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Enemy at the Gates

Vince Flynn

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  It’s hard to believe that this is my seventh contribution to the Rapp-verse. The older I get, the faster time seems to flow.

  What has stayed consistent, though, is the amazing team that makes the continuation of Vince’s legacy possible. I’ve said so much about them that I’ve decided (for the sake of glorious variety) to just create a simple list in utterly random order.

  My undying gratitude to Emily Bestler, Kim Mills, Sloan Harris, Lara Jones, Celia Taylor Mobley, David Brown, Ryan Steck, Elaine Mills, Rod Gregg, and Simon Lipskar.

  You make it possible and, more important, fun.




  Many years ago, Dr. David Chism had pledged to never take his good fortune for granted. That at least once per day, he would give thanks to whatever cosmic force had taken him under its wing.

  He rolled down the window of his embarrassingly luxurious Toyota Land Cruiser, stuck his hand out into the seventy-three-degree air, and gave the world a thumbs-up. There was no reaction from the emerald mountains, terraced farmland, or red dirt road, but they knew. They knew that he understood the gifts he’d been given.

  Based on his bland suburban upbringing, the fact that he was even in this place was a minor miracle. His parents were both accountants and had absolutely loved everything about that profession and lifestyle. The interminable columns of numbers and teetering tax forms. The complex machinations of the upper middle class. Their elaborate strategies for not only keeping up with the Joneses, but one day becoming the Joneses.

  Despite all that, they’d been—and still were—solid, conventional parents. If only he’d been a solid, conventional child, everything would have gone smoothly.

  It wasn’t for lack of trying on his part. Chism had still been in grade school when he first noticed how their brows furrowed when he brought up his fascination with science. It had started with evolutionary biology and endless hours speculating about the creatures natural selection would give rise to on other planets. Then it was physics and the mysteries of gravity. And, finally, it was everything. Why does this rock look different than that rock, Mom? Hey, Dad. What makes my Frisbee stay in the air? Ms. Davidson—if Superman can fly at almost the speed of light and hold his breath for one minute, could he make it to the sun?

  By the time he entered junior high, he’d learned to hide those interests. To feign enthusiasm for bank entries and for joining the family business after graduating from an economical local university. From there it would be a McMansion, two point five children, and a country club membership. All the things sane people aspired to.

  In secret, though, he’d continued to pursue his passion. Increasingly advanced books borrowed from the library were hidden under a bunch of comics in his closet. Subscriptions to scientific journals were paid for from his allowance and addressed to the house of a friend. Eventually, his obsession with virology had relegated all other fields to little more than passing interests. It was that discipline he dove into every night after doing a calculatedly unspectacular job on his homework.

  Some of the things he read, though, he disagreed with. Most of the problems weren’t with a lack of accuracy per se, but more with a lack of imagination. Finally, a particularly glaring omission relating to how viruses defend themselves drove him crazy enough to write a lengthy complaint to a journal he’d subscribed to.

  To his great surprise, it was published. Then it started getting a lot of attention. Finally, a reporter managed to see through the carelessly created pseudonym he’d used and tracked him down.

  Chism grinned and shook his head in the confines of the car. In retrospect, using Elmer Fudd and putting his real return address on the envelope was the smartest move he’d ever made.

  After that, everything had been a whirlwind: explaining to his stunned parents why there was someone at the door wanting to talk to their fourteen-year-old son about immunology. Entry into Stanford a few months later. Medical degree. PhD. The immediate appointment as the head of a research project that demanded political and fund-raising skills that were well beyond him. A scientific community full of geriatric bastards who pushed back against his revolutionary ideas. Finally, burnout at twenty-three and the beginning of his less than productive drugs, booze, and women phase.

  After his second overdose, he’d awoken in the hospital determined to get his life together. It hadn’t been difficult to find an NGO that would take a scientist of his reputation who was willing to go to whatever shithole or hot spot they could dream up. And that had ushered in his somewhat more productive infectious disease, war, and poverty phase. It had been a huge rush and he’d loved the remote locations, the chaos, the danger. Most of all, though, he’d loved the feeling of moving away from pure theory and helping flesh-and-blood people.

  It was likely he’d still be out there somewhere if it hadn’t been for a chance meeting with the infamous Nicholas Ward. Or maybe it hadn’t been chance. He’d never gotten a reliable bead on that.

  Chism slowed as he crested the mountaintop, looking out across the stunning valley below. The intensity of the forest against the sky. The geometric blocks denoting agriculture. The craggy cliffs and clouds building on the horizon. What really captured his imagination, though, was a distant cluster of buildings to the east. They were another example of the ridiculous serendipity that tended to cling to him even when he was screwing up.

  The facility was state of the art in the truest sense—benefiting from unlimited funds provided by one of the few people in the world smarter than he was. It served as a regular hospital to the rural communities around it, but also as a research facility developing a new approach to fighting viral infections. The potential contribution to mankind was incredible, with the possibility that a single vaccine could wipe out the entire coronavirus category. If he could make it work, COVID, SARS, YARS, and even the common cold would become a thing of the past.

