Who has real power?
The people in the shadows…
…behind the presidents of the world.
Cloaked in secrecy and loyal to their leaders, the masters of manipulation play at an entirely different level. They pull the strings and sow the seeds of division. What is their plan?
An election approaches.
The new US president will change the direction of the country. The world watches as the contenders for the White House state their cases.
Will this point in history alter the course of mankind?
The hidden plot must be discovered. The upheaval of a divided nation could bring it down. Will our heroes put the pieces together in time? Or have too many dominoes already fallen to stop this devious trap?
You’ll love this “torn from the headlines” modern day thriller because it rings true.
Get it now.
Sign up to join our advance reader team at https://www.frontlinepublishinginc.com/
The Falling Empires Series is best read in order, as each book builds upon the previous work. The reading order is as listed:
Book One: Rigged
Book Two: Peacekeepers
Book Three: Invasion
Book Four: Vengeance
Book Five: Retribution
Release date: May 18, 2019
Publisher: Front Line Publishing Inc.
Print pages: 553
Reader says this book is...: action-packed (1) entertaining story (1) high stakes (1) international intrigue (1) realistic characters (1) thought-provoking (1) unexpected twists (1)
Content advisory: No profanity or sexual content
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October 24, 2020
Hamilton Lane Library
It was thirteen days until the hotly contested presidential election was finally over, and it couldn’t come soon enough for Terresa Ipson. The near-constant barrage of political ads on the radio, TV and social media was driving her absolutely nuts. Fortunately for Terresa, after she got done casting her vote that morning in the early voting polls, she was boarding a plane to go spend the next two weeks in Spain on a work trip.
As a certified public accountant working for KPMG, she traveled a lot. She had to admit, though, this next trip was one she was certainly looking forward to. She couldn’t wait to try the many different tapas restaurants along Calle Ponzano and finish it all off with a churro and hot chocolate.
Now if this line would just hurry up and move, she thought. I have to finish voting so I can get back home and finish packing.
She was catching the red-eye out of the Columbus airport to Madrid. She wanted to have a full day on the new time zone before they started the new project. From what she’d already seen, her work there was going to be a real challenge. A struggling leather manufacturer was looking to be bought out by an Italian firm, and Terresa’s team of CPAs was assigned to do some of the accounting prep prior to a formal agreement to purchase the firm.
“Lots of people in line today, isn’t there?” remarked a woman who was waiting nearby with her young son.
“Can’t we go yet, Mom?” begged the boy, who couldn’t have been more than five years old.
Noticing the woman and her son for the first time, Terresa replied, “There sure is.” Looking down at the boy, who must’ve been bored out of his mind, she added, “You showin’ him the ropes?”
Smiling at her young son, the woman said, “Yeah, figured I’d show him how the grown-ups pick our leaders. We stand in line, pencil in a name on a ballot and then hope for the best.”
“That’s sweet. I remember my dad used to take me to the polls when he would vote. He used to tell us it was our ‘civic duty,’” she said using air quotes. “I suppose he’s right. I’ll just be glad I don’t have to see any more political ads after today.”
“You know there’s still thirteen more days until the election is over with,” said the woman with a sigh. She was obviously tired of it all, too.
“Yeah, but I’m leaving for Spain tonight, which is why I’m voting now. By this time tomorrow, I’ll be eating my way through every restaurant I can before I need to buy new pants, blissfully ignorant of what’s going on back here. At least for a few weeks,” Terresa said jokingly.
While the two of them were talking and slowly moving forward, Terresa could see through the windowed entryway that a Chevy Malibu had pulled up near the door and abruptly stopped. Two men got out of the vehicle wearing khaki tactical pants, denim shirts and sunglasses. They each wore a single-point sling around their neck and shoulder with a short-barreled AR-15 attached to it. Before anyone could react, the first man raised his rifle up to his shoulder and proceeded to open fire on the crowd.
