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Probes and Pushes

Much of life in the military is mere adherence to Parkinson's Law, the supposition that work invariably expands to fill the time allocated for it. In this case, Colonel Dick Boyle arrived on the very first C-5B Galaxy, which, immediately upon rolling to a stop, lifted its nose "visor" door to disgorge the first of three UH-60A Blackhawk helicopters, whose crewmen just as immediately rolled it to a vacant piece of ramp to unfold the rotor blades, assure they were locked in place, and ready the aircraft for flight after the usual safety checks. By that time, the C-5B had refueled and rolled off into the sky to make room for the next Galaxy, this one delivering AH-64 Apache attack helicopters—in this case complete with weapons and other accoutrements for flying real missions against a real armed enemy.
   Colonel Boyle busied himself with watching everything, even though he knew that his troops were doing their jobs as well as they could be done, and would do those jobs whether he watched and fussed over them or not. Perversely, what Boyle wanted to do was to fly to where Diggs and his staff were located, but he resisted the temptation because he felt he should be supervising people whom he'd trained to do their jobs entirely without supervision. That lasted three hours until he finally saw the logic of the situation and decided to be a commander rather than a shop supervisor, and lifted off for Chabarsovil. The flying was easy enough, and he preferred the medium-low clouds, because there had to be fighters about, and not all of them would be friendly. The GPS navigation system guided him to the right location, and the right location, it turned out, was a concrete helipad with soldiers standing around it. They were wearing the "wrong" uniform, a state of mind that Boyle knew he'd have to work on. One of them escorted Boyle into a building that looked like the Russian idea of a headquarters, and sure enough, it was.
   "Dick, come on over," General Diggs called. The helicopter commander saluted as he approached.
   "Welcome to Siberia, Dick," Marion Diggs said in greeting.
   "Thank you, sir. What's the situation?"
   "Interesting," the general replied. "This is General Bondarenko. He's the theater commander." Boyle saluted again. "Gennady, this is Colonel Boyle, who commands my aviation brigade. He's pretty good."
   "What's the air situation, sir?" Boyle asked Diggs.
   "The Air Force is doing a good job on their fighters so far."
   "What about Chinese helicopters?"
   "They do not have many," another Russian officer said. "I am Colonel Aliyev, Andrey Petrovich, theater operations. The Chinese do not have many helicopters. We've only seen a few, mainly scouts."
   "No troop carriers? No staff transport?"
   "No," Aliyev answered. "Their senior officers prefer to move around in tracked vehicles. They are not married to helicopters as you Americans are."
   "What do you want me to do, sir?" Boyle asked Diggs.
   "Take Tony Turner to Chita. That's the railhead we're going to be using. We need to get set up there."
   "Drive the tracks in from there, eh?" Boyle looked at the map.
   "That's the plan. There are closer points, but Chita has the best facilities to off-load our vehicles, so our friends tell us."
   "What about gas?"
   "The place you landed is supposed to have sizable underground fuel tanks."
   "More than you will need," Aliyev confirmed. Boyle thought that was quite a promise.
   "And ordnance?" Boyle asked. "We've got maybe two days' worth on the C-5s so far. Six complete loads for my Apaches, figuring three missions per day."
   "Which version of the Apache?" Aliyev asked.
   "Delta, Colonel. We've got the Longbow radar."
   "Everything works?" the Russian asked.
   "Colonel, not much sense bringing them if they don't," Boyle replied, with a raised eyebrow. "What about secure quarters for my people?"
   "At the base where you landed, there will be secure sleeping quarters for your aviators—bombproof shelters. Your maintenance people will be housed in barracks."
   Boyle nodded. It was the same everywhere. The weenies who built things acted as if pilots were more valuable than the people who maintained the aircraft. And so they were, until the aircraft needed repairs, at which point the pilot was as useful as a cavalryman without a horse.
   "Okay, General. I'll take Tony to this Chita place and then I'm going back to see to my people's needs. I could sure use one of Chuck Garvey's radios."
   "He's outside. Grab one on your way."
   "Okay, sir. Tony, let's get moving," he said to the chief of staff.
   "Sir, as soon as we get some infantry in, I want to put security on those fueling points," Masterman said. "Those places need protecting."
   "I can give you what you need," Aliyev offered.
   "Fine by me," Masterman responded. "How many of those secure radios did Garvey bring?"
   "Eight, I think. Two are gone already," General Diggs warned. "Well, there'll be more on the train. Go tell Boyle to send two choppers here for our needs."
   "Right." Masterman ran for the door.
   The ministers all had offices and, as in every other such office in the world, the cleanup crews came in, in this case about ten every night. They picked up all sorts of trash, from candy wrappers to empty cigarette packs to papers, and the latter went into special burn-bags. The janitorial staff was not particularly smart, but they had had to pass background checks and go through security briefings that were heavy on intimidation. They were not allowed to discuss their jobs with anyone, not even a spouse, and not ever to reveal what they saw in the waste-baskets. In fact, they never thought much about it—they were less interested in the thoughts or ideas of the Politburo members than they were in the weather forecasts. They'd rarely even seen the ministers whose offices they cleaned, and none of the crew had ever so much as spoken a single word to any of them; they just tried to be invisible on those rare occasions when they saw one of the godlike men who ruled their nation. Maybe a submissive bow, which was not even acknowledged by so much as a look, because they were mere furniture, menials who did peasants' work because, as peasants, that was all they were suited for. The peasants knew what computers were, but such machines were not for the use of such men as they were, and the janitorial staff knew it.
   And so when one of the computers made a noise while a cleaner was in the office, he took no note of it. Well, it seemed odd that it should whir when the screen was dark, but why it did what it did was a mystery to him, and he'd never even been so bold as to touch the thing. He didn't even dust the keyboard as he cleaned the desktop—no, he always avoided the keys.
   And so, he heard the whir begin, continue for a few seconds, then stop, and he paid no mind to it.
   Mary Pat Foley opened her eyes when the sun started casting shadows on her husband's office wall, and rubbed her eyes reluctantly. She checked her watch. Seven-twenty. She was usually up long before this—but she usually didn't go to bed after four in the morning. Three hours of sleep would probably have to do. She stood and headed into Ed's private washroom. It had a shower, like hers. She'd make use of her own shortly, and for the moment settled for some water splashed on her face and a reluctant look in the mirror that resulted in a grimace at what the look revealed.
   The Deputy Director (Operations) of the Central Intelligence Agency shook her head, and then her entire body to get the blood moving, and then put her blouse on. Finally, she shook her husband's shoulder.
   "Out of the hutch, Honey Bunny, before the foxes get you."
   "We still at war?" the DCI asked from behind closed eyes.
   "Probably. I haven't checked yet." She paused for a stretch and slipped her feet into her shoes. "I'm going to check my e-mail."
   "Okay, I'll call downstairs for breakfast," Ed told her.
   "Oatmeal. No eggs. Your cholesterol is too high," Mary Pat observed.
   "Yeah, baby," he grumbled in submissive reply.
   "That's a good Honey Bunny." She kissed him and headed out.
   Ed Foley made his bathroom call, then sat at his desk and lifted the phone to call the executive cooking staff. "Coffee. Toast. Three-egg omelet, ham, and hash browns." Cholesterol or not, he had to get his body working.
   "You've got mail," the mechanical voice said. "Great." The DDO breathed. She downloaded it, going through the usual procedures to save and print, but rather more slowly this morning because she was groggy and therefore mistake-prone. That sort of thing made her slow down and be extra careful, something she'd learned to do as the mother of a newborn. And so in four minutes instead of the usual two, she had a printed hard copy of the latest SORGE feed from Agent SONGBIRD. Six pages of relatively small ideographs. Then she lifted the phone and punched the speed-dial button for Dr. Sears.
   "This is Mrs. Foley. We got one."
   "On the way, Director." She had some coffee before he arrived, and the taste, if not the effect of the caffeine, helped her face the day.
   "In early?" she asked.
   "Actually I slept in last night. We need to improve the selection on the cable TV," he told her, hoping to lighten the day a little. One look at her eyes told him how likely that was.
   "Here." She handed the sheets across. "Coffee?"
   "Yes, thank you." His eyes didn't leave the page as his hand reached out for the Styrofoam cup. "This is good stuff today."
   "Yeah, it's Fang's account of a Politburo discussion of how the war's going ... they're trying to analyze our actions ... yeah, that's about what I'd expect..."
   "Talk to me, Dr. Sears," Mary Pat ordered.
   "You're going to want to get George Weaver in on this, too, but what he's going to say is that they're projecting their own political outlook onto us generally, and onto President Ryan in particular . . . yeah, they're saying that we are not hitting them hard for political reasons, that they think we don't want to piss them off too much ..." Sears took a long sip of coffee. "This is really good stuff. It tells us what their political leadership is thinking, and what they're thinking isn't very accurate." Sears looked up. "They misunderstand us worse than we misunderstand them, Director, even at this level. They see President Ryan's motivation as a strictly political calculation. Zhang says that he's laying back so that we can do business with them, after they consolidate their control over the Russian oil and gold fields."
   "What about their advance?"
   "They say—that is, Marshal Luo says—that things are going according to plan, that they're surprised at the lack of Russian opposition, and also surprised that we haven't struck any targets within their borders."
   "That's because we don't have any bombs over there yet. Just found that out myself. We're having to fly the bombs in so that we can drop them."
   "Really? Well, they don't know that yet. They think it's deliberate inaction on our part."
   "Okay, get me a translation. When will Weaver get in?"
   "Usually about eight-thirty."
   "Go over this with him as soon as he arrives."
   "You bet." Sears took his leave.
   "Bedding down for the night?" Aleksandrov asked. "So it would seem, Comrade Captain," Buikov answered. He had his binoculars on the Chinese. The two command-reconnaissance vehicles were together, which only seemed to happen when they secured for the night. It struck both men as odd that they confined their activities to daylight, but that wasn't a bad thing for the Russian watchers, and even soldiers needed their sleep. More than most, in fact, both of the Russians would have said. The stress and strain of keeping track of the enemies of their country—and doing so within their own borders– were telling on both of them.
   The Chinese drill was thorough, but predictable. The two command tracks were together. The others were spread out, mainly in front of them, but one three hundred meters behind to secure their rear. The crews of each track stayed together as a unit. Each broke out a small petrol stove for cooking their rice—probably rice, the Russians all thought. And they settled down to get four or five hours of sleep before waking, cooking breakfast, and moving out before dawn. Had they not been enemies, their adherence to so demanding a drill might have excited admiration. Instead, Buikov found himself wondering if he could get two or three of their BRMs to race up on the invaders and immolate them with the 30-mm rapid-fire cannons on their tracked carriers. But Aleksandrov would never allow it. You could always depend on officers to deny the sergeants what they wanted to do.
   The captain and his sergeant walked back north to their track, leaving three other scouts to keep watch on their "guests," as
   Aleksandrov had taken to calling them.
   "So, Sergeant, how are you feeling?" the officer asked in a quiet voice.
   "Some sleep will be good." Buikov looked back. There was now a ridgeline in addition to the trees between him and the Chinks. He lit a cigarette and let out a long, relaxed breath. "This is harder duty than I expected it to be."
   "Yes, Comrade Captain. I always thought we could kill our enemies. Baby-sitting them is very stressful."
   "That is so, Boris Yevgeniyevich, but remember that if we do our job properly, then Division will be able to kill more than just one or two. We are their eyes, not their teeth."
   "As you say, Comrade Captain, but it is like making a movie of the wolf instead of shooting him."
   "The people who make good wildlife movies win awards, Sergeant."
   The odd thing about the captain, Buikov thought, was that he was always trying to reason with you. It was actually rather endearing, as if he was trying to be a teacher rather than an officer.
   "What's for dinner?"
   "Beef and black bread, Comrade Captain. Even some butter. But no vodka," the sergeant added sourly.
   "When this is over, I will allow you to get good and drunk, Boris
   Yevgeniyevich," Aleksandrov promised.
   "If we live that long, I will toast your health." The track was where they'd left it, and the crew had spread out the camouflage netting. One thing about this officer, Buikov thought, he got the men to do their duty without much in the way of complaint. The same sort of good comradely solidarity my grandfather spoke about, as he told his endless tales of killing Germans on the way to Vienna, just like in all the movies, the sergeant thought.
   The black bread was canned, but tasty, and the beef, cooked on their own small petrol heater, wasn't so bad as to choke a dog. About the time they finished, Sergeant Grechko appeared. He was the commander of the unit's #3 BRM, and he was carrying . . .
   "Is that what I think it is?" Buikov asked. "Yuriy Andreyevich, you are a comrade!"
   It was a half-liter bottle of vodka, the cheapest "BOAKA" brand, with a foil top that tore off and couldn't be resealed.
   "Whose idea is this?" the captain demanded.
   "Comrade Captain, it is a cold night, and we are Russian soldiers, and we need something to help us relax," Grechko said. "It's the only bottle in the company, and one slug each will not harm us, I think," the sergeant added reasonably.
   "Oh, all right." Aleksandrov extended his metal cup, and received perhaps sixty grams. He waited for the rest of his crew to get theirs, and saw that the bottle was empty. They all drank together, and sure enough, it tasted just fine to be Russian soldiers out in the woods, doing their duty for their Motherland.
   "We'll have to refuel tomorrow," Grechko said.
   "There will be a fuel truck waiting for us, forty kilometers north at the burned-down sawmill. We'll go up there one at a time, and hope our Chinese guests do not get overly ambitious in their advance."
   That must be your Captain Aleksandrov," Major Tucker said. "Fourteen hundred meters from the nearest Chinese. That's pretty close," the American observed.
   "He's a good boy," Aliyev said, "Just reported in. The Chinese follow their drill with remarkable exactitude. And the main body?"
   "Twenty-five miles back—forty kilometers or so. They're laagering in for the night, too, but they're actually building campfires, like they want us to know where they are." Tucker worked the mouse to show the encampments. The display was green-on-green now. The Chinese armored vehicles showed as bright spots, especially from the engines, which glowed from residual heat.
   "This is amazing," Aliyev said in frank admiration.
   "We decided back around the end of the 1970s that we could play at night when everybody else can't. It took a while to develop the technology, but it by-God works, Colonel. All we need now is some Smart Pigs."
   "You'll see, Colonel. You'll see," Tucker promised. Best of all, this "take" came from Grace Kelly, and she did have a laser designator plugged in to the fuselage, tooling along now at 62,000 feet and looking down with her thermal-imaging cameras. Under Tucker's guidance, the UAV kept heading south, to continue the catalog of the Chinese units advancing into Siberia. There were sixteen ribbon bridges on the Amur River now, and a few north of there, but the really vulnerable points were around Harbin, well to the south, inside Chinese territory. Lots of railroad bridges between there and Bei'an, the terminus of the railroad lifeline to the People's Liberation Army. Grace Kelly saw a lot of trains, mainly diesel engines, but even some old coal-burning steam engines that had come out of storage in order to keep the weapons and supplies coming north. Most interesting of all was the recently built traffic circle, where tank cars were unloading something, probably diesel fuel, into what appeared to be a pipeline that PLAA engineers were working very hard to extend north. That was something they'd copied from America. The U.S. and British armies had done the same thing from Normandy east to the front in late 1944, and that, Tucker knew, was a target worthy of note. Diesel fuel wasn't just the food of a field army. It was the very air it breathed.
   There were huge numbers of idle men about. Laborers, probably, there to repair damaged tracking, and the major bridging points had SAM and FLAK batteries in close attendance. So, Joe Chink knew that the bridges were important, and he was doing his best to guard them.
