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AT CASTEL GANDOLFO

Walter, Walter! One of the assistants called out as he repeatedly knocked on the door of the apartment on the second floor of the Castle. He sat up on the bed. The chain lock was on the door. He managed to turn on the night-light and stumbled to the door cursing the man who had awakened him. He opened the door and asked: What is the matter Terry?

-We have a double reading on the satellite that tracks the Pope’s microchip. –Terry was clearly excited.-

You obviously do! You have two PSTs.-

-I know Walter! But they should both be on the same location. One is going around the Euphrates towards Ar Raggah in the direction of Dayr az Zawr straight to the Iraq border. The other is going in the opposite direction towards Hamah. I can’t give you an exact location until both vehicles stop.

-Do you have the satellite pictures of both cars? Walter asked. –

  • Yes, they are being developed. Also, the Pope’s vital signs are totally normal, which seems to indicate that he is not in any imminent danger. - Terry added: Do you think this is part of the terrorist’s precautions to conceal the meeting place?

  • ¡Hmmmm! It could be, but I don’t think so. Go on with with the observations of the PSTs. Generate a detailed report. I will take a quick shower and I’ll be there in a few minutes. In the mean time, try to find Anthony, but don’t call him. I will do it myself if I think it’s necessary.

IN THE MOUNTAINS

The bumpy unpaved road woke Simon up who had been sleeping for the greater part of the trip. He wasn’t sure how long he had dozed off since they had also removed his watch. It was dark already but he could still see the mountains around him. He thought he had been traveling for hours over endless bumps that made the vehicle jump constantly in spite of the state of the art suspension of the Hummvee. Wherever he was, it was obvious that humans had never marked the roads. Only animals were roaming around. Like the old saying, "the path is made by walking" and that is what the goats and the camels had done for centuries.

With the approaching dawn, the violet hues of the sky turned to red. The peak of the mountains began to show their fine rocky summits with the shadows and lights filtering through the crevices.

The convoy finally arrived. They entered through a narrow path between two mountains that made up a cannon leading to a valley. The Pope noticed that the valley was intense with activity. People in all directions carried parts of artillery to the trenches. Once the weapons aimed at the valley entrance were installed, they were camouflaged to avoid detection from the air. Others piled up sand bags feverishly packed by another group and taken to a nearby location on a pair of pick-up trucks. The Pope watched. He knew that at that instant, thousands of satellite pictures were being taken creating a catalogue of each weapon installed and each case of ammunition carried to the location.

The vehicles stopped in front of a narrow ramp. The men got off and aligned themselves in front of the vehicles. Hashmir opened the door to the Hummvee and asked the Pope to come down. Men nearby watched curiously. According to rumors, the man in front of them was the leader of a billion infidels.

The initial segment of the ascent was difficult. It appeared to have been made by goats trying to find a suitable place to graze among the rocks. The rest of the climb looked similarly ominous. The second segment was a path that had been cut through the mountain. It allowed one vehicle at a time to travel easily, along with several men.

At the Pope’s inquisitive look, Hashmir said – Your Excellency is surprised by our work. -

-I am surprised indeed. It would all appear to be natural, untouched by human hands for hundreds or even thousands of years – the Pope answered.

  • When I was just a young mujaheddin in Afghanistan, I helped our great leader, Osama Bin Laden, to change the Tora Bora Mountains into an underground city unsuspected by anyone. The Great Osama brought in equipment that transformed the whole valley. He had labyrinths built that were impossible to follow, all with electric generators, air conditioning and heating.

-That’s how the plan came to be and it has taken us decades to carry it out. Part of the equipment was transported to this place hidden from the world, and here we are now, at the last phase of the plan begun over 30 years ago. –

They took more than 30 minutes to arrive at the platform. A tight and half hidden entryway allowed access to the cave through a narrow alley. The alley led to a room with an old iron bed with bags for blankets, and an old mattress.

Smiling, Hashim led him to the rear of two large rocks that hid the entrance to a much larger room. This room led to a series of offices with a complex system of computers and television screens with worldwide reception. Several technicians were working at the desktops. The place looked more like Walter’s facilities at Castel Gandolfo than a cave in the northeastern Syrian mountains.

He looked carefully at the Pope’s face to see his reaction. The Pope remained indecipherable.