The little boy screamed and suddenly wet his pants. Terresa let out a frightened whimper before the part of her brain that longed for survival took over. She quickly grabbed the woman and her son and pulled them down under a table that was close to a couch.
They heard multiple gunshots in rapid succession. Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.
The woman gently held her hand over her son’s mouth to keep him from screaming again and drawing the attacker in their direction.
From their hiding spot, they could see people running in all directions, looking for anything at all to hide behind. The attacker advanced toward the entrance to the polling stations, shooting voters in the back as they ran away from him.
He turned around and started to fire rounds to sweep up any bystanders who might have escaped his bullets so far.
Oh my God, thought Terresa, this is really how I’m going to die.
Before the attacker pointed his weapon in her direction, his body suddenly vibrated violently, and he slumped to the ground. A man who must have had a concealed weapon on him exited the polling area and put one more round into the attacker’s head for good measure.
The armed citizen turned his handgun toward the second attacker, but a barrage of bullets slammed into him, knocking him to the ground with multiple injuries.
Terresa could hear the attacker shouting something and moving closer to the mysterious hero, when suddenly, police sirens blared, and she heard screeching tires not far away.
The gunman turned his attention toward the more imminent threat, firing in the direction of the entrance, where he must have spotted cops. In that brief instant of distraction, the wounded man used the last remnants of his strength to raise his pistol up. He fired his weapon several times at the attacker, hitting him in the back. Then his strength failed him, and his arm dropped back down.
Terresa’s Catholic upbringing shot back to her, and she immediately made the sign of the cross, praying for the hero who had just saved her life.
Several police officers came in. One shouted, “Attacker one dead, weapon removed!”
Another echoed, “Attacker two down, weapon removed.”
They started to examine the man who’d shot the first gunman, and Terresa bolted out of her hiding spot. “He was one of us,” she declared. “He saved our lives today.” The officer quickly checked for a pulse, but after a moment, he just looked back at Terresa and shook his head.
In the span of sixty seconds, the two gunmen had managed to kill fourteen people and had wounded another nine. The administration’s fears of a terrorist attack on a polling station had unfortunately come true.
Chandler Sunset Library
George Zeeks nervously checked his watch as he waited for the next person in line to move forward into the library. He’d made the mistake of thinking he could swing by the library and vote early and then grab a pizza on the way home for his wife. She’d been feeling under the weather, and rather than having her prepare dinner for their four girls, he thought he’d surprise everyone by bringing dinner. The only problem was, he now found himself stuck waiting in a crowd.
Ugh, when I showed up, it didn’t look like there was much of a line, he thought.
Once he’d parked his truck, he’d pulled his smartphone out and placed an order at their favorite local pizza joint before he walked toward the building. Unfortunately, by the time he’d meandered over to the entrance, a few dozen people had shown up and gotten in line ahead of him.
Crap, I just wanted to cast my vote and get back home. Maybe I should’ve tried that iVote app, he bemoaned.
“Excuse me, ma’am, you can go inside now,” said an elderly poll worker, who held the door of the library open for a woman who appeared to be oblivious to the fact that the line had moved.
Seeing the woman not move right away, a man behind her grumbled something, which caused the poll worker to shoot him a very stern look. He immediately quieted down. Then, the woman at the door looked up and suddenly lurched forward, shoving the poll worker to the ground as she ran her over in an attempt to get inside the library. Just as George and a couple of other people began to move toward the elderly woman to check on her and see what the heck that lady in line had been thinking, a massive blast wave enveloped everyone. A brief flash of flames was quickly followed by a barrage of shrapnel. An overpressure of air blew out their eardrums as tungsten ball bearings shredded their flesh.
Lying on the ground, in shock, George observed small pieces of paper, presumably from books and magazines, slowly drifting back down to earth. Some of them were on fire, the embers quickly burning away whatever words had been written on them. Looking down at his body, George suddenly realized his left arm was missing, and parts of his intestines had spilled out of his body. As he saw the spurts of blood squirt out of the stump that used to be his left arm, he laid his head back down on the sidewalk and watched the papers falling.
