videos and games which glorified the most vicious brutality. Thrilled to watch someone else a world away do anything remotely interesting. Cooking shows. Gossip. Bowling. The crucial human need to expand and improve was sated by these secondhand experiences. Raines counted on this. He loved seeing headphone cables at the train station—everyone plugged in—or live sporting events where everyone in the stands paid more attention to the outdoor digital display than the flesh-and-blood action on the field. His plan depended on the planet staying drunk on such baseline stimulation. Ever learning and ever unable to come to a knowledge of the truth. He sighed, contented. Raines himself was partial to Superbowl commercials. He often took a hand in selecting the ads representing his consumer businesses. He did not consider this a vice. Vice, like happiness, was an abstract.

Miklos would be arriving soon. He had taken hostages, which

provided an entertaining choice. There was more than enough food and other supplies, but Raines hadn’t planned on feeding extra people during the next few weeks of chaos, panic, and destruction. The island’s security force needed live targets, and the island had enough space and varied topography to make the chase interesting. Still, as master of the island Raines could allow them life, or a 15


Ben English semblance of it. Miklos reported than everyone on board had been given an injection already, so killing them outright might be an economic waste. They’d been brought over; they were now part of the experiment. He decided to ask the question and allow the universe to bring him the answer. Perhaps someone on board would provide a name for his new society. Raines breathed again, satisfied with the idea. He dressed quickly, and informed the morning chef he would prepare his own breakfast. Such an auspicious day, he needed to celebrate, and Raines knew of no better way than to prepare a meal. An auspicious day. The last, in fact. He felt fit, fully alive, a part of the moment, in a world that had always seemed to be just barely the wrong place for him but now was filled with mysterious portent. Alex Raines stood at the window and drank in the last of the moonlight, pleased to find himself here, at the right time, on the brink of an age of confusion, directionless violence, and unimagined butchery.

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Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar

Not Yet

M

ercedes screamed when the needle went in. Miklos pushed it in deep, working the plunger as the needle strove for

the center of her neck Whatever was in the syringe was cold, and somehow, soft. A feeling as though rats were capering though her on feathery, cool feet. Thousands upon thousands of rodents, tiny enough to move through her veins, scampered through the narrow steel needle and carried a measure of cold from the metal into her blood. Not just cold: ice. Microscopic shreds of glacier flew about within her, a legion, knifing about deep inside. The ice bloomed when it reached her heart, and Mercedes screamed again, losing the sound of her own voice in a sudden roaring in her ears. She had the sensation of hands on her body, and Miklos

dumped her without grace into a chair. Mercedes reeled against the flight cushions. Gradually she became aware of the general tumult around her. The other passengers wailed, shouted, cursed incoherently. Everyone seemed to be experiencing different degrees of the same internal assault; some shook and trembled violently, others ground their fists into their eyes, pressing hard against their foreheads.

Abruptly, the internal glacier receded, leaving a tingle and

a faint warmth in its wake. Mercedes gathered herself to rise, and an immediate hand on her shoulder pressed her back into her chair. Miklos stood there, holding a small device in his hand—a computer? 17


Ben English Had he stood there long? The plane felt like it was in motion. Mercedes struggled to breathe normally.

The rest of the passengers had quieted down. Some cried

quietly.

Miklos lifted his hand, looked at her wordlessly, and walked

to the front of the cabin. They were in the air. A guard followed the tall man, and Mercedes noticed they both had changed clothes. The terrorist now wore a grey suit, tropical weight, with an open collar. She fantasized briefly about driving a syringe into the pale skin at the top of his chest.

Miklos did something with the computer he held, and everyone

quieted at once. Mercedes felt it, a charged shudder, a frisson, moving immediately through the crowd. Someone a few rows over was noisily airsick, and somewhere a man wept, helplessly. She felt it as deeply as they did—the hard panic at the lack of control—but Mercedes was buoyed above them somehow. She supposed she was far more accustomed than they were to the idea that her body would eventually betray her. Thank God for small blessings, she thought wryly. Mercedes wondered again how much time had passed. The cabin lights were on and the window-shades closed. Her watch was gone, and as far as she could tell, their captors had removed everyone else’s timepieces as well. She shifted in her chair, arranging Jack’s coat around her. For a moment, she panicked, then felt the pressure of his phone against the corner of her back. Mercedes wished she could examine it, make sure it was still in one piece—she had a vague memory of thrashing against the seat and armrests—but it was enough to know she still had it with her. She still had it with her. The image of Jack diving under the train sprang unbidden into her mind, and Mercedes’ heart began to 18


Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar pound. The jacket smelled like him. Her next breath was a sob, and Mercedes felt her heart stutter and begin to break. A tiny hand pulled at her arm. “It’s going to be okay.” The speaker was a tiny girl, not more than six, with large, grave eyes and a t-shirt from the Disney resort island. She patted Mercedes’ arm and smiled sadly. “My Mom was scared too, but now she’s just sleeping.” The woman at the window seat indeed appeared to sleep, but Mercedes checked her pulse anyway. Her shirt matched her daughter’s. Though belted in, she lay in disarray. A red mark showed where she’d been injected in the arm. There was no blood on or near the mark, and Mercedes felt her own neck. Nothing. The effects of the injection lingered in tingling waves, but her skin bore no soreness from a needle. The girl next to her didn’t appear to be marked, either. Aside from dried tears and red-rimmed eyes, she seemed fine. “Did they give you a shot?” Mercedes asked. “Only the grownups.” She paused a moment, still solemn. “When you were asleep, you were talking to Jack. Is he your friend?” There were no guards nearby. Mercedes reached past her again and brushed her mother’s hair away from her face. Then she leaned a bit further and flicked the window shade up nearly an inch. Still dark beyond. The airplane beacons on the wings were weak, filtered through clouds laden with tears. “Yes, sweetheart. He’s my friend.” The little girl rested her head against her mother. “I bet you’ll see him again soon.” “You’re probably right.” The incessant tingling waves echoing through her lent a 19


Ben English peculiarity to Mercedes’ thoughts as she watched Miklos and the other armed men. She didn’t know the names of their weapons, but that didn’t matter. She’d lost all fear of them. Moreover, details of each man were clear, sharp, almost sharper than they should have been, and Mercedes felt almost as if she stood behind a camera, waiting for the perfect moment to develop before her lens. One of the guards walked with a limp, favoring a foot he’d probably stepped on wrong while lifting one of the crates of money. The other guard tilted his head whenever Miklos or his companion spoke to him. He was either deaf or hard of hearing in that ear. Miklos carried the same weapons as the other two, but his assault rifle had a longer ammunitions clip and a collapsible stock. A long hard line under his suit coat might have been a knife. She tried to read their lips, but without luck. They spoke a language she did not understand. Still, there was something in their body language. His posture as they spoke to him was subtly different than before, and it came to her that Miklos was not really the top man. The two guards reported to someone else, someone . . . someone Miklos feared. Mercedes wondered what she would do with this knowledge. All her senses felt pressed together, somehow. She needed to move. Not yet. Not yet. Just breathe. She probably would see Jack fairly soon. The crew of thugs didn’t strike her as the hostage-taking type. And whatever it was they’d injected them with—

—Except for the children.

Why not inject them as well?

Mercedes counted five, maybe six kids on board. Did Miklos or whoever was pulling the strings have something else in mind for the children? Her ears popped. 20


Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar The plane was banking, gently. Stealing a glance out the window, she saw a large moon slide by on the horizon. Mercedes shrugged, reached over, and flipped the window covering completely up. The guard nearest her made a dangerous noise, but Miklos touched his arm, drawing him back into conversation. A few of the other passengers took note of this and opened their windows. Pieces of the moonlight fell through soft gaps in the cloudrack to land in fixed patches of glittering silver on the water. The pattern of clouds and celestial light almost appeared orderly to Mercedes’ racing mind, and then the island slanted into view. It was long, at least three miles, and actually sported a small range of mountains. The peaks hung in a wreath of fog or smoke, and looked craggy and uneven, volcanic. Forests were thick and dark, but broken occasionally by grassland that reminded her of savanna. Small clusters of electric lights pushed at the darkness. The plane bucked slightly in the thickening air. A whine from below decks announced the landing gear being lowered. There wasn’t enough light outside for Mercedes to figure out compass directions, but they appeared to be coming down on a sheltered part of the island, underneath the shadow of the largest mountain. She had the impression of a large compound of modern-looking buildings just over the next rise, and then the wheels found the runway. It felt modern, well-maintained compared to some of the airstrips she’d landed in her combat-photog days with Big John Holdaway. The tarmac went on and on, obviously long enough to support a full airliner. What was this place? The end of the runway abutted a beach, and as the plane taxied about she glimpsed a full construction crew, working under bright lights with modern equipment, laying a bulwark of sandbags and digging a diversion trench. Against the incoming storm, she supposed. 21


