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The Shape of a New World Order

It took all day, lengthening what was supposed to have been a pro forma meeting of the NATO chiefs into a minor marathon. It took all of Scott Adler's powers of persuasion to smooth things over with the various foreign ministers, but with the assistance of Britain, whose diplomacy had always been of the Rolls-Royce class, after four hours there was a head-nod-and-handshake agreement, and the diplomatic technicians were sent off to prepare the documents. All this was accomplished behind closed doors, with no opportunity for a press leak, and so when the various government leaders made it outside, the media learned of it like a thunderbolt from a clear sky. What they did not learn was the real reason for the action. They were told it had to do with the new economic promise in the Russian Federation, which seemed reasonable enough, and when you came down to it, was the root cause in any case.
   In fact most of the NATO partners didn't know the whole story, either. The new American intelligence was directly shared only with Britain, though France and Germany were given some indications of America's cause for concern. For the rest, the simple logic of the situation was enough to offer appeal. It would look good in the press, and for most politicians all over the world, that was sufficient to make them doff their clothes and run about a public square naked. Secretary Adler cautioned his President about the dangers of drawing sovereign nations into treaty obligations without telling them all the reasons behind them, but even he agreed that there was little other choice in the matter.
   Besides, there was a built-in escape clause that the media wouldn't see at first, and hopefully, neither would the Chinese.
   The media got the story out in time for the evening news broadcasts in America and the late-night ones in Europe, and the TV cameras showed the arrival of the various VIPs at the official dinner in Warsaw.
   "I owe you one, Tony," Ryan told the British Prime Minister with a salute of his wineglass. The white wine was French, from the Loire Valley, and excellent. The hard liquor of the night had been an equally fine Polish vodka.
   "Well, one can hope that it gives our Chinese friends pause. When will Grushavoy arrive?"
   "Tomorrow afternoon, followed by more drinking. Vodka again, I suppose." The documents were being printed up at this very moment, and then would be bound in fine leather, as such important documents invariably were, after which they'd be tucked away in various dusty basement archives, rarely to be seen by the eyes of men again.
   "Basil tells me that your intelligence information is unusually good, and rather frightening," the PM observed, with a sip of his own.
   "It is all of that, my friend. You know, we're supposed to think that this war business is a thing of the past."
   "So they thought a hundred years ago, Jack. It didn't quite work out that way, did it?"
   "True, but that was then, and this is now. And the world really has changed in the past hundred years."
   "I hope that is a matter of some comfort to Franz Ferdinand, and the ten million or so chaps who died as an indirect result of his demise, not to mention Act Two of the Great European Civil War," the Prime Minister observed.
   "Yeah, day after tomorrow, I'm going down to Auschwitz. That ought to be fun." Ryan didn't really want to go, but he figured it was something of an obligation under the circumstances, and besides, Arnie thought it would look good on TV, which was why he did a lot of the things he did.
   "Do watch out for the ghosts, old boy. I should think there are a number of them there."
   "I'll let you know," Ryan promised. Would it be like Dickens's A Christmas Carol? he wondered. The ghost of horrors past, accompanied by the ghost of horrors present, and finally the ghost of horrors yet to be? But he was in the business of preventing such things. That's what the people of his country paid him for. Maybe $250,000 a year wasn't much for a guy who'd twice made a good living in the trading business, but it was a damned sight more than most of the taxpayers made, and they gave it to him in return for his work. That made the obligation as sacred as a vow sworn to God's own face. Auschwitz had happened because other men hadn't recognized their obligation to the people whom they had been supposed to serve. Or something like that. Ryan had never quite made the leap of imagination necessary to understand the thought processes of dictators. Maybe Caligula had really figured that the lives of the Roman people were his possessions to use and discard like peanut shells. Maybe Hitler had thought that the German people existed only to serve his ambition to enter the history books—and if so, sure enough it had happened, just not quite the way he'd hoped it would. Jack Ryan knew objectively that he'd be in various history books, but he tried to avoid thinking about what future generations would make of him. Just surviving in his job from day to day was difficult enough. The problem with history was that you couldn't transport yourself into the future so that you could look back with detachment and see what the hell you were supposed to do. No, making history was a damned sight harder than studying it, and so he'd decided to avoid thinking about it altogether. He wouldn't be around to know what the future thought anyway, so there was no sense in worrying about it, was there? He had his own conscience to keep him awake at night, and that was hard enough.
   Looking around the room, he could see the chiefs of government of more than fifteen countries, from little Iceland to the Netherlands to Turkey. He was President of the United States of America, by far the largest and most powerful country of the NATO alliance—until tomorrow, anyway, he corrected himself—and he wanted to take them all aside and ask each one how the hell he (they were all men at the moment) reconciled his self and his duties. How did you do the job honorably? How did you look after the needs of every citizen? Ryan knew that he couldn't reasonably expect to be universally loved. Arnie had told him that—that he only needed to be liked, not loved, by half-plus-one of the voters in America—but there had to be more to the job than that, didn't there? He knew all of his fellow chief executives by name and sight, and he'd been briefed in on each man's character. That one there, he had a mistress only nineteen years old. That one drank like a fish. That one had a little confusion about his sexual preference. And that one was a crook who'd enriched himself hugely on the government payroll. But they were all allies of his country, and therefore they were officially his friends. And so Jack had to ignore what he knew of them and treat them like what they appeared to be rather than what they really were, and the really funny part of that was that they felt themselves to be his superiors because they were better politicians than he was. And the funniest part of all was that they were right. They were better politicians than he was, Ryan thought, sipping his wine. The British Prime Minister walked off to see his Norwegian counterpart, as Cathy Ryan rejoined her husband.
   "Well, honey, how did it go?"
   "The usual. Politics. Don't any of these women have a real job?" she asked the air.
   "Some do," Jack remembered from his briefings. "Some even have kids."
   "Mainly grandkids. I'm not old enough for that yet, thank God."
   "Sorry, babe. But there are advantages to being young and beautiful," POTUS told FLOTUS.
   "And you're the best-looking guy here," Cathy replied with a smile.
   "But I'm too tired. Long day at the bargaining table."
   "Why are you bringing Russia into NATO?"
   "To stop a war with China," Jack replied honestly. It was time she knew. The answer to her question got her attention.
   "I'll fill you in later, babe, but that's the short version."
   "A war?"
   "Yeah. It's a long story, and we hope that what we agreed to do today will prevent it."
   "You say so," Cathy Ryan observed dubiously.
   "Meet anybody you like?"
   "The French president is very charming."
   "Oh, yeah? He was a son of a bitch in the negotiating session today. Maybe he's just trying to get in your knickers," Jack told his wife. He'd been briefed in on the French president, and he was reputed to be a man of "commendable vigor," as the State Department report delicately put it. Well, the French had a reputation as great lovers, didn't they?
   "I'm spoke for, Sir John," she reminded him.
   "And so am I, my lady." He could have Roy Altman shoot the Frenchman for making a move on his wife, Ryan thought with amusement, but that would cause a diplomatic incident, and Scott Adler always got upset about those. . . . Jack checked his watch. It was about time to call this one a day. Soon some diplomat would make a discreet announcement that would end the evening. Jack hadn't danced with his wife. The sad truth was that Jack couldn't dance a lick, which was a source of minor contention with his wife, and a shortcoming he planned to correct someday . . . maybe.
   The party broke up on time. The embassy had comfortable quarters, and Ryan found his way to the king-sized bed brought in for his and Cathy's use.
   Bondarenko's official residence at Chabarsovil was a very comfortable one, befitting a four-star resident and his family. But his wife didn't like it. Eastern Siberia lacked the social life of Moscow, and besides, one of their daughters was nine months pregnant, and his wife was in St. Petersburg to be there when the baby arrived. The front of the house overlooked a large parade ground. The back, where his bedroom was, looked into the pine forests that made up most of this province. He had a large personal staff to look after his needs. That included a particularly skilled cook, and communications people. It was one of the latter who knocked on his bedroom door at three in the local morning.
   "Yes, what is it?"
   "An urgent communication for you, Comrade General," the voice answered.
   "Very well, wait a minute." Gennady Iosifovich rose and donned a cloth robe, punching on a light as he went to open the door. He grumbled as any man would at the loss of sleep, but generals had to expect this sort of thing. He opened the door without a snarl at the NCO who handed over the telex.
   "Urgent, from Moscow," the sergeant emphasized.
   "Da, spasiba," the general replied, taking it and walking back toward his bed. He sat in the comfortable chair that he usually dumped his tunic on and picked up the reading glasses that he didn't actually need, but which made reading easier in the semidarkness. It was something urgent—well, urgent enough to wake him up in the middle of the fucking—
   "My God," CINC-FAR EAST breathed to himself, halfway down the cover sheet. Then he flipped it over to read the substance of the report.
   In America it would be called a Special National Intelligence Estimate. Bondarenko had seen them before, even helped draft some, but never one like this.
   It is believed that there is an imminent danger of war between Russia and the People's Republic of China. The Chinese objective in offensive operations will be to seize the newly-discovered gold and oil deposits in eastern Siberia by rapid mechanized assault north from their border west of Khabarovsk. The leading elements will include the 34th Shock Army, a Type A Group Army . . .
   This intelligence estimate is based upon national intelligence assets with access to the political leaders of the PRC, and the quality of the intelligence is graded "1A," the report went on, meaning that the SVR regarded it as Holy Writ. Bondarenko hadn't seen that happen very much.
   Far East Command is directed to make all preparations to meet and repel such an attack . . .
   "With what?" the general asked the papers in his hand. "With what, comrades?" With that he lifted the bedside phone. "I want my staff together in forty minutes," he told the sergeant who answered. He would not take the theatrical step of calling a full alert just yet. That would follow his staff meeting. Already his mind was examining the problem. It would continue to do so as he urinated, then shaved, his mind running in small circles, a fact which he recognized but couldn't change, and the fact that he couldn't change it didn't slow the process one small bit. The problem he faced as he scraped the whiskers from his face was not an easy one, perhaps an impossible one, but his four-star rank made it his problem, and he didn't want to be remembered by future Russian military students as the general who'd not been up to the task of defending his country against a foreign invasion. He was here, Bondarenko told himself, because he was the best operational thinker his country had. He'd faced battle before, and comported himself well enough not only to live but to wear his nation's highest decorations for bravery. He'd studied military history his whole life. He'd even spent time with the Americans at their battle laboratory in California, something he lusted to copy and re-create in Russia as the best possible way to prepare soldiers for battle, but which his country couldn't begin to afford for years. He had the knowledge. He had the nerve. What he lacked were the assets. But history was not made by soldiers who had what they needed, but by those who did not. When the soldiers had enough, the political leaders went into the books. Gennady Iosifovich was a soldier, and a Russian soldier. His country was always taken by surprise, because for whatever reason her political leaders didn't ever see war coming, and because of that soldiers had to pay the price. A distant voice told him that at least he wouldn't be shot for failure. Stalin was long dead, and with him the ethos of punishing those whom he had failed to warn or prepare. But Bondarenko didn't listen to that voice. Failure was too bitter an alternative for him to consider while he lived.
   The Special National Intelligence Estimate made its way to American forces in Europe and the Pacific even more quickly than to Chabarsovil. For Admiral Bartolomeo Vito Mancuso, it came before a scheduled dinner with the governor of Hawaii. His Public Affairs Officer had to knock that one back a few hours while CINCPAC called his staff together.
   "Talk to me, Mike," Mancuso commanded his J-2, BG Michael Lahr.
   "Well, it hasn't come totally out of left field, sir," the theater intelligence coordinator replied. "I don't know anything about the source of the intelligence, but it looks like high-level human intelligence, probably with a political point of origin. CIA says it's highly reliable, and Director Foley is pretty good. So, we have to take this one very seriously." Lahr paused for a sip of water.
   "Okay, what we know is that the PRC is looking with envious eyes at the Russian mineral discoveries in the central and northern parts of eastern Siberia. That plays into the economic problems they got faced with after the killings in Beijing caused the break in trade talks, and it also appears that their other trading partners are backing away from them as well. So, the Chinese now find themselves in a really tight economic corner, and that's been a casus belli as far back as we have written history."
   "What can we do to scare them off?" asked the general commanding Pacific Fleet Marine Force.
   "What we're doing tomorrow is to make the Russian federation part of NATO. Russian President Grushavoy will be flying to Warsaw in a few hours to sign the North Atlantic Treaty. That makes Russia an ally of the United States of America, and of all the NATO members. So, the thinking is that if China moves, they're not just taking on Russia, but all the rest of the North Atlantic Council as well, and that ought to give them pause."
   "And if it doesn't?" Mancuso asked. As a theater commander-in-chief, he was paid to consider diplomatic failure rather than success.
   "Then, sir, if the Chinese strike north, we have a shooting war on the Asian mainland between the People's Republic of China and an American ally. That means we're going to war."
   "Do we have any guidance from Washington along those lines?" CINCPAC asked.
   Lahr shook his head. "Not yet, Admiral. It's developing a little fast for that, and Secretary Bretano is looking to us for ideas."
   Mancuso nodded. "Okay. What can we do? What kind of shape are we in?"
   The four-star commanding Seventh Fleet leaned forward: "I'm in pretty decent shape. My carriers are all available or nearly so, but my aviators could use some more training time. Surface assets—well, Ed?"
   Vice Admiral Goldsmith looked over to his boss. "We're good, Bart."
   CoMSuBPAC nodded. "It'll take a little time to surge more of my boats west, but they're trained up, and we can give their navy a major bellyache if we have to."
   Then eyes turned to the Marine. "I hope you're not going to tell me to invade the Chinese mainland with one division," he observed. Besides, all of Pacific Fleet didn't have enough amphibious-warfare ships to land more than a brigade landing force, and they knew that. Good as the Marines were, they couldn't take on the entire People's Liberation Army.
   "What sort of shape are the Russians in?" Seventh Fleet asked General Lahr.
   "Not good, sir. Their new Commander Far East is well regarded, but he's hurting for assets. The PLA has him outnumbered a good eight to one, probably more. So, the Russians don't have much in the way of deep-strike capabilities, and just defending themselves against air attack is going to be a stretch."
   "That's a fact," agreed the general commanding the Air Force assets in the Pacific Theater. "Ivan's pissed away a lot of his available assets dealing with the Chechens. Most of their aircraft are grounded with maintenance problems. That means his drivers aren't getting the stick time they need to be proficient airmen. The Chinese, on the other hand, have been training pretty well for several years. I'd say their air force component is in pretty good shape."
   "What can we move west with?"
   "A lot," the USAF four-star answered. "But will it be enough? Depends on a lot of variables. It'll be nice to have your carriers around to back us up." Which was unusually gracious of the United States Air Force.
   "Okay," Mancuso said next. "I want to see some options. Mike, let's firm up our intelligence estimates on what the Chinese are capable of, first of all, and second, what they're thinking."
   "The Agency is altering the tasking of its satellites. We ought to be getting a lot of overheads soon, plus our friends on Taiwan—they keep a pretty good eye on things for us."
   "Are they in on this SNIE?" Seventh Fleet asked.
   Lahr shook his head. "No, not yet. This stuff is being held pretty close."
   "Might want to tell Washington that they have a better feel for Beijing's internal politics than we do," the senior Marine observed. "They ought to. They speak the same language. Same thought processes and stuff. Taiwan ought to be a prime asset to us."
   "Maybe, maybe not," Lahr countered. "If a shooting war starts, they won't jump in for the fun of it. Sure, they're our friends, but they don't really have a dog in this fight yet, and the smart play for them is to play it cautious. They'll go to a high alert status, but they will not commence offensive operations on their own hook."
   "Will we really back the Russians if it comes to that? More to the point, will the Chinese regard that as a credible option on our part?" CoMAiRPAC asked. He administratively "owned" the carriers and naval air wings. Getting them trained was his job.
   "Reading their minds is CIA's job, not ours," Lahr answered. "As far as I know, DIA has no high-quality sources in Beijing, except what we get from intercepts out of Fort Meade. If you're asking me for a personal opinion, well, we have to remember that their political assessments are made by Maoist politicians who tend to see things their own way rather than with what we would term an objective outlook. Short version, I don't know, and I don't know anyone who does, but the asset that got us this information tells us that they're serious about this possible move. Serious enough to bring Russia into NATO. You could call that rather a desperate move towards deterring the PRC, Admiral."
   "So, we regard war as a highly possible eventuality?" Mancuso summarized.
   "Yes, sir," Lahr agreed.
   "Okay, gentlemen. Then we treat it that way. I want plans and options for giving our Chinese brethren a bellyache. Rough outlines after lunch tomorrow, and firm options in forty-eight hours. Questions?" There were none. "Okay, let's get to work on this."
   Al Gregory was working late. A computer-software expert, he was accustomed to working odd hours, and this was no exception. At the moment he was aboard USS Gettysburg, an Aegis-class cruiser. The ship was not in the water, but rather in dry dock, sitting on a collection of wooden blocks while undergoing propeller replacement. Gettysburg had tangled with a buoy that had parted its mooring chain and drifted into the fairway, rather to the detriment of the cruiser's port screw. The yard was taking its time to do the replacement because the ship's engines were about due for programmed maintenance anyway. This was good for the crew. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, part of the Norfolk Naval Base complex, wasn't exactly a garden spot, but it was where most of the crew's families lived, and that made it attractive enough.
   Gregory was in the ship's CIC, or Combat Information Center, the compartment from which the captain "fought" the ship. All the weapons systems were controlled from this large space. The SPY radar display was found on three side-by-side displays about the size of a good big-screen TV. The problem was the computers that drove the systems.
   "You know," Gregory observed to the senior chief who maintained the systems, "an old iMac has a ton more power than this."
   "Doc, this system is the flower of 1975 technology," the senior chief protested. "And it ain't all that hard to track a missile, is it?"
   "Besides, Dr. Gregory," another chief put it, "that radar of mine is still the best fucking system ever put to sea."
   "That's a fact," Gregory had to agree. The solid-state components could combine to blast six megawatts of RF power down a one-degree line of bearing, enough to make a helicopter pilot, for example, produce what cruel physicians called FLKs: funny-looking kids. And more than enough to track a ballistic reentry vehicle at a thousand miles or more. The limitation there also was computer software, which was the new gold standard in just about every weapons system in the world.
   "So, when you want to track an RV, what do you do?"
   "We call it 'inserting the chip,' " the senior chief answered.
   "What? It's hardware?" Al asked. He had trouble believing that. This wasn't a computer that you slid a board into.
   "No, sir, it's software. We upload a different control program."
   "Why do you need a second program for that? Can't your regular one track airplanes and missiles?" the TRW vice president demanded.
   "Sir, I just maintain and operate the bitch. I don't design the things. RCA and IBM do that."
   "Shit," Gregory observed.
   "You could talk to Lieutenant Olson," the other chief thought aloud. "He's a Dartmouth boy. Pretty smart for a j.g."
   "Yeah," the first chief agreed. "He writes software as sort of a hobby."
   "Dennis the Menace. Weps and the XO get annoyed with him sometimes."
   "Why?" Gregory asked.
   "Because he talks like you, sir," Senior Chief Leek answered. "But he ain't in your pay grade."
   "He's a good kid, though," Senior Chief Matson observed. "Takes good care of his troops, and he knows his stuff, doesn't he, Tim?"
   "Yeah, George, good kid, going places if he stays in."
   "He won't. Computer companies are already trying to recruit him. Shit, Compaq offered him three hundred big ones last week."
   "That's a living wage," Chief Leek commented. "What did Dennis say?"
   "He said no. I told him to hold out for half a mil." Matson laughed as he reached for some coffee.
   "What d'ya think, Dr. Gregory? The kid worth that kinda money in the 'puter business?"
   "If he can do really good code, maybe," Al replied, making a mental note to check out this Lieutenant Olson himself. TRW always had room for talent. Dartmouth was known for its computer science department. Add field experience to that, and you had a real candidate for the ongoing SAM project. "Okay, if you insert the chip, what happens?"
   "Then you change the range of the radar. You know how it works, the RF energy goes out forever on its own, but we only accept signals that bounce back within a specific time gate. This"—Senior Chief Leek held up a floppy disk with a hand-printed label on it—"changes the gate. It extends the effective rage of the SPY out to, oh, two thousand kilometers. Damned sight farther than the missiles'll go. I was on Port Royal out at Kwajalein five years ago doing a theater-missile test, and we were tracking the inbound from the time it popped over the horizon all the way in."
   "You hit it?" Gregory asked with immediate interest.
   Leek shook his head. "Guidance-fin failure on the bird, it was an early Block-IV. We got within fifty meters, but that was a cunt hair outside the warhead's kill perimeter, and they only allowed us one shot, for some reason or other nobody ever told me about. Shiloh got a kill the next year. Splattered it with a skin-skin kill. The video of that one is a son of a bitch," the senior chief assured his guest.
   Gregory believed it. When an object going one way at fourteen thousand miles per hour got hit by something going the other way at two thousand miles per hour, the result could be quite impressive. "First-round hit?" he asked.
   "You bet. The sucker was coming straight at us, and this baby doesn't miss much."
   "We always clean up with Vandal tests off Wallops Island," Chief Matson confirmed.
   "What are those exactly?"
   "Old Talos SAMs," Matson explained. "Big stovepipes, ramjet engines, they can come in on a ballistic track at about twenty-two hundred miles per hour. Pretty hot on the deck, too. That's what we worry about. The Russians came out with a sea-skimmer we call Sunburn—"
   "Aegis-killer, some folks call it," Chief Leek added. "Low and fast."
   "But we ain't missed one yet," Matson announced. "The Aegis system's pretty good. So, Dr. Gregory, what exactly are you checking out?"
   "I want to see if your system can be used to stop a ballistic inbound."
   "How fast?" Matson asked.
   "A for-real ICBM. When you detect it on radar, it'll be doing about seventeen thousand miles per hour, call it seventy-six hundred meters per second."
   "That's real fast," Leek observed. "Seven, eight times the speed of a rifle bullet."
   "Faster'n a theater ballistic weapon like a Scud. Not sure we can do it," Matson worried.
   "This radar system'll track it just fine. It's very similar to the Cobra Dane system in the Aleutians. Question is, can your SAMs react fast enough to get a hit?"
   "How hard's the target?" Matson asked.
   "Softer than an aircraft. The RV's designed to withstand heat, not an impact. Like the space shuttle. When you fly it through a rainstorm, it plays hell with the tiles."
   "Oh, yeah?"
   "Yep." Gregory nodded. "Like Styrofoam coffee cups."
   "Okay, so then the problems getting the SM2 close enough to have the warhead pop off when the target's in the fragmentation cone."
   "Correct." They might be enlisted men, Gregory thought, but that didn't make them dumb.
   "Software fix in the seeker head, right?"
   "Also correct. I've rewritten the code. Pretty easy job, really. I reprogrammed the way the laser mutates. Ought to work okay if the infrared homing system works as advertised. At least it did in the computer simulations up in Washington."
   "It worked just fine on Shiloh, Doc. We got the videotape aboard somewhere," Leek assured him. "Wanna see it?" "You bet," Dr. Gregory said with enthusiasm. "Okay." Senior Chief Leek checked his watch. "I'm free now. Let me head aft for a smoke, and then we'll roll the videotape," he said, sounding like Warner Wolf on WCBS New York.
   "You can't smoke in here?" Leek grunted annoyance. "It's the New Navy, Doc. The cap'n's a health Nazi. You gotta go aft to light up. Not even in chief's quarters,"
   Leek groused.
   "I quit," Matson said. "Not a pussy like Tim here."
   "My ass," Leek responded. "There's a few real men left aboard."
   "How come you sit sideways here?" Gregory asked, rising to his feet to follow them aft. "The important displays go to the right side of the ship instead of fore and aft. How come?"
   " 'Cuz it helps you puke if you're in a seaway." Matson laughed.
   "Whoever designed these ships didn't like sailors much, but at least the air conditioning works." It rarely got above sixty degrees in the CIC, causing most of the men who worked there to wear sweaters. Aegis cruisers were decidedly not known for their comforts.
   This is serious?" Colonel Aliyev asked. It was a stupid question, and he knew it. But it just had to come out anyway, and his commander knew that.
   "We have orders to treat it that way, Colonel," Bondarenko replied crossly. "What do we have to stop them?"
   "The 265th Motor-Rifle Division is at roughly fifty percent combat efficiency," the theater operations officer replied. "Beyond that, two tank regiments at forty percent or so. Our reserve formations are mostly theoretical," Aliyev concluded. "Our air assets—one regiment of fighter-interceptors ready for operations, another three who don't have even half their aircraft fit to fly."
   Bondarenko nodded at the news. It was better than it had been upon his arrival in theater, and he'd done well to bring things that far, but that wouldn't impress the Chinese very much.
   "Opposition?" he asked next. Far East's intelligence officer was another colonel, Vladimir Konstantinovich Tolkunov.
   "Our Chinese neighbors are in good military shape, Comrade General. The nearest enemy formation is Thirty-fourth Shock Army, a Type-A Group Army commanded by General Peng Xi-Wang," he began, showing off what he knew. "That one formation has triple or more our mechanized assets, and is well trained. Chinese aircraft—well, their tactical aircraft number over two thousand, and we must assume they will commit everything to this operation. Comrades, we do not have anything like the assets we need to stop them."
   "So, we will use space to our advantage," the general proposed. "Of that we have much. We will fight a holding action and await reinforcements from the west. I'll be talking with Stavka later today. Let's draw up what we'll need to stop these barbarians."
   "All down one line of railroad," Aliyev observed. "And our fucking engineers have been busily clearing a route for the Chinks to take to the oil fields. General, first of all, we need to get our engineers working on minefields. We have millions of mines, and the route the Chinese will take is easily predicted."
   The overall problem was that the Chinese had strategic, if not tactical, surprise. The former was a political exercise, and like Hitler in 1941, the Chinese had pulled it off. At least Bondarenko would have tactical warning, which was more than Stalin had allowed his Red Army. He also expected to have freedom of maneuver, because also unlike Stalin, his President Grushavoy would be thinking with his brain instead of his balls. With freedom of maneuver Bondarenko would have the room to play a mobile war with his enemy, denying the Chinese a chance at decisive engagement, allowing hard contact only when it served his advantage. Then he'd be able to wait for reinforcements to give him a chance to fight a set-piece battle on his own terms, at a place and time of his choosing.
   "How good are the Chinese, really, Pavel?"
   "The People's Liberation Army has not engaged in large-scale combat operations for over fifty years, since the Korean War with the Americans, unless you cite the border clashes we had with them in the late '60s and early '70s. In that case, the Red Army dealt with them well, but to do that we had massive firepower, and the Chinese were only fighting for limited objectives. They are trained largely on our old model. Their soldiers will not have the ability to think for themselves. Their discipline is worse than draconian. The smallest infraction can result in summary execution, and that makes for obedience. At the operational level, their general officers are well-trained in theoretical terms. Qualitatively, their weapons are roughly the equal of ours. With their greater funding, their training levels mean that their soldiers are intimately familiar with their weapons and rudimentary tactics," Zhdanov told the assembled staff. "But they are probably not our equal in operational-maneuver thinking. Unfortunately, they do have numbers going for them, and quantity has a quality all its own, as the NATO armies used to say of us. What they will want to do, and what I fear they will, is try to roll over us quickly—just crush us and move on to their political and economic objectives as quickly as possible."
   Bondarenko nodded as he sipped his tea. This was mad, and the maddest part of all was that he was playing the role of a NATO commander from 1975—maybe a German one, which was truly insane– faced with adverse numbers, but blessed, as the Germans had not been, with space to play with, and Russians had always used space to their advantage. He leaned forward:
   "Very well. Comrades, we will deny them the opportunity for decisive engagement. If they cross the border, we will fight a maneuver war. We will sting and move. We will hurt them and withdraw before they can counterattack. We will give them land, but we will not give them blood. The life of every single one of our soldiers is precious to us. The Chinese have a long way to go to their objectives. We will let them go a lot of that way, and we will bide our time and husband our men and equipment. We will make them pay for what they take, but we will not—we must not—give them the chance to catch our forces in decisive battle. Are we understood on that?" he asked his staff. "When in doubt, we will run away and deny the enemy what he wants. When we have what we need to strike back, we will make him wish he never heard of Russia, but until then, let him chase his butterflies."
   "What of the border guards?" Aliyev asked.
   "They will hurt the Chinese, and then they will pull out. Comrades, I cannot emphasize this enough: the life of every single private soldier is important to us. Our men will fight harder if they know we care about them, and more than that, they deserve our care and solicitude. If we ask them to risk their lives for their country, their country must be loyal to them in return. If we achieve that, they will fight like tigers. The Russian soldier knows how to fight. We must all be worthy of him. You are all skilled professionals. This will be the most important test of our lives. We must all be equal to our task. Our nation depends on us. Andrey Petrovich, draw up some plans for me. We are authorized to call up reserves. Let us start doing that. We have hectares of equipment for them to use. Unlock the gates and let them start drawing gear, and God permit the officers assigned to those cadres are worthy of their men. Dismissed." Bondarenko stood and walked out, hoping his declamation had been enough for the task.
   But wars were not won by speeches.
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Ghosts of Horrors Past

President Grushavoy arrived in Warsaw with the usual pomp and circumstance. A good actor, Ryan saw, watching the arrival on TV. You never would have guessed from his face that his country was looking at a major war. Grushavoy passed the same receiving line, doubtless composed of the same troops Ryan had eyeballed on his arrival, made a brief but flowery arrival speech citing the long and friendly history shared by Poland and Russia (conveniently leaving out the equally long and less-than-friendly parts), then got into a car for the city, accompanied, Ryan was glad to see, by Sergey Nikolay'ch Golovko. In the President's hand was a fax from Washington outlining what the Chinese had in the way of war assets to turn loose on their northern neighbors, along with an estimate from the Defense Intelligence Agency on what they called the "correlation of forces," which, Jack remembered, was a term of art used by the Soviet army of old. Its estimate of the situation was not especially favorable. Almost as bad, America didn't have much with which to help the Russians. The world's foremost navy was of little direct use in a land war. The United States Army had a division and a half of heavy troops in Europe, but that was thousands of miles from the expected scene of action. The Air Force had all the mobility it needed to project force anywhere on the globe, and that could give anyone a serious headache, but airplanes could not by themselves defeat an army. No, this would be largely a Russian show, and the Russian army, the fax said, was in terrible shape. The DIA had some good things to say about the senior Russian commander in theater, but a smart guy with a .22 against a dumb one with a machine gun was still at a disadvantage. So, he hoped the Chinese would be taken aback by this days news, but CIA and States estimate of that possibility was decidedly iffy.
   "Scott?" Ryan asked his Secretary of State.
   "Jack, I can't say. This ought to discourage them, but we can't be sure how tight a corner they think they are in. If they think they're trapped, they might still lash out."
   "God damn it, Scott, is this the way nations do business?" Jack demanded. "Misperceptions? Fears? Outright stupidity?"
   Adler shrugged. "It's a mistake to think a chief of government is any smarter than the rest of us, Jack. People make decisions the same way, regardless of how big and smart they are. It comes down to how they perceive the question, and how best they can serve their own needs, preserve their own personal well-being. Remember that we're not dealing with clergymen here. They don't have much in the way of consciences. Our notion of right and wrong doesn't play in that sort of mind. They translate what's good for their country into what's good for themselves, just like a king in the twelfth century, but in this case there isn't any bishop around to remind them that there may be a God looking down at them with a notebook." They'd gone out of their way, Adler didn't have to say, to eliminate a cardinal-archbishop just to get themselves into this mess.
   "Sociopaths?" the President asked.
   Secretary Adler shrugged. "I'm not a physician, just a diplomat. When you negotiate with people like this, you dangle what's good for their country—them—in front of their eyes and hope they reach for it. You play the game without entirely understanding them. These people do things neither one of us would ever do. And they run a major country, complete with nuclear weapons."
   "Great," Ryan breathed. He stood and got his coat. "Well, let's go watch our new ally sign up, shall we?"
   Ten minutes later, they were in the reception room of the Lazienski Palace. There was the usual off-camera time for the various chiefs of government to socialize over Perrier-and-a-twist before some nameless protocol official opened the double doors to the table, chairs, documents, and TV cameras.
   The speech from President Grushavoy was predictable in every detail. The NATO alliance had been established to protect Western Europe against what his country had once been, and his former country had established its own mirror-image alliance called the Warsaw Pact right here in this very city. But the world had turned, and now Russia was pleased to join the rest of Europe in an alliance of friends whose only wish was peace and prosperity for all. Grushavoy was pleased indeed to be the first Russian in a very long time to be a real part of the European community, and promised to be a worthy friend and partner of his newly close neighbors. (The military ramifications of the North Atlantic Treaty were not mentioned at all.) And everyone present applauded. And Grushavoy pulled out an ancient fountain pen borrowed from the collection at The Hermitage in St. Petersburg to sign in the name of his country, and so bring membership in NATO up by one. And everyone applauded again as the various chiefs of state and government walked over to shake their new ally's hand. And the shape of the world changed yet again.
   "Ivan Emmetovich," Golovko said, as he approached the American President.
   "Sergey Nikolay'ch," Ryan said in quiet reply.
   "What will Beijing think of this?" the chief of the Russian intelligence service asked.
   "With luck, we'll know in twenty-four hours," Ryan answered, knowing that this ceremony had gone out on CNN's live global feed, and positive that it was being watched in China.
   "I expect the language will be profane."
   "They've said nasty things about me lately," Jack assured him.
   "That you should have carnal relations with your mother, no doubt."
   "Actually, that I should have oral sex with her," the President confirmed distastefully. "I suppose everybody says things like that in private."
   "In person, it can get a man shot."
   Ryan grunted grim semi-amusement. "Bet your ass, Sergey"
   "Will this work?" Golovko asked.
   "I was going to ask you that. You're closer to them than we are."
   "I do not know," the Russian said, with a tiny sip of his vodka glass. "And if it does not. . ."
   "In that case, you have some new allies."
   "And what of the precise wording of Articles five and six of the treaty?"
   "Sergey, you may tell your president that the United States will regard an attack on any part of the territory of the Russian Federation as operative under the North Atlantic Treaty. On that, Sergey Nikolay'ch, you have the word and the commitment of the United States of America," SWORDSMAN told his Russian acquaintance.
   "Jack, if I may address you in this way, I have told my president more than once that you are a man of honor, and a man of your word." The relief on his face was obvious.
   "Sergey, from you those words are flattering. It's simple, really. It's your land, and a nation like ours cannot just stand by and watch a robbery of this scale taking place. It corrupts the foundations of international peace. It's our job to remake the world into a peaceful place. There's been enough war."
   "I fear there will be another," Golovko said, with characteristic honesty.
   "Then together your country and mine will make it the very last."
   "Plato said, 'Only the dead have seen the end of war.' "
   "So, are we to be bound by the words of a Greek who lived twenty-five centuries ago? I prefer the words of a Jew who lived five centuries later. It's time, Sergey. It's fucking time," Ryan said forcefully.
   "I hope you are right. You Americans, always so madly optimistic..."
   "There's a reason for that."
   "Oh? What would that be?" the Russian asked.
   Jack fixed his eyes on his Russian colleague. "In my country, all things are possible. They will be in your country, too, if you just allow it. Embrace democracy, Sergey. Embrace freedom. Americans are not genetically different from the rest of the world. We're mongrels. We have the blood of every country on earth in our veins. The only thing different between us and the rest of the world is our Constitution. Just a set of rules. That's all, Sergey, but it has served us well. You've been studying us for how long?"
   "Since I joined KGB? Over thirty-five years."
   "And what have you learned of America and how it works?" Ryan asked.
   "Obviously not enough," Golovko answered honestly. "The spirit of your country has always puzzled me."
   "Because it's too simple. You were looking for complexity. We allow people to pursue their dreams, and when the dreams succeed, we reward them. Others see that happen and chase after their own dreams."
   "But the class issues?"
   "What class issues? Sergey, not everybody goes to Harvard. I didn't, remember? My father was a cop. I was the first guy in my family to finish college. Look how I turned out. Sergey, we do not have class distinctions in America. You can be what you choose to be, if you are willing to work at it. You can succeed or you can fail. Luck helps," Ryan admitted, "but it comes down to work."
   "All Americans have stars in their eyes," the Chairman of the SVR observed tersely.
   "The better to see the heavens," Ryan responded.
   "Perhaps. Just so they don't come crashing down on us."
   “So, what does this mean for us?" Xu Kun Piao asked, in an entirely neutral voice.
   Zhang Han San and his premiere had been watching the CNN feed in the latter's private office, complete with simultaneous translation through headphones now discarded. The senior Minister Without Portfolio made a dismissive wave of the hand.
   "I've read the North Atlantic Treaty," he said. "It does not apply to us at all. Articles Five and six limit its military application to events in Europe and North America only—all right, it includes Turkey, and, as originally written, Algeria, which was part of France in 1949. For incidents at sea, it applies only to the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, and then only north of the Tropic of Cancer. Otherwise, the NATO countries would have been compelled to join in the Korean War and Vietnam on the American side. Those things did not happen because the treaty did not apply outside its defined area. Nor does it apply to us. Treaty documents have discrete language and discrete application," he reminded his party chief. "They are not open-ended." "I am concerned even so," Xu responded.
   "Hostilities are not activities to be undertaken lightly," Zhang admitted. "But the real danger to us is economic collapse and the resulting social chaos. That, comrade, could bring down our entire social order, and that is something we cannot risk. But, when we succeed in seizing the oil and gold, we need not worry about such things. With our own abundant oil supply, we will not face an energy crisis, and with gold we can buy anything we require from the rest of the world. My friend, you must understand the West. They worship money, and they base their economies on oil. With those two things they must do business with us. Why did America intervene in the Kuwait affair? Oil. Why did Britain, France, and all the other nations join in? Oil. He who has oil is their friend. We shall have oil. It is that simple," Zhang concluded.
   "You are very confident."
   The minister nodded. "Yes, Xu, I am, because I have studied the West for many years. The way they think is actually very predictable. The purpose of this treaty might be to frighten us, I suppose, but it is at most a paper tiger. Even if they wished to provide military assistance to Russia, they do not have the ability to do so. And I do not believe that they have that wish. They cannot know our plans, because if they did, they would have pressed their advantage over us in terms of currency reserves at the trade talks, but they did not, did they?" Zhang asked.
   "Is there no way they could know?"
   "It is most unlikely. Comrade Tan has no hint of foreign espionage in our country at anything approaching a high level, and his sources in Washington and elsewhere have not caught a sniff of such information being available to them."
   "Then why did they just broaden NATO?" Xu demanded.
   "Is it not obvious? Russia is becoming rich with oil and gold, and the capitalist states wish to partake in the Russians' good fortune. That is what they said in the press, isn't it? It is fully in keeping with the capitalist ethos: mutual greed. Who can say, perhaps in five years they will invite us into NATO for the same reason," Zhang observed with an ironic leer.
   "You are confident that our plans have not been compromised?"
   "As we come to a higher alert level and begin moving troops, we may expect some reaction from the Russians. But the rest of them? Bah! Tan and Marshal Luo are confident as well."
   "Very well," Xu said, not entirely persuaded, but agreeing even so.
   It was morning in Washington. Vice President Jackson was de facto boss of the crisis-management team, a place assured by his previous job, Director of Operations—J-3—for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. One nice thing about the White House was the good security, made better still by bringing people in via helicopter and car, and by the fact that the Joint Chiefs could teleconference in from their meeting room—"the Tank"—over a secure fiber-optic link.
   "Well?" Jackson asked, looking at the large television on the wall of the Situation Room.
   "Mancuso has his people at work in Hawaii. The Navy can give the Chinese a bad time, and the Air Force can move a lot of assets to Russia if need be," said Army General Mickey Moore, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. "It's the land side of the equation that has me worried. We could theoretically move one heavy division—First Armored—from Germany east, along with some attachments, and maybe NATO will join in with some additional stuff, but the Russian army is in miserable shape at the moment, especially in the Far East, and there's also the additional problem that China has twelve CSS-4 intercontinental ballistic missiles. We figure eight or more of them are aimed at us."
