Malachi stashed his personal effects and identification in a bus station locker and tucked his 9mm Sig Sauer pistol into his jeans and zipped up his jacket, then walked into the blustery morning back toward the Divan. While he still trusted Captain Kim, something in their conversation gave him pause. Gene had changed since the last time they had met; he wasn’t quite sure how, but something in his friend seemed off. He went into the meeting with an uneasy feeling. He had no idea what he was walking into that morning. In his line of work, he rarely went anywhere unarmed anyway. He hadn’t slept much the night before as he contemplated what bringing the war to a relatively peaceful end might look like. It seemed that the world was careening at terminal velocity in a distressed jet liner directly into the side of a mountain. The idea of a soft landing to this war was definitely appealing. He tried not to make any conclusions in his mind about what he would do, but the fact that Captain Kim was the man asking, in spite of Malachi’s misgivings, meant that the mission had its merits. He would wait to see what the mission entailed before he would make a decision to cast his lot in with Kim.
After navigating the city streets to the hotel, he made his way up to the eighth floor. When he came to the door to room 815, he gently knocked on it and waited for an answer. A large man answered. He was dressed in a navy pinstripe suit, and his holstered gun was visible through his jacket. His pale green eyes, light brown skin, and dark hair suggested Iranian descent. He was politely invited into the room by the large Iranian, and he saw another suited Iranian seated on a couch in the living room of the suite. Malachi recognized him immediately, Lt. Colonel Majid Mahmood of the Iranian Quds Force. Across from him was a clean-shaven, gray-haired white man he did not recognize, and next to him, in a chair, was Captain Kim.
The gray-haired man said in a Russian accent, “Mr. Brandt, do you mind if Sergeant Yahyai searches you?”
Captain Kim nodded at Malachi, signaling that this was to be expected.
“My sidearm is in my waistband. That’s all I have with me. And I’d prefer to hold onto it, if you don’t mind.”
“That won’t be a problem, sir,” he responded.
Malachi slowly pulled out his weapon, allowing its trigger guard to dangle from his index finger as he stretched out his hands and set his legs at shoulder width as the Iranian man frisked him and nodded to signal that he was telling the truth. The Iranian guard then walked behind the couch where Lt. Col. Mahmood sat. Malachi set his gun on the small, round table next to his chair that faced the other men in a closed square around a rich hardwood coffee table, where a tablet and a laptop rested.
“Thanks for meeting with us this morning, Malachi,” said Captain Kim. “Allow me to introduce you to my associates.” He gestured toward the Russian man then toward the Iranian officer, “This is Agent Sergey Zyryanov of the Russian Main Intelligence Agency, and this is
“Pleasure to meet you.” Malachi nodded to the gentlemen as they nodded politely back.
“We brought you here to discuss Operation Fulcrum, which is a coordinated effort to bring the war to a peaceful end.” Kim laid a file folder on the table. “Everything we discuss with you is obviously highly classified, and what you see is eyes only. Lt. Col. Mahmood is risking a great deal by being here today. For my part I have been working on Fulcrum for three years and it has taken us two years to even arrange this meeting.”
Three years? This threw Malachi. The war began around two and a half years ago.
Captain Kim continued, “We were made aware of the Doomsday plot to instigate the war a little over three years ago through a contact in the CIA’s Special Activities Division. It has taken us this long to develop the contacts with select NATO allies as well as agents within the EAC to be able to subvert this war and bring a peaceful end to it.”
Malachi knew that the prospects of a global conflict loomed throughout the early twenty-first century, and that just about anything could spark it. News that the Doomsday bombings were not the haphazard event that they were portrayed to be in the media wasn’t exactly surprising to him. But it was still alarming to see his friend, Captain Kim, an American officer, officially acknowledge this.
“Wait, why are the Iranians at risk here and the Russians are not?”
“I am operating with the full support of my government,” said Agent Zyryanov, “We also have China’s support, but we could not arrange for their contact to meet us here today.”
“I stand at odds with my government,” said Lt. Col. Mahmood, “The Ayatollah believes that the current war marks the end of days, I believe it has made him reckless in his military aims. I have agreed to help because obtaining safe passage for you through Iran will be a great challenge. That is if you agree to this mission.”
“Okay, I get that Iran may have different goals in this war than Russia and China,” said Malachi, as he sighed, “But, who was responsible for Doomsday?”
Agent Zyryanov answered, “The truth is, Mr. Brandt, we don’t have names. What we do know is that it was a small group of elites that hailed from NATO and EAC institutions used their channels of influence to instigate the war so they could control its outcome. There was little doubt over whether or not the world would get tangled up in a war. But very few groups have put much thought into what might follow, because we assumed it would be a nuclear Armageddon, which it hasn’t been. It appears that they are trying to steer it to an endgame.”
