“Come on!” barked a soldier, brandishing a whip on Behavioural Analysis Unit team member Derek Morgan’s back. Morgan, naked except for a loin cloth around his waist, dropped the boulder he was carrying and was about to attack the soldier until another one barked at him.
“Guns Derek!” said the commanding officer. “The guns, Derek! You keep forgetting about them!”
Morgan sighed, resigned to his fate. He’d been warned multiple times about the guns every time he tried to strike at his captors, and each time he got progressively more submissive. By this point, he decided it wasn’t worth fighting them anymore. Cardinal Wilhelm Claes and Decius Tarsus had him in chains at all times, both mentally and (when needed) physically. He then picked up the boulder and carried about the task at hand, which was to create an artillery hole to bolster the fortress of Claes and Tarsus.
Meanwhile, Gaia Cornelia was in the kitchen of the fortress, clad in nothing. She had work alone to cook dinner for the fortress’ 400 soldiers, a task that wasn’t helped when soldiers helped themselves to raping her and copping a feel whenever they felt like it.
After another rape, Gaia stood at the counter, stunned in sadness. She wanted to cry, but she knew that would lead to her getting beaten and she had enough of that. She also had to finish her cooking task or else they were going to give her some more beatings and make the sex even less pleasurable for her. After taking a few deep, difficult breaths she found the strength to keep on going, hoping that no one would bother her for the rest of the day.
Morgan himself wasn’t so lucky. Since he was still new, he was still subject to the beatings that Gaia used to get on a regular basis. Every day after he finished his backbreaking work in the searing desert heat, he’d be worked over by a few soldiers with whips, in addition to being whacked with their fists. For the normally strong and dominant Morgan, he was experiencing the greatest humiliation he’d ever known. Still, he knew he had to be strong- Claes was keeping him alive for something, but for what?
RSC Headquarters, Rome
“I’m lost,” said FBI Director Lucius Black, as the team gathered in a boardroom. “We had the guy cornered and he corners us. How did we let this happen?”
“Maybe we didn’t give Tarsus enough credit,” opined BAU teammate David Rossi. “We kept thinking he’d be the subservient one to Claes but he seems to be pretty clever himself.”
“He only amassed a nearly trillion-dollar empire,” said BAU alternate Jason Gideon, curtly. “Frankly, Rossi, I don’t know how you could have missed that.”
“Okay smarty pants,” said Rossi, agitated. “Why didn’t you pipe up something before Morgan put himself in peril? Maybe then he’d be here with us planning the next stage instead of somewhere in the Gobi Desert!”
“It’s the Sahara, actually,” corrected BAU teammate Spencer Reid.
Rossi threw his arms up in fury. “Semantics!” he replied in a huff.
“Guys!” said Black, trying to reel everyone in. “Sniping at each other isn’t going to save Morgan…now’s not the time to assign blame.”
“Whatever it is,” said BAU Chief Aaron “Hotch” Hotchner, “whatever army Claes and Tarsus have amassed are far more disciplined and organized than we anticipated…so we need to proceed with the utmost caution.”
“The Romans are going to enter the war in Egypt,” said Black. “They hope that, at the very least, they can create a diversion to allow us to get in there and find Morgan and Cornelia, after which they can at least incapacitate Egypt’s ability to harbour more terrorists.”
“There’s so many factions in Egypt and Sudan though,” said BAU teammate Emily Prentiss. “I mean, I’m sure the Romans can handle all of them put together but wouldn’t ‘divide and conquer’ be a better idea?”
“Valerius is trying to get in touch with local leaders and see who will be co-operative,” said Black, “but there will be a tough go of it. We’re not exactly liked in Egypt for our ‘heretical’ values.”
“I think our job should be to profile the factions and see who could be co-operative,” said Hotchner. “We need to get a sense of their tactics and fighting spirit…if we can get inside their heads and use their own neuroses against them we’ll get the upper hand.”
“Good idea,” said Black, firmly nodding his head. “I’m getting the intelligence reports as we speak…Hotch, I’ll let you determine who reviews what. Jane, Adrian…I want you guys to review the evidence that we have and figure out where Morgan could be…it will give our army a focus. Is everything clear?” The team nodded in agreement. “Good. Let’s get to work.”
08:45 local time, 25 nautical miles off the coast of Sidi Barrani, Egypt
“Okay men,” said Drusus Marcus, the Dux of the Roman Legions- who came with two Avii air squadrons, two siege engines and one Classis naval squadron, just in case it was needed- that would be tasked to take Egypt and Sudan. “Our intelligence records show that Alexandria is armed to the teeth at the coast, so we have to attack from an alternate position. We will meet up with the Sinai Legion at Damietta and then push our way down...according to our estimates, if all goes well, we should link up at the same time. Right now, though, our goal is to reach the International Coast Road- that will take us right to Alexandria. Any questions?” His leading officers all shook their heads for “no”, allowing the Romans to depart on their trip.
After encountering some small Egyptian sorties at the beachhead, which were easily handled, down the road, partially hidden by the desert sands, Primus Pilus Gnaeus Musus of the 10th Neapolis Legion saw something that caught his eye.
“Oh dear no,” he said, cupping his face. Although he’d seen more than his fair share of skeletons in his lifetime- some of those caused by his own actions on the battlefield- there was something about this skeleton that took him aback.
“Sir,” said Overall Camp Prefect Cladius Gallo, approaching the scene. “What is it?”
“We have buried here,” said Musus, distressed, “alongside the skeletons the credentials of Derek Morgan. He was a good man,” he said, trying not to cry. “He didn’t deserve to die like this.”
“They found what?” said Rossi, devastated by the news. The team sat in stunned silence, not knowing what to make of the latest development, with some of them tearing up while others simply breathed heavily. Jane and Prentiss could be seen consoling each other, seated in a corner. Even Hotchner, the normally stoic one, was reduced to tears, sitting, hunched over and cupping his face, with both Rossi and Gideon- themselves inconsolable- doing their best to console their grief-stricken leader.