As the words disappeared before his eyes, he realized that this bomb was doing the same thing to his life—erasing what was left of it. He felt no pain. As he thought about his daughters and his wife, a single tear rolled down his cheek, and then he took his last breath.
Despite it being nearly November, it was still a balmy eighty-four degrees outside, hotter if you were in the direct sun. For Seth, this was one of those rare weekends he wasn’t having to travel with the boss, and he was determined to enjoy the time alone with his family. No cell phones, no emails, just the six of them secluded in their backyard, grilling some burgers and hanging out in the pool. Lying on a floaty, Seth closed his eyes and turned his head away from the direction of the sun, letting out a deep breath as he just let his body relax.
Suddenly, a massive plume of water erupted and covered his body. Seth looked up, shocked, to realize that his son, Eric, had just landed a cannonball jump right next to him. The wave of water nearly flipped him over as he flailed his arms and legs out to stabilize himself on the floaty. A roar of laughter could be heard from his daughter, Lily, and his wife, amused at his attempt not to fall off the floaty.
“Got you, Dad!” yelled Eric as he popped his head above the water.
Wiping the water from his face, Seth looked at his son with a smile quickly spreading across his face. “You sure did. That was a huge wave. We got to stop feeding you all those burgers and steaks, I think,” he replied. Everyone giggled.
His daughter joined in, landing a cannonball right next to him and knocking him clean off the floaty he’d been lying on with a huge splash. They spent the next five minutes throwing water at each other, having fun and goofing off in the pool, before his wife, Dana, walked out onto the patio, holding his cell phone in her hands.
“Hey, I thought we agreed no cell phones today,” she said, frowning.
Still treading water in the deep end of the pool, Seth looked up at his wife with a quizzical look on his face. “I did,” he said. “That’s why I left it on vibrate in our bedroom.”
“Well, I was changing into my swimsuit, and the stupid thing kept buzzing and buzzing,” she explained. “You should answer it and tell them you’re not on duty until Monday morning. This was supposed to be our weekend with no work, remember?”
Sighing, Seth swam over to the side of the pool and proceeded to pull himself out of the water. He walked over to his wife, who he couldn’t help but notice was looking exceptionally hot in her swimsuit these days, and reached for the phone.
He quickly looked at the screen and saw six missed calls and several new text messages. He also saw several news alerts. His pulled down the notifications first.
23 people shot, 14 killed at early voting poll in Ohio
Apparent suicide bomber kills 17 people, wounds 11 at polling station in Chandler, Arizona
5 people shot, 1 killed at Democratic campaign office in South Carolina
Car bomb kills 13 people, injures 19 at polling station in Arlington, Virginia
“Holy crap. What the hell is going on?” Seth mumbled.
He listened to the first voicemail, a message from command letting them know they were being placed on alert. The second message stated that they were instituting a full recall, and he had two hours to report back to base.
Seth looked at his watch and saw he had roughly twenty minutes before he’d bust that two-hour report time.
Crap, I have to get ready, he thought.
Looking back up at Dana, he hurriedly explained, “There’s a recall. I have to get dressed and head back to the base. There were several terrorist attacks.”
Seth didn’t wait for her reaction. Instead, he quickly moved past her to head back into the house and throw his uniform on. As he walked, he hit the callback button to speak to his office.
His wife followed behind him. “Oh my God!” Dana gasped. She had picked up her own phone and was thumbing through the news alerts.
She quickly walked over to the nightstand, grabbed the TV controller and turned it on. The screen lit up while Seth was throwing on a fresh pair of Tommy Johns and his ACU trousers.
The images that flashed on the screen were horrific. Torn and bloody bodies from the terrorist attacks were splashed across the news as several talking heads dissected what had happened.
Seth saw the concern written on his wife’s face, and he knew he needed to reassure her. He hated to leave her and the kids at a time like this; they’d be scared and concerned. But he also knew he had a job to do, and that meant he had to head to the base.
