The Missile Strategy | Chapter 19
They pulled off the main road and rumbled a few yards down a gravel road. Pete was sitting in his SUV watching the water treatment plant with binoculars. He relaxed in his seat upon recognizing the two. He got out of his car to meet them. Landon got out as well.
“I think you will like what I got you,” Landon said. The tension was lifted even more from Pete’s mind. Landon opened the trunk and dug out a duffle bag. He unzipped it and drew out the modified SR-25 sniper rifle.
Pete’s face became a mix of awe and confusion. “What did you do to it?” He took the gun and turned it over in his hands.
“You are the distraction,” Landon said with a grin. “I removed the suppressor for extra noise and added the grenade launcher for uh, extra grandiose.”
“Okay. And what will you be doing?” Pete asked.
“We need you to pull their attention this way. Gwen and I will loop around back. We are after a section of the piping the leads to the city,” Landon informed.
“What should I be expecting in return?” Pete questioned further.
“They are playing defense, so if you just pester them from here, they will stay over there. So wait 20 minutes, then start the assault,” Landon said. Pete nodded. Landon handed him a small radio. “Thanks again,” Landon added, clapping Pete on the shoulder. With that he spun around and climbed back into Gwen’s car. They pulled back onto the main road as Pete started organizing his ammo.
“So, run me by the plan again,” Gwen said. Landon pulled out his phone and went to a satellite map of their location as she drove.
“This is the water treatment plant here.” Landon pointed to the cluster of structures along side the river. “Surrounding the buildings is all tall grass, weeds, and wetland. When Pete starts the show, we can sneak through the grass.” He traced his finger from the road across the swamp to the river’s edge. “We will follow the river bank up to the outcropping of the plant.”
“So we won’t have to deal with the main structures at all? Just work along the edge where the piping is,” Gwen asked.
“Pretty much. We will find a way in from the river bank and then we can travel along the pipe to the threat.”
Gwen pulled off onto the shoulder of the quiet highway. The sun was radiating beams of warm light at the edge of the horizon, but not for long. Dark storm clouds were forming, blanketing the sky in gray. The sun would soon slip back behind the cloud layer for the rest of the day.
She opened the trunk and began gearing up with Landon. They pulled on bullet proof vests and donned muddy green camouflage jackets. They both set up their own small radios and threaded the earpiece underneath their jackets.
“Radio check,” Landon said.
“Yep,” Gwen replied.
“You sound good,” Pete answered in their earpieces.
Landon drew binoculars and studied the water treatment plant again.
It was comprised of two buildings, six large circular water basins, and a myriad of piping and water holding tanks. In the center of the chain link fence that surrounded the plant was the main building. It was two or three stories tall and resembled a warehouse. It had large, simple walls that were detailed with small windows, industrial fans, and pipes that ran like vines across the old building.
Adjacent to the main building was the second building. It looked more like a roof set on top of machinery. A narrow catwalk spanned the gap between the two buildings. The majority of pipes from the plant started, ended, or passed through this structure. They were woven together and connected to various pumps and tanks. A collection of large thick pipes stretched out from this building and led to the water. They attached to a large suction and filtering block that sat submerged in the river. These pipes pulled the water from the river into the plant. After the water goes though treatment, it gets pumped out into the city through a single massive pipe, large enough to sit inside comfortably.
“See where it draws water from the river?” Landon asked as he handed the binoculars to Gwen. “That’s our starting point. We can climb up those pipes, follow them to that second building. Now, see that huge out-flow pipe that passes right next to that building? We get on that pipe and run on top of it until we get to that device.”
“I see it,” Gwen reported. The device resembled a metal crate that had been latched down onto the top of the pipeline. “I don’t like how exposed that is.”
“Yea, we will have to move fast when Pete starts the distraction. And it doesn’t help that the pipe is about fifteen or twenty feet off the ground.”
“And positioned right above the water basins,” Gwen added as she look through the binoculars. The six water treatment basins resembled giant bowls half buried in the ground. They were about fifty feet across and up to twenty feet deep. Huge mixers slowly stirred the open containers.
“Let’s get going,” Landon urged. They doubled over and ran as fast as they could while staying as low as possible. The grass and weeds started to get extra thick and uncooperative. The overgrown area became increasingly sloppy and muddy as they made their way across. At last the sun fully disappeared behind the dense clouds that threatened to downpour. It was quickly replaced by a chilling wind. Gwen zipped up her camo jacket a little tighter as they raced. Halfway across the marshy field, the brush was three to four feet high, making it easy to stay blended in. A light rain began to fall, refreshing the soft and slippery mud.