   For what good that would do, Tucker thought. He got on the satellite radio to talk things over with the crew up at Zhigansk, where General Wallace's target book was being put together. The crunchies on the ground were evidently worried about taking on the advancing Peoples Liberation Army, but to Major Tucker, it all looked like a collection of targets. For point targets, he wanted J-DAMs, and for area targets, some smart pigs, the J-SOWs, and then Joe Chink was going to take one on the chin, and probably, like all field armies, this one had a glass jaw. If you could just hit it hard enough.
   The Russians on the ground had no idea what FedEx was, and were more than a little surprised that any private, nongovernment corporation could actually own something as monstrous as a Boeing 747F freighter aircraft.
   For their part, the flight crews, mainly trained by the Navy or Air Force, had never expected to see Siberia except maybe through the windows of a B-52H strategic bomber. The runways were unusually bumpy, worse than most American airports, but there was an army of people on the ground, and when the swinging door on the nose came up, the ground crews waved the forklifts in to start collecting the palletized cargo. The flight crews didn't leave the aircraft. Fueling trucks came up and connected the four-inch hoses to the proper nozzle points and started refilling the capacious tanks so that the aircraft could leave as soon as possible, to clear the ramp space. Every 747F had a bunking area for the spare pilots who'd come along for the ride. They didn't even get a drink, those who'd sleep for the return flight, and they had to eat the boxed lunches they'd been issued at Elmendorf on the outbound flight. In all, it took fifty-seven minutes to unload the hundred tons of bombs, which was scarcely enough for ten of the F-15Es parked at the far end of the ramp, but that was where the forklifts headed.
   "Is that a fact?" Ryan observed. "Yes, Mr. President," Dr. Weaver replied. "For all their sophistication, these people can be very insular in their thinking, and as a practical matter, we are all guilty of projecting our own ways of thinking into other people."
   "But I have people like you to advise me. Who advises them?" Jack asked.
   "They have some good ones. Problem is, their Politburo doesn't always listen."
   "Yeah, well, I've seen that problem here, too. Is this good news or bad news, people?"
   "Potentially it could be both, but let's remember that we understand them now a lot better than they understand us," Ed Foley told those present. "That gives us a major advantage, if we play our cards intelligently."
   Ryan leaned back and rubbed his eyes. Robby Jackson wasn't in much better shape, though he'd slept about four hours in the Lincoln Bedroom (unlike President Lincoln—it was called that simply because a picture of the sixteenth President hung on the wall). The good Jamaican coffee helped everyone at least simulate consciousness.
   "I'm surprised that their Defense Minister is so narrow," Robby thought aloud, his eyes tracing over the SORGE dispatch. "You pay the senior operators to be big-picture thinkers. When operations go as well as the one they're running, you get suspicious. I did, anyway."
   "Okay, Robby, you used to be God of Operations across the river. What do you recommend?" Jack asked.
   "The idea in a major operation is always to play with the other guy's head. To lead him down the path you want him to go, or to get inside his decision cycle, just prevent him from analyzing the data and making a decision. I think we can do that here."
   "How?" Arnie van Damm asked.
   "The common factor of every successful military plan in history is this: You show the guy what he expects and hopes to see, and then when he thinks he's got the world by the ass, you cut his legs off in one swipe." Robby leaned back, holding court for once. "The smart move is to let them keep going for a few more days, make it just seem easier and easier for them while we build up our capabilities, and then when we hit them, we land on them like the San Francisco earthquake—no warning at all, just the end of the fuckin' world hits 'em. Mickey, what's their most vulnerable point?"
   General Moore had that answer: "It's always logistics. They're burning maybe nine hundred tons of diesel fuel a day to keep those tanks and tracks moving north. They have a full five thousand engineers working like beavers running a pipeline to keep up with their lead elements. We cut that, and they can make up some of the shortfall with fuel trucks, but not all of it—"
   "And we use the Smart Pig to take care of those," Vice President Jackson finished.
   "That's one way to handle it," General Moore agreed.
   "Smart Pig?" Ryan asked.
   Robby explained, concluding: "We've been developing this and a few other tricks for the last eight years. I spent a month out at China* Lake a few years ago with the prototype. It works, if we have enough of them."
   "Gus Wallace has that at the top of his Christmas list."
   "The other trick is the political side," Jackson concluded.
   "Funny, I have an idea for that. How is the PRC presenting this war to its people?"
   It was Professor Weaver's turn: "They're saying that the Russians provoked a border incident—same thing Hitler did with Poland in 1939. The Big Lie technique. They've used it before. Every dictatorship has. It works if you control what your people see."
   "What's the best weapon for fighting a lie?" Ryan asked.
   "The truth, of course," Arnie van Damm answered for the rest. "But they control their news distribution. How do we get the truth to their population?"
   "Ed, how is the SORGE data coming out?"
   "Over the 'Net, Jack. So?"
   "How many Chinese citizens own computers?"
   "Millions of them—the number's really jumped in the past couple of years. That's why they're ripping that patent off Dell Computer that we made a stink about in the trade talks and—oh, yeah ..." Foley looked up with a smile. "I like it."
   "That could be dangerous," Weaver warned.
   "Dr. Weaver, there's no safe way to fight a war," Ryan said in reply. "This isn't a negotiation between friends. General Moore?"
   "Yes, sir." "Get the orders out."
   "Yes, sir." "The only question is, will it work?"
   "Jack," Robby Jackson said, "It's like with baseball. You play the games to find out who the best is."
   The first reinforcing division to arrive at Chita was the 201st. The trains pulled into the built-for-the-purpose offloading sidings. The flatcars had been designed (and built in large numbers) to transport tracked military vehicles. To that end, flip-down bridging ramps were located at each end of every single car, and when those were tossed down in place, the tanks could drive straight off to the concrete ramps to where every train had backed up. It was a little demanding—the width of the cars was at best marginal for the tank tracks—but the drivers of each vehicle kept their path straight, breathing a small sigh of relief when they got to the concrete. Once on the ground, military police troops, acting as traffic cops, directed the armored vehicles to assembly areas. The 201st Motor Rifle Division's commander and his staff were there already, of course, and the regimental officers got their marching orders, telling them what roads to take northeast to join Bondarenko's Fifth Army, and by joining it, to make it a real field army rather than a theoretical expression on paper.
   The 201st, like the follow-on divisions, the 80th, 34th, and 94th, were equipped with the newest Russian hardware, and were at their full TO&E. Their immediate mission was to race north and east to get in front of the advancing Chinese. It would be quite a race. There weren't many roads in this part of Russia, and what roads there were here were unpaved gravel, which suited the tracked vehicles. The problem would be diesel fuel, because there were few gas stations for the trucks which ran the roads in peacetime pursuits, and so the 201st had requisitioned every tanker truck its officers could locate, and even that might not be enough, the logisticians all worried, not that they had much choice in the matter. If they could get their tanks there, then they'd fight them as pillboxes if it came to that.
   About the only thing they had going for them was the network of telephone lines, which enabled them to communicate without using radios. The entire area was under the strictest possible orders for radio silence, to deny all conceivable knowledge to the enemy; and the air forces in the area, American and Russian, were tasked to eliminate all tactical reconnaissance aircraft that Chinese would be sending about. So far, they'd been successful. A total of seventeen J-6 and -7 aircraft, thought to be the reconnaissance variants of their classes, had been "splashed" short of Chita.
   The Chinese problem with reconnaissance was confirmed in Paris, of all places. SPOT, the French corporation which operated commercial photosatellites, had received numerous requests for photos of Siberia, and while many of them came from seemingly legitimate western businesses, mainly news agencies, all had been summarily denied. Though not as good as American reconnaissance satellites, the SPOT birds were good enough to identify all the trains assembled at Chita.
   And since the People's Republic of China still had a functioning embassy in Moscow, the other concern was that their Ministry of State Security had Russian nationals acting as paid spies, feeding data to Russia's new enemy. Those individuals about whom the Russian Federal Security Service had suspicions were picked up and questioned, and those in custody were interrogated vigorously.
   This number included Klementi Ivanovich Suvorov.
   "You were in the service of an enemy country," Pavel Yefremov observed. "You killed for a foreign power, and you conspired to kill our country's president. We know all this. We've had you under surveillance for some time now. We have this." He held up a photocopy of the onetime pad recovered from the dead-drop on the park bench. "You may talk now, or you may be shot. It is your life at risk, not mine."
   In the movies, this was the part where the suspect was supposed to say defiantly, "You're going to kill me anyway," except that Suvorov had no more wish to die than anyone else. He loved life as much as any man, and he'd never expected to be caught any more than the most foolish of street criminals did. If anything, he'd expected arrest even less than one of those criminals, because he knew how intelligent and clever he was, though this feeling had understandably deflated over the last few days.
   The outlook of Klementi Ivan'ch Suvorov was rather bleak at the moment. He was KGB-trained, and he knew what to expect—a bullet in the head—unless he could give his interrogators something sufficiently valuable for them to spare his life, and at the moment even life in a labor camp of strict regime was preferable to the alternative.
   "Have you truly arrested Kong?"
   "We told you that before, but, no, we have not. Why tip them off that we've penetrated their operation?" Yefremov said honestly.
   "Then you can use me against them."
   "How might we do that?" the FSS officer asked.
   "I can tell them that the operation they propose is going forward, but that the situation in Siberia wrecked my chance to execute it in a timely fashion."
   "And if Kong cannot leave their embassy—we have it guarded and isolated now, of course—how would you get that information to him?"
   "By electronic mail. Yes, you can monitor their landlines, but to monitor their cellular phones is more difficult. There's a backup method for me to communicate with him electronically."
   "And the fact that you haven't made use of it so far will not alert them?"
   "The explanation is simple. My Spetsnaz contact was frightened off by the outbreak of hostilities, and so was I."
   "But we've already checked your electronic accounts."
   "Do you think they are all written down?" He tapped the side of his head. "Do you think I am totally foolish?"
   "Go on, make your proposal."
   "I will propose that I can go forward with the mission. I require them to authorize it by a signal—the way they set the shades in their windows, for example."
   "And for this?"
   "And for this I will not be executed," the traitor suggested.
   "I see," Yefremov said quietly. He would have been perfectly content to shoot the traitor right here and now, but it might be politically useful to go forward with his proposal. He'd kick that one upstairs.
   The bad part about watching them was that you had to anticipate everything they did, and that meant that they got to have more sleep, about an hour's worth, Aleksandrov figured, and no more than that only because they were predictable. He'd had his morning tea. Sergeant Buikov had enjoyed two morning cigarettes with his, and now they lay prone on wet dew-dampened ground, with their binoculars to their eyes. The Chinese had also had soldiers out of their tracks all night, set about a hundred meters away from them, so it seemed. They weren't very adventurous, the captain thought. He would have spread his sentries much farther out, at least half a kilometer, in pairs with radios to go with their weapons. For that matter, he would have set up a mortar in the event that they spotted something dangerous. But the fox and the gardener seemed to be both conservative and confident, which was an odd combination of characteristics.
   But their morning drill was precise. The petrol heaters came out for tea—probably tea, they all figured—and whatever it was that they had for breakfast. Then the camouflage nets came down. The outlying sentries came in and reported in person to their officers, and everyone mounted up. The first hop on their tracks was a short one, not even half a kilometer, and again the foot-scouts dismounted and moved forward, then quickly reported back for the second, much longer morning frog leap forward.
   "Let's move, Sergeant," Aleksandrov ordered, and together they ran to their BRM for their first trek into the woods for their own third installment of frog leap backwards.
   "There they go again," Major Tucker said, after getting three whole hours of sleep on a thin mattress four feet from the Dark Star terminal. It was Ingrid Bergman up again, positioned so that she could see both the reconnaissance element and main body of the Chinese army. "You know, they really stick to the book, don't they?"
   "So it would seem," Colonel Tolkunov agreed.
   "So, going by that, tonight they'll go to about here." Tucker made a green mark on the acetate-covered map. "That puts them at the gold mine day after tomorrow. Where do you plan to make your stand?" the major asked.
   "That depends on how quickly the Two Zero One can get forward."
   "Gas?" Tucker asked.
   "Diesel fuel, but, yes, that is the main problem with moving so large a force."
   "Yeah, with us it's bombs."
   "When will you begin to attack Chinese targets?" Tolkunov asked.
   "Not my department, Colonel, but when it happens, you'll see it here, live and in color."
   Ryan had gotten two hours of nap in the afternoon, while Arnie van Damm covered his appointments (the Chief of Staff needed his sleep, too, but like most people in the White House, he put the President's needs before his own), and now he was watching TV, the feed from Ingrid Bergman.
   "This is amazing," he observed. "You could almost get on the phone and tell a guy where to go with his tank."
   "We try to avoid that, sir," Mickey Moore said at once. In Vietnam it had been called the "squad leader in the sky" when battalion commanders had directed sergeants on their patrols, not always to the enlisted men's benefit. The miracle of modern communications could also be a curse, with the expected effect that the people in harm's way would ignore their radios or just turn the damned things off until they had something to say themselves.
   Ryan nodded. He'd been a second lieutenant of Marines once, and though it hadn't been for long, he remembered it as demanding work for a kid just out of college.
   "Do the Chinese know we're doing this?"
   "Not as far as we can tell. If they did, they'd sure as hell try to take the Dark Star down, and we'd notice if they tried. That's not easy, though. They're damned near invisible on radar, and tough to spot visually, so the Air Force tells me."
   "Not too many fighters can reach sixty thousand feet, much less cruise up there," Robby agreed. "It's a stretch even for a TOMCAT." His eyes, too, were locked on the screen. No officer in the history of military operations had ever had a capability akin to this, not even two percent of it, Jackson was sure. Most of war-fighting involved finding the enemy so that you knew where to kill him. These new things made it like watching a Hollywood movie—and if the Chinese knew they were there, they'd freak. Considerable efforts had been designed into Dark Star to prevent that from happening. Their transmitters were directional, and locked onto satellites, instead of radiating outward in the manner of a normal radio. So, they might as well have been black holes up there, orbiting twelve miles over the battlefield.
   "What's the important thing here?" Jack asked General Moore.
   "Logistics, sir, always logistics. Told you this morning, sir, they're burning up a lot of diesel fuel, and replenishing that is a mother of a task. The Russians have the same problem. They're trying to race a fresh division north of the Chinese spearhead, to made a stand around Aldan, close to where the gold strike is. It's only even money they can make it, even over roads and without opposition. They have to move a lot of fuel, too, and the other problem for them is that it'll wear out the tracks on their vehicles. They don't have lowboy trailers like ours, and so their tanks have to do it all on their own. Tanks are a lot more delicate to operate than they look. Figure they'll lose a quarter to a third of their strength just from the approach march."
   "Can they fight?" Jackson asked.
   "They're using the T-80U. It would have given the M60A3 a good fight, but no, not as good as our first-flight Ml, much less the M1A2, but against the Chinese M-90, call it an even match, qualitatively. It's just that the Chinese have a lot more of them. It comes down to training. The Russian divisions that they're sending into the fight are their best-trained and -equipped. Question is, are they good enough? We'll just have to see."
   "And our guys?"
   "They start arriving at Chita tomorrow morning. The Russians want them to assemble and move east-southeast. The operational concept is for them to stop the Chinese cold, and then we chop them off from their supplies right near the Amur River. It makes sense theoretically," Mickey Moore said neutrally, "and the Russians say they have all the fuel we'll need in underground bunkers that have been there for damned near fifty years. We'll see."
