Just beyond the tarmac, headlights pierced the fog. From behind its filtered beams a silver BMW edged past a stable of modest hangars. As the sound of gravel grew still beneath its tires, the driver killed his lights. A figure emerged from the passenger side and picked the lock beneath a sign that read, FOLLOW THE SUN. A mercury-vapor lamp stood guard, the lone sentry protecting an idle row of single-engine planes.His bodyguard remained with the crowd, twenty paces back. Despite being no bigger than his boss, he could kill a man barehanded.

Once inside the hangar, two men quietly hoisted their dangerous cargo, exchanging it with a normal tank from the bin marked Sunday. But theirs had been sealed with faulty welds. Inside a receiver-detonator, armed to ignite a few deadly ounces of C-4 explosive, began to blink. The propane had been laced with liquid hydrogen, and at 250 psi it was groaning to escape.

They left in silence, one of them attending to his laptop. The other was set to return in twenty-four hours, armed with three five-gallon drums and a siphoning hose.


Forty miles to the south another pair of headlights pierced the fog as JA Flight 1206 approached on final descent. A man’s worried face peered out. His trip to Seattle, arranged in haste, was supposedly a secret. He entered the terminal walking briskly, his eyes to the ground. His bodyguard remained with the crowd, twenty paces back. Despite being no bigger than his boss, he could kill a man barehanded.

The conveyor awoke and eventually surrendered the traveler’s nameless bag. His companion pulled to the curb in a gleaming rental, obtained with his boss’s ID. As the weary passenger settled in the back, he gave his driver an approving nod. Only one of them knew that death was coming.


At the first hint of light, the fog clung even tighter to the murky windows of the modest condominium. In his makeshift office a lone figure sat hunched over his keyboard, his face bathed in a reflective cobalt glow as he typed feverishly. The screen flashed the words: Installation Complete. Logging into Vortex (E7 restricted).

He glanced at his watch and slid a finger across its crystal, before donning a headset that molded to his face. The translucent visor bisected his sightline from temple to temple and earphones dangled from each end piece. He inserted the earphones, turning his head to one side and then the other. Lowering the mic, he held his index finger to his left temple as a faint green light glowed from within the visor.

He slipped on a pair of thin-sheathed wired gloves and reached for a sawed-off broomstick. His foot depressed a floor switch as a desk fan spun to life. Tapping each wrist, his fingertips glowed green. He touched his temple again as the visor turned black.

Standing at attention, he began moving his right hand in patterns as if conducting a symphony. In response, his watch confirmed his login to a classified server deep within the Vortex. He grasped the broomstick firmly between both hands.

On a stunningly clear morning, he found himself perched atop St. Petersburg’s most illustrious cathedral. Peering at the rushing cars below, he felt the wind and heard the fabric of his hang glider flapping with the breeze. He steadied himself. Poised to soar above the ancient city, he turned to the second spire and gave his companion a hearty thumbs-up.

“Perfect timing,” his partner said. “You ready to roll?”

Budem zdorovy,” he replied, then whispered to himself, “Game on,” as the two stepped off in flight.

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