(Hey Tempest. Sorry for being a failure and taking four months to write a post. Those of you still involved, feel free to post at your leisure.)
Margaret Fabrizio, Councillor, Hataf Senior Council
Rabiya Dölet, Councillor, Hataf Senior Council
Lisa Karim (aka Hannah Pellegrini), Information Technology Specialist, Hataf Division of Science and Technology
New York, New York, United States
“Here, upload this file.” The crisp voice belonged to a middle-aged woman with olive-toned skin who looked to be somewhere in her forties. Her loose, black curls framed dark eyes and fell over her shoulders, stopping just below her waist. She handed a silver USB drive to a younger woman, a gold wedding band glinting on her finger. Margaret Fabrizio arched her thin, etched brows at the younger woman. She had met Hannah Pellegrini, aka Lisa Karim, only once before. At that time, Hannah/Lisa had been nine years old, enrolled in Hamilton Elementary School. A month later, Hannah/Lisa was two states over, enrolled in Oakland Elementary School under a different name.
“Go on, take it. What are you waiting for?” Fabrizio tapped her fingers against the desk where Lisa was sitting, leaning forward toward her laptop. Dressed in dark brown pants and a purple sweater with a cowl neck, Fabrizio looked a bit like a working mother. Lisa was dressed in jeans and an embroidered red kurta
. The scene might have passed for domestic or friendly.
“What is it?” asked Lisa, taking the thumb drive between two fingers with a tinge of wariness, staring at it as if looking through a microscope. In the soft, Tungsten lighting, she might have been Fabrizio’s younger sister. The two women shared the same dark, curled hair and angled features. Fabrizio’s eyes were colder, though.
Without waiting for Fabrizio to answer, Lisa opened the only file on the USB and clicked “play.” A video appeared with three of the Senior Council members sitting next to each other, staring impassively into the camera. On screen, Fabrizio sat between Yamin Noor Attayyib, a shorter, brutish man with a militaristic appearance, and Javid Alfarsi, a tall, thin Iranian with the look of an erudite scholar. “Glory be to God,” said Javid, raising his hands in a gesture of worship. “Today, the agent of Satan has been vanquished by the children of God. Robert Edwards, of the American Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose arrogance has repeatedly led the Americans back toward the path of destruction, will lead sheep no more. The enemies of God will always fall. The children of God, marching on the righteous path, will not be led astray.”
“Let it be known that we have the power to act at any time against those who refuse to heed the call to salvation, to the one true path,” Javid continued, staring directly into the camera’s lens. “Mr. Edwards was standing beside the American President, Charles Maynard, when we killed him. Not one of the unbelievers is safe from the wrath and judgment of God. Be forewarned, for when the Kingdom of God comes to earth, all who refuse to believe in Him shall perish and be denied eternal life.”
The message continued for a good eight minutes. Lisa watched with all the interest of ninth grade students watching a biology documentary. She rocked in her seat while watching, moving steadily back and forth like a pendulum, her fingers flicking against her legs as she rocked. When the video ended, she continued like that for several long moments before muttering something unintelligible.
“We don’t have much time, Lisa. Put the video out through the usual channels. Make sure it gets sent to all the major news broadcasters.” Fabrizio stood abruptly from her seat beside the desk, leaning over Lisa’s shoulder. The younger woman started, her shoulders tensing and eyes narrowing.
“I’ll take care of it; just give me a few minutes. And space.” Lisa’s gaze flickered toward the taller woman and then back to the glowing computer screen, where the video remained in still at the first frame. Fabrizio paused a moment, and then nodded, stepping away.
Behind her, Lisa’s fingers flew across the keyboard, uploading the video through a series of hijacked proxies routed and rerouted hundreds of times to create untraceable emails and posts. From the seemingly innocuous firstname.lastname@example.org
, Hataf’s most recent statement was broacast to the world. It would only be a matter of minutes or hours before the major news stations would take the video and run with it.