   "Tell me more," TOMCAT ordered.
   "They're Titan-II clones. Hell," Moore went on, "I just found out the background earlier today. They were designed by a CalTech educated Air Force colonel of Chinese ethnicity who defected over there in the 1950s. Some bonehead trumped up some security charges against him—turned out they were all bullshit, would you believe—and he bugged out with a few suitcases' worth of technical information right out of JPL, where he was working at the time. So, the ChiComms built what were virtually copies of the old Martin-Marietta missile, and, like I said, we figure eight of them are aimed back at us."
   "Five-megaton is our best guess. City-busters. The birds are bitches to maintain, just like ours were. We figure they're kept defueled most of the time, and they probably need two to four hours to bring them up to launch readiness. That's the good news. The bad news is that they upgraded the protection on the silos over the last decade, probably as a result of what we did in the Iraq bombing campaign and also the B-2 strikes into Japan on their SS-19 clones. The current estimate is that the covers are fifteen feet of rebarred concrete plus three feet of armor-class steel. We don't have a conventional bomb that'll penetrate that."
   "Why not?" Jackson demanded in considerable surprise.
   "Because the GBU-29 we cobbled together to take out that deep bunker in Baghdad was designed to hang on the F-111. It's the wrong dimensions for the B-2's bomb bay, and the 111s are all at the boneyard in Arizona. So, we have the bombs, okay, but nothing to deliver them with. Best option to take those silos out would be air-launched cruise missiles with W-80 warheads, assuming the President will authorize a nuclear strike on them."
   "What warning will we have that the Chinese have prepared the missiles for launch?"
   "Not much," Moore admitted. "The new silo configuration pretty well prevents that. The silo covers are massive beasts. We figure they plan to blow them off with explosives, like we used to do."
   "Do we have nuke-tipped cruise missiles?"
   "No, the President has to authorize that. The birds and the warheads are co-located at Whiteman Air Force Base along with the B-2s. It would take a day or so to mate them up. I'd recommend that the President authorize that if this Chinese situation goes any farther," Moore concluded.
   And the best way to deliver nuclear-tipped cruise missiles—off Navy submarines or carrier-based strike aircraft—was impossible because the Navy had been completely stripped of its nuclear weapons inventory, and fixing that would not be especially easy, Jackson knew. The fallout of the nuclear explosion in Denver, which had brought the world to the brink of a full-scale nuclear exchange, had caused Russia and America to take a deep breath and then to eliminate all of their ballistic launchers. Both sides still had nuclear weapons, of course. For America they were mostly B-61 and -83 gravity bombs and W-80 thermonuclear warheads that could be affixed to cruise missiles. Both systems could be delivered with a high degree of confidence and accuracy, and stealth. The B-2A bomber was invisible to radar (and hard enough to spot visually unless you were right next to it) and the cruise missiles smoked in so low that they merged not merely with ground clutter but with highway traffic as well. But they lacked the speed of ballistic weapons. That was the trouble with the fearsome weapons, but that was also their advantage.
   Twenty-five minutes from turning the "enable-launch" key to impact– even less for the sea-launched sort, which usually flew shorter distances. But those were all gone, except for the ones kept for ABM tests, and those had been modified to make them difficult to fit with warheads.
   "Well, we just try to keep this one conventional. How many nuclear weapons could we deliver if we had to?"
   "First strike, with the B-2s?" Moore asked. "Oh, eighty or so. If you figure two per target, enough to turn every major city in the PRC into a parking lot. It would kill upwards of a hundred million people," the Chairman added. He didn't have to say that he had no particular desire to do that. Even the most bloodthirsty soldiers were repelled by the idea of killing civilians in such numbers, and those who made four-star rank got there by being thoughtful, not psychotic.
   "Well, if we let them know that, they ought to think hard about pissing us off that big," Jackson decided.
   "They ought to be that rational, I suppose," Mickey Moore agreed. "Who wants to be the ruler of a parking lot?" But the problem with that, he didn't add, was that people who started wars of aggression were never completely rational.
   How do we go about calling up reserves?" Bondarenko asked. Theoretically, almost every Russian male citizen was liable to such a call-up, because most of them had served in their country's military at one time or another. It was a tradition that dated back to the czars, when the Russian army had been likened to a steamroller because of its enormous mass.
   The practical problem today, however, was that the state didn't know where they all lived. The state required that the veterans of uniformed service tell the army when they moved from one residence to another, but the men in question, since until recently they'd needed the state's permission to move anywhere, assumed that the state knew where they were and rarely bothered, and the country's vast and cumbersome bureaucracy was too elephantine to follow up on such things. As a result, neither Russia, nor the Soviet Union before it, had done much to test its ability to call up trained soldiers who'd left their uniforms behind. There were whole reserve divisions that had the most modern of equipment, but it had never been moved after being rolled into their warehouses, and was attended only by cadres of active-duty mechanics who actually spent the time to maintain it, turning over the engines in accordance with written schedules which they followed as mindlessly as the orders that had been drafted and printed. And so, the general commanding the Far East Military Theater had access to thousands of tanks and guns for which he had no soldiers, along with mountains of shells and virtual lakes of diesel fuel.
   The word "camouflage," meaning a trick to be played or a ruse, is French in origin. It really ought to be Russian, however, because Russians were the world's experts at this military art. The storage sites for the real tanks that formed the backbone of Bondarenko's theoretical army were so skillfully hidden that only his own staff knew where they were. A good fraction of the sites had even evaded American spy satellites that had searched for years for the locations. Even the roads leading to the storage sites were painted with deceptive colors, or planted with false conifer trees. This was all one more lesson of World War II, when the Soviet Army had totally befuddled the Germans so often that one wondered why the Wehrmacht even bothered employing intelligence officers, they had been snookered so frequently.
   "We're getting orders out now," Colonel Aliyev replied. "With luck, half of them ought to find people who've worn the uniform. We could do better if we made a public announcement."
   "No," Bondarenko replied. "We can't let them know we're getting ready. What about the officer corps?"
   "For the reserve formations? Well, we have an ample supply of lieutenants and captains, just no privates or NCOs for them to command. I suppose if we need to we can field a complete regiment or so of junior officers driving tanks," Aliyev observed dryly.
   "Well, such a regiment ought to be fairly proficient," the general observed with what passed for light humor. "How fast to make the call-up happen?"
   "The letters are already addressed and stamped. They should all be delivered in three days."
   "Mail them at once. See to it yourself, Andrey," Bondarenko ordered.
   "By your command, Comrade General." Then he paused. "What do you make of this NATO business?"
   "If it brings us help, then I am for it. I'd love to have American aircraft at my command. I remember what they did to Iraq. There are a lot of bridges I'd like to see dropped into the rivers they span."
   "And their land forces?"
   "Do not underestimate them. I've seen how they train, and I've driven some of their equipment. It's excellent, and their men know how to make use of it. One company of American tanks, competently led and supported, can hold off a whole regiment. Remember what they did to the army of the United Islamic Republic. Two active-duty regiments and a brigade of territorials crushed two heavy corps as if it were a sand-table exercise. That's why I want to upgrade our training. Our men are as good as theirs, Andrey Petrovich, but their training is the best I have ever seen. Couple that to their equipment, and there you have their advantage."
   "And their commanders?"
   "Good, but no better than ours. Shit, they copy our doctrine time and again. I've challenged them on this face-to-face, and they freely admit that they admire our operational thinking. But they make better use of our doctrine than we do—because they train their men better."
   "And they train better because they have more money to spend."
   "There you have it. They don't have tank commanders painting rocks around the motor pool, as we do," Bondarenko noted sourly. He'd just begun to change that, but just-begun was a long way from mission accomplished. "Get the call-up letters out, and remember, we must keep this quiet. Go. I have to talk to Moscow."
   "Yes, Comrade General." The G-3 made his departure.
   "Well, ain't that something?" Major General Diggs commented after watching the TV show.
   "Makes you wonder what NATO is for," Colonel Masterman agreed.
   "Duke, I grew up expecting to see T-72 tanks rolling through the Fulda Gap like cockroaches on a Bronx apartment floor. Hell, now they're our friends?" He had to shake his head in disbelief. "I've met a few of their senior people, like that Bondarenko guy running the Far East Theater. He's pretty smart, serious professional. Visited me at Fort
   Irwin. Caught on real fast, really hit it off with Al Hamm and the Blackhorse. Our kind of soldier."
   "Well, sir, I guess he really is now, eh?"
   That's when the phone rang. Diggs lifted it. "General Diggs. Okay, put him through. . . . Morning, sir. . . . Just fine, thanks, and—yes? What's that? . . . This is serious, I presume. . . . Yes, sir. Yes, sir, we're ready as hell. Very well, sir. Bye." He set the phone back down. "Duke, good thing you're sitting down."
   "What gives?"
   "That was SACEUR. We got alert orders to be ready to entrain and move east."
   "East where?" the divisional operations officer asked, surprised. An unscheduled exercise in Eastern Germany, maybe?
   "Maybe as far as Russia, the eastern part. Siberia, maybe," Diggs added in a voice that didn't entirely believe what it said.
   "What the hell?"
   "NCA is concerned about a possible dust-up between the Russians and the Chinese. If it happens, we may have to go east to support Ivan."
   "What the hell?" Masterman observed yet again.
   "He's sending his J-2 down to brief us in on what he's got from Washington. Ought to be here in half an hour."
   "Who else? Is this a NATO tasking?"
   "He didn't say. Guess we'll have to wait and see. For the moment just you and the staff, the ADC, and the brigade sixes are in on the brief."
   "Yes, sir," Masterman said, there being little else he could say.
   The Air Force sends a number of aircraft when the President travels. Among these were C-5B Galaxies. Known to the Navy as "the aluminum cloud" for its huge bulk, the transport is capable of carrying whole tanks in its cavernous interior. In this case, however, they carried VC-60 helicopters, larger than a tank in dimensions, but far lighter in weight.
   The VH-60 is a version of the Sikorsky Blackhawk troop-carrier, somewhat cleaned up and appointed for VIP passengers. The pilot was Colonel Dan Malloy, a Marine with over five thousand hours of stick time in rotary-wing aircraft, whose radio call sign was "Bear." Cathy
   Ryan knew him well. He usually flew her to Johns Hopkins in the morning in a twin to this aircraft. There was a co-pilot, a lieutenant who looked impossibly young to be a professional aviator, and a crew chief, a Marine staff sergeant E-6 who saw to it that everyone was properly strapped in, something that Cathy did better than Jack, who was not used to the different restraints in this aircraft.
   Aside from that the Blackhawk flew superbly, not at all like the earthquake-while-sitting-on-a-chandelier sensation usually associated with such contrivances. The flight took almost an hour, with the President listening in on the headset/ear protectors. Overhead, all aerial traffic was closed down, even commercial flights in and out of every commercial airport to which they came close. The Polish government was concerned with his safety.
   "There it is," Malloy said over the intercom. "Eleven o'clock."
   The aircraft banked left to give everyone a good look out the polycarbonate windows. Ryan felt a sudden sense of enforced sobriety come over him. There was a rudimentary railroad station building with two tracks, and another spur that ran off through the arch in yet another building. There were a few other structures, but mainly just concrete pads to show where there had been a large number of others, and Ryan's mind could see them from the black-and-white movies shot from aircraft, probably Russian ones, in World War II. They'd been oddly warehouse-like buildings, he remembered. But the wares stored in them had been human beings, though the people who'd built this place hadn't seen it that way; they had regarded them as vermin, insects or rats, something to be eliminated as efficiently and coldly as possible.
   That's when the chill hit. It was not a warm morning, the temperature in the upper fifties or so, Jack thought, but his skin felt colder than that number indicated. The chopper landed softly, and the sergeant got the door open and the President stepped out onto the landing pad that had recently been laid for just this purpose. An official of the Polish government came up and shook his hand, introducing himself, but Ryan missed it all, suddenly a tourist in Hell itself, or so it felt. The official who would be serving as guide led them to a car for the short drive closer to the facility. Jack slid in beside his wife.
   "Jack ..." she whispered.
   "Yeah," he acknowledged. "Yeah, babe, I know." And he spoke not another word, not even hearing the well prepared commentary the Pole was giving him.
   "Arbeit Macht Frei" the wrought-iron arch read. Work makes free was the literal meaning, perhaps the most callously cynical motto ever crafted by the twisted minds of men calling themselves civilized. Finally, the car stopped, and they got out into the air again, and again the guide led them from place to place, telling them things they didn't hear but rather felt, because the very air seemed heavy with evil. The grass was wonderfully green, almost like a golf course from the spring rain . . . from the nutrients in the soil? Jack wondered. Lots of those. More than two million people had met death in this place. Two million. Maybe three. After a while, counting lost its meaning, and it became just a number, a figure on a ledger, written in by some accountant or other who'd long since stopped considering what the digits represented.
   He could see it in his mind, the human shapes, the bodies, the heads, but thankfully not the faces of the dead. He presently found himself walking along what the German guards had called Himmel Strafe, the Road to Heaven. But why had they called it that? Was it pure cynicism, or did they really believe there was a God looking down on what they did, and if so, what had they thought He thought of this place and their activity? What kind of men could they have been? Women and children had been slaughtered immediately upon arrival here because they had little value as workers in the industrial facilities that I. G. Farben had built, so as to take the last measure of utility from the people sent here to die—to make a little profit from their last months. Not just Jews, of course; the Polish aristocracy and the Polish priesthood had been killed here. Gypsies. Homosexuals. Jehovah's Witnesses. Others deemed undesirable by Hitler's government. Just insects to be eliminated with Zyklon-B gas, a derivative of pesticide research by the German chemical industries.
   Ryan had not expected this to be a pleasant side-trip. What he'd anticipated was an educational experience, like visiting the battlefield at Antietam, for example.
   But this hadn't been a battlefield, and it didn't feel like at all like one.
   What must it have been like for the men who'd liberated this place in 1944? Jack wondered. Even hardened soldiers, men who'd faced death every day for years, must have been taken aback by what they'd found here. For all its horrors, the battlefield remained a place of honor, where men tested men in the most fundamental way—it was cruel and final, of course, but there was the purity of fighting men contesting with other fighting men, using weapons, but—but that was rubbish, Jack thought. There was little nobility to be found in war ... and far less in this place. On a battlefield, for whatever purpose and with whatever means, men fought against men, not women and kids. There was some honor to be had in the former, but not. . . this. This was crime on a vast scale, and as evil as war was, at the human level it stopped short of what men called crime, the deliberate infliction of harm upon the innocent. How could men do such a thing? Germany was today, as it had been then, a Christian country, the same nation that had brought forth Martin Luther, Beethoven, and Thomas Mann. Did it all come down to their leader? Adolf Hitler, a nebbish of a man, born to a middle-grade civil servant, a failure at everything he'd tried ... except demagoguery. He'd been a fucking genius at that...
   ... But why had Hitler hated anyone so much as to harness the industrial might of his nation not for conquest, which was bad enough, but for the base purpose of cold-blooded extermination? That, Jack knew, was one of history's most troublesome mysteries. Some said Hitler had hated the Jews because he'd seen one on the streets of Vienna and simply disliked him. Another expert in the field, a Jew himself, had posed the proposition that a Jewish prostitute had given the failed Austrian painter gonorrhea, but there was no documentary evidence upon which to base that. Yet another school of thought was more cynical still, saying that Hitler hadn't really cared about the Jews one way or another, but needed an enemy for people to hate so that he could become leader of Germany, and had merely seized upon the Jews as a target of opportunity, just something against which to mobilize his nation. Ryan found this alternative unlikely, but the most offensive of all. For whatever reason, he'd taken the power his country had given him and turned it to this purpose. In doing so, Hitler had cursed his name for all time to come, but that was no consolation to the people whose remains fertilized the grass. Ryan's wife's boss at Johns Hopkins was a Jewish doc named Bernie
   Katz, a friend of many years. How many such men had died here? How many potential Jonas Salks? Maybe an Einstein or two? Or poets, or actors, or just ordinary workers who would have raised ordinary kids . . .
   . . . and when Jack had sworn the oath of office mandated by the United States Constitution, he'd really sworn to protect such people as those, and maybe such people as these, too. As a man, as an American, and as President of the United States, did he not have a duty to prevent such things from ever happening again? He actually believed that the use of armed force could only be justified to protect American lives and vital American security interests. But was that all America was? What about the principles upon which his nation was founded? Did America only apply them to specific, limited places and goals? What about the rest of the world? Were these not the graves of real people?
   John Patrick Ryan stood and looked around, his face as empty right now as his soul, trying to understand what had taken place here, and what he could—what he had to learn from this. He had immense power at his fingertips every day he lived in the White House. How to use it? How to apply it? What to fight against? More important, what to fight for.''
   "Jack," Cathy said quietly, touching his hand.
   "Yeah, I've seen enough, too. Let's get the hell away from this place." He turned to the Polish guide and thanked him for words he'd scarcely heard and started walking back to where the car was. Once more they passed under the wrought-iron arch of a lie, doing what two or three million people had never done.
   If there were such a thing as ghosts, they'd spoken to him without words, but done it in one voice: Never again. And silently, Ryan agreed. Not while he lived. Not while America lived.
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They waited for SORGE, and rarely had anyone waited more expectantly even for the arrival of a firstborn child. There was a little drama to it, too, because SORGE didn't deliver every day, and they could not always see a pattern in when it appeared and when it didn't. Ed and Mary Pat Foley both awoke early that morning, and lay in bed for over an hour with nothing to do, then finally arose to drink their breakfast coffee and read the papers in the kitchen of their middle-class home in suburban Virginia. The kids went off to school, and then the parents finished dressing and walked out to their "company" car, complete with driver and escort vehicle. The odd part was that their car was guarded but their house was not, and so a terrorist only had to be smart enough to attack the house, which was not all that hard. The Early Bird was waiting for them in the car, but it had little attraction for either of them this morning. The comic strips in the Post had been more interesting, especially "Non Sequitur," their favorite morning chuckle, and the sports pages.
   "What do you think?" Mary Pat asked Ed. That managed to surprise him, since his wife didn't often ask his opinion of a field-operations question.
   He shrugged as they passed a Dunkin' Donuts box. "Coin toss, Mary."
   "I suppose. I sure hope it comes up heads this time." "Jack's going to ask us in ... an hour and a half, I suppose." "Something like that," the DDO agreed in a breathy voice. "The NATO thing ought to work, ought to make them think things over," the DCI thought aloud.
   "Don't bet the ranch on it, honey bunny," Mary Pat warned.
   "I know." Pause. "When does Jack get on the airplane to come home?"
   She checked her watch. "About two hours."
   "We should know by then."
   "Yeah," she agreed.
   Ten minutes later, informed of the shape of the world en route by National Public Radio's Morning Edition, they arrived at Langley, again parking in the underground garage, and again taking the elevator up to the seventh floor, where, again, they split up, going to their separate offices. In this, Ed surprised his wife. She'd expected him to hover over her shoulder as she flipped on her office computer, looking for another brownie recipe, as she called it. This happened at seven-fifty-four.
   "You've got mail," the electronic voice announced as she accessed her special Internet account. Her hand wasn't quite shaking when she moved the mouse to click on the proper icon, but nearly so. The letter came up, went through the descrambling process, and came up as clear-text she couldn't read. As always, MP saved the document to her hard drive, confirmed that it was saved, then printed up a hard copy, and finally deleted the letter from her electronic in-box, completely erasing it off the Internet. Then she lifted her phone.
   "Please have Dr. Sears come up right away," she told her secretary.
   Joshua Sears had also come in early this morning, and was sitting at his desk reading The New York Times financial page when the call came. He was in the elevator in under a minute, and then in the office of the Deputy Director (Operations).
   "Here," Mary Pat said, handing over the six pages of ideographs. "Take a seat."
   Sears sat in a comfortable chair and started his translation. He could see that the DDO was a little exercised about this, and his initial diagnosis came as he turned to page two.
   "This isn't good news," he said, without looking up. "Looks like Zhang is guiding Premier Xu in the direction he wants. Fang is uneasy about it, but he's going along, too. Marshal Luo is fully on the team. I guess that's to be expected. Luo's always been a hardball guy," Sears commented. "Talk here's about operational security, concern that we might know what they're up to—but they think they're secure," Sears assured the DDO.
   As many times as she'd heard that sort of thing, it never failed to give her a severe case of the chills, hearing the enemy (to Mary Pat nearly everyone was an enemy) discuss the very possibility that she'd devoted her entire professional life to realizing. And almost always you heard their voices saying that, no, there wasn't anyone like her out there hearing them. She'd never really left her post in Moscow, when she'd been control officer for Agent CARDINAL. He'd been old enough to have been her grandfather, but she'd thought of him as her own newborn, as she gave him taskings, and collected his take, forwarding it back to Langley, always worried for his safety. She was out of that game now, but it came down to the same thing. Somewhere out there was a foreign national sending America information of vital interest. She knew the person's name, but not her face, not her motivation, just that she liked to share her bed with one of her officers, and she kept the official diary for this Minister Fang, and her computer sent it out on the Web, on a path that ended at her seventh-floor desk.
   "Summary?" she asked Dr. Sears.
   "They're still on the warpath," the analyst replied. "Maybe they'll turn off it at some later date, but there is no such indication here."
   "If we warn them off. . . ?"
   Sears shrugged. "No telling. Their real concern is internal political dissension and possible collapse. This economic crisis has them worried about political ruin for them all, and that's all they're worried about."
   "Wars are begun by frightened men," the DDO observed.
   "That's what history tells us," Sears agreed. "And it's happening again, right before our eyes."
   "Shit," Mrs. Foley observed. "Okay, print it up and get it back to me, fast as you can."
   "Yes, ma'am. Half hour. You want me to show this to George Weaver, right?"
   "Yeah." She nodded. The academic had been going over the SORGE data for several days, taking his time to formulate his part of the SNIE slowly and carefully, which was the way he worked. "You mind working with him?"
   "Not really. He knows their heads pretty well, maybe a little better than I do—he has a master's in psychology from Yale. Just he's a little slow formulating his conclusions."
   "Tell him I want something I can use by the end of the day."
   "Will do," Sears promised, rising for the door. Mary Pat followed him out, but took a different turn.
   "Yeah?" Ed Foley said, when she came into his office.
   "You'll have the write-up in half an hour or so. Short version: They are not impressed by the NATO play."
   "Oh, shit," the DCI observed at once.
   "Yeah," his wife agreed. "Better find out how quick we can get the information to Jack."
   "Okay." The DCI lifted his secure phone and punched the speed-dial button for the White House.
   There was one last semi-official meeting at the American Embassy before departure, and again it was Golovko speaking for his president, who was away schmoozing with the British Prime Minister.
   "What did you make of Auschwitz?" the Russian asked.
   "It ain't Disney World," Jack replied, taking a sip of coffee. "Have you been there?"
   "My uncle Sasha was part of the force that liberated the camp," Sergey replied. "He was a tank commander—a colonel—in the Great Motherland War."
   "Did you talk to him about it?"
   "When I was a boy. Sasha—my mother's brother, he was—was a true soldier, a hard man with hard rules for life, and a committed communist. That must have shaken him, though," Golovko went on. "He didn't really talk about what effect it had on him. Just that it was ugly, and proof to him of the correctness of his cause. He said he had an especially good war after that—he got to kill more Germans."
   "And what about the things—"
   "Stalin did? We never spoke of that in my family. My father was NKVD, as you know. He thought that whatever the state did was correct. Not unlike what the fascisti thought at Auschwitz, I admit, but he would not have seen it that way. Those were different times, Ivan Emmetovich. Harder times. Your father served in the war as well, as I recall."
   "Paratrooper, One-Oh-First. He never talked much about it, just the funny things that happened. He said the night drop into Normandy was pretty scary, but that's all—he never said what it was like running around in the dark with people shooting at him."
   "It cannot be very enjoyable, to be a soldier in combat."
   "I don't suppose it is. Sending people out to do it isn't fun, either. God damn it, Sergey! I'm supposed to protect people, not risk their lives."
   "So, you are not like Hitler. And not like Stalin," the Russian added graciously. "And neither is Eduard Petrovich. It is a gentler world we live in, gentler than that of our fathers and our uncles. But not gentle enough yet. When will you know how our Chinese friends reacted to yesterday's events?"
   "Soon, I hope, but we're not exactly sure. You know how that works."
   "Da. "You depended on the reports of your agents, but you were never sure when they would come in, and in the expectation came frustration. Sometimes you wanted to wring their necks, but that was both foolish and morally wrong, as they both knew.
   "Any public reaction?" Ryan asked. The Russians would have seen it sooner than his own people.
   "A nonreaction, Mr. President. No public comment at all. Not unexpected, but somewhat disappointing."
   "If they move, can you stop them?"
   "President Grushavoy has asked that very question of Stavka, his military chiefs, but they have not yet answered substantively. We are concerned with operational security. We do not wish the PRC to know that we know anything."
   "That can work against you," Ryan warned.
   "I said that very thing this morning, but soldiers have their own ways, don't they? We are calling up some reserves, and warning orders have gone out to some mechanized troops. The cupboard, however, as you Americans say, is somewhat bare at the moment."
   "What have you done about the people who tried to kill you?" Ryan asked, changing the subject.
   "The main one is under constant observation at the moment. If he tries something else, we will then speak to him," Golovko promised. "The connection, again, is Chinese, as you know."
   "I've heard."
   "Your FBI agent in Moscow, that Reilly fellow, is very talented. We could have used him in Second Directorate."
   "Yeah, Dan Murray thinks a lot of him."
   "If this Chinese matter goes further, we need to set up a liaison group between your military and ours."
   "Work through SACEUR," Ryan told him. He'd already thought that one through. "He has instructions to cooperate with your people."
   "Thank you, Mr. President. I will pass that along. So, your family, it is well?" You couldn't have this sort of meeting without irrelevant pleasantries.
   "My oldest, Sally, is dating. That's hard on Daddy," Ryan admitted.
   "Yes." Golovko allowed himself a smile. "You live in fear that she will come upon such a boy as you were, yes?"
   "Well, the Secret Service helps keep the little bastards under control."
   "There is much to be said for men with guns, yes," the Russian agreed with some amusement, to lighten the moment.
   "Yeah, but I think daughters are God's punishment on us for being men." That observation earned Ryan a laugh.
   "Just so, Ivan Emmetovich, just so." And Sergey paused again. Back to business: "It is a hard time for both of us, is it not?"
   "Yeah, it is that."
   "Perhaps the Chinese will see us standing together and reconsider their greed. Together our fathers' generation killed Hitler, after all. Who can stand against the two of us?"
   "Sergey, wars are not rational acts. They are not begun by rational men. They're begun by people who don't care a rat-fuck about the people they rule, who're willing to get their fellow men killed for their own narrow purposes. This morning I saw such a place. It was Satan's amusement park, I suppose, but not a place for a man like me. I came away angry. I wouldn't mind having a chance to see Hitler, long as I have a gun in my hand when I do." It was a foolish thing to say, but Golovko understood.
   "With luck, together we will prevent this Chinese adventure."
   "And if not?"
   "Then together we will defeat them, my friend. And perhaps that will be the last war of all."
   "I wouldn't bet on it," the President replied. "I've had that thought before myself, but I suppose it's a worthy goal."
   "When you find out what the Chinese say . . . ?"
   "We'll get the word to you."
   Golovko rose. "Thank you. I will convey that to my president."
   Ryan walked the Russian to the door, then headed off to the ambassador's office.
   "This just came in." Ambassador Lewendowski handed over the fax. "Is this as bad as it looks?" The fax was headed EYES-ONLY PRESIDENT, but it had come into his embassy.
   Ryan took the pages and started reading. "Probably. If the Russians need help via NATO, will the Poles throw in?"
   "I don't know. I can ask."
   The President shook his head. "Too soon for that."
   "Did we bring the Russians into NATO with the knowledge of this?" The question showed concern that stopped short of outrage at the violation of diplomatic etiquette.
   Ryan looked up. "What do you think?" He paused. "I need your secure phone."
   Forty minutes later, Jack and Cathy Ryan walked up the steps into their airplane for the ride home. SURGEON was not surprised to see her husband disappear into the aircraft's upper communications level, along with the Secretary of State. She suspected that her husband might have stolen a smoke or two up there, but she was asleep by the time he came back down.
   For his part, Ryan wished he had, but couldn't find a smoker up there. The two who indulged had left their smokes in their luggage to avoid the temptation to violate USAF regulations. The President had a single drink and got into his seat, rocking it back for a nap, during which he found himself dreaming of Auschwitz, mixing it up with scenes remembered from Schindler's List. He awoke over Iceland, sweating, to see his wife's angelic sleeping face, and to remind himself that, bad as the world was, it wasn't quite that bad anymore. And his job was to keep it that way.
   "Okay, is there any way to make them back off?" Robby Jackson asked the people assembled in the White House Situation Room.
   Professor Weaver struck him as just one more academic, long of wind and short of conclusion. Jackson listened anyway. This guy knew more about the way the Chinese thought. He must. His explanation was about as incomprehensible as the thought processes he was attempting to make clear.
   "Professor," Jackson said finally, "that's all well and good, but what the hell does something that happened nine centuries ago tell us about today? These are Maoists, not royalists."
   "Ideology is usually just an excuse for behavior, Mr. Vice President, not a reason for it. Their motivations are the same today as they would have been under the Chin Dynasty, and they fear exactly the same thing': the revolt of the peasantry if the economy goes completely bad," Weaver explained to this pilot, a technician, he thought, and decidedly not an intellectual. At least the President had some credentials as a historian, though they weren't impressive to the tenured Ivy League department chairman.
   "Back to the real question here: What can we do to make them back off, short of war?"
   "Telling them that we know of their plans might give them pause, but they will make their decision on the overall correlation of forces, which they evidently believe to be fully in their favor, judging from what I've been reading from this SORGE fellow."
   "So, they won't back off?" the VP asked.
   "I cannot guarantee that," Weaver answered.
   "And blowing our source gets somebody killed," Mary Pat Foley reminded the assembly.
   "Which is just one life against many," Weaver pointed out.
   Remarkably, the DDO didn't leap across the table to rip his academic face off. She respected Weaver as an area specialist/consultant. But fundamentally he was one more ivory-tower theoretician who didn't consider the human lives that rode on decisions like that one. Real people had their lives end, and that was a big deal to those real people, even if it wasn't to this professor in his comfortable office in Providence, Rhode Island.
   "It also cancels out a vital source of information in the event that they go forward anyway—which could adversely affect our ability to deal with the real-world military threat, by the way."
   "There is that, I suppose," Weaver conceded diffidently.
   "Can the Russians stop them?" Jackson asked. General Moore took the question.
   "It's six-five and pick 'em," the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs answered. "The Chinese have a lot of combat power to unleash. The Russians have a lot of room to absorb it, but not the combat power to repel it per se. If I had to bet, I'd put my money on the PRC—unless we come in. Our airpower could alter the equation somewhat, and if NATO comes in with ground forces, the odds change. It depends on what reinforcements we and the Russians can get into the theater."
   "A real problem," Mickey Moore conceded. "It all comes down one railway line. It's double-tracked and electrified, but that's the only good news about it."
   "Does anybody know how to run an operation like that down a railroad? Hell, we haven't done it since the Civil War," Jackson thought aloud.
   "Just have to wait and see, sir, if it comes to that. The Russians have doubtless thought it over many times. We'll depend on them for that."
   "Great," the Vice President muttered. A lifelong USN sailor, he didn't like depending on anything except people who spoke American and wore Navy Blue.
   "If the variables were fully in our favor, the Chinese wouldn't be thinking about this operation as seriously as they evidently are." Which was about as obvious as the value of a double play with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth.
   "The problem," George Winston told them, "is that the prize is just too damned inviting. It's like the bank doors have been left open over a three-day weekend, and the local cops are on strike."
   "Jack keeps saying that a war of aggression is just an armed robbery writ large," Jackson told them.
   "That's not far off," SecTreas agreed. Professor Weaver thought the comparison overly simplistic, but what else could you expect of people like these?
   "We can warn them off when we start seeing preparations on our overheads," Ed Foley proposed. "Mickey, when will we start seeing that?"
   "Conceivably, two days. Figure a week for them to get ramped up. Their forces are pretty well in theater already, and it's just a matter of getting them postured—putting them all near their jump-off points. Then doing the final approach march will happen, oh, thirty-six hours before they start pulling the strings on their field guns."
   "And Ivan can't stop them?"
   "At the border? Not a chance," the general answered, with an emphatic shake of the head. "They'll have to play for time, trading land for time. The Chinese have a hell of a long trip to get the oil. That's their weakness, a huge flank to protect and a god-awful vulnerable logistics train. I'd look out for an airborne assault on either the gold or the oil fields. They don't have much in the way of airborne troops or airlift capacity, but you have to figure they'll try it anyway. They're both soft targets."
   "What can we send in?"
   "First thing, a lot of air assets, fighters, fighter-bombers, and every aerial tanker we can scrape up. We may not be able to establish air superiority, but we can quickly deny it to them, make it a fifty-fifty proposition almost at once, and then start rolling their air force back. Again it's a question of numbers, Robby, and a question of how well their flyers are trained. Probably better than the Russians, just because they have more hours on the stick, but technically the Russians actually have generally better aircraft, and probably better doctrine—except they haven't had the chance to practice it."
   Robby Jackson wanted to grumble that the situation had too many unknowns, but if there hadn't been, as Mickey Moore had just told him, the Chinese wouldn't be leaning on their northern border. Muggers went after little old ladies with their Social Security money, not cops who had just cashed their paychecks on the way home from work. There was much to be said for carrying a gun on the street, and as irrational as street crime or war-starting might be, those who did it were somewhat reflective in their choices.
   Scott Adler hadn't slept at all on the flight, as he'd played over and over in his mind the question of how to stop a war from starting. That was the primary mission of a diplomat, wasn't it? Mainly he considered his shortcomings. As the prime foreign-affairs officer of his country, he was supposed to know—he was paid to know—what to say to people to deflect them from irrational actions. At base that could mean telling them, Do this and the full power and fury of America will descend on you and ruin your whole day. Better to cajole them into being reasonable, because in reasonableness was their best salvation as a nation in the global village. But the truth was that the Chinese thought in ways that he could not replicate within his own mind, and so he wasn't sure what to say to make them see the light. The worst part of all was that he'd met this Zhang guy in addition to Foreign Minister Shen, and all he knew for sure was that they did not look upon reality as he did. They saw blue where he saw green, and he couldn't understand their strange version of green well enough to explain it into blue. A small voice chided him for possible racism, but this situation was too far gone for political correctness. He had a war to stop, and he didn't know how. He ended up staring at the bulkhead in front of his comfortable glove-leather seat and wishing it was a movie screen. He felt like seeing a movie now, something to get his mind off the hamster wheel that just kept turning and turning. Then he felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned to see his President, who motioned him to the circular staircase to the upper level. Again they chased two Air Force communicators off their seats.
   "Thinking over the newest SORGE?"
   "Yep." EAGLE nodded.
   "Any ideas?"
   The head moved in a different plane now. "No. Sorry, Jack, but it just isn't there. Maybe you need a new SecState."
   Ryan grunted. "No, just different enemies. The only thing I see is to tell them we know what they're up to, and that they'd better stop."
   "And when they tell us to shove it up our collective ass, then what?"
   "You know what we need right now?" SWORDSMAN asked.
   "Oh, yeah, a couple hundred Minuteman or Trident missiles would work just fine to show them the light. Unfortunately . . ."
   "Unfortunately, we did away with them to make the world a safer place. Oops," Ryan concluded.
   "Well, we have the bombs and the aircraft to deliver them, and—"
   "No!" Ryan hissed. "No, God damn it, I will not initiate a nuclear war in order to stop a conventional one. How many people do you want me to kill?"
   "Easy, Jack. It's my job to present options, remember? Not to advocate them—not that one anyway." He paused. "What did you think of Auschwitz?"
   "It's the stuff of nightmares—wait a minute, your parents, right?"
   "My father—Belzec in his case, and he lucked out and survived."
   "Does he talk about it?"
   "Never. Not a single word, even to his rabbi. Maybe a pshrink. He went to one for a few years, but I never knew what for."
   "I can't let anything like that happen again. To stop that—yeah, to stop that," Ryan speculated aloud, "yeah, I might drop a B-83."
   "You know the lingo?"
   "A little. I got briefed in a long time ago, the names for the hardware stuck in my mind. Funny thing, I've never had nightmares about that. Well, I've never read into the SIOP—Single Integrated Operation Plan, the cookbook for ending the world. I think I'd eat a gun before I did that."
   "A whole lot of presidents had to think those things over," Adler pointed out.
   "Before my time, Scott, and they never expected them to happen anyway. They all figured they'd smart their way through it. 'Til Bob Fowler came along and damned near stumbled into calling in the codes. That was some wild Sunday night," Ryan said, remembering.
   "Yeah, I know the story. You kept your head screwed on straight. Not many others did."
   "Yeah. And look where it got me," POTUS observed with a grim chuckle. He looked out a window. They were over land now, probably Labrador, lots of green and lakes, and few straight lines to show the hand of man on the land. "What do we do, Scott?"
   "We try to warn them off. They'll do things we can see with satellites, and then we can call them on it. Our last play will be to tell them that Russia is an American ally now, and messing with Ivan means messing with Uncle Sam. If that doesn't stop them, nothing else will."
   "Offer some danegeld to buy them off?" the President wondered.
   "A waste of time. I don't think it would work, but I'd be damned sure they'd see it as a sign of weakness and be encouraged by it. No, they respect strength, and we have to show them that. Then they'll react one way or another."
   "They're going to go," Jack thought.
   "Coin toss. Hope it comes up tails, buddy."
   "Yeah." Ryan checked his watch. "Early morning in Beijing."
   "They'll be waking up and heading in for work," Adler agreed. "What exactly can you tell me about this SORGE source?"
   "Mary Pat hasn't told me much, probably best that way. One of the things I learned at Langley. You can know too much sometimes. Better not to know their faces, and especially their names."
   "In case something bad happens?"
   "When it does, it's pretty bad. Don't want to think what these people would do. Their version of the Miranda warning is, 'You can scream all you want. We don't mind.' "
   "Funny," SecState thought.
   "Actually it's not all that effective as an interrogation technique.
   They end up telling you exactly what you want to hear, and you end up dictating it to them instead of getting what they really know."
   "What about the appeals process?" Scott asked, with a yawn. Finally, belatedly, he was getting sleepy.
   "In China? That's when the shooter asks if you prefer the left ear or the right ear." Ryan stopped himself. Why was he making bad jokes on this subject?
   The busy place in the Washington, D.C., area was the National Reconnaissance Office. A joint venture of CIA and the Pentagon, NRO ran the reconsats, the big camera birds circling the earth at low-medium altitude, looking down with their hugely expensive cameras that rivaled the precision and expense of the Hubble space telescope. There were three photo-birds up, circling the earth every two hours or so, and passing over the same spot twice a day each. There was also a radar-reconnaissance satellite that had much poorer resolution than the Lockheed– and TRW-made KH-11s, but which could see through clouds. This was important at the moment, because a cold front was tracing across the Chinese-Siberian border, and the clouds at its forward edge blanked out all visual light, much to the frustration of the
   NRO technicians and scientists whose multibillion-dollar satellites were useful only for weather forecasting at the moment. Cloudy with scattered showers, and chilly, temperature in the middle forties, dropping to just below freezing at night.
   The intelligence analysts, therefore, closely examined the "take" from the Lacrosse radar-intelligence bird because that was the only game in town at the moment.
   "The clouds go all the way down to six thousand feet or so. Even a Blackbird wouldn't be much use at the moment," one of the photo-interpreters observed. "Okay, what do we have here . . . ? Looks like a higher level of railroad activity, looks like flatcars mostly. Something on them, but too much clutter to pick out the shapes."