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Looks and Hurts

General Peng was all the way forward now, with the leading elements of his lead armored division, the 302nd. Things were going well for him—sufficiently well, in fact, that he was becoming nervous about it. No opposition at all? he asked himself. Not so much as a single rifle round, much less a barrage of artillery. Were the Russians totally asleep, totally devoid of troops in this sector? They had a full army group command section at Chabarsovil, commanded by that Bondarenko fellow, who was reported to be a competent, even a courageous, officer. But where the hell were his troops? Intelligence said that a complete Russian motor-rifle division was here, the 265th, and a Russian motor-rifle division was a superbly designed mechanized formation, with enough tanks to punch a hole in most things, and manned with enough infantry to hold any position for a long time. Theoretically. But where the hell was it? And where were the reinforcements the Russians had to be sending? Peng had asked for information, and the air force had supposedly sent photo-reconnaissance aircraft to look for his enemies, but with no result. He had expected to be mainly on his own for this campaign, but not entirely on his own. Fifty kilometers in advance of the 302nd Armored was a reconnaissance screen that had reported nothing but some tracks in the ground that might or might not have been fresh. The few helicopter flights that had gone out had reported nothing. They should have spotted something, but no, only some civilians, who for the most part got the hell out of the way and stayed there.
   Meanwhile, his troops had crewed up this ancient railroad right-of-way, but it wasn't much worse than traveling along a wide gravel road. His only potential operational concern was fuel, but two hundred 10,000-liter fuel trucks were delivering an adequate amount from the pipeline the engineers were extending at a rate of forty kilometers per day from the end of the railhead on the far bank of the Amur. In fact, that was the most impressive feat of the war so far. Well behind him, engineer regiments were laying the pipe, then covering it under a meter of earth for proper concealment. The only things they couldn't conceal were the pumping stations, but they had the spare parts to build plenty more should they be destroyed.
   No, Peng's only real concern was the location of the Russian Army. The dilemma was that either his intelligence was faulty, and there were no Russian formations in his area of interest, or it was accurate and the Russians were just running away and denying him the chance to engage and destroy them. But since when did Russians not fight for their land? Chinese soldiers surely would. And it just didn't fit with Bondarenko's reputation. None of this situation made sense. Peng sighed. But battlefields were often that way, he told himself. For the moment, he was on– actually slightly ahead of—schedule, and his first strategic objective, the gold mine, was three days away from his leading reconnaissance element. He'd never seen a gold mine before.
   I'll be damned!" Pavel Petrovich said. "This is my land. No Chink's going to chase me off of it!"
   "They are only three or four days away, Pasha."
   "So? I have lived here for over fifty years. I'm not going to leave now." The old man was well to the left of defiant. The chief of the mining company had come personally to drive him out, and expected him to come willingly. But he'd misread the old man's character.
   "Pasha, we can't leave you here in their way. This is their objective, the thing they invaded us to steal—"
   "Then I shall fight for it!" he retorted. "I killed Germans, I've killed bears, I've killed wolves. Now, I will kill Chinese. I'm an old man, not an old woman, comrade!"
   "Will you fight against enemy soldiers?"
   "And why not?" Gogol asked. "This is my land. I know all its places.
   I know where to hide, and I know how to shoot. I've killed soldiers before." He pointed to his wall. The old service rifle was there, and the mining chief could easily see the notches he'd cut on the stock with a knife, one for every German. "I can hunt wolves and bear. I can hunt men, too."
   "You're too old to be a soldier. That's a young man's job." "I need not be an athlete to squeeze a trigger, comrade, and I know these woods." To emphasize his words, Gogol stood and took down his old sniper rifle from the Great Patriotic War, leaving the new Austrian rifle. The meaning was clear. He'd fought with this arm before, and he was quite willing to do so again. Hanging on his wall still were a number of the gilded wolf skins, most of which had single holes in the head. He touched one, then looked back at his visitors. "I am a Russian. I will fight for my land."
   The mining chief figured he'd buck this information up to the military. Maybe they could take him out. For himself, he had no particular desire to entertain the Chinese army, and so he took his leave. Behind him, Pavel Petrovich Gogol opened a bottle of vodka and enjoyed a snort. Then he cleaned his rifle and thought of old times.
   The train terminal was well-designed for their purposes, Colonel Welch thought. Russian engineers might have designed things clunky, but they'd also designed them to work, and the layout here was a lot more efficient than it looked on first inspection. The trains reversed direction on what American railroaders called a wye—Europeans called it a turning triangle—which allowed trains to back up to any one of ten offloading ramps, and the Russians were doing it with skill and aplomb. The big VL80T electric locomotive eased backwards, with the conductors on the last car holding the air-release valve to activate the brakes when they reached the ramp. When the trains stopped, the soldiers jumped from their passenger coaches and ran back to their individual vehicles to start them up and drive them off. It didn't take longer than thirty minutes to empty a train. That impressed Colonel Welch, who'd used the Auto Train to take his family to Disney World, and the offloading procedure in Sanford, Florida, usually took an hour and a half or so. Then there was no further waiting. The big VL (Vladimir Lenin) engines immediately moved out for the return trip west to load up another ten thousand tons of train cars and cargo. It certainly appeared as though the Russians could make things happen when they had to.
   "Colonel?" Welch turned to see a Russian major, who saluted crisply.
   "The first train with your personnel is due in four hours twenty minutes. We'll take them to the southern assembly area. There is fuel there if they need it, and then we have guides to direct them east."
   "Very good."
   "Until then, if you wish to eat, there is a canteen inside the station building."
   "Thank you. We're okay at the moment." Welch walked over to where his satellite radio was set up, to get that information to General Diggs.
   Colonel Bronco Winters now had seven red stars painted on the side panel of his F-15C, plus four of the now-defunct UIR flags. He could have painted on some marijuana or coca leaves as well, but that part of his life was long past, and those kills had been blacker than his uncle Ernie, who still lived in Harlem. So, he was a double-ace, and the Air Force hadn't had many of those on active duty in a very long time. He took his flight to what they had taken to calling Bear Station, on the western edge of the Chinese advance.
   It was an EAGLE station. There were now over a hundred F-16 fighters in Siberia, but they were mainly air-to-mud rather than air-to-air, and so the fighting part of the fighter mission was his department, while the -16 jocks grumbled about being second-class citizens. Which they were, as far as Colonel Winters thought. Damned little single-engine pukes. Except for the F-16CGs. They were useful because they were dedicated to taking out enemy radars and SAM sites. The Siberian Air Force (so they now deemed themselves) hadn't done any air-to-mud yet. They had orders not to, which offended the guys whose idea of fun was killing crunchies on the ground instead of more manly pursuits. They didn't have enough bombs for a proper bombing campaign yet, and so they were coming up just to ride guard on the E-3Bs in case Joe Chink decided to go after them—it was a hard mission, but marginally doable, and Bronco was surprised that they hadn't made the attempt yet. It was a sure way to lose a lot of fighter planes, but they'd lost a bunch anyway, and why not lose them to a purpose . . . ?
   "Boar Lead, this is EAGLE Two, over."
   "Boar Leader."
   "We show something happening, numerous BANDITs one-four-five your position, angels three-three, range two hundred fifty miles, coming north at six hundred knots—make that count thirty-plus BANDITs, looks like they're coming right for us, Boar Lead," the controller on the AWACS reported.
   "Roger, copy that. Boar, Lead," he told his flight of four. "Let's get our ears perked up."
   "Two." "Three." "Four," the rest of his flight chimed in.
   "Boar Leader, this is EAGLE Two. The BANDITs just went supersonic, and they are heading right for us. Looks like they're not kidding. Vector right to course one-three-five and prepare to engage."
   "Roger, EAGLE. Boar Lead, come right to one-three-five."
   "Two." "Three." "Four."
   Winters checked his fuel first of all. He had plenty. Then he looked at his radar display for the picture transmitted from the AWACS, and sure enough, there was a passel of BANDITs inbound, like a complete ChiComm regiment of fighters. The bastards had read his mind.
   "Damn, Bronco, this looks like a knife fight coming."
   "Be cool, Ducky, we got better knives."
   "You say so, Bronco," the other element leader answered.
   "Let's loosen it up, people," Colonel Winters ordered. The flight of four F-15Cs separated into two pairs, and the pairs slipped apart as well so that each could cover the other, but a single missile could not engage both.
   The display between his legs showed that the Chinese fighters were just over a hundred miles off now, and the velocity vectors indicated speeds of over eight hundred knots. Then the picture dirtied up some.
   "Boar Lead, looks like they just dropped off tanks."
   "Roger that." So, they'd burned off fuel to get altitude, and now they were committed to the battle with full internal fuel. That would give them better legs than usual, and they had closed to less than two hundred miles between them and the E-3B Sentry they clearly wanted to kill. There were thirty people on that converted 707, and Winters knew a lot of them. They'd worked together for years, mainly in exercises, and each controller on the Sentry had a specialty. Some were good at getting you to a tanker. Some were good at sending you out to hunt. Some were best at defending themselves against enemies. This third group would now take over. The Sentry crewmen would think this wasn't cricket, that it wasn't exactly fair to chase deliberately after a converted obsolete airliner ... just because it acted as bird-dog for those who were killing off their fighter-pilot comrades. Well, that's life, Winters thought. But he wasn't going to give any of these BANDITs a free shot at another USAF aircraft.
   Eighty miles now. "Skippy, follow me up," the colonel ordered.
   "Roger, Lead." The two clawed up to forty thousand feet, so that the cold ground behind the targets would give a better contrast for their infrared seekers. He checked the radar display again. There had to be a good thirty of them, and that was a lot. If the Chinese were smart, they'd have two teams, one to engage and distract the American fighters, and the other to blow through after their primary target. He'd try to concentrate on the latter, but if the former group's pilots were competent, that might not be easy.
   The warbling tone started in his headphones. The range was now sixty miles. Why not now? he asked himself. They were beyond visual range, but not beyond range of his AMRAAM missiles. Time to shoot 'em in the lips.
   "Going Slammer," he called on the radio.
   "Roger, Slammer," Skippy replied from half a mile to his right.
   "Fox-One!" Winters called, as the first one leapt off the rails. The first Slammer angled left, seeking its designated target, one of the enemy's leading fighters. The closure speed between missile and target would be well over two thousand miles per hour. His eyes dropped to the radar display. His first missile appeared to hit—yes, the target blip expanded and started dropping. Number Eight. Time for another: "Fox-One!"
   "Fox-One," his wingman called. Seconds later: "Kill!" Lieutenant Acosta called.
   Winters's second missile somehow missed, but there wasn't time for wondering why. He had six more AMRAAMs, and he pickled four of them off in the next minute. By that time, he could see the inbound fighters. They were Shenyang J-8IIs, and they had radars and missiles, too. Winters flipped on his jammer pod, wondering if it would work or not, and wondering if their infrared missiles had all-aspect targeting like his Sidewinders. He'd probably find out soon, but first he fired off two 'winders. "Breaking right, Skippy."
   "I'm with you, Bronco," Acosta replied.
   Damn, Winters thought, there are still at least twenty of the fuckers. He headed down, speeding up as he went and calling for a vector.
   "Boar Lead, EAGLE, there's twenty-three of them left and they're still coming. Dividing into two elements. You have BANDITs at your seven o'clock and closing."
   Winters reversed his turn and racked his head against the g-forces to spot it. Yeah, a J-8 all right, the Chinese two-engine remake of the MiG-21, trying to get position to launch on him—no, two of the bastards. He reefed the turn in tight, pulling seven gees, and after ten endless seconds, getting his nose on the targets. His left hand selected Sidewinder and he triggered two off.
   The BANDITs saw the smoke trails of the missiles and broke apart, in opposite directions. One would escape, but both the heat-seekers locked on the guy to the right, and both erased his aircraft from the sky. But where had the other one gone? Winters' eyes swept a sky that was both crowded and empty at the same time. His threat receiver made its unwelcome screeching sound, and now he'd find out if the jammer pod worked or not. Somebody was trying to lock him up with a radar-guided missile. His eyes swept around looking for who that might be, but he couldn't see anyone—
   –Smoke trail! A missile, heading in his general direction, but then it veered and exploded with its target—friend or foe, Winters couldn't tell.
   "Boar Flight, Lead, check in!" he ordered.
   "Two." "Three." A pause before: "Four!"
   "Skippy, where are you?"
   "Low and right, one mile, Leader. Heads up, there's a BANDIT at your three and closing."
   "Oh, yeah?" Winters yanked his fighter to the right and was rewarded with an immediate warbling tone—but was it friend or foe? His wingman said the latter, but he couldn't tell, until—
   Whoever it was, it had launched at him, and so he triggered a Sidewinder in reply, then dove hard for the deck while punching off flares and chaff to distract it. It worked. The missile, a radar seeker, exploded harmlessly half a mile behind him, but his Sidewinder didn't miss. He'd just gotten another kill, but he didn't know how many today, and there wasn't time to think things over.
   "Skippy, form up on me, we're going north."
   "Roger, Bronco."
   Winters had his radar on, and he saw at least eight enemy blips to the north. He went to afterburner to chase, checking his fuel state. Still okay. The EAGLE accelerated rapidly, but just to be safe, he popped off a string of chaff and flares in case some unknown Chinese was shooting at him. The threat receiver was screeching continuously now, though not in the distinctive chirping tone that suggested lock-up. He checked his weapons board. Three AIM-9X Sidewinders left. Where the hell had this day gone to?
   "Ducky is hit, Ducky is hit!" a voice called. "Aw, shit!"
   "Ghost Man here, got the fucker for you, Ducky. Come right, let me give you a damage check."
   "One engine gone, other one's running hot," the second element leader reported, in a voice more angry than afraid. He didn't have time for fear yet. Another thirty seconds or so and that would start to take hold, Winters was sure.
   "Ducky, you're trailing vapor of some sort, recommend you find a place to set it down."
   "EAGLE Two, Bronco, what's happening?"
   "Bronco, we have six still inbound, putting Rodeo on it now. You have a BANDIT at your one o'clock at twenty miles, angels three-one, speed seven-five-zero."
   "Roger that, EAGLE. I'm on him." Winters came a little right and got another acquisition tone. "Fox-Two!" he called. The smoke trail ran straight for several miles, then corkscrewed to the left as it approached the little dot of gray-blue and . . . yes!
   "Rodeo Lead," a new voice called. "Fox-One, Fox-One with two!"
   "Conan, Fox-One!"
   Now things were really getting nervous. Winters knew that he might be in the line of fire for those Slammers. He looked down to see that the light on his IFF was a friendly, constant green. The Identification Friend or Foe was supposed to tell American radars and missiles that he was on their side, but Winters didn't entirely trust computer chips with his life, and so he squinted his eyes to look for smoke trails that weren't going sideways. His radar could see the AWACS now, and it was moving west, taking the first part of evasive action, but its radar was still transmitting, even with Chinese fighters within . . . twenty miles? Shit! But then two more blips disappeared, and the remaining ones all had friendly IFF markers.
   Winters checked his weapons display. No missiles left. How had all that happened? He was the United States Air Force champ for situational awareness, but he'd just lost track of a combat action. He couldn't remember firing all his missiles.
   "EAGLE Two, this is Boar Lead. I'm Winchester. Do you need any help?" "Winchester" meant out of weapons. That wasn't entirely true. He still had a full magazine of 20-mm cannon shells, but suddenly all the gees and all the excitement were pulling on him. His arms felt leaden as he eased his EAGLE back to level flight.
   "Boar Lead, EAGLE. Looks like we're okay now, but that was kinda exciting, fella."
   "Roger that, EAGLE. Same here. Anything left?"
   "Negative, Boar. Rodeo Lead got the last two. I think we owe that major a couple of beers."
   "I'll hold you to that, EAGLE," Rodeo Lead observed.
   "Ducky, where are you?" Winters called next.
   "Kinda busy, Bronco," a strained voice replied. "I got a hole in my arm, too."
   "Bronco, Ghost Man. Ducky's got some holes in the airframe. I'm going to shepherd him back to Suntan Thirty minutes, about."