“I’m sorry guys,” said Black, not even hiding his tears. “I wish I had something better to tell you all, but I don’t.”
“What are we going to do?” said Hawkes, sobbing. “Morgan’s our guy…we can’t continue the case like this.” She then collapsed herself into Reid, who held her. However, Reid wasn’t crying, and neither was Adrian, who was seen examining the picture of the skeleton.
“Your Holiness,” said Black, “did you find something?”
Adrian didn’t answer. He stared, intently at the picture. He knew something was off but couldn’t put his finger on it.
“Agent Reid,” started Adrian, “you’re good with all this medical stuff, right?”
“Yes,” replied Reid.
“Come here, I need your help.”
Reid walked over, wondering what Adrian had found. He too had doubts about the authenticity of the skeleton. Hawkes, wondering what the commotion was about, joined them.
“This does not look like what Derek Morgan’s skeleton would look like,” said Adrian firmly. “I can say this with the fullest of confidence that it’s not him. I just don’t know why I have that sense.”
“I’ll tell you why,” said Reid, noticing the pelvis. “It’s because this skeleton is a female…the pelvis...it’s shorter and more rounded, typical of a female’s skeleton.”
“Wait.” Adrian was overcome with worry, realizing what that revelation could mean.
Reid spoke reassuringly. “It’s not Gaia’s either…Gaia was well-built…this looks like it came from a smaller woman. This is because…” Reid took a longer look at the picture, “as I suspected, this skeleton looks like it’s been touched up in some way to make it appear like it has greater muscle mass than it does.” He then paused before another thought came to him. “Police reports said that two women were abducted at Gaia’s store, right?”
“Yeah…there were two…though I believed the other customer was collateral.”
“Well, that’s your collateral.”
Adrian stepped forward to front of the room, commanding the attention of those present. Reid joined him at the front, where the skeleton found was shown over a projector lying on the table.
“First of all, Morgan is not dead,” said Adrian, authoritatively, “and neither is Gaia.”
“That’s right,” said Reid. “If I could direct everyone’s attention to the screen, what you’ll see is quite clearly a female skeleton. It’s been touched up by plastic welded onto the frame to make it look like it’s got greater muscle mass than it actually does, but…” Reid then directed the room’s attention to the pelvic area, “as you can see, the pelvis is short and round, which is indicative of a female skeleton. We’ll need to have the skeleton examined, but I think there’s a good chance that’s the woman that got kidnapped with Gaia at the store.”
“Another red herring,” said Rossi, flabbergasted, throwing his hands up in frustration. “When will this end?”
“Quite clearly,” continued Adrian, “Claes and Tarsus are toying with us…it’s like they’re saying that we can’t catch them because they’re always one step ahead of us.”
“There’s one problem,” said Gideon. “The woman captured at the store fell into their laps…they couldn’t have planned for her to be available to them. Morgan also fell into their laps.”
“Yes,” piped in Jane, “but they also knew that we’d send someone into San Marino…and that someone was Morgan. What this tells us is that Claes and Tarsus are extremely adaptable.”
“How could they know that we’re not going to hit Alexandria directly?” asked Prentiss.
“Simple military tactics,” said Adrian. “You don’t start an invasion by attacking the strongest part of the wall…you find the weakest…and Sidi Barrani was the weakest point. So they left us a ‘message’ reminding us of that.”
“This whole thing,” said Rossi, flustered, “we’re just playing right into their hands…we’ve got to find a way to undermine their plan somehow.”
“Okay,” said Adrian, going to the boardroom’s dry erase board. “Let’s recap how we got here. Okay, so Wilhem Claes tries to rattle me by saying some choice words before I assume my role as Pope.”
“Wait,” said Jane, confused, “that whole thing where you were blubbering like a schoolchild…that was all fake?”
“Well, yes and no,” said Adrian. “I’d always had anxiety issues since I came back from Mali…but I had to exaggerate them in front of Cardinal Newman so that I could get my mind set straight…I needed therapy, and you gave it to me, Patrick.”
“Oh,” said Jane, smiling though he was still confused. “Thanks.”
“Not to get too carried away,” continued Adrian, “but Cardinal Newman didn’t think I needed therapy for what happened in Mali. I always told him that I did…so…panic attacks.”
“Now it all makes sense,” said Jane. “You’re a smart one, Your Holiness.”
“Can you guys just call me Adrian, please?” said Adrian. “I appreciate the respect, but I think we’re past the initial pleasantries.”
“Very well Adrian,” said Black, standing with his back to the back wall. “Continue on.”
“Anyway,” continued Adrian, writing things down on the board as he went along. “I get spooked, and Patrick helps me out. At the same time, the murders of the women start with Carla Perotta. Then they continue with other women, including that brutal murder of Julia Winters, and then we get the assassination attempt, on me. Who knows if Claes knew that I’d be prepared for that…it’s a possibility.”
“I think his plan would have continued whether or not you were actually dead,” opined Gideon. “You were just a symbol…a marker for people to know that it’s your views that he doesn’t like…and you championed women’s rights during the election. Whether or not he actually killed you we’d still be able to make that connection, because of the symbolism of the murders.”
“Wouldn’t Gaia have been killed if Adrian was,” said Prentiss. “I mean, we reason that Claes is keeping Gaia alive because he wants Adrian to go after her.”
“Unless he has another reason for keeping Gaia alive,” said Hotchner. “Gaia was the surrogate all along…all these targets were meant to show Gaia that Claes has a distinct message for her, and it’s quite possible that message is to mould her into what he thinks is ‘the model woman’. He wants a state for himself in Egypt, to use as a new base for Catholicism…one that rejects the direction that Rome took.”
“He essentially wants to create a Victorian Catholic state,” opined Hawkes, “…and change the state that he believes promotes the antithesis of that, which is Rome, by striking at one of its most important figures.”