From somewhere else in the tall grass, a loud and powerful gunshot blasted through the quiet rain. Both Landon and Gwen flinched at the sound of Pete’s distraction beginning. They heard faint yelling drift from the water plant as the wake up call gathered a reaction. Landon paused and brought up his binoculars. Half a dozen men scrambled for cover and readied their weapons. They oriented themselves to Pete’s location, leaving the back unwatched. Landon and Gwen picked up their pace, nearing the waters edge.
Another cannon sounding gunshot reverberated from Pete’s rifle. This time, a volley of gunfire answered back. It sounded like a handful of sub machine guns and assault rifles.
No sniper to counter Pete though, Landon thought. His mind wildly jumped to that situation. A sniper positioned up high somewhere in the plant could easily spot and pick off Pete. He would never forgive himself if-
There is was.
The distinct and sharp punch of a high caliber, long distance gun. Landon kept running, but his mind and heart froze. He had not calculated this into his plan. Which was a total oversight. Their first confrontation with this crowd was kicked off with a sniper shot in the dark. They had a designated marksman that could hit Gwen square in the back from a hilltop a decent distance from the CIA. With the assisted angle of a rooftop, Pete was open.
Landon pushed onward through the weeds, but all he heard was his heart thumping in panicked suspense. He didn’t notice Gwen stopping ahead of him. He thrust himself through the final patch of weeds and slipped off the edge of a steep and muddy embankment alongside the river.
He tumbled in the heavy mud and slid to the bottom, dazed. Gwen leapt down after him, gracefully controlling her slipping boots. She helped him sit upright and wiped a glob of mud off his face.
“Are you ok?” she said, looking deep into his frenzied eyes. The rain had picked up and droplets washed the mud off his face.
“We have to hurry. We have to stop that other sniper,” Landon said as he gulped for air.
“Pete knows what he is doing,” Gwen reassured. Right on queue, an explosion rattled the water treatment plant. Gwen pointed to the source of sound dramatically, “there is the proof. That was from his grenade launcher.”
Landon nodded and Gwen helped him to his feet. She cleaned him up more with her sleeve and for the first time she noticed his soft blue eyes up close. His rugged features were complimented by dark stubble. His wet, messy, and muddy hair somehow worked with it all.
“I’m sorry,” Landon began. “I lost my focus back there.”
Gwen snapped out of her thoughts and spun around towards the pipeline. “No apology needed.” She forced her train of thought back to the mission. “Let’s just get this over with.”
They trudged along the river bank to where the plant drew its water supply from the river. On one side a tall chainlink fence lined the bank. A collection of thick pipes arched over the top and dipped down into the river. Water swirled around the filtering block as it sucked hundreds of gallons of water. It sat twenty feet out from the bank.
Landon sized up the climb and let out a sigh. He handed his gun and phone to Gwen. He took one more breath and waded into the water. He gasped as the chilling water took whatever warmth the wind and rain had left. The bottom quickly fell away and he transitioned into a full swim. Gwen watched the plant that overshadowed them in case anyone caught onto what they were doing. She strained to hear the gun battle over the heavy machinery at the water’s edge.
Landon reached the filtration block. He grabbed onto the edge and pulled himself closer. In sudden rush, he was sucked under. Only one hand remained on the block as the rest of him fought to resurface. The pull of the pipeline was far more than the strongest undertow the ocean could muster.
Landon kicked hard and heaved with all his strength. His cold muscles ached but responded, and he hauled himself out of the water. He sat on the edge of the block and caught his breath. He looked up and saw Gwen standing waste deep in the water. She had jumped in to go after him the second he went under. Her face was pale and her eyes were wide with horror, but the panic dissipated quickly seeing him alright. She returned to the edge of the water.
Landon stood up and navigated around the edge of the pipes. He climbed up the steep slope of piping. There wasn’t much to work with. His feet slipped out every other foothold and all he had to hold onto was the seam of metal rivets every few feet. It finally leveled out at the top of its arch. He was directly above Gwen and she hurled his gun up to him. He caught it and slung it around his shoulder. Next was her gun, followed by their cell phones.
Landon cautiously climbed back the way he came. He lowered himself down the steep arch back onto the filtering block. Gwen waded out and swam to him. As she approached he held out his hand. She took it and was instantly pulled under, but Landon drew her out of the water with a swift pull. She sat on the narrow edge of the block and shivered. She huffed at her soaked hair and clothes, but didn’t complain.
The two ascended the arch and crossed over into the water treatment plant. The sounds of the gunfight returned. They crouched low and followed their pipes to the smaller of the two buildings. This building was so jam-packed with piping, wires, and machinery that it was not difficult to find a nook to disappear into.
They both stepped off their path and threaded into the maze of waterworks and out of the rain. Gwen laid prone across a grid and studied their surroundings. Landon crouched into a small space and leaned against a hot water line. He recoiled at the unexpected heat.
“Hey,” Landon whispered, “switch spots with me.” She crawled out from her hole and squeezed past him. As soon as she touched the heated line she smiled and curled up next to it.