Ben English There were two hangars near the opposite end. One looked military, almost like a Quonset hut. The other was larger and sported a full mast of antennae and satellite dishes. The windsock stood at full attention. All these details leapt at Mercedes, and for a moment she doubted her ability to process them. But they roared in. A guard took up station at the rear of the plane and Miklos addressed them, first in Spanish, then English. “Bring nothing. If you have medication, leave it. You will no longer require it. You will be walking nearly 2 kilometers. Prepare yourselves. Look only at the ground. If you look at something other than the ground, you will be shot. Anyone attempting to run will be shot, along with the person standing next to them. Stand up now.” There was a spotlight just outside. It was blinding. They filed off the plane and stood in a loose line, single file. More armed men—Mercedes couldn’t think of them as guards, these were soldiers, professionals—moved around them. They arranged them by nationality. The Americans and Europeans were nearest the tail of the plane, while everyone else was at the head—everyone Spanishspeaking, she realized. This means something, said the voice. Close attention, now. Miklos stood near her, with two of the men from the plane. They each looked uphill. Mercedes noticed this at the same time she saw Miklos’ lips move. He spoke sotto voce, nearly a whisper, but she caught enough of the sound and motion to comprehend. “ . . . says he has enough for the experiment. Doesn’t want to waste food on them. Wait until after Raines passes by, then take care of it. The rain from tonight’s storm will scour the airstrip clean.” Tears burst from her, unbidden, and she took a deep breath to shout a warning, to scream at Miklos, to curse everything she could 22


Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar see. Wind nudged her. The deep scent of the ocean reminded her of home, her first home in North Beach, a few blocks off San Francisco’s Embarcadero. That same scent. She hesitated. Waited long enough for the taste of the wind to change. The posture of the guards changed slightly. A few casually checked their weapons. It’s on me, came the thought, unbidden. Mercedes was struck with the idea that she could change the course of things, that the outcome of the next few seconds would pivot on what she—but that was foolish. What could she do? What had she ever done? In Havana, she had run after Miklos, chased the plane. That was something. And the simple fact remained that there was no one else. No cavalry. No Jack charging in to save her, like in a fairytale, like some kind of saving angel, like Christ at the gates of Hell. The breeze chilled as it raced off the beach towards the mountain, and it carried a voice that pricked at her memory. Three men walked toward her, along the line of the passengers. They looked to be coming from the building with all the sensors. One was a soldier, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a slightly older man in an impeccable white linen suit, whose face held a bemused expression. He didn’t quite look at anything, least of all the third man. He wore a lab coat, and was highly agitated. “But sir, without telomeric cap protection, the genomes become unstable.” She decided his agitation was mostly due to nerves. He was afraid of the man in the linen suit. “The ends of the chromosomes are subject to DNA damage response—” “—Which leads to cell cycle arrest, yes. We know this.” His voice was definitely familiar. It made her think of her parents, for some reason. 23


Ben English “But we still don’t know the cause.” His lab coat snapped upward in the wind. “The arrested cells are failing to recover.” Mercedes’ head began to ache slightly. Not a sinus pain due to the climate, nor a grainy ache due to lack of sleep. She felt an oddness that suddenly seemed very familiar. Wonderful strangeness. Echoes of how she’d felt a few hours earlier, seeing Jack again for the first time. For the last time. No, before that, even. In her parent’s library, at home. Watching them work. Listening to them debate theories, parry ideas across the huge desk they shared. There were papers on that desk. A sheaf of them was turned towards her. The man in the white suite nodded pleasantly at Miklos even as he responded. “Focus on what we know. After a loss of telomere capping function, something at the level of the genome causes instability.” He passed her, looked at her body without looking at her, and continued, in a mutter. Mercedes became very aware of the guns held by the men standing in the wake of the white suit. It irritated her that she would be killed by a weapon for which she didn’t know the proper name. The pressure on her head increased sharply, then lessened. It felt for all the world like someone set their palms softly on the top of her head. Mercedes looked up at the receding shoulders of the man in the white suit. Light snapped off the fabric, but it did not blind her. Simultaneously, she saw the sheaf of papers on her parent’s desk. The title stood out to her, as did the words on the page. As clearly as if she bent over her parents’ desk, each of their voices in her ear. “DNA repair attempts,” she said, and lifted her voice toward the white suit. “Tightly-regulated cellular DNA repair attempts cause genome instability.” 24


Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar They stopped and turned. Miklos jaw dropped, and he looked at her as if the top of her head had suddenly exploded, expanded to fill the space under the wing of the airplane, and then rearranged itself in a much smaller volume back inside her skull. It certainly felt that way. She continue, in a much more casual tone. “Chromosomes break down when telomeres are unprotected as DNA tries to repair itself. You need to maintain the telomere capping function.” Mercedes blinked, but the memory did not fade. She wasn’t imagining it. She knew she’d seen this, heard it. And so had the man in front of her. The soldiers drew back as he approached, all but Miklos. The man in the white suit examined her carefully. Really looked at her. At length he said, “Hello, Mercedes. You have your mother’s and father’s mind.” She found her own voice again. “Hello Aleks. Can’t imagine you working without Marduk. Is he poking around here somewhere?”

25


Ben English

Provocateur

L

ike driving a snowplow down a flight of stairs.” Alonzo’s

voice through the helicopter’s speaker system sounded tinny and

distant, but it kept Allison’s mind off the weather outside. Not that she could see anything past the blurred reflection of the aircraft’s lights and all the clouds pressing against them. The navigation and anti-collision beacons were the only proof they existed. “Well? Major?” he asked. “Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about our lack of tactical planning. Weak operational doctrine, or—” “It’s quite all right by me if you cease talking for a bit. Isn’t your mouth tired?” asked Allison. “Perhaps you’d prefer to concentrate on flying. I was beginning to wonder if you found it difficult to talk so much and fly simultaneously, given the weather.” “Not really,” replied Alonzo. “Flying, by itself: not a problem. I can fly this thing blindfolded with a stopwatch and a calculator. It’s all equations for power and weight. Basic math.” She detected no braggadocio in his tone. The man honestly believed he was that good. “It’s all this extra . . . stuff.” His eyes strayed to a computer screen. “Tracking out a path through the storm, that’s the trick. Talking helps. Talking’s the only thing distracting me from how insane the rest of this is. Maneuvering through a tropical storm this size? Really isn’t supposed to be possible. If we get through this, I’m going to punch Jack right in the face.” 26


Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar He smiled at her. “But we’ll be fine. I’m sure.” The display between them showed a radar and satellite feed of the storm patterns ahead, areas of high and low pressure, probable wind currents, thermal layers, and areas of electrical discharge, in three dimensions. Four, if you counted time. Apparently there were pockets of calm in the tempest; relatively speaking. The opposite of microbursts. Allison still couldn’t quite believe he could make sense of the display, yet here they were, somehow still in the air. She fancied seeing the crest of whitecaps below, and wrenched her attention back to the flying machine’s pilot. Honestly, she decided, there could be something to him. It would take more than a decent flier to get them this far. His hands were light and quick on the controls. The Bell 430 helicopter zigzagged through the clouds, gingerly threading its way through the weakest spots in the hurricane. After the next stuttering jolt of turbulence, Alonzo said, “Sorry we can’t get above it. This kind of helicopter only goes up to about fourteen thousand feet. We’re pushing her hard anyway, and as it is we’ve only got enough fuel for a one-way trip.” “I don’t think the FBI will miss it,” said Ian. “And the State Department was just glad to get it off the roof of the embassy.” “Aren’t we basically returning it to Raines?” asked Steve, and a few of them laughed. Allison stole a glance at the cabin behind her. Ian held on for dear life, his fingers splayed and molded around the arm rests of his chair, while the two colossal Tanners appeared to be asleep, their feet propped up on the stacks of duffel bags and gear. Steve worked on his computer, focused on the screen. He had to brace it against his leg with one hand 27


