Agent Matt: Falcon Force

Chapter 18: Troubling Turbulence

Alarms were ringing all over the secret underground bunkers that housed the central control for all the nuclear missiles. Soldiers that had been trained day after day for a possibility of a nuclear war were scrambling around like headless chickens. There's training for it and then there's being ready for it. A General a man in his early fifties, with eyes that had seen so much horror stared in disbelief at the large screen in front of him. He had been alerted to the alarm as he burst through the door hoping it was a training drill, it wasn't. As he stood there in his green uniform frozen to the spot, a countdown in red number clicked fast down to zero.

"They're going to launch," screamed an officer as he looked at the numbers in front of him. "In five, four, three, two," The general couldn't believe it. As the numbers hit zero he muttered.

"God help us all."

Above ground the once peaceful country side was interrupted by a deafening roar of missiles launching high into the sky. As the blotted out the sun, the soldiers looked up and saw their worst fear had come true.

The missiles were activated.

All over America, in deserts and in mountains in road and on railways, even out at sea rockets were being launched. It was a state of panic that would spread in minutes all around the world. And one by one the twenty five rockets blasted in to the sky in a moment of terrible beauty. Eight minutemen, eight peacekeepers, five Poseidon's and four trident D5s climbed into the upper atmosphere at exactly the same time, travelling at speeds up to fifteen thousand miles per hour. Some were being launched from silos under the ground. Some exploded out of specially adapted train carriages. Others came from submarines. And nobody knew who had given the order. It was a billion-dollar fireworks display that would change the world for ever. And in ninety minutes it would all be over.

In the communications room the computer screens were flashing red. The entire operating board was ablaze with flashing lights. Crow stood up. There was a serene smile on his face.

"Well, that's it," he said. "There's nothing anyone can do now."

"They'll stop them!" Matt said. "As soon as they realize what's happened, they'll press a button and all your missiles will self-destruct."

"I'm afraid it's not quite as easy as that. You see, all the launch protocols have been obeyed. It was the Air Force One computer that set the missiles off; so only Air Force One can terminate them. I noticed you eyeing the little red button on the keyboard right here. SELF-DESTRUCT. But I'm afraid you're not going anywhere near it, Matt. We're leaving." Crow gestured with the gun and Matt was forced out of the communications room and back down to the main cabin. His head was still hurting where Crow had hit him. He needed to recover his strength. But how much time did he have left?

Ivan and Sabrina were waiting for them. As soon as Matt appeared, Sabrina tried to go over to him but Ivan held her back. Crow sank into a sofa next to her. As matt sat opposite him in the soft leather chair he asked Crow.

"So you've launched the missiles, so where you running away to?"

"Running away? Who said I was running away." Crow said with a smile. Matt stared straight at him with piercing eyes.

"Well you can't go to the USA or England; they'll turn you over the second you land." The smile of crow always grew wider as matt talked.

"You do talk an awful lot matt, but I will humour you and answer your question then I want you to shut up." Hostility could be heard in crow's voice as he spoke but that seemed to disappear as he excitedly answered matt's question.

"We're going to Russia," he said.

"Russia?" Matt looked puzzled.

"A new life for me. And a return home for Mr Harkov." Crow licked his lips. "As a matter of fact, Mr Harkov will be something of a hero."

"I rather doubt that." Matt couldn't keep the scorn out of his voice.

"Oh yes. Heroin is smuggled into the country -I am told - in lead-lined coffins, and the border guards simply look the other way. Of course, they're paid. Corruption is everywhere. Drugs are ten times less expensive in Russia than they are in Europe and there are at least three and a half million addicts in Moscow and St Petersburg. Mr Harkov will be ending a problem that has almost brought his country to its knees, and I know that the president will be grateful. So you see, it looks as if the two of us are going to live happily ever after - which, I'm afraid, is more than can be said for you." He looked at his gold encrusted watch and smiled "Won't be long now."

A hundred kilometres above their heads, the eight Peacekeeper missiles were nearing the edge of space. Two of their rockets had already burnt out and separated, leaving only the last sections with their deployment modules and protective shrouds. The Minutemen and the other missiles that Crow had fired weren't far behind. All of them carried top-secret and highly advanced navigation systems. On-board computers were already calculating trajectories and making adjustments. Soon the missiles would turn and lock into their targets. And in eighty minutes they would fall back to earth.

In the cabin Sabrina examined Crow as if seeing him for the first time. Her face showed only contempt. "I wonder what they'll do with you when you get to Russia," she said.

"What do you mean?" Crow asked.

"I wonder if they'll get rid of you by sending you back to the nut house or just shoot you and be done with it." Crow stared at her. He looked as if he had been slapped across the face. Matt flinched, fearing the worst. And then it came.

