Survivor: The Story Begins: An Omega-Alpha Thriller Series. Enter the world of John Reynolds. A senior intelligence operative with a strange and strained past.
The Story Begins: Three dozen top intelligence operatives and officers are called to a retreat in the northern Minnesota woods during the dead of winter. When one of them begins to suspect that something is about to go very wrong, he reaches out to allies. They share his apprehension. Something is going to happen. People are going to die. But none of could anticipate what comes to pass.
From Survivor: The Story Begins:
It had been slowly dawning on Phil. Much too slowly he was beginning to fear. A trained professional shouldn’t miss something like this; something this obvious. Had he really missed it? How? And now he wasn’t sure what he was going to do about it.
Phil pulled himself up short. “Now come on old boy. You’re a pro and pros don’t get spooked.” He grinned at the pun. “Settle down and enjoy the scenery.”
The main room of the lodge was filled more than three dozen top intelligence operatives. Some of the best and most experienced agents that the US had on the payroll. From his vantage point in the corner, he had a clear view of the entire room. These people who knew each other very well. They mingled with a camaraderie that should have put him at ease.
The main room of the lodge was vast. It had to be forty feet wide and twenty deep. It occupied fully a third of the massive front of the lodge and was decorated in early Jeremiah Johnson. (Phil grinned at the thought) There were lots of heads on the walls. Everything from bears and wolves to deer and fish. Guns, knives, bows & arrows, photos and old traps filled in the spaces between. The walls were log and the floor was made of wide hardwood. The kind that you can’t get any more for any price.
Phil knew that the logs that made up the inner walls weren’t the ones that you saw from the outside. Standard safe house stuff. There was a gap between the outer and inner walls filled with lots of stuff from the tech boys. A safe house was supposed to be safe from prying eyes and ears. He knew that they had stripped the place back to the bones and then carefully put it back together. With a few additions, of course.
Even the windows were not what they appeared. There was a film between the two panes that distorted the vision of those trying to peek in. It was clear looking out but … “Now who would be out there freezing their ass off to watch this group of spooks.” But Phil knew that there were men out there. “Fieldcraft freezes it’s ass off while tradecraft sips bourbon”, he reminded himself.
Fieldcraft was what the Delta Force types called their training. It was fieldcraft that allowed them to blend in to the landscape and protect the safe house. It was fieldcraft that allowed them to be one of the most potent counter terrorism arms in the world. And it was fieldcraft that they were using at this very moment to surround and insulate the lodge.
Tradecraft was another thing all together. It was the accumulated knowledge and training of the intelligence community. It was what allowed Phil to be as good as he was at what he did. And Phil was good at what he did. He had been involved in everything from information collection to assassinations. No one was more dedicated to serving the government. If they needed it done, Phil got it done.
In the middle of the room there is a massive pine table with ten armchairs. Five on either long side. These were for the privileged senior types. Behind the chairs were two rows of benches. Over the table hung a massive chandelier made up of deer horns and old guns. Phil noticed the row of fire extinguishers that ran the length of the ceiling. “All the modern conveniences,” he muttered. Some mid-level engineer had insisted that they be installed. They fit in like a bagel in a bucket of grits.
To the right in the middle of the inside wall, a massive fireplace was hard at work consuming logs that were bigger round than Phil’s thighs. Those assigned to the benches immediately in front of ‘hell pit’ had been feeling its heat for more than two days. Opposite the fireplace was the big front door. The massive pine slabs were carved ornately with hunting scenes. The far end of the room – the lodge’s south west corner – was mostly shuttered windows. The shutters were closed to the point that they let in light but not sight. All the way down along the inside wall on the right was the entrance to the small kitchen. The full kitchen was in the back of the lodge.
To the left of the door – now covered with a carved wooden panel – there was an video screen that allowed the occupants multiple views of anyone who approached the front door – or, in fact, the lodge from any direction. It was only one of the many high tech additions that had been made.
At each chair around the table there were piles of briefing materials and a laptop plugged into the lodge’s intranet. The benches behind them held similar stacks but the minions had to rest their laptops on their laps. At the far end of the table there was a small podium. A projector peeked out of the podium towards a retractable screen that dropped from the ceiling. “Not very high-tech,” Phil thought, “but they were, after all, in a rustic setting.”