“In any case,” continued Adrian, “after the assassination attempt, he leaves the clue that tells us to go to San Marino, but not before kidnapping Gaia and sending the Roman Army on a wild goose chase to Samaria. Of course, he was prepared that we’d figure out that ruse so he has people in San Marino to ambush us…which he did. Now, since he knows we’re in Egypt and that we’ve launched our invasion, and the skeleton was his way of reminding us of that.”
Prentiss then had a thought occur to her. “The message at Gaia’s workshop,” she thought out loud, “it said ‘Adrian, if you want to find her, follow the snake’…the snake…that’s the Nile River…and the end of it is in Khartoum, where it branches off into two different rivers. So he’s in Khartoum and knows that we have to go down the Nile to find him.”
“Okay,” said Hotchner, “that means we have to send the Army away from the Nile…he’ll ambush us from the desert.”
“No,” said Rossi. “He’s planned for that too…every time we’ve thought of the most conventional alternative, he’s thought of that too. So we need to do something unexpected.”
“Our intelligence reports,” said Black, “show that he has pockets of support throughout Egypt surrounded by hostile tribes, with better control in Sudan. He clearly has the strongest force in the Egypt-Sudan corridor but his control is far from complete.”
“That’s his plan,” said Rossi. “He wanted the Romans to come in to ‘finish the job’ for him, just so he could drive them out.”
Black scoffed. “How could he even think he could defeat the Roman Army? He’s just some small-time terrorist with a rich friend…he’s got nothing on us.”
“We thought the same thing about the Viet Cong,” said Rossi, “and look what they did to the American Army.”
“Hastened the eventual dissolution of the United States, I know,” said Black. “I still think the situation is a bit different…we have a much larger GDP than the Americans did, and we’ve been a lot smarter with our money, so I don’t think we need to worry about a collapse.”
“Oh no,” said Rossi, “I don’t think a collapse would happen…but, it could still turn into an embarrassment for Rome, and that’s a feather in anyone’s cap.”
Black still gave him a disbelieving look.
Adrian jumped in. “Lucius, I know that you might not think something could happen,” he said, “but we have to be prepared. Claes has been prepared this entire time…so we need to catch him off guard. We can’t continue playing his bluff…he’s burned us time and again so why risk things?”
“Good point,” said Black. “Okay, team, let’s continue profiling the Egyptian and Sudanese tribes…we can see which ones we can link up with and see if we can surprise Claes for a change.”
“What about the Roman assault?” asked Hotchner.
“Why don’t we keep it going,” said Black. “We can make him think that we haven’t caught on to him when we have.”
The International Coast Road, Egypt
“What’s our intelligence say about the strength of Claes’ army?” Black asked Marcus over the phone.
“He’s got about 200,000 soldiers, all things considered,” replied Marcus, “including whatever tanks and planes he seized from Jerusalem.”
Black spoke with urgency. “Double that strength...or even triple it. He’s likely got a lot of soldiers hidden where we can’t see them.”
“How though? Egypt’s not particularly known for having subways...they only have one, in Cairo.”
“The pyramids have tunnels, and there are many caves and the like, especially along the Nile. Trust me, there’s plenty of hiding spots.”
“Okay. Thanks Director.”
Marcus then summoned his leading commanders to brief them on the road ahead. “Before we move on,” started Marcus authoritatively, “we need to review the Egyptian landscape. Director Black tells me that Claes has likely set up a trap for us somewhere in Egypt…since he likely knows that we’re on to his ‘red herring scheme’, we can’t just follow a traditional invasion path down the Nile…we’ll get ambushed. So we need to proceed with caution and watch our flanks.”
“So we’re not going to change our invasion plan?” asked Gallo, confused. “If his plan is to surprise us, shouldn’t we figure out where he’s surprising us and take it from there?”
“I understand what you mean, Claudius,” replied Marcus, “but Black suggested that we proceed as normal and make Claes think we don’t know what he’s up to. The Cardinal has shown himself to be incredibly adaptable…if we show him that we know what he’s doing, he’ll change his modus operandi and surprise us in a different way.” He then retook control of the room. “Okay men, let’s move!”
“I’m not doing it!” Morgan said, defiantly. He then screamed in anguish, as the effects of the shock collar he was fitted with set in.
“Heh,” said Tarsus, chuckling maniacally, before leaning in real close. “You’re my dog now...dawg.” Tarsus laughed manically, enjoying the dominance he had over Morgan.
“Now,” said Tarsus. “Originally, I was going to marry Cornelia and together we’d start the proper Eastern Catholic society...but then I found you. You perfect hunk of a man. You are far better for this role than I, so I decided that you should be the one setting Cornelia straight. Besides...that customer of yours, Cornelia...she was quite the looker herself. Of course, every good couple needs to have sex...so allow me to remind you what your duty is...Derek.”
He then ushered Morgan to Cornelia’s cell, instructing him to get right behind the already kneeled over Cornelia. Tarsus was going to make them have sex, doggy style.
“Come on,” said Tarsus. “Stick it in there. Don’t be shy.”
Morgan sighed, resigned to his fate and followed along with the order.
“My men really love her,” cackled Tarsus. “She should be sufficiently softened, just for you. Now go...work it! Grunt like an animal! Show her who’s boss!” As Tarsus egged him on, Morgan did exactly as he commanded during sex, barking and grunting while going at Cornelia hard. “Faster now, Derek, faster!” Morgan did as commanded, making Cornelia shriek even more. After half an hour, the sex ended as both climaxed. Both started to cry before Tarsus shocked both of them back to their senses.
“That,” sneered Tarsus. “Was a good show. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have someone to enjoy.” He then departed for the cell of Gaia’s customer, Marcia Gamma, where she was held, chained and naked, ready for Tarsus.
14:30 local time, El-Hamam, Egypt, just outside of Alexandria
When the Romans reached the outskirts of Alexandria, they found it as they expected it- a city lined with artillery walls and other assorted weapon systems that underscored how valuable the city was. The linear geography of the city also provided some challenges- sprawled along the coast, laying siege to it would be much more difficult than a landlocked city like San Marino was. The beaches were all closed and lined with mines, while whatever made up the Alexandrian Navy dutifully patrolled the coast. Straight-up, the Romans looked like they would be in for a long battle.