"I've had enough of these guttersnipes," Crow snapped. "They're not amusing me any more." He turned to Ivan. "Kill them."

Ivan seemed not to have heard. "What?" he asked.

"You heard me. I'm bored of them. Kill them now!"

"I do not kill children," Ivan said. Matt had heard him say exactly the same thing on the boat in the South of France. He hadn't believed him then, but he wondered now what was going on inside the Russian's mind. Sabrina watched Matt intently, waiting for him to do something. But trapped inside the plane, with the whine of the engines outside, there was nothing he could do. Not yet...

"What are you saying?" Crow demanded.

"There is no need for this," Ivan said. "Take them with us. They can do no harm."

"Why should I want to take them all the way to Russia?"

"We can lock them in one of the cabins. You don't even need to see them."

"Mr Harkov..." Crow was breathing heavily. There was a bead of sweat on his forehead and his grip on the gun was tighter than ever. "If you don't kill them, I will."

Ivan didn't move.

"All right! All right!" Crow sighed. "I thought I was meant to be in charge, but it seems that I have to do everything myself." Crow brought up his gun. Matt got to his feet.

"No!" Sabrina cried. Crow fired.

But he hadn't been aiming at Sabrina or even at Matt. The bullet hit Ivan in the chest, spinning him away from the door. "I'm sorry, Mr Harkov," he said. "But you're fired." Then he turned the gun on Matt. "You're next," he said.

He fired a second time. Sabrina cried out in horror. Crow had aimed at Matt's heart, and in the confined space of the cabin there was little chance he could miss. The force of the bullet threw Matt off his feet and back across the cabin. He crashed to the ground and lay still. Sabrina threw herself at Crow. Matt was dead. The plane was over china's coast. Nothing mattered any more. Crow fired at her but the shot missed and suddenly she was right up against him, her hands clawing at his eyes, shouting all the time. But Crow was too strong for her. He brought an arm round, grabbed hold of her and threw her back against the door. She lay there, dazed and helpless. He grabbed her by the neck and pressed the gun to her back.

"Killing you now would be too easy, so instead I'm going to show you a wonderful view before you die." He dragged her by the hair and walked down the stairs to hull below. As she walked through the planes cold interior and to its lower levels she wondered what view would be so wonderful down in the darkest places of the plane. They entered a large room, where a small plane stood in the middle surround by boxes of food supply and emergency equipment. As Crow pushed her forward towards a large metal door at the end of the plane; she stumbled and kept moving forward. If she was going to die it would be on her own two feet, not on the ground. As she stood in front of the door crow walked over to the side and pushed a button on the control panel and at once a loud metal creaking came from the door. As light started to spill in and the wind swirled around, she knew she was going to die one way or another. She was terrified but also relieved if the world was going to go up in flames, she'd rather not be around to see it. As she looked down and saw farmland she knew it was over. As crow clicked his gun she turned round to see him smiling, he was enjoying this. As she closed her eyes tears ran down Sabrina's face, this was the end and she could never forgive herself for not believing Matt and now he was gone.

"Goodbye, my dear," Crow said. He aimed. But before he could fire, his arm was seized from behind. Sabrina heard him struggling. She opened her eyes and stared. Matt was up fighting Crow and he was unhurt. It was impossible. But, like Crow, she had no way of knowing that he was wearing the bulletproof jersey that Madison had given him with the bike. The bullet had hurt him; he thought it might have cracked a rib. But although it had knocked him down, it hadn't penetrated his skin. Now Matt was on top of Crow. The man was small - only a little taller than Matt himself - but even so he was thickset and surprisingly strong. Matt managed to get one hand around Crow's wrist, keeping the gun away from him. But Crow's other hand grabbed Matt's neck, his fingers curling into the side of Matt's throat.

"Sabrina! Get out of here!" Matt managed to shout the words before his air supply was cut off. The gun was out of control. He was using all his strength to stop Crow from aiming it at him and he wasn't sure how much longer he would be able to hold him off. Sabrina started to run Crow managed to throw Matt off and grab her ankle. She fell to the metal floor hard and was barely conscious, her head spinning and throbbing with pain, everything seem so distant and muffled. Crow got to his feet and held her close to him pointing the gun to her head. As Matt started to get up he saw crow holding Sabrina in his arms, using her as a human shield, it sickened him. Matt had enough games and produced a trump card from the front jersey pocket, he didn't want to use it but he had no other options. What he pulled out would surprise Sabrina and shock crow. He saw crows eyes widen in horror as he produced a Tokarev TT 30 semi-automatic pistol.

"Let her go and Surrender Crow or I blow your brains out right here." Matt knew one thing that crow didn't. He knew was bluffing. Matt had brought it for psychological effect nothing more. Crow's eyes slowly returned to normal and he smiled.