“You’re going to have to relocate, Lisa,” said Fabrizio from the kitchen, putting a pot onto the gas stove. She closed the cabinet, and reached in her pants pocket for a hairband, tying her massive clump of hair in a ponytail that fell down her back. “They’ll be increasing surveillance in the area. If you want to stay nearby, best get your ass to Virginia. Central Virginia. Southern Virginia. But get the hell out of the D.C. Metro area.”
“I have to move again?” Lisa stood in the doorway between the living room and kitchen, fingers flicking against her thigh as she squinted at the older woman. “I’ve been here for two years now. I like it here. I like this neighboorhood.”
“You should have moved a year ago, Lisa.” Fabrizio moved the pot to the sink and turned the tap, letting the water gush into the pot to fill it with the running water. “Two years is too long to stay in one place. You know that.” When the pot was two-thirds full, Fabrizio turned the tap, and the stream of water disappeared, only a few droplets falling from the faucet to the polished silver basin. Fabrizio carried the pot back to the stove. With a turn of a black dial and a small whooshing sound, a ring of gas flames appeared beneath the pot.
“Well, I -- I don’t want to move.” Lisa stared at the tiny tongues of flame lapping at the bottom of the pot.
Fabrizio opened another cabinet, setting a large porcelain bowl on the gray granite countertop, and then reached for two boxes of angel hair pasta. “It’s standard procedure for security, Lisa. Actually, with recent events, it’s best if we get you far away from this area.” She opened first one box and then the other, pouring the dry pasta noodles into the bowl. “West Coast, Midwest, Southwest, maybe even somewhere besides America. We can’t risk losing you.”
Lisa was silent for several moments while Fabrizio began to break the pasta in half in little clumps at a time, moving at a steady pace. “No one knows who I am, Maggie. I’m very cautious.” The younger woman spoke in a flat tone, grimacing as she spoke.
“Would you get the sauce out of the fridge?” Fabrizio pointed in the general direction of the stainless steel appliance to the side of the kitchen. As Lisa moved to the refrigerator and opened the door, Fabrizio continued breaking the pasta noodles, each clump making a series of loud snaps as they broke cleanly in half. “It doesn’t matter how cautious you
think you are, Lisa. You came damn close to being found out four years ago in Seattle. Remember that?”
Lisa lifted a large container of tomato sauce and placed it on the kitchen table behind Fabrizio. “I -- I can’t help it,” she said, her speech coming a bit unevenly, with odd breaks and pauses, “if someone s-starts questioning my name. I didn’t like ‘Sarah Mourad’ all that much anyway. It -- it sounded too Lebanese, I think. Too Lebanese.” She stood behind Fabrizio, rocking on her heels again.
“It’s a done deal, Lisa,” said Fabrizio, shaking her head. “You’re moving.” She leaned over the stove to inspect the water in the pot, but there was only a plethora of small bubbles. It wasn’t boiling quite yet. “In the next two weeks, you need to be out of D.C. Preferably out of the Mid-Atlantic.”
Lisa stared at the pale blue tiles on the floor as she rocked back and forth. “Fine,” she muttered. “Fine. Fine. I guess -- I guess I have no choice.”
The water began to produce larger bubbles rippling across the service. Steam had spread all along the pot’s rim. Fabrizio smiled and lifted the large bowl, gently pouring the pasta into the boiling water. “It’s almost six. Flip on CNN, will you? Remote’s on the back counter.” Fabrizio replaced the bowl on the counter and stooped, lifting another, larger pot onto the stove.
Lisa moved to the back counter of the kitchen, where she found the remote control beside the TV. She flipped through at least four channels before finding CNN.
“...and just in with breaking news, Hataf’s Senior Council has released a video claiming responsibility for today’s assassination of FBI Director Robert Edwards at Reagan National,” spoke a somber-faced, middle-aged man with a receding hairline and salt and pepper hair, wearing a light blue shirt and yellow patterned tie. “Edwards was speaking with President Maynard at the time he was shot, presumably by a sniper. Reagan National is on full lockdown, and the FBI is spearheading the investigation. A spokesperson for the FBI hasn’t yet named the interim Director...”