“Ok, here is the next step,” Landon said. “We need to-“ He paused for another explosion from Pete’s attack. Shouts and gunfire kept echoing through the plant as they returned fire. “We need to make our way atop the main out-flow pipeline to the threat and disarm it.”
“Do we know how to disarm it?”
“I imagine Caleb can walk us through it when we get there,” Landon answered.
Gwen peaked out from her hiding spot and surveyed the route to the device clamped onto the pipeline. “How long do you think it will take us to get there?”
Landon studied the slippery and rounded path they would have to take. “Less than two minutes, but we will have to stay low. So maybe longer.” His cell phone rang, and Landon scrambled to silence it. He answered with a hiss. “What?”
“It’s been activated! The process is starting and I can’t stop it.” Caleb’s words tumbled out in an urgent jumble. Landon’s thoughts quickly raced to an explanation. The other side knew Tate was taken in, and they knew the laptop had been compromised. Of course they started a backup plan immediately. Landon was relying on the illusion that the laptop had been lost in the fire, and trusting his advantage was that they had re-created it unnoticed. However, whether the CIA successfully cloned the computer or not, the other side would be working on a replacement. And they just finished it.
“A new computer just took the controls right?” Landon jumped ahead.
“Yea,” Caleb was impressed, “that’s exactly right.”
“How much time do we have?”
“None. The drill is engaging the pipeline now. The payload will be injected as soon as it’s done.”
“How much time does that take?” Landon was pushing Caleb for answers he could work with.
“A minute? Two? It’s just started spinning up now.”
“How can I disarm it?”
“It’s in a lockdown-“
“Is there a physical shut off?” Landon urged.
“Yes, but it’s locked down too.”
“Can you eject the payload?” Landon badgered with another question.
“No. Even I had control I wouldn’t want to risk it getting loose,” Caleb returned. Gwen had been listened to the conversation, she could overhear Caleb’s dismayed voice. She took another look outside, judging the distance to the device. She looked back to Landon. He was bitting his lip, running through options in his head.
“The main drilling process has started!” Caleb reported. Gwen stepped out from her hiding place onto the narrow walkway. She barely flinched as more gunfire sounded from nearby.
“I’m going. Cover me,” Gwen said sternly. Landon was pulled from his thoughts and just stared at her.
She jogged down the narrow walkway and surveyed the area before stepping out into the open. She could see two men crouched behind cover. She also saw the sniper laying on the rooftop of the larger building. He was engrossed in his scope. Everyone’s attention was glued on Pete. She darted forward as quiet as possible. The rain had picked up harder than before, drenching her but masking her footsteps as well. She crouched behind a low wall. Directly over the edge on the other side was the massive main outflow pipeline.
Landon watched her in suspense when something called the back of him mind. It was strangely quiet. He had not heard anything from Pete’s rifle in a while.
“Landon,” Pete voice crackled through his radio earpiece. He sounded more serious than Landon had ever heard before. “The rifle’s jammed.” Dread gripped Landon’s chest. His mind went into overdrive as every negative outcome suddenly washed over his brain. Pete was the distraction but also the reinforcements in case things went bad. He was just shooting to scare, but he could drop a target if they needed him to. Now that safety line was cut.
That also meant that Pete’s distraction was coming to a sudden end. If his attack decreased in intensity, somebody would look around and see what was really happening.
“I still have the grenade launcher and about 5 or 6 grenades left,” Pete reported.
“We need you to keep up the intensity as best you can. Gwen is making a move for the device right now.”
“Okay. Keep your head down.” A moment later a grenade slammed into the chain link fence at the front of the plant and exploded. Twisted sections of metal fencing flew high into the air.
Gwen used the moment to leap over the half-wall and drop onto the pipe. She took off at a full sprint towards the device. Landon sped out of his hiding place and slid into the cover of the low wall Gwen just abandoned. Landon tensed up as she slipped and nearly fell into the vats of swirling water below. She caught herself and pushed on through the heavy rain.
Landon peered over the wall and watched to see if anyone noticed. Everyone was gripped by the dangerously close explosion. He extended the stock on his K-10 and flipped down the grip on the front. He switched off the safety and selected burst fire. His finger found the trigger and he took a deep breath. If anyone turned around, they would not hesitate to kill Gwen. He would have to react faster and make sure that didn’t happen. And if it did, then the whole team would turn on him and Gwen in seconds, ending it all.
Gwen was halfway across when another grenade rattled the whole factory. Landon clenched his teeth, his heart was running a race with his thoughts. He wiped rain from his eyes and forced out the overload of sounds. He strained to be as alert and responsive as possible. His ignored his heart thumping, the intermittent gunfire, the explosions, and the rain beating down on everything. There were two targets completely exposed to him. Both men were crouched along a walkway that spanned the top of a water basin. Then there was the sniper. He was laying prone at the edge of the huge main building. He was perfectly still, waiting for Pete to make a mistake. There was one more man somewhere out of sight. Landon could hear his gunfire from somewhere on the ground level. Landon’s eyes flicked between each of the targets, ready to engage.
