Tehran, Iran – Kaspiysk, Russia
A late model Toyota Land Cruiser was waiting outside Evin Prison at nearly 3 AM for Malachi and Lt. Col Mahmood. Sgt. Yahyai was in the driver’s seat. Mahmood helped Malachi into the back seat. He had inadvertently placed his hand on Malachi’s back, which bore the fresh wounds from his beating the previous morning. Malachi winced, letting out a guttural moan that was drawn from a deep well of agony. It was clear that his wounds would prevent him from sitting in the bench seat, so he curled up in a fetal position with his back facing away from the seat. It was clear that Mahmood and Yahyai were in a frantic rush to get on the road.
“Why are you in such a hurry?” asked Malachi faintly through the pain.
“The window for our escape is closing,” answered Mahmood, “I have medication for your pain, but I need you sharp before we transfer you to the Russians.”
“What do you have?” asked Malachi.
“30mg morphine pills” said Mahmood.
“Just give me one for now,” said Malachi.
Malachi swallowed the pill dry as they sped away from the prison, headed south on the Yadegar e’ Emam highway toward Mehrabad Airport, Mahmood went on to explain what it took for him to free Malachi from Evin. The Iranian government had been told by the Russian government that they were receiving a double agent who worked for the CIA and Russian intelligence, and that they were to give him safe passage to Russian territory. But, they were not informed of the Fulcrum plot due to suspicions that the Ayatollah would not lend his support to the Russian and Chinese elements behind the operation. A general in the Republican Guard had instructed Captain Nemet-Nejat to determine the purposes behind Brandt’s defection by any means necessary. Mahmood had to call in all of his favors in the Iranian government and military in order to obtain his release without divulging the secret operation that he was involved in. Malachi’s extraction came at great personal peril, and he was in danger of being imprisoned at Evin himself. Yahyai and Mahmood would be fugitives from their own government once it was discovered that Brandt had been released without surrendering any information surrounding the circumstances of his defection. They were joining Malachi enroute to Russia, but getting there was a path still fraught with great danger.
Without traffic on the expressway, they reached the airport in less than fifteen minutes. Malachi struggled through the short trip from the prison to the airport to remain conscious as his vision attenuated, surrounded by swirling dark vortices that made holding focus nearly impossible. Most of the airport was still in ruins after the Doomsday bombings. The husks of the old terminal that still stood were reduced to a slag pile of twisted metal and concrete that had clearly melted, taking on the appearance of a pale gray lava flow. The rest of the ruins had been bulldozed into a large heap of rubble at the west end of the facility. A new small terminal stood in the place of the once massive airport. As Mahmood helped Malachi from the Land Cruiser, he went to the back of the SUV and brought out a change of clothes.
“Mr. Brandt, I know this will not be pleasant, but you cannot go into the terminal in those bloody scrubs,” said Mahmood, “I will help you get cleaned up and changed into these street clothes.”
Even though the morphine had blunted the sharp edges of Malachi’s pain, it was still a wrenching and cumbersome process getting Malachi cleaned and changed. Mahmood doused Malachi’s long, blood-caked, shoulder-length hair, as well as his beard, with a water bottle. Fortunately for Malachi, because he had such a ragged beard, the only visible wound on his face was a split brow. Blood and dust were wiped away with a damp rag. Malachi sat in the open trunk as Mahmood and Yahyai gently pulled jeans up his legs and over his waist. They tenderly pulled a black crew neck t-shirt over his torso, trying as hard as they could to keep the shirt from scraping against the bloody gauze that adhered to his back. The most painful process came when they strapped a bullet proof vest around his chest and back, Malachi winced as they tightened the straps.
After putting a gray sport coat over his shirt, he was handed a ball cap. He slipped on a pair of Converse All-Stars, and Yahyai tied them for him. As they headed toward the terminal, Mahmood handed him a passport, identifying him as Viktor Ivanov, a Russian diplomat. Mahmood informed him that if everything proceeded according to plan, they should pass easily because he had paid off the guard on duty, but in case things did not work out he was handed a .45 caliber M1911 pistol. The fact that Mahmood was arming him was both a sign of the deep trust he extended to Malachi, and an intimation of the potential danger that lay ahead of them.