“Hey. It’ll be OK, all right?” he said as he put his arms around her shoulders reassuringly. “These attacks weren’t nearby. We’re safe, OK?”
She nodded her head and sat down on the edge of the bed. “Just stay safe and call me when you can,” Dana said. “Let us know when you’ll be back or if you’re going to be gone for a little while.”
Nodding, Seth sat down next to her and wrapped his arms around her. He held her tight for a moment before he bent his head down and kissed the top of her head. “It’ll be OK. Just order pizza or something and stay in for the weekend. This place is safe,” he said.
She looked at him with tears welling up in her eyes. “I know you need to leave like the super soldier that you are…but I don’t feel safe,” she said. “That attack in Arlington—it was at the library that we used to take the kids to. I know that library. We may know some of the people who were killed…”
Biting his lower lip, Seth just nodded. He knew a lot of people in that area too. “I know. If I find out who was injured before they release it in the media and it’s someone we know, I’ll call you, OK? I do need to get going. I’m really sorry, babe.”
She nodded and let go of him. “Just call me if you’re not coming home tonight or going to be late, OK? The kids will want to know where you are.”
“Will do,” he responded. He started walking toward the corner of the closet that held his go bag with a few days’ worth of clothes in case the boss sent him somewhere. As he picked it up, he turned back to Dana and said, “I love you.”
At that time of day on a Saturday, there was almost no traffic, so it only took him fifteen minutes to drive the short distance to the base, find a parking spot and start walking into the building. As he approached the turnstiles, Seth saw that a line had already formed as soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen were rushing to return to duty. It took a few minutes to shuffle through that gaggle and officially get inside the building.
As soon as he entered, he quickly noticed it was a madhouse. The military police who guarded the facility were wearing full combat loads, sporting body armor and M4s.
The threat level for the base must have been bumped up to Delta, he thought.
He made his way past the security checkpoint and headed to the boss’s office. As he entered the commander’s little section, Seth saw his two junior captains, along with the rest of the staff, already present.
“Sorry I’m late. Had the phone on vibrate while I was out in the pool with the kids,” he offered quietly to a few of them.
“Eh, no worries, sir,” Captain Tulips said. “It’s not like anyone could have predicted today’s events. Let me get you up to speed on what’s going on. The general is still heading back to the base. He was apparently out on a charter fishing boat with some friends when the alert went out. The Coast Guard sent a helicopter to fetch him.” The captain guided him toward a small table on the side of their workspaces.
Shaking his head at what was going on, Seth asked, “Is the deputy commander here? Does he know what’s happening?”
Captain Tulips nodded. “Yes. He’s down in the Situation Room right now. Homeland and the NSA called an emergency meeting maybe twenty minutes ago. Colonel Budds is in the meeting with him. He said he’d brief you and the others on what he learns when he gets back.”
Seth sighed in relief. “Good. At least we’ll be able to get the CG up to speed when he arrives. I’m kicking myself for having left my phone on vibrate. My wife was insistent about us having a ‘family day’ today.”
“No worries, sir. You’re here now, so let me fill you in. A few minutes after the first attack happened, the Pentagon sent out a flash message, moving all the bases to Threat Condition Charlie. When the subsequent car bomb and suicide bomb went off, the boss called in and said to issue a full recall for the command. I think the Wing commander on the base and CENTCOM did the same once we made the call, just to be sure. Roughly ten minutes later, the Pentagon sent out a flash message raising the threat condition level to Delta for all CONUS facilities. It’s good you got on base when you did, because it’s going to be a pain in the butt to get on right now.”
“Man, what the hell is going on? Do we even know yet?” Seth asked, trying not to get distracted by the news reports being splashed across the TVs mounted on the walls in the office.
“At first it looked like an isolated incident. Then a second attack materialized, then a third. Then we got reports of a suicide bomber hitting one, and then a car bomb hit another. I think what scared the Pentagon was that several people filmed the attacks and the immediate aftermath. Those videos were uploaded to Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and YouTube, all with different captions.”
