Reilly had trusted, had confided in, had loved the Retired General. And yet McKillian had just given an order to eliminate him. The feeling of betrayal that washed over Reilly was overpowering.
“Poseidon! Come on!” hissed Adam fiercely from ahead.
Shaking himself from his reverie, Reilly ran forward with renewed determination. He glanced again at the Hitman, at the secret he was carrying.
The World must know the truth.
A short distance ahead, the group of thieves saw a flight of stairs. Climbing it and emerging into level 5, they ran a short distance, turned another corner, then another, and another…
…and came upon another unit of guards.
Reilly scanned their ranks. They were too many.
“Back!” he yelled.
The thieves turned back just as gunfire erupted from the guards. Reilly, Adam and Athena managed to make it back round the corner unscathed.
Aphrodite was not so lucky.
Just as she turned to run, a bullet hit her square in the back. She stumbled, but somehow managed to keep running.
Reilly knew they could not keep on running back the way they came. There was another unit just waiting for them below – he could hear them in his earpiece. Damn. They were still five levels underground, and already the net was closing in on them.
His eyes came to rest on a door set into the corridor. From the looks of it, it was a fortified door. They would be safe behind it for a while. “In here!” Reilly shouted. Thankfully, the door was unlocked.
Hitman came to Reilly and entered the room first. Athena came in close behind.
But Aphrodite did not come.
Reilly whipped his head around. Aphrodite was slumped on the floor quite some distance away, bleeding freely from a bullet wound. She was struggling to crawl, but Reilly knew she would not make it on her own. Looking at her, Reilly had a distinct feeling that something was not quite right. He pushed it from his mind. Aphrodite came first.
Reilly started out to go get her…
“I’ve got this.”
Reilly turned. It was Athena. Passing by him, she briskly strode toward Aphrodite. Kneeling down, she struggled to help her fallen friend up…
And then a black object rolled into the corridor.
In that instant, Reilly knew what was wrong with the scenario.
The soldiers had not given chase.
And looking at the object on the floor, Reilly realized that they had never meant to.
For the object on the ground was a fragmentation charge.
Fragmentation charges are basically countless metal barbs – skewered, pointy metal barbs – stuck into a wad of explosive. When the explosive detonates, the barbs are thrown in every direction, mutilating everything in their path. Death by a frag is not pretty.
Athena and Aphrodite were too far away from Reilly and Adam, too far from safety. And they knew it. Athena’s eyes moved from the grenade on the floor, to Reilly. Mitch Reilly’s Sergeant held his gaze and nodded almost imperceptibly.
And then the fragmentation charge went off, and Reilly was yanked into the safety of the room – pulled by Adam from behind, before Adam closed the door – a split-second before hundreds of metal barbs flew with destructive force in every direction.
As for Athena and Aphrodite, their bodies were torn apart by the flying pieces of metal, mangled beyond recognition.
And then there were two.
Inside the room, Reilly and Adam were alone. They had entered as seven. Now, as Reilly looked into the face of his longtime friend and brother, and the Hitman looked right back, Reilly was filled with a sense of despair beyond anything he had ever known.
In Adam’s eyes, however, a fire still burned. He began to talk of breaking through the enemy. After all, said the Hitman, the soldiers didn’t have tactical skill to match their own.
Reilly told him about McKillian. Adam fell suddenly silent.
Over Reilly’s earpiece the reports came in, reports of units taking up position in every corridor, beyond every corner, sealing the access to every level above them. There was nowhere to go.
Their captors’ net had at last come full circle.
Reilly looked at the door behind which they hid, and looked back at Adam.
There was a look in the Hitman’s eyes, a look of grim finality, and staring into the eyes of the first person who had ever saved his life, the friend he had known from childhood, Reilly understood. They both hoisted their guns.
And they made their final move.
Outside the door, the guards were approaching, albeit very cautiously, sidestepping the two grotesque bodies at their feet. The leader of the unit raised his hand…
…and, suddenly, the door exploded outward.
Over all the guards’ closed circuit earpieces, all over the Facility, their communications went haywire.
“The door just blew open – ”
“ – Smoke grenade! – ”
“ – Shit! I can’t see anything – ”
And then gunfire broke out.
“Delta! What’s going on down there?”
“Sir, the suspects…aaargh!”
There was the sound of a bullet impact, and the speaker fell eternally silent.
“Delta Unit! Report!”
“Do you see them – ”
“I have no…aaaa!”
“Delta! Come in!”
“This is Cobra leader! Heading down to help Delta…”
“Half of Delta is dead! We’re being slaughtered…aargh!”
“Attention all units! Suspects have been spotted – ”
Nobody from Delta responded. They were all dead.
“Cobra Unit! Report!”
“Suspects are on the move. Repeat, suspects are on the move. I’m on the suspects’ trail! They’re…wait! They’re heading back down to level six!”
“Do you have visual? Do you have visual?”
“Negative! I do not….Wait!”