   "What do they move on flatcars?" a naval officer asked.
   "Tracked vehicles," an Army major answered, "and heavy guns."
   "Can we confirm that supposition from this data?" the Navy guy asked.
   "No," the civilian answered. "But. . . there, that's the yard. We see six long trains sitting still in the yard. Okay, where's the ..." He accessed his desktop computer and called up some visual imagery. "Here we go. See these ramps? They're designed to offload rolling equipment from the trains." He turned back to the Lacrosse "take." "Yeah, these here look like tank shapes coming off the ramps, and forming up right here in the assembly areas, and that's the shape of an armored regiment. That's three hundred twenty-two main battle tanks, and about a buck and a quarter of APCs, and so ... yeah, I'd estimate that this is a full armored division detraining. Here's the truck park... and this grouping here, I'm not sure. Looks bulky . . . square or rectangular shapes. Hmm," the analyst concluded. He turned back to his own desktop and queried some file images. "You know what this looks like?"
   "You going to tell us?"
   "Looks like a five-ton truck with a section of ribbon bridge on it. The Chinese copied the Russian bridge design—hell, everybody did. It's a beautiful little design Ivan cobbled together. Anyway, on radar, it looks like this and"—he turned back to the recent satellite take—"that's pretty much what these look like, isn't it? I'll call that eighty percent likelihood. So, this group here I'll call two engineer regiments accompanying this tank division."
   "Is that a lot of engineers to back up a single division?" the naval officer asked.
   "Sure as hell," the Army major confirmed.
   "I'd say so," the photo-interpreter agreed. "The normal TO and E is one battalion per division. So, this is a corps or army vanguard forming up, and I'd have to say they plan to cross some rivers, guys."
   "Go on," the senior civilian told him.
   "They're postured to head north."
   "Okay," the Army officer said. "Have you ever seen this before?"
   "Two years ago, they were running an exercise, but that was one engineer regiment, not two, and they left this yard and headed southeast. That one was a pretty big deal. We got a lot of visual overheads. They were simulating an invasion or at least a major assault. That one used a full Group-A army, with an armored division and two mechanized divisions as the assault force, and the other mech division simulating a dispersed defense force. The attacking team won that one."
   "How different from the way the Russians are deployed on their border?" This was the Navy intelligence officer.
   "Thicker—I mean, for the exercise the Chinese defenders were thicker on the ground than the Russians are today."
   "And the attacking force won?"
   "How realistic was the exercise?" the major asked.
   "It wasn't Fort Irwin, but it was as honest as they can run one, and probably accurate. The attackers had the usual advantages in numbers and initiative. They punched through and started maneuvering in the defender's trains area, had themselves a good old time."
   The naval officer looked at his colleague in green. "Just what they'd be thinking if they wanted to head north."
   "Better call this one in, Norm."
   "Yep." And both uniformed officers headed to the phones.
   "When's the weather clear?" the lingering civilian asked the tech.
   "Call it thirty-six hours. It'll start to clear tomorrow night, and we have the taskings already programmed in." He didn't have to say that the nighttime capabilities on the KH-11 satellites weren't all that different from in the daylight—you just didn't get much in the way of color.
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Outlooks and All-Nighters

Westbound jet lag, or travel-shock, as President Ryan preferred to call it, is always easier than eastbound's, and he'd gotten sleep on the airplane. Jack and Cathy walked off Air Force One and to the waiting helicopter, which got them to the landing pad on the South Lawn in the usual ten minutes. This time FLOTUS walked directly into the White House while POTUS walked left toward the West Wing, but to the Situation Room rather than the Oval Office.
   Vice President Jackson was waiting for him there, along with the usual suspects.
   "Hey, Robby."
   "How was the flight, Jack?"
   "Long." Ryan stretched to get his muscles back under control. "Okay, what's happening?"
   "Ain't good, buddy. We have Chinese mechanized troops heading for the Russian border. Here's what we got in from NRO." Jackson personally spread out the printouts from the photo-intelligence troops. "We got mechanized forces here, here, and here, and these are engineers with bridging equipment."
   "How long before they're ready?" Ryan asked.
   "Potentially as little as three days," Mickey Moore answered. "More likely five to seven."
   "What are we doing?"
   "We have a lot of warning orders out, but nobody's moving yet."
   "Do they know we're onto this?" the President asked next.
   "Probably not, but they must know we're keeping an eye on things, and they must know our reconnaissance capabilities. It's been in the open media for twenty-some years," Moore answered.
   "Nothing from them to us over diplomatic channels?"
   "Bupkis," Ed Foley said.
   "Don't tell me they don't care. They have to care."
   "Maybe they care, Jack," the DCI responded. "But they're not losing as much sleep over it as they are over internal political problems."
   "Anything new from SORGE?"
   Foley shook his head. "Not since this morning."
   "Okay, who's our senior diplomat in Beijing?"
   "The DCM at the embassy, but he's actually fairly junior, new in the post," the DCI said.
   "Okay, well, the note we're going to send won't be," Ryan said. "What time is it over there?"
   "Eight-twelve in the morning," Jackson said, pointing to a wall clock set on Chinese time.
   "So, SORGE didn't report anything from their working day yesterday?"
   "No. That happens two or three days per week. It's not unusual," Mary Pat pointed out. "Sometimes that means the next one will be extra meaty."
   Everyone looked up when Secretary Adler came in; he had driven instead of helicoptered in from Andrews. He quickly came up to speed.
   "That bad?"
   "They look serious, man," Jackson told SecState.
   "Sounds like we have to send them that note."
   "They're too far gone down this road to stop," another person said. "It's not likely that any note will work."
   "Who are you?" Ryan asked.
   "George Weaver, sir, from Brown. I consult to the Agency on China."
   "Oh, okay. I've read some of your work. Pretty good stuff, Dr. Weaver. So, you say they won't turn back. Tell us why," the President commanded.
   "It's not because they fear revelation of what they're up to. Their people don't know, and won't find out until Beijing tells them. The problem, as you know, is that they fear a potential economic collapse.
   If their economy goes south, sir, then you get a revolt of the masses, and that's the one thing they really fear. They don't see a way to avoid that other than getting rich, and the way for them to get rich is to seize the newly discovered Russian assets."
   "Kuwait writ large?" Ryan asked.
   "Larger and more complex, but, yes, Mr. President, the situation is fundamentally similar. They regard oil both as a commodity and as an entry card into international legitimacy. They figure that if they have it, the rest of the world will have to do business with them. The gold angle is even more obvious. It's the quintessential trading commodity. If you have it, you can sell it for anything you care to purchase. With those assets and the cash they can buy with them, they figure to bootstrap their national economy to the next level, and they just assume that the rest of the world will play along with them because they're going to be rich, and capitalists are only interested in money."
   "They're really that cynical, that shallow?" Adler asked, somewhat shocked at the thought, even after all he'd already been through.
   "Their reading of history justifies that outlook, Mr. Secretary. Their analysis of our past actions, and those of the rest of the world, lead them to this conclusion. I grant you that they fail to appreciate what we call our reasons for the actions we took, but in strictly and narrowly factual terms, that's how the world looks to them."
   "Only if they're idiots," Ryan observed tiredly. "We're dealing with idiots."
   "Mr. President, you're dealing with highly sophisticated political animals. Their outlook on the world is different from ours, and, true, they do not understand us very well, but that does not make them fools," Weaver told the assembly.
   Fine, Ryan thought for what seemed the hundredth time, but then they're Klingons. There was no sense saying that to Weaver. He'd simply launch into a long-winded rebuttal that wouldn't take the discussion anywhere. And Weaver would be right. Fools or geniuses, you only had to understand what they were doing, not why. The what might not make sense, but if you knew it, you also knew what had to be stopped.
   "Well, let's see if they understand this," Ryan said. "Scott, tell the PRC that if they attack into Russia, America will come to Russia's aid, as required by the North Atlantic Treaty, and—"
   "The NATO Treaty doesn't actually say that," Adler warned.
   "I say it does, Scott, and more to the point, I told the Russians it does. If the Chinese realize we're not kidding, will it make a difference?"
   "That opens up a huge can of worms, Jack," Adler warned. "We have thousands of Americans in China, thousands. Businessmen, tourists, a lot of people."
   "Dr. Weaver, how will the Chinese treat foreign nationals in time of war?"
   "I would not want to be there to find out. The Chinese can be fine hosts, but in time of war, if, for example, they think you're a spy or something, it could get very difficult. The way they treat their own citizens—well, we've seen that on TV, haven't we?"
   "Scott, we also tell them that we hold their government leaders personally responsible for the safety and well-being of American citizens in their country. I mean that, Scott. If I have to, I'll sign the orders to track them down and bury their asses. Remind them of Tehran and our old friend Daryaei. That Zhang guy met him once, according to the former Indian Prime Minister, and I had him taken all the way out," Ryan announced coldly. "Zhang would do well to consider that."
   "They will not respond well to such threats," Weaver warned. "It's just as easy to say we have a lot of their citizens here, and—"
   "We can't do that, and they know it," Ryan shot back.
   "Mr. President, I just told you, our concept of laws is alien to them. That sort of threat is one they will understand, and they will take it seriously. The question then is how valuable they regard the lives of their own citizens."
   "And that is?"
   "Less than we do," Weaver answered.
   Ryan considered that. "Scott, make sure they know what the Ryan Doctrine means," he ordered. "If necessary, I will put a smart bomb through their bedroom windows, even if it takes us ten years to find them."
   "The DCM will make that clear. We can also alert our citizens to get the next bird out."
   "Yeah, I'd want to get the hell out of Dodge City," Robby Jackson observed. "And you can get that warning out over CNN."
   "Depending on how they respond to our note. It's eight-thirty in the morning over there. Scott, that note has to be in their hands before lunch."
   SecState nodded. "Right."
   "General Moore, we have warning orders cut to the forces we can deploy?"
   "Yes, sir. We can have Air Force units in Siberia in less than twenty-four hours. Twelve hours after that, they'll be ready to launch missions."
   "What about bases, Mickey?" Jackson asked.
   "Tons of 'em, from when they worried about splashing B-52s. Their northern coast is lousy with airstrips. We have our Air Attache in Moscow sitting down with their people right now," General Moore said. The colonel in question was pulling a serious all-nighter. "The Russians, he says, are being very cooperative."
   "How secure will the bases be?" the Vice President asked next.
   "Their main protection will be distance. The Chinese will have to reach the best part of a thousand miles to hit them. We've tagged ten E-3B AWACS out of Tinker Air Force Base to go over and establish continuous radar coverage, plus a lot of fighters to do BARCAP. Once that's done, we'll think about what missions we'll want to fly. Mainly defensive at first, until we get firmly established."
   Moore didn't have to explain to Jackson that there was more to moving an Air Force than just the aircraft. With each fighter squadron went mechanics, ordnancemen, and even air-traffic controllers. A fighter plane might have only one pilot, but it needed an additional twenty or more personnel to make it a functioning weapon. For more complex aircraft, the numbers just went higher.
   "What about CINCPAC?" Jackson asked.
   "We can give their navy a serious headache. Mancuso's moving his submarines and other ships."
   "These images aren't all that great," Ryan observed, looking down at the radar overheads.
   "We'll have visuals late tomorrow," Ed Foley told him.
   "Okay, when we do, we'll have to show them to NATO, see what they'll do to help us out."
   "First Armored has orders to stand by to entrain. The German railroads are in better shape today than they were in 1990 for DESERT SHIELD," the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs informed them. "We can change trains just east of Berlin. The Russian railroads have a different gauge. It's wider. That actually helps us, wider cars for our tracks to ride on. We figure we can move First Armored to the far side of the Urals in about seven days."
   "Who else?" Ryan asked.
   "Not sure," Moore answered.
   "The Brits'll go with us. Them we can depend on," Adler told them all. "And Grushavoy was talking to their Prime Minister. We need to talk to Downing Street to see what developed from that."
   "Okay, Scott, please look into that. But first let's get that note drafted for Beijing."
   "Right," SecState agreed, and headed for the door.
   "Jesus, I hope we can get them to see sense," Ryan said to the maps and imagery before his eyes.
   "Me, too, Jack," the Vice President agreed. "But don't bet the farm on it."
   What Adler had said to him on the flight from Warsaw came back to him. If only America still had ballistic missiles, deterrence would have been far easier. But Ryan had played a role in eliminating the damned things, and it seemed a very strange thing for him to regret now.
   The note was generated and sent to the embassy in Beijing in less than two hours. The Deputy Chief of Mission, or DCM, in the embassy was a career foreign-service officer named William Kilmer. The formal note arrived as e-mail, and he had a secretary print it up in proper form and on expensive paper, which was folded into an envelope of creamy texture for hand delivery. He called the Chinese Foreign Ministry, requesting an urgent meeting with Foreign Minister Shen Tang. This was granted with surprising alacrity, and Kilmer walked to his own automobile, a Lincoln Town Car, and drove himself to the Ministry.
   Kilmer was in his middle thirties, a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia and Georgetown University in Washington. A man on his way up, his current position was rather ahead of his years, and the only reason he'd gotten it was that Ambassador Carl Hitch had been expected to be a particularly good mentor for bringing him along from AAA ball into the bigs. This mission, delivering this note, made him think about just how junior he was. But he couldn't very well run from the job, and career-wise he was taking a big step. Assuming he didn't get shot. Unlikely, but. . .
   The walk to Shen's office was a lonely one. The corridor seemed to stretch into infinity as he stepped down it in his best suit and shiny black shoes. The building and its appointments were supposed to be imposing, to show representatives of foreign countries just how impressive the People's Republic of China was. Every country did it this way, some better than others. In this case the architect had earned his money, Kilmer thought. Finally—but sooner than he'd expected when he'd begun—he found the door and turned right to enter the secretaries' anteroom. Shen's male executive assistant led the American into a more comfortable waiting room and fetched water for him. Kilmer waited for the expected five minutes, because you didn't just barge in to see a senior government minister of a major power, but then the high doors—they were always double doors at this level of diplomacy—opened and he was beckoned in.
   Shen was wearing a Mao jacket today instead of the usual Western-style business suit, a dark blue in color. He approached his guest and extended his hand.
   "Mr. Kilmer, a pleasure to see you again."
   "Thank you for allowing this impromptu audience, Minister."
   "Please have a seat." Shen waved to some chairs surrounding the usual low table. When both of them were seated, Shen asked, "What can I do for you this day?"
   "Minister, I have a note from my government to place into your hand." With that, Kilmer pulled the envelope from his coat pocket and handed it across.
   The envelope was not sealed. Shen withdrew the two-page diplomatic message and leaned back to read it. His face didn't alter a dot before he looked up.
   "This is a most unusual communication, Mr. Kilmer."
   "Minister, my government is seriously concerned with recent deployments of your military."
   "The last note delivered from your embassy was an insulting interference with our internal affairs. Now you threaten us with war?"
   "Sir, America makes no threats. We remind you that since the Russian Federation is now a signatory of the North Atlantic Treaty, any hostilities directed at Russia will compel America to honor her treaty commitments."
   "And you threaten the senior members of our government if something untoward should happen to Americans in our country? What do you take us for, Mr. Kilmer?" Shen asked in an even, unexcited voice.
   "Minister, we merely point out that, as America extends to all of our visitors the protection of our laws, we hope that the People's Republic will do the same."
   "Why should we treat American citizens any differently from the way we treat our own?"
   "Minister, we merely request your assurance that this will be the case."
   "Why should it not be the case? Do you accuse us of plotting a war of aggression against our neighbor?"
   "We take note of recent military actions by the People's Republic and request clarification."
   "I see." Shen folded the papers back up and set them on the table. "When do you request a reply?"
   "As soon as you find it convenient to do so, Minister," Kilmer answered.
   "Very well. I will discuss this matter with my colleagues on the Politburo and reply to you as quickly as we can."
   "I will convey that good news to Washington, Minister. I will not take more time from your day, sir. Thank you very much indeed for your time." Kilmer stood and shook hands one more time. Kilmer walked through the anteroom without a glance left or right, turned left in the corridor, and headed toward the elevators. The corridor seemed just as long for this little walk, he thought, and the clicking of his heels on the tile floor seemed unusually loud. Kilmer had been an FSO long enough to know that Shen should have reacted more irately to the note. Instead he had received it like an invitation to an informal dinner at the embassy. That meant something, but Kilmer wasn't sure what. Once in his car, he started composing his dispatch to Foggy Bottom, then quickly realized that this was something he'd better report by voice first over the STU.
   How good is he, Carl?" Adler asked the ambassador. "He's an okay kid, Scott. Photographic memory, talent I wish I had. Maybe he was promoted a little fast, but he's got the brains he needs, just a little short on field experience. I figure in another three years or so, he'll be ready to run his own embassy and start his way up the ladder."
   In a place like Lesotho, SecState thought, which was a place to make "backwater" seem a compliment. Well, you had to start somewhere. "How will Shen react?"
   "Depends. If they're just maneuvering troops on routine training, they might be a little angry. If it's for real and we've caught them with their hands in the cookie jar, they'll act hurt and surprised." Hitch paused for a yawn. "Excuse me. The real question is whether it'll make them think things over."
   "Will it? You know most of 'em."
   "I don't know," Hitch admitted uncomfortably. "Scott, I've been there a while, sure, but I can't say that I fully understand them. They make decisions on political considerations that Americans have a hard time comprehending."
   "The President calls them Klingons," Adler told the ambassador.
   Hitch smiled. "I wouldn't go that far, but there is logic in the observation." Then Adler's intercom buzzed.
   "Call from William Kilmer in Beijing on the STU, Mr. Secretary," the secretary's voice said.
   "This is Scott Adler," SecState said when he lifted the phone. "Ambassador Hitch is here with me. You're on speaker."
   "Sir, I made the delivery. Minister Shen hardly blinked. He said he'd get back to us soon, but not exactly when, after he talked it over with his Politburo colleagues. Aside from that, not much of a reaction at all. I can fax you the transcript in about half an hour. The meeting didn't last ten minutes."
   Adler looked over at Hitch, who shook his head and didn't look happy at the news.
   "Bill, how was his body language?" Hitch asked.
   "Like he was on Prozac, Carl. No physical reaction at all."
   "Shen tends to be a little hyperactive," Hitch explained. "Sometimes he has trouble sitting still. Conclusions, Bill?"
   "I'm worried," Kilmer replied at once. "I think we have a problem here."
   "Thank you, Mr. Kilmer. Send the fax quick as you can." Adler punched the phone button and looked at his guest. "Oh, shit."
   "Yeah. How soon will we know how they're going to react to this?"
   "Tomorrow morning, I hope, we—"
   "We have a source inside their government?" Hitch asked. The blank look he got in reply was answer enough.
   "Thanks, Scott," Ryan said, hanging up the phone. He was back in the Oval Office now, sitting in his personally-fitted swivel chair, which was about as comfortable as any artifact could make him. It didn't help much at the moment, but he supposed it was one less thing to worry about.
   "So, we wait to see if SORGE tells us anything."
   "SORGE?" Professor Weaver asked.
   "Dr. Weaver, we have a sensitive source of information that sometimes gives us information on what their Politburo is thinking," Ed Foley told the academic. "And that information does not leave this room."
   "Understood." Academic or not, Weaver played by the rules. "That's the name for the special stuff you've been showing me?"
   "It's a hell of a source, whoever it is. It reads like a tape of their meetings, captures their personalities, especially Zhang. He's the real bad actor here. He's got Premier Xu pretty well wrapped around his little finger."
   "Adler's met him, during the shuttle talks after the Airbus shoot-down at Taipei," Ryan said.
   "And?" Weaver asked. He knew the name and the words, but not the man.
   "And he's powerful and not a terribly nice chap," the President answered. "He had a role in our conflict with Japan, and also the fracas with the UIR last year."
   "That's pretty close, more a theoretician than a lead actor, the man-behind-the-throne sort of guy. Not an ideologue per se, but a guy who likes to play in the real world—patriot, Ed?" Ryan asked the DCI.
   "We've had our pshrink profile him." Foley shrugged. "Part sociopath, part political operator. A guy who enjoys the exercise of power. No known personal weaknesses. Sexually active, but a lot of their Politburo members are. Maybe it's a cultural thing, eh, Weaver?"
   "Mao was like that, as we all know. The emperors used to have rather large stables of concubines."
   "That's what people did before TV, I suppose," Arnie van Damm observed.
   "Actually that's not far from the truth," Weaver agreed. "The carryover to today is cultural, and it's a fundamental form of personal power that some people like to exercise. Women's lib hasn't made it into the PRC yet."
   "I must be too Catholic," the President thought aloud. "The idea of Mao popping little girls makes my skin crawl."
   "They didn't mind, Mr. President," Weaver told him. "Some would bring their little sisters over after they got in bed with the Great Leader. It's a different culture, and it has different rules from ours."
   "Yeah, just a little different," observed the father of two daughters, one just starting to date. What would the fathers of those barely nubile little girls have thought? Honored to have their daughters deflowered by the great Mao Zedong? Ryan had a minor chill from the thought, and dismissed it. "Do they care about human life at all? What about their soldiers?"
   "Mr. President, the Judeo-Christian Bible wasn't drafted in China, and efforts by missionaries to get Christianity going over there were not terribly successful—and when Mao came along, he suppressed it fairly effectively, as we saw again recently. Their view of man's place in nature is different from ours, and, no, they do not value a single human life as we do. We're talking here about communists who view everything through a political lens, and that is over and above a culture in which a human life had little import. So, you could say it's a very infelicitous confluence of belief systems from our point of view."
   Infelicitous, Ryan thought, there's a delicate turn of phrase. We're talking about a government that killed off twenty million-plus of its own people along the way, just in a few months, in pursuit of political perfection. "Dr. Weaver, best guess: What's their Politburo going to say?"
   "They will continue on the path they're on," Weaver answered quickly. He was surprised at the reaction.
   "God damn it, doesn't anybody think common sense is going to break out?" Ryan snarled. He looked around the room, to see people suddenly looking down at the royal-blue rug.
   "Mr. President, they fear war less than they fear the alternatives to war," Weaver answered, rather courageously, Arnie van Damm thought. "To repeat, if they don't enrich their country in oil and gold, they fear an economic collapse that will destroy their entire political order, and that, to them, is more frightening than the prospect of losing a hundred thousand soldiers in a war of conquest."
   "And I can stop it only by dropping a nuclear bomb on their capital—which will, by the way, kill a couple of million ordinary people. God damn it!" Ryan swore again.
   "More like five million, maybe as many as ten," General Moore pointed out, earning him a withering look from his Commander in Chief. "Yes, sir, that would work, but I agree the price of doing it's a little high."
   "Robby?" Jack turned to his Vice President in hope of hearing something encouraging.
   "What do you want me to say, Jack? We can hope they realize that this is going to cost them more than they expect, but it would appear the odds are against it."
   "One other thing we need to do is prepare the people for this," Arnie said. "Tomorrow we should alert the press, and then you'll have to go on TV and tell everybody what's happening and why."
   "You know, I really don't like this job very much—excuse me. That's rather a puerile thing to say, isn't it?" SWORDSMAN apologized.
   "Ain't supposed to be fun, Jack," van Damm observed. "You've played the game okay to this point, but you can't always control the other people at the card table."
   The President's phone rang. Jack answered it. "Yes? Okay." He looked up. "Ed, it's for you."
   Foley stood and walked to take the phone. "Foley . . . Okay, good, thanks." He replaced the phone. "Weather's clearing over Northeast China. We'll have some visual imagery in half an hour."
   "Mickey, how fast can we get aerial recon assets in place?" Jackson asked.
   "We have to fly them in. We have things we can stage out of California, but it's a lot more efficient to fly them over in a C-17 and lift them off from a Siberian airfield. We can do that in, oh ... thirty-six hours from your order."
   "The order is given," Ryan said. "What sort of aircraft are they?"
   "They're UAVs, sir. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, used to call them drones. They're stealthy and they stay up a long time. We can download real-time video from them. They're fabulous for battlefield reconnaissance, the best new toys the Air Force has fielded, so far as the Army is concerned. I can get them going right now."
   "Do it," Ryan told him.
   "Assuming we have a place to land them. But we could stage them out of Elmendorf in Alaska if we have to." Moore lifted the phone and made his call to the National Military Command Center, the NMCC, in the Pentagon.
   For General Peng, things were getting busy. The operation order was topped with the ideographs Long Chun, SPRING DRAGON. The "dragon" part sounded auspicious, since for thousands of years the dragon had been the symbol of imperial rule and also good fortune. There was still plenty of daylight. That suited Peng, and he hoped it would suit his soldiers. Daylight made for good hunting, and made it harder for large bodies of men to hide or move unseen, and that suited his mission.
   He was not without misgivings. He was a general officer with orders to fight a war, and nothing makes such a man reflective like instructions to perform the things he'd claimed the ability to do. He would have preferred more artillery and air support, but he had a good deal of the former, and probably enough of the latter. At the moment, he was going over intelligence estimates and maps. He'd studied the Russian defenses on the far side of the border for years, to the point of occasionally putting reconnaissance specialists across the river to scout out the bunkers that had faced south for fifty years. The Russians were good military engineers, and those fixed defenses would take some dealing with.
   But his attack plan was a simple one. Behind a massive artillery barrage, he'd put infantry across the Amur River in assault boats to deal with the Russian bunkers, simultaneously bringing up engineers to span the river with ribbon bridges in order to rush his mechanized forces across, up the hills on the far side, then farther north. He had helicopters, though not enough of the attack kind to suit his needs. He'd complained about this, but so had every other senior officer in the People's Liberation Army. The only thing about the Russian Army that worried him were their Mi-24 attack helicopters. They were clumsy machines but dangerous in their capabilities, if wisely used.
   His best intelligence came from reams of Humint from Chinese citizens living illegally but comfortably in Russia—shopkeepers and workers, a fair number of whom were officers or stringers for the Ministry for State Security. He would have preferred more photographs, but his country had only a single orbiting reconnaissance satellite, and the truth was that the imagery purchased from the French SPOT commercial satellite company was better, at one-meter resolution, than his own country could manage. It was also easier to acquire over the Internet, and for that his intelligence coordinator had a blank check. They showed the nearest Russian mechanized formation over a hundred kilometers away. That confirmed the human intelligence that had said only things within artillery range were garrison units assigned to the border defenses. It was interesting that the Russian high command had not surged forces forward, but they didn't have many to surge, and defending a border, with its numerous crenellations and meanders, used up manpower as a sponge used up water—and they didn't have that many troops to squander. He also possessed information that this General-Colonel Bondarenko was training his troops harder than his predecessor had, but that was not much cause for concern. The Chinese had been training hard for years, and Ivan would take time to catch up.
   No, his only concern was distance. His army and its neighbors had a long way to go. Keeping them supplied would be a problem, because as Napoleon said that an army marched on its stomach, so tanks and tracked vehicles floated on a sea of diesel oil. His intelligence sources gave locations for large Russian stocks, but he couldn't count on seizing them intact, desirable though that might be, and even though he had plans for helicopter assaults on every one he had charted.
   Peng put out his sixtieth cigarette of the day and looked up at his operations officer. "Yes?"
   "The final order has arrived. Jump off at 03:30 in three days."
   "Will you have everything in place by then?" Peng asked.
   "Yes, Comrade General, with twenty-four hours to spare."
   "Good. Let's make sure that all our men are well fed. It may be a long time between meals for the next few weeks."
   "That order has already been given, Comrade General," the colonel told him.
   "And total radio silence."
   "Of course, Comrade General."
   "Not a whisper," the sergeant said. "Not even carrier waves." The RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft was the first USAF bird to deploy, flying out of Anderson Air Force base on the island of Guam. It had refueled over the Sea of Okhotsk and entered Russian airspace over the port city of Ayan, and now, two hours later, was just east of Skovorodino on the Russian side of the border. The Rivet Joint was an extensively modified windowless version of the old Boeing 707, crammed with radio-receiving equipment and crewed with experienced ferret personnel, one of only two USAF crews who spoke passable Chinese.
   "Sergeant, what's it mean when you have a lot of soldiers in the field and no radios?" the colonel in command of the mission asked. It was a rhetorical question, of course.
   "Same thing it means when your two-year-old isn't making any noise, sir. He's crayoning the wall, or doing something else to get his bottom smacked." The sergeant leaned back in the pilot-type seat, looking at the numerous visual scans tuned to known PLA frequencies. The screen was blank except for mild static. Maybe there'd been some chatter as the PLA had moved units into place, but now there was nothing but some commercial FM traffic, mainly music that was as alien to the American flight crew as Grand of Opry would have been in Beijing. Two crewmen listening to the civilian stations noted that the lyrics of the Chinese love ballads were as mindless as those of their Nashville counterparts, though the stations were leaning more heavily to patriotic songs at the moment.
   The same was noted at Fort Meade, Maryland. The National Security Agency had a lot of ferret satellites up and circling the globe, including two monster Rhyolite-types in geosynchronous orbit over the equator, and all were tuned to Chinese military and government channels. The FM-radio chatter associated with military formations had trended down to zero in the last twelve hours, and to the uniformed and civilian analysts alike that meant just one thing: A quiet army is an army planning to do something.
   The people at the National Reconnaissance Office had the main tasking in finishing up a Special National Intelligence Estimate, because people tended to believe photographs more than mere words. The imagery had been computer-matched with the radar-imaging satellites' "take," but surprisingly to no one, the assembly areas were mostly empty now. The tanks and other tracked vehicles had lingered only long enough to get reorganized after the train trip, and had moved out north, judging by the ruts they'd left in the mainly dirt roads of the region. They'd taken the time to spread their camouflage nets over the redeployed tanks, but that, too, had been a pro forma waste of time, because they could as little hide the track marks of hundreds of such vehicles as they could hide a mountain range. And scarcely any such effort had been taken with the hundreds of supply trucks, which, they saw, were still moving in tight little convoys, at about thirty kilometers per hour, heading for assembly areas just a few klicks south of where the shooters were. The imagery was printed up on six of the big laser printers custom-made for the NRO, and driven to the White House, where people were mainly sitting around in the Oval Office pulling a Presidential all-nighter, which was rather more special than those done by the deliveryman, an Army sergeant E-5 in this case. The civilian analyst who'd come with him stayed inside while the NCO walked back out to the government Ford sedan, having left behind a Newport hundred-millimeter cigarette for the President.
   "Jack, you're bad," Jackson observed. "Bumming a smoke off that innocent young boy."
   "Stick it, Robby," POTUS replied with a grin. The smoke made him cough, but it helped him stay awake as much as the premium coffee did. "You handle the stress your way, I'll handle it my way. Okay, what do we have here?" the President asked the senior analyst.
   "Sir, this is as many armored vehicles in one area as I have ever seen in China, plus all their equipment. They're going north, and soon, in less than three days, I'd say."
   "What about air?" Jackson asked.
   "Right here, sir." The analysts finger traced over one of the photos. "Dedicated fighter base at Jinxi is a good example. Here's a squadron of Russian-made Su-27s, plus a whole regiment of J-7s. The Sukhoi's a pretty good fighter plane, similar in mission and capabilities to an early F-15. The -7's a day-fighter knockoff of the old MiG-21, modified for ground attack as well as mixing up in the furball. You can count sixty-eight aircraft. Probably at least four were in the air when the satellite went overhead. Note the fueling trucks right on the ramp, and this aircraft has ground crew tinkering with it. We estimate that this base was stood-down for five days—"
   "—getting everything ready?" Jackson asked. That's how people did it.
   "Yes, sir. You will also note missile noses peeking out under the wings of all these aircraft. They appear to be loaded for combat."
   "White ones on the rails," Robby observed. "They're planning to go do some work."
   "Unless our note gets them to calm down," Ryan said, with a minor degree of hope in his voice. A very minor note, the others in the room thought. The President got one last puff off the purloined Newport and stubbed it out. "Might it help for me to make a direct personal call to Premier Xu?"
   "Honest answer?" It was Professor Weaver, rather the worse for wear at four in the Washington morning.
   "The other sort isn't much use to me at the moment," Ryan replied, not quite testily.
   "It will look good in the papers and maybe the history books, but it is unlikely to affect their decision-making process."
   "It's worth a try," Ed Foley said in disagreement. "What do we have to lose?"
   "Wait until eight, Jack," van Damm thought. "We don't want him to think we've been up all night. It'll inflate his sense of self-worth."
   Ryan turned to look at the windows on his south wall. The drapes hadn't been closed, and anyone passing by could have noted that the lights had been on all night. But, strangely, he didn't know if the Secret Service ever turned them off at night.
   "When do we start moving forces?" Jack asked next.
   "The Air Attache will call from Moscow when his talks have been concluded. Ought to be any time."
   The President grunted. "Longer night than ours."
   "He's younger than we are," Mickey Moore observed. "Just a colonel."
   "If this goes, what are our plans like?" van Damm asked.
   "Hyperwar," Moore answered. "The world doesn't know the new weapons we've been developing. It'll make DESERT STORM look like slow motion."
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Opening Guns

While others were pulling all-nighters, Gennady Iosifbvich Bondarenko was forgetting what sleep was supposed to have been. His teleprinter was running hot with dispatches from Moscow, reading that occupied his time, and not always to his profit.
   Russia had still not learned to leave people alone when they were doing their jobs, and as a result, his senior communications officer cringed when he came in with new "FLASH" traffic.
   "Look," the general said to his intelligence officer. "What I need is information on what equipment they have, where they are, and how they are postured to move north on us. Their politics and objectives are not as important to me as where they are right now!"
   "I expect to have hard information from Moscow momentarily. It will be American satellite coverage, and—"
   "God damn it! I remember when we had our own fucking satellites. What about aerial reconnaissance?"
   "The proper aircraft are on their way to us now. We'll have them flying by tomorrow noon, but do we dare send them over Chinese territory?" Colonel Tolkunov asked.
   "Do we dare not to?" CINC-FAR EAST demanded in reply.
   "General," the G-2 said, "the concern is that we would be giving the Chinese a political excuse for the attack."
   "Who said that?"
   Bondarenko's head dropped over the map table. He took a breath and closed his eyes for three blissful seconds, but all that achieved was to make him wish for an hour—no, just thirty minutes of sleep. That's all, he thought, just thirty minutes.
   "A political excuse," the general observed. "You know, Vladimir Konstantinovich, once upon a time, the Germans were sending highflying reconnaissance aircraft deep into Western Russia, scouting us out prior to their invasion. There was a special squadron of fighters able to reach their altitude, and their regimental commander asked for permission to intercept them. He was relieved of his command on the spot. I suppose he was lucky that he wasn't shot. He ended up a major ace and a Hero of the Soviet Union before some German fighter got him. You see, Stalin was afraid of provoking Hitler, too!"
   "Comrade Colonel?" Heads turned. It was a young sergeant with an armful of large-format photographs.
   "Here, quickly!"
   The sergeant laid them on the table, obscuring the topographical maps that had occupied the previous four hours. The quality wasn't good. The imagery had been transmitted over a fax machine instead of a proper photographic printer, but it was good enough for their purposes. There were even inserts, small white boxes with legends typed in, in English, to tell the ignorant what was in the pretty little pictures. The intelligence officer was the first to make sense of it all.
   "Here they come," the colonel breathed. He checked the coordinates and the time indicated in the lower-right corner of the top photo. "That's a complete tank division, and it's right"—he turned back to the printed map—"right here, just as we expected. Their marshaling point is Harbin. Well, it had to be. All their rail lines converge there. Their first objective will be Belogorsk."
   "And right up the valley from there," Bondarenko agreed. "Through this pass, then northwest." One didn't need to be a Nobel laureate to predict a line of advance. The terrain was the prime objective condition to which all ambitions and plans had to bend. Bondarenko could read the mind of the enemy commander well enough, because any trained soldier would see the contour lines on the map and analyze them the same way. Flat was better than sloped. Clear was better than wooded. Dry was better than wet. There was a lot of sloped terrain on the border, but it smoothed out, and there were too many valleys inviting speedy advance. With enough troops, he could have made every one of those valleys a deathtrap, but if he'd had enough troops, the Chinese wouldn't be lined up on his border. They'd be sitting in their own prepared defenses, fearing him. But that was not the shape of the current world for Commander-in-chief Far East.
   The 265th Motor Rifle was a hundred kilometers back from the border. The troops were undergoing frantic gunnery training now, because that would generate the most rapid return for investment. The battalion and regimental officers were in their command posts running map-table exercises, because Bondarenko needed them thinking, not shooting. He had sergeants for that. The good news for Bondarenko was that his soldiers enjoyed shooting live rounds, and their skill levels were improving rapidly. The bad news was that for every trained tank crew he had, the Chinese had over twenty.
   "What an ambush we could lay, if we only had the men," Tolkunov breathed.
   "When I was in America, watching them train, I heard a good if-only joke. If only your aunt had balls, then she'd be your uncle, Vladimir Konstantinovich."
   "Quite so, Comrade General." They both turned back to the maps and the photos.
   So, they know what we're doing," Qian Kun observed. "This is not a good development."
   "You can know what a robber will do, but if he has a pistol and you don't, what difference does it make?" Zhang Han San asked in return. "Comrade Marshal?"
   "One cannot hide so large a movement of troops," Marshal Luo said blandly. "Tactical surprise is always hard to achieve. But we do have strategic surprise."
   "That is true," Tan Deshi told the Politburo. "The Russians have alerted some of their divisions for movement, but they are all in the west, and days away, and all will approach down this rail line, and our air force can close it, can't you, Luo?"
   "Easily," the Defense Minister agreed.
   "And what of the Americans?" Fang Gan asked. "In that note we just got, they have told us that they regard the Russians as allies. How many times have people underestimated the Americans, Zhang? Including yourself," he added.
   "There are objective conditions which apply even to the Americans, for all their MAGIC," Luo assured the assembly.
   "And in three years we will be selling them oil and gold," Zhang assured them all in turn. "The Americans have no political memory. They always adapt to the changing shape of the world. In 1949, they drafted the NATO Treaty, which included their bitter enemies in Germany. Look at what they did with Japan, after dropping atomic bombs on them. The only thing we should consider: though few Americans will be deployed, and they will have to take their chances along with everyone else, perhaps we should avoid inflicting too many casualties. We would also do well to treat prisoners and captured civilians gently—the world does have sensibilities we must regard somewhat, I suppose."
   "Comrades," Fang said, summoning up his courage for one last display of his inner feelings. "We still have the chance to stop this from happening, as Marshal Luo told us some days ago. We are not fully committed until shots are fired. Until then, we can say we were running a defense exercise, and the world will go along with that explanation, for the reasons my friend Zhang has just told us. But once hostilities are begun, the tiger is out of the cage. Men defend what is theirs with tenacity. You will recall that Hitler underestimated the Russians, to his ultimate sorrow. Iran underestimated the Americans just last year, causing disaster for them and the death of their leader. Are we sure that we can prevail in this adventure?" he asked. "Sure? We gamble with the life of our country here. We ought not to forget that."
   "Fang, my old comrade, you are wise and thoughtful as ever," Zhang responded graciously. "And I know you speak on behalf of our nation and our people, but as we must not underestimate our enemies, so we ought not to underestimate ourselves. We fought the Americans once before, and we gave them the worst military defeat in their history, did we not?"
   "Yes, we did surprise them, but in the end we lost a million men, including Mao's own son. And why? Because we overestimated our own abilities."
   "Not this time, Fang," Luo assured them all. "Not this time. We will do to the Russians the same thing we did to the Americans at the Yalu River. We will strike with power and surprise. Where they are weak, we will rush through. Where they are strong, we will encircle and surround. In 1950, we were a peasant army with only light weapons. Today," Luo went on, "we are a fully modern army. We can do things today such as even the Americas could not dream of back then. We will prevail," the Defense Minister concluded with firm conviction.
   "Comrades, do we wish to stop now?" Zhang asked, to focus the debate. "Do we wish to doom our country's economic and political future? For that is the issue at hand. If we stand still, we risk national death. Who among us wishes to stand still then?"
