Seven

Two hours later.
May 7, 2024
1230 Z
Dulles, Virginia
United States of America
Daniel couldn't believe his luck. Less than 24 hours ago, he had been sitting in the most disgusting jail cell that he had ever been in, and now here he was, a free man pulling up outside Obama International Airport.
Daniel thanked the cab driver and pulled his battered tactical pack from the trunk of the car. As always, it attracted a few curious stares from the travelers pulling along their slick Samsonites on wheels. This bag had seen him through his fair share of adventures and foreign destinations. One boring day in the Syrian Desert, he personified the pack and began to refer to it as Alice, his faithful companion. This raised more than a few eyebrows and elicited a cursory conversation with the unit’s shrink. The patches and badges were testaments to the last decade of hard use that Daniel and his trusty bag Alice had been through.
A quick glance at his watch told Daniel that despite the cabbie's best effort, he was still going to be running. He hoisted the bag onto his shoulder and broke into a jog, murmuring apologies at the passengers around him as he brusquely knocked them out of his way.
Huffing through the airport, Daniel dodged travelers milling about. Hardly anyone could afford to travel by air, and the CPC security bureaucracy was lazy and ineffective, but by some miracle, the security line was short. Daniel held his breath when he passed over his passport to the officer, but the security man decided to skip the interrogation. Daniel was waved on with a bored-looking flop of the hand.
After passing the millimeter wave scanner, Daniel did a quick check to his left. Gate one. Gate 14 was his destination. Almost there. His heart pounded. He couldn't afford to miss this flight. If he got out of the country, he would feel a lot safer. Even if some bureaucrat realized his mistake he’d probably be safe, away from the reach of domestic law enforcement.
He wasn't excited about what awaited him at the other end, and for a moment, Daniel wondered if he ought to be fleeing in the other direction. His mind was filled with emotions and thoughts, a strange feeling for a man who rarely saw shades of grey. At this moment, he felt somewhat disgusting, and he'd give anything for a shower and shave. He pushed forward, mostly because couldn’t let down his best friend, Gideon. He hoisted Alice higher on his shoulder, pushed onward and thought of his lovely Sana. Daniel danced nimbly around a wandering toddler, and the child wailed as the big man came close. Daniel thought back to just this morning, and considered the name Markus Gallery. That morning in jail seemed like another lifetime and he grimaced, wondering just how many more close calls he could handle.
Gate 13. Daniel could hear engines roaring to life outside as the Emerson Transportation EA-258 Saga Transport flexed its variable geometry wings and prepared to take flight.
As Daniel approached the entryway, he saw a familiar figure waving at him, hurrying him along the corridor. Gideon Caro would stand out in most places with his six-foot six running back frame. His skin was a dark ebony that made his straight pearly white teeth glow whenever he grinned, accentuated by his slight goatee. He was dressed in khakis and a tight-fitting shirt that was so snug Daniel worried that he would pop out of it, Hulk style, if he turned in the wrong direction. Gideon also sported headphones which Daniel knew played not music, but sermons. As he got closer, Daniel could see the worried expression clouding Gideon's generally smiling face.
"Good to see you, brother!" A big meaty hand, the size of small dinner plate, landed on Daniel's shoulder as Gideon bear-hugged him in greeting. "Let's get outta here."
Outside the window, Daniel caught a glance of the sleek, next generation Emerson Airways plane with a delta wing and the ever-present Emerson logo that would be his ticket out of this mess. He showed his boarding pass to the pretty stewardess, looking stunning in her slim gray Emerson uniform. Her eyes and mannerisms vaguely reminded him of Sana, but as the barcode beeped green under her delicate hands, he shook his head and told himself to snap out of it. "Have a pleasant flight" she purred as Daniel and Gideon entered the jetway. A click and a beep signaled that they were the last passengers expected and they picked up their pace to a run.
"I didn't think you were going to make it." said Gideon, running beside him at a full sprint. Daniel was always amazed at how physically fit his friend and colleague was. At PT, Gideon could still outsprint every operator, no matter how young or old, without so much of a hint of training. At thirty-four, the men were not at their physical peak anymore, but their years of experience made them formidable enemies that no terrorist or government wanted to tangle with. Gideon's last few months at home in Detroit with his wife and kids hadn't stopped him from keeping his stamina up.
"Neither did I, preacher." A couple of seconds passed as Daniel thanked his lucky stars for whoever was pulling the strings behind the scenes. A clear passport, a delayed flight? Too good to be true.
"These Emerson birds always depart on time. This one is 10 minutes overdue. You got lucky. What happened?"
Daniel considered for a moment but didn't share. "I don't know. I was going to be locked up for a really long time."
"What?"
"It's a long story. I'll tell you about it on the way. We just need to get out of here."
"Get your head on straight, man! We’re walking into a big mess." The conversation came to end as the two men slowed down in front of the open door to the jet. "Here we go."

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