“If anything goes wrong, you will have to shoot your way through security. Getting you out of Iran alive is our highest priority; should we fall, you must continue on. The Russians will be waiting for you on the other side,” said Mahmood as he placed his own sidearm in the waist of his pants.
Malachi firmly placed his hand on Mahmood’s shoulder and said, “I don’t know how to begin to thank you.”
“It is nothing, Mr. Brandt. We would not have done this if we did not believe that this was the only way to end this ungodly war.”
Within minutes Brandt, Mahmood, and Yahyai were approaching the security checkpoint where the head guard stood behind a podium. On either side of the broad corridor that led to the departure gates there were eight guards armed with H&K G-3 assault rifles. They stood like motionless sentinels staring blankly into the space in front of them.
Mahmood nodded at Yahyai and signaled to his left, then tugged at Malachi’s sleeve, “This is not the guard I paid off. We cannot take any chances. I’ll handle him; you take the guards on the right.”
All of the discomfort that Malachi felt as he walked toward the checkpoint immediately dissipated as he felt a powerful adrenaline dump in his chest. He had not been in combat in years, but his skills as a SEAL served him well, as something near superhuman strength welled up in him, narrowing his senses, as everything shifted to slow time. In a fluid motion he drew his pistol from his waistband, exhaled sharply and moved into firing position. With four precise shots to the head he dropped the guards on the right side of the corridor. They slumped, lifeless, as they hit the floor, dying without knowing what hit them. Instantaneously, he turned, as Mahmood ripped off three shots into the lead guard’s neck and head. He pivoted left as Yahyai was firing into the guards on the other side of the broad hallway. Three of the guards were already down, but the fourth was able to squeeze off a burst of rounds. Sgt. Yahyai had taken several rounds in his abdomen, which the vest slowed but did not stop. One of the rounds tumbled through his body exiting through his left kidney. As he staggered, Malachi fired several rounds at the guard. Blood spattered from his neck as he slid down the wall behind him. The ionized metallic scent of spent cartridges filled the air, and for a moment all that could be heard was the trio panting to catch their breath.
Twenty-five meters further down the hallway, four Russian Spetsnaz troops were sprinting towards Mahmood, Yahyai and Brandt. As they converged on the trio, they moved behind them with rifles drawn, as the sound of footfall from additional guards echoed through the terminal.
“We will cover you,” one of the young soldiers said through a thick Russian accent, “you must go now.”
With his pistol in his hand, Mahmood had Sgt. Yahyai’s arm draped around his shoulder; he pointed to the departure gate where additional Russian troops were waiting, “Mr. Brandt, run!”
“I am not leaving without you,” Malachi protested.
“We will be right behind you; this is your only chance. You must go. Now!”
With a glance and a nod to convey his gratitude to Lt. Col. Mahmood, Malachi turned and ran toward the Russian guards waiting nearly a hundred meters ahead of him. By the time he had ran twenty-five meters he could hear shots ringing out in the corridor. In a flurry of gunfire behind him, he could hear men shouting in Russian and Farsi. He could feel his back throbbing as he ran. His lungs were inflamed as he sprinted. By the time he reached the Russians, he turned back to see if Mahmood and Yahyai were behind him, and as he looked down the hallway, he saw them both lying motionless seventy meters behind him in a pool of blood that flowed outward from their bodies. Malachi’s heart sank as time slowed to a near stand-still. He wanted to turn back, if only to be with his Iranian friends as they died, but his feet carried him onward. The four Spetsnaz guards were still firing into no less than a dozen Iranian guards. They were positioned at the flanks of the hallway where it joined the main terminal. Two troops were kneeling in firing position as two stood above them raining a wall of fire as the more Iranian guards approached, screaming orders for backup into the radios adhering to their lapels.