“Do you know anything about their objectives?” asked Malachi, struck by the Russian’s competent use of English. His accent was slight, nothing like the caricature of the thick communist accents so common in American cinema. Sergey had a remarkable command of the grammatical nuances of the language. His intelligence was palpable to Malachi as he listened to Zyryanov.
“Global governance, with them at the top,” answered Captain Kim.
Malachi probed further, “And what are the objectives of this Fulcrum group?” He looked around the room to each man for an answer and waited several tense moments for a response.
“Mr. Brandt,” said Agent Zyryanov, “The prospect of global governance is inescapable. The world is too connected to not have some form of supranational government. However, the notion that Western elites will rule over EAC states is totally unacceptable. We will no longer allow ourselves to be ruled by the West. If there is to be a truly global society, we must have a stake in shaping it. The current plan is to install a tripartite government comprised of factions from China, Russia, and the United States that will oversee a long-term transition to a form of worldwide political body that incorporates the needs and desires of the global community. The last thing any of us want is a global technocratic dictatorship, it must be flexible enough to accommodate each region’s varying needs.”
“It would also be nice if angels came down from heaven and ran the whole show,” said Malachi, “because that seems about as far-fetched as the notion that the three superpowers could cooperate and share power.”
“I realize our goals seem lofty,” said Captain Kim, “But consider the alternative. If the war manages to end without world destruction, who is going to shape it? Right now what the people of the world want most is peace and security, and they see national governments as an impediment to that ever happening. A global civilization is going to emerge; the question is who will govern it?”
“Okay, assuming I agree, which I am not sure I do, how do you think you are going to manage this?”
Lt. Col. Mahmood spoke for the first time, “Mr. Brandt, we are going to knock America out of the war.”
Malachi laughed bitterly as the other men remained stoic, “Oh yeah, how’s that?” The idea that America, which still retained the strongest military in the world, in spite of the setbacks after Germany’s defection, could be knocked out of the war seemed nothing less than absurd to him.
“Efforts have already begun to break California and Texas out of the Union,” said Captain Kim. “This could effectively sweep much of the American West and perhaps even the South out of Washington’s control. With a divided America and independent Texas and California republics that fold in bordering states and parts of Northern Mexico, America could no longer sustain its presence along the Eurasian front or the South China Sea. The rest of the NATO states would face the prospect of being overwhelmed by the EAC and would have to sue for peace or face full-scale invasion. Eventually, America would have to settle a peace with Russia and China or confront the undesirable likelihood of having to fight them both alone.”
Malachi couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had taken oaths, the same oaths as Captain Kim, to uphold and defend the Republic. What he was hearing was the death of his country, the death of the countries of Zyryanov and Mahmood. They were asking him to commit high treason against his country in order to save the world. Malachi was split between his loyalties as an American and his sense that the war must end peacefully, at any cost.
“Is there any other way?” asked Malachi, as he tightly clutched his beard.
“As a man who also loves his country, I assure you we would not be here if we saw any other peaceful conclusion,” said Agent Zyryanov.
“Let me ask you a question, Mr. Brandt,” said Lt. Col. Mahmood. “Do you see a way where nations could preserve sovereignty and come to a reasonable peace?”
Malachi pushed back in his chair, still gripping his beard in silence for over a minute, thinking before he answered, “No. It would just ensure another war in the future over the same issues, and with our collective firepower, there’s no guarantee that we don’t end ourselves in that fight.”
“We haven’t gone into any details, but what are your thoughts so far?” asked Captain Kim
“You guys have my ear, but I need to know why you want me.”
Zyryanov went on to explain how they needed Malachi to help coordinate Operation Fulcrum’s military campaign in California. It would be called the Reconquista, where parts of Mexico would be folded into California, Nevada, and Arizona as a sovereign state along the Eastern Pacific. They wanted to use Jacob as a diplomatic liaison that could keep Southern California from descending into chaos during the operation. They anticipated that California would not be surrendered without a fight, and that Russian and Chinese military elements would link up with elements of the US military that would defect to the California Republic to fight off any NATO forces that stood in the way of California’s independence. He explained how California on its own held the sixth largest economy in the world, and how it could serve as a formidable counterbalance to Washington’s power on the North American continent.
“How would you pull me in?” asked Malachi.
“That is where it gets tricky,” said Agent Zyryanov, “We are conducting all of our planning at the Mount Yamantau complex in Russia’s interior. We would need to get you there,while giving the impression that you were killed in the field.”
“And how do you propose to do that?”
“We would stage an invasion on Haji Omaran, and make it look like you died in an explosion. You would be transported into Iran, where we would have to overcome some significant hurdles to get you out of there and taken to Russia.”
“So you’re asking me to put my own people at risk?” asked Malachi, with anger rising palpably in his voice, “Then you are going to try to get me out of an allied country that isn’t even on board with this EAC plot? What do the Iranians even know about this?”
“So far as we know, nothing,” said Lt. Col. Mahmood, “and for your safety it must remain this way. There is a good chance you will be interrogated and possibly tortured before I can get you transferred to Russia.”