   "Skippy, where you be?"
   "Right behind you, Leader. I think I got four, maybe five, in that furball."
   "Any weapons left?"
   "Slammer and 'winder, one each. I'll look after you, Colonel," Lieutenant Acosta promised. "How'd you make out?"
   "Two, maybe more, not sure," the squadron commander answered. The final tally would come from the AWACS, plus a check of his own videotape. Mainly he wanted to get out of the aircraft and take a good stretch, and he now had time to worry about Major Don Boyd– Ducky—and his aircraft.
   So, we want to mess with their heads, Mickey?" Admiral Dave Seaton asked.
   "That's the idea," the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs told the chief of naval operations.
   "Makes sense. Where are their heads at?"
   "According to what CIA says, they think we're limiting the scope of operations for political reasons—to protect their sensibilities, like."
   "No foolin'?" Seaton asked with no small degree of incredulity.
   Moore nodded. "Yep."
   "Well, then it's like a guy holding aces and eights, isn't it?" the CNO thought aloud, referring to the last poker hand held by James Butler—"Wild Bill"—Hickok in Deadwood, South Dakota. "We just pick the mission that's sure to flip them out."
   "What are you thinking?" Moore asked.
   "We can slam their navy pretty hard. Bart Mancuso's a pretty good operator. What are they most afraid of...?" Seaton leaned back in his swivel chair. "First thing Bart wants to do is take out their missile submarine. It's at sea now with Tucson in trail, about twenty thousand yards back."
   "That far?"
   "It's plenty close enough. It's got an SSN in close proximity to protect it. So, Tucson takes 'em both out—zap." Moore didn't get the terminology, but Seaton was referring to the Chinese ships as "it," meaning an enemy, a target worthy only of destruction. "Beijing might not know it's happened right away, unless they've got an 'I'm Dead' buoy on the sail. Their surface navy's a lot easier. That'll be mainly aircraft targets, some missiles to keep the surface community happy."
   "Submarine-launched missiles?"
   "Mickey, you don't sink ships by making holes that let air in. You sink ships by making holes that let water in," Seaton explained. "Okay, if this is supposed to be for psychological effect, we hit everything simultaneously. That'll mean staging a lot of assets, and it runs the risk of being overly complicated, having the other guy catch a sniff of what's happening before we do anything. It's a risk. Do we really want to run it?"
   "Ryan's thinking 'big picture.' Robby's helping him."
   "Robby's a fighter pilot," Seaton agreed. "He likes to think in terms of movie stuff. Hell, Tom Cruise is taller than he is," Seaton joked.
   "Good operational thinker. He was a pretty good J-3," Moore reminded the senior sailor.
   "Yeah, I know, it's just that he likes to make dramatic plays. Okay, we can do it, only it complicates things." Seaton looked out the window for a second. "You know what might really flip them out?"
   "What's that?" Moore asked. Seaton told him. "But it's not possible for us to do, is it?"
   "Maybe not, but we're not dealing with professional military people, are we? They're politicians, Mickey. They're used to dealing with images instead of reality. So, we give them an image."
   "Do you have the pieces in place to do that?"
   "Let me find out."
   "This is crazy, Dave."
   "And deploying First Armored to Russia isn't?" the CNO demanded.
   Lieutenant Colonel Angelo Giusti was now certain that he'd be fully content never to ride on another train as long as he lived. He didn't know that all of the Russian State Railroad's sleeper cars were being used to transport Russian army forces—they'd never sent any of the cars as far west as Berlin, not to slight the Americans, but because it had simply never occurred to anyone to do so. He took note of the fact that the train veered off to the north, off the main track, thumping over various switches and interlockings as it did so, and then the train came to a halt and started going backwards slowly. They seemed to be in the yard alone. They'd passed numerous westbound trains in the past two hours, all with engines dragging empty flatcars, and the conductor who appeared and disappeared regularly had told them that this was the approximate arrival time scheduled, but he hadn't really believed it, on the premise that a railroad with such uncomfortable seats probably didn't adhere to decent schedules either. But here they were, and the offloading ramps were obvious for what they were.
   "People, I think we're here," the commander of the Quarter Horse told his staff.
   "Praise Jesus," one of them observed. A few seconds later, the train jolted to a stop, and they were able to walk out onto the concrete platform, which, they saw, stretched a good thousand meters to the east. Inside of five minutes, the soldiers of Headquarters Troop were out and walking to their vehicles, stretching and grousing along the way.
   "Hey, Angie," called a familiar voice.
   Giusti looked to see Colonel Welch and walked up to him with a salute.
   "What's happening?" Giusti asked.
   "It's a mess out east of here, but there is good news."
   "What might that be?"
   "There's plenty of fuel stashed for us. I've been flying security detachments out, and Ivan says he's got fuel depots that're the size of fuckin' supertankers. So, we're not going to run out of gas."
   "That's good to know. What about my choppers?" Welch just pointed. There was an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior sitting not three hundred yards away. "Thank God for that. What's the bad news?"
   "The PLA has four complete Group-A armies in Siberia and heading north. There hasn't been any heavy contact yet because Ivan's refusing combat at the moment, until they can get something big enough to meet them with. They have one motor-rifle division in theater and four more heading up there. The last of 'em just cleared this railyard an hour and a half ago."
   "That's, what? Sixteen heavy divisions in the invasion force?"
   Welch nodded. "Thereabouts."
   "What's my mission?"
   "Assemble your squadron and head southeast. The idea is First Armored will cut off the bottom of the break-in and interrupt their supply line. Russian blocking force will then try to stop them about two hundred miles northeast of here."
   "Can they do it?" Four Russian divisions against sixteen Chinese didn't seem especially favorable odds.
   "Not sure," Welch admitted. "Your job is to get out and establish lead security for the division. Advance to and secure the first big fuel depot. We'll play it from there."
   "At the moment, the Air Force is mainly doing fighter work. No deep strikes yet because they don't have enough bombs to sustain any kind of campaign."
   "What about resupply?"
   "We have two basic loads for all the tracks. That'll have to do for a while. At least we have four units of fire for the artillery." That meant four days' worth of shells—based on what the Army computed that a day of combat required. The supply weenies who did those calculations weren't stingy on shells to shoot at the other guy. And in the entire Persian Gulf war, not a single tank had completely shot out its first basic load of shells, they both knew. But that was a different war. No two were ever the same, and they only got worse.
   Giusti turned when he heard the first engine start up. It was an M3A2 Bradley Scout track, and the sergeant in the commander's hatch looked happy to be moving. A Russian officer took over as traffic cop, waving the Brad forward, then right toward the assembly area. The next train backed up to the next ramp over. That would be "A" or Avenger Troop, with the first of Quarter Horse's really heavy equipment, nine of the M1A2 main battle tanks.
   "How long before everything's here?" Giusti asked.
   "Ninety minutes, they told me," Welch answered.
   "We'll see."
   "What's this?" a captain asked the screen in front of him. The E-3B Sentry designated EAGLE Two was back on the ground at Zhigansk. Its crew was more than a little shaken. Being approached by real fighters with real blood in their eyes was qualitatively different from exercises and postmission analysis back stateside. The tapes of the engagement had been handed off to the wing intelligence staff, who viewed the battle with some detachment, but they could see that the PLAAF had thrown a full regiment of first-line fighters at the AWACS, and more than that, done it on a one-way mission. They'd come in on burner, and that would have denied them a trip back to their base. So, they'd been willing to trade over thirty fighters for a single E-3B. But there was more to the mission than that, the captain saw.
   "Look here," he told his colonel. "Three, no, four reconnaissance birds went northwest." He ran the tape forward and backward. "We didn't touch any of them. Hell, they didn't even see them."
   "Well, I'm not going to fault the Sentry crew for that, Captain."
   "Not saying that, sir. But John Chinaman just got some pictures of Chita, and also of these Russian units moving north. The cat's out of the bag, Colonel."
   "We've got to start thinking about some counter-air missions on these airfields."
   "We have bombs to do it?"
   "Not sure, but I'm taking this to General Wallace. What's the score on the air fight?"
   "Colonel Winters got four for sure and two probables. Damn, that guy's really cleaning up. But it was the -16 guys saved the AWACS. These two J-8s got pretty damned close before Rodeo splashed them."
   "We'll put some more coverage on the E-3s from now on," the colonel observed.
   "Not a bad idea, sir."
   "Yes?" General Peng said, when his intelligence officer came up to him.
   "Aerial reconnaissance reports large mechanized formations one hundred fifty kilometers west of us, moving north and northeast."
   "Strength?" the general asked.
   "Not sure. Analysis of the photos is not complete, but certainly regimental strength, maybe more."
   "Where, exactly?"
   "Here, Comrade General." The intelligence officer unfolded a map and pointed. "They were spotted here, here, and from here to here. The pilot said large numbers of tanks and tracked vehicles."
   "Did they shoot at him?"
   "No, he said there was no fire at all."
   "So, they are rushing to where they are going . . . racing to get to our flank, or to get ahead of us ... ?" Peng considered this, looking down at the map. "Yes, that's what I would expect. Any reports from our front?"
   "Comrade General, our reconnaissance screen reports that they have seen the tracks of vehicles, but no visual sightings of the enemy at all. They have taken no fire, and seen nothing but civilians."
   "Quickly," Aleksandrov urged. How the driver and his assistant had gotten the ZIL-157 to this place was a mystery whose solution didn't interest the captain. That it had gotten here was enough. His lead BRM at that moment had been Sergeant Grechko's, and he'd filled up his tanks, and then radioed to the rest of the company, which for the first time broke visual contact with the advancing Chinese and raced north to top off as well. It was dangerous and against doctrine to leave the Chinese unseen, but Aleksandrov couldn't guarantee that they'd all have a chance to refuel otherwise. Then Sergeant Buikov had a question.
   "When do they refuel, Comrade Captain? We haven't seen them do it, have we?"
   That made his captain stop and think. "Why, no, we haven't. Their tanks must be as empty as ours."
   "They had extra fuel drums the first day, remember? They dropped them off sometime yesterday."
   "Yes, so maybe they have one more day of fuel, maybe only half a day, but then someone must refill them—but who will that be, and how . . . ?" the officer wondered. He turned to look. The fuel came out of the portable pump at about forty liters or ten gallons per minute. Grechko had taken his BRM south to reestablish contact with the Chinese. They were still sitting still, between frog-leap bounds, probably half an hour away if they stuck with their drill, from which they hadn't once deviated. And people had once said that the Red Army was inflexible ...
   "There, that's it," Aleksandrov's driver said. He handed the hose back and capped the tank.
   "You," the captain told the driver of the fuel truck. "Go east."
   "To where?" the man asked. "There's nothing there."
   That stopped his thinking for a few seconds. There had been a sawmill here once, and you could see the wide swaths of saplings left over from when whoever had worked here had cut trees for lumber. It was the closest thing to open ground they'd seen in over a day.
   "I came from the west. I can get back there now, with the truck lighter, and it's only six kilometers to the old logging road."
   "Very well, but do it quickly, corporal. If they see you, they'll blast you."
   "Farewell then, Comrade Captain." The corporal got back into the truck, started up, and turned to the north to loop around.
   "I hope someone gives him a drink tonight. He's earned it," Buikov said. There was much more to any army than the shooters.
   "Grechko, where are you?" Aleksandrov called over his radio.
   "Four kilometers south of you. They're still dismounted, Captain. Their officer seems to be talking on the radio."
   "Very well. You know what to do when they remount." The captain set the radio microphone down and leaned against his track. This business was getting very old. Buikov lit a smoke and stretched.
   "Why can't we just kill a few of them, Comrade Captain? Would it not be worth it to get some sleep?"
   "How many times must I tell you what our fucking mission is, Sergeant!" Aleksandrov nearly screamed at his sergeant.
   "Yes, Captain," Buikov responded meekly.
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March to Dang
Lieutenant Colonel Giusti started off in his personal HMMWV, the new incarnation of the venerable Jeep. Using a Bradley would have been more comfortable, even more sensible, but overly dramatic, he thought, and there wouldn't be any contact anytime soon. Besides, the right front seat in this vehicle was better for his back after the endless train ride. In any case, he was following a Russian UAZ-469, which looked like a Russian interpretation of an American SUV, and whose driver knew the way. The Kiowa Warrior helicopter he'd seen at the railyard was up and flying, scouting ahead and reporting back that there was nothing there but mostly empty road, except for some civilian traffic being kept out of the way by Russian MPs. Right behind Giusti's command vehicle was a Bradley flying the red-and-white guidon of the First of the Fourth Cavalry. The regiment had, for American arms, a long and distinguished history—its combat action had begun on July 30, 1857, against the Cheyenne Indians at Solomon River—and this campaign would add yet another battle streamer to the regimental standard . . . and Giusti hoped he'd live long enough to attach it himself. The land here reminded him of Montana, rolling foothills with pine trees in abundance. The views were decently long, just what a mechanized trooper liked, because it meant you could engage an enemy at long range. American soldiers especially preferred that, because they had weapons that could reach farther than those of most other armies.
   "DARKHORSE SIX to SABRE SIX, over," the radio crackled.
   "SABRE SIX," LTC Giusti responded.
   "SABRE, I'm now at checkpoint Denver. The way continues to be clear. Negative traffic, negative enemy indications, over. Proceeding east to checkpoint Wichita."
   "Roger that, thank you, out." Giusti checked the map to be sure he knew exactly where the chopper was.
   So, twenty miles ahead there was still nothing to be concerned about, at least according to the captain flying his lead helicopter. Where would it start? Giusti wondered. On the whole, he would have preferred to stand still and sit in on the divisional commander's conference, just to find out what the hell was happening, but as cavalry-screen commander, it was his job to go out forward and find the enemy, then report back to IRON SIX, the divisional commander. He really didn't have much of a mission yet, aside from driving up to the Russian fuel depot, refueling his vehicles there, and setting up security, then pulling out and continuing his advance as the leading elements of the First Armored's heavy forces got there. It was his job, in short, to be the ham in the sandwich, as one of his troop commanders liked to joke. But this ham could bite back. Under his command were three troops of armored cavalry, each with nine M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks and thirteen M3A2 Bradley cavalry scout vehicles, plus a FISTV track for forward observers to call in artillery support—somewhere behind him, the First Armored's artillery would be off-loading soon from its train, he hoped. His most valuable assets were D and E troops, each with eight OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters, able both to scout ahead and to shoot with Hellfire and Stinger missiles. In short, his squadron could look after itself, within reasonable limits.
   As they got closer, his troopers would become more cautious and circumspect, because good as they were, they were neither invincible nor immortal. America had fought against China only once, in Korea nearly sixty years earlier, and the experience had been satisfactory to neither side. For America, the initial Chinese attack had been unexpected and massive, forcing an ignominious retreat from the Yalu River. But for China, once America had gotten its act together, the experience had cost a million lives, because firepower was always the answer to raw numbers, and America's lasting lesson from its own Civil War was that it was better to expend things than to expend people. The American way of war was not shared by everyone, and in truth it was tailored to American material prosperity as much as to American reverence for human life, but it was the American way, and that was the way its warriors were schooled.
   I think it's about time to roll them back a little," General Wallace observed over the satellite link to Washington.
   "What do you propose?" Mickey Moore asked.
   "For starters, I want to send my F-16CGs after their radar sites. I'm tired of having them use radar to direct their fighters against my aircraft. Next, I want to start going after their logistical choke points. In twelve hours, the way things are going, I'll have enough ordnance to start doing some offensive warfare here. And it's about time for us to start, General," Wallace said.
   "Gus, I have to clear that with the President," the Chairman told the Air Force commander in Siberia.