When the initial wave of guards was neutralized, the Russians began their retreat, sprinting toward the gate where Malachi and the remaining guards waited, providing covering fire as they fell back. Four more Iranian guards appeared in the hallway and automatic rifle fire rattled and split the air. The shots were directed toward the Russians as they fled. Fifteen meters into their retreat, one guard was gunned down as a round hit him in the back of the neck. Severing his spinal cord, he fell limp and lifeless on the hallway floor. Thirty meters later the young soldier who had ordered Malachi to retreat took a bullet just below the armor protecting his back, blood spattered from the exit wound in his abdomen as his feet gave out beneath him. A syncopated rattle of constant gunfire filled the air in the hallway leading to the gate. Malachi and half of the guards at the gate were already hurrying down the stairway leading to the tarmac. The two remaining troops safely reached the stairway. As soon as Malachi and the retreating duo of soldiers were safely on the tarmac, the remaining Russian guards headed back down the hallway to retrieve one of the Russian men who was calling for help, unable to get to his feet. They quickly dispatched the four Iranians headed toward them, and one of the guards hoisted the wounded soldier on his shoulders in a fireman’s carry and they sprinted to the gate as more Iranian security personnel appeared, firing down the hallway.
On the tarmac, an Mi-26MS medical transport helicopter was waiting with its rotors in full motion. As the Russians hurried Malachi into the chopper, he saw two heavily armed twin rotor Ka-52 Alligator Attack choppers hovering 200 feet above the tarmac. By the time Malachi was secure in the Mi-26, the wounded soldier and the two guards boarded the chopper. It lifted off the ground, pulling forward as it gained altitude.
As a dozen Iranian guards poured through the doorway where the stairway led down to the tarmac, one of the Ka-52’s let loose its 30mm cannon, cutting the Iranians to pieces, and the other fired rockets into the terminal. This gave the transport chopper time to make a clean escape as it headed north by northwest out of Tehran, the gate behind them ablaze after the rockets had torn a twenty-meter hole in the exterior wall. The transport chopper sped toward the mountains to the north at nearly 295 kilometers an hour.
Malachi looked south out of the window he was next to. Pre-dawn light was beginning to rise in the eastern sky, and he saw Tehran fade into the distance, much of it still destroyed from the Doomsday bombings. Nearly eighty percent of the city was still in ruins. Malachi’s thoughts ranged to the other cities consumed by the fire of human hubris, wondering what darkness lurked in the violent heart of man that drove him to the precipice of extinction by mutual suicide. Unlocking the secrets of the atom was one of the great achievements of man’s genius, and with it, he threatened to destroy himself. Why was it that man was always at odds with the machines he had made, that they would be turned against him? Why is the plowshare beaten into a sword? The pruning hook into a spear? Was it any wonder that the whole of creation groans under the weight of human evil and folly? What a twisted and cruel world that takes the brightest flames of human ingenuity and transforms them into a destructive and uncontainable inferno. Modern man prided himself on transcending the savage cruelty of the world he left behind, but men with stone-tipped spears, or forged iron swords, lacked the ability to reduce the earth to a worldwide slag-heap; bow and arrow could not level the entire planet to a lifeless, contiguous, glassed-over parking lot – so much for the upward thrust of human evolution. The greater humans had advanced, the further they had descended the ladder of their own destruction. He trembled at the thought that, at long last, that fire could no longer be contained, nor could humanity escape the crucible that surely must lie ahead.
A few moments later the Ka-52’s joined the transport chopper, flanking it as they sped toward the Caspian Sea. Malachi began to grasp how intricate the mission was to secure his escape from Iran. Regret filled his heart for the men who had laid down their lives for someone who only days before was an enemy. Had the circumstances been reversed he would have gladly traded his life for theirs. With tears flowing freely down his cheeks he thanked God for sparing him, and for Mahmood, Yahyai, and the Russian troop’s bravery and sacrifice. As the adrenaline wore off and the pain returned, Malachi began convulsing and he fell to the floor of the chopper. On-flight medics immediately began to attend to him. Shortly after he was hoisted onto a stretcher he passed out.