-Your Excellency – Hashmir said – how could you believe that after 30 years of preparations we would discuss peace when we are ready to launch the most powerful attack against infidels in the whole world? Once the nations who are faithful to Allah see that on November 3rd all of the infidel nations fall to their knees, they will join us in attacking the few remaining ones.

Hashmir. - The Pope interrupted – How could you think that an order given by a human for the destruction of The Lord’s children can be the will of God? Don’t you see that your actions and that of your leaders and followers are wrong? And even if you manage to carry it all out, you will condemn them for eternity. -

CHAPTER

MEETING AT CASTELL GANDOLFO

Several automobiles were on the parking lot at the Castle. It was unusual to see them, particularly at 0700 hours. Several workers engaged in the restructuring and remodeling moved from one building to another carrying cases with building materials. All of this to accommodate the instruments that Walter had brought to add to the Observatory that Pope Pious XI built in 1935.

The members of the Gendarmerie, the Swiss Guard and the Noble Guard arrived at once. Small groups formed near the automobiles, as all were curious about the reason for this meeting. What could possibly be behind this unprecedented assembly at this hour in the morning? Only two hours before they had all received a call invoking the emergency code.

Shortly before 07:30, they all slowly moved to the conference hall. It was now an office laden with digital equipment and computers. At the great hall, there was only room for the large table and the necessary chairs for the individuals summoned. Their names were at the designated seats. They made their way to the table treading over boxes, some opened and some about to be opened.

Positioned on the wall for everyone’s view was a large 80-inch screen. The Castle’s butler personally escorted Prince Albert, the commander of the Noble Guard, Thomas, the commander of the Swiss Guard, and Nicholas, Chief of the Vatican’s Gendarmerie. Other official members were already waiting at the large entrance. They joined their superiors.

Walter and Anthony sat at the head of the table engaged in brisk conversation. They had several documents in their hands, wrote down numbers and made all sorts of computations. Anthony proceeded to introduce the leaders of the different guards to Walter. Walter these are Prince Albert, Thomas, and Nicholas. Have you met them?

Not personally, but we have seen each other – said Walter. It is a pleasure, he said, and shook their hands.

  • Gentlemen! Said Anthony - Please have a seat and we will bring you up to date as to the purpose of this meeting.

Once they were all seated, Anthony began. – First, I want to thank you for coming to this meeting. – Pausing for a few minutes, he continued. I have terrible news, His Holiness the Pope has been kidnapped at 02:35 hours in the mountains of Jabal al Nusayriyah. Everyone was surprised. This was inconceivable. All wanted to ask questions at the same time.

  • Gentlemen, please, if you will allow me to continue, I will give you all the information that we have and the plans for a rescue mission.

Walter, can you show us the region? The screen showed a picture of the satellite highlighting Syria – we know that the Pope has been taken to the Western zone which is a narrow part of the country running parallel to the Mediterranean. His Holiness is now in a mountain in Jabal al-Nusayriya. As you can see, we are dealing with a group of mountains with an average elevation of about 4000 feet. The highest point is at 5121 feet and it is criss-crossed by deep valleys. To the East, the Grand Rift Valley descends rapidly. This valley continues south all the way to Africa.

You all know more or less that His Holiness was in a secret mission to negotiate with the terrorist groups. The purpose of this mission was to find a solution for the problems affecting our world.

These meeting were to have taken place in Khan Shelldhun o Hama. We know that His Holiness used his own private jet from Cypress to the city of Tartus in the Mediterranean coast. Once he arrived, he boarded a car followed by several others. –

They couldn’t believe what they were hearing, and answering some questions still unspoken, he continued – the Pope has not been harmed but he has been kidnapped. In the mean time, an impostor has apparently taken over the agenda he had in the places for which he was headed.

His Holiness was taken to these mountains, - and Walter pointed on the screen. The image was enlarged immediately to full size. – Anthony interrupted – His Holiness has a special implant in his body that allows our satellite to trace exactly where he is at all times. State-of-the art technology that Walter has incorporated allows us to detect the implant even under tons of rock. Visibly upset Prince Albert asked - The Pope was traveling without bodyguards? How was this possible? -

  • Those were the conditions and His Holiness accepted them – Anthony answered. Although he has only been among you for a short time, you all know His Holiness. Nothing in the world will stop him from doing something that he considers his duty and obligation.