Outside of the windows was a winter landscape. Snow upon snow and pine trees weighed down with more snow. There was not a track – no footprint marred the pristine surface of the snowfall. It was as if the lodge was completely apart from the real world – and island amid a sea of snow and trees.
But Phil knew that they weren’t alone. In fact, they were almost certainly under constant observation. As he gazed out the window, he felt sure that someone was studying him from well inside the tree line. He knew that the Delta squadrons were out there. But he also didn’t expect to see any signs. They, like everybody inside the lodge, were pros. Their fieldcraft would keep them from being detected.
Phil had worked on two occasions with Delta. Both times he had been impressed with the sharpness of their training and the rapid and precise response that seemed to be second nature. A Delta Force Operative was one of the most highly trained professionals on the planet. They were not just good at what they did, they excelled at doing it. The last time involved a hostage situation with some high-value intel at stake. They did their job and let him do his. Their fieldcraft allowed him to deploy his tradecraft to maximum effect. No questions or friction. Phil had been impressed. Sure, the relationship between the Company and Delta was not what it was during the early days of Cornel Beckwith, but they still maintained a highly professional approach towards each other.
He tore his attention away from the memories and back to the room. This was where its present occupants had spent most of the last two and a half days. Phil looked around the room. Scattered around the perimeter there were small gatherings of operatives. The all spoke in hushed tones. “More by habit than necessity”, thought Phil. He smiled as he noticed the pattern. The senior or ‘security’ person was always with their back to the wall. Looking out over the room. The others either faced that person – the block – or stood in profile. The first option being the block or ‘back to the crowd’ position. He also noticed the rather even spacing of the groups. “God, we are a predictable lot”, he thought to himself.
His mind drifted back to a visit to a local watering hole near Langley. “How many years ago was that? Had to be twenty five or six,” Phil thought. He was just starting to get into real field work and was assigned to meet a journalist doing a piece on the company. They met at a local bar along Route 123. This guy was a ‘friendly type’ who had done positive pieces in the past. So the powers that be trusted one of their greener assets to carry the ball. They had finished the interview and were enjoying their drinks when the journalist said, “You guys are so predictable. Your training is so dogmatic that you give yourselves away without thinking.” When asked to explain he added, “Look around this bar. How hard is it to pick out the spooks? They all stand the same way. You all dress the same way. You all have that same semi-serious look on your faces. They are all straining to look casual and relaxed but the edges are showing. You might as well be wearing a badge the says ‘Hi. I work for the CIA. Have a nice day.’”
“Some things never change”, Phil thought to himself. Back at Langley he had reported his conversation with the journalist and noticed the bemused look on the faces of his supervisors. They were trying to seem like they were taking it all seriously but Phil suspected that he was the butt of some inside joke. There was a flurry of memos and a couple of training session. The instructors seemed to go out of their way to highlight the ‘Phil syndrome’. And then, when it got old, things died down. More than two and a half decades half later, here he was in a room full of the very same behavior. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” he reminded himself.
The chiming of the big grandfather clock brought him back to the present. As he looked around the room, that anxious feeling began to settle back in. He couldn’t put his finger on it. Something was out of kilter. Didn’t make sense. Over the years he had developed an uncanny ability to sense impending danger. It had saved his life more than once. Now he felt a knot in his innards that usually only showed up when the bad guys were closing in.
Something between his ears was yelling ‘run’. But that was, on its face, a stupid suggestion. Nothing could make the feeling rational. And irrational fear was his mortal enemy. “Lose your head and you will lose your head.”
But the feeling just would not go away. “OK, if you can’t lick em join em,” he muttered. Phil decided to retreat into his tradecraft. “Let’s see what a highly skilled and well-trained field agent can gather.” With all the outward appearance of casual and relaxed detachment, he glanced round the room, trying to find indications that there were others who might have developed similar apprehensions. The action was reflex for him. He wanted information. Whatever was settling into the pit of his gut had to be fed or shot in the head and kicked in the ditch. Information was needed. “Feed the fear with facts and you will stay alive.”