Extreme Measures

Aegis Security - 1

Elisabeth Naughton 

For my good friend Darcy Burke, the queen of the coolest names. Thanks for letting me borrow this one.



ETA to extraction: twelve minutes and counting.

Zane Archer scanned the darkened compound from the trees just beyond the perimeter wall and tried to ignore the sweltering jungle heat.

Too bad it didn’t work.

Sweat gathered under his fatigues and beneath his helmet, but he knew that soon the temperature would be the least of his worries. Wiping a hand over the moisture dripping into his eyes, he looked through the scope. At this hour—nearly three in the morning—the only lights flickering were in two windows on the second floor of the Mediterranean-style mansion. A guard roamed the portico outside the first floor, and other than a few howler monkeys chirping in the jungle canopy nearby, no other sound besides rustling leaves and palm fronds met his ears.

He glanced at his watch again. ETA to extraction: eleven minutes, twenty-five seconds.

Nerves fluttered in his belly, but he ignored those too. Keeping the M4 carbine rifle trained on the guard, he tipped his head toward the com unit near his shoulder. “Look alive, boys. We’re coming up on go time.”

In his earpiece, the radio squawked. “You’re sure he’s in there?”

Jake Ryder’s skepticism was nothing new. But on this, Zane was confident. “Carter’s intel is sound.”

“It’d better be,” Jake muttered. “Our balls are dangling out here in the breeze, Archer.”

Zane bit back the smart-ass comment because Jake had let him take the lead on this one, and then looked through his scope again, scanning the perimeter once more.

His heart picked up speed, and adrenaline flooded his system. Ryder and Hedley should have their men in position on the far side of the compound by now. Though Zane was confident this extraction was going to go down without a hitch, he knew Jake Ryder—CEO of Aegis Security, the private company comprising Zane and a handful of elite specialists from around the globe—wasn’t so sure. Jake didn’t know “Carter” from a fart in the wind. And though he was aware Zane and Carter had teamed together during Zane’s five years with the CIA, he still questioned the fact that this whole op hinged on the intel Carter had passed along to Zane. Intel that said one Adam Humbolt, PhD and specialist in chemical weaponry, was being held in this Guatemalan compound by a gang of thugs who worked for Central American drug lord Roberto Contosa.

“Humbolt’s in there,” he said into his com unit. “Trust me, Carter and the Company want this guy free as much as we do.”

Not as much. More. Humbolt didn’t ‘officially’ work for the US government, but word on the street was that the scientist knew some super top secret shit the United States didn’t want shared with anyone—Central American drug lords included. And though logic said this extraction probably should have fallen to a SEAL or Delta team, because the State Department didn’t want this op on record, the job had been handed off to Aegis, with its superior track record. Aegis’s orders were simple: get the job done quietly and quickly and with no link back to the US government whatsoever.

Ryder didn’t respond, and Zane knew his boss was thinking, We’ll see, but facts were facts. Sure, there were a whole lot of people who wanted the science percolating in Humbolt’s genius mind, and another bunch who’d like to see him dead, but the ones who mattered just wanted him back in the States alive and in one piece.

Time ticked by slowly in the oppressive early morning heat. Zane could all but feel the adrenaline from his teammates stationed around the compound. And though he tried to stay focused as he waited, he couldn’t stop his mind from drifting back to the last time he’d worked with Carter. To being stuck in that run-down apartment in Beirut he’d shared with Carter and Juliet. To the months of running surveillance, blending in, fighting back the boredom. To the nights he’d been alone with Juliet when Carter had been out. To the laughs, the looks, the heated moments that never should have happened.

“Holy hell,” he whispered. “You are such a fucking moron.”

“You say something?” Hedley piped in his ear.

Shit, he was talking to himself. He cleared his throat, peered through the scope again, and put all thoughts of Juliet out of his mind for good. “Remember, boys,” he said. “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

“Ooh-rah,” Landon Miller murmured, the only communication the former Marine had uttered since they’d set up the perimeter.

As the team went black, Zane said a quick prayer they’d be in and out in seconds rather than minutes or hours. Said another that no one got dead.

He shifted his finger from guard to trigger. Lined up the compound sentry in his crosshairs. And just as the last second passed on his watch, he fired once, killing the south-end sentry with a barely audible pop. On the north end, he was confident Ryder had just accomplished the same.

He was out of the tree and across the wall before the sentry’s body hit the ground, rappelling the cement structure as quickly as possible and bracing his rifle against his shoulder as he crossed the dew-covered grass. At the southwest corner of the compound, he caught up with Hedley’s group coming in from the side and pointed up, signaling the hostage room they’d identified earlier on the second floor.

Miller and Stone tossed ropes up and over the second-story balcony, the grappling hooks catching the balustrade and securing tight. Zane followed Hedley to the second floor, waiting in silence as the other two men climbed up and over the railing. As a silent unit, they made their way across the balcony and lined up outside the hostage room.

Hedley signaled with his finger, counted to three, and then pulled an M84 flash grenade from his pack. When he got the nod from Hedley, Zane used his rifle to blow open the door of the compound. Hedley jerked the pin from his grenade and tossed the explosive into the room.

A roar shook the building and echoed through the darkness, followed by a blinding flash of light, intended to disorient those inside.

Zane was the first through the door, sweeping the right side of the room with his gun. Hedley came in on his tail, scanning the left, while Miller and Stone followed through the middle zone. Shouts echoed around them. Zane caught sight of two hostages, tied in chairs in the center of the room, then the tangos, two on the right, one on the left, all three scrambling for weapons in their confusion.