Not that Marcus wasn’t worried about having a conventional battle…he had the better troops and the better equipment. Rather, Marcus was worried about what tricks Claes would have up his sleeve, so if he could avoid losing as many troops as possible, it would soften whatever “surprise blow” Claes had planned.
So he ordered his men to stop short of Alexandria’s city limits, both on the ground and in the sea, and told them to only fire if fired upon.
Then they were told to wait…and wait…and wait...and wait some more.
“Sir,” radioed in Marcus’ lead Legate Franciscus Paulus, “what are we waiting for? We didn’t come all the way here just to sit and do nothing. We’re getting a bit antsy.”
“Patience Paulus,” replied Marcus. “I know exactly what we’re doing.”
Paulus was confused. “Which is…?”
“Just you wait. The wise commander never reveals his secrets. I just need ALL of you to stay disciplined.”
On the other side was Zalayetta, Claes’ commander in Alexandria. He stood in his makeshift command tower at the Alexandria Airport confused as to what the Romans were trying to do, especially considering he could see their Air Force flying around and doing absolutely nothing.
“Is this a game that they’re playing?” said Zalayetta to his officers at the Airport, looking at the Roman forces through his binoculars. Meanwhile, the Romans continued to sit there, in one grand stare down with the Alexandrian troops, one that Marcus would let go on for days if he had to.
“How are we doing with the profile?” Black asked, as Rossi and Gideon were conducting their research, in between sniping at each other.
“Don’t think we’re going to get much help,” said Gideon firmly. “All of the factions here believe the Romans are heretics.”
“It’s a political mind game,” retorted Rossi. “I’m sure the people just want their citizens to start getting along again. We need to look deeper...the Romans have been known to get along fine with just about anyone.”
Gideon was flabbergasted. “Well if you see something, why don’t you tell Lucius about it?” Gideon sneered. “All I see are Wahhabists who are in control...and Wahhabists don’t like anyone.”
“Guys,” barked Black. “That’s enough! If I have to seperate you two I will...and then I will severely reprimand you both. Don’t make me do that.”
“We could have told you that the two of us don’t get along,” retorted Rossi.
“You two are our best profilers,” Black said, angrily. “I’m not asking you to be friends, but by Jove, I’m asking you to solve this case!”
Rossi sighed. “Okay,” he said, as Black departed.
Rossi and Gideon then stared at each other, blankly, resigning to their fate. However, Rossi wasn’t one for silence, so he spoke up first.
“Before Hosni Mubarak’s government fell in 2001,” Rossi said, “Egypt used to be a haven for moderate Muslims and moderate Christians. There has to be some left.”
“If I remember correctly,” said Gideon, “in the aftermath, radicals chased the Church from its headquarters in Alexandria and Cairo to Aswan, in the south.”
Rossi answered excitedly. “Yes, yes yes...and after missionaries from Rome and Virginia were killed in Cairo in 2005, the Militant Islamic Society and the Armed Christian Alliance were created by the radicals to counter what they thought was a surreptitious attempt to undercut them.”
“...and now both are at war with each other and with Claes.”
“He’s working with one of them, though, at the very least...he can’t get the ambush correct if he isn’t.”
“Geographically both are a wash...the ACA control the western desert and the Gilf Plateau caves, and the MIS control the eastern desert with its mountains and the Red Sea Riviera...and likely the only Roman allies are at Aswan.”
“So Aswan is the ambush point...still doesn’t tell us who the ambusher will be.”
“It could be both.”
“Doubt it...Claes brought the Romans here to destroy one of them and leave the other to the ambush, allowing him to come in and defeat whatever soldiers are left, since most of his troops are in Sudan anyway.”
“...and since both are terrorist organizations, numerical intelligence would be spotty, meaning Claes knew that the Romans wouldn’t bring enough soldiers to deal with the ambush.”
“More to the point...Claes has a conventional army, while the ACA and MIS thrive on guerilla tactics...Claes needs to recruit one to make his own tactic work, as well as provide him with enough men so that his own men don’t get hurt.”
“Well, if it’s just one it’s the ACA, surely.”
Gideon spoke with urgency. “Think like Claes.”
“Right...red herring. The MIS are more likely...because it’s the least likely group you’d group him with. This means we’ll need to talk to Mr. Abaza again.”
“...and continue attacking the ACA.”
“Why? Shouldn’t we talk to them too?”
“If we play Claes to his bluff, then we’ll need to make him think that we still haven’t caught on to his plan. Only way to do that is attack the ACA, because that’s still how he thinks the war would go down. We can’t deviate from the script or else Claes will change his plan too.”
“I’m not sure I like attacking the ACA...they may not be friends of the Romans but they’re not part of our investigation.”
“To get to Morgan and Gaia we need to win the war...and they’re part of this war.”
“Yes, but couldn’t we pretend like we’re fighting them? If we get into a long, drawn out battle with them, we could lose whatever superiority we need at Aswan.”
“Paulus,” radioed in Marcus.
“Yes, sir?” radioed back Paulus.
“I need your first Cohort to cross the city limit of Alexandria momentarily and then beat a hasty retreat.”
Paulus was befuddled. “I’m sorry?” Paulus wanted to fight, and didn’t like that Marcus sounded like he was taking that away from him. “Marcus…those are my best guys…and you just want them to run like wimps?”
Marcus was livid. “That’s my order, isn’t it?”
“Marcus…you sound like you’re giving up.”
“Paulus…just do it…and when you’ll see it, you’ll know what to do.”
Paulus sighed in frustration, but he wasn’t going to undermine his boss. He ordered one of his soldiers to walk to the border and walk over it. One of his men spoke up, volunteering to do the task.
The soldier drove to the border, stopping short of the marker that separated the Alexandria Governorate from Matrouh. He then casually stepped out of his truck, slapped his hands in his pockets and nonchalantly whistled while walking. He then got to the border and pretended to stumble over it.
“Oops,” he said, playfully, before laughing while jumping back hastily into his truck and driving away.