A head turned.
One of the two exposed soldiers. Landon snapped up his submachine gun into position, poking his barrel over the edge of his cover. He sighted in on the man in an instant. The man’s line of sight fell right on Landon’s position.
The next grenade impacted the edge of the main building. Everything shook and chunks of pulverized concrete whizzed past the man. He ducked and returned fire once again at Pete.
Landon exhaled slowly. He eased his finger off the half-pulled trigger. A faint voice called to him through the warfare. His phone was still on the call with Caleb. He held it to his ear while keeping the gun ready in his other hand.
“Landon! Can you hear me?”
“The drill process. has jumped to 93%!”
Landon shot a look to Gwen. She was almost there.
“Can you start the self-destruct?”
“Uh, I think I can. But with payload is still in there, it would risk releasing whatever is-“
“Start it!” Landon hissed into the phone. He wanted to yell to get through to Caleb, but didn’t want to risk being overheard. They didn’t have to discuss, they needed to act.
“Are you serious?”
“Do it now!” Landon urged. He could sense Caleb’s uncertainty. “Did you do it?”
“Yes.” Caleb said uneasily. “The device responded to the self-destruct signal. The drill process has stopped at 98%.”
Landon didn’t feel the pressure lift from his chest. He looked over to Gwen. She was at the device that now had a red warning lights flashing.
“The self-destruct will start in 60 seconds,” Caleb reported.
Landon stuffed his phone into his jacket pocket and touched his radio. “60 seconds, Gwen.” He looked back to the man that almost spotted him. The man was looking directly at Gwen this time, his gun raised and taking aim.
Landon pulled the trigger before his own gun was even lined up. The bullets went wide. The man flinched from the gunfire and turned to engage Landon. There was no other option. Landon fired another burst. This time his bullets hit home in the center of the man’s chest. The shots flung him backwards against the railing behind him.
Already, everyone else was whirling around to get a shot at Landon. He jerked his gun to the next available target. The soldier dove behind a thin metal barrier. Landon flicked his fire selection to full auto and unloaded into the barrier. It only took one and a half seconds to completely empty his magazine. All 30 bullets shredded through the thin metal. There was no way he would survive that.
Landon dropped the empty magazine and drew a fresh one from his jacket pocket. His training had ingrained this action into his muscles. It was fluid and fast.
The sniper spun around and shot off a high caliber round at Landon before he could aim. It went wide and thundered into machinery behind. Landon ignored the shot and twitched the trigger. Another hail of bullets blazed from his gun and caught the sniper.
The sniper rifle dropped from his hands and skidded off the roof, followed by the sniper himself.
Gwen reached the device and found it locked down tight. She forced herself to ignore the gunfight that just erupted. She brought her own K-10 up and shot a burst into each of the hinges along the metal crate. They ripped apart into clusters of busted up metal. She then pried away the lid of the box and it bent open.
She could see a tiny led screen counting down with 20 seconds left. Next to it was a metal canister with a biohazard warning label. She undid the latches and popped the container free, but not all the way. It slid out crooked and jammed itself in place. Her heart flooded with dread as the self-destruct timer steadily counted down. She twisted and worked the canister, but nothing budged.
Landon spotted movement within in the main building. One of the soldier peaked out of the doorway where a small walkway connected the main building to Landon’s secondary building. He was the soldier from the ground level.
Landon aimed and the man ducked back inside. Landon unloaded his clip into the siding of the door, hoping for the same effect as the man who hid behind the thin barrier. However, the bullets merely thudded into the thicker material.
Landon dropped the magazine to reload again, but the soldier was already in the doorway again. He raised up the sniper rifle that had fallen from the rooftop. It was muddy but could still shoot with deadly precision.
Everything slowed into razor sharp detail. Through the raindrops, Landon could see the shooter’s finger find the trigger of the sniper rifle. He was aiming at Gwen. An easy target as she stood atop the pipeline. Landon’s hand was still drawing out a new set of bullets.
A sniper shot split the air, but this one originated from far off in the field. The man froze, wide eyed in disbelief. Landon watched in confusion as the man dropped the gun. He clutched his chest where a bullet had hit him. He fell forward over the edge of the walkway and splashed into the vat of churning water below.
At that same moment, the self-destruct timer reached the 6 second mark. Gwen jammed her gun against the dysfunctional clamp that held the canister down. She unleashed a shredding stream of bullets into the clamp, only millimeters from the biohazardous cylinder. It was free at last, but time was up. It was a fifteen foot drop into a churning basin of water on one side, or a twenty-five foot drop to the river on the other.