"Go ahead." He said calmly. "If you can Matt," he was taunting him. "You know what your problem is Matt. You're too loyal! To your country, friends, family. You'll never have what it takes to kill anyone. That's why I'll live to see my new world while you," said Crow had brought the gun round, aiming at Matt's head. "You will die, with honor." The force of the wind surprised him, the plane shook as they entered something called turbulent air. Crow's face was contorted, his perfect teeth in a twisted snarl, his eyes bulging. He swore, but no sound could be heard against the roar of the wind. Sabrina was pressed against the wall, staring helplessly through the open doorway at the grass and farmland below. Matt could feel the strength draining out of him. He relaxed his grip and the gun went off. Sabrina screamed. The bullet had smashed a light fitting inches from her face. Matt jabbed down, trying to knock the gun out of Crow's hand. Crow slammed a knee into his stomach and Matt reeled back, gasping for breath.

Behind the controls Henryk was suddenly sweating. The eyes behind the spectacles were confused. He had seen a light blink on, warning him that a door had opened and didn't know which one. It is the moment every pilot dreads - and the single most dangerous moment in any flight. More plane crashes have been caused by a wrong decision. Every instinct in Henryk's body told him he had to land. He was safe on the ground. A crash closer to the ground would be better than a crash from fifteen hundred feet up in the air. But if he did try to land, a crash would be the certain result. He didn't know what to do.

The sun was setting in the town of Quetta in Pakistan, but life in the refugee camp was as busy as ever. Hundreds of people clutching blankets and stoves made their way through a miniature city of tents, while children, some of them in rags, queued for vaccinations. A row of women sat on benches, working on a quilt, beating and folding the cotton. The air was cool and fresh in the Patkai Hills of Myanmar, the country that had once been Burma. Fourteen hundred metres above sea Level, the breeze carried the scent of pine trees and flowers. It was half past nine at night and most people were asleep. A few shepherds sat alone with their flocks. Thousands of stars littered the night sky.

In Colombia, in the Uraba region, another day had dawned and the smell of chocolate wafted down the village street. The campesinas - the farmers' wives - had begun working at dawn, toasting the cacao beans, then splitting the shells. Children were drawn to their doors, taking in the rich, irresistible scent. And in the highlands of Peru, north of Arequipa, families in colourful clothes made their way to the markets, some carrying the little bundles of fruit and vegetables that were all they had to sell. A woman in a bowler hat sat hunched up beside a row of sacks, each one filled with a different spice. Laughing teenagers kicked a football in the street. These were the targets that the missiles had selected, far out in space. There were thousands - millions - more like them. And they were all innocent. They knew about the fields where the poppies were grown. They knew the men who worked there. But that was no concern of theirs. Life had to go on. And none of them had any knowledge of the deadly missiles that were already closing in on them. None of them saw the horror that was coming their way.

The end came very quickly on Air Force One. Crow was punching the side of Matt's head again and again. Matt still clung to the gun, but his grip was weakening. He finally fell back, bloody and exhausted. His face was bruised, his eyes half closed. The rush of air was pushing him back, as he slowly stood up. The plane was travelling at a five hundred miles per hour. It was an amazing speed for something so large and so heavy. Crow raised the gun one last time. He smiled wickedly at the defeated Matt. Then he cried out as something slammed into him. It was Sabrina. She had grabbed hold of a wrench from a toolbox that had fallen to the floor during the turbulence and used it as a weapon. He swayed on his feet as he tried to regain balance from the hit. His legs buckled and he lost his balance, toppling over backwards. His grip loosened causing him to drop the gun. Sabrina dived for it, determined that he wouldn't fire another shot.

And that was when Matt rose up.

He had quickly gauged distances and angles. He knew what he had to do. With a cry he threw himself forward, his arms outstretched. His palms slammed into the side of his own gun and he picked it up, but it didn't stop there. For Matt everything seemed to slow down, crow slowly getting to his feet and pulling something out of his pocket. Sabrina's face turning to horror to realize crow had a hand grenade, Matt slowly rose the gun up and as crow pulled the pin Matt fired the shot. It was instinctive and a perfect shot, right between the eyes. As crows limp body flew backwards out of the plane the grenade went off and a blast of hot air flowed into the plane. Crow was no more. More than that, he was vaporized. In one second he had been turned into a cloud of red gas that disappeared into the atmosphere. There was simply nothing left.

That was when the plane went out of control.

The plane started to go down as the door began to close leaving the ball of explosion above them, with a sicking feeling Matt knew what was happening, they were crashing. The explosion must had done something to the tail section causing the plane to point down. As Matt and Sabrina, climbed back to the seats above them, they were worried they may not make it. The plane plunged through the clouds and was approaching the ground at incredible speed. As Mat and Sabrina braced themselves on the floor waiting for the imminent crash landing. With a terrible shearing of metal, the tail broke off and the whole thing toppled over onto one side. The entire cabin twisted round and Matt felt the floor slope down. It was as if the plane was turning upside down. But finally it stopped. The engines cut out. The plane rested on its side and the scream of sirens filled the air as emergency vehicles raced towards them. The authorities must have heard the explosion or saw the plane coming down and arranged an emergency team.