As Marcus predicted, the Alexandrians, who were far too eager, followed the soldier and his retreating cohort in hot pursuit. The two armies fought each other as they fled, firing volleys for well over an hour as they drove. By the second hour, the two factions were already deep in the Egyptian desert, causing the Roman cohort to split apart suddenly.
“What the…?” said the lead Alexandrian soldier with surprise.
As the Romans split up, it revealed an array of RPGs and other assorted salvos that were supposed to be headed Paulus’ way headed towards the Alexandrian contingent. It was the ACA.
“Hook, line...sinker!” Marcus said, excitedly. He knew the Alexandrians were way too eager to fight, so he goaded them to make the first move, also knowing they’d be too excited to see the ACA coming towards them and the Romans, something he noted.
With the Alexandrian rear exposed along the International Coast Road, this opened up an avenue for the Roman assault. The Roman objective was to clear the Coast Road as a path for themselves, to eventually clear a path to Rasheed and on to Damietta. The linear nature of the city meant the Legion couldn’t just drive straight through without an ambush, so some cohorts went to the other side of the city and furrowed their way through. Fighting went deep into the night, but by sunrise, Alexandria was in Roman hands.
Meanwhile, the fight between the ACA, the Alexandrians and the Romans went the way Marcus expected: with the ACA and Alexandrians pounding each other allowing the Romans to finish the job. This meant that the northern extremity of the desert belonged to Rome as well, protecting the Legion’s rear.
“Good job guys,” Marcus said to his troops. He then sent soldiers to maintain control of Alexandria, before sending Paulus forward.
Meanwhile, at Arish, in the Sinai, the Roman Legion stationed there had to deal with a flash riot that had erupted, stalling their progress. They were supposed to secure a path to Damietta but the riot kept them occupied. The Legate, Antonius Fusus, radioed this to Marcus.
“I understand Fusus,” said Marcus, who noticed another message on his communication device. “Just hang tight and don’t sweat it- we can take the Delta on our own.”
Pandataria Prison, Pandataria Island, Latium
The cell was dark, damp and lonely, but for Jamal Abaza, the exiled leader of the MIS, it had become his home. Although the cell was only slightly big enough to contain his frame, Abaza had grown comfortable with his surroundings, having spent the last 15 years of his life here, in Rome’s most forboding prison having been convicted of leading the plot that saw the bombing of the Roman subway in 1997, killing 33.
Still, the island was no picnic. Dubbed “Rome’s Alcatraz”, the island was fitted with the most up to date security measures, making maximum security prisons look like amusement parks in comparison. Every prisoner was in solitary confinement, with only a peephole being their connection to the outside world, with the prisoners denied any kind of priviledge, except for the bare minimum of clothing and food. Many a prisoner had committed suicide under such drab conditions, but for Abaza, he didn’t just come to accept it- he loved it.
So when he heard that the BAU were coming by for a visit, he could only grin. This is going to be fun, he thought.
“Agent Gideon!” Abaza said heartily, as if Gideon was an old friend.
“Hello Jamal,” Gideon answered blankly.
Abaza then held his arms opem. “What I don’t get a hug?”
Gideon, knowing what Abaza was trying to do, decided against reacting angrily and just smiled, curtly.
Abaza continued mockingly. “Did somebody shoot down your favourite bird, Gideon?”
“How’d you know I like bird watching?” Gideon was surprised by Abaza’s observation.
“I can just tell, just by looking at you.” Abaza was connected to the outside world, but didn’t feel like admitting that to Gideon.
Gideon made a mental note to remind the guards that Abaza’s visitors needed screening.
“For a man that likes to talk, you sure have been silent tonight. Come on, tell me that you love me.”
Gideon then decided to leave the room.
“You want to leave me? How could you do that to me?” Abaza pretended to cry, as inside he was laughing at Gideon for his actions.
“What’s the scoop?” asked Rossi as Gideon emerged from the room.
“Well, he knows that he holds the power in the interrogation,” said Gideon, “but we already knew that. He’s going to play us, I can tell.”
“So he’s not going to be that helpful,” said Hawkes, analyzing.
“I think he can help us,” said Jane. “We just need to feed into his ego.”
“To do that we’ll have to release him from custody,” said Reid. “Abaza is too smart to know if he’s being played…especially since we tricked him once before.”
“Why does he trust Claes?” asked Hawkes. “If he’s smart to know if we’re playing him, then surely he has to be smart enough to know Claes is playing him too.”
“That’s because Claes is a manipulator,” said Jane. “He works so subtly so as not to arouse suspicion…if Claes can play us, he can play Abaza without arousing suspicion.”
“What makes us so certain that Abaza is going to get played by Claes?” asked Rossi. “Ideologically, Abaza and Claes are very similar…they both want a Catholic religion that’s ultra-conservative and extremely patriarchal…they could be working together.”
“We still have Casiraghi, right?” said Gideon.
“He isn’t talking,” said Reid, “but yes we do.”
“We need to talk to him,” said Rossi. “I’ll stay here…maybe a new face will open Abaza up. Jane, Prentiss…you two stay with me. Gideon…take Reid and Hawkes with you to Casiraghi.”
“Hopefully then we’ll get some answers,” said Gideon.
RSC Headquarters, Pasquale Casiraghi’s Interrogation Room
“Why’d they put it up?” said Casiraghi, unhinged as he stared at the picture of Adrian. As he had for days, he pulled at his chains fruitlessly, as he so desperately wanted to take down the picture plastered in front of him when his interrogation began so long ago. He’d been given food to eat from time to time, but other than the occassional checks on his health, the chains bound him in perpetuity.
It was in this environment that Reid stepped in.
“Hello Pasquale,” he started, taking a deep breath as he sat down.
“You?” Casiraghi scowled. “They expect me to be scared of a pencil like you?” He then laughed sardonically.
Reid adjusted his collar before moving on. “I think you have the role of an interview wrong...my goal isn’t to scare you, it’s to see how you can help us solve the case. I’ve done numerous studies and I’ve found scary or other kinds of coercive tactics are ineffective at procuring the interviewee’s assistance.”