   "Okay, fine, but tell him we damned near lost an AWACS yesterday—with a crew of thirty or so—and I'm not in a mood to write that many letters. We've been lucky so far, and an AWACS is a hard kill. Hell, it cost them a full regiment of fighters to fail in that mission. But enough's enough. I want to go after their radar sites, and I want to do some offensive counter-air."
   "Gus, the thinking here is that we want to commence offensive operations in a systematic way for maximum psychological effect. That means more than just knocking some antennas down."
   "General, I don't know what it looks like over there, but right here it's getting a little exciting. Their army is advancing rapidly. Pretty soon our Russian friends are going to have to make their stand. It'll be a whole lot easier if the enemy is short on gas and bullets."
   "We know that. We're trying to figure a way to shake up their political leadership."
   "It isn't politicians coming north trying to kill us, General. It's soldiers and airmen. We have to start crippling them before they ruin our whole damned day."
   "I understand that, Gus. I will present your position to the President," the Chairman promised.
   "Do that, will ya?" Wallace killed the transmission, wondering what the hell the lotus-eaters in Washington were thinking about, assuming they were thinking at all. He had a plan, and he thought it was a pretty good systematic one. His Dark Star drones had given him all the tactical intelligence he needed. He knew what targets to hit, and he had enough ordnance to do the hitting, or at least to start doing it. If they let me, Wallace thought.
   Well, it wasn't a complete waste," Marshal Luo said. "We got some pictures of what the Russians are doing."
   "And what's that?" Zhang asked.
   "They're moving one or two—probably two—divisions northeast from their rail assembly point at Chita. We have good aerial pictures of them."
   "And still nothing in front of our forces?"
   Luo shook his head. "Our reconnaissance people haven't seen anything more than tracks in the ground. I have to assume there are Russians in those woods somewhere, doing reconnaissance of their own, but if so, they're light forces who're working very hard to keep out of the way. We know they've called up some reserves, but they haven't shown up either. Maybe their reservists didn't report. Morale in Russia is supposed to be very low, Tan tells us, and that's all we've really seen. The men we captured are very disheartened because of their lack of support, and they didn't fight all that well. Except for the American airplanes, this war is going extremely well."
   "And they haven't attacked our territory yet?" Zhang wanted to be clear on that.
   Another shake of the head. "No, and I can't claim that they're afraid to do it. Their fighter aircraft are excellent, but to the best of our knowledge they haven't even attempted a photo-reconnaissance mission. Maybe they just depend on satellites now. Certainly those are supposed to be excellent sources of information for them."
   "And the gold mine?"
   "We'll be there in thirty-six hours. And at that point we can make use of the roads their own engineers have been building to exploit the mineral finds. From the gold mine to the oil fields—five to seven days, depending on how well we can run supplies up."
   "This is amazing, Luo," Zhang observed. "Better than my fondest hopes."
   "I almost wish the Russians would stand and fight somewhere, so that we could have a battle and be done with it. As it is, my forces are stringing out somewhat, but only because the lead elements are racing forward so well. I've thought about slowing them down to maintain unit integrity, but—"
   "But speed works for us, doesn't it?" Zhang observed.
   "Yes, it would seem to," the Defense Minister agreed. "But one prefers to keep units tightly grouped in case there is some contact. However, if the enemy is running, one doesn't want to give him pause to regroup. So, I'm giving General Peng and his division’s free rein."
   "What forces are you facing?"
   "We're not sure. Perhaps a regiment or so could be ahead of us, but we see no evidence of it, and two more regiments are trying to race ahead of us, or attack our flank, but we have flank security out to the west, and they've seen nothing."
   Bondarenko hoped that someday he'd meet the team that had developed this American Dark Star drone. Never in history had a commander possessed such knowledge as this, and without it he would have been forced to commit his slender forces to battle just to ascertain what stood against him. Not now. He probably had a better feel for the location of the advancing Chinese than their own commander did.
   Better yet, the leading regiment of the 201st Motor Rifle Division was only a few kilometers away, and the leading formation was the division's steel fist, its independent tank regiment of ninety-five T-80U main-battle tanks.
   The 265th was ready for the reinforcement, and its commander, Yuriy Sinyavskiy, proclaimed that he was tired of running away. A career professional soldier and mechanized infantryman, Sinyavskiy was a profane, cigar-chomping man of forty-six years, now leaning over a map table in Bondarenko's headquarters.
   "This, this is my ground, Gennady Iosifovich," he said, stabbing at the point with his finger. It was just five kilometers north of the Gogol Gold Field, a line of ridges twenty kilometers across, facing open ground the Chinese would have to cross. "And put the Two-Oh-First's tanks just here on my right. When we stop their advance guard, they can blow in from the west and roll them up."
   "Reconnaissance shows their leading division is strung out somewhat," Bondarenko told him.
   It was a mistake made by every army in the world. The sharpest teeth of any field force are its artillery, but even self-propelled artillery, mounted on tracks for cross-country mobility, can't seem to keep up with the mechanized forces it is supposed to support. It was a lesson that had even surprised the Americans in the Persian Gulf, when they'd found their artillery could keep up with the leading tank echelons only with strenuous effort, and across flat ground. The People's Liberation Army had tracked artillery, but a lot of it was still the towed variety, and was being pulled behind trucks that could not travel cross-country as well as the tracked kind.
   General Diggs observed the discussion, which his rudimentary Russian could not quite keep up with, and Sinyavskiy spoke no English, which really slowed things down.
   "You still have a lot of combat power to stop, Yuriy Andreyevich," Diggs pointed out, waiting for the translation to get across.
   "If we cannot stop them completely, at least we can give them a bloody nose" was the belated reply.
   "Stay mobile," Diggs advised. "If I were this General Peng, I'd maneuver east—the ground is better suited for it—and try to wrap you up from your left."
   "We will see how maneuver-minded they are," Bondarenko said for his subordinate. "So far all they have done is drive straight forward, and I think they are becoming complacent. See how they are stretched out, Marion. Their units are too far separated to provide mutual support. They are in a pursuit phase of warfare, and that makes them disorganized, and they have little air support to warn them of what lies ahead. I think Yuriy is right: This is a good place for a stand."
   "I agree it's good ground, Gennady, just don't marry the place, okay?" Diggs warned.
   Bondarenko translated that for his subordinate, who answered back in machine-gun Russian around his cigar.
   "Yuriy says it is a place for a fucking, not a wedding. When will you join your command, Marion?"
   "My chopper's on the way in now, buddy. My cavalry screen is at the first fuel depot, with First Brigade right behind. We should be in contact in a day and a half or so."
   They'd already discussed Diggs's plan of attack. First Armored would assemble northwest of Belogorsk, fueling at the last big Russian depot, then leap out in the darkness for the Chinese bridgehead. Intelligence said that the PLA's 65th Type-B Group Army was there now, digging in to protect the left shoulder of their break-in. Not a mechanized force, it was still a lot for a single division to chew on. If the Chinese plan of attack had a weakness, it was that they'd bet all their mechanized forces on the drive forward. The forces left behind to secure the breakthrough were at best motorized—carried by wheeled vehicles instead of tracked ones—and at worst leg infantry, who had to walk where they went. That made them slow and vulnerable to men who sat down behind steel as they went to battle in their tracked vehicles.
   But there were a hell of a lot of them, Diggs reminded himself.
   Before he could leave, General Sinyavskiy reached into his hip pocket and pulled out a flask. "A drink for luck," he said in his only words of broken English.
   "Hell, why not?" Diggs tossed it off. It was good stuff, actually. "When this is all over, we will drink again," he promised.
   "Da, "the general replied. "Good luck, Diggs."
   "Marion," Bondarenko said. "Be careful, comrade."
   "You, too, Gennady. You got enough medals, buddy. No sense getting your ass shot off trying to win another."
   "Generals are supposed to die in bed," Bondarenko agreed on the way to the door.
   Diggs trotted out to the UH-60. Colonel Boyle was flying this one. Diggs donned the crash helmet, wishing they'd come up with another name for the damned thing, and settled in the jump seat behind the pilots.
   "How we doing, sir?" Boyle asked, letting the lieutenant take the chopper back off.
   "Well, we have a plan, Dick. Question is, will it work?"
   "Do I get let in on it?"
   "Your Apaches are going to be busy."
   "There's a surprise," Boyle observed.
   "How are your people?"
   "Ready" was the one-word reply. "What are we calling this?" "CHOPSTICKS." Diggs then heard a laugh over the intercom wire. "I love it."
   "Okay, Mickey," Robby Jackson said. "I understand Gus's position. But we have a big picture here to think about."
   They were in the Situation Room looking at the Chairman on TV from the Pentagon room known as The Tank. It was hard to hear what he was muttering that way, but the way he looked down was a sufficient indication of his feelings about Robby's remark.
   "General," Ryan said, "the idea here is to rattle the cage of their political leadership. Best way to do that is to go after them in more places than one, overload 'em."
   "Sir, I agree with that idea, but General Wallace has his point, too. Taking down their radar fence will degrade their ability to use their fighters against us, and they still have a formidable fighter force, even though we've handled them pretty rough so far."
   "Mickey, if you handle a girl this way down in Mississippi, it's called rape," the Vice President observed. "Their fighter pilots look at their aircraft now and they see caskets, for Christ's sake. Their confidence has got to be gone, and that's all a fighter jock has to hold onto. Trust me on this one, will ya?"
   "But Gus—"
   "But Gus is too worried about his force. Okay, fine, let him send some Charlie-Golfs against their picket fence, but mainly we want those birds armed with Smart Pigs to go after their ground forces. The fighter force can look after itself."
   For the first time, General Mickey Moore regretted Ryan's choice of Vice President. Robby was thinking like a politician rather than an operational commander—and that came as something of a surprise. He was seemingly less worried about the safety of his forces than of...
   . . . than of what the overall objective was, Moore corrected himself. And that was not a completely bad way to think, was it? Jackson had been a pretty good J-3 not so long before, hadn't he?
   American commanders no longer thought of their men as expendable assets. That was not a bad thing at all, but sometimes you had to put forces in harm's way, and when you did that, some of them did not come home. And that was what they were paid for, whether you liked it or not. Robby Jackson had been a Navy fighter pilot, and he hadn't forgotten the warrior ethos, despite his new job and pay grade.
   "Sir," Moore said, "what orders do I give General Wallace?"
   "Cecil B. goddamned DeMille," Mancuso observed crossly. "Ever wanted to part the Red Sea?" General Lahr asked.
   "I ain't God, Mike," CINCPAC said next.
   "Well, it is elegant, and we do have most of the pieces in place," his J-2 pointed out.
   "This is a political operation. What the hell are we, a goddamned focus group?"
   "Sir, you going to continue to rant, or are we going to get to work on this?"
   Mancuso wished for a lupara to blast a hole in the wall, or Mike Lahr's chest, but he was a uniformed officer, and he did now have orders from his Commander-in-chief.
   "All right. I just don't like to have other people design my operations."
   "And you know the guy."
   "Mike, once upon a time, back when I had three stripes and driving a submarine was all I had to worry about, Ryan and I helped steal a whole Russian submarine, yeah—and if you repeat that to anyone, I'll have one of my Marines shoot your ass. Sink some of their ships, yeah, splash a few of their airplanes, sure, but 'trailing our coat' in sight of land? Jesus."
   "It'll shake them up some."
   "If they don't sink some of my ships in the attempt."
   "Hey, Tony," the voice on the phone said. It took Bretano a second to recognize it.
   "Where are you now, Al?" the Secretary of Defense asked. "Norfolk. Didn't you know? I'm on USS Gettysburg upgrading their SAMs. It was your idea, wasn't it?"
   "Well, yeah, I suppose it was," Tony Bretano agreed, thinking back.
   "You must have seen this Chinese thing coming a long way off, man."
   "As a matter of fact, we—" The SecDef paused for a second. "What do you mean?"
   "I mean, if the ChiComms loft an ICBM at us, this Aegis system does give us something to fall back on, if the computer simulations are right. They ought to be. I wrote most of the software," Gregory went on.
   Secretary Bretano didn't want to admit that he hadn't really thought about that eventuality. Thinking things through was one of the things he was paid for, after all. "How ready are you?"
   "The electronics stuff is okay, but we don't have any SAMs aboard. They're stashed at some depot or something, up on the York River, I think they said. When they load them aboard, I can upgrade the software on the seeker heads. The only missiles aboard, the ones I've been playing with, they're blue ones, exercise missiles, not shooters, I just found out. You know, the Navy's a little weird. The ship's in a floating dry dock. They're going to lower us back in the water in a few hours." He couldn't see his former boss's face at the moment. If he could, he would have recognized the oh, shit expression on his Italian face.
   "So, you're confident in your systems?"
   "A full-up test would be nice, but if we can loft three or four SAMs at the inbound, yeah, I think it oughta work."
   "Okay, thanks, Al."
   "So, how's this war going? All I see on TV is how the Air Force is kicking some ass."
   "They are, the TV's got that right, but the rest—can't talk about it over the phone. Al, let me get back to you, okay?"
   "Yes, sir."
   In his office, Bretano switched buttons. "Ask Admiral Seaton to come in to see me." That didn't take very long.
   "You rang, Mr. Secretary," the CNO said when he came in.
   "Admiral, there's a former employee of mine from TRW in Norfolk right now. I set him up to look at upgrading the Aegis missile system to engage ballistic targets."
   "I heard a little about that. How's his project going?" Dave Seaton asked.
   "He says he's ready for a full-up test. But, Admiral, what if the Chinese launch one of their CSS-4s at us?"
   "It wouldn't be good," Seaton replied.
   "Then how about we take our Aegis ships and put them close to the likely targets?"
   "Well, sir, the system's not certified for ballistic targets yet, and we haven't really run a test, and—"
   "Is it better than nothing?" the SecDef asked, cutting him off.
   "A little, I suppose."
   "Then let's make that happen, and make it happen right now."
   Seaton straightened up. "Aye aye, sir."
   "Gettysburg first. Have her load up what missiles she needs, and bring her right here," Bretano ordered.
   "I'll call SACLANT right now."
   It was the strangest damned thing, Gregory thought. This ship—not an especially big ship, smaller than the one he and Candi had taken a cruise on the previous winter, but still an oceangoing ship—was in an elevator. That's what a floating dry dock was. They were flooding it now, to make it go down, back into the water to see if the new propeller worked. Sailors who worked on the dry dock were watching from their perches on—whatever the hell you called the walls of the damned thing.
   "Weird, ain't it, sir?"
   Gregory smelled the smoke. It had to be Senior Chief Leek. He turned. It was.
   "Never seen this sort of thing before."
   "Nobody does real often, 'cept'n those guys over there who operate this thing. Did you take the chance to walk under the ship?"
   "Walk under ten thousand tons of metal?" Gregory responded. "I don't think so."
   "You was a soldier, wasn't you?"
   "Told you, didn't I? West Point, jump school, ranger school, back when I was young and foolish."
   "Well, Doc, it's no big deal. Kinda interesting to see how she's put together, 'specially the sonar dome up forward. If I wasn't a radar guy, I probably woulda been a sonar guy, 'cept there's nothing for them to do anymore."
   Gregory looked down. Water was creeping across the gray metal floor—deck? he wondered—of the dry dock.
   "Attention on deck!" a voice called. Sailors turned and saluted, including Chief Leek.
   It was Captain Bob Blandy, Gettysburg's CO. Gregory had met him only once, and then just to say hello.
   "Dr. Gregory."
   "Captain." They shook hands.
   "How's your project been going?"
   "Well, the simulations look good. I'd like to try it against a live target."
   "You got sent to us by the SecDef?”
   "Not exactly, but he called me in from California to look at the technical aspects of the problem. I worked for him when he was head of TRW."
   "You're an SDI guy, right?"