Ben English “How can you bear to look at the screen in the midst of all this turbulence?” she asked. “Got to finish up before we lose our internet connection,” he replied. “Raines’ companies run a bunch of web sites. Some are internal, just for employees. All together he’s got more than 150 websites and about 6000 web pages. Most everything he does is tied into a web application, and they never, ever go down.” He licked his lips. “For what we want to pull off, we need to keep his entire IT department busy.” “So you’re going to run hacks against his sites?” “Not just me. Got some buddies back in the real world going to help me out. I’m also setting up automatic programs, bots, that will launch other bots that will launch other bots that will attack. I’ll hit him with everything all at once. Denial of service attacks, cross-site scripting, navigational attacks, functional abuse, brute force attacks, sequel injection.” She frowned. “Won’t Raines be able to see what we’re doing, or where we are attacking from?” Alonzo didn’t take his eyes off the instruments. “Maybe I can explain it. Allison, picture an orchestra, with all the members spread out across the world in different countries. Sixty thousand musicians, all synchronized and ready to go. If each one of them plays a single note on their own instrument, at exactly the right time, you’ve got a symphony. Steve is like an orchestra conductor.” Steve made a noncommittal sound. “The movies would call it a zombie attack.” “Nothing like a good zombie uprising,” said Ian, through his teeth. Allison supposed she understood. “And you are doing all this just so we can run the real attack.” 28


Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar Steve nodded. “Straight from Hollywood.” There was a pause in the conversation just then, and Allison realized it was the point just where Jack would have said something. One of the Tannners snored, did not change position. After a bit, Alonzo looked over at her. “Would you mind talking? Really, about anything. You have a good voice. It calms me down.” She thought a moment. There had to be a topic that would occupy his mind without providing sufficient distraction to send the helicopter plunging. “The woman, Mercedes. She’s beautiful. What men would call a perfect ten.” Alonzo allowed as that was nearly true. “I wouldn’t call her perfect.” There was an odd tone to his voice. “For instance? What do you know about the perfect woman?” “Well, she’s a southpaw. Left-handed.” “You call that imperfection?” “When we were kids, she and Jack used to juggle while holding hands. Damndest thing you ever saw. He was never coordinated enough to do that by himself.” “That’s all?” “Well, if I remember right, she had funny feet. Her toes.” “What?” “Her second toe is longer than her big toe.” He squinted. “Can’t believe I remember that.” “That’s an imperfection?” He shrugged. “Her second toe? Which one is that?” You know, next to her big toe.” Alonzo’s voice dropped a bit. “Wait. If the thumb isn’t really a finger, then is the big toe really a toe? And so the second toe isn’t really a second toe—” 29


Ben English “—No, I understand,” said Allison. “You mean her pointy toe.” She paused, stricken. “I can’t believe I just said that. I’m starting to sound like one of you people.” Alonzo laughed. It was a surprising sound in the little cabin, and Allison was horrified to find she was tempted to join in. Nothing like a tiny snatch of humor in the face of certain death, she thought. Steve spoke up from the rear. “Al, the storm is changing direction again. To beat it to the island we’re going to have to approach the beach from the southwestern side, otherwise you’ll be fighting the wind all the way in. Going to be rough anyway around the mountains.” Alonzo’s grin slipped toward a scowl, but he rallied. “What’s another 20 minutes in the air?” Allison understood, however. She’d assisted him with the preflight prep, and doubted the fuel tanks held an additional twenty minutes of fuel. Keep the conversation going, old girl, she thought. “What about the other one, Jack’s wife? Same kind of person?” Ian spoke up. “Victoria and Mercedes? Wow. Where to start?” “Black and white,” said Alonzo. “Salt and pepper,” Ian added. “Peanut butter and chocolate,” said Steve. “Republicans and . . . whatever else there is,” concluded Alonzo. “Toria was a breed apart. A real original.” He laughed. “English was actually her third language. She was Irish, but grew up in Asia.” “A really good cook,” said Steve. He’d finally looked up from his computer. There was a story here, something interesting enough to draw their minds from the storm outside. Allison decided to bite. “She was a member of the team?” “She created the team,” Alonzo corrected. “She was an instigator. A provocateur.” 30


Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar Ian leaned back in his chair, visibly relaxing. “Toria liked to pick fights. She always made sure we won.” Allison looked at Alonzo, expectantly. “Okay,” he said. “Okay. But to explain it the right way, I’ve got to tell you about the first time.” “I thought the Iranian desert was the first time.” From the corner of her eye, Allison saw Ian lace his hands behind his head and lean back He took a deep, slow breath. “Hell, no,” he said.

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Ben English

Jack Be Nimble Book FOur: A Lion about to roar By Ben English

Excerpted from Jack Be Nimble: A Lion About to Roar, by Ben English. Copywrite Š 2011 by Ben English. Excerpted by permission of the author. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

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