Casiraghi was disbelieving. “What makes me think that you want my help?”
Reid leaned forward, letting Casiraghi understand the sense of urgency. “I want to know, Pasquale, when I say the word ‘Muslim’, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?”
Casiraghi didn’t hesitate to answer. “Islam is a brotherhood...the Muslims are our brothers. They agree just like we do that women shouldn’t be left to their own devices and that men should be the sole determiner of their fate. We may not agree with the whole ‘covering up’ thing but, as I understand, the MIS and Claes have reached some sort of agreement.”
“Thank you, that’s all I need.” Reid then got up from his chair and exited, with Casiraghi staring in disbelief that Reid left him in the chains and left the poster of Adrian on the wall.
“That was quick,” Hawkes said after Reid closed the door of the room.
“He was very quick to bring up the MIS,” noted Gideon, “and he wasn’t even prodded into giving up that information. That means that Claes has no intention at all on turning on Abaza.”
“That doesn’t mean we can’t make Abaza think that Claes will turn on him,” said Reid. “We have precedent.”
“Divide and conquer,” said Hawkes, “with a twist.”
“All right, scumbag,” said Rossi, greeting Abaza. “You think you’re so smart, eh? Tell me, what do you think of the Catholics?”
“They are nothing but the scourge of the Earth,” said Abaza quickly and derisively. He was going to continue before Rossi cut him off.
Rossi then got right in his face. “So why are you allies with them?” He then gestured his hand around the side of his head, leaving the other on the table. “Explain that to me because I don’t get it.”
“As I was going to explain.” Abaza then paused because he was agitated. “Your Catholics have bastardized the Word of God...their Popes and their priests have invented so much codswallop that they have become the heretics they claim to fight against. Cardinal Wilhelm Claes understands this too...I see it. He wanted to create a new institution, a new Catholicism, one that is friends with Muslim ideals. He is a true believer...you are nothing but a sinner.”
“...and yet you don’t buy the inherent contradiction in that? Your group has forever claimed that Islam is the ‘one true way’...why suddenly get in bed with Catholics?”
“Because Wilhelm Claes is the first Catholic that finally sees the truth...besides, Agent Rossi, you seem to forget that Muslims and Christians were friends for a while before the Christians turned their backs on us...Claes is the first Christian to attempt to right the wrongs of the past.”
“Surely you know that Claes said the same thing to the Samarians...and look how that turned out.”
“The Samarians were fools...they were easy to manipulate. You should have known moderates don’t mix well with radicals...and Claes and I are radicals.”
“Yes...but you know what happens when egos collide.”
The next day, 07:00 local time, Cairo, Egypt
Paulus was ambitious. Knowing that the Roman Navy had the coast of the Nile Delta covered, he decided to change course and head to the southern tip of the Delta, at Cairo. His desire was to cut off the Deltans from the rest of Egypt and progressively hem them in, producing what would be the world’s largest siege. Marcus disagreed with the plan but he trusted Paulus, so he left him to his own devices.
He entered Cairo at the district of the 6th of October City, and immediately identified the entrance to the district’s subway station. He gathered his Special Forces and guided them into the subway, under orders to take out any of Claes’ troops that he felt were hiding in the subway system. The rest of the Legion would stay above ground, told to fight through the city and clear a path eastward towards Suez.
“Leave no stone unturned,” barked Paulus as he led his men through the subway. “Let’s move!”
At first, Paulus’ men didn’t meet any resistance, since it looked like Paulus’ prediction that there would be Egyptians in the subway tunnels bore little fruit. Just as his men were getting frustrated, around downtown Cairo at the Martyrs interchange station, the Special Forces were entangled in a fierce firefight. The Egyptians seemed to come out of nowhere, as the multiple tunnels of the interchange station provided ample cover.
Soon, the subway’s dull hum was replaced by the inescapable din of guns firing and bullets ricocheting off of their targets. Some of Paulus’ men were overwhelmed, not expecting to deal with what seemed like an endless supply of Egyptian soldiers coming at them. It was an absolute frenzy, with heart-stopping action around every corner. If dealing with the masses of Egyptians wasn’t enough, having to trudge through the dust, the ferocious rats and the grime present along the subway floors that promised to bring sickness to many of the soldiers made the fighting especially unbearable.
Eventually Paulus and his men fought through the hardships and dealt with the Egyptians admirably, allowing them to forge ahead along the subway. By the next day, Paulus and his men had managed to clear the subway of any threats, and emerged at Heliopolis hoping to reconnect with his Legion.
What he saw was astounding.
Waiting for him were Egyptian soldiers with their guns trained on the emerging soldiers, meaning Paulus’ men had to face another firefight. Paulus and his men were able to handle those soldiers as well, but it was already too late- the situation was dire for Paulus and he had to turn back.
His Legion was nowhere to be found, as they got caught in an ambush of their own in Cairo’s downtown. The Egyptians were hiding in the buildings there too, armed with RPGs and other assorted small artillery that made life difficult for the Romans. Half of the Legion’s tanks and four fighter jets were downed before the Legion’s Broad-Striped Tribune, Rufus Castorus, gave the order to retreat to stronger positions, as there seemed to be more Egyptians in Cairo than the Legion had accounted for.
Once back at the Camp just outside of the 6th of October City, Paulus received his expected reprimand from Marcus.
“You have some serious explaining to do,” said Marcus from the radio. “You told me marching through Cairo would be a piece of cake. Instead, we just got schooled on urban warfare by an enemy that bought all of its equipment from the Dollar Store!”
“Dux, I can explain,” started Paulus.
Marcus scoffed in his retort. “I bet you can!”
“Sir.” Paulus paused, as he spoke with contrition. “I was following the intelligence reports and they misrepresented the threat, so I went in with fewer resources than I should.”
“Uh-huh…yeah, blame the intelligence reports why don’t ya? You know, I have those same reports, and I told you that I didn’t agree with the plan but you went along with it anyway. So don’t blame our intelligence. Blame your own incompetence, Legate! From now on, you take your advance orders from me and no more freelancing! Is that understood?”
Paulus sighed, resigned to his fate. “Yes sir.”
The next day, 08:00 local time, RSC Headquarters, Rome
“Hello?” said Black, answering his phone in his office. It was Valerius.
“Okay, so we’re playing all these mind games,” said Valerius, sardonically.
“Okay…” Black was confused but wasn’t sure he liked where Valerius was going.
“…and our army had their hides handed to them on a platter by soldiers that you convinced me were no better than fanatics with cricket bats, is that correct?”
“I wouldn’t characterize Claes’ army like that…I never underestimated them, you did.”
“Ha, likely story. Don’t try to deflect blame, Lucius. Your ‘profilers’ led us directly into a trap in Cairo and that’s making my military men believe there’s some kind of a mole in this investigation. It got me thinking…no matter where we’ve turned, Claes seems a little too far ahead of us, catching us right after moves that your people have made.”
Black was apoplectic. “Caesar, don’t go there.”
“Oh I will, and I’m going to arrest every one of your agents for treason, including you.”
“Please, please, please…” Black was now begging. “We’re not the moles…we’ll be able to find out who they are, just trust me.”
Valerius laughed. “Really? Well then Black, you have until noon to find out who it is…and if you don’t, you’re all getting arrested. Is that understood?”
“We’ll need more time than that.”
“That’s not my problem, is it?” Valerius then slammed the phone down, ending the call.
Black wiped his face with stress and cupped it. He was still cupping it when Hotchner, whom Black summoned, entered his office.
“Lucius, what’s wrong?” asked Hotchner, seeing the look of concern on Black’s face.
“It’s Valerius,” replied Black. “He believes that there’s a mole feeding Claes information about the investigation and that we’re the moles.”
“Us?” Hotchner was flabbergasted. “How could he think that? What would we have to gain from feeding Claes information?”
“You don’t understand, Aaron…he doesn’t think like we do. He thinks like a politician, who can only react to what he sees…we understand the intangibles, Valerius only sees the tangibles, and right now, our tangibles are- justifiably so- creating a lot of worry within Rome.”
“So we need to figure out who the mole is.”
“…and do it in four hours.” Black took in several deep breaths, as Hotchner sighed in frustration.
“I’ll summon the team.”
In the boardroom, Hotchner gathered his agents and briefed them on what Black had just told him.
“What?” said Rossi, flabbergasted. “How could we be the moles? What do we have to gain from that?”
“Hotch,” said Jane, the only agent not distraught at Hotchner’s news. “What’s the number for the Roman camp outside of Cairo?”
“We don’t have access to it, Jane,” said Hotchner curtly.
“I need access to it,” replied Jane. “I know who the mole is. It came to me as soon as you said ‘mole’…it was a pretty easy deduction.”
“Well, it won’t be easy,” said Hotchner, sighing with frustration, “but I’ll get it from Black. Just tell me what your plan is and I’ll do what I can to get the camp’s number.”
“I’m going to tell all of you,” said Jane, who addressed the boardroom and relayed his plan.
09:00 local time
“Thanks Garcia,” said Jane on the phone with Technical Analyst Penelope Garia. “Wow, this is pretty salacious stuff.”
“They ask me to dig up the dirt and dirt is what I find!” Garcia beamed enthusiastically.
Jane thanked Garcia and ended the call, placing another one into the Roman camp.
Roman camp, 6th of October City, Egypt
“Attention soldiers of the 10th Neapolis Legion!” Jane’s voice beamed over the loudspeaker, “my name is Patrick Jane, the world famous psychic! Now, I’ve been told that your camp has been down your luck recently, but never fear, because Patrick Jane is here!”
Castorus, who was particularly depressed today, perked up as soon as he heard Jane. He thought that maybe Jane could help him get out of his rut.
“Now, who wants their reading? Come on now, don’t be shy.”
Castorus dutifully ran up to the radio and spoke to Jane.
“Hi Patrick,” he said. “It’s an honour to meet you.”
“It’s an honour to meet you as well, Rufus,” said Jane, excitedly.
“So, what would you like me to do for the reading?”
“Seeing as, you’re the mole, I think you have some explaining to do first.”
Before Castorus could reply, Musus, the Primus Pilus, came by and placed him under arrest.
“What’s going on here?” Castorus asked, shocked and confused at what was happening.
“You heard Jane,” said Musus. “You’re the mole for Claes. Therefore, I’m putting you under arrest. The Atrium Militaris is going to have some fun with you.”
“Ladies and gentlemen of the 10th Neapolis Legion!” Jane boomed through the loudspeaker, “I’d like you to meet your mole to Claes, Primus Pilus Gnaeus Musus!”
Musus was stunned with shock as Paulus emerged from a tank and formally arrested him, telling him they caught him since he seemed too eager to arrest his superior officer. Paulus then ordered Musus to be driven to the coast, so as not to create a scene, and be flown to Rome where he would face trial.
“Mr. Jane,” said Paulus into the radio. “That was well done.”
08:45 local time, 6th of October City, Egypt
Paulus wasn’t going to waste any time. Shortly after dispatching Musus, Paulus decided he had to strike at Cairo once again. The Egyptians called in reinforcements readying themselves for the Roman offensive, so Paulus expected another tough battle.
Believing the Egyptians would hide in the buildings and tunnels again, he ordered his tanks to cover the perimeter of Cairo, and brought one of his siege engines into play. His infantry would push into the city with their artillery-mounted trucks, which were better for mobility. The Avii would fly over the city first to take care of whatever Egyptian fighter planes they had, as well as take out any snipers they saw hiding in high rises.
The operation was smooth sailing for the Romans for most of the morning, allowing Paulus to push through downtown by noon. However, as Paulus suspected, that was just the test- as soon as they got to Heliopolis, the real battle begun.
