I pored over the attack plans with Kim and Jung. The others were off doing their own thing. Crow was hospitalised and I assumed Dani, Beth and Jagan were all hanging out together. I stayed in the war room day after night after day with our Korean allies planning and replanning the battle strategy. Thanks to Beth's hacking skills we'd managed to not only trace their location but also call up schematics for the base they were using. It was a huge bunker built near to the peak of a mountain in the Hamgyong region. The only land access was via a valley and led to an underground cave network which sliced through the mountain range but was bound to be impenetrable considering the armoured resistance likely. The only route open to get anywhere near was by air, however the terrorists would definitely have SAM sites ready to take down any approaching aircraft.
"There is no way to enter. We must bombard the base with an artillery or long range missiles if we are to even get close," Kim insisted. "There is no other way."
"We cannot give them a preemptive bombardment. If we start to hit them with long range attacks they may well execute the hostages before we have a chance to save them," Jung countered.
"But we cannot do anything else! My strike team will be shot down if we send them in. There will be no way to get men on the ground unless we destroy the SAMs by bombardment." Kim was adamant.
"I have a suggestion." I had their attention. "Send in my team first. We can take out the SAMs and recover the hostages. Then we'll bring in Kim's team and the Korean army in a full scale assault to clean up afterwards."
"How pray tell are you going to get into the base. We have already said there is no way..."
"That's not correct," I cut him off. "We can go for a HALO jump."
They both looked at me as if I was a little mad. True a HALO jump would be effective in getting us there. We'd freefall from a plane far too high to be hurt by the missile sites and open our parachutes too low to be detected. We'd have to land a few klicks away from the actual base and make it there on foot which shouldn't be too much trouble with ice climbing gear. The problem with the plan was that I'd proposed just the five of us would disable all the anti air missile batteries in a base seething with terrorists, rescue the president and his daughter, and then call in the cavalry afterwards. It sounded pretty far fetched by any standard.
I wasn't backing down on my plan though.
"Listen, this can work, just hear me out. The nearest safe point for a landing is this plateau here." I indicated a series of contour lines on the satellite images. "My team will land here undetected and split into two groups. The sniper team will move up this ridge and take position overlooking the exterior of the bunker. From there we can eliminate the surface hostile presence and destroy the missile and radar batteries. The bunker doors will be closed naturally so we'll have to make a commotion to get someone to come out in order for us to get in. Meanwhile the other team will head into the ravine. As just a three man squad they can slip past the patrols and armoured defenses to infiltrate the cave network. They'll rescue the hostages. Once both objectives are complete your team can sweep in and help us mop up."
It was a sound plan. Perhaps a tad crazy and obscenely dangerous. But it was a logical, sound plan. Jung and Kim exchanged a questioning look and Jung spoke out.
"This is the best plan we have I think. Are you sure you wish to place such risk on your soldiers' lives?"
"It's our job. We were always ready."
"Then we must arrange for a drop off. The operation shall commence tomorrow at 0400 hours. Which members of your team will form the two squads?"
"Dani and I will be the sniper team and take the ridge and the SAMs. Scarecrow will lead the Beth and Jagan into the cave network to rescue the hostages."
Kim cut in. "Is it wise to allow your Scarecrow into combat so soon? He is suffering severely from trauma and shellshock. His experiences will not make it easy for him to enter the Lion's Den so to speak."
"I know him. He's shaken but he won't quit. We give him the mission. We give him the stakes. He'll rise to the challenge like a phoenix from the ashes, ready to kick some proverbial lion's ass." I surprised myself by how strongly I'd defended Crow. But it was true. I believed in him. He wouldn't let us down.
"So it's settled. Prepare your team and rest up for the night. We meet at 0300 in full combat loadout. Gentlemen, enjoy your evening." Jung took his leave with a flourish and marched off to make preparations for his army. Kim saluted me and left too, probably to fill in his team on the details of our mission.
Just as I was stepping out of the HQ into the open air my phone buzzed.
Dani's voice was stressed and a little breathless. "Dad, it's Beth." I paused and listened intently but calmly. "She's gone, I don't know where but she's gone. We've also got someone who was blackmailed to kill Steve. Where are you? Have you any idea where Beth is?"
I narrowed my eyes. We needed Beth for the operation but she wasn't so reckless she'd vanish for no reason. Another attempt on Steve's life meant that they knew far too much about him which meant they could know about his sister. This was dangerous. The time was 1700. We had only ten hours before the start of the operation and Beth was missing, Crow was losing his mind and the rest of us had no idea what to do about it.
"Dani, tell Jagan to try and find Beth. Get him to go to her room and see if he can find any clues to where she's gone. He knows her best apart from Crow. Leave the assassin in one of the holding cells. Chances are if he was blackmailed he has no real ties to the terrorists, he's just an unlucky guy who is being forced to do their dirty work. In other words he won't know anything. I want you to go talk to Scarecrow. Tell him everything that's happened. Get him to come back to his senses. He's gone through a lot in the past but he needs something to look to in the future. Give him his reason to keep fighting. I'm going to do some research of my own. Get back to me with any progress reports. We have until 0300 hours. That's 3 AM, so hop to it. Out."
I hung up my phone and about turned. I was going to check the computer Beth has used to hack the terrorist servers. Perhaps she'd seen something we hadn't. Maybe that was why she'd taken off. Either way, me or Jagan had to find her or we were all totally screwed.