Matt tried to move but his legs wouldn't obey him. He was lying on the floor and he could feel the darkness closing in. But he knew he had to stay conscious. His work wasn't finished yet.

"Sabe?" He called out to her and was relieved when she got to her feet and came over.

"Matt?"

"You have to get to the communications room. There's a button. Self-destruct." For a moment she looked blank and he took hold of her arm. "The missiles..."

"Yes. Yes ... of course." She was in shock. Too much had happened. But she understood. She staggered up the stairs, balancing herself against the sloping walls. Matt lay where he was.

And then Ivan spoke.

"Matt..."

Matt didn't have enough strength left to be surprised. He turned his head slowly, expecting to see a gun in the Russian's hand. It didn't seem fair to him. After so much, was he really going to die now, just when help was on its way? But Ivan wasn't holding a gun. He had propped himself up against a table. He was covered in blood now and there was a strange quality to his eyes as the blue slowly drained out. Ivan's skin was even paler than usual and, as his head tilted back, Matt noticed for the first time that he had a long scar on his neck. It was dead straight, as if it had been drawn with a ruler.

"Please..." Ivan's voice was soft.

It was the last thing he wanted to do, but Matt crawled through the wreckage of the cabin and over to him. He remembered that Crow's death and the destruction of the plane had only happened because Ivan had refused to kill Sabrina and him.

"What happened to Crow?" Ivan asked.

"He went out with a bang," Matt said.

"He's dead?"

"Very."

Ivan nodded, as if pleased. "I knew it was a mistake working for him," he said. "I knew." He fought for breath, narrowing his eyes for a moment. "There is something I have to tell you, Matt," he said. The strange thing was that he was speaking absolutely normally, as if this were a quiet conversation between friends. Despite himself, Matt found himself marveling at the man's self-control. He must have only minutes to live.

Then Ivan spoke again and everything in Matt's life changed for ever.

"I couldn't kill you," he said. "I would never have killed you. Because, you see, Matt ... I Knew your Mother."

"What?" Despite his exhaustion, despite all the pain from his injuries, Matt felt something shiver through him.

"You're Mother. She and I..." Ivan had to catch his breath. "We worked together."

"She worked with you?"

"Yes."

"You mean ... she was a spy?"

"Not a spy, no, Matt. She was a killer. Like me. She was the very best. The best in the world. I knew her when I was young. She taught me many things..."

"No!" Matt refused to accept what he was hearing. He hadn't seen his mother in a very long time. He knew nothing about her. But what Ivan was saying couldn't be true. It was some sort of horrible trick. The sirens were getting nearer. The first of the vehicles must have arrived. He could hear men shouting outside.

"I don't believe you," Matt cried. "My Mother wasn't a killer. She couldn't have been!"

"I'm telling you the truth. You have to know."

"Did she work for JIN 7?"

"No." The ghost of a smile flickered across Ivan's face. But it was filled with sadness. "JIN 7 hunted her down. They killed her. They tried to kill both of us. At the last minute I escaped, but she..." Ivan swallowed. "They killed your Mother, Matt."

"No!"

"Why would I lie to you?" Ivan reached out weakly and took hold of Matt's arm. It was the first physical contact the two had ever had. "Your Mother... she did this." Ivan drew a finger along the scar on his neck, but his voice was failing him and he couldn't explain. "She saved my life. In a way, I loved her. I love you too, Matt. You are so very much like her. I'm glad that you're here with me now." There was a pause and a spasm of pain rippled across the dying man's face. Matt showed him the empty gun that Ivan had left him so long ago. The Russian smiled and spoke the word engraved on the side in Russian then smiled at Matt and said "It's Russian for vengeance, it was meant for me because I knew, you'd be the only one in the world to kill me."

"I don't believe you." Matt screamed. Ivan must've known this would happen and there was one last thing he had to say.

"If you don't believe me, go to Venice. Find the Scorpion's seal and you will find your Answers to who you truly are..." Ivan shut his eyes and Matt knew he would never open them again. In the communications room Sabrina found the button and pressed it. In space the first of the Minutemen blew itself into thousands of pieces, a brilliant, soundless explosion. Seconds later the other missiles did the same.

Air Force One was surrounded. A fleet of emergency vehicles had reached it and two trucks were spraying it down, covering it in torrents of white foam.

But Matt didn't know any of this. He was lying next to Ivan, his eyes closed. He had quietly and thankfully passed out.