They all agreed and Walter continued – Gentlemen, he said, - if you look closely at this image, you will see that the top of the mountain can only be reached by a narrow path to this platform. As you can see, a cave has probably been there for thousands of years. Different inhabitants have excavated it to gain space during the course of time. There are large rocks dispersed on the surface on the platform. This place has been well chosen. It is in a small valley flanked by the mountains. The only access is a path created by two hills approximately 100 feet wide and approximately 325 feet long-. Walter changed the image on the screen to show the path. Clearly on the sides, at about 130 feet high, they could see machine guns deployed. He continued. - There are two men at each individual trench. They have two lines of defense: one on each side at different heights and both very effective. They could be very successful in avoiding or at least delaying penetration from the main defense area. On the upper part of the cave, there are 15 men, and there are 5 more on the platform. The trenches on each side are perfectly armed. Sandbags and stones protect them. On the mountain, they have 15 men for defense in three positions, as you can see. It would be extremely difficult to go up the narrow path without being eliminated by the guards. Even, if we were able to send a powerful army, the life of His Holiness could not be guaranteed. The men exchanged glances and some words. They understood the situation. Thomas spoke to Anthony. – Anthony, I suppose that you have not just called us to this meeting to tell us about these events. You clearly must have a plan?

  • Yes! Anthony answered standing up at the head of the large conference table. He put a pointer on the map that Walter had put on the giant screen – you have seen the pictures and have been apprised of the situation. This mountain, with a natural cave on top, is among the group of mountains of low elevation standing at an average of 3900 feet. Deep valleys surround them. The place has been carefully chosen. It is in one of those valleys and access is gained from the sides of two mountains that we have already shown you. The sides of these mountains are well guarded as the satellite pictures show – the pictures appeared immediately on the screen. In the small valley the only access is, a path that has been worn primarily by animals looking for shelter from the cold or the heat. They have established two lines of defense. You can see the trenches excavated and protected by rocks piled in front of them and completed with sand bags. There is a first place position, immediately near the entrance to the valley and the other one at about 150 feet behind. If the front line were to fall victim to a strong offensive, the men would regroup into the second. On the sides of the mountains leading to the valley, there are 15 men in each. They are armed with powerful weapons of repetition. There are heavy machine guns and Bazookas in each one of the trenches, asides from the individual personal weapons.

At the height of where the cave is, we can detect 10 men guarding His Holiness at all times. On the access platform, there are 15 and three entrenched positions to defend the path leading to the platform.

From what we can see – said Thomas – even if we had a powerful army, the life of His Holiness could not be guaranteed. If the terrorists were defeated they would undoubtedly kill His Holiness.

I propose the following: said Anthony-

We are listening – said Thomas. Albert and Nick nodded in agreement.

As you have seen – Anthony continued - there is one possible entrance and it is tremendously difficult. I’m sure that you will all agree with me that the most important thing this time is to protect the life of His Holiness before any force is deployed to attack the site. Everyone agreed.

The sides of this mountain are practically vertical, except, let’s call it, the front, where the ascension path is. It is all bare rocks, and for all practical purposes, impossible to climb. There are no defenses at those points since they are considered unclimbable. One of those sides leads us directly to the platform. There are huge rocks at different places on the surface of the platform. Once this point is reached, it is ideal for coordinating the elimination of the defenses of men and weapons – Walter showed the detailed photographs of the platform, the trenches, the rocky formations, the vertical walls.

If the vertical walls are impossible to climb – Albert asked – what are you proposing?

No! Shrieked Anthony. I did not say that they were impossible to climb. What I said is that those men believe that the walls are impossible to climb, but, under certain circumstances they could be wrong. We are working on bringing a team to the site tonight to climb the mountain, safeguard the Pope’s life and attack the site with enough men to free His Holiness completely.

Gentlemen, to do this I need your support and your men! Albert, I need your cavalry. Thomas! Your guards, Nick! Your gendarmes – the three men rose simultaneously and said – Our lives for the Pope!

It is done then. Get ready to leave tonight from Fiumicino airport. Get your men and your equipment ready. Before we leave, we’ll get together to go over the battle plans. Gentlemen, have your cell phones on at all times. We will be in constant contact. Everyone is to be ready at the airport at 1900 hours. May God deliver us all!

Thomas thought for a moment and then dared ask: Anthony, -What are our chances?

Fifty-fifty. But if we can climb the mountain, then it’s ninety nine percent.

I swore I’d give my life for His Holiness – said Thomas, with an affirmative glance from all.- It is time to make good on my promise!