This is going to be fun, thought Paulus. The symbolism- Heliopolis being the site of one of the Romans’ worst defeats in their history in 640, inflicted by the Arabs and stopping the Romans from thinking about recapturing Egypt until this point. So, for Paulus, he had a chance to correct the ills of the past and have a hand in reasserting Roman glory in a long-lost province.
The battle started at Maryland Park. Since the Egyptians had their tanks rooted in the Park, he ordered his infantry to hide behind the buildings for better cover. Some of the tanks that were closing the perimeter were ordered to Heliopolis, as Paulus was forced to do given the circumstances. Trouble was brewing to the north of him, but he hoped his forces could strike quick enough so that the Egyptian reinforcements would not pose problems.
Meanwhile, the Egyptians at Heliopolis were not going to wait for the Roman tanks- they saw the infantry’s mild retreat and went after them, not afraid to fire at their own buildings. Paulus found this curious, until he noticed that no Egyptians were volleying in the direction of the Sports Club.
“Castorus,” said Paulus to Castorus.
“Yes Paulus,” replied Castorus.
“Get your artillery men to bomb the s*** out of the courtyard of the Sports Club.”
“Because the Egyptians have something hiding there. It’s why they’re hitting every building in Heliopolis except the Sports Club.”
As the firefight continued, Paulus noticed the Egyptians were attempting to steer the Roman infantry into the Sports Club. They were encircling the Romans, with the firefight being very fierce. The Egyptians knew what they were doing, refusing to let up in their volleys just so the Romans were forced to retreat.
“Which way is the wind blowing?” Paulus asked Castorus.
“Northeast sir,” replied Castorus.
“Then order the strike to come from the southwest, and move everyone else northeast.”
Paulus kept the retreat going. His soldiers were starting to get antsy, as was the Legate as he was wondering what was taking the artillery men so long to get a strike out. Meanwhile, the Egyptians were grinning, sensing they were closing in on the kill, pushing the Romans further and further back.
It was a trick, though, as by this point the artillery men did their job, blowing up the mines planted in the Sports Club gardens. Coupled with the wind, the debris gave the Romans ample cover with which to proceed forward and fire back.
The Egyptians were ready for this, though, and backed up towards Maryland Park. A frontline developed in between the Park and the Sports Club, with the Romans and Egyptians trading volleys with little in the way of advancement.
Up the road to the north, the tanks called in for reinforcements on both sides got tangled into a battle of their own. On the plains of Ain Shams, the site of the ancient Heliopolis, the Romans were tasked with protecting the entry into Cairo from the Egyptians, while also finding a way to get to Cairo themselves. The Ring Road became their front, and the Battle of Ain Shams felt more like a chess match with the slow moving tanks.
Back at Heliopolis, Paulus was anxious to find an opening. There were no significant casualties as of yet, but the Egyptians’ unrelenting pressure kept the Roman line back. He then came up with a plan: half of the Roman infantry would form a single line down on roadway and aim all their artillery at the Egyptians blocking that one specific roadway. If it went according to plan, the Romans would break through the Egyptian line at that point in the road, and work progressively to encircle the Egyptians.
The plan worked like a charm. Since the Romans struck so quickly, the Egyptians didn’t have time to react, allowing the Romans to burst through their line without much difficulty. Confusion set into the Egyptian ranks as volleys came in on both sides, and it was Roman pressure that hemmed them in this time. After five fruitless hours and many casualties later, the Egyptians at Heliopolis capitulated.
At Ain Shams, the Romans didn’t bother trying a wedge, although the Egyptians anticipated it. Since the Romans had superior equipment, they decided attrition was the way to go. It worked, as Egypt’s tanks started to progressively wear down, allowing for an easy encirclement. By the following morning, Cairo was in Roman hands, allowing Paulus unfettered access to the pivotal Suez Canal.
“Good job Paulus,” radioed Marcus upon hearing the news.
“Thanks Marcus,” Paulus said, “but there’s no time to celebrate. We’ve got a lot of work left to do still.”
“The Romans have taken Cairo,” said Gideon to Rossi.
“That’s the good news,” Rossi said with a hint of a sigh. “The bad news is that we’re still playing into Claes’ hands.”
“We’ve still got a few cards to play.”
“I’m worried about it getting to that point...the Egyptians have proven remarkably resilient...this could become nothing more than a Phyrric victory and that’s what Claes wants.”
Hawkes then approached the bemused agents.
“I have an idea,” the soft-spoken petite agent said. “Their entire premise rests on the idea that men do the heavy lifting and dominate while the women are submissive and do the housework.”
“Okay,” prodded Rossi. “Carry on.”
“I want to create a Legion that’s entirely female,” said Hawkes, boldly, “and have it take Khartoum.”
“On such short notice I don’t know if it’s possible,” said Gideon.
“All right,” said Hawkes, “we get a Special Forces and they take Claes’ bunker, all while forming that all-female Legion.”
“I like the idea,” said Rossi, “but I’m worried about logistics…the Red Sea is a fortress right now.”
“So have the Legion take over the Suez and attack the MIS,” said Hawkes, confidently.
“If we attack the MIS directly,” sighed Gideon, “Claes will likely switch sides to the ACA and still ambush us.”
“Yes, but that’s only with the army that we have now,” said Hawkes. “What you’re forgetting is that if you have women kicking the butts of MIS and Claes, they’ll be rattled so much that their resistance would fall apart. Their identities are tied so much to the notion that men are better than women, so if we show them just how misguided they actually are, we can subvert his plan.”
“You know, you might be on to something,” said Rossi, intrigued. “These guys are obsessed with bringing women down…with women gaining the upper hand on them, it just might be enough to throw them off their game so that we can end this thing quicker than it’s going right now. Zoe…tell Black about your idea. He’ll be most impressed.”
“Will do sir,” said Hawkes, leaving to tell Black about her plan.
Rossi then spoke pensively with Gideon.
“Now why didn’t we think of that?” asked Rossi sardonically.
“Because we’re men, Rossi,” said Gideon.
Rossi laughed. “Stubborn, grumpy old men.”