   Predictably no one, not even Qian, moved to pick up that gauntlet. The vote was entirely pro forma, and unanimous. As always, the Politburo achieved collegiality for its own sake. The ministers returned to their various offices. Zhang buttonholed Tan Deshi for several minutes before heading back to his. An hour after that, he dropped in on his friend, Fang Gan.
   "You are not cross with me?" Fang asked.
   "The voice of caution is something that does not offend me, my old friend," Zhang said, graciously taking his seat opposite the other's desk. He could afford to be gracious. He had won.
   "I am afraid of this move, Zhang. We did underestimate the Americans in 1950, and it cost us many men."
   "We have the men to spare," the senior Minister Without Portfolio pointed out. "And it will make Luo feel valuable."
   "As if he needs that." Fang gestured his displeasure with that strutting martinet.
   "Even a dog has his uses," his visitor pointed out.
   "Zhang, what if the Russians are more formidable than you think?"
   "I've taken care of that. We will create instability in their country in two days, the very day our attack begins."
   "You'll recall we had that failed attempt against Grushavoy's senior advisor, that Golovko fellow."
   "Yes, and I counseled against that, too," Fang reminded his visitor.
   "And there, perhaps, you were right," Zhang acknowledged, to smooth his host's feathers. "But Tan has developed the capability, and what better way to destabilize Russia than to eliminate their president? This we can do, and Tan has his orders."
   "You assassinate a government chief in a foreign land?" Fang asked, surprised at this level of boldness. "What if you fail?"
   "We commit an act of war against Russia anyway. What have we to lose by this? Nothing—but there is much to gain."
   "But the political implications ..." Fang breathed.
   "What of them?"
   "What if they turn the tables on us?"
   "You mean attempt to attack Xu personally?" The look on his face provided the real answer to the question: China would be better off without the nonentity. But even Zhang would not say that aloud, even in the privacy of this room. "Tan assures me that our physical security is perfect. Perfect, Fang. There are no foreign intelligence operations of consequence in our country."
   "I suppose every nation says such a thing—right before the roof caves in on them. We've done well with our spying in America, for example, and for that our good Comrade Tan is to be congratulated, but arrogance falls before the blow, and such blows are never anticipated. We would do well to remember that."
   Zhang dismissed the thought: "One cannot fear everything."
   "That is true, but to fear nothing is also imprudent." Fang paused to mend fences. "Zhang, you must think me an old woman."
   That made the other minister smile. "Old woman? No, Fang, you are a comrade of many years' standing, and one of our most thoughtful thinkers. Why, do you suppose, I brought you onto the Politburo?"
   To get my votes, of course, Fang didn't answer. He had the utmost respect for his senior colleague, but he wasn't blind to his faults. "For that I am grateful."
   "For that the people ought to be grateful, you are so solicitous to their needs."
   "Well, one must remember the peasants and workers out there. We serve them, after all." The ideological cant was just perfect for the moment. "This is not an easy job we share."
   "You need to relax a little. Get that girl Ming out there, take her to your bed. You've done it before." It was a weakness both men shared. The tension of the moment abated, as Zhang wished it to.
   "Chai sucks better," Fang replied, with a sly look.
   "Then take her to your Hat. Buy her some silk drawers. Get her drunk. They all like that."
   "Not a bad idea," Fang agreed. "It certainly helps me sleep."
   "Then do it by all means! We'll need our sleep. The next few weeks will be strenuous for us—but more so for our enemies."
   "One thing, Zhang. As you said, we must treat the captives well. One thing the Americans do not forgive rapidly is cruelty to the helpless, as we have seen here in Beijing."
   "Now, they are old women. They do not understand the proper use of strength."
   "Perhaps so, but if we wish to do business with them, as you say, why offend them unnecessarily?"
   Zhang sighed and conceded the point, because he knew it to be the smart play. "Very well. I will tell Luo." He checked his watch. "I must be off. I've having dinner with Xu tonight."
   "Give him my best wishes."
   "Of course." Zhang rose, bowed to his friend, and took his leave. Fang took a minute or so before rising and walking to the door. "Ming," he called, on opening it. "Come here." He lingered at the door as the secretary came in, allowing his eyes to linger on Chai. Their eyes met and she winked, adding a tiny feminine smile. Yes, he needed his sleep tonight, and she would help.
   "The Politburo meeting ran late this day," Fang said, settling into his chair and doing his dictation. It took twenty-five minutes, and he dismissed Ming to do her daily transcription. Then he had Chai come in, gave her an order, and dismissed her. In another hour, the working day ended. Fang walked down to his official car, with Chai in trail. Together they rode to his comfortable apartment, and there they got down to business.
   Ming met her lover at a new restaurant called the Jade Horse, where the food was better than average. "You look troubled," Nomuri observed.
   "Busy time at the office," she explained. "There is big trouble to come."
   "Oh? What sort of trouble?"
   "I cannot say," she demurred. "It will probably not affect your company."
   And Nomuri saw that he'd taken his agent to the next—actually the last—step. She no longer thought about the software on her office computer. He never brought the subject up. Better that it should happen below the visible horizon. Better that she should forget what she was doing. Your conscience doesn't worry about things you've forgotten. After dinner, they walked back to Nomuri's place, and the CIA officer tried his best to relax her. He was only partially successful, but she was properly appreciative and left him at quarter to eleven. Nomuri had himself a nightcap, a double, and checked to make sure his computer had relayed her almost-daily report. Next week he hoped to have software he could cross-load to hers over the 'Net, so that she'd be transmitting the reports directly out to the recipe network. If Bad Things were happening in Beijing, NEC might call him back to Japan, and he didn't want SONGBIRD'S reports to stop going to Langley.
   As it happened, this one was already there, and it had generated all manner of excitement.
   It was enough to make Ed Foley wish he'd lent a STU to Sergey Golovko, but America didn't give away its communications secrets that readily, and so the report had been redrafted and sent by secure fax to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, then hand-carried to SVR headquarters by a consular officer not associated with the CIA. Of course, now they'd assume that he was a spook, which would cause the Russians to shadow him everywhere he went, and use up trained personnel of the FSS. Business was still business, even in this New World Order.
   Golovko, predictably, bounced hard off his high office ceiling.
   John Clark got the news over his secure satellite phone. "What the hell?" RAINBOW SIX asked, sitting still in his personal car not far from Red Square.
   "You heard me," Ed Foley explained.
   "Okay, now what?"
   "You're tight with their special-operations people, right?"
   "Somewhat," Clark allowed. "We're training them."
   "Well, they might come to you for advice of some sort. You have to know what's happening."
   "Can I tell Ding?"
   "Yes," the DCI agreed.
   "Good. You know, this proves the Chavez Premise."
   "What's that?" Foley asked.
   "He likes to say that international relations is largely composed of one nation fucking another."
   It was enough to make Foley laugh, five thousand miles and eight time zones away. "Well, our Chinese friends are sure playing rough."
   "How good is the information?"
   "It's Holy Writ, John. Take it to the bank," Ed assured his distant field officer.
   We have some source in Beijing, Clark didn't observe aloud. "Okay, Ed. If they come to me, I'll let you know. We cooperate, I presume."
   "Fully," the DCI assured him. "We're allies now. Didn't you see CNN?"
   "I thought it was the Sci-Fi Channel."
   "You ain't the only one. Have a good one, John."
   "You, too, Ed. Bye." Clark thumbed the END button and went on just to himself: "Holy jumpin' Jesus." Then he restarted the car and headed off to his rendezvous with Domingo Chavez.
   Ding was at the bar that RAINBOW had adopted during its stay in the Moscow area. The boys congregated in a large corner booth, where they complained about the local beer, but appreciated the clear alcohol preferred by the natives.
   "Hey, Mr. C," Chavez said in greeting.
   "Just got a call from Ed on my portable."
   "And John Chinaman is planning to start a little war with our hosts, and that's the good news," Clark added.
   "What the fuck is the bad news?" Chavez asked, with no small incredulity in his voice.
   "Their Ministry of State Security just put a contract out on Eduard Petrovich," John went on.
   "Are they fuckin' crazy?" the other CIA officer asked the booth.
   "Well, starting a war in Siberia isn't exactly a rational act. Ed let us in because he thinks the locals might want our help soon. Supposedly they know the local contact for the ChiComms. You have to figure a hot takedown's going to evolve from this, and we've been training their troopies. I figure we might be invited in to watch, but they probably won't want us to assist."
   That's when General Kirillin came in, with a sergeant at his side. The sergeant stood by the door with his overcoat unbuttoned and his right hand close to the opening. The senior officer spotted Clark and came directly over.
   "I don't have your cell-phone number."
   "What do you want us for today, General?" Clark asked.
   "I need for you to come with me. We have to see Chairman Golovko."
   "Do you mind if Domingo comes along?"
   "That is fine," Kirillin replied.
   "I've talked to Washington recently. How much do you know?" Clark asked his Russian friend.
   "Much, but not all. That's why we need to see Golovko." Kirillin waved them to the door, where his sergeant was doing his best Doberman imitation.
   "Something happening?" Eddie Price asked. No one was guarding his expression, and Price knew how to read faces.
   "Tell you when we get back," Chavez told him. The staff car waiting outside had a chase car with four men in it, and the sergeant/bodyguard accompanying the general was one of the few enlisted men who'd been let into the cross-training that RAINBOW had been running. The Russians, they knew, were coming along very well. It didn't hurt to draw people hand-selected from an already elite unit.
   The cars moved through Moscow traffic with less than the usual regard for traffic and safety laws, then pulled into the main gate at #2 Dzerzhinskiy Square. The elevator was held for them, and they made the top floor in a hurry.
   "Thank you for coming so quickly. I assume you've spoken with Langley," Golovko observed.
   Clark held up his cell phone.
   "The encryption unit is so small?"
   "Progress, Chairman," Clark observed. "I'm told this intelligence information is to be taken seriously."
   "Foleyeva has a fine source in Beijing. I've seen some of the 'take' from him. It would appear, first, that a deliberate attempt was made on my life, and now another is planned for President Grushavoy. I've already notified him. His security people are fully alerted. The Chinese lead agent in Moscow has been identified and is under surveillance. When he receives his instructions, we will arrest him. But we do not know who his contacts are. We assume they are former Spetsnaz people loyal to him, criminals, of course, doing special work for the underworld we've grown up here."
   That made sense, John thought. "Some people will do anything for money, Sergey Nikolay'ch. How can we help you?"
   "Foley has instructed you to assist? Good of him. Given the nature of how the intelligence came to us, an American observer seems appropriate. For the takedown, we will use police, with cover from General Kirillin's people. As RAINBOW commander, this will be your task."
   Clark nodded. It wasn't all that demanding. "Fair enough."
   "We'll keep you safe," the general assured him.
   "And you expect the Chinese to launch a war on Russia?"
   "Within the week," Golovko nodded.
   "The oil and the gold?" Chavez asked.
   "So it would seem."
   "Well, that's life in the big city," Ding observed.
   "We will make them regret this barbaric act," Kirillin told everyone present.
   "That remains to be seen," Golovko cautioned. He knew what Bondarenko was saying to Stavka.
   "And with you guys in NATO, we're coming to help out?" Clark asked.
   "Your President Ryan is a true comrade," the Russian agreed.
   "That means RAINBOW, too, then," John thought aloud. "We're all NATO troopers."
   "Ain't never fought in a real war before," Chavez thought aloud. But now he was a simulated major, and he might just get drafted into this one. His life insurance, he remembered, was fully paid up.
   "It's not exactly fun, Domingo," Clark assured him. And I'm getting a little old for this shit.
   The Chinese embassy was under continuous and expert surveillance by a large team of officers from the Russian Federal Security Service. Almost all of them were formerly of the KGB's Second Chief Directorate. Reconstituted under a new agency's aegis, they performed the same function as the FBI's Intelligence Division, and they gave away little to their American counterparts. No fewer than twenty of them were assigned to this task. They comprised all physical types, male and female, prosperous– and impoverished-looking, middle-aged and old—but no really young ones, because this case was too important for inexperienced officers. The vehicles assigned to the task included everything from dump trucks to motorbikes, and every mobile group had at least one radio, of types so advanced that the Russian Army didn't have them yet.
   Kong Deshi emerged from the PRC embassy at seven-forty. He walked to the nearest Metro station and took the escalator down. This was entirely routine. At the same time, another minor consular officer left and headed in a different direction, but the FSS officers didn't know to watch him. He walked three blocks to the second lamppost on a busy street and, passing it, he pulled a strip of white paper tape from his coat pocket and stuck it vertically on the metal post. Then he walked on to a restaurant and had dinner alone, having fulfilled a mission whose purpose he didn't know. He was the flagman for the MSS in the embassy, but was not a trained intelligence officer.
   Third Secretary Kong rode the train for the proper number of stops and got off, with four FSS officers in trail, another one waiting in the station, and two more at the top of the long escalator to the surface. Along the way, he purchased a newspaper from one of the kiosks on the street. Twice he stopped, once to light a cigarette and the other time to look around as if lost and trying to get his bearings. Both efforts, of course, were to spot a tail, but the FSS people were too numerous, some too near, and the close ones studiously, but not too studiously, looking elsewhere. The truth of the matter, as known to the FBI and the British Security Service as well, is that once a contact is identified, he is as naked and helpless as a newborn in the jungle, as long as those shadowing him are not total fools. These KGB-trained professionals were anything but fools. The only thing they didn't know was the identity of the flagman, but that, as usual, was something you might never get. The problem there was that you never knew how quickly to get the dead-drop that was about to be made.
   The other problem for the control agent, Kong Deshi, was that once the location of the dead-drop was identified, it was as easily watched as the single cloud in an otherwise clear sky. The size of the surveillance troop was just to make sure there wasn't another drop. And there wasn't. Kong sat down on the expected bench. Here he violated fieldcraft by acting as though he could read a newspaper in the diminishing light, but as there was a streetlamp close by, it wouldn't tip off the casual onlooker.
   "There," one of the FSS men observed. Kong's right hand made the emplacement. Three minutes later, he folded his paper and strolled off, in the same direction he'd been heading. The FSS detail let him go a long way before they moved in.
   Again it was done from a van, and again the locksmith was inside and waiting with the custom-made key. Also in the van was a high-end American laptop computer with the onetime cipher pad preprogrammed in, an exact copy of Suvorov/Koniev's desktop machine in his upscale flat on the ring road. And so, the senior FSS officer on the case thought, their quarry was like a tiger prowling through the jungle with ten unknown rifles aimed at it, powerful, and dangerous, perhaps, but utterly doomed.
   The transfer case was delivered. The locksmith popped it open. The contents were unfolded and photocopied, then replaced, and the case was resealed and returned to its spot on the metal plate under the bench. Already a typist was keying in the random letters of the message, and inside of four minutes, the clear-text came up.
   "Yob tvoyu mat!"the senior officer observed. "They want him to kill President Grushavoy!"
   "What is that?" a junior officer asked. The case-leader just handed over the laptop computer and let him read the screen.
   "This is an act of war," the major breathed. The colonel nodded.
   "It is that, Gregoriy." And the van pulled away. He had to report this, and do it immediately.
   Lieutenant Provalov was home when the call came. He grumbled the usual amount as he re-dressed and headed to FSS headquarters. He hadn't grown to love the Federal Security Service, but he had come to respect it. With such resources, he thought, he could end crime in Moscow entirely, but they didn't share resources, and they retained the above-the-law arrogance their antecedent agency had once displayed. Perhaps it was necessary. The things they investigated were no less serious than murder, except in scale. Traitors killed not individuals, but entire regions. Treason was a crime that had been taken seriously in his country for centuries, and one that his nation's long-standing institutional paranoia had always feared as much as it had hated.
   They were burning more than the usual amount of midnight oil here, Provalov saw. Yefremov was standing in his office, reading a piece of paper with the sort of blank look on his face that frequently denoted something monstrous.
   "Good evening, Pavel Georgiyevich."
   "Lieutenant Provalov. Here." Yefremov handed over the paper. "Our subject grows ambitious. Or at least his controllers do."
   The militia lieutenant took the page and read it quickly, then returned to the top to give it a slower redigestion.
   "When did this happen?"
   "Less than an hour ago. What observations do you make?"
   "We should arrest him at once!" the cop said predictably.
   "I thought you'd say that. But instead we will wait and see whom he contacts. Then we will snatch him up. But first, I want to see the people he notifies."
   "What if he does it from a cell phone or a pay phone?"
   "Then we will have the telephone company identify them for us. But I want to see if he has a contact within an important government office. Suvorov had many colleagues where he was in KGB. I want to know which of them have turned mercenary, so that we can root all of them out. The attack on Sergey Nikolay'ch displayed a frightening capability. I want to put an end to it, to scoop that all up, and send them all to a labor camp of strict regime." The Russian penal system had three levels of camps. Those of "mild" regime were unpleasant. The "medium" ones were places to avoid. But those of "strict" regime were hell on earth. They were particularly useful for getting the recalcitrant to speak of things they preferred to keep quiet about in ordinary circumstances. Yefremov had the ability to control which scale of punishment a man earned. Suvorov already merited death, in Russia, usually delivered by a bullet. . . but there were worse things than death.
   "The president's security detail has been warned?"
   The FSS officer nodded. "Yes, though that was a tender one. How can we be sure that one of them is not compromised? That nearly happened to the American president last year, you may have heard, and it is a possibility we have to consider. They are all being watched. But Suvorov had few contacts with the Eighth Directorate when he was KGB, and none of the people he knew ever switched over to there."
   "You are sure of that?"
   "We finished the cross-check three days ago. We've been busy checking records. We even have a list of people Suvorov might call. Sixteen of them, in fact. All of their phones have been tapped, and all are being watched." But even the FSS didn't have the manpower to put full surveillance details on those potential suspects. This had become the biggest case in the history of the FSS, and few of the KGB's investigations had used up this much manpower, even back to Oleg Penkovskiy.
   "What about the names Amalrik and Zimyanin?"
   "Zimyanin came up in our check, but not the other. Suvorov didn't know him, but Zimyanin did—they were comrades in Afghanistan– and presumably recruited the other himself. Of the sixteen others, seven are prime suspects, all Spetsnaz, three officers and four non-coms, all of them people who've put their talent and training on the open market. Two are in St. Petersburg, and might have been implicated in the elimination of Amalrik and Zimyanin. It would appear that their comradeship was lacking," Yefremov observed dryly. "So, Provalov, do you have anything to add?"
   "No, it would seem that you have covered all likely investigative avenues."
   "Thank you. Since it remains a murder case, you will accompany us when we make the arrest."
   "The American who assisted us ...?"
   "He may come along," Yefremov said generously. "We'll show him how we do things here in Russia."
   Reilly was back in the U.S. Embassy on the STU, talking to Washington.
   "Holy shit," the agent observed.
   "That about covers it," Director Murray agreed. "How good's their presidential-protective detail?"
   "Pretty good. As good as the Secret Service? I don't know what their investigative support is like, but on the physical side, I'd have to say they're okay."
   "Well, they've certainly been warned by now. Whatever they have is going to be perked up a notch or two. When will they do the takedown on this Suvorov guy?"
   "Smart move is to sit on it until he makes a move. Figure the Chinese will get the word to him soon—like now, I suppose—and then he'll make some phone calls. That's when I'd put the arm on him, and not before."
   "Agreed," Murray observed. "We want to be kept informed on all this. So, stroke your cop friend, will ya?"
   "Yes, sir." Reilly paused. "This war scare is for real?"
   "It looks that way," Murray confirmed. "We're ramping up to help them out, but I'm not sure how it's going to play out. The President's hoping that the NATO gig will scare them off, but we're not sure of that either. The Agency's running in circles trying to figure the PRC out. Aside from that, I don't know much."
   That surprised Reilly. He'd thought Murray was tight with the President, but supposed now that this information was too compartmentalized.
   "I'll take that," Colonel Aliyev said to the communications officer. "It's for the immediate attention of—"
   "He needs sleep. To get to him, you must go through me," the operations officer announced, reading through the dispatches. "This one can wait . . . this one I can take care of. Anything else?" "This one's from the president!"
   "President Grushavoy needs a lucid general more than he needs an answer to this, Pasha." Aliyev could use some sleep, too, but there was a sofa in the room, and its cushions were calling out to him.
   "What's Tolkunov doing?"
   "Updating his estimate."
   "Is it getting better in any way?" Comms asked.
   "What do you think?" Ops replied.
   "That's about right, comrade. Know where we can purchase chopsticks for us to eat with?"
   "Not while I have my service pistol," the colonel replied. At nearly two meters in height, he was much too tall to be a tanker or an infantryman. "Make sure he sees these when he wakes. I'll fix it with Stavka."
   "Good. I'm going to get a few hours, but wake me, not him," Aliyev told his brother officer. "Da."
   They were small men in the main. They started arriving at Never, a small railroad town just east of Skovorodino, on day coaches tacked onto the regular rail service on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Getting off, they found officers in uniform directing them to buses. These headed down a road paralleling the railroad right-of-way southeast toward a tunnel drilled ages before in the hills over the diminutive Urkan River. Beside the tunnel was an opening which appeared to the casual viewer to be a siding for service equipment for the railroad. And so it was, but this service tunnel went far into the hillside, and branching off it were many more, all constructed in the 1930s by political prisoners, part of Iosef Stalin's gulag labor empire. In these man-made caverns were three hundred T-55 tanks, built in the mid-1960s and never used, but rather stored here to defend against an invasion from China, along with a further two hundred BTR-60 wheeled infantry carriers, plus all the other rolling stock for a Soviet-pattern tank division. The post was garrisoned by a force of four hundred conscripts who, like generations before them, served their time servicing the tanks and carriers, mainly moving from one to another, turning over the diesel engines and cleaning the metal surfaces, which was necessary because of water seepage through the stone roof. The "Never Depot," it was called on classified maps, one of several such places close to the main rail line that went from Moscow to Vladivostok. Cunningly hidden, partially in plain sight, it was one of the aces that General-Colonel Bondarenko had hidden up his sleeve.
   As were the men. They were mostly in their thirties, confused, and more than a little angry at having been called away from their homes. However, like good Russians, or indeed good citizens in any land, they got their notices, figured that their country had a need, and it was their country, and so about three-fourths of them went as summoned. Some saw familiar faces from their time in the conscript army of the Soviet Union—these men were mainly from that time—and greeted old friends, or ignored those less happily remembered. Each was given a preprinted card telling him where to go, and so the tank crews and infantry squads formed up, the latter finding their uniforms and light weapons, plus ammunition, waiting in the assigned motor-carrier. The tank crewmen were all small men, about 167 centimeters in height– about five feet six inches to an American—because the interiors of the old Russian tanks did not permit tall men to fit inside.
   The tankers returning to the steeds of their youth knew the good and bad points of the T-55s. The engines were made of roughly machined parts and would grind off a full kilogram of metal shavings into the oil sumps during the first few hours of running, but, they all figured, that would have been taken care of by the routine turning-over of the engines in the depot. The tanks were, in fact, in surprisingly good shape, better than the ones they'd used on active duty. This seemed both strange and unsurprising to the returning soldiers, because the Red Army had made little logical sense when they'd been in it, but that, for a Soviet citizen of the 1970s and '80s, was not unexpected either. Most remembered their service with some fondness, and for the usual reasons, the chance to travel and see new, different things, and the comradeship of men their own age—a time of life in which young men seek out the new and the exciting. The poor food, miserable pay, and strenuous duty were largely forgotten, though exposure to the rolling equipment brought back some of it with the instant memory that accompanied smells and feels from the past. The tanks all had full internal fuel tanks, plus the oil drums affixed to the rear that had made all of the men cringe when thinking about a battlefield—one live round could turn every tank into a pillar of fire, and so that was the fuel you burned off first, just so you could pull the handle to dump the damned things off when the first bullet flew.
   Most agreeably of all, those who pressed the start buttons felt and heard the familiar rumble after only a few seconds of cranking. The benign environment of this cavern had been kind to these old, but essentially unused, tanks. They might have been brand new, fresh from the assembly lines of the massive factory at Nizhnyi Tagil, for decades the armory of the Red Army. The one thing that had changed, they all saw, was that the red star was gone from the glacis plate, replaced with an all-too-visible representation of their new white-blue-red flag, which, they all thought, was far too good an aiming point. Finally they were all called away from their vehicles by the young reserve officers, who, they saw, looked a little worried. Then the speeches began, and the reservists found out why.
   "Damn, isn't she a lovely one," the FSS officer said, getting into the car. They'd followed their subject to yet another expensive restaurant, where he'd dined alone, then walked into the bar, and within five minutes fixed upon a woman who'd also arrived alone, pretty in her black, red-striped dress that looked to have been copied from some Italian designer. Suvorov/Koniev was driving back toward his flat, with a total of six cars in trail, three of them with light-change switches on their dashboards to alter their visual appearance at night. The cop riding in the number-two car thought that was an especially clever feature.
   He was taking his time, not racing his car to show his courage, but instead dazzling the girl with his man-of-the-world demeanor, the investigators thought. The car slowed as it passed one corner, a street with old iron lampposts, then changed direction, if not abruptly, then unexpectedly.
   "Shit, he's going to the park," the senior FSS guy said, picking up his radio microphone to say this over the air. "He must have spotted a flag somewhere."
   And so he did, but first he dropped off what appeared to be a very disappointed woman, holding some cash in her hand to ease the pain. One of the FSS cars paused to pick her up for questioning, while the others continued their distant pursuit, and five minutes later, it happened. Suvorov/Koniev parked his car on one side of the park and walked across the darkened grass to the other, looking about as he did so, not noticing the fact that five cars were circling.
   "That's it. He picked it up." He'd done it skillfully, but that didn't matter if you knew what to look for. Then he walked back to his car. Two of the cars headed directly over to his flat, and the three in trail just kept going when he pulled in.
   He said he felt suddenly ill. I gave him my card," she told the interrogators. "He gave me fifty euros for my trouble." Which was fair payment, she thought, for wasting half an hour of her valuable time.
   "Anything else? Did he look ill?"
   "He said that the food suddenly disagreed with him. I wondered if he'd gotten cold feet as some men do, but not this one. He is a man of some sophistication. You can always tell."
   "Very well. Thank you, Yelena. If he calls you, please let us know."
   "Certainly." It had been a totally painless interview, which came as rather a surprise for her, and for that reason she'd cooperated fully, wondering what the hell she'd stumbled into. A criminal of some sort? Drug trafficker, perhaps? If he called her, she'd call these people and to hell with him. Life for a woman of her trade was difficult enough.
   He's on the computer," an electronics specialist said at FSS headquarters. He read the keystrokes off the keyboard bug they'd planted, and they not only showed up on his screen, but also ran live on a duplicate of the subject desktop system. "There, there's the clear-text. He's got the message."
   There was a minute or so of thoughtful pause, and then he began typing again. He logged onto his e-mail service and started typing up messages. They all said some variant of "contact me as soon as you can," and that told them what he was up to. A total of four letters had gone out, though one suggested forwarding to one or more others. Then he logged off and shut his computer down.
   "Now, let's see if we can identify his correspondents, shall we?" the senior investigator told his staff. That took all of twenty minutes. What had keen routine drudgery was now as exciting as watching the World Cup football final.
   The Myasishchev M-5 reconnaissance aircraft lifted off from Taza just before dawn. An odd-looking design with its twin booms, it was a forty-years-too-late Russian version of the venerable Lockheed U-2, able to cruise at seventy thousand feet at a sedate five hundred or so knots and take photographs in large numbers with high resolution. The pilot was an experienced Russian air force major with orders not to stray within ten kilometers of the Chinese border. This was to avoid provoking his country's potential enemies, and that order was not as easy to execute as it had been to write down in Moscow, because the borders between countries are rarely straight lines. So, the major programmed his autopilot carefully and sat back to monitor his instruments while the camera systems did all the real work. The main instrument he monitored was his threat-receiver, essentially a radio scanner programmed to note the energy of radar transmitters. There were many such transmitters on the border, most of the low– to-mid-frequency search types, but then a new one came up. This was on the X-band, and it came from the south, and that meant that a Chinese surface-to-air missile battery was illuminating him with a tracking-and-targeting radar. That got his attention, because although seventy thousand was higher than any commercial aircraft could fly, and higher than many fighters could reach, it was well within the flight envelope of a SAM, as an American named Francis Gary Powers had once discovered over Central Russia. A fighter could outmaneuver most SAMs, but the M-5 was not a fighter and had trouble outmaneuvering clouds on a windless day. And so he kept his eye on the threat-receiver's dials while his ears registered the shrill beep-beep of the aural alert. The visual display showed that the pulse-repetition rate was in the tracking rather than the lock-up mode. So, a missile was probably not in the air, and the sky was clear enough that he'd probably see the smoke trail that such missiles always left, and today—no, no smoke coming up from the ground. For defensive systems, he had only a primitive chaff dispenser and prayer. Not even a white-noise jammer, the major groused. But there was no sense in worrying. He was ten kilometers inside his own country's airspace, and whatever SAM systems the Chinese possessed were probably well inside their own borders. It would be a stretch for them to reach him, and he could always turn north and run while punching loose a few kilos of shredded aluminum foil to give the inbound missile something else to chase. As it played out, the mission involved four complete sweeps of the border region, and that required ninety otherwise boring minutes before he reprogrammed the M-5 back to the old fighter base outside Taza.
   The ground crew supporting the mission had also been deployed from the Moscow area. As soon as the M-5 rolled to a stop, the film cassettes were unloaded and driven to the portable film lab for development, then forwarded, still wet, to the interpreters. They saw few tanks, but lots of tracks in the ground, and that was all they needed to see.
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"I know, Oleg. I understand that we developed the intelligence in Washington and forwarded it to your people immediately," Reilly said to his friend.
   "You must be proud of that," Provalov observed.
   "Wasn't the Bureau that did it," Reilly responded. The Russians would be touchy about having Americans provide them with such sensitive information. Maybe Americans would have reacted the same way. "Anyway, what are you going to do about it?"
   "We're trying to locate his electronic correspondents. We have their addresses, and they are all on Russian-owned ISPs. FSS probably has them all identified by now."
   "Arrest them when?"
   "When they meet Suvorov. We have enough to make the arrests now."
   Reilly wasn't sure about that. The people Suvorov wanted to meet could always say that they came to see him by invitation without having a clue as to the purpose of the meeting, and a day-old member of the bar could easily enough sell the "reasonable doubt" associated with that to a jury. Better to wait until they all did something incriminating, and then squeeze one of them real hard to turn state's evidence on the rest. But the rules and the juries were different here.
   Anatoliy, what are you thinking about?" Golovko asked. "Comrade Chairman, I am thinking that Moscow has suddenly become dangerous," Major Shelepin replied. "The idea of former Spetsnaz men conspiring to commit treason on this scale sickens me. Not just the threat, but also the infamy of it. These men were my comrades in the army, trained as I was to be guardians of the State." The handsome young officer shook his head.
   "Well, when this place was the KGB, it happened to us more than once. It is unpleasant, yes, but it is reality. People are corruptible. It is human nature," Golovko said soothingly. Besides, the threat isn't against me now, he didn't add. An unworthy thought, perhaps, but that also was human nature. "What is President Grushavoy's detail doing now?"
   "Sweating, I should imagine. Who can say that this is the only threat? What if this Kong bastard has more than one such agent in Moscow? We should pick him up, too."
   "So we shall, when the time comes. He's been observed to do only one dead-drop over the past week, and we control that one—yes, yes, I know," Sergey added, when he saw the beginnings of Anatoliy's objections. "He isn't the only MSS operative in Moscow, but he's probably the only one on this case. Security considerations are universal. They must worry that one of their officers might be in our employ, after all. There are many wheels in such an operation, and they don't all turn in the same direction, my young friend. You know what I miss?"
   "I should imagine it is having the second chief directorate under the same roof. That way the operation would be run cooperatively."
   Golovko smiled. "Correct, Anatoliy Ivan'ch. For now, we can only do our job and wait for others to do theirs. And, yes, waiting is never an entertaining way to spend one's time." With that observation, both men resumed staring at the desk phones, waiting for them to ring.
   The only reason that surveillance hadn't been tightened any more was that there wasn't enough room for the additional personnel, and Suvorov might take note of the thirty people who followed him everywhere. That day he awoke at his normal hour, washed up, had coffee and kasha for breakfast, left the apartment building at 9:15, and drove his car into the city, with a good deal of elusive company. He parked his car two blocks from Gor'kiy Park and walked the rest of the way there. So did four others, also under surveillance. They met at a magazine kiosk at precisely 9:45 and walked together toward a coffee shop that was disagreeably crowded, too much so for any of the watchers to get close enough to listen in, though the faces were observed. Suvorov/Koniev did most of the talking, and the other four listened intently, and nods started.
   Yefremov of the Federal Security Service kept his distance. He was senior enough that he could no longer guarantee that his face was unknown, and had to trust the more junior men to get in close, their earpieces removed and radio transmitters turned off, wishing they could read lips like the people in spy movies.
   For Pavel Georgiyevich Yefremov, the question was, what to do now? Arrest them all and risk blowing the case—or merely continue to shadow, and risk having them go forward . . . and perhaps accomplish the mission?
   The question would be answered by one of the four contacts. He was the oldest of them, about forty, a Spetsnaz veteran of Afghanistan with the Order of the Red Banner to his name. His name was Igor Maximov. He held up his hand, rubbing forefinger and thumb, and, getting the answer to his question, he shook his head and politely took his leave. His departure was a cordial one, and his personal two-man shadow team followed him to the nearest Metro station while the others continued talking.
   On learning this, Yefremov ordered him picked up. That was done when he got off the Metro train five kilometers away at the station near his flat, where he lived with his wife and son. The man did not resist and was unarmed. Docile as a lamb, he accompanied the two FSS officers to their headquarters.
   "Your name is Maximov, Igor Il'ych," Yefremov told him. "You met with your friend Suvorov, Klementi Ivan'ch, to discuss participation in a crime. We want to hear your version of what was discussed."
   "Comrade Yefremov, I met some old friends for coffee this morning and then I left. Nothing in particular was discussed. I do not know what you are talking about."
   "Yes, of course," the FSS man replied. "Tell me, do you know two former Spetsnaz men like yourself, Amalrik and Zimyanin?"
   "I've heard the names, but I don't know the faces."
   "Here are the faces." Yefremov handed over the photos from the Leningrad Militia. "They are not pleasant to look upon."
   Maximov didn't blanch, but he didn't look at the photos with affection either. "What happened to them?"
   "They did a job for your comrade, Suvorov, but he was evidently displeased with how they went about it, and so, they went swimming in the River Neva. Maximov, we know that you were Spetsnaz. We know that you earn your living today doing illegal things, but that is not a matter of concern to us at the moment. We want to know exactly what was said at the coffee shop. You will tell us this, the easy way or the hard way. The choice is yours." When he wanted to, Yefrernov could come on very hard to his official guests. In this case, it wasn't difficult. Maximov was not a stranger to violence, at least on the giving side. The receiving side was something he had no wish to learn about.
   "What do you offer me?"
   "I offer you your freedom in return for your cooperation. You left the meeting before any conclusions were reached. That is why you are here. So, do you wish to speak now, or shall we wait a few hours for you to change your mind?"
   Maximov was not a coward—Spetsnaz didn't have many of those, in Yefremov's experience—but he was a realist, and realism told him that he had nothing to gain by noncooperation.
   "He asked me and the others to participate in a murder. I presume it will be a difficult operation, otherwise why would he need so many men? He offers for this twenty thousand euros each. I decided that my time is more valuable than that."
   "Do you know the name of the target?"
   Maximov shook his head. "No. He did not say. I did not ask."
   "That is good. You see, the target is President Grushavoy." That got a reaction, as Maximov's eyes flared.
   "That is state treason," the former Spetsnaz sergeant breathed, hoping to convey the idea that he'd never do such a thing. He learned fast.
   "Yes. Tell me, is twenty thousand euros a good price for a murder?"
   "I would not know. If you want me to tell you that I have killed for money, no, Comrade Yefremov, I will not say that."
   But you have, and you'd probably participate in this one if the price went high enough. In Russia, E20,000 was a considerable sum. But Yefremov had much bigger fish to fry. "The others at the meeting, what do you know of them?"
   "All are Spetsnaz veterans. Ilya Suslov and I served together east of Qandahar. He's a sniper, a very good one. The others, I know them casually, but I never served with them." Sniper. Well, those were useful, and President Grushavoy appeared in public a lot. He was scheduled to have an outdoor rally the very next day, in fact. It was time to wrap this up.
   "So, Suvorov spoke of a murder for hire?"
   "Yes, he did."
   "Good. We will take your statement. You were wise to cooperate, Igor Il'ych." Yefremov had a junior officer lead him away. Then he lifted his phone. "Arrest them all," he told the field commander.
   "The meeting broke up. We have all of them under surveillance. Suvorov is en route back to his flat with one of the three."
   "Well, assemble the team and arrest them both."
   "Feeling better?" Colonel Aliyev asked. "What time is it?"
   "Fifteen-forty, Comrade General," Colonel Aliyev replied. "You slept for thirteen hours. Here are some dispatches from Moscow."
   "You let me sleep that long?" the general demanded, instantly angry.
   "The war has not begun. Our preparations, such as they are, are progressing, and there seemed no sense in waking you. Oh, we have our first set of reconnaissance photos. Not much better than the American ones we had faxed to us. Intelligence has firmed up its estimate. It's not getting any better. We have support now from an American ELINT aircraft, but they tell us that the Chinese aren't using their radios, which is not a surprise."
   "God damn it, Audrey!" the general responded, rubbing his unshaven face with both hands.
   "So, court-martial me after you've had your coffee. I got some sleep, too. You have a staff. I have a staff, and I decided to let them do their jobs while we slept," the operations officer said defiantly.
   "What of the Never Depot?"
   "We have a total of one hundred eighty tanks operating with full crews. Shorter on the infantry component and artillery, but the reservists seem to be functioning with some degree of enthusiasm, and the 265th
   Motor Rifle is starting to act like a real division for the first time." Aliyev walked over a mug of coffee with milk and sugar, the way Bondarenko preferred it. "Drink, Gennady Iosifovich." Then he pointed to a table piled with buttered bread and bacon.
   "If we live, I will see you promoted, Colonel."
   "I've always wanted to be a general officer. But I want to see my children enter university, too. So, let's try to stay alive."
   "What of the border troops?"
   "I have transport assigned to each post—where possible, two sets of transport. I've sent some of the reservists in BTRs to make sure they have a little protection against the artillery fire when they pull out. We have a lot of guns in the photos from the M-5, Comrade General. And fucking mountains of shells. But the border troops have ample protection, and the orders have gone out so that they will not need permission to leave their posts when the situation becomes untenable—at the company-officer level, that is," Aliyev added. Commissioned officers were less likely to bug out than enlisted men.
   "No word on when?"
   The G-3 shook his head. "Nothing helpful from Intelligence. The Chinese are still moving trucks and such around, from what we can tell. I'd say another day, maybe as many as three."
   "So?" Ryan asked. "So, the overheads show they're still moving the chess pieces on the board," Foley answered. "But most of them are in place."
   "What about Moscow?"
   "They're going to arrest their suspects soon. Probably going to pick up the control officer in Moscow, too. They'll sweat him some, but he does have diplomatic immunity, and you can't squeeze him much." Ed Foley remembered when KGB had arrested his wife in Moscow. It hadn't been pleasant for her—and less so for him—but they hadn't roughed her up, either. Messing with people who traveled on diplomatic passports didn't happen often, despite what they'd seen on TV a few weeks before. And the Chinese probably regretted that one a lot, pronouncements on the SORGE feeds to the contrary notwithstanding.
   "Nothing from inside to encourage us?"
   "Nope." The DCI shook his head.
   "We ought to start moving the Air Force," Vice President Jackson urged.