Captain Tulips showed Seth a couple of the videos. “If you look at this one, for instance, this is one where two gunmen opened fire on the people at the voting station. In one upload, the caption reads, ‘Antifa Members Open Fire on Early Voters in Conservative-Leaning Districts.’ You can see just how fiery the comment thread is here. Conservatives were outraged that liberals would resort to violence to keep President Sachs from winning, and many of the liberal comments, while not at all happy about the attacks, claim that the conservative party is truly the party of violence and hate.”
Seth was appalled by what he saw and the implications of what it all meant. His immediate reaction was that Antifa had finally crossed the line, but then he remembered Tulips said multiple versions of the same video with different captions were popping up.
Tulips handed him a tablet. “This is the same shooting incident, only the caption reads, ‘Black Lives Matter Thugs Kill White Voters in Conservative-Voting District.’ It’s the same incident, sir, but completely different messages aimed at different audiences, targeting the specific newsfeeds people are following.”
Captain Tulips directed his attention back to the desktop screen. “Look at this,” he said. “This is the car bomb attack. You can see the beat-up pickup truck with a rebel flag on it, pulling up to the library where everyone was in line to vote. The driver parks the truck, then hops into another vehicle and speeds away. The truck then blows up less than sixty seconds later. Now, look at the caption of the video: ‘KKK Member Blows up Car Bomb at Polling Station in Predominantly Black Neighborhood.’ Then the next window shows the exact same attack, but this time the caption reads, ‘Antigovernment III Percent Group Detonates Car Bomb at Early Voting Center in Democratic Stronghold.’ Again, same attack, different caption. These were targeted to different demographics, newsfeeds, and social media groups.”
Waving his hand at the TV, Tulips decried, “Even the mainstream media is falling for it. CNN ran with the video that this was an attack by the III Percent group against Democrats, while Fox News ran with the Antifa attack against conservatives. You don’t even want to see how fast this is spreading across Twitter, Facebook, and the other social media platforms, sir. It’s crazy.” Tulips shook his head in dismay.
Sitting back in his chair, Seth was stunned. Then he was angry. He couldn’t believe something like this was happening inside his country. They were less than three weeks away from the general election.
Turning back to face Captain Tulips, Seth said, “We need to find out who’s orchestrating this. Let me know when the boss arrives. I need to make some calls.” Then he got up and quickly headed to his desk. He needed to get on his JWICS terminal and get in touch with some folks back at Langley. He had a hunch, and he needed their help in tracking it down.
It took Seth several tries, but he eventually got through to the man he was looking for. “Trevor, it’s Seth Mitchell down at SOCOM. I need to talk,” he told his friend.
“Seth, this is a really bad time. Can we talk in a couple of days?” asked Trevor. He was clearly dealing with a crisis on his own side of the line.
“This is important, Trevor,” Seth insisted. “We’re reviewing the various videos and the different captions of the terrorist attacks. I need to know if you guys have been able to determine where the servers are that these videos are being shared from, and if they’re being shotgunned out by a host of bots.”
There was a pause on the other end. Seth almost asked if the line had been disconnected when his friend spoke up. “We’re still verifying those points, Seth. Is this a secure line?”
Pulling the phone away for a second, Seth saw the yellow tape on it and moved the receiver back to the side of his face. “Yeah, I called you from the JWICS phone,” he replied. “What are you guys seeing so far? The boss is on his way here shortly, and I need to have something to tell him.”
There was another short pause. “It’s bad, Seth. The videos were initially uploaded to the social media platforms here in the US on our networks, but once they were online, they were shared to several server farms in China, Russia, Eastern Europe and the Balkans. From there, literally tens of thousands of bots began sharing them across nearly every group and social media feed in the US. In less than five minutes, the various versions of the videos had been shared more than one million times. In thirty minutes, that number had climbed to thirty-two million. Now they’re spreading across the globe. The news media in Russia is reporting one version, while the BBC in London is reporting a completely different version with the same video. It’s complete chaos, Seth.”
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