Fabrizio took some of the sauce and poured it slowly from the large plastic container into the second pot. She turned the switch for it as well, allowing the heat of the flames to warm the sauce. Fabrizio opened the cabinet, removing several containers of spices -- basil, ground parsley, garlic powder, and other Italian spices. She added a bit of each to the sauce, stirring it with a large wooden spoon.
Footage switched between Edwards’s staff photograph and a helicopter’s view of the FBI personnel on the ground on the tarmac, before the anchor continued, “Yamin Noor Attayyib, Margaret Fabrizio, and Javid Alfarsi, all members of Hataf’s Senior Council, appear in the video, released only minutes ago directly to our newsroom. Tracy?” Footage cut directly to the Hataf video that Lisa had uploaded before Fabrizio had begun cooking.
Fabrizio switched between stirring the sauce and stirring the pasta idly with a wooden serving fork, the water staining the wood darker wherever it touched. The doorbell rang, playing an excerpt from Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in chimes. “See who it is,” said Fabrizio, nodding toward the front door.
Lisa moved away from the TV and disappeared from the kitchen. Fabrizio could hear the door opening and greetings exchanged between Lisa and another middle-aged woman. The two of them took seats in the dining room, where Lisa had left her laptop earlier. “The Campbells were taken into custody today, Maggie,” said the newcomer from the other room.
Fabrizio’s hand paused with the serving fork. “Mike and Katy were arrested?” She looked toward the doorway.
“Along with several members of the Cheyenne cell,” came the reply.
“Mike and Katy?” Lisa asked, her voice audible as well from the dining room. “Oh. That
Mike and Katy. Right.”
“I suspect the CIA,” said the third woman. “The local PD has no record of them in the arrest log, and there’s no report with their names anywhere in the news. Lisa, check for any records of Michael and Katherine Campbell from Cheyenne, Wyoming.”
Fabrizio lifted one of the noodles onto the fork and placed it on the tip of her tongue. Al dente
. She turned the dial for the eye, and the flames disappeared. Fabrizio left the sauce, stooping to open the lower cabinet door and remove the strainer, which she placed over the sink. “Check the FBI’s database if you can, Lisa,” she called over her shoulder, standing again to take the pot of pasta. She lifted with both hands, pouring over the strainer. Steaming water fell through the strainer, and Fabrizio stood back to prevent burning herself on the steam. When only soft angel hair pasta remained in the strainer, she flipped it a few times to remove any remaining water.
“The White House has not yet released a statement,” continued the CNN anchor, “but President Maynard is expected to address the nation tonight in just an hour. Edwards has served as FBI Director for the last six years, and is survived his three brothers and sister. He was never married and had no children. Coming up, we have counterterrorism expert Dr. Nenad Drulović from the Drulović and Durrani Forum for National Security and Public Policy discussing rumors that Edwards’s assassination is precursor to the threat of nuclear attack from Tahira Ali, Hataf’s leader, published in a Washington Post
“Nothing,” said Lisa. “No records anywhere. All I’ve got are voting records, evenly split between Democratic and Republican, a home appraisal report, the local directory listing, and a few parking tickets. Nothing from the FBI or the local PD, and definitely nothing recent.” The younger woman paused. “Well, no arrest records from the FBI. There are dossiers on both of them.”
Fabrizio returned the empty pot to the stove and stirred the sauce again. She went back to the strainer and summarily dumped the noodles back into the empty pot. After all of them had been returned, she left the strainer in the sink and spooned a small scoop of sauce into the pasta, stirring to prevent the noodles from sticking to each other or the pan. “Tell Rabiya what’s in the dossiers. Actually, I’m curious too,” she said, projecting to be heard over the startlingly loud music of a health insurance commercial.
“Did they know the Campbells’ roles?” asked the third woman, Rabiya Dölet.
Fabrizio opened another cupboard door, removing three bowls made for pasta. She set them on the counter and closed the cabinet door. “There’s almost nothing in here,” she heard Lisa say. “Just a few notes from Natalie Schultz suspecting them of possible involvement, but nothing concrete or substantial.” Fabrizio ladled some of the pasta into each of the bowls, and then added copious amounts of sauce. She returned the containers of spice to the cabinet, and lowered the heat on the pot of sauce to enough to keep it warm.