   "That and SAMs, yes, sir. Other things. I'm one of the world's experts on adaptive optics, from my SDI days."
   "What's that?" Captain Blandy asked.
   "The rubber mirror, we called it. You use computer-controlled actuators to warp the mirror to compensate for atmospheric distortions. The idea was to use that to focus the energy beam from a free-electron laser. But it didn't work out. The rubber mirror worked just fine, but for some reason we never figured out, the damned lasers didn't scale up the way we hoped they would. Didn't come up to the power requirements to smoke a missile body." Gregory looked down in the dry dock again. It certainly took its time, but they probably didn't want to drop anything this valuable. "I wasn't directly involved in that, but I kibitzed some. It turned out to be a monster of a technical problem. We just kept bashing our heads against the wall until we got tired of the squishy sound."
   "I know mechanical engineering, some electrical, but not the high-energy stuff. So, what do you think of our Aegis system?"
   "I love the radar. Just like the Cobra Dane the Air Force has up at Shemya in the Aleutians. A little more advanced, even. You could probably bounce a signal off the moon if you wanted to."
   "That's a little out of our range gate," Blandy observed. "Chief Leek here been taking good care of you?"
   "When he leaves the Navy, we might have a place for him at TRW. We're part of the ongoing SAM project."
   "And Lieutenant Olson, too?" the skipper asked.
   "He's a very bright young officer, Captain. I can think of a lot of companies who might want him." If Gregory had a fault, it was being too truthful.
   "I ought to say something to discourage you from that, but—"
   "Cap'n!" A sailor came up. "Flash-traffic from SACLANT, sir." He handed over a clipboard. Captain Blandy signed the acknowledgment sheet and took the message. His eyes focused very closely.
   "Do you know if the SecDef knows what you're up to?"
   "Yes, Captain, he does. I just spoke to Tony a few minutes ago."
   "What the hell did you tell him?"
   Gregory shrugged. "Not much, just that the project was coming along nicely."
   "Uh-huh. Chief Leek, how's your hardware?"
   "Everything's a hundred percent on line, Cap'n. We got a job, sir?" the senior chief asked.
   "Looks like it. Dr. Gregory, if you will excuse me, I have to see my officers. Chief, we're going to be getting under way soon. If any of your troops are on the beach, call 'em back. Spread the word."
   "Aye aye, sir." He saluted as Captain Blandy hustled back forward. "What's that all about?"
   "Beats me, Chief."
   "What do I do? Getting under way?" Gregory asked.
   "Got your toothbrush? If not, you can buy one in the ship's store. Excuse me, Doc, I have to do a quick muster." Leek tossed his cigarette over the side and went the same way that the captain had.
   And there was precisely nothing for Gregory to do. There was no way for him to leave the ship, except to jump down into the flooding floating dry dock, and that didn't look like a viable option. So, he headed back into the superstructure and found the ship's store open. There he bought a toothbrush.
   Bondarenko spent the next three hours with Major General Sinyavskiy, going over approach routes and fire plans.
   "They have fire-finder radar, Yuriy, and their counter-battery rockets have a long reach."
   "Can we expect any help from the Americans?"
   "I'm working on that. We have superb reconnaissance information from their moviestar drones."
   "I need the location of their artillery. If we can take that away from them, it makes my job much easier."
   "Tolkunov!" the theater commander yelled. It was loud enough that his intelligence coordinator came running.
   "Yes, Comrade General!"
   "Vladimir Konstantinovich, we'll be making our stand here," Bondarenko said, pointing to a red line on the map. "I want minute-to-minute information of the approaching Chinese formations—especially their artillery."
   "I can do that. Give me ten minutes." And the G-2 disappeared back out to where the Dark Star terminal was. Then his boss thought about it.
   "Come on, Yuriy, you have to see this."
   "General," Major Tucker said by way of greeting. Then he saw a second one. "General," he said again.
   "This is General Sinyavskiy. He commands Two-Six-Five. Would you please show him the advancing Chinese?" It wasn't a question or a request, just phrased politely because Tucker was a foreigner.
   "Okay, it's right here, sir, we've got it all on videotape. Their leading reconnaissance elements are ... here, and their leading main-force units are right here."
   "Fuck," Sinyavskiy observed in Russian. "Is this MAGIC?"
   "No, this is—" Bondarenko switched languages. "Which unit is this, Major?"
   "Grace Kelly again, sir. To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant, Hitchcock movie that one was. The sun'll be down in another hour or so and we'll be getting it all on the thermal-imaging systems. Anyway, here's their leading battalion, all look like their Type-90 tanks. They're keeping good formation discipline, and they just refueled about an hour ago, so, figure they're good for another two hundred or so kilometers before they stop again."
   "Their artillery?"
   "Lagging behind, sir, except for this tracked unit here." Tucker played with the mouse some and brought up another picture.
   "Gennady Iosifovich, how can we fail with such information?" the division commander asked.
   "Yuriy, remember when we thought about attacking the Americans?"
   "Madness. The Chinks can't see this drone?" Sinyavskiy asked, somewhat incredulously.
   "It's stealthy, as they call it, invisible on radar."
   "Sir, I have a direct line to our headquarters at Zhigansk. If you guys are going to make a stand, what do you want from us?' Tucker asked. "I can forward your request to General Wallace."
   "I have thirty Su-25 attack bombers and also fifty Su-24 fighter bombers standing by, plus two hundred Mi-24 helicopters." Getting the last in theater had been agonizingly slow, but finally they were here, and they were the Ace of Diamonds Bondarenko had facedown on the card table. He hadn't let so much as one approach the area of operations yet, but they were two hundred kilometers away, fueled and armed, their flight crews flying to practice their airmanship and shooting live weapons as rehearsal—for some, the first live weapons they'd ever shot.
   "That's going to be a surprise for good old Joe," Tucker observed with a whistle. "Where'd you hide them, sir? Hell, General, I didn't know they were around."
   "There are a few secure places. We want to give our guests a proper greeting when the time is right," Gennady Iosifovich told the young American officer.
   "So, what do you want us to do, sir?"
   "Take down their logistics. Show me this Smart Pig you've been talking to Colonel Tolkunov about."
   "That we can probably do, sir," Tucker said. "Let me get on the phone to General Wallace."
   "So, they're turning me loose?" Wallace asked. "As soon as contact is imminent between Russian and Chinese ground forces." Mickey Moore then gave him his targets. "It's most of the things you wanted to hit, Gus."
   "I suppose," the Air Force commander allowed, somewhat grudgingly. "And if the Russians ask for help?"
   "Give it to them, within reason."
   LTC Giusti, SABRE SIX, got off the helicopter at the Number Two fueling point and walked toward General Diggs.
   "They weren't kidding," Colonel Masterman was saying. "This is a fuckin' lake." One and a quarter billion liters translated to more than three hundred million gallons, or nearly a million tons of fuel, about the carrying capacity of four supertankers, all of Number Two Diesel, or close enough that the fuel injectors on his tanks and Bradleys wouldn't notice the difference. The manager of the site, a civilian, had said that the fuel had been there for nearly forty years, since Khrushchev had had a falling-out with Chairman Mao, and the possibility of war with the other communist country had turned from an impossibility into a perceived likelihood. Either it was remarkable prescience or paranoid wish fulfillment, but in either case it worked to the benefit of First Armored Division.
   The off-loading facilities could have been better, but the Soviets evidently hadn't had much experience with building gas stations. It was more efficient to pump the fuel into the division's fuel bowsers, which then motored off to fill the tanks and tracks four or six at a time.
   "Okay, Mitch, what do we have on the enemy?" General Diggs asked his intelligence officer.
   "Sir, we've got a Dark Star tasked directly to us now, and she'll be up for another nine hours. We're up against a leg-infantry division. They're forty kilometers that way, mainly sitting along this line of hills. There's a regiment of ChiComm tanks supporting them."
   "Some light and medium, all of it towed, setting up now, with fire-finder radars we need to worry about," Colonel Turner warned.
   "I've asked General Wallace to task some F-16s with HARMs to us. They can tune the seekers on those to the millimeter-band the fire-finders use."
   "Make that happen," Diggs ordered.
   "Yes, sir."
   "Duke, how long to contact?" the general asked his operations officer.
   "If we move on schedule, we'll be in their neighborhood about zero-two-hundred."
   "Okay, let's get the brigade commanders briefed in. We party just after midnight," Diggs told his staff, not even regretting his choice of words. He was a soldier about to go into combat, and with that came a different and not entirely pleasant way of thinking.
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It had been rather a tedious couple of days for USS Tucson. She'd been camped out on 406 for sixteen days, and was holding station seventeen thousand yards—eight and a half nautical miles—astern of the Chinese boomer, with a nuclear-powered fast-attack camped out just to the south of it at the moment. The SSN, at least, supposedly had a name, Hai Long, the intelligence weenies said it was. But to Tucson's sonarman, 406 was Sierra-Eleven, and Hai Long was Sierra-Twelve, and so they were known to the fire-control tracking party.
   Tracking both targets was not demanding. Though both had nuclear power plants, the reactor systems were noisy, especially the feed pumps that ran cooling water through the nuclear pile. That, plus the sixty-hertz generators, made for two pairs of bright lines on the waterfall sonar display, and tracking both was about as difficult as watching two blind men in an empty shopping mall parking lot at high noon on a cloudless day. But it was more interesting than tracking whales in the North Pacific, which some of PACFLT's boats had been tasked to do of late, to keep the tree-huggers happy.
   Things had gotten a little more interesting lately. Tucson ran to periscope/antenna depth twice a day, and the crew had learned, much to everyone's surprise, that Chinese and American armed forces were trading shots in Siberia, and that meant, the crew figured, that 406 might have to be made to disappear, and that was a mission, and while it might not exactly be fun, it was what they were paid to do, which made it a worthwhile activity.
   406 had submarine-launched ballistic missiles aboard, twelve Ju Lang-1 CSS-N-3s, each with a single megaton-range warhead. The name meant "Great Wave," so the intelligence book said. It also said they had a range of less than three thousand kilometers, which was less than half the range needed to strike California, though it could hit Guam, which was American territory. That didn't really matter. What did matter was that 406 and Hai Long were ships of war belonging to a nation with which the United States was now trading shots.
   The VLS radio fed off an antenna trailed off the after corner of Tucson's sail, and it received transmissions from a monstrous, mainly underground transmitter located in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The tree-huggers complained that the energy emanating from this radio confused migrating geese in the fall, but no hunters had yet complained about smaller bags of waterfowl, and so the radio remained in service. Built to send messages to American missile submarines, it still transmitted to the fast-attacks that remained in active service. When a transmission was received, a bell went off in the submarine's communications room, located aft of the attack center, on the starboard side.
   The bell dinged. The sailor on watch called his officer, a lieutenant, j.g., who in turn called the captain, who took the submarine back up to antenna depth. Once there, he elevated the communications laser to track in on the Navy's own communications satellite, known as SSIX, the Submarine Satellite Information Exchange, telling it that he was ready for a transmission. The reply action message came over a directional S-band radio for the higher bandwidth. The signal was cross-loaded into the submarine's crypto machines, decoded, and printed up.
   "Well, it's about goddamned time," the CO observed to his executive officer.
   "Doesn't say when to expect it," the XO observed.
   "Call it two hours," the captain said. "Let's close to ten thousand yards. Get the troops perked up. Spin up the weapons."
   "Anything else close?"
   "There's a Chinese frigate off to the north, about thirty miles."
   "Okay, after we do the subs, we'll Harpoon that one, then we'll close to finish it off, if necessary."
   "Right." The XO went forward to the attack center. He checked his watch. It was dark topside. It didn't really matter to anyone aboard the submarine, but darkness made everybody feel a little more secure for some reason or other, even the XO.
   It was tenser now. Giusti's reconnaissance troopers were now within twenty miles of the expected Chinese positions. That put them inside artillery range, and that made the job serious.
   The mission was to advance to contact, and to find a hole in the Chinese positions for the division to exploit. The secondary objective was to shoot through the gap and break into the Chinese logistical area, just over the river from where they'd made their breakthrough. There they would rape and pillage, as LTC Giusti thought of it, probably turning north to roll up the Chinese rear with one or two brigades, and probably leaving the third to remain in place astride the Chinese line of communications as a blocking force.
   His troopers had all put on their "makeup," as some called it, their camouflage paint, darkening the natural light spots of the face and lightening the dark ones. It had the overall effect of making them look like green and black space aliens. The advance would be mounted, for the most part, with the cavalry scouts mostly staying in their Bradleys and depending on the thermal-imaging viewers used by the driver and gunner to spot enemies. They'd be jumping out occasionally, though, and so everyone checked his PVS-11 personal night-vision system. Every trooper had three sets of fresh AA batteries that were as important as the magazines for their M16A2 rifles. Most of the men gobbled down an MRE ration and chased it with water, and often some aspirin or Tylenol to ward off minor aches and pains that might come from bumps or sprains. They all traded looks and jokes to lighten the stress of the night, plus the usual brave words meant as much for themselves as for others. Sergeants and junior officers reminded the men of their training, and told them to be confident in their abilities.
   Then, on radioed command, the Bradleys started off, leading the heavier main-battle tanks off to the enemy, moving initially at about ten miles per hour.
   The squadron's helicopters were up, all sixteen of them, moving very cautiously because armor on a helicopter is about as valuable as a sheet of newspaper, and because someone on the ground only needed a thermal-imaging viewer to see them, and a heat-seeking missile would snuff them out of the sky. The enemy had light flak, too, and that was just as deadly.
   The OH-58D Kiowa Warriors had good night-vision systems, and in training the flight crews had learned to be confident of them, but people didn't often die in training. Knowing that there were people out there with live weapons and the orders to make use of them made everyone discount some of the lessons they'd learned. Getting shot down in one of those exercises meant being told over the radio to land, and maybe getting a tongue-lashing from the company commander for screwing up, which usually ended with a reminder that in real combat operations, he'd be dead, his wife a widow, and his children orphans. But they weren't, really, and so those words were never taken as seriously as they were now. Now it could be real, and all of the flight crews had wives or sweethearts, and most of them had children as well.
   And so they moved forward, using their own night-vision equipment to sweep the ground ahead, their hands a little more tingly than usual on the controls.
   Division Headquarters had its own Dark Star terminal set up, with an Air Force captain running it. Diggs didn't much like being so far in the rear with his men going out in harm's way, but command wasn't the same thing as leadership. He'd been told that years before at Fort Leavenworth's Command and General Staff School, and he'd experienced it in Saudi Arabia only the previous year, but even so, he felt the need to be out forward, close to his men, so that he could share the danger with them. But the best way for him to mitigate the danger to them was to stay back here and establish effective control over operations, along with Colonel Masterman.
   "Cookstoves?" Masterman asked.
   "Yep," the USAF captain—his name was Frank Williams—agreed. "And these bright ones are campfires. Cool night. Ground temperature's about forty-three degrees, air temperature is forty-one. Good contrast for the thermal viewing systems. They seem to use the kind of stoves we had in the Boy Scouts. Damn, there's a bunch of 'em. Like hundreds."
   "Got a hole in their lines?"
   "Looks thin right here, 'tween these two hills. They have a company on this hilltop, and another company here—I bet they're in different battalions," Williams said. "Always seems to work that way. The gap between them looks like a little more 'n a kilometer, but there's a little stream at the bottom."
   "Bradleys don't mind getting a little wet," Diggs told the junior officer. "Duke?"
   "Best bet for a blow-through I've seen so far. Aim Angelo for it?"
   Diggs thought about that. It meant committing his cavalry screen, and that also meant committing at least one of his brigades, but such decisions were what generals were for. "What else is around?"