  The location was a little more remote and unstable than he would have liked, but there were no workable alternatives. In its early stages, the vaccine had potential side effects that the local population was immune to. No one was sure why—probably a coronavirus epidemic that predated recorded history—but it didn’t really matter. Relocating to Uganda and recruiting volunteers here had pushed his research forward a good five years.

  Chism navigated down the mountain while scanning the dense trees that lined the road. Despite numerous expeditions into the backcountry, he’d never managed to spot a gorilla. Duikers, a potentially new species of butterfly, and endless red-tailed monkeys, yes. But still not so much as a glimpse of the crown jewel of Uganda’s wildlife.

  Not that he was worried. One day, they’d make an appearance at the edge of the forest, all lined up and in perfect morning light. Just like one day he’d find a supermodel with a thing for geeky scientists broken down by the side of the road. That was just the way his life went.

  * * *

  When Chism pulled up to the front of the facility’s research wing, Mukisa Odongo was waiting for him out front. The former Ugandan army doctor was a rock in every way. At fifty, his six-foot-five frame was still intimidatingly solid, and his eyes had a way of ferreting out any employee not givin
g one hundred percent. Despite the fact that the man was yet another gift from God, Chism was a little afraid of him. In theory, this was his operation, but everybody knew Odongo ran it. Probably to the benefit of all those involved, frankly.

  “What’s up, Muki?” Chism said as he climbed out of the Land Cruiser. “It’s a gorgeous day, our last trials went even better than expected, and the birds are singing. Why do you always look so unhappy?”

  “We’re hearing rumors of guerrilla activity in the area.”

  “Finally! I’ve got my backpack in the car. Let’s give ourselves a couple days off and go check ’em out.”

  “Not gorilla activity, David. Guerrilla activity. Terrorists.”

  Chism froze. “Auma? No way. He never comes this far east.”

  “Gideon comes and goes as he pleases.”

  Gideon Auma was a psychopath who had a category all to himself. He’d spent years building his clandestine army from a small, twisted cult into a force capable of wreaking havoc on the local population. He burned villages, kidnapped children, and generally raped, tortured, and mutilated his way across the region.

  Terrorist activity had been a consideration in the placement of this hospital, prompting them to locate it as far east as the terrain would allow. Auma preferred to stick close to the dense forests around the Congolese border, crossing back and forth in a conscious effort to use the animosity between the DRC and Uganda to prevent any kind of coordinated action.

  “Are we talking credible rumors or just the normal gossip?”

  “That’s what I’m trying to determine,” Odongo said. “Right now, we’re doing an additional backup of the computer systems and categorizing all critical research items for potential emergency removal. We’ll have trucks here on standby tomorrow.”

  “You think that’s necessary?”

  “Probably not. The truth is that we’ve treated a number of Auma’s people in the time we’ve been here. Combat wounds, disease, drug overdoses… Our continued operations benefit him more than an attack on us.”

  “We treat his people? Why didn’t I know that?”

  “It’s not your business, David. You don’t understand my country. In Uganda, peace is a delicate balancing act. Taking sides isn’t wise.”

  “Even against the devil?”

  The African ran a hand thoughtfully across his cleanly shaven head. “Yes, my friend. Even against the devil.”

  * * *

  The stark white hallway was empty, as were most of the rooms it serviced. Apparently, everyone who could walk under their own power had decided to bug out back to their villages.

  Worrying. When he’d used the word gossip with Odongo, it hadn’t been meant in an entirely pejorative way. In Africa, you ignored the local chitchat at your own risk.

  When Chism entered the main lab, it felt almost abandoned. Precaution was starting to look a lot like evacuation. How serious was this? You could never tell with Odongo. He’d face a nuclear war with the same disapproving frown as he aimed at the mold taking hold on the cafeteria ceiling.

  “Seems quiet,” he said as he came through the glass door.

  Jing Liu spun, nearly dropping the box she was holding. “You’re here! Have you heard? Gideon Auma is close.”

  At thirty-three, she was one year his senior but looked much younger. He’d raided her from a research facility in Wuhan and she’d proven to be worth her weight in gold. If only he could decipher her accent.


  “Gideon Auma! He’s here.”

  “My understanding is that there are some rumors about him being in the area. That’s all. We’re just being careful.”

  A man appeared from a door at the back dragging a handcart. “It’s about time you got here. Did you stop on top of the mountain again?”

  Matteo Ricci was a brilliant virologist from Milan who had been coaxed out of retirement by ridiculous amounts of money. In contrast to Liu’s, whose appearance could be described as slightly startled minimalism, Ricci had a great tan, amazing hair, and could still genuinely rock the ass-hugging slacks he favored. Today, a cigarette hung from his lips, putting a finishing touch on his aging-pop-star vibe. Apparently, he’d decided that the proximity of Gideon Auma trumped any rules against smoking in the lab.