   "But then it could be seen as a provocation," Secretary Adler pointed out. "We can't give them any excuse."
   "We can move First Armored into Russia, say it's a joint training exercise with our new NATO allies," TOMCAT said. "That could buy us a few days."
   Ryan weighed that and looked over at the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. "Well, General?"
   "It can't hurt all that much. They're already working with Deutsche Rail to get the move organized."
   "Then do it," the President ordered.
   "Yes, sir." General Moore moved to make the call.
   Ryan checked his watch. "I have a reporter to talk to."
   "Have fun," Robby told his friend.
   Zhigansk, on the west side of the Lena River, had once been a major regional air defense center for the old Soviet PVO Strany, the Russian air-defense command. It had a larger-than-average airfield with barracks and hangars, and had been largely abandoned by the new Russian military, with just a caretaker staff to maintain the facility in case it might be needed someday. This turned out to be a piece of lucky foresight, because the United States Air Force started moving in that day, mainly transport aircraft from the central part of America that had staged through Alaska and flown over the North Pole to get there. The first of thirty C-5 Galaxy transports landed at ten in the morning local time, taxiing to the capacious but vacant ramps to offload their cargo under the direction of ground crewmen who'd ridden in the large passenger area aft of the wing box in the huge transports. The first things wheeled off were the Dark Star UAVs. They looked like loaves of French bread copulating atop slender wings, and were long-endurance, stealthy reconnaissance drones that took six hours to assemble for flight. The crews got immediately to work, using mobile equipment shipped on the same aircraft.
   Fighter and attack aircraft came into Suntar, far closer to the Chinese border, with tankers and other support aircraft—including the American E-3 Sentry AWACS birds—just west of there at Mirnyy. At these two air bases, the arriving Americans found their Russian counterparts, and immediately the various staffs started working together. American tankers could not refuel Russian aircraft, but to everyone's relief the nozzles for ground fueling were identical, and so the American aircraft could make use of the take fuel from the Russian JP storage tanks, which, they found, were huge, and mainly underground to be protected against nuclear airbursts. The most important element of cooperation was the assignment of Russian controllers to the American AWACS, so that Russian fighters could be controlled from the American radar aircraft. Almost at once, some E-3s lifted off to test this capability, using arriving American fighters as practice targets for controlled intercepts. They found immediately that the Russian fighter pilots reacted well to the directions, to the pleased surprise of the American controllers.
   They also found almost immediately that the American attack aircraft couldn't use Russian bombs and other ordnance. Even if the shackle points had been the same (they weren't), the Russian bombs had different aerodynamics from their American counterparts, and so the computer software on the American aircraft could not hit targets with them—it would have been like trying to jam the wrong cartridge into a rifle: even if you could fire the round, the sights would send it to the wrong point of impact. So, the Americans would have to fly in the bombs to be dropped, and shipping bombs by air was about as efficient as flying in gravel to build roads. Bombs came to fighter bases by ship, train, truck, and forklift, not by air. For this reason, the B-1s and other heavy-strike aircraft were sent to Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, where there were some bomb stores to be used, even though they were a long way from the supposed targets.
   The air forces of the two sides established an immediate and friendly rapport, and in hours—as soon as the American pilots had gotten a little mandated crew rest—they were planning and flying mission's together with relative ease.
   The Quarter Horse went first. Under the watchful eyes of Lieutenant Colonel Angelo Giusti, the M1A2 main battle tanks and M3 Bradley cavalry scout vehicles rolled onto the flatcars of Deutsche Rail, accompanied by the fuel and other support trucks. Troops went into coaches at the head end of the train "consists" and were soon heading east to Berlin, where they'd change over to the Russian-gauge cars for the further trip east. Oddly, there were no TV cameramen around at the moment, Giusti saw. That couldn't last, but it was one less distraction for the unit that was the eyes of First Tanks. The division's helicopter brigade was sitting at its own base, awaiting the availability of Air Force transports to ferry them east. Some genius had decided against having the aircraft fly themselves, which, Giusti thought, they were perfectly able to do, but General Diggs had told him not to worry about it. Giusti would worry about it, but not out loud. He settled into a comfortable seat in the lead passenger coach, along with his staff, and went over maps just printed up by the division's cartography unit, part of the intelligence shop. The maps showed the terrain they might be fighting for. Mostly they predicted where the Chinese would be going, and that wasn't overly demanding.
   So, what are we going to do?" Bob Holtzman asked. "We're beginning to deploy forces to support our allies," Ryan answered. "We hope that the PRC will see this and reconsider the activities that now appear to be under way."
   "Have we been in contact with Beijing?"
   "Yes." Ryan nodded soberly. "The DCM of our embassy in Beijing, William Kilmer, delivered a note from us to the Chinese government, and we are now awaiting a formal reply."
   "Are you telling us that you think there will be a shooting war between Russia and China?"
   "Bob, our government is working very hard to forestall that possibility, and we call on the Chinese government to think very hard about its position and its actions. War is no longer a policy option in this world. I suppose it once was, but no longer. War only brings death and ruin to people. The world has turned a corner on this thing. The lives of people—including the lives of soldiers—are too precious to be thrown away. Bob, the reason we have governments is to serve the needs and the interests of people, not the ambitions of rulers. I hope the leadership of the PRC will see that." Ryan paused. "A couple of days ago, I was at Auschwitz. Bob, that was the sort of experience to get you thinking.
   "You could feel the horror there. You could hear the screams, smell the death smell, you could see the lines of people being led off under guns to where they were murdered. Bob, all of a sudden it wasn't just black-and-white TV anymore.
   "It came to me then that there is no excuse at all for the government of a country, any country, to engage in killing for profit. Ordinary criminals rob liquor stores to get money. Countries rob countries to get oil or gold or territory. Hitler invaded Poland for Lebensraum, for room for Germany to expand—but, damn it, there were already people living there, and what he tried to do was to steal. That's all. Not statecraft, not vision. Hitler was a thief before he was a murderer. Well, the United States of America will not stand by and watch that happen again." Ryan paused and took a sip of water.
   "One of the things you learn in life is that there's only one thing really worth having, and that's love. Well, by the same token there's only one thing worth fighting for, and that is justice. Bob, that's what America fights for, and if China launches a war of aggression—a war of robbery—America will stand by her ally and stop it from happening."
   "Many say that your policy toward China has helped to bring this situation about, that your diplomatic recognition of Taiwan—" Ryan cut him off angrily.
   "Bob, I will not have any of that! The Republic of China's government is a freely elected one. America supports democratic governments. Why? Because we stand for freedom and self-determination. Neither I nor America had anything to do with the cold-blooded murders we saw on TV, the death of the Papal Nuncio, Cardinal DiMilo, and the killing of the Chinese minister Yu Fa An. We had nothing to do with that. The revulsion of the entire civilized world came about because of the PRC's actions. Even then, China could have straightened it out by investigating and punishing the killers, but they chose not to, and the world reacted—to what they did all by themselves."
   "But what is this all about? Why are they massing troops on the Russian border?"
   "It appears that they want what the Russians have, the new oil and gold discoveries. Just as Iraq once invaded Kuwait. It was for oil, for money, really. It was an armed robbery, just like a street thug does, mugging an old lady for her Social Security check, but somehow, for some reason, we sanctity it when it happens at the nation-state level. Well, no more, Bob. The world will no longer tolerate such things. And America will not stand by and watch this happen to our ally. Cicero once said that Rome grew great not through conquest, but rather through defending her allies. A nation acquires respect from acting for things, not against things. You measure people not by what they are against, but by what they are for. America stands for democracy, for the self-determination of people. We stand for freedom. We stand for justice. We've told the People's Republic of China that if they launch a war of aggression, then America will stand with Russia and against the aggressor. We believe in a peaceful world order in which nations compete on the economic battlefield, not with tanks and guns. There's been enough killing. It's time for that to stop, and America will be there to make it stop."
   "The world's policeman?" Holtzman asked. Immediately, the President shook his head.
   "Not that, but we will defend our allies, and the Russian Federation is an ally. We stood with the Russian people to stop Hitler. We stand with them again," Ryan said.
   "And again we send our young people off to war?"
   "There need be no war, Bob. There is no war today. Neither America nor Russia will start one. That question is in the hands of others. It isn't hard, it isn't demanding, for a nation-state to stand its military down. It's a rare professional soldier who relishes conflict. Certainly no one who's seen a battlefield will voluntarily rush to see another. But I'll tell you this: If the PRC launches a war of aggression, and if because of them American lives are placed at risk, then those who make the decision to set loose those dogs are putting their own lives at risk."
   "The Ryan Doctrine?" Holtzman asked.
   "Call it anything you want. If it's acceptable to kill some infantry private for doing what his government tells him, then it's also acceptable to kill the people who tell the government what to do, the ones who send that poor, dumb private out in harm's way."
   Oh, shit, Arnie van Damm thought, hovering in the doorway of the Oval Office. Jack, did you have to say that?
   "Thank you for your time, Mr. President," Holtzman said. "When will you address the nation?"
   "Tomorrow. God willing, it'll be to say that the PRC has backed off. I'll be calling Premier Xu soon to make a personal appeal to him."
   "Good luck."
   "We are ready," Marshal Luo told the others. "The operation commences early tomorrow morning."
   "What have the Americans done?"
   "They've sent some aircraft forward, but aircraft do not concern me," the Defense Minister replied. "They can sting, as a mosquito does, but they cannot do real harm to a man. We will make twenty kilometers the first day, and then fifty per day thereafter—maybe more, depending on how the Russians fight. The Russian Air Force is not even a paper tiger. We can destroy it, or at least push it back out of our way. The Russians are starting to move mechanized troops east on their railroad, but we will pound on their marshaling facility at Chita with our air assets. We can dam them up and stop them to protect our left flank until we move troops in to wall that off completely."
   "You are confident, Marshal?" Zhang asked—rhetorically, of course.
   "We'll have their new gold mine in eight days, and then it's ten more to the oil," the marshal predicted, as though describing how long it would take to build a house.
   "Then you are ready?"
   "Fully," Luo insisted.
   "Expect a call from President Ryan later today," Foreign Minister Shen warned the premier.
   "What will he say?" Xu asked.
   "He will give you a personal plea to stop the war from beginning."
   "If he does, what ought I to say?"
   "Have your secretary say you are out meeting the people," Zhang advised. "Don't talk to the fool."
   Minister Shen wasn't fully behind his country's policy, but nodded anyway. It seemed the best way to avoid a personal confrontation, which Xu would not handle well. His ministry was still trying to get a feel for how to handle the American President. He was so unlike other governmental chiefs that they still had difficulty understanding how to speak with him.
   "What of our answer to their note?" Fang asked. .
   "We have not given them a formal answer," Shen told him.
   "It concerns me that they should not be able to call us liars," Fang said. "That would be unfortunate, I think."
   "You worry too much, Fang," Zhang commented, with a cruel smile.
   "No, in that he is correct," Shen said, rising to his colleague's defense. "Nations must be able to trust the words of one another, else no intercourse at all is possible. Comrades, we must remember that there will be an 'after the war,' in which we must be able to reestablish normal relations with the nations of the world. If they regard us as outlaw, that will be difficult."
   "That makes sense," Xu observed, speaking his own opinion for once. "No, I will not accept the call from Washington, and no, Fang, I will not allow America to call us liars."
   "One other development," Luo said. "The Russians have begun high-altitude reconnaissance flights on their side of the border. I propose to shoot down the next one and say that their aircraft intruded on our airspace. Along with other plans, we will use that as a provocation on their part."
   "Excellent," Zhang observed.
   "So?" John asked. "So, he is in this building," General Kirillin clarified. "The takedown team is ready to go up and make the arrest. Care to observe?"
   "Sure," Clark agreed with a nod. He and Chavez were both dressed in their RAINBOW ninja suits, black everything, plus body armor, which struck them both as theatrical, but the Russians were being overly solicitous to their hosts, and that included official concern for their safety. "How is it set up?"
   "We have four men in the apartment next door. We anticipate no difficulties," Kirillin sold his guests. "So, if you will follow me."
   "Waste of time, John," Chavez observed in Spanish.
   "Yeah, but they want to do a show-and-tell." The two of them followed Kirillin and a junior officer to the elevator, which whisked them up to the proper floor. A quick, furtive look showed that the corridor was clear, and they moved like cats to the occupied apartment.
   "We are ready, Comrade General," the senior Spetsnaz officer, a major, told his commander. "Our friend is sitting in his kitchen discussing matters with his guest. They're looking at how to kill President Grushavoy tomorrow on his way to parliament. Sniper rifle," he concluded, "from eight hundred meters."
   "You guys make good ones here," Clark observed. Eight hundred was close enough for a good rifleman, especially on a slow-moving target like a walking man.
   "Proceed, Major," Kirillin ordered.
   With that, the four-man team walked back out into the corridor. They were dressed in their own RAINBOW suits, black Nomex, and carrying the equipment Clark and his people had brought over, German MP-10 submachine guns, and .45 Beretta sidearms, plus the portable radios from E-Systems. Clark and Chavez were wearing identical gear, but not carrying weapons. Probably the real reason Kirillin had brought them over, John thought, was to show them how much his people had learned, and that was fair enough. The Russian troopers looked ready. Alert and pumped up, but not nervous, just the right amount of tenseness.
   The officer in command moved down the corridor to the door. His explosives man ran a thin line of det-cord explosive along the door's edges and stepped aside, looking at his team leader for the word.
   "Shoot," the major told him—
   –and before Clark's brain could register the single-word command, the corridor was sundered with the crash of the explosion that sent the solid-core door into the apartment at about three hundred feet per second. Then the Russian major and a lieutenant tossed in flash-bangs sure to disorient anyone who might have been there with a gun of his own. It was hard enough for Clark and Chavez, and they'd known what was coming and had their hands over their ears. The Russians darted into the apartment in pairs, just as they'd been trained to do, and there was no other sound, except for a scream down the hall from a resident who hadn't been warned about the day's activities. That left John Clark and Domingo Chavez just standing there, until an arm appeared and waved them inside.
   The inside was a predictable mess. The entry door was now fit only for kindling and toothpicks, and the pictures that decorated the wall did so without any glass in the frames. The blue sofa had a ruinous scorch mark on the right side, and the carpet was cratered by the other flash-bang.
   Suvorov and Suslov had been sitting in the kitchen, always the heart of any Russian home. That had placed them far enough away from the explosion to be unhurt, though both looked stunned by the experience, and well they might be. There were no weapons in evidence, which was surprising to the Russians but not to Clark, and the two supposed miscreants were now facedown on the tile floor, their hands manacled behind them and guns not far behind their heads.
   "Greetings, Klementi Ivan'ch," General Kirillin said. "We need to talk."
   The older of the two men on the floor didn't react much. First, he was not really able to, and second, he knew that talking would not improve his situation. Of all the spectators, Clark felt the most sympathy for him. To run a covert operation was tense enough. To have one blown—it had never happened to John, but he'd thought about the possibility often enough—was not a reality that one wished to contemplate. Especially in this place, though since it was no longer the Soviet Union, Suvorov could take comfort in the fact that things might have been a little worse. But not that much worse, John was sure. It was time for him to say something.
   "Well executed, Major. A little heavy on the explosives, but we all do that. I say that to my own people almost every time."
   "Thank you, General Clark." The senior officer of the strike team beamed, but not too much, trying to look cool for his subordinates. They'd just done their first real-life mission, and pleased as they all were, the attitude they had to adopt was of course we did it right. It was a matter of professional pride.
   "So, Yuriy Andreyevich, what will happen with them now?" John asked in his best Leningrad Russian.
   "They will be interrogated for murder and conspiracy to commit murder, plus state treason. We picked up Kong half an hour ago, and he's talking," Kirillin added, lying. Suvorov might not believe it, but the statement would get his mind wandering in an uncomfortable direction. "Take them out!" the general ordered. No sooner had that happened than an FSS officer came in to light up the desktop computer to begin a detailed check of its contents. The protection program Suvorov had installed was bypassed because they knew the key to it, from the keyboard bug they'd installed earlier. Computers, they all agreed, must have been designed with espionage in mind—but they worked both ways.
   "Who are you?" a stranger in civilian clothes asked.
   "John Clark" was the surprising answer in Russian. "And you?"
   "Provalov. I am a lieutenant-investigator with the militia."
   "Oh, the RPG case?"
   "I guess that's your man."
   "Yes, a murderer."
   "Worse than that," Chavez said, joining the conversation.
   "There is nothing worse than murder," Provalov responded, always the cop.
   Chavez was more practical in his outlook. "Maybe, depends on if you need an accountant to keep track of all the bodies."
   "So, Clark, what do you think of the operation?" Kirillin asked, hungry for the American's approval.
   "It was perfect. It was a simple operation, but flawlessly done. They're good kids, Yuriy. They learn fast and they work hard. They're ready to be trainers for your special-operations people."
   "Yeah, I'd take any of them out on a job," Ding agreed. Kirillin beamed at the news, unsurprising as it was.
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"They got him," Murray told Ryan. "Our friend Clark was there to watch. Damned ecumenical of the Russkies."
   "Just want to be an ally back to us, I suppose, and RAINBOW is a NATO asset. You suppose he'll sing?"
   "Like a canary, probably," the FBI Director predicted. "The Miranda Rule never made it to Russia, Jack, and their interrogation techniques are a little more—uh, enthusiastic than ours are. Anyway, it's something to put on TV, something to get their public seriously riled up. So, boss, this war going to stop or go?" "We're trying to stop it, Dan, but—"
   "Yeah, I understand," Murray said. "Sometimes big shots act just like street hoods. Just with bigger guns."
   This bunch has H-bombs, Jack didn't say. It wasn't something you wanted to talk about right after breakfast. Murray hung up and Ryan checked his watch. It was time. He punched the intercom button on his phone.
   "Ellen, could you come in, please?"
   It took the usual five seconds. "Yes, Mr. President."
   "I need one, and it's time to call Beijing."
   "Yes, sir." She handed Ryan a Virginia Slim and went back to the anteroom.
   Ryan saw one of the phone lights go on and waited, lighting his smoke. He had his speech to Premier Xu pretty well canned, knowing that the Chinese leader would have a good interpreter nearby. He also knew that Xu would still be in the office. He'd been working pretty late over the past few days—it wasn't hard to figure out why. Starting a potential world war had to be a time-consuming business. So, it would be less than thirty seconds to make the guy's phone ring, then Ellen Sumter would talk to the operator on the far end—the Chinese had full-time switchboard operators rather than secretary-receptionists as in the White House—and the call would be put through. So, figure another thirty seconds, and then Jack would get to make his case to Xu: Let's reconsider this one, buddy, or something bad will happen. Bad for our country. Bad for yours. Probably worse for yours. Mickey Moore had promised something called Hyperwar, and that would be seriously bad news for someone unprepared for it. The phone light stayed on, but Ellen wasn't beeping him to get on the line . . . why? Xu was still in his office. The embassy in Beijing was supposed to be keeping an eye on the guy. Ryan didn't know how, but he was pretty sure they knew their job. It might have been as easy as having an embassy employee—probably an Agency guy—stand on the street with a cell phone and watch a lit-up office window, then report to the embassy, which would have an open line to Foggy Bottom, which had many open lines to the White House. But then the light on the phone blinked out, and the intercom started:
   "Mr. President, they say he's out of the office," Mrs. Sumter said.
   "Oh?" Ryan took a long puff. "Tell State to confirm his location."
   "Yes, Mr. President." Then forty seconds of silence. "Mr. President, the embassy says he's in his office, as far as they can tell."
   "And his people said . . . ?"
   "They said he's out, sir."
   "When will he be back?"
   "I asked. They said they didn't know."
   "Shit," Ryan breathed. "Please get me Secretary Adler."
   "Yeah, Jack," SecState said a few seconds later.
   "He's dodging my call, Scott."
   "Not surprising. They—the Chinese Politburo—don't trust him to talk on his own without a script."
   Like Arnie and me, Ryan thought with a mixture of anger and humor. "Okay, what's it mean, Scott?"
   "Nothing good, Jack," Adler replied. "Nothing good."
   "So, what do we do now?" "Diplomatically, there's not much we can do. We've sent them a stiff note, and they haven't answered. Your position vis-a-vis them and the Russian situation is as clear as we can make it. They know what we're thinking. If they don't want to talk to us, it means they don't care anymore."
   "That's right," the Secretary of State agreed. "You're telling me we can't stop it?" "Correct." Adler's tone was matter-of-fact. "Okay, what else?"
   "We tell our civilians to get the hell out of China. We're set up to do that here."
   "Okay, do it," Ryan ordered, with a sudden flip of his stomach.
   "I'll get back to you." Ryan switched lines and punched the button for the Secretary of Defense.
   "Yeah," Tony Bretano answered.
   "It looks like it's going to happen," Ryan told him.
   "Okay, I'll alert all the CINCs."
   In a matter of minutes, FLASH traffic was dispatched to each of the commanders-in-chief of independent commands. There were many of them, but at the moment the most important was CINCPAC, Admiral Bart Mancuso in Pearl Harbor. It was just after three in the morning when the STU next to his bed started chirping.
   "This is Admiral Mancuso," he said, more than half asleep.
   "Sir, this is the watch officer. We have a war warning from Washington. China. 'Expect the commencement of hostilities between the PRC and the Russian Federation to commence within the next twenty-four hours. You are directed to take all measures consistent with the safety of your command.' Signed Bretano, SecDef, sir," the lieutenant commander told him.
   Mancuso already had both feet on the floor of the bedroom. "Okay, get my staff together. I'll be in the office in ten minutes."
   "Aye, aye, sir."
   The chief petty officer assigned to drive him was already outside the front door, and Mancuso noted the presence of four armed Marines in plain sight. The senior of them saluted while the others studiously looked outward at a threat that probably wasn't there . . . but might be. Minutes later, he walked into his hilltop headquarters overlooking the naval base. Brigadier General Lahr was there, waiting for him.
   "How'd you get in so fast?" CINCPAC asked him.
   "Just happened to be in the neighborhood, Admiral," the J-2 told him. He followed Mancuso into the inner office.
   "What's happening?"
   "The President tried to phone Premier Xu, but he didn't take the call. Not a good sign from our Chinese brethren," the theater intelligence officer observed.
   "Okay, what's John Chinaman doing?" Mancuso asked, as a steward's mate brought in coffee.
   "Not much in our area of direct interest, but he's got a hell of a lot of combat power deployed in the Shenyang Military District, most of it right up on the Amur River." Lahr set up a map stand and started moving his hand on the acetate overlay, which had a lot of red markings on it. For the first time in his memory, Mancuso saw Russian units drawn in blue, which was the "friendly" color. It was too surprising to comment on. "What are we doing?"
   "We're moving a lot of air assets into Siberia. The shooters are here at Suntan Reconnaissance assets back here at Zhigansk. The Dark Stars ought to be up and flying soon. It'll be the first time we've deployed 'em in a real shooting war, and the Air Force has high hopes for them. We have some satellite overheads that show where the Chinese are. They've camouflaged their heavy gear, but the Lacrosse imagery sees right through the nets."
   "And it's over half a million men, five Group-A mechanized armies. That's one armored division, two mechanized infantry, and one motorized infantry each, plus attachments that belong directly to the army commander. The forces deployed are heavy in tanks and APCs, fair in artillery, but light in helicopters. The air assets belong to somebody else. Their command structure for coordinating air and ground isn't as streamlined as it ought to be, and their air forces aren't very good by our standards, but their numbers are better than the Russians'. Manpower-wise, the Chinese have a huge advantage on the ground. The Russians have space to play with, but if it comes down to a slugging match, bet your money on the People's Liberation Army."
   "And at sea?"
   "Their navy doesn't have much out of port at the moment, but overheads show they're lighting up their boilers alongside. I would expect them to surge some ships out. Expect them to stay close in, defensive posture, deployment just to keep their coast clear."
   Mancuso didn't have to ask what he had out. Seventh Fleet was pretty much out to sea after the warnings from previous weeks. His carriers were heading west. He had a total of six submarines camped out on the Chinese coast, and his surface forces were spun up. If the People's Liberation Army Navy wanted to play, they'd regret it.
   "Self-defense only at this point," Lahr said.
   "Okay, we'll close to within two hundred fifty miles of their coast minimum for surface ships. Keep the carriers an additional hundred back for now. The submarines can close in and shadow any PLAN forces at will, but no shooting unless attacked, and I don't want anyone counter-detected. The Chinese have that one reconsat up. I don't want it to see anything painted gray." Dodging a single reconnaissance satellite wasn't all that difficult, since it was entirely predictable in course and speed. You could even keep out of the way of two. When the number got to three, things became difficult.
   In the Navy, the day never starts because the day never ends, but that wasn't true for a ship sitting in wooden blocks. Then things changed, if not to an eight-hour day, then at least to a semi-civilian job where most of the crew lived at home and drove in every morning (for the most part) to do their jobs. That was principally preventive maintenance, which is one of the U.S. Navy's religions. It was the same for Al Gregory; in his case, he drove his rented car in from the Norfolk motel and blew a kiss at the rent-a-cop at the guard shack, who waved everyone in. Once there had been armed Marines at the gates, but they'd gone away when the Navy had been stripped of its tactical nuclear weapons. There were still some nukes at the Yorktown ordnance station, because the Trident warheads hadn't yet all been disassembled out at Pantex in Texas, and some still occupied their mainly empty bunkers up on the York River, awaiting shipment west for final disposal. But not at Norfolk, and the ships that had guards mainly depended on sailors carrying Beretta M9 pistols which they might, or might not, know how to use properly. That was the case on USS Gettysburg, whose sailors recognized Gregory by sight and waved him aboard with a smile and a greeting.
   "Hey, Doc," Senior Chief Leek said, when the civilian came into CIC. He pointed to the coffee urn. The Navy's real fuel was coffee, not distillate fuel, at least as far as the chiefs were concerned.
   "So, anything good happening?"
   "Well, they're going to put a new wheel on today."
   "Propeller," Leek explained. "Controllable pitch, reversible screw, made of high-grade manganese-bronze. They're made up in Philadelphia, I think. It's interesting to watch how they do it, long as they don't drop the son of a bitch."
   "What about your toy shop?"
   "Fully functional, Doc. The last replacement board went in twenty minutes ago, didn't it, Mr. Olson?" The senior chief addressed his assistant CIC officer, who came wandering out of the darkness and into view. "Mr. Olson, this here's Dr. Gregory from TRW."
   "Hello," the young officer said, stretching his hand out. Gregory took it.
   "Dartmouth, right?"
   "Yep, physics and mathematics. You?"
   "West Point and Stony Brook, math," Gregory said.
   "Hudson High?" Chief Leek asked. "You never told me that."
   "Hell, I even did Ranger School between second– and first-class years," he told the surprised sailors. People looked at him and often thought "pussy." He enjoyed surprising them. "Jump School, too. Did nineteen jumps, back when I was young and foolish."
   "Then you went into SDI, I gather," Olson observed, getting himself some CIC coffee. The black-gang coffee, from the ship's engineers, was traditionally the best on any ship, but this wasn't bad.
   "Yeah, spent a lot of years in that, but it all kinda fizzled out, and TRW hired me away before I made bird. When you were at Dartmouth, Bob Jastrow ran the department?"
   "Yeah, he was involved in SDI, too, wasn't he?"
   Gregory nodded. "Yeah, Bob's pretty smart." In his lexicon, pretty smart meant doing the calculus in your head.
   "What do you do at TRW?"
   "I'm heading up the SAM project at the moment, from my SDI work, but they lend me out a lot to other stuff. I mainly do software and the theoretical engineering."
   "And you're playing with our SM-2s now?"
   "Yeah, I've got a software fix for one of the problems. Works on the 'puter, anyway, and the next job's reprogramming the seeker heads on the Block IVs."
   "How you going to do that?"
   "Come on over and I'll show you," Gregory said. He and Olson wandered to a desk, with the chief in tow. "The trick is fixing the way the laser nutates. Here's how the software works ..." This started an hour's worth of discussion, and Senior Chief Leek got to watch a professional software geek explaining his craft to a gifted amateur. Next they'd have to sell all this to the Combat Systems Officer—"Weps"—before they could run the first computer simulations, but it looked to Leek as though Olson was pretty well sold already. Then they'd have to get the ship back in the water to see if all this bullshit actually worked.
   The sleep had worked, Bondarenko told himself. Thirteen hours, and he hadn't even awakened to relieve his bladder—so, he must have really needed it. Then and there he decided that Colonel Aliyev would screen successfully for general's stars.
   He walked into his evening staff meeting feeling pretty good, until he saw the looks on their faces.
   "Well?" he asked, taking his seat.
   "Nothing new to report," Colonel Tolkunov reported for the intelligence staff. "Our aerial photos show little, but we know they're there, and they're still not using their radios at all. Presumably they have a lot of phone lines laid. There are scattered reports of people with binoculars on the southern hilltops. That's all. But they're ready, and it could start at any time—oh, yes, just got this from Moscow," the G-2 said. "The Federal Security Service arrested one K. I. Suvorov on suspicion of conspiring to assassinate President Grushavoy."
   "What?" Aliyev asked.
   "Just a one-line dispatch with no elaboration. It could mean many things, none of them good," the intelligence officer told them. "But nothing definite either."
   "An attempt to unsettle our political leadership? That's an act of war," Bondarenko said. He decided he had to call Sergey Golovko himself about that one!
   "Operations?" he asked next.
   "The 265th Motor Rifle is standing-to. Our air-defense radars are all up and operating. We have interceptor aircraft flying combat air patrol within twenty kilometers of the border. The border defenses are on full alert, and the reserve formation—"
   "Have a name for it yet?" the commanding general asked.
   "BOYAR," Colonel Aliyev answered. "We have three companies of motorized infantry deployed to evacuate the border troops if necessary, the rest are out of their depot and working up north of Never. They've done gunnery all day."
   "And for reservists they did acceptably," Aliyev answered. Bondarenko didn't ask what that meant, partly because he was afraid to.
   "Anything else we can do? I want ideas, comrades," General Bondarenko said. But all he saw were headshakes. "Very well. I'm going to get some dinner. If anything happens, I want to know about it. Anything at all, comrades." This generated nods, and he walked back to his quarters. There he got on the phone.
   "Greetings, General," Golovko said. It was still afternoon in Moscow. "How are things at your end?"
   "Tense, Comrade Chairman. What can you tell me of this attempt on the president?"
   "We arrested a chap named Suvorov earlier today. We're interrogating him and one other right now. We believe that he was an agent of the Chinese Ministry of State Security, and we believe also that he was conspiring to kill Eduard Petrovich."
   "So, in addition to preparing an invasion, they also wish to cripple our political leadership?"
   "So it would seem," Golovko agreed gravely.
   "Why weren't we given fuller information?" Far East demanded.
   "You weren't?" The chairman sounded surprised.
   "No!" Bondarenko nearly shouted.
   "That was an error. I am sorry, Gennady Iosifovich. Now, you tell me: Are you ready?"
   "All of our forces are at maximum alert, but the correlation of forces is adverse in the extreme."
   "Can you stop them?"
   "If you give me more forces, probably yes. If you do not, probably no. What help can I expect?"
   "We have three motor-rifle divisions on trains at this moment crossing the Urals. We have additional air power heading to you, and the Americans are beginning to arrive. What is your plan?"
   "I will not try to stop them at the border. That would merely cost me all of my troops to little gain. I will let the Chinese in and let them march north. I will harass them as much as possible, and then when they are well within our borders, I will kill the body of the snake and watch the head die. If, that is, you give me the support I need."
   "We are working on it. The Americans are being very helpful. One of their tank divisions is now approaching Poland on trains. We'll send them right through to where you are."
   "What units?"
   "Their First Tank division, commanded by a Negro chap named Diggs."
   "Marion Diggs? I know him."
   "Yes, he commanded their National Training Center and also commanded the force they deployed to the Saudi kingdom last year. He's excellent. When will he arrive?"
   "Five days, I should imagine. You'll have three Russian divisions well before then. Will that be enough, Gennady?"
   "I do not know," Bondarenko replied. "We have not yet taken the measure of the Chinese. Their air power worries me most of all. If they attack our railhead at Chita, deploying our reinforcements could be very difficult." Bondarenko paused. "We are well set up to move forces laterally, west to east, but to stop them we need to move them northeast from their drop-off points. It will be largely a race to see who can go north faster. The Chinese will also be using infantry to wall off the western flank of their advance. I've been training my men hard. They're getting better, but I need more time and more men. Is there any way to slow them down politically?"
   "All political approaches have been ignored. They pretend nothing untoward is happening. The Americans have approached them as well, in hope of discouraging them, but to no avail."
   "So, it comes to a test of arms?"
   "Probably," Golovko agreed. "You're our best man, Gennady Iosifovich. We believe in you, and you will have all the support we can muster."
   "Very well," the general replied, wondering if it would be enough. "I will let you know of any developments here."
   General Bondarenko knew that a proper general—the sort they had in movies, that is—would now eat the combat rations his men were having, but no, he'd eat the best food available because he needed his strength, and false modesty would not impress his men at all. He did refrain from alcohol, which was probably more than his sergeants and privates were doing. The Russian soldier loves his vodka, and the reservists had probably all brought their own bottles to ease the chill of the nights—such would be the spoken excuse. He could have issued an order forbidding it, but there was little sense in drafting an order that his men would ignore. It only undermined discipline, and discipline was something he needed. That would have to come from within his men. The great unknown, as Bondarenko thought of it. When Hitler had struck Russia in 1941—well, it was part of Russian mythology, how the ordinary men of the land had risen up with ferocious determination. From the first day of the war, the courage of the Russian soldier had given the Germans pause. Their battlefield skills might have been lacking, but never their courage. For Bondarenko, both were needed; a skillful man need not be all that brave, because skill would defeat what bravery would only defy. Training. It was always training. He yearned to train the Russian soldier as the Americans trained their men. Above all, to train them to think—to encourage them to think. A thinking German soldier had nearly destroyed the Soviet Union—how close it had been was something the movies never admitted, and it was hard enough to learn about it at the General Staff academies, hut three times it had been devilishly close, and for some reason the gods of war had sided with Mother Russia on all three occasions.
   What would those gods do now? That was the question. Would his men be up to the task? Would he be up to the task? It was his name that would be remembered, for good or ill, not those of the private soldiers carrying the AK-74 rifles and driving the tanks and infantry carriers. Gennady Iosifovich Bondarenko, general-colonel of the Russian Army, commander-in-chief Far East, hero or fool? Which would it be? Would future military students study his actions and cluck their tongues at his stupidity or shake their heads in admiration of his brilliant maneuvers?
   It would have been better to be a colonel again, close to the men of his regiment, even carrying a rifle of his own as he'd done at Dushanbe all those years before, to take a personal part in the battle, and take direct fire at enemies he could see with his own eyes. That was what came back to him now, the battle against the Afghans, defending that missited apartment block in the snow and the darkness. He'd earned his medals that day, but medals were always things of the past. People respected him for them, even his fellow soldiers, the pretty ribbons and metal stars and medallions that hung from them, but what did they mean, really? Would he find the courage he needed to be a commander? He was sure here and now that that sort of courage was harder to find than the sort that came from mere survival instinct, the kind that was generated in the face of armed men who wished to steal your life away.
   It was so easy to look into the indeterminate future with confidence, to know what had to be done, to suggest and insist in a peaceful conference room. But today he was in his quarters, in command of a largely paper army that happened to be facing a real army composed of men and steel, and if he failed to deal with it, his name would be cursed for all time. Historians would examine his character and his record and say, well, yes, he was a brave colonel, and even an adequate theoretician, but when it came to a real fight, he was unequal to the task. And if he failed, men would die, and the nation he'd sworn to defend thirty years before would suffer, if not by his hand, then by his responsibility.
   And so General Bondarenko looked at his plate of food and didn't eat, just pushed the food about with his fork, and wished for the tumbler of vodka that his character denied him.
   General Peng Xi-Wang was finishing up what he expected to be his last proper meal for some weeks. He'd miss the long-grain rice that was not part of combat rations—he didn't know why that was so: The general who ran the industrial empire that prepared rations for the frontline soldiers had never explained it to him, though Peng was sure that he never ate those horrid packaged foods himself. He had a staff to taste-test, after all. Peng lit an after-dinner smoke and enjoyed a small sip of rice wine. It would be the last of those for a while, too. His last pre-combat meal completed, Peng rose and donned his tunic. The gilt shoulderboards showed his rank as three stars and a wreath.
   Outside his command trailer, his subordinates waited. When he came out, they snapped to attention and saluted as one man, and Peng saluted back. Foremost was Colonel Wa Cheng-Gong, his operations officer. Wa was aptly named. Cheng-Gong, his given name, meant "success."
   "So, Wa, are we ready?"
   "Entirely ready, Comrade General."
   "Then let us go and see." Peng led them off to his personal Type 90 command-post vehicle. Cramped inside, even for people of small size, it was further crowded by banks of FM radios, which fed the ten-meter-tall radio masts at the vehicle's four corners. There was scarcely room for the folding map table, but his battle staff of six could work in there, even when on the move. The driver and gunner were both junior officers, not enlisted men.
   The turbocharged diesel caught at once, and the vehicle lurched toward the front. Inside, the map table was already down, and the operations officer showed their position and their course to men who already knew it. The large roof hatch was opened to vent the smoke. Every man aboard was smoking a cigarette now.
   "Hear that?" Senior Lieutenant Valeriy Mikhailovich Komanov had his head outside the top hatch of the tank turret that composed the business end of his bunker. It was the turret of an old—ancient—JS-3 tank. Once the most fearsome part of the world's heaviest main-battle tank, this turret had never gone anywhere except to turn around, its already thick armor upgraded by an additional twenty centimeters of applique steel. As part of a hunker, it was only marginally slower than the original tank, which had been underpowered at best, hut the monster 122-mm gun still worked, and worked even better here, because underneath it was not the cramped confines of a tank hull, but rather a spacious concrete structure which gave the crewmen room to move and turn around. That arrangement cut the reloading speed of the gun by more than half, and didn't hurt accuracy either, because this turret had better optics. Lieutenant Komanov was, notionally, a tanker, and his platoon here was twelve tanks instead of the normal three, because these didn't move. Ordinarily, it was not demanding duty, commanding twelve six-man crews, who didn't go anywhere except to the privy, and they even got to practice their gunnery at a duplicate of this emplacement at a range located twenty kilometers away. They'd been doing that lately, in fact, at the orders of their new commanding general, and neither Komanov nor his men minded, because for every soldier in the world, shooting is fun, and the bigger the gun, the greater the enjoyment. Their 122-mms had a relatively slow muzzle velocity, but the shell was large enough to compensate for it. Lately, they'd gotten to shoot at worn-out old T-55s and blown the turret off each one with a single hit, though getting the single hit had taken the crews, on the average, 2.7 shots fired.
   They were on alert now, a fact which their eager young lieutenant was taking seriously. He'd even had his men out running every morning for the last two weeks, not the most pleasant of activities for soldiers detailed to sit inside concrete emplacements for their two years of conscripted service. It wasn't easy to keep their edge. One naturally felt secure in underground concrete structures capped with thick steel and surrounded with bushes which made their bunker invisible from fifty meters away. Theirs was the rearmost of the platoons, sitting on the south slope of Hill 432—its summit was 432 meters high—facing the north side of the first rank of hills over the Amur Valley. Those hills were a lot shorter than the one they were on, and also had bunkers on them, but those bunkers were fakes—not that you could tell without going inside, because they'd also been made of old tank turrets—in their case from truly ancient KV-2s that had fought the Germans before rusting in retirement—set in concrete boxes. The additional height of their hill meant that they could see into China, whose territory started less than four kilometers away. And that was close enough to hear things on a calm night.
   Especially if the thing they heard was a few hundred diesel engines starting up at once.
   "Engines," agreed Komanov's sergeant. "A fucking lot of them."
   The lieutenant hopped down from his perch inside the turret and walked the three steps to the phone switchboard. He lifted the receiver and punched the button to the regimental command post, ten kilometers north.
   "This is Post Five six Alfa. We can hear engines to our south. It sounds like tank engines, a lot of them."
   "Can you see anything?" the regimental commander asked.
   "No, Comrade Colonel. But the sound is unmistakable."
   "Very well. Keep me informed."
   "Yes, comrade. Out." Komanov set the phone back in its place. His most-forward bunker was Post Five Nine, on the south slope of the first rank of hills. He punched that button.
   "This is Lieutenant Komanov. Can you see or hear anything?"
   "We see nothing," the corporal there answered. "But we hear tank engines."
   "You see nothing?"
   "Nothing, Comrade Lieutenant," Corporal Vladimirov responded positively.
   "Are you ready?"
   "We are fully ready," Vladimirov assured him. "We are watching the south."
   "Keep me informed," Komanov ordered, unnecessarily. His men were alert and standing-to. He looked around. He had a total of two hundred rounds for his main gun, all in racks within easy reach of the turret. His loader and gunner were at their posts, the former scanning the terrain with optical sights better than his own officer's binoculars. His reserve crewmen were just sitting in their chairs, waiting for someone to die. The door to the escape tunnel was open. A hundred meters through that was a BTR-60 eight-wheeled armored personnel carrier ready to get them the hell away, though his men didn't expect to make use of it. Their post was impregnable, wasn't it? They had the best part of a meter of steel on the gun turret, and three meters of reinforced concrete, with a meter of dirt atop it—and besides, they were hidden in a bush. You couldn't hit what you couldn't see, could you? And the Chinks had slitty little eyes and couldn't see very well, could they? Like all the men in this crew, Komanov was a European Russian, though there were Asians under his command. This part of his country was a mishmash of nationalities and languages, though all had learned Russian, if not at home, then in school.
   "Movement," the gunner said. "Movement on Rice Ridge." That was what they called the first ridge line in Chinese territory. "Infantrymen."
   "You're sure they're soldiers?" Komanov asked.
   "I suppose they might be shepherds, but I don't see any sheep, Comrade Lieutenant." The gunner had a wry sense of humor.
   "Move," the lieutenant told the crewman who'd taken his place in the command hatch. He reclaimed the tank commander's seat. "Get me the headset," he ordered next. Now he'd be connected to the phone system with a simple push-button microphone. With that, he could talk to his other eleven crews or to regiment. But Komanov didn't don the earphones just yet. He wanted his ears clear. The night was still, the winds calm, just a few gentle breezes. They were a good distance from any real settlement, and so there were no sounds of traffic to interfere. Then he leveled his binoculars on the far ridge. Yes, there was the ghostly suggestion of movement there, almost like seeing someone's hair blowing in the wind. But it wasn't hair. It could only be people. And as his gunner had observed, they would not be shepherds.
   For ten years, the officers in the border bunkers had cried out for low-light goggles like those issued to the Spetsnaz and other elite formations, but, no, they were too expensive for low-priority posts, and so such things were only seen here when some special inspection force came through, just long enough for the regular troops to drool over them. No, they were supposed to let their eyes adapt to the darkness... as though they think we're cats, Komanov thought. But all the interior battle lights in the bunkers were red, and that helped. He'd forbidden the use of white lights inside the post for the past week.
   Brothers of this tank turret had first been produced in late 1944– the JS-3 had stayed in production for many years, as though no one had summoned the courage to stop producing something with the name losif Stalin on it, he thought. Some of them had rolled into Germany, invulnerable to anything the Fritzes had deployed. And the same tanks had given serious headaches to the Israelis, with their American– and English-built tanks, as well.
   "This is Post Fifty. We have a lot of movement, looks like infantry, on the north slope of Rice Ridge. Estimate regimental strength," his earphones crackled.
   "How many high-explosive shells do we have?" Komanov asked.
   "Thirty-five," the loader answered.
   And that was a goodly amount. And there were fifteen heavy guns within range of Rice Ridge, all of them old ML-20 152-mm howitzers, all sitting on concrete pads next to massive ammo bunkers. Komanov checked his watch. Almost three-thirty. Ninety minutes to first light. The sky was cloudless. He could look up and see stars such as they didn't have in Moscow, with all its atmospheric pollution. No, the Siberian sky was clear and clean, and above his head was an ocean of light made brighter still by a full moon still high in the western sky. He focused his eyes through his binoculars again. Yes, there was movement on Rice Ridge.
   So?" Peng asked. "At your command," Wa replied.
   Peng and his staff were forward of their guns, the better to see the effect of their fire.
   But seventy thousand feet over General Peng's head was Marilyn Monroe. Each of the Dark Star drones had a name attached to it, and given the official name of the platform, the crews had chosen the names of movie stars, all of them, of course, of the female persuasion. This one even had a copy of the movie star's Playboy centerfold from 1953 skillfully painted on the nose, but the eyes looking down from the stealthy UAV were electronic and multi-spectrum rather than china blue. Inside the fiberglass nosecone, a directional antenna cross-linked the "take" to a satellite, which then distributed it to many places. The nearest was Zhigansk. The farthest was Fort Belvoir, Virginia, within spitting distance of Washington, D.C., and that one sent its feed via fiberoptic cable to any number of classified locations. Unlike most spy systems, this one showed real-time movie-type imagery.
   "Looks like they're getting ready, sir," an Army staff sergeant observed to his immediate boss, a captain. And sure enough, you could see soldiers ramming shells into the breeches of their field pieces, followed by the smaller cloth bags that contained the propellant. Then the breeches were slammed shut, and the guns elevated. The 30-30-class blank cartridges were inserted into the firing ports of the breechblocks, and the guns were fully ready. The last step was called "pulling the string," and was fairly accurate. You just jerked the lanyard rope to fire the blank cartridge and that ignited the powder bags, and then the shell went north at high speed.
   "How many guns total, Sergeant?" the captain asked.
   "A whole goddamned pisspot full, sir."
   "I can see that. What about a number?" the officer asked.
   "North of six hundred, and that's just in this here sector, Cap'n. Plus four hundred mobile rocket launchers."
   "We spotted air assets yet?"
   "No, sir. The Chinese aren't nighttime flyers yet, least not for bombing."
   "EAGLE Seven to Zebra, over," the AWACS senior controller radioed back to Zhigansk.
   "Zebra to Seven, reading you five-by-five," the major running the ground base replied.
   "We got bogies, call it thirty-two coming north out of Siping, estimate they're Sierra-Uniform Two-Sevens."
   "Makes sense," the major on the ground told his wing commander. "Siping's their 667th Regiment. That's their best in terms of aircraft, and stick-time. That's their varsity, Colonel."
   "Who do we have to meet them?"
   "Our Russian friends out of Nelkan. Nearest American birds are well north and—"
   "—and we haven't got orders to engage anybody yet," the colonel agreed. "Okay, let's get the Russians alerted."
   "EAGLE Seven to Black Falcon Ten, we have Chinese fighters three hundred kilometers bearing one-nine-six your position, angels thirty, speed five hundred knots. They're still over Chinese territory, but not for much longer."
   "Understood," the Russian captain responded. "Give me a vector." "Recommend intercept vector two-zero-zero," the American controller said. His spoken Russian was pretty good. "Maintain current speed and altitude."
   On the E-3B's radar displays, the Russian Su-27s turned to head for the Chinese Su-27s. The Russians would have radar contact in about nine minutes.
   "Sir, this don't look real nice," another major in Zhigansk said to his general.
   "Then it's time to get a warning out," the USAF two-star agreed. He lifted a phone that went to the Russian regional command post. There hadn't as yet been time to get a proper downlink to them.
   "General, a call from the American technical mission at Zhigansk," Tolkunov said.
   "This is General Bondarenko."
   "Hello, this is Major General Gus Wallace. I just set up the reconnaissance shop here. We just put up a stealthy recon-drone over the Russian Chinese border at. . ." He read off the coordinates. "We show people getting ready to fire some artillery at you, General."
   "How much?" Bondarenko asked.
   "Most I've ever seen, upwards of a thousand guns total. I hope your people are hunkered down, buddy. The whole damned world's about to land on 'em."
   "What can you do to help us?" Bondarenko asked.
   "My orders are not to take action until they start shooting," the American replied. "When that happens, I can start putting fighters up, but not much in the way of bombs. We hardly have any to drop," Wallace reported. "I have an AWACS up now, supporting your fighters in the Chulman area, but that's all for now. We have a C-130 ferrying you a downlink tomorrow so that we can get you some intelligence directly. Anyway, be warned, General, it looks here as though the Chinese are going to launch their attack momentarily."
   "Thank you, General Wallace." Bondarenko hung up and looked at his staff. "He says it's going to start at any moment."
   And so it did. Lieutenant Komanov saw it first. The line of hills his men called Rice Ridge was suddenly backlit by yellow flame that could only be the muzzle flashes of numerous field guns. Then came the upward-flying meteor shapes of artillery rockets.
   "Here it comes," he told his men. Unsurprisingly, he kept his head up so that he could see. His head, he reasoned, was a small target. Before the shells landed, he felt the impact of their firing; the rumble came through the ground like a distant earthquake, causing his loader to mutter, "Oh, shit," probably the universal observation of men in their situation.
   "Get me regiment," Komanov ordered.
   "Yes, Lieutenant," the voice answered.
   "We are under attack, Comrade Colonel, massive artillery fire to the south. Guns and rockets car coming our—"
   Then the first impacts came, mainly near the river, well to his south. The exploding shells were not bright, but like little sparks of light that fountained dirt upward, followed by the noise. That did sound like an earthquake. Komanov had heard artillery fire before, and seen what the shells do at the far end, but this was as different from that as an exploding oil tank was from a cigarette lighter.
   "Comrade Colonel, our country is at war," Post Five six Alfa reported to command. "I can't see enemy troop movement yet, but they're coming."
   "Do you have any targets?" regiment asked.
   "No, none at this time." He looked down into the bunker. His various positions could just give a direction to a target, and when another confirmed it and called in its own vector, they'd have a pre-plotted artillery target for the batteries in the rear—
   –but those were being hit already. The Chinese rockets were targeted well behind him, and that's what their targets had to be. He turned his head to see the flashes and hear the booms from ten kilometers back.
   A moment later, there was a fountaining explosion skyward. One of the first flight of Chinese rockets had gotten lucky and hit one of the artillery positions in the rear. Bad news for that gun crew, Komanov thought. The first casualties in this war. There would be many more ... perhaps including himself. Surprisingly, that thought was a distant one. Someone was attacking his country. It wasn't a supposition or a possibility anymore. He could see it, and feel it. This was his country they were attacking. He'd grown up in this land. His parents lived here. His grandfather had fought the Germans here. His grandfather's two brothers had, too, and both had died for their country, one west of Kiev and the other at Stalingrad. And now these Chink bastards were attacking his country, too? More than that, they were attacking him, Senior Lieutenant Valeriy Mikhailovich Komanov. These foreigners were trying to kill him, his men, and trying to steal part of his country.
   Well, fuck that! he thought.
   "Load HE!" he told his loader.
   "Loaded!" the private announced. They all heard the breech clang shut.
   "No target, Comrade Lieutenant," the gunner observed.
   "There will be, soon enough."
   "Post Five Nine, this is Five six Alfa. What can you see?"
   "We just spotted a boat, a rubber boat, coming out of the trees on the south bank... more, more, more, many of them, maybe a hundred, maybe more."
   "Regiment, this is Fifty-six Alfa, fire mission!" Komanov called over the phone.
   The gunners ten kilometers back were at their guns, despite the falling Chinese shells and rockets that had already claimed three of the fifteen gun crews. The fire mission was called in, and the preset concentration dialed in from range books so old they might as well have been engraved in marble. In each case, the high-explosive projectile was rammed into the breech, followed by the propellant charge, and the gun cranked up and trained to the proper elevation and azimuth, and the lanyards pulled, and the first Russian counterstrokes in the war just begun were fired.
   Unknown to them, fifteen kilometers away a fire-finder radar was trained on their positions. The millimeter-wave radar tracked the shells in flight and a computer plotted their launch points. The Chinese knew that the Russians had guns covering the border, and knew roughly where they would be—the performance of the guns told that tale—but not exactly where, because of the skillful Russian efforts at camouflage. In this case, those efforts didn't matter too greatly. The calculated position of six Russian howitzers was instantly radioed to rocket launchers that were dedicated counter-battery weapons. One Type-83 launcher was detailed to each target, and each of them held four monster 273-mm rockets, each with a payload of 150 kilograms of submunitions, in this case eighty hand grenade-sized bomblets. The first rocket launched three minutes after the first Russian counter-fire salvo, and required less than two minutes of flight time from its firing point ten kilometers inside Chinese territory. Of the first six fired, five destroyed their targets, and then others, and the Russian gunfire died in less than five minutes.
   "Why did it stop?" Komanov asked. He'd seen a few rounds hit among the Chinese infantry just getting out of their boats on the Russian side of the river. But the shriek of shells overhead passing south had just stopped after a few minutes. "Regiment, this is Five six Alfa, why has our fire stopped?"
   "Our guns were taking counter-battery fire from the Chinese. They're trying to get set back up now," was the encouraging reply. "What is your situation?"
   "Position Five-Zero has taken a little fire, but not much. Mainly they're hitting the reverse slope of the southern ridge." That was where the fake bunkers were, and the concrete lures were fulfilling their passive mission. This line of defenses had been set up contrary to published Russian doctrine, because whoever had set them up had known that all manner of people can read books. Komanov's own position covered a small saddle-pass through two hills, fit for advancing tanks. If the Chinese came north in force, if this was not just some sort of probe aimed at expanding their borders—they'd done that back in the late 1960s– this was a prime invasion route. The maps and the terrain decided that.
   "That is good, Lieutenant. Now listen: Do not expose your positions unnecessarily. Let them in close before you open up. Very close." That, Komanov knew, meant a hundred meters or so. He had two heavy machine guns for that eventuality. But he wanted to kill tanks. That was what his main gun had been designed to do.
   "Can we expect more artillery support?" he asked his commander.
   "I'll let you know. Keep giving us target information."
   "Yes, Comrade Colonel."
   For the fighter planes, the war began when the first PLAAF crossed over the Amur. There were four Russian fighter-interceptors up, and these, just like the invaders, were Sukhoi-27. Those on both sides had been made in the same factories, but the Chinese pilots had triple the recent flight time of the defending Russians, who were outnumbered eight to one.
   Countering that, however was the fact that the Russian aircraft had support from the USAF E-3B Sentry AWACS aircraft, which was guiding them to the intercept. Both sets of fighters were flying with their target-acquisition radars in standby mode. The Chinese didn't know what was out there. The Russians did. That was a difference.
   "Black Falcon Ten, this is EAGLE Seven. Recommend you come right to new course two-seven-zero. I'm going to try an' bring you up on the Chinese from their seven o'clock." It would also keep them out of Chinese radar coverage.
   "Understood, EAGLE. Coming right to two-seven-zero." The Russian flight leader spread his formation out and settled down as much as he could, with his eyes tending to look off to his left.
   "Okay, Black Falcon Ten, that's good. Your targets are now at your nine o'clock, distance thirty kilometers. Come left now to one-eight-zero.
   "Coming left," the Russian major acknowledged. "We will try to start the attack Fox-Two," he advised. He knew American terminology. That meant launching infrared seekers, which did not require the use of radar, and so did not warn anyone that he was in harm's way. The Marquis of Queensberry had never been a fighter pilot.
   "Roger that, Falcon. This boy's smart," the controller commented to his supervisor.
   "That's how you stay alive in this business," the lieutenant colonel told the young lieutenant at the Nintendo screen.
   "Okay, Falcon Ten, recommend you come left again. Targets are now fifteen kilometers ... make that seventeen kilometers to your north. You should have tone shortly."
   "Da. I have tone," the Russian pilot reported, when he heard the warble in his headset. "Flight, prepare to fire . . . Fox-Two!" Three of the four aircraft loosed a single missile each. The fourth pilot was having trouble with his IR scanner. In all cases, the blazing rocket motors wrecked their night vision, but none of the pilots looked away, as they'd been trained to do, and instead watched their missiles streak after fellow airmen who did not yet know they were under attack. It took twenty seconds, and as it turned out, two missiles were targeted on the same Chinese aircraft. That one took two hits and exploded. The second died from its single impact, and then things really got confusing. The Chinese fighters scattered on command from their commander, doing so in a preplanned and well-rehearsed maneuver, first into two groups, then into four, each of which had a piece of sky to defend. Everyone's radar came on, and in another twenty seconds, a total of forty missiles were flying, and with this began a deadly game of chicken. The radar-homing missiles needed a radar signal to guide them, and that meant that the firing fighter could not switch off or turn away, only hope that his bird would kill its target and switch off his radar before his missile got close.
   "Damn," the lieutenant observed, in his comfortable controller's seat in the E-3B. Two more Chinese fighters blinked into larger bogies on his screen and then started to fade, then another, but there were just too many of the Chinese air-to-air missiles, and not all of the Chinese illumination radars went down. One Russian fighter took three impacts and disintegrated. Another one limped away with severe damage, and as quickly as it had begun, this air encounter ended. Statistically, it was a Russian win, four kills for one loss, but the Chinese would claim more.
   "Any chutes?" the senior controller asked over the intercom. The E-3 radar could track those, too.
   "Three, maybe four ejected. Not sure who, though, not till we play the tape back. Damn, that was a quick one."
   The Russians didn't have enough planes up to do a proper battle. Maybe next time, the colonel thought. The full capabilities of a fighter/AWACS team had never been properly demonstrated in combat, but this war held the promise to change that, and when it happened, some eyes would be opened.
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Zastava Srbija

Falling Back

Senior Lieutenant Valeriy Mikhailovich Komanov learned something he'd never suspected. The worst part of battle—at least to a man in a fixed emplacement—was knowing that the enemy was out there, but being unable to shoot at him. The reverse slopes of the ridge to his immediate south had to be swarming with Chinese infantry, and his supporting artillery had been taken out in the first minutes of the battle. Whoever had set up the artillery positions had made the mistake of assuming that the guns were too far back and too shielded by terrain for the enemy to strike at them. Fire-finder radar/computer systems had changed that, and the absence of overhead cover had doomed the guncrews to rapid death, unless some of them had found shelter in the concrete-lined trenches built into their positions. He had a powerful gun at his fingertips, but it was one that could not reach over the hills to his south because of its flat trajectory. As envisioned, this defense line would have included leg infantry who'd depend on and also support the bunker strongpoints—and be armed with mortars which could reach over the close-in hills and punish those who were there but unseen behind the terrain feature. Komanov could only engage those he could see, and they—
   "There, Comrade Lieutenant," the gunner said. "A little right of twelve o'clock, some infantry just crested the ridge. Range one thousand five hundred meters."
   "I see them." There was just a hint of light on the eastern horizon now. Soon there would be enough light to see by. That would make shooting easier, but for both sides. In an hour, his bunker would be targeted, and they'd get to see just how thick their armor protection really was.
   "Five six Alfa, this is Five Zero. We have infantry eleven hundred meters to our south. Company strength and moving north toward us."
   "Very well. Do not engage until they are within two hundred meters." Komanov automatically doubled the shooting range at which he'd been trained to open fire. What the hell, he thought, his crews would do that in their own minds anyway. A man thinks differently when real bullets are flying.
   As if to emphasize that, shells started landing on the crest immediately behind his position, close enough to make him duck down.
   "So they see us?" his loader asked.
   "No, they're just barraging the next set of hills to support their infantrymen."
   "Look, look there, they're on top of false bunker One Six," the gunner said. Komanov shifted his glasses—
   Yes, they were there, examining the old KV-2 gun turret with its vertical sides and old 155-mm gun. As he watched, a soldier hung a satchel charge on the side and backed away. Then the charge went off, destroying something that had never worked anyway. That would make some Chinese lieutenant feel good, Komanov thought. Well, Five six Alfa would change his outlook somewhat, in another twenty or thirty minutes.
   The bad part was that now he had perfect targets for his supporting artillery, and those old six-inch guns would have cut through them like a harvester's scythe. Except the Chinese were still hitting those positions, even though the Russian fire had stopped. He called Regiment again to relay his information.
   "Lieutenant," his colonel answered, "the supporting battery has been badly hit. You are on your own. Keep me posted."
   "Yes, Comrade Colonel. Out." He looked down at his crew. "Don't expect supporting fire." The weapons of World War III had just destroyed those of World War I.
   "Shit," the loader observed.
   "We'll be in the war soon, men. Be at ease. The enemy is now closer ..."
   "Five hundred meters," the gunner agreed.
   "Well?" General Peng asked at his post atop Rice Ridge. "We've found some bunkers, but they are all unoccupied," Colonel Wa reported. "So far, the only fire we've taken has been indirect artillery, and we've counterbatteried that to death. The attack is going completely to plan, Comrade General." They could see the truth of that. The bridging engineers were rolling up to the south bank of the Amur now, with folded sections of ribbon bridge atop their trucks. Over a hundred Type 90 main-battle tanks were close to the river, their turrets searching vainly for targets so that they could support the attacking infantry, but there was nothing for them to shoot at, and so the tankers, like the generals, had nothing to do but watch the engineers at work. The first bridge section went into the water, flipping open to form the first eight meters of highway across the river. Peng checked his watch. Yes, things were going about five minutes ahead of schedule, and that was good.
   Post Five Zero opened up first with its 12.7-mm machine gun. The sound of it rattled across the hillside. Five Zero was thirty-five hundred meters to his east, commanded by a bright young sergeant named Ivanov. He opened up too early, Komanov thought, reaching for targets a good four hundred meters away, but there was nothing to complain about, and the heavy machine gun could easily reach that far ... yes, he could see bodies crumpling from the heavy slugs—
   –then a crashing BOOM as the main gun let loose a single round, and it reached into the saddle they defended, exploding there amidst a squad or so.
   "Comrade Lieutenant, can we?" his gunner asked.
   "No, not yet. Patience, Sergeant," Komanov replied, watching to the east to see how the Chinese reacted to the fire. Yes, their tactics were predictable, but sound. The lieutenant commanding them first got his men down. Then they set up a base of fire to engage the Russian position, and then they started maneuvering left and right. Aha, a section was setting up something . . . something on a tripod. An anti-tank recoilless rifle, probably. He could have turned his gun to take it out, but Komanov didn't want to give away his position yet.
   "Five Zero, this is Five six Alfa, there's a Chinese recoilless setting up at your two o'clock, range eight hundred," he warned.
   "Yes, I see it!" the sergeant replied. And he had the good sense to engage it with his machine gun. In two seconds, the green tracers reached out and ripped through the gun section once, twice, three times, just to be sure. Through his binoculars, he could see some twitching, but that was all.
   "Well done, Sergeant Ivanov! Look out, they're moving to your left under terrain cover."
   But there wasn't much of that around here. Every bunker's field of fire had been bulldozed, leveling out almost all of the dead ground within eight hundred meters of every position.
   "We shall see about that, Comrade Lieutenant." And the machine gun spoke again. Return fire was coming in now. Komanov could see tracers bouncing off the turret's thick armor into the sky.
   "Regiment, Five six Alfa here. Post Five Zero is under deliberate attack now from infantry, and—"
   Then more artillery shells started landing, called in directly on Five Zero. He hoped Ivanov was now under his hatch. The turret had a coaxial machine gun, an old but powerful PK with the long 7.62-mm cartridge. Komanov let his gunner survey the threat to his bunker while he watched how the Chinese attacked Sergeant Ivanov's. Their infantry moved with some skill, using what ground they had, keeping fire on the exposed gun turret—enough artillery fell close enough to strip away the bushes that had hidden it at first. Even if your bullets bounced off, they were still a distraction to those inside. It was the big shells that concerned the lieutenant. A direct hit might penetrate the thinner top armor, mightn't it? An hour before, he would have said no, but he could see now what the shells did to the ground, and his confidence had eroded quickly.
   "Comrade Lieutenant," his gunner said. "The people headed for us are turning away to attack Ivanov. Look."
   Komanov turned around to see. He didn't need his binoculars. The sky was improving the light he had, and now he could see more than shadows. They were man shapes, and they were carrying weapons. One section was rushing to his left, three of them carrying something heavy. On reaching a shallow intermediate ridgeline, they stopped and started putting something together, some sort of tube . . .
   ... it was an HJ-8 anti-tank missile, his mind told him, fishing up the information from his months of intelligence briefings. They were about a thousand meters to his left front, within range of Ivanov . . .
   . . . and within range of his big DshKM machine gun. Komanov stood on his firing stand and yanked back hard on the charging handle, leveling the gun and sighting carefully. His big tank gun could do this, but so could he ...
   So, you want to kill Sergeant Ivanov? his mind asked. Then he thumbed the trigger lever, and the big gun shook in his hands. His first burst was about thirty meters short, but his second was right on, and three men fell. He kept firing to make sure he'd destroyed their rocket launcher. He realized a moment later that the brilliant green tracers had just announced his location for all to see—tracers work in both directions. That became clear in two minutes, when the first artillery shells began landing around Position Five six Alfa. He only needed one close explosion to drop down and slam his hatch. The hatch was the weakest part of his position's protection, with only a fifth of the protective thickness of the rest—else he'd be unable to open it, of course—and if a shell hit that, he and his crew would all be dead. The enemy knew their location now, and there was no sense in hiding.
   "Sergeant," he told his gunner. "Fire at will."
   "Yes, Comrade Lieutenant!" And with that, the sergeant loosed his first high-explosive round at a machine-gun crew eight hundred meters away. The shell hit the gun itself and vaporized the infantrymen operating it. "There's three good Chinks!" he exulted. "Load me another!" The turret started turning, and the gunner started hunting.
   "Getting some resistance now," Wa told Peng. "There are Russian positions on the southern slope of the second ridge. We're hitting them now with artillery."
   "Light," the operations officer reported, listening in on the tactical radio.
   "Good," said General Peng. His attention was almost entirely on the river. The first bridge was about a third complete now.
   "Those bridging engineers are pretty good," General Wallace thought, watching the "take" from Marilyn Monroe.
   "Yes, sir, hut it might as well be a peacetime exercise. They're not taking any fire," the junior officer observed, watching another section being tied off. "And it's a very efficient bridge design."
   The major nodded. "Yes, sir. We copied it, too."
   "How long?"
   "The rate they're going? About an hour, maybe an hour ten."
   "Back to the gunfight," Wallace ordered.
   "Sergeant, let's go back to the ridge," the officer told the NCO who was piloting the UAC. Thirty seconds later, the screen showed what looked like a tank sunk in the mud surrounded by a bunch of infantrymen.
   "Jesus, that looks like real fun," Wallace thought. A fighter pilot by profession, the idea of fighting in the dirt appealed to him about as much as anal sex.
   "They're not going to last much longer," the major said. "Look here. The gomers are behind some of the bunkers now."
   "And look at all that artillery."
   A total of a hundred heavy field guns were now pounding Komanov's immobile platoon. That amounted to a full battery fixed on each of them, and heavy as his buried concrete box was, it was shaking now, and the air inside filled with cement dust, as Komanov and his crew struggled to keep up with all the targets.
   "This is getting exciting, Comrade Lieutenant," the gunner observed, as he loosed his fifteenth main-gun shot.
   Komanov was in his commander's cupola, looking around and seeing, rather to his surprise, that his bunker and all the others under his command could not deal with the attackers. It was a case of intellectual knowledge finally catching up with what his brain had long proclaimed as evident common sense. He actually was not invincible here. Despite his big tank gun and his two heavy machine guns, he could not deal with all these insects buzzing about him. It was like swatting flies with an icepick. He reckoned that he and his crew had personally killed or wounded a hundred or so attackers—but no tanks. Where were the tanks he yearned to kill? He could do that job well. But to deal with infantry, he needed supporting artillery fire, plus foot soldiers of his own. Without them, he was like a big rock on the sea coast, indestructible, but the waves could just wash around him. And they were doing that now, and then Komanov remembered that all the rocks by the sea were worn down by the waves, and eventually toppled by them. His war had lasted three hours, not even that much, and he was fully surrounded, and if he wanted to survive, it would soon be time to leave.
   The thought enraged him. Desert his post? Run away? But then he remembered that he had orders allowing him to do so, if and when his post became untenable. He'd received the orders with a confident chuckle. Run away from an impregnable mini-fortress? What nonsense. But now he was alone. Each of his posts was alone. And—
   –the turret rang like an off-tone bell with a direct impact of a heavy shell, and then—
   –"Shit!" The gunner screamed. "Shit! My guns damaged!"
   Komanov looked out of one of his vision slits, and yes, he could see it. The gun tube was scorched and . . . and actually bent. Was that possible? A gun barrel was the sturdiest structure men could make—but it was slightly bent. And so it was no longer a gun barrel at all, but just an unwieldy steel club. It had fired thirty-four rounds, but it would fire no more. With that gone, he'd never kill a Chinese tank. Komanov took a deep breath to collect himself and his thoughts. Yes, it was time.
   "Prepare the post for destruction!" he ordered.
   "Now?" the gunner asked incredulously.
   "Now!" the lieutenant ordered. "Set it up!"
   There was a drill for this, and they'd practiced it. The loader took a demolition charge and set it among the racked shells. The electrical cable was in a spool, which he played out. The gunner ignored this, cranking the turret right to fire his coaxial machine gun at some approaching soldiers, then turning rapidly the other way to strike at those who'd used his reaction to the others' movement for cover to move themselves. Komanov stepped down from the cupola seat and looked around. There was his bed, and the table at which they'd all eaten their food, and the toilet room and the shower. This bunker had become home, a place of both comfort and work, but now they had to surrender it to the Chinese. It was almost inconceivable, but it could not be denied. In the movies, they'd fight to the death here, but fighting to the death was a lot more comfortable for actors who could start a new film the next week.
   "Come on, Sergeant," he ordered his gunner, who took one last long burst before stepping down and heading toward the escape tunnel.
   Komanov counted off the men as they went, then headed out. He realized he hadn't phoned his intentions back to Regiment, and he hesitated, but, no, there wasn't time for that now. He'd radio his action from the moving BTR.
   The tunnel was low enough that they had to run bent over, but it was also lit, and there was the outer door. When the reserve gunner opened it, they were greeted by the much louder sound of falling shells.
   "You fucking took long enough," a thirtyish sergeant snarled at them. "Come on!" he urged, waving them to his BTR-60.
   "Wait." Komanov took the twist-detonator and attached the wire ends to the terminals. He sheltered behind the concrete abutment that contained the steel door and twisted the handle once.
   The demolition charge was ten kilograms of TNT. It and the stored shells created an explosion that roared out of the escape tunnel with a sound like the end of the world, and on the far side of the hill the heavy turret of the never-finished JS-3 tank rocketed skyward, to the amazed pleasure of the Chinese infantrymen. And with that, Komanov's job was done. He turned and followed his men to board the eight-wheeled armored personnel carrier. It was ensconced on a concrete pad under a grass-covered concrete roof that had prevented anyone from seeing it, and now it raced down the hill to the north and safety.
   "Bugging out," the sergeant told the major, tapping the TV screen taking the feed from Marilyn Monroe. "This bunch just blew up their gun turret. That's the third one to call it a day."
   "Surprised they lasted this long," General Wallace said. Sitting still in a combat zone was an idea entirely foreign to him. He'd never done fighting while moving slower than four hundred knots, and he considered that speed to be practically standing still.
   "I bet the Russians will be disappointed," the major said. "When do we get the downlink to Chabarsovil?"
   "Before lunch, sir. We're sending a team down to show them how to use it."
   The BTR was in many ways the world's ultimate SUV, with eight driving wheels, the lead four of which turned with the steering wheel. The reservist behind that wheel was a truck driver in civilian life, and knew how to drive only with his right foot pressed to the floor, Komanov decided. He and his men bounced inside like dice in a cup, saved from head injury only by their steel helmets. But they didn't complain. Looking out of the rifle-firing ports, they could see the impact of Chinese artillery, and the quicker they got away from that, the better they'd all feel.
   "How was it for you?" the lieutenant asked the sergeant commanding the vehicle.
   "Mainly we were praying for you to be a coward. What with all those shells falling around us. Thank God for whoever built that garage we were hidden in. At least one shell fell directly on it. I nearly shit myself," the reservist reported with refreshing candor. They were communicating in face-to-face shouts.
   "How long to regimental headquarters?"
   "About ten minutes. How many did you get?"
   "Maybe two hundred," Komanov thought, rather generously. "Never saw a tank."
   "They're probably building their ribbon bridges right now. It takes a while. I saw a lot of that when I was in Eighth Guards Army in Germany. Practically all we practiced was crossing rivers. How good are they?"
   "They're not cowards. They advance under fire even when you kill some of them. What happened to our artillery?"
   "Wiped out, artillery rockets, came down like a blanket of hail, Comrade Lieutenant, crump," he replied with a two-handed gesture.
   "Where is our support?"
   "Who the fuck do you think we are?" the sergeant asked in reply. They were all surprised when the BRT skidded to an unwarned stop. "What's happening?" he shouted at the driver.
   "Look!" the man said in reply, pointing.
   Then the rear hatches jerked open and ten men scrambled in, making the interior of the BTR as tight as a can of fish.
   "Comrade Lieutenant!" It was Ivanov from Five Zero.
   "What happened?"
   "We took a shell on the hatch," he replied, and the bandages on his face told the truth of the tale. He was in some pain, but happy to be moving again. "Our BTR took a direct hit on the nose, killed the driver and wrecked it."
   "I've never seen shelling like this, not even in exercises in Germany and the Ukraine," the BTR sergeant said. "Like the war movies, but different when you're really in it."
   "Da," Komanov agreed. It was no fun at all, even in his bunker, but especially out here. The sergeant lit up a cigarette, a Japanese one, and held on to the overhead grip to keep from rattling around too much. Fortunately, the driver knew the way, and the Chinese artillery abated, evidently firing at random target sets beyond visual range of their spotters.
   It's started, Jack," Secretary of Defense Bretano said. "I want to release our people to start shooting."
   "Who, exactly?"
   "Air Force, fighter planes we have in theater, to start. We have AWACS up and working with the Russians already. There's been one air battle, a little one, already. And we're getting feed from reconnaissance assets. I can cross-link them to you if you want."
   "Okay, do that," Ryan told the phone. "And on the other issue, okay, turn 'em loose," Jack said. He looked over at Robby.
   "Jack, it's what we pay 'em for, and believe me, they don't mind. Fighter pilots live for this sort of thing—until they see what happens, though they mainly never do. They just see the broke airplane, not the poor shot-up bleeding bastard inside, trying to eject while he's still conscious," Vice President Jackson explained. "Later on, a pilot may think about that a little. I did. But not everyone. Mainly you get to paint a kill on the side of your aircraft, and we all want to do that."
   Okay, people, we are now in this fight," Colonel Bronco Winters told his assembled pilots. He'd gotten four kills over Saudi the previous year, downing those poor dumb rugheaded gomers who flew for the country that had brought biological warfare to his own nation. One more, and he'd be a no-shit fighter ace, something he dreamed about all the way back to his doolie year at Colorado Springs. He'd been flying the F-l5 EAGLE fighter for his entire career, though he hoped to upgrade to the new F-22A Raptor in two or three more years. He had 4,231 hours in the EAGLE, knew all its tricks, and couldn't imagine a better aircraft to go up in. So, now he'd kill Chinese. He didn't understand the politics of the moment, and didn't especially care. He was on a Russian air base, something he'd never expected to see except through a gunsight, but that was okay, too. He thought for a moment that he rather liked Chinese food, especially the things they did to vegetables in a wok, but those were American Chinese, not the commie kind, and that, he figured, was that. He'd been in Russia for just over a day, long enough to turn down about twenty offers to snort down some vodka. Their fighter pilots seemed smart enough, maybe a little too eager for their own good, but friendly and respectful when they saw the four kills painted on the side panel of his F-15-Charlie, the lead fighter of the 390th Fighter Squadron. He hopped off the Russian jeep—they called it something else that he hadn't caught—at the foot of his fighter. His chief mechanic was there.
   "Got her all ready for me, Chief?" Winters asked, as he took the first step on the ladder.
   "You bet," replied Chief Master Sergeant Neil Nolan. "Everything is toplined. She's as ready as I can make her. Go kill us some, Bronco." It was a squadron rule that when a pilot had his hands on his aircraft, he went only by his call-sign.
   "I'll bring you the scalps, Nolan." Colonel Winters continued his climb up the ladder, patting the decorated panel as he went. Chief Master Sergeant Nolan scurried up to help him strap in, then dropped off, detached the ladder, and got clear.
   Winters began his start-up procedures, first of all entering his ground coordinates, something they still did on the EAGLE despite the new GPS locator systems, because the F-15C had inertial navigation in case it broke (it never did, but procedure was procedure). The instruments came on-line, telling Winters that his EAGLE's conformal fuel tanks were topped off, and he had a full load of four AIM-120 AMRAAM radar-guided missiles, plus four more of the brand-new AIM-9X Sidewinders, the super-snake version of a missile whose design went back to before his mom and dad had married in a church up on Lenox Avenue in Harlem.
   "Tower, this is Bronco with three, ready to taxi, over."
   "Tower, Bronco, you are cleared to taxi. Wind is three-zero-five at ten. Good luck, Colonel."
   "Thank you, Tower. Boars, this is lead, let's get goin'." With that, he tripped his brakes and the fighter started moving, driven by its powerful Pratt & Whitney engines. A bunch of Russians, mainly ground crewmen, but judging by the outfits, some drivers as well, were out on the ramp watching him and his flight. Okay, he thought, we'll show 'em how we do things downtown. The four taxied in pairs to the end of the runway and then roared down the concrete slabs, and pulled back into the air, wingman tucked in tight. Seconds later, the other two pulled up and they turned south, already talking to the nearest AWACS, EAGLE Two.
   "EAGLE Two, this is Boar Leader in the air with four."
   "Boar Leader, this is EAGLE Two. We have you. Come south, vector one-seven-zero, climb and maintain flight level three-three. Looks like there's going to be some work for ya today, over."
   "Suits me. Out." Colonel Winters—he'd just been deep-dip selected for his bird as a full bull colonel—wiggled a little in his seat to get things just right, and finished his climb to 33,000 feet. His radar system was off, and he wouldn't speak unnecessarily because someone out there might be listening, and why spoil the surprise? In a few minutes, he'd be entering the coverage of Chinese border radar stations. Somebody would have to do something about that. Later today, he hoped, the Little Weasel F-16s would go and see about those. But his job was Chinese fighter aircraft, and any bombers that might offer themselves. His orders were to remain over Russian airspace for the entire mission, and so if Joe Chink didn't want to come out and play, it would be a dull day. But Joe had Su-27s, and he thought those were pretty good. And Joe Chink Fighter Pilot probably thought he was pretty good, too.
   So, they'd just have to see.
   Otherwise, it was a good day for flying, two-tenths clouds and nice clean country air to fly in. His falcon's eyes could see well over a hundred miles from up here, and he had EAGLE Two to tell him where the gomers were. Behind him, a second and third flight of four EAGLEs were each taking off. The Wild Boars would be fully represented today.
   The train ride was fairly jerky. Lieutenant Colonel Giusti squirmed in his upright coach seat, trying to get a little bit comfortable, but the Russian-made coach in which he and his staff were riding hadn't been designed with creature comforts in mind, and there was no sense grumbling about it. It was dark outside, the early morning that children sensibly take to be nighttime, and there wasn't much in the way of lights out there. They were in Eastern Poland now, farm country, probably, as Poland was evolving into the Iowa of Europe, lots of pig farms to make the ham for which this part of the world was famous. Vodka, too, probably, and Colonel Giusti wouldn't have minded a snort of that at the moment. He stood and walked down the aisle of the car. Nearly everyone aboard was asleep or trying to be. Two sensible NCOs were stretched out on the floor instead of curled up on the seats. The dirty floor wouldn't do their uniforms much good, but they were heading to combat operations, where neatness didn't really count all that much. Personal weapons were invariably stowed in the overhead racks, in the open for easy access, because they were all soldiers, and they didn't feel very comfortable without a usable weapon close by. He continued aft. The next coach had more troopers from Headquarters Company. His squadron sergeant major was in the back of that one, reading a paperback.