   "I'd say their regimental headquarters is right about here, judging by the tents and trucks. You're going to want to hit it with artillery, I expect."
   "Right about the time QUARTER HORSE gets there. No sense alerting them too soon," Masterman suggested. General Diggs thought it over one more time and made his first important decision of the night:
   "Agreed. Duke, tell Giusti to head for that gap."
   "Yes, sir." Colonel Masterman moved off toward the radios. They were doing this on the fly, which wasn't exactly the way they preferred, but that was often the world of real-time combat operations.
   "Roger," Diggs called.
   Colonel Roger Ardan was his divisional artillery commander– GUNFIGHTER SIX on the divisional radio net—a tall thin man, rather like a not-tall-enough basketball player.
   "Yes, sir."
   "Here's your first fire mission. We're going to shoot Angelo Giusti through this gap. Company of infantry here and here, and what appears to be a regimental command post here."
   "Enemy artillery?"
   "Some one-twenty-twos here, and what looks like two-oh-threes, eight inch, right here."
   "No rocket-launchers?"
   "None I've seen yet. That's a little odd, but they're not around that I can see," Captain Williams told the gunner.
   "What about radars?" Colonel Ardan asked.
   "Maybe one here, but hard to tell. It's under some camo-nets." Williams selected the image with his mouse and expanded it.
   "We'll take that one on general principles. Put a pin in it," Ardan said.
   "Yes, sir. Print up a target list?"
   "You bet, son."
   "Here you go," Williams said. A command generated two sheets of paper out of the adjacent printer, with latitude-longitude positions down to the second of angle. The captain handed it across.
   "How the hell did we ever survive without GPS and overheads?" Ardan wondered aloud. "Okay, General, this we can do. When?"
   "Call it thirty minutes."
   "We'll be ready," GUNFIGHTER promised. "I'll TOT the regimental command post."
   "Sounds good to me," Diggs observed.
   First Armored had a beefed-up artillery brigade. The second and the third battalions of the First Field Artillery Regiment had the new Paladin self-propelled 155-mm howitzer, and the 2nd Battalion, 6th
   Field Artillery, had self-propelled eight-inch, plus the division's Multiple Launch Rocket System tracks, which ordinarily were under the direct order of the divisional commander, as his personal shotgun. These units were six miles behind the leading cavalry troops, and on order left the roads they were on and pulled off to firing positions north and south of the gravel track. Each of them had a Global Positioning Satellite, or GPS, receiver, and these told them where they were located down to an accuracy of less than three meters. A transmission over the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, or J-TIDS, told them the locations of their targets, and onboard computers computed azimuth and range to them. Then they learned the shell selection, either "common" high-explosive or VT (for variable-time). These were loaded and the guns trained onto the distant targets, and the gunners just waited for the word to pull the strings. Their readiness was radioed back to the divisional HQ.
   "All set, sir," Colonel Ardan reported. "Okay, we'll wait to see how Angelo's doing."
   "Your screen is right here," Captain Williams told the senior officers. For him it was like being in a skybox at a football game, except that one team didn't know he was there, and didn't know the other team was on the field as well. "They're within three kicks of the enemy's first line of outposts."
   "Duke, tell Angelo. Get it out on the IVIS."
   "Done," Masterman replied. The only thing they couldn't do was cross-deck the "take" from the Dark Star drone.
   SABRE SIX was now in his Bradley instead of the safer Abrams main-battle tank. He could see better out of this one, Giusti judged.
   "IVIS is up," the track commander called. Colonel Giusti ducked down and twisted around the gun-turret structure to see where the sergeant was sitting. Whoever had designed the Bradley hadn't considered that a senior officer might use it—and his squadron didn't have one of the new "God" tracks yet, with the IVIS display in the back.
   "First enemy post is right over there, sir, at eleven o'clock, behind this little rise," the sergeant said, tapping the screen.
   "Well, let's go say hi."
   "Roger that, Colonel. Kick it, Charlie," he told the driver. For the rest of the crew: "Perk it up, people. Heads up. We're in Indian Country."
   "How are things up north?" Diggs asked Captain Williams. "Let's see." The captain deselected Marilyn Monroe and switched over to the "take" from Grace Kelly. "Here we go, the leading Chinese elements are within fifteen klicks of the Russians. Looks like they're settled in for the night, though. Looks like we'll be in contact first."
   "Oh, well." Diggs shrugged. "Back to Miss Monroe."
   "Yes, sir." More computer maneuvers. "Here we are. Here's your leading cavalry element, two klicks from John Chinaman's first hole in the ground."
   Diggs had grown up watching boxing on TV, His father had been a real fan of Muhammad Ali, but even when Ali had lost to Leon Spinks, he'd known the other guy was in the ring with him. Not now. The camera zoomed in to isolate the hole. There were two men there. One was hunched down smoking a cigarette, and that must have ruined the night vision of one of them, maybe both, which explained why they hadn't seen anything yet, though they ought to have heard something . . . the Brad wasn't all that quiet. . .
   "There, he just woke up a little," Williams said. On the TV screen, the head turned abruptly. Then the other head came up, and the bright point of the cigarette went flying off to their right front. Giusti's track was coming in from their left, and now both heads were oriented in that general direction.
   "How close can you get?" Diggs asked.
   "Let's see . . ." In five seconds, the two nameless Chinese infantrymen in their hand-dug foxhole took up half the screen. Then Williams did a split screen, like the picture-in-picture feature of some television sets. The big part showed the two doomed soldiers, and the little one was locked on the leading Bradley Scout, whose gun turret was now turning a little to the left . . . about eleven hundred meters now ...
   They had a field phone in the hole, Diggs could see now, sitting on the dirt between the two grunts. Their hole was the first in the enemy combat outpost line, and their job would have been to report back when something evil this way came. They heard something, but they weren't sure what it was, were probably waiting until they saw it. The PLA didn't have night-vision goggles, at least not at this level, Diggs thought. That was important information. "Okay, back it off."
   "Right, sir." Williams dumped the close-up of the two grunts, returning to the picture that showed both them and the approaching Brad. Diggs was sure that Giusti's gunner could see them now. It was just a question of when he chose to take the first shot, and that was a call for the guy in the field to make, wasn't it?
   "There!" The muzzle of the 25-mm chain gun flashed three times, causing the TV screen to flare, and there was a line of the tracers, streaking to the hole—
   –and the two grunts were dead, killed by three rounds of high-explosive incendiary-tracer ammunition. Diggs turned.
   "GUNFIGHTER, commence firing!"
   "Fire!" Colonel Ardan said into his microphone. Moments later, the ground shook under their feet, and a few seconds after that came the distant sound of thunder, and more than ninety shells started arcing into the air.
   Colonel Ardan had ordered a TOT, or time-on-target barrage, on the regimental command post behind the small pass that the Quarter Horse was driving for. An American invention from World War II, TOT was designed so that every round fired from the various guns targeted on the single spot on the map would arrive at the same instant, and so deny the people there the chance to dive for cover at the first warning. In the old days, that had meant laboriously computing the flight time of every single shell, but computers did that now in less time than it took to frame the thought. This particular mission had fallen to 2nd/6th and its eight-inchers, universally regarded as the most accurate heavy guns in the United States Army. Two of the shells were common impact-fused high-explosive, and the other ten were VT. That stood for "variable time," but really meant that in the nose of each shell was a tiny radar transponder set to explode the shell when it was about fifty feet off the ground. In this way, the fragments lancing away from the exploding shell were not wasted into the ground, but instead made an inverted cone of death about two hundred feet across at its base. The common shells would have the effect of making craters, immolating those who might be in individual shelter holes.
   Captain Williams switched Marilyn's focus to the enemy command post. From a high perspective the thermal cameras even caught the bright dots of the shells racing through the night. Then the camera zoomed back in on the target. By Diggs's estimation, all of the shells landed in less than two seconds The effects were horrific. The six tents there evaporated, and the glowing green stick figures of human beings fell flat and stopped moving. Some pieces separated from one another, an effect Diggs had never seen.
   "Whoa!" Williams observed. "Stir-fry."
   What was it about the Air Force? General Diggs wondered. Or maybe it was just the kid's youth.
   On the screen, some people were still moving, having miraculously survived the first barrage, but instead of moving around (or of running away, because artillery barrages didn't arrive in groups of only one) they remained at their posts, some looking to the needs of the wounded. It was courageous, but it doomed most of them to death. The only one or two people in the regimental command post who were going to live were the ones who'd pick winning lottery tickets later in life. If there were going to be as many as two, that is. The second barrage landed twenty-eight seconds after the first, and then a third thirty-one seconds after that, according to the time display in the upper right corner of the screen.
   "Lord have mercy," Colonel Ardan observed in a whisper. He'd never in his career seen the effect of fire in this way. It had always been a distant, detached thing to the cannon-cocker, but now he saw what his guns actually did.
   "Target, cease fire," Diggs said, using tanker-talk for It's dead, you killed it, find another one. A year before in the sands of Saudi Arabia, he'd watched combat on a computer screen and felt the coldness of war, but this was infinitely worse. This was like watching a Hollywood special-effects movie, but it wasn't computer-generated animation. He'd just watched the command section of an infantry regiment, perhaps forty people, erased from the face of the earth in less than ninety seconds, and they had, after all, been human beings, something this young Air Force captain didn't seem to grasp. To him it was doubtless some sort of Nintendo game. Diggs decided that it was probably better to think of it that way.
   The two infantry companies on the hilltops north and south of the little pass were clobbered by a full battery each. The next question was what that would generate. With the regimental CP down, things might get a little confusing for the divisional commander. Somebody would hear the noise, and if someone from regiment had been on the phone, the disconnect first of all would make people think, huh, because that was the normal human reaction, even for soldiers in a combat zone; bad phone connections were probably the rule rather than the exception, and they'd probably use phones rather than radios because they were more secure and more reliable—except when shellfire killed the phone and/or cut the lines. So, the enemy division commander was probably just waking up with a tug on his shoulder, then he'd be a little confused by what he was told.
   "Captain, do we know where the enemy's divisional CP is yet?"
   "Probably right here, sir. Not completely sure, but there's a bunch of trucks."
   "Show me on a map."
   "Here, sir." The computer screen again. Diggs had a sudden thought: This young Air Force officer might eat his meals off it. More to the point, the CP was just in range of his MLRS batteries. And it had a lot of radio masts. Yeah, that was where the ChiComm general was.
   "GUNFIGHTER, I want this hit right now."
   "Yes, sir." And the command went out over JTIDS to the 2nd/6th Field Artillery. The MLRS tracks were already set up awaiting orders, and the target assigned was well within the slewing angle for their launchers. The range, forty-three kilometers, was just within their capability. Here also the work was done by computer. The crewmen trained the weapons on the correct azimuth, locked their suspension systems to stabilize the vehicles, and closed the shutters on their windows to protect against blast and the ingress of the rocket exhaust smoke, which was lethal when breathed. Then it was just a matter of pushing the red firing button, which happened on command of the battery commander, and all nine vehicles unleashed their twelve rockets each, about a second apart, every one of which contained 644 grenade-sized submunitions, all targeted on an area the size of three football fields.
   The effect of this, Diggs saw three minutes after giving the order, was nearly seventy thousand individual explosions in the target area, and as bad as it had been for the regimental CP, that had been trick or treat compared to this. Whatever division he'd been facing was now as thoroughly decapitated as though by Robespierre himself.
   After the initial fire, Lieutenant Colonel Giusti found that he had no targets. He sent one troop through the gap while holding the north side of it himself, taking no fire at all. The falling 155s on the hills to his front and rear explained much of that, for surely it was a storm of steel and explosives. Someone somewhere fired off a parachute flare, but nothing developed from it. Twenty minutes after the initial barrage, the leading elements of First Brigade came into view. He waited until they were within a hundred meters before pulling off to the east to rejoin his squadron in the shallow valley. He was now technically inside enemy lines, but as with the first good hit in a football game, the initial tension was now gone, and there was a job to be done.
   Dick Boyle, like most aviators, was qualified in more than one sort of aircraft, and he could have chosen to fly-lead the mission in an Apache, which was one of the really enjoyable experiences for a rotary-wing pilot, but instead he remained in his UH-60 Blackhawk, the better to observe the action. His target was the independent tank brigade which was the organizational fist of the 65th Type B Group Army, and to service that target he had twenty-eight of his forty-two AH-64D Apache attack helicopters, supported by twelve Kiowa Warriors and one other Blackhawk.
   The Chinese tank force was twenty miles northwest of their initial crossing point, agreeably sitting in open ground in circular formation so as to have guns pointing in all directions, none of which were a matter of concern to Dick Boyle and his men. It had probably made sense to laager them that way forty years ago, but not today, not in the night with Apaches nearby. With his OH-58Ds playing the scout role, the attack formation swept in from the north, down the valley. Whatever colonel was in command of this force had selected a place from which he could move to support any of the divisions in the 65th Army, but that merely concentrated his vehicles in a single spot, about five hundred meters across. Boyle's only worry was SAMs and maybe flak, but he had Dark Star photos to tell him where that all was, and he had a team of four Apaches delegated to handle the threat first of all.
   It was in the form of two missile batteries. One was composed of four DK-9 launchers very similar to the American Chaparral, with four Sidewinder-class heat-seekers mounted on a tracked chassis. Their range would be about seven miles, just a touch longer than the effective range of his Hellfire missiles. The other was their HQ-61A, which Boyle thought of as the Chinese version of the Russian SA-6. There were fewer of these, but they had ten miles of range and supposedly a very capable radar system, and also had a hard floor of about a hundred meters, below which they couldn't track a target, which was a good thing to know, if true. His tactic would be to detect them and take them out as quickly as possible, depending on his EH-60 electronic-intelligence helicopter to sniff them out. The code for one of these was HOLIDAY. The heat-seekers were called DUCKS.
   The Chinese soldiers on the ground would also have simple man-portable heat-seekers that were about as capable as the old American Redeye missile, but his Apaches had suppressed exhausts that were expected to defeat the heat-seekers—and those who had voiced the expectations weren't flying tonight. They never did.
   There were more air missions tonight, and not all of them were over Russian territory. Twenty F-117A Stealth fighters had deployed to Zhigansk, and they'd mainly sat on the ground since their first arrival, waiting for bombs to be flown over, along with the guidance package attachments that changed them from simple ballistic weapons to smart bombs that went deliberately for a special piece of real estate. The special weapons for the Black Jets were the GBU-27 laser-guided hard-target penetrators. These were designed not merely to hit objects and explode, but to lance inside them before detonating, and they had special targets. There were twenty-two such targets tonight, all located in or near the cities of Harbin and Bei'an, and every one was a railroad bridge abutment.
   The People's Republic depended more on its rail transportation than most countries, because it lacked the number of motor vehicles to necessitate the construction of highways, and also because the inherent efficiency of railroads appealed to the economic model in the heads of its political leaders. They did not ignore the fact that such a dependence on a single transportation modality could make them vulnerable to attack, and so at every potential chokepoint, like river crossings, they'd used the ample labor force of their country to build multiple bridges, all of heavily-built rebarred concrete abutments. Surely, they'd thought, six separate crossing points at a single river couldn't all be damaged beyond timely repair.
   The Black Jets refueled from the usual KC-135 tanker aircraft and continued south, unseen by the radar fence erected by the PRC government along its northeastern border, and kept going. The heavily automated aircraft continued to their destinations on autopilot. They even made their bombing runs on autopilot, because it was too much to expect a pilot, however skilled, both to fly the aircraft and guide the infrared laser whose invisible grounded dot the bomb's seeker-head sought out. The attacks were made almost simultaneously, just a minute apart from east to west at the six parallel bridges over the Songhua Jiang River at Harbin. Each bridge had major pier abutments on the north and south bank. Both were attacked in each case. The bomb drops were easier than contractor tests, given the clear air and the total lack of defensive interference. In every case, the first set of six bombs fell true, striking the targets at Mach-1 speed and penetrating in for a distance of twenty-five to thirty feet before exploding. The weapons each had 535 pounds of Tritonal explosive. Not a particularly large quantity, in tight confinement it nevertheless generated hellish power, rupturing the hundred of tons of concrete around it like so much porcelain, albeit without the noise one would expect from such an event.