He fired two double-taps, shifted his weapon to the second target, and fired again. The shots hit dead center in the chest, dropping the captors with quick pops. “Clear right,” he said into his shoulder.

To his left, he heard two more pops and saw the last captor go down. “Clear left,” Hedley echoed in his earpiece.

“All clear,” Miller followed from the middle of the room.

“Who’s there?” The man in the chair turned his head from side to side, his vision obstructed by a black bandana tied at the back of his head.

“The cavalry.” Zane yanked the blindfold from Humbolt’s head. The man blinked several times. He was thin from weeks in captivity, and he looked like he’d taken a major beating. Bruises and dried blood covered one whole side of his face.

In the chair beside him, the brunette vibrated with fear. Zane shot her a look and then refocused on the job at hand. “Mr. Humbolt, we’re here to get you out.”

“Thank God,” Humbolt breathed.

Hedley cut the hostages’ ties while Zane and the other two got them to their feet.

“How did you find us?” the woman asked in a shaky voice as Zane ushered her toward the door. She didn’t look much steadier on her feet than Humbolt, but at least she wasn’t black and blue.

Zane didn’t know who she was, but there’d be plenty of time for intros later. “We’ll fill you in once we’re secure. Right now just focus on keeping up.”

The woman nodded, and Zane glanced at his watch. Time from start of op to apprehension of hostages: three minutes, thirty-seven seconds.

They were ahead of schedule.

“We’re on our way out,” he said into his com unit. “Plus two.”

“Roger that,” Ryder echoed back.

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Zane repeated the phrase in his head as he lifted the rifle to his shoulder again and turned back for the door. Miller and Stone took up position on either side of the hostages. Hedley brought up the rear.

They moved with stealth back to the balcony, where Zane and Hedley provided cover and Miller and Stone took the hostages over the railing and down to the ground. In the jungle around them, nothing moved, just like they’d planned. The lack of noise from the front of the compound confirmed Ryder’s team had taken out their targets and that everything was smooth sailing from here.

When they were safely on the ground, they resumed position and headed for the southwest corner of the compound again, where Ryder’s team of four waited.

Just as they rounded the corner, an explosion rocked the compound. The force of the blast shot Zane’s body backward. He landed on his back with a crunch, his ears ringing. Coughing through the smoke pouring out of a giant hole in the first floor, he rolled to his stomach. Gunfire lit up the night sky. Something sharp ripped through his left quad.

He struggled to his feet. Swayed but found his balance. Disbelief rushed through him as he held up a hand to block the smoke and dust from getting in his eyes while he scanned the blown-out building. His entire body went still when his gaze caught sight of Humbolt, five feet away on the ground, blood oozing from multiple cuts and scrapes over his arms and face and seeping like a river from the man’s ears.

Humbolt’s eyes were wide and lifeless, his body limp. Draped over his torso, the woman also lay dead, her eyes staring out into space, a hole the size of a melon in her abdomen.

No. Disbelief churned to panic, then boiling rage. No!

“Goddammit, Archer!” a voice yelled from somewhere close. “Get back!”

A hand grasped his fatigues, dragging him tight to the side of the blown-open building. He stumbled, then fell to his ass. His back hit the crumbling stucco. A burn like dynamite lit up his left leg, and his vision swam. Struggling to see, he found Miller through the smoke, covered in soot, pulling Stone back in the same manner.

The ringing in his ears prevented Zane from hearing shit going on around him, but he recognized the ricochet of bullets hitting dirt, thought maybe he’d been hit—somewhere—but he still couldn’t focus on anything except Humbolt lying dead against the earth.

His principal. Four minutes, twenty-three seconds after the start of the op.

“Humbolt’s fucking dead!” Hedley hollered into his com unit. “No. One man down. Leg. I don’t know. It’s gushing. We need to get the bloody fuck out of here!”

In Zane’s earpiece, Ryder’s muffled voice rattled off commands, but the words were too dim to make out. They always had a backup plan ready to go in case things went wrong. Their backup in this case was to haul ass out before anyone else got dead, then reconnoiter two klicks south of the compound and rendezvous with the chopper.

How had it gone so wrong? Zane had led the planning phase of the mission himself. They’d known exactly how many guards would be on-site, what kind of weapons they’d be up against. The firepower raining down around them and the carefully timed explosion signaled they’d been compromised.

Hedley dragged him to his feet, bracing an arm under Zane’s to hold him up. Through the smoky haze, Zane saw Hedley’s mouth moving as the Aussie screamed directions, but that fucking ringing was growing louder, drowning out most sound. In the distance, two bodies rushed toward them through the smoke. Zane lifted a hand that held no gun. Shit, where was his rifle? He pointed, had no idea if he screamed or not. Hedley whipped around with his weapon just as Jake Ryder and Pierce Bentley appeared through the debris.

Zane nearly went down as soon as Hedley let go, but somehow he managed to prop himself against what was left of the wall. Dirt and sweat slid into his eyes and messed with his vision. His lungs burned. The scent of searing flesh and rubber was all he could focus on. Ryder signaled the roundup as the rest of his team fired back at the tangos spraying bullets from the second floor and the outer wall where Zane and his team had just been. Hedley wrapped an arm around Zane’s waist, pulled Zane’s wrist over his shoulder, and forced him low as they moved under the balcony and stayed out of the line of fire. Behind him, Stone hauled Humbolt’s body through the debris and followed.