Like a Pterodactyl of the Jurassic, it broke through the low clouds with a shrilling roar. It rocked its mighty wings to cut the airspeed, performed a flare, assumed a nose-up attitude, and touched the ground. Bluish smoke rose as its wheels contacted the tarmac and the pilot applied the brakes, then reversed the engines. The Airbus-343 slowed down, rolled off the runway, and headed for Terminal 5. The nonstop Turkish Airline’s flight, from Istanbul’s Ataturk International to O’Hare, had landed. As the aircraft docked, its engines winded down and the seat-belt sign went off with a chime.
From the port side window seat the man got up, opened the overhead luggage compartment, and pulled out an overnight bag. He was the first to debark, stopping momentarily at the door to thank the cabin crew, which had sporadically served him during the long flight.
As he departed rapidly down the passageway, Mustafa, the head steward, followed him with a gaze. He realized that after eleven hours together in the confinement of the small business class cabin he knew nothing about the man but his name, Fyodor Madeyev, and that only from the flight manifest.
Madeyev had boarded only minutes before takeoff and immediately immersed himself into the pages of a book. As far as Mustafa could tell, by looking over the man’s shoulder, it was an English language paperback.
During the grueling long hours of trans-oceanic flight the man stopped reading just a few times; twice to accept the meals placed before him and once, before landing, to go to the lavatory. He drank only mineral water, politely refusing the complimentary alcoholic beverages the flight attendants offered.
Medeyev must’ve been in his late forties or early fifties and approximately 1.8 meter tall, Mustafa thought. His beard needed trimming and the long dark hair, graying at the temples, would benefit from a cut. He probably weighted no more than ninety kilos. The tanned face belonged to someone who obviously has been through a lot lately. It was haggard and furrowed with deep lines, but not really unpleasant, if you were willing to allow for the fatigued look. The most striking feature were his eyes, a deep mystifying dark, reserved and controlled, which even bloodshot retained some burning, devouring powers. Dressed lightly for comfort, in Duckers slacks, Polo cotton shirt and a gray leather jacket, he made no discordant note from other passengers.
As more started getting off, Mustafa shook his head and concentrated on the business at hand. He said his good-byes and thanked them for flying Turkish Airlines. The man, from seat 3-A, vanished from his thoughts.
Mustafa was the last crewmember off the plane. Walking down the concourse, while pulling a green Skyway, he dodged the deluge of travelers hurrying home for Christmas. Realizing just how tired he was, he decided some coffee would surely help. Resigning himself to the inevitable—a good, strong Turkish cup could not be had in an American establishment—he checked around. The Three Mile High neon sign beckoned him. He entered; it was jam packed with noisy people.
“Just coffee, the strongest you’ve got,” he told the cute, blond barmaid.
She smiled. “Sugar and cream?”
Mustafa shook his head, “why would I ruin it?” He paid and started looking for a place to sit. Eyeing an empty chair at a corner table, he elbowed his way towards it. As he approached, the man at the table raised his head and Mustafa stared at Medeyev.
“Could I sit?”
A nod of the head and an invitation of the hand. “Please.”
“Waiting for a connecting flight?”
“Something like that,” Medeyev said, as he closed the book and shoved it in his shoulder bag. He checked his watch, drank the last of the juice, and stood up. “Afraid I must go. Have a nice stay in Chicago.”
Mustafa watched him wiggle his way through the crowd and disappear behind a solid wall of bodies. He swallowed a mouthful of the weak, lukewarm coffee, wishing he could light a cigarette. Stretching his legs, under the table, his foot hit something. He reached for the duty-free bag and peeked inside. There only was an aluminum tube, about thirty centimeters in length and ten in diameter, and a folded piece of paper. He stood up, attempting to locate Medeyev; but no such luck in that sea of people. Trying to chase after him would be an exercise in futility, he decided. He looked again inside the bag, pulled out the page and unfolded it.
Please take this to Airport Security.
This action was taken by the Uzbekistan Islamic Revolutionary Movement.
The cylinder contains an improved strain of the Ebola. It has been aerosol dispersed on flight THY-6. Transmission is no longer by body fluids but through inhalation of the airborne virus. The adenoviral strain’s incubation time has been reduced to forty hours. Even if you manage to quarantine the airport, you won’t be able to do so with the city or the whole country.
The new strain is immune to the vesicular stomatitis vaccine you have. Research and development of an antivirus could take months and in excess of 20 million will die in this period.
A sample of the antivirus, along with written indication on how to manufacture it, has been placed at a safe location in the United States. Mass production could be achieved within days. To enter in possession of the antiserum and the instructions, you must comply with our demands:
-obtain the release from Tashkent prison of Abu Al-Koretzi, Amir Bin-Hussa and Ulugh Hammasa.
-release from Gitmo: Mohammad Zahari, Yusuf Targahi and Ismail Al-Quarshi.
-broadcast a news bulletin announcing your withdrawal from Afghanistan, starting immediately.
-deliver by parachute one billion dollars to each of the following cities: Kandahar, Sharan, Qalat, Lashkar Gar and Zaranj.
Upon completion of all the above, you will receive the address where to find the antiserum and instructions.
Have a Merry Christmas.