Prince Albert asked Anthony: - what type of weapons shall we bring.-

-I think that the best thing, other than the lances to which you are used, is for the men to carry the weapons with which they are comfortable. Albert! You will command the first attack. It will most likely be just like you have practiced. Do you think you and your men will have any problems?

  • Let me tell you something Anthony, any man who practiced at the cavalry school lives with the nostalgia of the good old time. Most of all of them know these rhymes:

-

"Into the Valley of death

Rode the six hundred

Canons to the right of them

Canons at the left of them

Not one of them hesitated and my men will be just like them.

Anthony shook the prince’s hand firmly and said: the charge of the light brigade in Tennyson’s poems has a special place in the world’s imagination. Go and make your arrangements. You, Thomas, Nick, we will leave tonight and we will rescue the Pope. Gentlemen! He said as he saw the palace’s butler signaling to him – we’ll meet at the airport, I have an urgent call.

-So long Anthony – said the three men as they exchanged comments and walked quickly to their automobiles.

As the men left, Walter asked Anthony –

Are you sure that men will be able to carry out the first attack?

  • My dear Walter. Although it is true that they have not much combat experience, there is no doubt in my mind that they have the necessary courage to enter into battle. Besides, they have enough training, and…. there has to be a first time. It will only be 15 minutes before the mechanized backup arrives which will be only 6 to 10 miles away from the point of battle. Pausing for a minute, he spoke to Walter again: - we have another ace up our sleeve. Please contact Anderson – Contact Anderson? It is midnight in Washington! Walter exclaimed –– then, call him at home –

  • Hello, who’s this– John answered-

  • John, It’s Anthony

– Listen, this is no joke. His Holiness the Pope has been kidnapped. He’s been held in Syria –

  • The hell! -Said Anderson, now completely alert – What can we do?

  • We are doing all we can, but we need your help. I’ll explain the situation to you in a minute. You will have a written report in your office within the hour.

  • What do you have in mind Anthony?

Well………….Industries has 24 F-24s at Tyndal Air Force Base, in Panama City, Florida. They are to be turned over to the bases in Greece and Turkey. We need them for the Vatican’s air force –

  • Vatican’s Air force? What the hell are you talking about?

-John, ¿Isn’t the Vatican a sovereign country?

  • Is this a question? John answered. He was irritated.

-Yes! It is a question. Is it or is it not a sovereign state?

  • Yes! The hell it is! John shouted. Anthony could hear John’s wife Cynthia, protesting the tone of the conversation.

Well, then, - said Anthony – if it is, then it has the right to its own army of Swiss guards, gendarmes, and a secretary of state. The Vatican can have its own Air Force!

John, we have contacted several governments asking for their help to rescue His Holiness. No one wants to do it. So I need my combat planes. We will have to penetrate the Syrian airspace and rescue the Pope. It is a legitimate raid to rescue the sovereign of an independent country who has been kidnapped by elements who are not even Syrian nationals.

-O.k.….O.K…. What do you want?

I want you to wake up General Noble. Tell him what’s going on and have him give the order for the planes to be delivered to us. They are still with our pilots. Coordinate to refuel in the middle of the Atlantic. Permission to land at the Azores for final touches, and load several missiles, etc. We also need other tank planes in the Mediterranean in case we need to make more than one incursion into Syrian territory.

I need 30 of the best contractors here in Europe to be at the Fiumicino airport before 1900 hours ready for combat. – I will speak to Noble and the President. I don’t think that there will be any problems. The planes are technically yours. We haven’t paid for them. –

  • Walter is sending the images with the emblems to put on the planes with the Vatican’s coat of arms. They can be printed at the Base or at any Kinko’s in the city. Put them over the USA’s ones. I think you’d want to change them and not see yourself involved in another conflict.

-No, I don’t. Please send them right away – John answered and continued. O.K. Anthony, I’m headed for the CIA. I suppose we’ll keep in touch. Once again, like the old times. Good luck comrade. – Thanks John. I’ll see you in Washington in a week.

  • Cynthia and I will be waiting for you to meet Susanne. -

-We will be there – hanging up he now spoke to Walter who had been near him throughout the conversation. – Walter, I’m leaving immediately for the Vatican. A commission of cardinals is waiting for me. If Susanne comes, explain the situation to her and give her all she needs to climb that wall. – He now walked rapidly towards the door – he added – Walter, please, send the report to John -

-Thanks comrade – he said as he hurried to the exit doors.


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