   Not content with this destruction, the second team of F-117s struck at the northern abutments, and smashed them as well. The only lives directly lost were those of the engineer and fireman of a northbound diesel locomotive pulling a trainload of ammunition for the army group across the Amur River, who were unable to stop their train before running over the edge.
   The same performance was repeated in Bei'an, where five more bridges were dropped into the Wuyur He River, and in this dual stroke, which had lasted a mere twenty-one minutes, the supply line to the Chinese invasion force was sundered for all time to come. The eight aircraft left over—they'd been a reserve force in case some of the bombs should fail to destroy their targets—headed for the loop siding near the Amur used by tank cars. This was, oddly enough, not nearly as badly hit as the bridges, since the deep-penetrating bombs went too far into the ground to create much of surface craters, though some train cars were upset, and one of them caught fire. All in all, it had been a routine mission for the F-117s. Attempts to engage them with the SAM batteries in the two cities failed because the aircraft never appeared on the search-radar screens, and a missile launch was not even attempted.
   The bell went off again, and the ELF message printed up as EQT SPEC OP, or "execute special operation" in proper English. Tucson was now nine thousand yards behind Sierra-Eleven, and fifteen from Sierra-Twelve.
   "We're going to do one fish each. Firing order Two, One. Do we have a solution light?" the captain asked.
   "Valid solutions for both fish," the weapons officer replied.
   "Ready Tube Two."
   "Tube Two is ready in all respects, tube flooded, outer door is open, sir."
   "Very well, Match generated bearings and . . . shoot!"
   The handle was turned on the proper console. “Tube Two fired electrically, sir." Tucson shuddered through her length with the sudden explosion of compressed air that ejected the weapon into the seawater.
   "Unit is running hot, straight, and normal, sir," Sonar reported.
   "Very well, ready Tube One," the captain said next.
   "Tube One is ready in all respects, tube is flooded, outer door is open," Weps announced again.
   "Very well. Match generated bearings and shoot!" This command came as something of an exclamation. The captain figured he owed it to the crew, which was at battle stations, of course.
   "Tube One fired electrically, sir," the petty officer announced after turning the handle again, with exactly the same physical effect on the ship.
   "Unit Two running hot, straight, and normal, sir," Sonar said again. And with that, the captain took the five steps to the Sonar Room.
   "Here we go, Cap'n," the leading sonarman said, pointing to the glass screen with a yellow grease pencil.
   The nine thousand yards' distance to 406 translated to four and a half nautical miles. The target was traveling at a depth of less than a hundred feet, maybe transmitting to its base on the radio or something, and steaming along at a bare five knots, judging by the blade count. That worked out to a running time of just under five minutes for the first target, and then another hundred sixty seconds or so to the second one. The second shot would probably get a little more complicated than the first. Even if they failed to hear the Mark 48 ADCAP torpedo coming, a deaf man could not miss the sound of 800 pounds of Torpex going off underwater three miles away, and he'd try to maneuver, or do something more than break out the worry beads and say a few Hail Maos, or whatever prayer these people said. The captain leaned back into the attack center.
   "Reload ADCAP into Tube Two, and a Harpoon into Tube One."
   "Aye, Cap'n," the Weapons Officer acknowledged.
   "Where's that frigate?" he asked the lead sonarman.
   "Here, sir, Luda-class, an old clunker, steam-powered, bearing two-one-six, tooling along at about fourteen knots, by blade count."
   "Time on Unit Two," the skipper called.
   "Minute twenty seconds to impact, sir." The captain looked at the display. If Sierra-Eleven had sonarmen on duty, they weren't paying much attention to the world around them. That would change shortly.
   "Okay, go active in thirty seconds."
   "Aye, aye."
   On the sonar display, the torpedo was dead on the tone line from 406. It seemed a shame to kill a submarine when you didn't even know its name ...
   "Going active on Unit Two," Weps called.
   "There it is, sir," the sonarman said, pointing to a different part of the screen. The ultrasonic sonar lit up a new line, and fifteen seconds later—
   –"Sierra-Eleven just kicked the gas, sir, look here, cavitation and blade count is going up, starting a turn to starboard . . . ain't gonna matter, sir," the sonarman knew from the display. You couldn't outmaneuver a -48.
   "What about—Twelve?"
   "He's heard it, too, Cap'n. Increasing speed and—" The sonarman flipped his headphones off. "Yeow! That hurt." He shook his head hard. "Unit impact on Sierra-Eleven, sir."
   The captain picked up a spare set of headphones and plugged them in. The sea was still rumbling. The target's engine sounds had stopped almost at once—the visual display confirmed that, though the sixty-hertz line showed her generators were still—no, they stopped, too. He heard and saw the sound of blowing air. Whoever he was, he was trying to blow ballast and head for the roof, but without engine power . . . no, not much of a chance of that, was there? Then he shifted his eyes to the visual track of Sierra-Twelve. The fast-attack had been a little more awake, and was turning radically to port, and really kicking on the power. His plant noise was way up, as was his blade count . . . and he was blowing ballast tanks, too . . . why?
   "Time on Unit One?" the captain called.
   "Thirty seconds for original plot, probably a little longer now."
   Not much longer, the skipper thought. The ADCAP was motoring along on the sunny side of sixty knots this close to the surface . . . Weps went active on it, and the fish was immediately in acquisition. A well-trained crew would have fired off a torpedo of their own, just to scare their attacker off, and maybe escape if the first fish missed—not much of a play, but it cost you nothing to do it, and maybe got you the satisfaction of having company arrive in hell right after you knocked on the door . . . but they didn't even get a decoy off. They must have all been asleep . . . certainly not very awake . . . not very alert . . . didn't they know there was a war going on . . . ? Twenty-five seconds later, they found out the hard way, when another splotch appeared on the sonar display.
   Well, he thought, two for two. That was pretty easy. He stepped back into the attack center and lifted a microphone. "Now hear this. This is the captain speaking. We just launched two fish on a pair of ChiComm submarines. We won't be seeing either one of them anymore. Well done to everybody. That is all." Then he looked over at his communications officer: "Prepare a dispatch to CINCLANT. 'Four Zero six destroyed at ... Twenty-Two-Fifty-Six Zulu along with escorting SSN. Now engaging Frigate.' Send that off when we get to antenna depth."
   "Yes, sir."
   "Tracking party, we have a frigate bearing two-one-six. Let's get a track on him so we can Harpoon his ass."
   "Aye, sir," said the lieutenant manning the tracking plot.
   It was approaching six in the evening in Washington, where everybody who was somebody was watching TV, but not the commercial kind. The Dark Star feeds were going up on encrypted satellite links, and being distributed around Washington over dedicated military fiber-optic lines. One of those, of course, led to the White House Situation Room.
   "Holy God," Ryan said. "It's like some kind of fucking video game. How long have we had this capability?"
   "It's pretty new, Jack, and yeah," the Vice President agreed, "it is kind of obscene—but, well, it's just what the operators see. I mean, the times I splashed airplanes, I got to see it, just I was in a G-suit with a TOMCAT strapped to my back. Somehow this feels dirtier, man. Like watching a guy and a gal go at it, and not in training films—"
   "That's what you call porno flicks on the boats, Jack, 'training films.' But this is like peeking in a window on a guy's wedding night, and he doesn't know about it... feels kinda dirty."
   "The people will like it," Arnie van Damm predicted. "The average guy out there, especially kids, to them it'll be like a movie."
   "Maybe so, Arnie, but it's a snuff film. Real lives being snuffed out, and in large numbers. That division CP Diggs got with his MLRS rockets—I mean, Jesus Christ. It was like an act of an angry pagan god, like the meteor that got the dinosaurs, like a murderer wasting a kid in a schoolyard," Robby said, searching for just how dirty it felt to him. But it was business, not personal, for what little consolation that might be to the families of the departed.
   "Getting some radio traffic," Tolkunov told General Bondarenko. The intelligence officer had half a dozen electronic-intelligence groups out, listening in on the frequencies used by the PLA. They usually spoke in coded phrases which were difficult to figure out, especially since the words changed on a day-to-day basis, along with identifying names for the units and personalities involved.
   But the security measures tended to fall by the wayside when an emergency happened, and senior officers wanted hard information in a hurry. In this case, Bondarenko had watched the take from Grace Kelly and felt little pity for the victims, wishing only that he'd been the one inflicting the casualties, because it was his country the Chinks had invaded.
   "The American artillery doctrine is impressive, isn't it?" Colonel Tolkunov observed.
   "They've always had good artillery. But so do we, as this Peng fellow will discover in a few hours," CINC-FAR EAST replied. "What do you think he'll do?"
   "It depends on what he finds out," the G-2 replied. "The information that gets to him will probably be fairly confusing, and it will concern him, but less than his own mission."
   And that made sense, Gennady Iosifovich had to agree. Generals tended to think in terms of the missions assigned to them, leaving the missions of others to those others, trusting them to do the jobs assigned to them. It was the only way an army could function, really. Otherwise you'd be so worried about what was happening around you that you'd never get your own work done, and the entire thing would quickly grind to a halt. It was called tunnel vision when it didn't work, and good teamwork when it did.
   "What about the American deep strikes?"
   "Those Stealth aircraft are amazing. The Chinese rail system is complete disrupted. Our guests will soon be running short of fuel."
   "Pity," Bondarenko observed. The Americans were efficient warriors, and their doctrine of deep-strike, which the Russian military had scarcely considered, could be damned effective if you brought it off, and if your enemy couldn't adapt to it. Whether the Chinese could adapt was something they'd have to see about. "But they still have sixteen mechanized divisions for us to deal with."
   "That is so, Comrade General," Tolkunov agreed.
   "FALCON THREE to FALCON LEADER, I see me a SAM track. It's a Holiday," the pilot reported. "Hilltop two miles west of the CLOVERLEAF—wait, there's a Duck there, too."
   "Anything else?" FALCON LEAD asked. This captain commanded the Apaches tasked to SAM suppression.
   "Some light flak, mainly two-five mike-mike set up around the SAMs. Request permission to fire, over."
   "Stand by," FALCON LEAD replied. "EAGLE LEAD, this is FALCON LEAD, over."
   "EAGLE LEAD copies, FALCON," Boyle replied from his Blackhawk.
   "We have SAM tracks in view. Permission to engage, over."
   Boyle thought fast. His Apaches now had the tank laager in sight and surrounded on three sides. Okay, Falcon was approaching the hill overlooking the laager, code-named CLOVERLEAF. Well, it was about time.
   "Permission granted. Engage the SAMs. Out."
   "Roger, engaging. FALCON THREE, this is LEAD. Take 'em out."
   "Take your shot, Billy," the pilot told his gunner.
   "Hellfire, now!" The gunner in the front seat triggered off his first missile. The seven-inch-wide missile leaped off its launch-rail with a flare of yellow light, and immediately tracked on the laser dot. Through his thermal viewer, he saw a dismounted crewman looking that way, and he immediately pointed toward the helicopter. He was yelling to get someone's attention, and the race was between the inbound missile and human reaction time. The missile had to win. He got the attention of someone, maybe his sergeant or lieutenant, who then looked in the direction he was pointing. You could tell by the way he cocked his head that he didn't see anything at first, while the first one was jerking his arm like a fishing pole, and the second one saw it, but by that time there was nothing for him to do but throw himself to the ground, and even that was a waste of energy. The Hellfire hit the base of the launcher assembly and exploded, killing everything within a ten-meter circle.
   "Tough luck, Joe." Then the gunner switched over to the other one, the Holiday launcher. This crew had been alerted by the sound, and he could see them scurrying to light up their weapon. They'd just about gotten to their places when the Duck launcher blew up.
   Next came the flak. There were six gun mounts, equally divided between 25– and 35-mm twin gun sets, and those could be nasty. The Apache closed in. The gunner selected his own 20-mm cannon and walked it across every site. The impacts looked like flashbulbs, and the guns were knocked over, some with exploding ammo boxes.
   "EAGLE LEAD, FALCON THREE, this hilltop is cleaned oft. We're circling to make sure. No coverage over the CLOVERLEAF now. It's wide open."
   "Roger that." And Boyle ordered his Apaches in.
   It was about as fair as putting a professional boxer into the ring against a six-year-old. The Apaches circled the laagered tanks just like Indians in the movies around a circled wagon train, except in this one, the settlers couldn't fire back. The Chinese tank crewmen were mainly sleeping outside, next to their mounts. Some crews were in their vehicles, standing guard after a fashion, and some dismounted crewmen were walking around on guard, holding Type 68 rifles. They'd been alerted somewhat by the explosions on the hilltop overlooking the laager. Some of the junior officers were shouting to get their men up and into their tanks, not knowing the threat, but thinking naturally enough that the safe place to be was behind armor, from which place they could shoot back to defend themselves. They could scarcely have been more wrong.
   The Apaches danced around the laager, sideslipping as the gunners triggered off their missiles. Three of the PLA tanks used their thermal viewers and actually saw helicopters and shot at them, but the range of the tank guns was only half that of the Hellfires, and all of the rounds fell well short, as did the six handheld HN-5 Sams that were fired into the night. The Hellfires, however, did not, and in every case—only two of them missed—the huge warheads had the same effect on the steel tanks that a cherry bomb might have on a plastic model. Turrets flew into the air atop pillars of flame, then crashed back down, usually upside-down on the vehicles to which they'd been attached. There'd been eighty-six tanks here, and that amounted to three missiles per helicopter, with a few lucky gunners getting a fourth shot. All in all, the destruction of this brigade took less than three minutes, leaving the colonel who'd been in command to stand at his command post with openmouthed horror at the loss of the three hundred soldiers he'd been training for over a year for this very moment. He even survived a strafing of his command section by a departing Apache, seeing the helicopter streak overhead so quickly that he didn't even have time to draw his service pistol.
   "EAGLE LEAD, FALCON LEAD. The CLOVERLEAF is toast, and we are RTB, over."
   Boyle could do little more than shake his head. "Roger, FALCON. Well done, Captain."
   "Roger, thank you, sir. Out." The Apaches formed up and headed northwest to their base to refuel and rearm for the next mission. Below, he could see the First Brigade, blown through the gap in Chinese lines, heading southeast into the Chinese logistics area.
   Task Force 77 had been holding station east of the Formosa Strait until receiving orders to race west. The various Air Bosses had word that one of their submarines had eliminated a Chinese boomer and fast-attack submarine, which was fine with them, and probably just peachy for the task force commander. Now it was their job to go after the People's Liberation Army Navy, which, they all agreed, was a hell of a name for a maritime armed force. The first aircraft to go off, behind the F-l4Ds flying barrier combat air patrol, or BARCAP, for the Task Force, were the E-2C Hawkeye radar aircraft, the Navy's two-engine prop-driven mini-AWACS. These were tasked to finding targets for the shooters, mainly F/A-18 Hornets.
   This was to be a complex operation. The Task Force had three SSNs assigned to "sanitize" the area of ChiComm submarines. The Task Force commander seemed especially concerned with the possibility of a Chinese diesel-powered SSK punching a hole in one of his ships, but that was not an immediate concern for the airmen, unless they could find one tied alongside the pier.
   The only real problem was target identification. There was ample commercial shipping in the area, and they had orders to leave that entirely alone, even ships flying the PRC flag. