Chapter no 21

Quantum Radio

Deep in a jungle in Nigeria, Kato Tanaka sat on the floor of a run-down, one-room shack, his eyes closed, meditating.

He had been in the small building for five days, waiting, leaving only to use the outhouse and boil more water by the fire outside.

His sleeping bag lay in one corner of the shack, next to his bulky backpack. A table sat under the shack’s only window, which Kato had boarded up for safety.

A military-grade laptop sat atop the table, screen glowing in the darkness. Like Kato, it had been conditioned to operate in harsh conditions, including high altitude and extreme temperatures, and to withstand multiple impacts. Like him, it bore the scars of its service: nicks and scratches and a long gash on its back.

Kato’s most visible injury was a scar that ran from the right side of his nose to the bottom of his chin, the remnant of a run-in with Somali pirates during a Navy SEAL operation in the Gulf of Aden six years before.

His worst wounds, however, were the kind that couldn’t be seen. He had spent years trying to heal those injuries, and like the scar on his face, they had closed, but their effects still haunted him.

The mark on his face was a daily reminder of how a single act—and a slight change in perspective—could change a life.

He often met people who initially saw only one side of his face, the scar in shadow or hidden slightly by the angle at which they viewed him. Countless times he had shifted slightly, turned into the light only to see their smiles disappear, their perception of him instantly changed. It was one of the many injustices in an unfair life that he had come to accept.

But there were those rare instances where justice could be had, dispensed swiftly and permanently. That’s why he was sitting alone in the small shack in the long-abandoned coal mine deep in the Nigerian rainforest. He was

also there for a selfish reason: to let the rage inside of him out by killing bad people.

The laptop dinged, and a notification appeared on the screen.

Kato opened his eyes and, still sitting on the wood-plank floor, scanned the computer display from ten feet away. A perimeter alarm had tripped.

Video feeds appeared on the screen, showing a convoy of three vehicles bouncing down a muddy dirt road, trying and failing to avoid the tree limbs that had long ago grown into the lane like hands reaching out from the dense jungle. The first vehicle was a Japanese SUV with dark-tinted windows. Behind it was a high-mobility all-terrain multipurpose truck with two men in the cab and ten more in the bed sitting facing each other, semi-automatic rifles pointed toward the sky, most smoking, all ducking the tree branches.

The third and final vehicle in the convoy was a beat-up school bus with lettering on the side that had long since faded into the primer beneath. The bus was empty, but Kato knew why they had brought it—they expected it to be filled with young girls when it left.

They were wrong.

Targeting his client was going to be the last mistake they ever made.

Assuming the SUV had five occupants and that the bus driver joined the fight, that put their head count at eighteen. To his one. About the odds he had expected. As such, he saw no reason to alter his plan.

He rose and walked to the laptop and watched the convoy pass out of range of one of the cameras that was connected to the mesh Wi-Fi network he had created. Soon, the next camera picked up the convoy.

Kato pulled up his map of the area and studied the routes he had hiked and the length of time it had taken to reach the abandoned coal mine.

The convoy stopped, and the traffickers exited the SUV. Their troops began bounding off the truck, headed toward him. Kato checked the map one last time and set his watch to count down from seven minutes.

Methodically, quickly, he rolled up his sleeping bag and stuffed it, along with the uneaten MREs, into his backpack and returned to the table, pulling a round folding stool under him as he opened the email app on the laptop.

His satellite phone, which lay on the table beside the hardened laptop, lit up as it activated the data connection to the internet.

He scanned through the emails until he found the first item of interest: a message from his wife’s attorney. The subject line read:

Our FINAL Offer Regarding Division of Marital Assets and LIMITED Visitation Rights

The email was filled with legalese and big words and things Kato would never allow that to happen as long as he was alive.

He hit reply and added his wife to the TO: line and typed a quick response:

Dear Joan:

The past is the past. I made mistakes. I am sorry. I will fix it. I will see you and Akito when I return.


He glanced at his watch. Four minutes and thirty-nine seconds left.

The next email of interest was from his judge advocate, with a simple subject line:

Plea Deal

Kato scanned the message, focusing on the pertinent phrases.

Given the judge’s denial of our motion to dismiss, I once again urge you to seek a deal with the convening authority so we can all avoid a trial in your court martial.

Kato had lost track of the number of times the lawyer had asked him to make a deal. He replied with the same answer he had sent before.


He checked the time again.

Three minutes and seventeen seconds.

Methodically, he closed the documents he had been working on. The most important to him was a manuscript for a nonfiction book he’d spent the last ten years researching and drafting, a history book entitled The March of Humanity: The True History of the Human Race.

The book was a hobby. An outlet for his love of history. His goal was to present a unified, non-biased history of the human race. Kato believed that would reveal the arc of humanity: how our past explained how we got to where we are today and what the future might hold.

Kato saved the documents and ensured they were synced with the cloud.

If he didn’t return from this jungle, at least they would survive.

He closed the laptop and stowed it and the satellite phone in his backpack, then donned his body armor and performed a quick check of his sidearm and rifle.

When he finished, there were less than two minutes left on the countdown. He had gone over the plan countless times, but still, his heart began beating faster, his nervousness growing. He hoped he would never lose that feeling: fear. Manageable fear. Manageable fear was useful. Essential in his line of work. It had kept him alive over the years.

He set the backpack against the front wall, out of view to anyone outside, then swung the rickety wooden door open and casually stepped out into the afternoon sun. Heat pressed into him like an electric blanket.

The only sounds were the birds calling across the dense rainforest and the voices of children in the large wood-plank building next door. The teacher was talking loudly, interrupted only by the girls’ laughter and occasional questions.

Kato strode off the front porch, into the open field where he knew the traffickers could see him clearly. He unzipped his pants and urinated, mentally keeping track of the seconds. There was the chance that one of the attackers might take a shot at him from the trees, but it was an acceptable risk.

No shots came, only the continuous sound of the schoolchildren next door.

When he was finished, he turned and ambled back to the shack, head slightly hung. When the door creaked shut, he moved to the center of the room and slid aside the wooden boards that covered a hole in the floor. In the dirt beneath the shack, the opening to his tunnel loomed.

In truth, the passage that ran from the shack to the mine wasn’t much of a tunnel. It was more of a deep trench, which Kato had hastily dug and covered with boards and tarps and dirt. It wouldn’t hold up to rigorous inspection, but Kato was betting his enemy wouldn’t get close enough to find it. And if they did, it would already be too late.

He hopped into the hole and pulled the makeshift trap door back over the opening in the floor, then army-crawled quickly through the dark passage, pushing his pack ahead of him, his rifle on his back. It was musty and cramped, and he could feel wet dirt sticking to his clothes, soaking through. Finally, he emerged just inside the mine shaft, out of view of the shack. He was filthy and panting, but he didn’t bother cleaning himself off. He moved deeper into the mine until he spotted the narrow beam of light shining down from the vertical escape tunnel.

At the escape tunnel, Kato climbed, knowing time was slipping away. If he was right, the armed men were about to clear the tree line. They would run then, weapons held out, until they reached the buildings. He had to reach the surface before then. The escape tunnel exited onto a hill above the mine, at just the right vantage point—if he could reach it in time.

The vertical shaft was damper than it had been during Kato’s two practice runs. It had rained that morning, leaving the walls muddy, the rock loose. He slipped once but jabbed a hand into the mushy earth, pushing his back into it, bracing himself until he could plant his feet again.

His watch vibrated on his wrist. Time was up. Sunlight glimmered a few feet above.

He climbed faster then, like a drowning man swimming for the surface.

At the top of the escape tunnel, he dug his fingers into the ground and pulled his body out of the hole. He drew his phone out and connected to the camera inside the larger building below.

The windows of the structure were boarded up. The door was closed. Two dozen desks were spaced evenly across the room. Bodies sat in chairs at each one. But they weren’t actual people. They were children’s clothes stuffed full of straw. Like the trench from the shack to the mine, they wouldn’t hold up to close inspection, but they didn’t need to. They just needed to fool the attackers long enough to buy him a little time.

At the front of the room, a mannequin stood with its arm extended, posing as the teacher. He had bought the model for pennies in an open-air market.

The camera had no audio capability, so it didn’t transmit the recording that was playing in the room, but Kato heard it in the distance, through the trees, the faint sound of children’s voices mixed with the stern commands of the teacher. He had captured the recording while visiting his client.

He took the detonator from his pocket and activated it. On the screen, the door to the fake one-room school flew open and half a dozen men rushed in, waving their rifles left and right, high-capacity magazines hanging down.

Their shouts were loud enough for Kato to hear from where he lay. He watched as a few more of the men entered the room. By then, the first arrivals were starting to realize the ruse. Their guns fell to their sides. One man pushed the mannequin over.

Kato depressed the detonator, ending their lives in three booming explosions.

He rose from the ground, shouldered his rifle, and crept forward toward the rising cloud of smoke billowing up below, spreading from the wreckage of the two buildings out into the serene rainforest.

From his high perch above, he crouched and watched, firing at any movement in the cloud. He emptied two magazines and loaded another before the smoke had cleared enough for him to see the bodies scattered across the field.

He descended the hill and stalked through the wooden wreckage of the buildings, delivering coups de grâce as he went, the shots a sickening symphony of his march to the last survivor, who had been the farthest away when the explosives detonated. The man had likely waited at the edge of the tree line, watching his troops do the dirty work. The dangerous work. He was corpulent and wore a bloody athletic jumpsuit. A thick gold chain hung from his neck. Large sunglasses covered half his face. Shrapnel from the buildings had shredded his legs.

As Kato approached, the man threw up a hand and pleaded in a language he didn’t recognize, but the message was clear: don’t kill me.

Kato believed that every person deserved a chance to explain their actions, to be heard before they were judged. But life had taught him that there was the justice that one deserved and the justice that could be had. Here and now, this jungle justice was the only thing within reach.

Kato took a step closer, held the rifle to his shoulder, and gave the man what he deserved.


It was night when Kato arrived at the village.

At his client’s home, he approached quietly and peered in through the screen door. The schoolteacher sat rocking in a recliner, fanning herself with one hand, holding a smartphone with the other.

Kato knocked, and she jumped at the sound, then stared out at him as though she had seen a ghost.

“Thought you had gone and left,” she said, rising and lumbering to the screen door.

“Took longer than I thought.”

She swung the door open and stepped onto the porch. “You talked to ’em?”

“They won’t bother you again.”

The teacher studied his face. “Just like that, huh?” “I guarantee the results.”

She snorted and smiled. “Well, all right then. Gimme a second.”

She let the rickety door slam shut and retreated into the small house. A few seconds later, she returned with an envelope full of money. “Here you go.” She seemed to remember something then. “Hey, there was some guys come around asking about you. Where you was. How long you been here.”


“’Bout an hour ago.”

“Who were they? Traffickers? Gang associates—” “Nah, not them kind of guys. They was like you.” “Like me?”

“Yeah. Americans. They wasn’t in uniform, they wore shorts and T-shirts, but it was obvious. They had the haircut—and the voice. ‘Ma’am this’ and ‘ma’am that’ and if I see you I need to call ’em and they would pay me and all.” She reached in her pocket and took out a slip of paper with a number scrawled on it.

“Did you…”

“I told ’em I hadn’t never even heard of you.” Kato smiled. “Thanks.”

Behind him, the sound of SUVs roared in the night, a convoy driving along the dirt road of the village at high speed, headed his way. There was no doubt in his mind about why they were here.

“Stay inside,” he said quietly. “And away from the windows.” She closed the door, and Kato walked into the street.

The lead SUV bore down on him, the second vehicle close behind, a column of dust rising in the moonlight. A hundred feet away, the SUVs skidded to a halt, one forking left, one right.

Kato drew his handgun from its holster but kept it behind his back. With his eyes still on the vehicles, he began stepping sideways, away from the schoolteacher’s house, toward the row of dilapidated buildings that could provide some cover in the gunfight he was mentally preparing for.

The cloud of dust the convoy had created drifted forward, carried by the breeze, like a tumbleweed drifting through.

Kato could hear car doors opening and closing. Boots crunched the loose dirt in the road.

Along the street, curtains were drawn closed. Lights winked out.

“Lieutenant Tanaka!” a man’s voice with a southern accent called from the cloud.

“You just missed him.”

That drew a few chuckles as four men emerged from the cloud. They looked like the people the headmistress had described: buzz cuts, civilian clothes, and hard eyes.

The man who spoke looked like an NFL linebacker. “Stand down, Lieutenant, we’re friendlies. I’m Commander Nathan Ross.”

“What do you want?”

“We were sent to pick you up.”

“The judge said I could remain free until my trial.” “What trial?”


“I don’t know anything about that. These orders got sent down from way on high. Direct from the Pentagon.”

“You’re going to have to give me more than that.”

The large man exhaled and put his hands on his hips. “Listen, all I know is that the Pentagon wants you there yesterday. And I’m gonna deliver you.” He nodded. “Now, we’ve got a helo on standby a click away, and I don’t think we ought to be dilly-dallying out here any longer than we have to. I mean, I don’t know about you, Lieutenant, but I’m scared of the dark— real, real scared of the dark—and beyond that, frankly, I’m just a little bit worn out from looking all over half of Nigeria trying to find you, so why don’t you, pretty please, get in the vehicle and we’ll get you a secure sat

phone and you can call whoever you want and we’ll sort all this out. Okay?”

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