  “What are we doing?” Chism said, ignoring the comment about his tardiness.

  “Odongo gave us a list,” Ricci responded in his lightly accented, grammatically rigid English. “Procedures for what needs to go and when. They’ve prioritized getting noncritical personnel and stable patients out of here, but it sounds like we’re going to be moving equipment and live samples tomorrow when the trucks arrive.”

  Chism laced his fingers thoughtfully atop his head. Were they overreacting here? The reasonably healthy patients and nonessential employees, sure. No point in taking chances. But a lot of the other stuff wasn’t all that easy to transport and there’s no reason someone like Auma would want it. It wasn’t like there was a big market in the jungle for incubators and test tubes.

  Having said that, if Mukisa Odongo had spoken that was it. The momentum of his edicts was irresistible. Like a hurricane, they just swept you along whether you liked it or not.

  * * *

  Odongo stood well back from the window, staring into the dimly lit parking area. The rain was coming down even harder now, creating a haze of heavy droplets and swirling fog.

  The helicopters should have been there hours ago, but one of the bureaucratic glitches so common in Kampala had caused a delay. And now it was too late. All aircraft was grounded due to the weather and forecasts suggested that they would stay that way until just before dawn.

  Chism and his team should have been long gone, but instead they were going through the mundane exercise of packing and categorizing research materials in preparation for them to be moved to a more secure location. It was an effort that would likely prove pointless beyond keeping them occupied.

  Odongo’s grandfather had taught him that the darkness hid evilspirits intent on making the living suffer. And those superstitions, so easy to laugh off as his education had advanced, now manifested themselves. His informants in the surrounding villages were reporting the appearance of people who could only have been sent by Gideon Auma. They were sticking to the forest for now but taking positions along the main road that led there. Cutting off escape and isolating the facility from anyone who could offer assistance.

  This was his mistake. His fault. He should have ordered an evacuation the moment the rumors started. But he’d prioritized the continuity of Chism’s work, concerned about the setbacks an evacuation could cause.

  A flash of light became visible through the window, likely a few hundred meters distant. The strobe effect was accompanied by the unmistakable sound of automatic rifle fire.

  It had begun.

  Odongo used the laptop on his desk to activate the facility’s alarms and strode purposefully from his office. The few staff members remaining were volunteers and all understood their roles perfectly. He felt great pride in seeing them work—removing IVs, stabilizing wounds, moving critical patients from beds to more maneuverable stretchers. They would carry them into the rain and scatter, trying to keep them alive as they were transferred to nearby villages that he prayed Auma would ignore.

  Everything seemed to come into a sharp focus. The traditional pattern of the floor tiles. The scent of the rain filtered through the building. The efficient movements of the people who had been courageous enough to stay. It was incredible that a world with so much darkness could also have so much light.

  He spotted Chism rushing up the corridor, having abandoned the busywork he’d been assigned in the lab.

  “What’s going on, Mukisa? What’s the alarm mean?”

  “Auma’s here.”

  The fear on the young scientist’s face was clearly visible but didn’t rise to the level of panic. He wasn’t as pampered as the others. The boy had lived through hard times. Some self-inflicted, but hard no
netheless. While he’d never experienced anything like Gideon Auma’s army, it wouldn’t be completely unimaginable to him. The other two, though, would have no context for what was coming. He prayed they would be spared.

  “We need to get the rest of the patients out of here, Mukisa. They—”

  “It’s all taken care of, David. What’s important now is that we make sure you’re safe to carry on your work.”

  He put a hand on Chism’s shoulder, leading him back down the hallway toward the lab.

  Matteo Ricci and Jing Liu were standing by the boxes they’d packed, looking a little stunned. Odongo motioned through the glass for them to follow and they obeyed. Their questions were rendered unintelligible by their accents mixing with the wail of the alarm, prompting Odongo to put a finger to his lips. They fell silent and allowed themselves to be led to the eastern side of the facility.

  Chism finally spoke up when they entered a small room filled with cleaning supplies. “I don’t mean to question you, Mukisa, but what are we doing here? There’s no way out. Not even a window.”

  By way of answer, Odongo moved a bucket and mop from the back of the space, feeling around for a hidden handle and opening a hatch.

  “What’s this?” Chism said.

  “Get in.”


  “No one but me knows about this place and Auma’s people won’t be able to find it. Wait overnight. The weather’s scheduled to clear in the morning and help will come. Auma won’t risk a confrontation. He’ll leave before they arrive.”

  “What about you?” Chism said, looking down at the shadowy hole.

  “I have other things to attend to.”

  “What are you talking about? There’s plenty of room. I’m not going down there if you—”

  “You are going down there,” Odongo corrected. “Like I said earlier. This isn’t your country, David. You take care of your business and I’ll take care of mine.”