And then there was gunfire and Cobra leader did not respond again.
“All units down to level six! Now!”
From level One to Level Five, soldiers poured down to level six.
And the gruesome reports still flowed…
“Xi team eliminated! – ”
“Contact lost with all the teams on level Six – ”
“Everybody! Get down there NOW!!!”
“Sir! Two more units not responding! We’ve lost contact…”
“Jesus! Who are these guys….”
“ – We’re being slaughtered down here! – ”
“ – I can’t see a thing – ”
More gunfire. Another speaker fell silent.
“FUCK!! Requesting backup….aaaa!”
More units arrived in Level Six. The guards were virtually flooding the lowest level…
“Keep going! They’ll run out of ammo sooner or later…”
“ – Box them in! Approaching from East Wing! – ”
“ – Suspects heading for a dead end. Close them in boys! – ”
And then, finally…
“They’re trapped! There’s nowhere to go…”
“Approach with caution…I’m coming down.”
Retired General Joseph McKillian pushed his way through the throng of soldiers and said, “It’s over. Surrender.”
For a second, the person to whom he was speaking – the only person standing down the corridor, facing away, positively soaked in the blood of others – did not move.
And then Captain Adam Brewer, known in military circles as the Hitman, slowly turned around and put his hands in the air.
McKillian said, “It is over. All your comrades are dead. Give it to me.”
The Hitman stared defiantly back for a moment, and then slowly reached into a carrying pouch on his chest and withdrew a slim manila folder. The Retired General nodded to the person closest to him, and the soldier, with his gun still raised, stepped cautiously forward to retrieve it.
McKillian waited till he had the folder in his hands, and then said to the soldiers, “Kill him.”
All the soldiers there opened fire on Adam Brewer, and there was an end to the Hitman.
The General was not even watching the execution of Captain Adam Brewer. He was already walking away, opening the folder.
And then Joseph McKillian stopped short.
Inside the folder was a single sheet of paper.
And the sheet of paper was totally blank.
Except for two words.
If anybody had been standing guard at Level 5, the person might have seen a solitary figure emerge from a room with a destroyed door when all the soldiers had run down into Level 6. And if somebody had followed that figure, he would have seen that figure move silently through level 5…
…past the bodies of all the fallen…
…into an elevator and up the elevator shaft…
…up from level 5…
…to level 1, which was completely deserted…
…out a maintenance shaft, and into the black night.
Mitch Reilly ran.
Emerging out of the base – the inconspicuous army base, beneath which were six levels of hell – he ran fast and hard. Myriad thoughts raced through his mind, but he gave them no heed. All Reilly wanted to do was put as much distance between him and the base as was humanly possible.
And so he ran.
Thirty minutes became an hour.
An hour became two. Time lost all relevance for Reilly.
The soldiers back at the base would give chase; that he knew. But they did not know which way he had gone. And years with the Marine Corps had taught Reilly how to disappear when he wanted to.
After hours of running, Reilly’s body gave out on him, and he collapsed in a heap in a small stream, at the edge of a small cluster of trees. Dawn was just beginning to break over the horizon. He could not stay here for long. Reilly crawled into the cover of the trees. And only then did he let his mind wander back to the events of that night. He thought of his fallen teammates, of their needless deaths at the hands of their own countrymen. He thought of General McKillian, and of the biting betrayal.
And he thought of his friend, Adam Brewer, murdered in cold blood.
And Mitch Reilly began to cry.
After a while, the tears and the sobs would come no longer. Reilly sat up. Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew a slim, crumpled folder, a folder that Adam had handed to him in their last moment together.
This was what it was all about. Hundreds had been killed because of this.
The World had to know the truth.
Reilly stared at the folder for a long time. Funny thing was, after all that had been sacrificed to obtain this, after the unknown numbers that had been murdered because of it, it seemed to Reilly that it suddenly did not matter anymore. Nothing mattered any more. Adam was dead. “Athena” Terrin was dead. Reilly could not return to his Unit, or for that matter, the Marine Corps. General McKillian had betrayed him. The only life Reilly had ever known was gone forever. Nothing mattered anymore. Reilly lifted the flap of the folder and pulled out…
…a single piece of paper, with the words TOP SECRET at the top. And lines of text beneath. Reilly began to read.
Slowly, as his brain began to comprehend the magnitude of what he was reading, mild interest turned to astonishment…
Astonishment turned to disbelief…
By the time he was halfway through Mitch Reilly literally could not believe what his eyes were telling him…
Disbelief became shock…Reilly was horror-struck.
When finally he came to the end of the document, his mouth was hanging open.
He had never imagined…
And there, kneeling in the sand, as the first rays of sunlight flooded the world with illumination, Lieutenant Mitch Reilly of the United States Marine Corps came to know the shocking, horrifying truth about the biggest lie in the history of the United States, in the history of the World.
But I cannot tell you what he read because that information is strictly classified and you are not authorized to have access to it.