“What exactly are you asking?”
Captain Kim interjected, “Malachi, if you agree, there is a good chance you are going to pay a high price. There is no way for us to know what information they will want. You will have to keep silent and manage to stay alive.”
“You’re kidding me, Gene! I’m facing the likelihood of torture, and possibly death, in payment for silence? Then you are asking me to sacrifice the people I have worked alongside for years? Their blood would be on my hands. No way. I just can’t.”
Mahmood interjected, “It is a difficult task to ask anyone; maybe too difficult. All I can promise you is that I will retrieve you as soon as I can. In the meantime, the key to overcoming this ordeal will be your silence, and your silence will be dearly bought.”
Malachi knew he had more of a tolerance for pain than many people due to his training as a SEAL, but he also knew that every man had a breaking point. If he broke, it could cost him and people he served alongside a great deal.
Agent Zyryanov sympathetically asked, “Mr. Brandt, what is the sentiment about the war at your base?”
“We all hate it; we all want it to end.”
“In Russia it is the same, in China, the same, in Iran, the same, but here we are fighting a world war that no one wants to fight,” said Zyryanov.
“I don’t see what that has to do with committing treason against my own country!”
Zyryanov pressed gently, understanding Malachi’s agitation, “Is it any more tragic for a Russian mother to learn her son is dead than it is for an American mother? Any more of a loss for an Iranian father to not return home to his wife and children than a Frenchman? In warfare leaders must send their soldiers to death, and this is the right thing to do if the objective is right. You must decide if the death of your comrades is justified given the objectives of the mission.”
Malachi knew this, and hated it all the same. He had given orders that sent some of his men to violent deaths, but when he did, they assumed his orders were always in the interests of the flag they fought for. In the fog of war where right and wrong are so hard to discern, the flag was often the only solid thing warrior could lean upon. To betray that flag in the name of a greater good seemed to him to be a trip further into the gray than even he was comfortable with. He also knew that if he agreed, he could not let his CIA colleagues know, nor could he let the security forces on the base know about this kind of mission. He would consign some of them to death over the supposed merits of a cause that they had not signed up for. It was this very reason why he had left military leadership to be a case officer in the CIA; he was tired of ordering others into harm’s way. While he had no problem running into the jaws of danger himself, he never did grow accustomed to ordering others to do the same.
“I don’t pretend that what we are asking is easy,” said Captain Kim, “If it’s of any solace to you, I have been stationed here to keep Iranian forces at bay. We will be prepared for any Iranian incursion.”
“I’ll be honest; it doesn’t help much.”
“Malachi,” said Agent Zyryanov, calling him by his first name for the first time, in an almost paternal manner, “We are asking you to put down your loyalty to the American flag and cast your loyalties with the whole of humanity. I have done the same, so has Captain Kim. I know it is hard. But it is our governments, your government not the least, that brought us past the brink of annihilation in this war, and now billions suffer. Please, I beg you, do what is right for humanity. If we keep fighting for flags and nations, we will destroy ourselves.”
Malachi sat in silence for several minutes, “When?”
“Six weeks,” answered Lt. Col. Mahmood.
“Who is going to contact Jacob?” asked Malachi.
“I am working on getting him a position with the Rural Reclamation Department in the Temecula Valley. As soon as I have that secure, I’ll have you get in touch with one of our contacts in the area, Alderman Campbell.”
Malachi insisted, “I want you to try to get as many of my people clear of Haji Omaran as I can.”
“So, you’ll do it?” asked Kim.
“Yes, but promise me you will do your best to take care of my people.”
“You know I will.”
The three men spent the balance of the morning going over the details of Operation Fulcrum, and what they would need of Malachi. An empty feeling crept into him, filling his chest. He saw the merits of the mission, but found the cost repugnant. He found little solace in the notion that this was a necessary step to end the war, and felt the weight of the blood that would be shed to end it weighing on him before a drop had been spilled to carry out the mission. The only consolation was the idea that he would be working side by side with Jacob. The men exchanged handshakes before breaking the meeting. Malachi said goodbye to Captain Kim, and Agent Zyryanov walked with him toward the door.
As Malachi was leaving, Lt. Col. Mahmood said, “Remember Mr. Brandt, your victory is silence.”
Zyryanov added, “I will see you in Russia soon. Until then, you are in my prayers.”
“Thank you,” said Malachi.
Malachi left the suite in a storm of conflicting thoughts. He felt the troubled waters of the whirlpool swirl about his feet as he was being pulled into something so large he hardly had the ability to think into it. The death of nations and the birth of a global society? Not once in his life, in its wildest and most incoherent excess, did he ever suspect that this path would unfold beneath his feet. For the first time ever, Malachi sensed that he was headed into something beyond his own capacities and abilities. He was afraid in a way he never had before. What he didn’t yet understand is this wasn’t fear necessarily, but the tender shoots of humility that he had lacked through his youth into manhood.