   "Hey, Colonel," the sergeant major said in greeting. "Long ride, ain't it?"
   "At least three more days to go, maybe four."
   "Super," the senior non-com observed. "This is worse'n flying."
   "Yeah, well, at least we got our tracks with us."
   "Yes, sir."
   "How's the food situation?"
   "Well, sir, we all got our MREs, and I got me a big box of Snickers bars stashed. Any word what's happening in the world?"
   "Just that it's started in Siberia. The Chinese are across the border and Ivan's trying to stop 'em. No details. We ought to get an update when we go through Moscow, after lunchtime, I expect."
   "Fair 'nuff."
   "How are the troopers taking things?"
   "No problems, bored with the train ride, want to get back in their tracks, the usual."
   "How's their attitude?"
   "They're ready, Colonel," the sergeant-major assured him.
   "Good." With that, Giusti turned and headed back to his seat, hoping he'd get a few hours anyway, and there wasn't much of Poland to see anyway. The annoying part was being so cut off. He had satellite radios in his vehicles, somewhere on the flatcars aft of this coach, but he couldn't get to them, and without them he didn't know what was happening up forward. A war was on. He knew that. But it wasn't the same as knowing the details, knowing where the train would stop, where and when he'd get to offload his equipment, get the Quarter Horse organized, and get back on the road, where they belonged.
   The train part was working well. The Russian train service seemingly had a million flatcars designed expressly to transport tracked vehicles, undoubtedly intended to take their battle tanks west, into Germany for a war against NATO. Little had the builders ever suspected that the cars would be used to bring American tanks east to help defend Russia against an invader. Well, nobody could predict the future more than a few weeks. At the moment, he would have settled for five days or so.
   The rest of First Armored was stretched back hundreds of miles on the east-west rail line. Colonel Don Lisle's Second Brigade was just finishing up boarding in Berlin, and would be tail-end Charlie for the division. They'd cross Poland in daylight, for what that was worth.
   The Quarter Horse was in the lead, where it belonged. Wherever the drop-off point was, they'd set up perimeter security, and then lead the march farther east, in a maneuver called Advance to Contact, which was where the "fun" started. And he needed to be well-rested for that, Colonel Giusti reminded himself. So he settled back in his seat and closed his eyes, surrendering his body to the jerks and sways of the train car.
   Dawn patrol was what fighter pilots all thought about. The title for the duty went back to a 1930s Errol Flynn movie, and the term had probably originated with a real mission name, meaning to be the first up on a new day, to see the sun rise, and to seek out the enemy right after breakfast.
   Bronco Winters didn't look much like Errol Flynn, but that was okay. You couldn't tell a warrior by the look of his face, though you could by the look on his face. He was a fighter pilot. As a youngster in New York, he'd ride the subway to La Guardia Airport, just to stand at the fence and watch the airplanes take off and land, knowing even then that he wanted to fly. He'd also known that fighters would be more fun than airliners, and known finally that to fly fighters he had to enter a service academy, and to do that he'd have to study. And so he'd worked hard all through school, especially in math and science, because airplanes were mechanical things, and that meant that science determined how they worked. So, he was something of a math whiz—that had been his college major at Colorado Springs—but his interest in it had ended the day he'd walked into Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, because once he got his hands on the controls of an aircraft, the "study" part of his mission was accomplished, and the "learning" part really began. He'd been the number-one student in his class at Columbus, quickly and easily mastering the Cessna Tweety Bird trainer, and then moving on to fighters, and since he'd been number one in his class, he'd gotten his choice—and that choice, of course, had been the F-15 EAGLE fighter, the strong and handsome grandson of the F-4 Phantom. An easy plane to fly, it was a harder one to fight, since the controls for the combat systems are located on the stick and the throttles, all in buttons of different shapes so that you could manage all the systems by feel, and keep your eyes up and out of the aircraft instead of having to look down at instruments. It was something like playing two pianos at the same time, and it had taken Winters a disappointing six months to master. But now those controls came as naturally as twirling the wax into his Bismarck mustache, his one non-standard affectation, which he'd modeled on Robin Olds, a legend in the American fighter community, an instinctive pilot and a thinking—and therefore a very dangerous– tactician. An ace in World War II, an ace in Korea, and also an ace over North Vietnam, Olds was one of the best who'd ever strapped a fighter plane to his back, and one whose mustache had made Otto von Bismarck himself look like a pussy.
   Colonel Winters wasn't thinking about that now. The thoughts were there even so, as much a part of his character as his situational awareness, the part of his brain that kept constant track of the three-dimensional reality around him at all times. Flying came as naturally to him as it did to the gyrfalcon mascot at the Air Force Academy. And so did hunting, and now he was hunting. His aircraft had instrumentation that downloaded the take from the AWACS aircraft a hundred fifty miles to his rear, and he divided his eye time equally between the sky around him and the display three feet from his 20-10 brown eyes . . .
   ... there ... two hundred miles, bearing one-seven-two, four BANDITs heading north. Then four more, and another flight of four. Joe Chink was coming up to play, and the pigs were hungry.
   "Boar Lead, this is EAGLE Two." They were using encrypted burst-transmission radios that were very difficult to detect, and impossible to listen in on.
   "Boar Lead." But he kept his transmission short anyway. Why spoil the surprise?
   "Boar Lead, we have sixteen BANDITs, one-seven-zero your position at angels thirty, corning due north at five hundred knots."
   "Got 'em."
   "They're still south of the border, but not for long," the young controller on the E-3B advised. "Boar, you are weapons-free at this time."
   "Copy weapons-free," Colonel Winters acknowledged, and his left hand flipped a button to activate his systems. A quick look down to his weapons-status display showed that everything was ready to fire. He didn't have his tracking/targeting radar on, though it was in standby mode. The F-15 had essentially been designed as an appendage to the monstrous radar in its nose—a design consideration that had defined the size of the fighter from the first sketch on paper—but over the years the pilots had gradually stopped using it, because it could warn an enemy with the right sort of threat receiver, telling him that there was an EAGLE in the neighborhood with open eyes and sharp claws. Instead he could now cross-load the radar information from the AWACS, whose radar signals were unwelcome, but nothing an enemy could do anything about, and not directly threatening. The Chinese would be directed and controlled by ground radar, and the Boars were just at the fuzzy edge of that, maybe spotted, maybe not. Somewhere to his rear, a Rivet Joint EC-135 was monitoring both the radar and the radios used by the Chinese ground controllers, and would cross-load any warnings to the AWACS. But so far none of that. So, Joe Chink was coming north.
   "EAGLE, Boar, say BANDIT type, over."
   "Boar, we're not sure, but probably Sierra-Uniform Two-Sevens by point of origin and flight profile, over."
   "Roger." Okay, good, Winters thought. They thought the Su-27 was a pretty hot aircraft, and for a Russian-designed bird it was respectable. They put their best drivers into the Flanker, and they'd be the proud ones, the ones who thought they were as good as he was. Okay, Joe, let's see how good you are. "Boar, Lead, come left to one-three-five."
   "Two." "Three." "Four," the flight acknowledged, and they all banked to the left. Winters took a look around to make sure he wasn't leaving any contrails to give away his position. Then he checked his threat receiver. It was getting some chirps from Chinese search radar, but still below the theoretical detection threshold. That would change in twenty miles or so. But then they'd just be unknowns on the Chinese screens, and fuzzy ones at that. Maybe the ground controllers would radio a warning, but maybe they'd just peer at their screens and try to decide if they were real contacts or not. The robin's-egg blue of the EAGLEs wasn't all that easy to spot visually, especially when you had the sun behind you, which was the oldest trick in the fighter-pilot Bible, and one for which there was still no solution . . .
   The Chinese passed to his right, thirty miles away, heading north and looking for Russian fighters to engage, because the Chinese would want to control the sky over the battlefield they'd just opened up. That meant that they'd be turning on their own search radars, and when that happened, they'd spend most of their time looking down at the scope instead of out at the sky, and that was dangerous. When he was south of them, Winters brought his flight right, west, and down to twenty thousand feet, well below Joe Chink's cruising altitude, because fighter pilots might look back and up, but rarely back and down, because they'd been taught that height, like speed, was life. And so it was . . . most of the time. In another three minutes, they were due south of the enemy, and Winters increased power to maximum dry thrust so as to catch up. His flight of four split on command into two pairs. He went left, and then his eyes spotted them, dark flecks on the brightening blue sky. They were painted the same light gray the Russians liked—and that would be a real problem if Russian Flankers entered the area, because you didn't often get close enough to see if the wings had red stars or white-blue-red flags painted on them.
   The audio tone came next. His Sidewinders could see the heat bloom from the Lyul'ka turbofan engines, and that meant he was just about close enough. His wingman, a clever young lieutenant, was now about five hundred yards to his right, doing his job, which was covering his leader. Okay, Bronco Winters thought. He had a good hundred knots of overtake speed now.
   "Boar, EAGLE, be advised these guys are heading directly for us at the moment."
   "Not for long, EAGLE," Colonel Winters responded. They weren't flecks anymore. Now they were twin-rudder fighter aircraft. Cruising north, tucked in nice and pretty. His left forefinger selected Sidewinder to start, and the tone in his earphones was nice and loud. He'd start with two shots, one at the left-most Flanker, and the other at the rightmost . . . right about. . .
   "Fox-Two, Fox-Two with two birds away," Bronco reported. The smoke trails diverged, just as he wanted them to, streaking in on their targets. His gunsight camera was operating, and the picture was being recorded on videotape, just as it had been over Saudi the previous year. He needed one kill to make ace—
   –he got the first six seconds later, and the next half a second after that. Both Flankers tumbled right. The one on the left nearly collided with his wingman, but missed, and tumbled violently as pieces started coming off the airframe. The other one was rolling and then exploded into a nice white puffball. The first pilot ejected cleanly, but the second didn't.
   Tough luck, Joe, Winters thought. The remaining two Chinese fighters hesitated, but both then split and started maneuvering in diverging directions. Winters switched on his radar and followed the one to the left. He had radar lock and it was well within the launch parameters for his AMRAAM. His right forefinger squeezed the pickle switch.
   "Fox-One, Fox-One, Slammer on guy to the west." He watched the Slammer, as it was called, race in. Technically a fire-and-forget weapon like the Sidewinder, it accelerated almost instantly to mach-two-plus and rapidly ate up the three miles between them. It only took about ten seconds to close and explode a mere few feet over the fuselage of its target, and that Flanker disintegrated with no chute coming away from it.
   Okay, three. This morning was really shaping up, but now the situation went back to World War I. He had to search for targets visually, and searching for jet fighters in a clear sky wasn't...
   . . . there . . .
   "You with me, Skippy?" he called on the radio.
   "Got you covered, Bronco," his wingman replied. "BANDIT at your one o'clock, going left to right."
   "On him," Winters replied, putting his nose on the distant spot in the sky. His radar spotted it, locked onto it, and the IFF transponder didn't say friendly. He triggered off his second Slammer: "Fox-One on the south guy! EAGLE, Boar Lead, how we doing?"
   "We show five kills to this point. BANDITs are heading east and diving. Razorback is coining in from your west with four, angels three-five at six hundred, now at your ten o'clock. Check your IFF, Boar Lead." The controller was being careful, but that was okay.
   "Boar, Lead, check IFF now!"
   "Two." "Three." "Four," they all chimed in. Before the last of them confirmed his IFF transponder was in the transmit setting, Ms second Slammer found its target, running his morning's score to four. Well, damn, Winters thought, this morning is really shaping up nice.
   "Bronco, Skippy is on one!" his wingman reported, and Winters took position behind, low, and left of his wingman. "Skippy" was First Lieutenant Mario Acosta, a red-haired infant from Wichita who was coming along nicely for a child with only two hundred hours in type. "Fox-Two with one," Skippy called. His target had turned south, and was heading almost straight into the streaking missile. Winters saw the Sidewinder go right into his right-side intake, and the resulting explosion was pretty impressive.
   "EAGLE, Boar Lead, give me a vector, over."
   "Boar Lead, come right at zero-nine-zero. I have a BANDIT at ten miles and low, angels ten, heading south at six-hundred-plus."
   Winters executed the turn and checked his radar display. "Got him!" And this one also was well within the Slammer envelope. "Fox-
   One with Slammer." His fifth missile of the day leaped off the rail and rocketed east, angling down, and again Winters kept his nose on the target, ensuring that he'd get it on tape ... yes! "That's a splash. Bronco has a splash, I think that's five."
   "Confirm five kills to Bronco," EAGLE Two confirmed. "Nice going, buddy."
   "What else is around?"
   "Boar Lead, the BANDITs are running south on burner, just went through Mach One. We show a total of nine kills plus one damage, with six BANDITs running back to the barn, over."
   "Roger, copy that, EAGLE. Anything else happening at the moment?"
   "Ah, that's a negative, Boar Lead."
   "Where's the closest tanker?"
   "You can tank from Oliver-Six, vector zero-zero-five, distance two hundred, over."
   "Roger that. Flight, this is Bronco. Let's assemble and head off to tank. Form up on me."
   "Two." "Three." "Four."
   "How we doing?"
   "Skippy has one," his wingman reported.
   "Ducky has two," the second element leader chimed in.
   "Ghost Man has two and a scratch."
   It didn't add up, Winters thought. Hell, maybe the AWACS guys got confused. That's why they had videotape. All in all, not a bad morning. Best of all, they'd put a real dent in the ChiComm Flanker inventory, and probably punched a pinhole in the confidence of their Su-27 drivers. Shaking up a fighter jock's confidence was almost as good as a kill, especially if they'd bagged the squadron commander. It would make the survivors mad, but it would make them question themselves, their doctrine, and their aircraft. And that was good.
   "The border defenses did about as well as one could reasonably expect," Colonel Aliyev replied. "The good news is that most of our men escaped with their lives. Total dead is under twenty, with fifteen wounded."
   "What do they have across the river now?"
   "Best guess, elements of three mechanized divisions. The Americans say that they now have six bridges completed and operating. So, we can expect that number to increase rapidly. Chinese reconnaissance elements are pushing forward. We've ambushed some of them, but no prisoners yet. Their direction of advance is exactly what we anticipated, as is their speed of advance to this point."
   "Is there any good news?" Bondarenko asked.
   "Yes, General. Our air force and our American friends have given their air force a very bloody nose. We've killed over thirty of their aircraft with only four losses to this point, and two of the pilots have been rescued. We've captured six Chinese pilots. They're being taken west for interrogation. It's unlikely that they'll give us any really useful information, though I am sure the air force will want to grill them for technical things. Their plans and objectives are entirely straightforward, and they are probably right on, or even slightly in advance of their plans."
   None of this was a surprise to General Bondarenko, but it was unpleasant even so. His intelligence staff was doing a fine job of telling him what they knew and what they expected, but it was like getting a weather report in winter: Yes, it was cold, and yes, it was snowing, and no, the cold and the snow will probably not stop, and isn't it a shame you don't have a warm coat to wear? He had nearly perfect information, but no ability to do anything to change the news. It was all very good that his airmen were killing Chinese airmen, but it was the Chinese tanks and infantry carriers that he had to stop.
   "When will we be able to bring air power to bear on their spearheads?"
   "We will start air-to-ground operations this afternoon with Su-31 ground-attack aircraft," Aliyev replied. "But. . ."
   "But what?" Bondarenko demanded.
   "But isn't it better to let them come in with minimal interference for a few days?" It was a courageous thing for his operations officer to say. It was also the right thing, Gennady Iosifovich realized on reflection. If his only strategic option was to lay a deep trap, then why waste what assets he had before the trap was fully set? This was not the Western Front in June of 1941, and he didn't have Stalin sitting in Moscow with a figurative pistol to his head.
   No, in Moscow now, the government would be raising all manner of political hell, probably calling for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, but that was just advertising. It was his job to defeat these yellow barbarians, and doing that was a matter of using what power he had in the most efficient manner possible, and that meant drawing them out. It meant making their commander as confident as a schoolyard bully looking down at a child five years his junior. It meant giving them what the Japanese had once called the Victory Disease. Make them feel invincible, and then leap at them like a tiger dropping from a tree.
   "Andrey, only a few aircraft, and tell them not to risk themselves by pressing their attacks too hard. We can hurt their air force, but their ground forces—we let them keep their advantage for a while. Let them get fat on this fine table set before them for a while."
   "I agree, Comrade General. It's a hard pill to swallow, but in the end, harder for them to eat—assuming our political leadership allows us to do the right thing."
   "Yes, that is the real issue at hand, isn't it?"
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Zastava Srbija

Deep Battle

General Peng crossed over into Russia in his command vehicle, well behind the first regiment of heavy tanks. He thought of using a helicopter, but his operations staff warned him that the air battle was not going as well as the featherheads in the PLAAF had told him to expect. He felt uneasy, crossing the river in an armored vehicle on a floating bridge—like a brick tied to a balloon—but he did so, listening as his operations officer briefed him on the progress to this point.
   "The Americans have surged a number of fighter aircraft forward, and along with them their E-3 airborne radar fighter-control aircraft. These are formidable, and difficult to counter, though our air force colleagues say that they have tactics to deal with them. I will believe that when I see it," Colonel Wa observed. "But that is the only bad news so far. We are several hours ahead of schedule. Russian resistance is lighter than I expected. The prisoners we've taken are very disheartened at their lack of support."
   "Is that a fact?" Peng asked, as they left the ribbon bridge and thumped down on Russian soil.
   "Yes, we have ten men captured from their defensive positions– we'll see them in a few minutes. They had escape tunnels and personnel carriers set to evacuate the men. They didn't expect to hold for long," Colonel Wa went on. "They planned to run away, rather than defend to the last as we expected. I think they lack the heart for combat, Comrade General."
   That information got Peng's attention. It was important to know the fighting spirit of one's enemy: "Did any of them stand and fight to the end?"
   "Only one of their bunker positions. It cost us thirty men, but we took them out. Perhaps their escape vehicle was destroyed and they had no choice," the colonel speculated.
   "I want to see one of these positions at once," Peng ordered.
   "Of course, Comrade General." Wa ducked inside and shouted an order to the track driver. The Type 90 armored personnel carrier lurched to the right, surprising the MP who was trying to do traffic control, but he didn't object. The four tall radio whips told him what sort of track this was. The command carrier moved off the beaten track directly toward an intact Russian bunker.
   General Peng got out, ducking his head as he did so, and walked toward the mainly intact old gun turret. The "inverted frying pan" shape told him that this was off an old Stalin-3 tank—a very formidable vehicle, once upon a time, but now an obvious relic. A team of intelligence specialists was there. They snapped to attention when they saw the general approach.
   "What did we kill it with?" Peng asked.
   "We didn't, Comrade General. They abandoned it after firing fifteen cannon shots and about three hundred machine gun rounds. They didn't even destroy it before we captured it," the intelligence captain reported, waving the general down the tank hatch. "It's safe. We checked for booby traps."
   Peng climbed down. He saw what appeared to be a comfortable small barracks, shell storage for their big tank gun, ample rounds for their two machine guns. There were empty rounds for both types of guns on the floor, along with wrappers for field rations. It appeared to be a comfortable position, with bunks, shower, toilet, and plenty of food storage. Something worth fighting for, the general thought. "How did they leave?" Peng asked.
   "This way," the young captain said, leading him north into the tunnel. "You see, the Russians planned for everything." The tunnel led under the crest of the hill to a covered parking pad for—probably for a BTR, it looked like, confirmed by the wheel tracks on the ground immediately off the concrete pad.
   "How long did they hold?"
   "We took the place just less than three hours after our initial bombardment. So, we had infantry surrounding the main gun emplacement, and soon thereafter, they ran away," the captain told his army commander.
   "I see. Good work by our assault infantry." Then Peng saw that Colonel Wa had brought his command track over the hill to the end of the escape tunnel, allowing him to hop right aboard.
   "Now what?" Wa asked.
   "I want to see what we did to their artillery support positions."
   Wa nodded and relayed the orders to the track commander. That took fifteen minutes of bouncing and jostling. The fifteen heavy guns were still there, though the two Peng passed had been knocked over and destroyed by counter-battery fire. The position they visited was mainly intact, though a number of rockets had fallen close aboard, near enough that three bodies were still lying there untended next to their guns, the bodies surrounded by sticky pools of mainly dried blood. More men had survived, probably. Close to each gun was a two-meter-deep narrow trench lined with concrete that the bombardment hadn't done more than chip. Close by also was a large ammo-storage bunker with rails on which to move the shells and propellant charges to the guns. The door was open.
   "How many rounds did they get off?" he asked.
   "No more than ten," another intelligence officer, this one a major, replied. "Our counter-battery fire was superb here. The Russian battery was fifteen guns, total. One of them got off twenty shots, but that was all. We had them out of action in less than ten minutes. The artillery-tracker radars worked brilliantly, Comrade General."
   Peng nodded agreement. "So it would appear. This emplacement would have been fine twenty or thirty years ago—good protection for the gunners and a fine supply of shells, but they did not anticipate an enemy with the ability to pinpoint their guns so rapidly. If it stands still, Wa, you can kill it." Peng looked around. "Still, the engineers who sited this position and the other one, they were good. It's just that this sort of thing is out of date. What were our total casualties?"
   "Killed, three hundred fifty, thereabouts. Wounded, six hundred twenty," operations replied. "It was not exactly cheap, but less than we expected. If the Russians had stood and fought, it could have been far worse."
   "Why did they run so soon?" Peng asked. "Do we know?"
   "We found a written order in one of the bunkers, authorizing them to leave when they thought things were untenable. That surprised me," Colonel Wa observed. "Historically, the Russians fight very hard on the defense, as the Germans found. But that was under Stalin. The Russians had discipline then. And courage. Not today, it would seem."
   "Their evacuation was conducted with some skill," Peng thought out loud. "We ought to have taken more prisoners."
   "They ran too fast, Comrade General," operations explained.
   "He who fights and runs away," General Peng quoted, "lives to fight another day. Bear that in mind, Colonel."
   "Yes, Comrade General, but he who runs away is not an immediate threat."
   "Let's go," the general said, heading off to his command track. He wanted to see the front, such as it was.
   "So?" Bondarenko asked the lieutenant. The youngster had been through a bad day, and being required to stand and make a report to his theater commander made it no better. "Stand easy, boy. You're alive. It could have been worse."
   "General, we could have held if we'd been given a little support," Komanov said, allowing his frustration to appear.
   "There was none to give you. Go on." The general pointed at the map on the wall.
   "They crossed here, and came through this saddle, and over this ridge to attack us. Leg infantry, no vehicles that we ever saw. They had man-portable anti-tank weapons, nothing special or unexpected, but they had massive artillery support. There must have been an entire battery concentrated just on my one position. Heavy guns, fifteen-centimeter or more. And artillery rockets that wiped out our artillery support almost immediately."
   "That's the one surprise they threw at us," Aliyev confirmed. "They must have a lot more of those fire-finder systems than we expected, and they're using their Type 83 rockets as dedicated counter-battery weapons, like the Americans did in Saudi. It's an effective tactic. We'll have to go after their counter-battery systems first of all, or use self-propelled guns to fire and move after only two or three shots. There's no way to spoof them that I know of, and jamming radars of that type is extremely difficult."
   "So, we have to work on a way to kill them early on," Bondarenko said. "We have electronic-intelligence units. Let them seek out those Chink radars and eliminate them with rockets of our own." He turned. "Go, on. Lieutenant. Tell me about the Chinese infantry."
   "They are not cowards, Comrade General. They take fire and act properly under it. They are well-drilled. My position and the one next to us took down at least two hundred, and they kept coming. Their battle drill is quite good, like a soccer team. If you do this, they do that, almost instantly. For certain, they call in artillery fire with great skill."
   "They had the batteries already lined up, Lieutenant, lined up and waiting," Aliyev told the junior officer. "It helps if you are following a prepared script. Anything else?"
   "We never saw a tank. They had us taken out before they finished their bridges. Their infantry looked well-prepared, well-trained, even eager to move forward. I did not see evidence of flexible thinking, but I did not see much of anything, and as you say, their part of the operation was preplanned, and thoroughly rehearsed."
   "Typically, the Chinese tell their men a good deal about their planned operations beforehand. They don't believe in secrecy the way we do," Aliyev said. "Perhaps it makes for comradely solidarity on the battlefield."
   "But things are going their way, Audrey. The measure of an army is how it reacts when things go badly. We haven't seen that yet, however." And would they ever? Bondarenko wondered. He shook his head. He had to banish that sort of thinking from his mind. If he had no confidence, how could his men have it? "What about your men, Valeriy Mikhailovich? How did they fight?"
   "We fought, Comrade General," Komanov assured the senior officer. "We killed two hundred, and we would have killed many more with a little artillery support."
   "Will your men fight some more?" Aliyev asked.
   "Fuck, yes!" Komanov snarled back. "Those little bastards are invading our country. Give us the right weapons, and we'll fucking kill them all!"
   "Did you graduate tank school?"
   Komanov bobbed his head like a cadet. "Yes, Comrade General, eighth in my class."
   "Give him a company with BOYAR," the general told his ops officer. "They're short of officers."
   Major General Marion Diggs was in the third train out of Berlin; it wasn't his choosing, just the way things worked out. He was thirty minutes behind Angelo Giusti's cavalry squadron. The Russians were running their trains as closely together as safety allowed, and probably even shading that somewhat. What was working was that the Russian national train system was fully electrified, which meant that the engines accelerated well out of stations and out of the slow orders caused by track problems, which were numerous.
   Diggs had grown up in Chicago. His father had been a Pullman porter with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, working the Super Chief between Chicago and Los Angeles until the passenger service had died in the early 1970s; then, remarkably enough, he'd changed unions to become an engineer. Marion remembered riding with him as a boy, and loving the feel of such a massive piece of equipment under his hands—and so, when he'd gone to West Point, he'd decided to be a tanker, and better yet, a cavalryman. Now he owned a lot of heavy equipment.
   It was his first time in Russia, a place he certainly hadn't expected to see when he'd been in the first half of his uniformed career, when the Russians he'd worried about seeing had been mainly from First Guards Tank and Third Shock armies, those massive formations that had once sat in East Germany, always poised to take a nice little drive to Paris, or so NATO had feared.
   But no more, now that Russia was part of NATO, an idea that was like something from a bad science-fiction movie. There was no denying it, however. Looking out the windows of the train car, he could see the onion-topped spires of Russian Orthodox churches, ones that Stalin had evidently failed to tear down. The railyards were pretty familiar. Never the most artistic examples of architecture or city planning, they looked the same as the dreary yards leading into Chicago or any other American city. No, only the train yards that you built under your Christmas tree every year were pretty. But they didn't have any Christmas trees in evidence here. The train rolled to a stop, probably waiting for a signal to proceed—
   –but no, this looked to be some sort of military terminal. Russian tanks were in evidence off to the right, and a lot of sloped concrete ramps—the Russians had probably built this place to ship their own tracked vehicles west, he judged.
   "General?" a voice called.
   "Somebody here to see you, sir," the same voice announced.
   Diggs stood and walked back to the sound. It was one of his junior staff officers, a new one fresh from Leavenworth, and behind him was a Russian general officer.
   "You are Diggs?" the Russian asked in fair English.
   "That's right."
   "Come with me please." The Russian walked out onto the platform. The air was fresh, but they were under low, gray clouds this morning.
   "You going to tell me how things are going out east?" Diggs asked.
   "We wish to fly you and some of your staff to Chabarsovil so that you can see for yourself."
   That made good sense, Diggs thought. "How many?"
   "Six, plus you."
   "Okay." The general nodded and reached for the captain who'd summoned him from his seat. "I want Colonels Masterman, Douglas, Welch, Turner, Major Hurst, and Lieutenant Colonel Garvey."
   "Yes, sir." The boy disappeared.
   "How soon?"
   "The transport is waiting for you now."
   One of theirs, Diggs thought. He'd never flown on a Russian aircraft before. How safe would it be? How safe would it be to fly into a war zone? Well, the Army didn't pay him to stay in safe places.
   "Who are you?"
   "Nosenko, Valentin Nosenko, general major, Stavka."
   "How bad is it?"
   "It is not good, General Diggs. Our main problem will be getting reinforcements to the theater of action. But they have rivers to cross. The difficulties, as you Americans say, should even out."
   Diggs's main worry was supply. His tanks and Bradleys all had basic ammo loads already aboard, and two and a half additional such loads for each vehicle were on supply trucks sitting on other trains like this one. After that, things got a little worrisome, especially for artillery. But the biggest worry of all was diesel fuel. He had enough to move his division maybe three or four hundred miles. That was a good long way in a straight line, but wars never allowed troops to travel in straight lines. That translated to maybe two hundred miles of actual travel at best, and that was not an impressive number at all. Then there was the question of jet fuel for his organic aircraft. So, his head logistician, Colonel Ted Douglas, was the first guy he needed, after Master man, his operations brain. The officers started showing up.
   "What gives, sir?" Masterman asked.
   "We're flying east to see what's going on."
   "Okay, let me make sure we have some communications gear." Masterman disappeared again. He left the train car, along with two enlisted men humping satellite radio equipment.
   "Good call, Duke," LTC Garvey observed. He was communications and electronic intelligence for First Tanks.
   "Gentlemen, this is General Nosenko from Stavka. He's taking us east, I gather?"
   "Correct, I am an intelligence officer for Stavka. This way, please." He led them off, to where four cars were waiting. The drive to a military airport took twenty minutes.
   "How are your people taking this?" Diggs asked.
   "The civilians, you mean? Too soon to tell. Much disbelief, but some anger. Anger is good," Nosenko said. "Anger gives courage and determination."
   If the Russians were talking about anger and determination, the situation must be pretty bad, Diggs thought, looking out at the streets of the Moscow suburbs.
   "What are you moving east ahead of us?"
   "So far, four motor-rifle divisions," Nosenko answered. "Those are our best-prepared formations. We are assembling other forces."
   "I've been out of touch. What else is NATO sending? Anything?" Diggs asked next.
   "A British brigade is forming up now, the men based at Hohne. We hope to have them on the way here in two days."
   "No way we'd go into action without at least the Brits to back us up," Diggs said. "Good, they're equipped about the same way we are." And better yet, they trained according to the same doctrine. Hohne, he thought, their 22nd Brigade from Haig Barracks, Brigadier Sam Turner. Drank whiskey like it was Perrier, but a good thinker and a superior tactician. And his brigade was all trained up from some fun and games down at Grafenwohr. "What about Germans?"
   "That's a political question," Nosenko admitted.
   "Tell your politicians that Hitler's dead, Valentin. The Germans are pretty good to have on your side. Trust me, buddy. We play with them all the time. They're down a little from ten years ago, but the German soldier ain't no dummy, and neither are his officers. Their reconnaissance units are particularly good."
   "Yes, but that is a political question," Nosenko repeated. And that, Diggs knew, was that, at least for now.
   The aircraft waiting was an II-86, known to NATO as the Camber, manifestly the Russian copy of Lockheed's C-141 Starlifter. This one had Aeroflot commercial markings, but retained the gun position in the tail that the Russians liked to keep on all their tactical aircraft. Diggs didn't object to it at the moment. They'd scarcely had the chance to sit down and strap in when the aircraft started rolling.
   "In a hurry, Valentin?"
   "Why wait, General Diggs? There's a war on," he reminded his guest.
   "Okay, what do we know?"
   Nosenko opened the map case he'd been carrying and laid out a large sheet on the floor as the aircraft lifted off. It was of the Chinese-Russian border on the Amur River, with markings already penciled on. The American officers all leaned over to look.
   "They came in here, and drove across the river ..."
   "How fast are they moving?" Bondarenko asked. "I have a reconnaissance company ahead of them. They report in every fifteen minutes," Colonel Tolkunov replied. "They are moving in a deliberate manner. Their reconnaissance screen is composed of WZ-501 tracked APCs, heavy on radios, light on weapons. They are on the whole not very enterprising, however. As I said, deliberate. They move by leapfrogging half a kilometer at a bound, depending on terrain. We're monitoring their radios. They're not encrypted, though their spoken language is deceptive in terminology. We're working on that."
   "Speed of advance?"
   "Five kilometers in an hour is the fastest we've seen, usually slower than that. Their main body is still getting organized, and they haven't set up a logistics train yet. I'd expect them to attempt no more than thirty kilometers in a day on flat open ground, based on what I've seen so far."
   "Interesting." Bondarenko looked back at his maps. They'd start going north-northwest because that's what the terrain compelled them to do. At this speed, they'd be at the gold strike in six or seven days.
   Theoretically, he could move 265th Motor Rifle to a blocking position ... here ... in two days and make a stand, but by then they'd have at least three, maybe eight, mechanized divisions to attack his one full-strength unit, and he couldn't gamble on that so soon. The good news was that the Chinese were bypassing his command post—contemptuously? he wondered, or just because there was nothing there to threaten them, and so nothing to squander force on? No, they'd run as fast and hard as they could, bringing up foot infantry to wall off their line of advance. That was classic tactics, and the reason was because it worked. Everyone did it that way, from Hannibal to Hitler.
   So, their lead elements moved deliberately, and they were still forming up their army over the Amur bridgehead.
   "What units have we identified?"
   "The lead enemy formation is their 34th Red Banner Shock Army, Commanded by Peng Xi-Wang. He is politically reliable and well-regarded in Beijing, an experienced soldier. Expect him to be the operational army group commander. The 34th Army is mainly across the river now. Three more Group A mechanized armies are lined up to cross as well, the 31st, 29th, and 43rd. That's a total of sixteen mechanized divisions, plus a lot of other attachments. We think the 65th Group B Army will be next across. Four infantry divisions plus a tank brigade. Their job will be to hold the western flank, I would imagine." That made sense. There was no Russian force east of the breakthrough worthy of the name. A classic operation would also wheel east to Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast, but that would only distract forces from the main objection. So, the turn east would wait for at least a week, probably two or three, with just light screening forces heading that way for the moment.
   "What about our civilians?" Bondarenko asked.
   "They're leaving the towns in the Chinese path as best they can, mainly cars and buses. We have MP units trying to keep them organized. So far nothing has happened to interfere with the evacuation," Tolkunov said. "See, from this it looks as if they're actually bypassing Belogorsk, just passing east of it with their reconnaissance elements."
   "That's the smart move, isn't it?" Bondarenko observed. "Their real objective is far to the north. Why slow down for anything? They don't want land. They don't want people. They want oil and gold. Capturing civilians will not make those objectives any easier to accomplish. If I were this Peng fellow, I would be worried about the extent of my drive north. Even unopposed, the natural obstacles are formidable, and defending his line of advance will be a beast of a problem." Gennady paused. Why have any sympathy for this barbarian? His mission was to kill him and all his men, after all. But how? If even marching that far north was a problem—and it was—then how much harder would it be to strike through the same terrain with less-prepared troops? The tactical problems on both sides were the kind men in his profession did not welcome.
   "General Bondarenko?" a foreign voice asked.
   "Yes?" He turned to see a man dressed in an American flight suit.
   "Sir, my name is Major Dan Tucker. I just flew in with a downlink for our Dark Star UAVs. Where do you want us to set up, sir?"
   "Colonel Tolkunov? Major, this is my chief of intelligence."
   The American saluted sloppily, as air force people tended to do. "Howdy, Colonel."
   "How long to set up?"
   The American was pleased that this Tolkunov's English was better than his own Russian. "Less than an hour, sir."
   "This way." The G-2 led him outside. "How good are your cameras?
   "Colonel, when a guy's out taking a piss, you can see how big his dick is."
   Tolkunov figured that was typical American braggadocio, but it set him wondering.
   Captain Feodor Il'ych Aleksandrov commanded the 265th Motor Rifle's divisional reconnaissance element—the division was supposed to have a full battalion for this task, but he was all they had—and for that task he had eight of the new BRM reconnaissance tracks. These were evolutionary developments of the standard BMP infantry combat vehicle, upgraded with better automotive gear—more reliable engine and transmission systems—plus the best radios his country made. He reported directly to his divisional commander, and also, it seemed, to the theater intelligence coordinator, some colonel named Tolkunov. That chap, he'd discovered, was very concerned with his personal safety, always urging him to stay close—but not too close—not to be spotted, and to avoid combat of any type. His job, Tolkunov had told him at least once every two hours for the last day and a half, was to stay alive and to keep his eye on the advancing Chinese. He wasn't supposed to so much as injure one little hair on their cute little Chink heads, just stay close enough that if they mumbled in their sleep, to copy down the names of the girlfriends they fucked in their dreams.
   Aleksandrov was a young captain, only twenty-eight, and rakishly handsome, an athlete who ran for personal pleasure—and running, he told his men, was the best form of exercise for a soldier, especially a reconnaissance specialist. He had a driver, gunner, and radio operator for each of his tracks, plus three infantrymen whom he'd personally trained to be invisible.
   The drill was for them to spend about half their time out of their vehicles, usually a good kilometer or so ahead of their Chinese counterparts, either behind trees or on their bellies, reporting back with monosyllabic comments on their portable radios, which were of Japanese manufacture. The men moved light, carrying only their rifles and two spare magazines, because they weren't supposed to be seen or heard, and the truth was that Aleksandrov would have preferred to send them out unarmed, lest they be tempted to shoot someone out of patriotic anger. However, no soldier would ever stand for being sent out on a battlefield weaponless, and so he'd had to settle for ordering them out with bolts closed on empty chambers. The captain was usually out with his men, their BRM carriers hidden three hundred or so meters away in the trees.
   In the past twenty-four hours, they'd become intimately familiar with their Chinese opponents. These were also trained and dedicated reconnaissance specialists, and they were pretty good at their jobs, or certainly appeared to be. They were also moving in tracked vehicles, and also spent a lot of their time on foot, ahead of their tracks, hiding behind trees and peering to the north, looking for Russian forces. The Russians had even started giving them names.
   "It's the gardener," Sergeant Buikov said. That one liked touching trees and bushes, as though studying them for a college paper or something. The gardener was short and skinny, and looked like a twelve-year-old to the Russians. He seemed competent enough, carrying his rifle slung on his back, and using his binoculars often. He was a Chinese lieutenant, judging by his shoulderboards, probably commander of this platoon. He ordered his people around a lot, but didn't mind taking the lead. So, he was probably conscientious. He is, therefore, the one we should kill first, Aleksandrov thought. Their BRM reconnaissance track had a fine 30-mm cannon that could reach out and turn the gardener into fertilizer from a thousand meters or so, but Captain Aleksandrov had forbidden it, worse luck, Buikov thought. He was from this area, a woodsman of sorts who'd hunted in the forests many times with his father, a lumberjack. "We really ought to kill him."
   "Boris Yevgeniyevich, do you wish to alert the enemy to our presence?" Aleksandrov asked his sergeant.
   "I suppose not, my captain, but the hunting season is—"
   "—closed, Sergeant. The season is closed, and no, he is not a wolf that you can shoot for your own pleasure, and—down," Aleksandrov ordered. The gardener was looking their way with his field glasses. Their faces were painted, and they had branches tucked into their field clothing to break up their outlines, but he was taking no chances. "They'll be moving soon. Back to the track."
   The hardest part of their drill was to avoid leaving tracks for the Chinese to spot. Aleksandrov had "discussed" this with his drivers, threatening to shoot anyone who left a trail. (He knew he couldn't do that, of course, but his men weren't quite sure.) Their vehicles even had upgraded mufflers to reduce their sound signature. Every so often, the men who designed and built Russian military equipment got things right, and this was such a case. Besides, they didn't crank their engines until they saw the Chinese doing the same. Aleksandrov looked up. Okay, the gardener was waving to those behind him, the wave that meant to bring their vehicles up. They were doing another leapfrog jump, with one section standing fast and providing over-watch cover for the next move, should something happen. He had no intention of making anything happen, but of course they couldn't know that. Aleksandrov was surprised that they were maintaining their careful drill into the second day. They weren't getting sloppy yet. He'd expected that, but it seemed that the Chinese were better drilled even than his expectations, and were assiduously following their written doctrine. Well, so was he.