“Then it had to be the CIA,” said Rabiya.
Fabrizio crossed the kitchen, removing a plastic wrap covered glass bowl of imported Romano from the fridge and carried it into the dining room. “Should probably put your computer away for dinner,” she said, nodding toward Lisa as she set the bowl of cheese in the center of the table next to a set of fancy salt and pepper shakers. “Good evening, Rabiya,” said Fabrizio.
Rabiya was dressed in a navy blue tunic top and soft beige pants with dangling sapphire earrings. She wore her long, dark hair tied back. She was somewhere in her forties, perhaps slightly older than Fabrizio, though she’d always somehow looked younger than her fellow Council member. “It’s been awhile,” said Rabiya in response, with a pleasant enough smile. “Pasta for dinner again?”
“Didn’t have time to make a roast,” replied Fabrizio. “You could have called sooner.” She disappeared back to the kitchen, returning moments later with two of the bowls of pasta, setting one in front of Rabiya and the other in front of Lisa, who had put her laptop inside the case leaning against the wall on the floor. “Hope you like the sauce recipe. I made it a few days ago, put the rest in the fridge.” She returned to the kitchen one more time.
“I like pasta fine,” said Lisa from the other room. “Besides, I’ll be staying the night before going back tomorrow anyway.”
The CNN anchor now sat with a shorter man with thick white hair and square glasses who looked more tired than anything else. “...more evidence that Hataf is capable of taking out all of our infrastructure at any time. There’s no good way to be prepared right now,” said the man, whose name was given on the bottom of the screen as Dr. Nenad Drulović, of Georgetown University and the Drulović and Durrani Forum for National Security and Public Policy. “Yes, I advocate pre-emptive strikes. But more important than pre-emptive strikes are working to destroy the conditions that produce terrorism...”
Fabrizio reached for the remote and with the press of a button, CNN disappeared. She took her bowl of pasta, opened a drawer and grabbed three forks, closed the drawer, and returned to the dining room, taking a seat beside Lisa and across from Rabiya. “The video just aired on CNN,” she said to Rabiya, nodding toward the kitchen. “What’s the plan?”
Rabiya glanced at Lisa, who was rocking in her seat at the table, pressing her lips tightly together before deciding that perhaps it was possible for Lisa to hear this part of the conversation. “A month sooner. Adnan has been perfecting his batch of anthrax. And the next part of the plan will be set in motion in a few weeks. Now before we spoil dinner, let’s eat.” She lifted her fork and twirled it over her pasta.
Natalie E. Schultz, Supervisory Special Agent, U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation
Andrews Air Force Base
Prince George’s County, Maryland, United States
After arriving at Dulles, Natalie had found a car with government plates waiting to take her into Washington from the airport. Much to her surprise, the driver turned south on 495 instead of north, and Natalie slumped against the window of the car, pressing her face against the heavily tinted glass, though she fixed her stare on the back of the driver’s head.
Exactly fifty-nine minutes after the car’s engine had started at Dulles, the car rolled to a stop by a security checkpoint guarded by airmen in battle uniform sporting automatic rifles. A few moments of conversation and they were waved quickly through and onto the base itself. Natalie had been here exactly once before, exactly 1,693 days ago. The flight had taken three hours and twenty-one minutes, and it was now 6:33 in the evening. She tapped her finger in a steady rhythm against the window, eyes squinted.
The driver continued onto the base, moving slowly through the streets before coming to a stop at one of the central buildings and parking there. “Agent Schultz,” he finally said, breaking over an hour of perfect silence. Natalie’s gaze flickered toward him and she moved away from the window, straightening her posture and adjusting her glasses. “They’re waiting inside.” He opened the door and climbed out of the car on the driver’s side, while Natalie took a moment to process what had been said before opening the door where she was sitting.
Natalie stepped onto the street, squinting toward the setting sun. As Spring was closing upon them, the days would begin to stretch longer in small but growing increments. Natalie shut her door quietly, her hand hardly moving. The two of them headed for the front door to the building, where a pair of airmen stood guard, and stepped inside. There, several people dressed in somber, clean-cut business suits moved crisply, speaking in murmurs into earpieces, a stark contrast to the military personnel around the base.