   "Move now, Captain?" Buikov asked.
   "No, let's sit still and watch. They ought to stop at that little ridge with the logging road. I want to see how predictable they are, Boris Yevgeniyevich." But he did trigger his portable radio. "Stand by, they're jumping again."
   The other radio just clicked on and off, creating a whisper of static, rather than a spoken reply. Good, his men were adhering to their radio discipline. The second echelon of Chinese tracks moved forward carefully, at about ten-kilometer speed, following this opening in the forest. Interesting, he thought, that they weren't venturing too far into the adjoining woods. No more than two or three hundred meters. Then he cringed. A helicopter chattered overhead. It was a Gazelle, a Chinese copy of the French military helicopter. But his track was back in the woods, and every time it stopped, the men ran outside to stretch the camo-net around it. His men, also, were well-drilled. And that, he told his men, was why they didn't dare leave a visible trail if they wanted to live. It wasn't much of a helicopter, but it did carry rockets—and their BRM was an armored personnel carrier, but it wasn't that armored.
   "What's he doing?" Buikov asked.
   "If he's looking, he's not being very careful about it."
   The Chinese were driving up a pathway built ages ago for an unbuilt spur off the Trans-Siberian Railroad. It was wide, in some places five hundred meters, and fairly well-graded. Someone in years past had thought about building this spur to exploit the unsurveyed riches of Siberia—enough to cut down a lot of trees, and they'd barely grown back in the harsh winters. Just saplings in this pathway now, easily ground into splinters by tracked vehicles. Farther north, the work was being continued by army engineers, making a path to the new gold find, and beyond that to the oil discoveries on the Arctic Coast. When they got that far, the Chinese would find a good road, ready-made for a mechanized force to exploit. But it was a narrow one, and the Chinese would have to learn about flank security if they kept this path up.
   Aleksandrov remembered a Roman adventure into Germany, a soldier named Quintilius Varus, commanding three legions, who'd ignored his flanks, and lost his army in the process to a German named Armenius. Might the Chinese make a similar mistake? No, everyone knew of the Teutonenberg Forest disaster. It was a textbook lesson in every military academy in the known world. Quintilius Varus had been a political commander, given that command because he'd been beloved of his emperor, Caesar Augustus, obviously not because of his operational skill. It was a lesson probably better remembered by soldiers than by politicians. And the Chinese army was commanded by soldiers, wasn't it?
   "That's the fox," Buikov said. This was the other officer in the Chinese unit, probably the subordinate of the gardener. Similar in size, but he had less interest in plants than he had in darting about. As they watched, he disappeared into the tree line to the east, and if he went by the form card, he'd be invisible for five to eight minutes.
   "I could use a smoke," Sergeant Buikov observed.
   "That will have to wait, Sergeant."
   "Yes, Comrade Captain. May I have a sip of water, then?" he asked petulantly. It wasn't water he wanted, of course.
   "Yes, I'd like a shot of vodka, too, but I neglected to bring any with me, as, I am sure, you did as well."
   "Regrettably, yes, Comrade Captain. A good slug of vodka helps keep the chill away in these damp woods."
   "And it also dulls the senses, and we need our senses, Boris Yevgeniyevich, unless you enjoy eating rice. Assuming the Chinks take prisoners, which I rather doubt. They do not like us, Sergeant, and they are not a civilized people. Remember that."
   So, they don't go to the ballet. Neither do I, Sergeant Buikov didn't say aloud. His captain was a Muscovite, and spoke often of cultural matters. But like his captain, Buikov had no love for the Chinese, and even less now that he was looking at Chinese soldiers on the soil of his country. He only regretted not killing some, but killing was not his job. His job was watching them piss on his country, which somehow only made him angrier.
   "Captain, will we ever get to shoot them?" the sergeant asked.
   "In due course, yes, it will be our job to eliminate their reconnaissance elements, and yes, Boris, I look forward to that as well." And, yes, I could use a smoke as well. And I'd love a glass of vodka right now. But he'd settle for some black bread and butter, which he did have in his track, three hundred meters to the north.
   Six and a half minutes this time. The fox had at least looked into the woods to the east, probably listened for the sound of diesel engines, but heard nothing but the chirping of birds. Still, this Chink lieutenant was the more conscientious of the two, in Buikov's opinion. They should kill him first, when the time came, the sergeant thought. Aleksandrov tapped the sergeant on the shoulder. "Our turn to leapfrog, Boris Yevgeniyevich."
   "By your command, Comrade Captain." And both men moved out, crouching for the first hundred meters, and taking care not to make too much noise, until they heard the Chinese tracks start their engines. In five more minutes, they were back in their BRM and heading north, slowly picking their way through the trees, Aleksandrov buttered some bread and ate it, sipping water as he did so. When they'd traveled a thousand meters, their vehicle stopped, and the captain got on his big radio.
   "Who is Ingrid?" Tolkunov asked. "Ingrid Bergman," Major Tucker replied. "Actress, goodlookin' babe in her day. All the Dark Stars are named for movie stars, Colonel. The troops did it." There was a plastic strip on the monitor top to show which Dark Star was up and transmitting. Marilyn Monroe was back at Zhigansk for service, and Grace Kelly was the next one up, scheduled to go in fifteen hours. "Anyway"—he flipped a switch and then played a little with his mouse control—"there's the Chinese lead elements."
   "Son of a bitch," Tolkunov said, demonstrating his knowledge of American slang.
   Tucker grinned. "Pretty good, ain't it? Once I sent one over a nudist colony in California—that's like a private park where people walk around naked all the time. You can tell the difference between the flat-chested ones and the ones with nice tits. Tell the natural blondes from the peroxide ones, too. Anyway, you use this mouse to control the camera—well, somebody else is doing it now up at Zhigansk. Anything in particular that you're interested in?"
   "The bridges on the Amur," Tolkunov said at once. Tucker picked up a radio microphone.
   "This is Major Tucker. We have a tasking request. Slew Camera Three onto the big crossing point."
   "Roger," the speaker next to the monitor said.
   The picture changed immediately, seeming to race across the screen like a ribbon from ten o'clock down to four o'clock. Then it stabilized. The field of view must have been four kilometers across. It showed a total of what appeared to be eight bridges, each of them approached by what looked like a parade of insects.
   "Give me control of Camera Three," Tucker said next.
   "You got it, sir," the speaker acknowledged.
   "Okay." Tucker played with the mouse more than the keyboard, and the picture zoomed in—"isolated"—on the third bridge from the west. There were three tanks on it at once, moving at about ten kilometers per hour south to north. The display showed a compass rose in case you got disoriented, and it was even in color. Tolkunov asked why.
   "No more expensive than black-and-white cameras, and we put it on the system because it sometimes shows you things you don't get from gray. First time for overheads, even the satellites don't do color yet," Tucker explained. Then he frowned. "The angle's wrong, can't get the divisional markings on the tanks without moving the platform. Wait." He picked up the microphone again. "Sergeant, who's crossing the bridges now?”
   "Appears to be their Three-Oh-Second armored division, sir, part of the Twenty-Ninth Group-A Army. The Thirty-Fourth Army is fully across now. We estimate one full regiment of the Three-Oh-Second is across and moving north at this time," the intel weenie reported, as though relating the baseball scores from yesterday.
   "Thanks, Sarge."
   "Roger that, Maj."
   "And they can't see this drone?" Tolkunov asked.
   "Well, on radar it's pretty stealthy, and there's another little trick we have on it. Goes back to World War II, called Project Yehudi back then, you put lights on the thing."
   "What?" Tolkunov asked.
   "Yeah, you spot airplanes because they're darker'n the sky, but if you put lightbulbs on 'em, they turn invisible. So, there are lights on the air-frame, and a photo sensor dials the brightness automatically. They're damned near impossible to spot—they cruise at sixty thousand feet, way the hell above contrail level, and they got no infrared signature at all, hardly—even if you know where to look, and they tell me you can't hardly make an air-to-air missile lock onto one. Pretty cool toy, eh?"
   "How long have you had this?"
   "I've been working on it, oh, about four years now."
   "I've heard of Dark Star, but this capability is amazing."
   Tucker nodded. "Yeah, it's pretty slick. Nice to know what the other guy's doing. First time we deployed it was over Yugoslavia, and once we learned how to use it, and how to coordinate it with the shooters, well, we learned to make their lives pretty miserable. Tough shit, Joe."
   "Joe Chink." Tucker pointed at the screen. "That's what we mainly call him." The friendly nickname for Koreans had once been Luke the Gook. "Now, Ingrid doesn't have it yet, but Grace Kelly does, a laser designator, so you can use these things to clobber targets. The fighter just lofts the bomb in from, oh, maybe twenty miles away, and we guide it into the target. I've only done that at Red Flag, and we can't do it from here with this terminal, but they can up at Zhigansk."
   "Guide bombs from six hundred kilometers away?"
   "Yeah. Hell, you can do it from Washington if you want. It all goes over the satellite, y'know?"
   "Yob tvoyu maht!"
   "Soon we're going to make the fighter jocks obsolete, Colonel. Another year or so and we'll be doing terminal guidance on missiles launched from a coupla hundred miles away. Won't need fighter pilots then. Guess I'll have to buy me a scarf. So, Colonel, what else do you want to see?"
   The II-86 landed at a rustic fighter base with only a few helicopters on it, Colonel Mitch Turner noted. As divisional intelligence officer, he was taking in a lot of what he saw in Russia, and what he saw wasn't all that encouraging. Like General Diggs, he'd entered the Army when the USSR had been the main enemy and principal worry for the United States Army, and now he was wondering how many of the intelligence estimates he'd help draft as a young spook officer had been pure fantasy. Either that or the mighty had fallen farther and faster than any nation in history. The Russian army wasn't even a shadow of what the Red Army had been. The "Rompin', Stompin' Russian Red Ass" so feared by NATO was as dead as the stegosaurus toys his son liked to play with, and right now that was not such a good thing. The Russian Federation looked like a rich family of old with no sons to defend it, and the girl kids were getting raped. Not a good thing. The Russians, like America, still had nuclear weapons—bombs, deliverable by bombers and tactical fighters. However, the Chinese had missiles to deliver theirs, and they were targeted at cities, and the Big Question was whether the Russians had the stones to trade a few cities and, say, forty million people for a gold mine and some oil fields. Probably not, Turner figured. Not something a smart man would do. Similarly, they could not afford a war of attrition against a country with nine times as many people and a healthier economy, even over this ground. No, if they were to defeat the Chinese, it had to be with maneuver and agility, but their military was in the shitter, and neither trained nor equipped to play maneuver warfare.
   This, Turner thought on reflection, was going to be an interesting war. It was not the sort he wanted to fight. Better to clobber a dumb little enemy than mix it up with a smart powerful one. It might not be glorious, but it was a hell of a lot safer.
   "Mitch," General Diggs said, as they stood to walk off the airplane. "Thoughts?"
   "Well, sir, we might have picked a better place to fly to. Way things look, this is going to be a little exciting." "Go on," the general ordered.
   "The other side has better cards. More troops, better-trained troops, more equipment. Their task, crossing a lot of nasty country, is not enviable, but neither is the Russian task, defending against it. To win they have to play maneuver warfare. But I don't see that they have the horsepower to pull it off."
   "Their boss out here, Bondarenko. He's pretty good." "So was Erwin Rommel, sir, but Montgomery whupped his ass." There were staff cars lined up to drive them into the Russian command post. The weather was clearer here, and they were close enough to the Chinese that a clear sky wasn't something to enjoy anymore.
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Deep Concerns

"So, what's happening there?" Ryan asked.
   "The Chinese are seventy miles inside Russia. They have a total of eight divisions over the river, and they're pushing north," General Moore replied, moving a pencil across the map spread on the conference table. "They blew through the Russian border defenses pretty fast—it was essentially the Maginot Line from 1940. I wouldn't have expected it to hold very long, but our overheads showed them punching through fairly professionally with their leading infantry formations, supported by a lot of artillery. Now they have their tanks across—about eight hundred to this point, with another thousand or so to go."
   Ryan whistled. "That many?"
   "When you invade a major country, sir, you don't do it on the cheap. The only good news at this point is that we've really given their air force a bloody nose."
   "AWACS and -15s?" Jackson asked.
   "Right." The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs nodded. "One of our kids made ace in a single engagement. A Colonel Winters."
   "Bronco Winters," Jackson said. "I've heard the name. Fighter jock. Okay, what else?"
   "Our biggest problem on the air side is going to be getting bombs to our airmen. Flying bombs in is not real efficient. I mean, you can use up a whole C-5 just to deliver half the bombs for one squadron of F-15Es, and we've got a lot of other things for the C-5s to do. We're thinking about sending the bombs into Russia by train to Chita, say, and then flying them up to Suntar from there, but the Russian railroad is moving just tanks and vehicles for now, and that isn't going to change soon. We're trying to fight a war at the end of one railroad line. Sure, it's double-tracked, but it's still just one damned line. Our logistical people are already taking a lot of Maalox over this one."
   "Russian airlift capacity?" Ryan asked.
   "FedEx has more," General Moore replied. "In fact, FedEx has a lot more. We're going to ask you to authorize call-up of the civilian reserve air fleet, Mr. President."
   "Approved," Ryan said at once.
   "And a few other little things," Moore said. He closed his eyes. It was pushing midnight, and nobody had gotten much sleep lately. "VMH-1 is standing-to. We're in a shooting war with a country that has nuclear weapons on ballistic launchers. So, we have to think about the possibility—remote maybe, but still a possibility—that they could launch at us. So, VMH-1 and the Air Force's First Heli at Andrews are standing-to. We can get a chopper here to lift you and your family out in seven minutes. That concerns you, Mrs. O'Day," Moore said to Andrea.
   The President's Principal Agent nodded. "We're dialed in. It's all in The Book," she said. That nobody had opened that particular book since 1962 was beside the point. It was written down. Mrs. Price-O'Day looked a little peaked.
   "You okay?" Ryan asked.
   "Stomach," she explained.
   "Try some ginger?" Jack went on.
   "Nothing much works for this, Dr. North tells me. Please excuse me, Mr. President." She was embarrassed that he'd noticed her discomfort. She always wanted to be one of the boys. But the boys didn't get pregnant, did they?
   "Why don't you drive home?"
   "Sir, I--"
   "Go,"Ryan said. "That's an order. You're a woman, and you're pregnant. You can't be a cop all the time, okay? Get some relief here and go. Right now."
   Special Agent Price-O'Day hesitated, but she did have an order, so she walked out the door. Another agent came in immediately.
   "Machismo from a woman. What's the goddamned world coming to?" Ryan asked the assembly.
   "You're not real liberated, Jack," Jackson observed with a grin.
   "It's called objective circumstances, I think. She's still a girl, even if she does carry a pistol. Cathy says she's doing fine. This nausea stuff doesn't last forever. Probably feels like it to her, though. Okay, General, what else?"
   "Kneecap and Air Force One are on hot-pad alert 'round the clock. So, if we get a launch warning, in seven minutes or less, you and the Vice President are on choppers, five more minutes to Andrews, and three more after that you're doing the takeoff roll. The drill is, your family goes to Air Force One and you go to Kneecap," he concluded. Kneecap was actually the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP), but the official acronym was too hard to pronounce. Like the VC-25A that served as Air Force One, Kneecap was a converted 747 that was really just a wrapper for a bunch of radios flying in very close formation.
   "Gee, that's nice to know. What about my family?" POTUS asked.
   "In these circumstances, we keep a chopper close to where your wife and kids are at all times, and then they'll fly in whatever direction seems the safest at the moment. If that's not Andrews, then they'll get picked up later by a fixed-wing aircraft and taken to whatever place seems best. It's all theoretical," Moore explained, "but something you might as well know about."
   "Can the Russians stop the Chinese?" Ryan asked, turning his attention back to the map.
   "Sir, that remains to be seen. They do have the nuclear option, but it's not a card I would expect them to play. The Chinese do have twelve CSS-4 ICBMs. It's essentially a duplicate of our old Titan-II liquid fuels, with a warhead estimated to be between three and five megatons."
   "City-buster?" Ryan asked.
   "Correct. No counterforce capability, and there's nothing we have left to use against it in that role anyway. The CEP on the warhead is estimated to be plus or minus a thousand meters or so. So, it'd do a city pretty well, but that's about all."
   "Any idea where they're targeted?" Jackson asked. Moore nodded at once.
   "Yes. The missile is pretty primitive, and the silos are oriented on their targets because the missile doesn't have much in the way of cross-range maneuverability. Two are targeted on Washington. Others on LA,
   San Francisco, and Chicago. Plus Moscow, Kiev, St. Petersburg. They're all leftovers from the Bad Old Days, and they haven't been modified in anyway."
   "Any way to take them out?" Jackson asked.
   "I suppose we could stage a mission with fighter or bomber aircraft and go after the silos with PGMs," Moore allowed. "But we'd have to fly the bombs to Suntar first, and even then it'll be rather a lengthy mission for the F-117s."
   "What about B-2s out of Guam?" Jackson asked.
   "I'm not sure they can carry the right weapons. I'll have to check that."
   "Jack, this is something we need to think about, okay?"
   "I hear you, Robby. General, have somebody look into this, okay?"
   "Yes, sir."
   "Gennady Iosifovich!" General Diggs called on entering the map room.
   "Marion Ivanovich!" The Russian came over to take his hand, followed by a hug. He even kissed his guest, in the Russian fashion, and Diggs flinched from this, in the American fashion. "In!"
   And Diggs waited for ten seconds: "Out!" Both men shared the laugh of an insider's joke.
   "The turtle bordello is still there?"
   "It was the last time I looked, Gennady." Then Diggs had to explain to the others. "Out at Fort Irwin—we collected all the desert tortoises and put them in a safe place so the tanks wouldn't squish 'em and piss off the tree-huggers. I suppose they're still in there making little turtles, but the damned things screw so slow they must fall asleep doing it."
   "I have told that story many times, Marion." Then the Russian turned serious. "I am glad to see you. I will be more glad to see your division."
   "How bad is it?"
   "It is not good. Come." They walked over to the big wall map. "These are their positions as of thirty minutes ago."
   "How are you keeping track of them?"
   "We now have your Dark Star invisible drones, and I have a smart young captain on the ground watching them as well."
   "That far . . ." Diggs said. Colonel Masterman was right beside him now. "Duke?" Then he looked at his Russian host. "This is Colonel Masterman, my G-3. His last job was as a squadron commander in the Tenth Cav."
   "Buffalo Soldier, yes?"
   "Yes, sir," Masterman confirmed with a nod, but his eyes didn't leave the map. "Ambitious bastards, aren't they?"
   "Their first objective will be here," Colonel Aliyev said, using a pointer. "This is the Gogol Gold Strike."
   "Well, hell, if you're gonna steal something, might as well be a gold mine, right?" Duke asked rhetorically. "What do you have to stop them with?"
   "Two-Six-Five Motor Rifle is here." Aliyev pointed.
   "Full strength?"
   "Not quite, but we've been training them up. We have four more motor-rifle divisions en route. The first arrives at Chita tomorrow noon." Aliyev's voice was a little too optimistic for the situation. He didn't want to show weakness to Americans.
   "That's still a long way to move," Masterman observed. He looked over at his boss.
   "What are you planning, Gennady?"
   "I want to take the four Russian divisions north to link up with the 265th, and stop them about here. Then, perhaps, we will use your forces to cross east through here and cut them off."
   Now it wasn't the Chinese who were being ambitious, both Diggs and Masterman thought. Moving First Infantry Division (Mechanized) from Fort Riley, Kansas, to Fort Carson, Colorado, would have been about the same distance, but it would have been on flat ground and against no opposition. Here that task would involve a lot of hills and serious resistance. Those factors did make a difference, the American officers thought.
   "No serious contact yet?"
   Bondarenko shook his head. "No, I'm keeping my mechanized forces well away from them. The Chinese are advancing against no opposition."
   "You want 'em to fall asleep, get sloppy?" Masterman asked.
   "Da, better that they should get overconfident."
   The American colonel nodded. That made good sense, and as always, war was as much a psychological game as a physical one. "If we jump off the trains at Chita, it's still a long-approach march to where you want us, General."
   "What about fuel?" Colonel Douglas asked.
   "That is the one thing we have plenty of," answered Colonel Aliyev. "The blue spots on the map, fuel storage—it is the same as your Number Two Diesel."
   "How much?" Douglas asked.
   "At each fuel depot, one billion two hundred fifty million liters."
   "Shit!" Douglas observed. "That much?"
   Aliyev explained, "The fuel depots were established to support a large mobile force in a border conflict. They were built in the time of Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev. Huge concrete-and-steel storage tanks, all underground, well hidden."
   "They must be," Mitch Turner observed. "I've never been briefed on them."
   "So, we evaded even your satellite photos, yes?" That pleased the Russian. "Each depot is manned by a force of twenty engineers, with ample electric pumps."
   "I like the locations," Masterman said. "What's this unit here?"
   "That is BOYAR, a reserve mechanized force. The men have just been called up. Their weapons are from a hidden equipment-storage bunker. It's a short division, old equipment—T-55s and such—but serviceable. We're keeping that force hidden," Aliyev said.
   The American G-3 arched his eyebrows. Maybe they were out-manned, but they weren't dumb. That BOYAR force was in a particularly interesting place... if Ivan could make proper use of it. Their overall operational concept looked good—theoretically. A lot of soldiers could come up with good ideas. The problem was executing them. Did the Russians have the ability to do that? Russia's military theorists were as good as any the world had ever seen—good enough that the United States Army regularly stole their ideas. The problem was that the U.S. Army could apply those theories to a real battlefield, and the Russians could not.
   "How are your people handling this?" Masterman asked.
   "Our soldiers, you mean?" Aliyev asked. "The Russian soldier knows how to fight," he assured his American counterpart.
   "Hey, Colonel, I am not questioning their guts," Duke assured his host. "How's their spirit, for one thing?"
   Bondarenko handled that one: "Yesterday I had to face one of my young officers, Komanov, from the border defenses. He was furious that we were unable to give him the support he needed to defeat the Chinese. And I was ashamed," the general admitted to his guests. "My men have the spirit. Their training is lacking—I just got here a few months ago, and my changes have barely begun to take effect. But, you will see, the Russian soldier has always risen to the occasion, and he will today—if we here are worthy of him."
   Masterman didn't share a look with his boss. Diggs had spoken well of this Russian general, and Diggs was both a good operational soldier and a good judge of men. But the Russian had just admitted that his men weren't trained up as well as they ought to be. The good news was that on the battlefield, men learned the soldier's trade rapidly. The bad news was that the battlefield was the most brutal Darwinian environment on the face of the planet. Some men would learn, but others would die in the process, and the Russians didn't have all that many they could afford to lose. This wasn't 1941, and they weren't fighting with half their population base this time around.
   "You're going to want us to move out fast when the trains drop us off at Chita?" Tony Welch asked. He was the divisional chief of staff.
   "Yes," Aliyev confirmed.
   "Okay, well, then I need to get down there and look over the facilities. What about fuel for our choppers?"
   "Our air force bases have fuel storage similar to the diesel depots," Aliyev told him. "Your word is infrastructure, yes? That is the one thing we have much of. When will they arrive?"
   "The Air Force is still working that out. They're going to fly our aviation brigade in. Apaches first. Dick Boyle's chomping at the bit."
   "We will be very pleased to see your attack helicopters. We have all too few of our own, and our air force is also slow delivering them."
   "Duke," Diggs said, "get on the horn to the Air Force. We need some choppers right the hell now, just so we can get around and see what we need to see."
   "Roger," Masterman replied.
   "Let me get a satellite radio set up," Lieutenant Colonel Garvey said, heading for the door.
   Ingrid Bergman was heading south now. General Wallace wanted a better idea for the Chinese logistical tail, and now he was getting it. The People's Republic of China was in many ways like America had been at the turn of the previous century. Things moved mainly by rail. There were no major highways as Americans understood them, but a lot of railroads. Those were efficient for moving large quantities of anything over medium-to-long distances, but they were also inflexible, and hard to repair—especially the bridges—and most of all the tunnels, and so that was what he and his targeting people were looking at. The problem was that they had few bombs to drop. None of his attack assets—mainly F-15E Strike EAGLEs at the moment—had flown over with bombs on their wings, and he had barely enough air-to-mud munitions for an eight-ship strike mission. It was like going to a dance and finding no girls there. The music was fine, and so was the fruit punch, but there really wasn't anything to do. Perversely, his -15E crews didn't mind. They got to play fighter plane, and all such people prefer shooting other airplanes down to dropping bombs on mud soldiers. It just came with the territory. The one thing he had going now was that his scarf-and-goggles troops were playing hell with the PRC air force, with over seventy confirmed kills already for not a single air-to-air loss. The advantage of having E-3B AWACS aircraft was so decisive that the enemy might as well have been flying World War I Fokkers, and the Russians were learning rapidly how to make use of E-3B support. Their fighters were good aerodynamic platforms, just lacking in legs. The Russians had never built a fighter with fuel capacity for more than about one hour? flight time. Nor had they ever learned how to do midair refueling, as the Americans had. And so the Russian MiG and Sukhoi fighters could go up, take their instructions from the AWACS, and participate in one engagement, but then they had to return to base for gas. Half of the kills his EAGLE drivers had collected so far were of Chinese fighters that had broken off their fights to RTB for gas as well. It wasn't fair, but Wallace, like all Air Force fighter types, could hardly have cared less about being fair in combat.
   But Wallace was fighting a defensive war to this point. He was successfully defending Russian airspace. He was not taking out Chinese targets, not even attacking the Chinese troops on the ground in Siberia. So, though his fighters were having a fine, successful war, they just weren't accomplishing anything important. To that end, he lifted his satellite link to America.
   "We ain't got no bombs, General," he told Mickey Moore.
   "Well, your fellow Air Scouts are maxed out on taskings, and Mary Diggs is screaming to get some trash haulers to get him his chopper brigade moved to where he needs it."
   "Sir, this is real simple. If you want us to kill some Chinese targets, we have to have bombs. I hope I'm not going too fast for you," Wallace added.
   "Go easy, Gus," Moore warned.
   "Well, sir, maybe it just looks a little different in Washington, but where I'm sitting right now, I have missions, but not the tools to carry those missions out. So, you D.C. people can either send me the tools or rescind the missions. Your call, sir."
   "We're working on it," the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs assured him.
   Do I have any orders?" Mancuso asked the Secretary of Defense. "Not at this time," Bretano sold CINCPAC.
   "Sir, may I ask why? The TV says we're in a shooting war with China. Am I supposed to play or not?"
   "We are considering the political ramifications," THUNDER explained.
   "Excuse me, sir?"
   "You heard me."
   "Mr. Secretary, all I know about politics is voting every couple of years, but I have a lot of gray ships under my command, and they're technically known as warships, and my country is at war." The frustration in Mancuso's voice was plain.
   "Admiral, when the President decides what to do, you will find out. Until then, ready your command for action. It's going to happen. I'm just not sure when."
   "Aye, aye, sir." Mancuso hung up and looked at his subordinates. "Political ramifications," he said. "I didn't think Ryan was like that."
   "Sir," Mike Lahr soothed. "Forget 'political' and think 'psychological,' okay? Maybe Secretary Bretano just used the wrong word. Maybe the idea is to hit them when it'll do the most good—because we're messing with their heads, sir, remember?"
   "You think so?"
   "Remember who the Vice President is? He's one of us, Admiral. And President Ryan isn't a pussy, is he?"
   "Well... no, not that I recall," CINCPAC said, remembering the first time he'd met the guy, and the shoot-out he'd had aboard Red October. No, Jack Ryan wasn't a pussy. "So, what do you suppose he's thinking?"
   "The Chinese have a land war going on—air and land, anyway. Nothing's happening at sea. They may not expect anything to happen at sea. But they are surging some ships out, just to establish a defense line for the mainland. If we get orders to hit those ships, the purpose will be to make a psychological impact. So, let's plan along those lines, shall we? Meanwhile, we keep getting more assets in place."
   "Right." Mancuso nodded and turned to face the wall. Pacific Fleet was nearly all west of the dateline now, and the Chinese had probably no clue where his ships were, but he knew about them. USS Tucson was camped out on 406, the single PRC ballistic-missile submarine. It was known to the west as a "Xia" class SSBN, and his intelligence people disagreed on the sub's actual name, but "406" was the number painted on its sail, and that was how he thought of it. None of that mattered to Mancuso. The first shoot order he planned to issue would go to Tucson—to put that missile-armed sub at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. He remembered that the PRC had nuclear-tipped missiles, and those in his area of responsibility would disappear as soon as he had authorization to deal with them. USS Tucson was armed with Mark 48 ADCAP fish, and they'd do the job on that target, assuming that he was right and President Ryan wasn't a pussy after all.
   "And so, Marshal Luo?" Zhang Han San asked. "Things go well," he replied at once. "We crossed the Amur River with trivial losses, captured the Russian positions in a few hours, and are now driving north."
   "Enemy opposition?"
   "Light. Very light, in fact. We're starting to wonder if the Russians have any forces deployed in sector at all. Our intelligence suggests the presence of two mechanized divisions, but if they're there, they haven't advanced to establish contact with us. Our forces are racing forward, making better than thirty kilometers per day. I expect to see the gold mine in seven days."
   "Is anything going badly?" Qian asked.
   "Only in the air. The Americans have deployed fighters to Siberia, and as we all know, the Americans are very clever with their machines, especially the ones that fly. They have inflicted some losses on our fighter aircraft," the Defense Minister admitted.
   "How large are the losses?"
   "Total, over one hundred. We've gotten twenty-five or so of theirs in return, but the Americans are masters of aerial combat. Fortunately, their aircraft can do little to hinder the advance of our tanks, and, as you have doubtless noted, they have not attacked into our territory at all."
   "Why is that, Marshal?" Fang asked.
   "We are not certain," Luo answered, turning to the MSS chief.
   "Our sources are not certain, either. The most likely explanation is that the Americans have made a political decision not to attack us directly, but merely to defend their Russian 'ally' in a pro forma way. I suppose there is also the consideration that they do not wish to take losses from our air defenses, but the main reason for their restraint is undoubtedly political."
   Heads nodded around the table. It was indeed the most likely explanation for the American lack of action, and all of these men understood political considerations.
   "Does this mean that they are measuring their action against us in such a way as to cause us minimal injury?" Tong Jie asked. It was so much the better for him, of course, since the Interior Ministry would have to deal with the internal dislocations that systematic attacks might cause.
   "Remember what I said before," Zhang pointed out. "They will do business with us once we've secured our new territory. So, they already anticipate this. It seems plain that they will support their Russian friends, but only so much. What else are the Americans but mercenaries? This President Ryan, what was he?"
   "He was a CIA spy, and by all accounts an effective one," Tan Deshi reminded them.
   "No," Zhang disagreed. "He was a TRADER in stocks before he joined CIA, and then he was a stock TRADER again after he left—and whom does he bring into his cabinet? Winston, another hugely rich capitalist, a TRADER in stocks and securities, a typical American rich man. I tell you, money is the key to understanding these people. They do business. They have no political ideology, except to fatten their purses. To do that, you try not to make blood enemies, and now, here, with us, they do not try to anger us too greatly. I tell you, I understand these people."
   "Perhaps," Qian said. "But what if there are objective circumstances which prevent more aggressive action?"
   "Then why is their navy not taking action? Their navy is most formidable, but it does nothing, correct, Luo?"
   "Not to this point, but we are wary of them," the marshal warned. He was a soldier, not a sailor, even though the PLAN did come under his command. "We have patrol aircraft looking for them, but so far we have not spotted anything. We know they are not in harbor, but that is all."
   "They do nothing with their navy. They do nothing with their land forces. They sting us slightly with their air forces, but what is that? The buzzing of insects." Zhang dismissed the issue.
   "How many have underestimated America, and this Ryan fellow, and done so to their misfortune?" Qian demanded. "Comrades, I tell you, this is a dangerous situation we are in. Perhaps we can succeed, all well and good if that comes to pass, but overconfidence can be any man's undoing."
   "And overestimating one's enemy ensures that you will never do anything," Zhang Han San countered. "Did we get to where we are, did our country get to where we are, by timidity? The Long March was not made by cowards." He looked around the table, and no one summoned the character to argue with him.
   "So, things go well in Russia?" Xu asked the Defense Minister.
   "Better than the plan," Luo assured them all.
   "Then we proceed," the Premier decided for them all, once others had made the real decisions. The meeting soon adjourned, and the ministers went their separate ways.
   The junior Minister-Without-Portfolio turned to see Qian Kun coming after him in the corridor. "Yes, my friend?"
   "The reason the Americans have not taken firmer action is that they act at the end of a single railroad to move them and their supplies. This takes time. They have not dropped bombs on us, probably, because they don't have any. And where does Zhang get this rubbish about American ideology?"
   "He is wise in the ways of international affairs," Fang replied.
   "Is he? Is he really? Is he not the one who tricked the Japanese into commencing a war with America? And why—so that we and they could seize Siberia. And then did he not quietly support Iran and their attempt to seize the Saudi kingdom? And why? So that we could then use the Muslims as a hammer to beat Russia into submission—so that we could seize Siberia. Fang, all he thinks about is Siberia. He wishes to see it under our flag before he dies. Perhaps he wishes to have his ashes buried in a golden urn, like the emperors," Qian hissed. "He's an adventurer, and those men come to bad ends."
   "Except those who succeed," Fang suggested.
   "How many of them succeed, and how many die before a stone wall?" Qian shot back. "I say the Americans will strike us, and strike us hard once their forces are assembled. Zhang follows his own political vision, not facts, not reality. He may lead our country to its doom."
   "Are the Americans so formidable as that?"
   "If they are not, Fang, why does Tan spend so much of his time trying to steal their inventions? Don't you remember what America did to Japan and Iran? They are like the wizards of legend. Luo tells us that they've savaged our air force. How often has he told us how formidable our fighters are? All the money we spent on those wonderful aircraft, and the Americans slaughter them like hogs fattened for market! Luo claims we've gotten twenty-five of theirs. He claims only twenty-five. More likely we've gotten one or two! Against over a hundred losses, but Zhang tells us the Americans don't want to challenge us. Oh, really? What held them back from smashing Japan's military, and then annihilating Iran's?"
   Qian paused for breath. "I fear this, Fang. I fear what Zhang and Luo have gotten us into."
   "Even if you are right, what can we do to stop it?" the minister asked.
   "Nothing," Qian admitted. "But someone must speak the truth. Someone must warn of the danger that lies before us, if we are to have a country left at the end of this misbegotten adventurism."
   "Perhaps so. Qian, you are as ever a voice of reason and prudence. We will speak more," Fang promised, wondering how much of the man's words was alarmism, and how much was good sense. He'd been a brilliant administrator of the state railroads, and therefore was a man with a firm grasp on reality.
   Fang had known Zhang for most of his adult life. He was a highly skilled player on the political stage, and a brilliantly gifted manipulator of people. But Qian was asking if those talents translated into a correct perception of reality, and did he really understand America and Americans—and most of all, this Ryan fellow? Or was he just forcing oddly-shaped pegs into the slots he'd engraved in his own mind? Fang admitted that he didn't know, and more to the point, didn't know the answers to the implicit questions. He did not know himself whether Zhang was right or not. And he really should. But who might? Tan of the Ministry of State Security? Shen of the Foreign Ministry? Who else? Certainly not Premier Xu. All he did was to confirm the consensus achieved by others, or to repeat the words spoken into his ear by Zhang.
   Fang walked to his office thinking about all these things, trying to organize his thoughts. Fortunately, he had a system for achieving that.
   It started in Memphis, the headquarters of Federal Express. Faxes and telexes arrived simultaneously, telling the company that its wide-body cargo jets were being taken into federal service under the terms of a Phase I call-up of the Civilian Reserve Air Fleet. That meant that all freight-capable aircraft that the federal government had helped to finance (that was nearly all of them, because no commercial bank could compete with Washington when it came to financing things) were now being taken, along with their crews, under the control of the Air Mobility Command. The notice wasn't welcome, but neither was it much of a surprise. Ten minutes later came follow-up messages telling the aircraft where to go, and soon thereafter they started rolling. The flight crews, the majority of them military-trained, wondered where their ultimate destinations were, sure that they'd be surprising ones. The pilots would not be disappointed in this.
   FedEx would have to make do with its older narrow-body aircraft, like the venerable Boeing 727s with which the company had gotten started two decades earlier. That, the dispatchers knew, would be a stretch, but they had assistance agreements with the airlines, which they would now activate in order to try to keep up with the continuing shipment of legal documents and live lobsters all over America.
   Just how inefficient is it?" Ryan asked. "Well, we can deliver one day's worth of bombs in three days' worth of flying—maybe two if we stretch things a little, but that's as good as it's going to get," Moore told him. "Bombs are heavy things, and getting them around uses up a lot of jet fuel. General Wallace has a nice list of targets to service, but to do that he needs bombs."
   "Where are the bombs going to come from?"
   "Andersen Air Force Base on Guam has a nice pile," Moore said. "Ditto Elmendorf in Alaska, and Mountain Home in Idaho. Various other places. It's not so much a question of time and distance as of weight. Hell, the Russian base he's using at Suntar is plenty big for his purposes. We just have to get the bombs to him, and I've just shunted a lot of Air Force lifters to Germany to start loading First Armored's aviation assets to where Diggs is. That's going to take four days of nonstop flying."
   "What about crew rest?" Jackson asked.
   "What?" Ryan looked up.
   "It's a Navy thing, Jack. The Air Force has union rules on how much they can fly. Never had those rules out on the boats," Robby explained. "The C-5 has a bunk area for people to sleep. I was just being facetious." He didn't apologize. It was late—actually "early" was the correct adjective—and nobody in the White House was getting much sleep.
   For his part, Ryan wanted a cigarette to help him deal with the stress, but Ellen Sumter was home and in bed, and no one on night duty in the White House smoked, to the best of his knowledge. But that was the wimp part of his character speaking, and he knew it. The president rubbed his face with his hands and looked over at the clock. He had to get some sleep.
   It's late, Honey Bunny," Mary Pat said to her husband. "I never would have guessed. Is that why my eyes keep wanting to close?"
   There was, really, no reason for them to be here. CIA had little in the way of assets in the PRC. SORGE was the only one of value. The rest of the intelligence community, DIA and NSA, each of them larger than the Central Intelligence Agency in terms of manpower, didn't have any directly valuable human sources either, though NSA was doing its utmost to tap in on Chinese communications. They were even listening in on cell phones through their constellation of geosynchronous ferret satellites, downloading all of the "take" through the Echelon system and then forwarding the "hits" to human linguists for full translation and evaluation. They were getting some material, but not all that much. SORGE was the gemstone of the collection, and both Edward and Mary Patricia Foley were really staying up late to await the newest installment in Minister Fang's personal diary. The Chinese Politburo was meeting every day, and Fang was a dedicated diarist, not to mention a man who enjoyed the physical attractions of his female staff. They were even reading significance into the less regular writings of WARBLER, who mainly committed to her computer his sexual skills, occasionally enough to make Mary Pat blush. Being an intelligence officer was often little different from being a paid voyeur, and the staff psychiatrist translated all of the prurient stuff into what was probably a very accurate personality profile, but to them it just meant that Fang was a dirty old man who happened to exercise a lot of political power.
   "It's going to be another three hours at best," the DCI said.
   "Yeah," his wife agreed.
   "Tell you what..." Ed Foley rose off the couch, tossed away the cushions, and reached in to pull out the foldaway bed. It was marginally big enough for two.
   "When the staff sees this, they'll wonder if we got laid tonight."
   "Baby, I have a headache," the DCI reported.
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