“Agent Schultz, right this way,” said a brown-haired man with the rank insignia of a 2nd Lieutenant, motioning for Natalie to follow him. She noticed the name on the uniform -- Obed. Natalie could recall exactly eighteen other people by that name. She whispered their names under her breath as they walked through the halls, staring upward through squinted eyes at the harsh fluorescent lights -- through the halls, into an elevator, and down another hall, and finally into a room that functioned neatly as a conference space, by Natalie’s appraisal.
A man cleared his throat, and Natalie’s head jerked upward. She found herself staring at the President of the United States.
In person, Charles Maynard was a little over seven inches taller than Natalie, with dark brown hair that had begun to gray at the hairlines, and little wrinkles in his face that weren’t quite visible in most of the pictures she’d seen of the President. He offered his hand. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Agent Schultz,” said Maynard, inclining his head, “though I wish it were under better circumstances.”
Natalie stared at the President’s hand. The last time she had met the President was almost two years ago, 722 days to be exact. She hadn’t taken the hand then. This time, she reached her fingers for his, then clasped tightly, squeezing the President’s hand before releasing. Natalie resisted the urge to wipe her hand against her jacket. “It’s nice to see you too,” she mumbled, forcing herself to stare at the bridge of the President’s nose, between his eyes, so that she would at least appear to be maintaining eye contact.
“As you know, Director Edwards was killed this morning, and Hataf has claimed responsibility,” the President said, gesturing for Natalie to sit as he sank into a chair in the conference room. Natalie looked about, and edged closer to one of the chairs across from the President, seating herself on the edge of the seat while she continued to stare between the President’s eyes. “We’re both busy, so I’m going to keep this short. The FBI needs an interim director until I can make a permanent appointment, and right now, there’s no better candidate than you.”
It took several long moments before Natalie realized what Maynard had said. She looked upward then, wide-eyed, surprised, and immediately began to spin the pen in her hand. “You want me to do what?” she very nearly spit.
Maynard recalled what his chief of staff had said earlier. But he wasn’t interested in a candidate with strong social skills. He didn’t care whether Schultz could make small talk or sit politely through a political gala. He needed someone who would work efficiently to learn about whatever it was Hataf was planning, and stop it. Maynard looked Natalie in the eyes, leaning forward as he spoke. “I want you to serve as Interim Director of the FBI,” he said.
Already, Natalie was shaking her head. “No -- no -- I’m -- I’m not the person for the job, Charles,” she said, and Maynard was taken aback by her casual utterance of his given name. “Really, I’m not the person you’re looking for. I’m not even a Deputy Director. Shouldn’t you be asking one of them? Standard succession procedure in the event of an emergency would mean that the position should fall to one of the Deputy Directors of the FBI until a permanent appointment can be made and confirmed by the Senate.” She spoke rapidly, no longer looking at the President’s face.
“Your country needs you, Agent Schultz. You need to step up.” Maynard rose from his seat. “And don’t worry -- it’s only temporary. In a few weeks,” he said, adding months
to himself, “you can go back to doing what you’re doing now in the field. Come on. We need to swear you into office.”
Natalie gripped her pen more tightly, spinning it at an increasing speed as she stared at the floor, the carpet’s patterns suddenly dizzying. “You can’t do this to me,” she whispered.
“Let me put it this way, Agent Schultz,” said Maynard, staring down at the woman in the conference room. “As President of the United States, I am ordering you to take the appointment. You don’t have a choice in the matter.” He moved toward the door. “Someone has to start cleaning up house,” he said over his shoulder. When Natalie didn’t follow, he snapped, “Schultz!”
Less than two hours later, Natalie Schultz sat on the edge of a small raised platform covered in soft blue carpet, holding her pen in one hand and clutching air with the other. “No pictures,” she managed to say, despite the flashes of multiple cameras, and squeezed her eyes shut. The President had disappeared several minutes prior, and Natalie found herself alone to fend with the press.
The swearing-in had occurred in time for the conclusion of the evening broadcast.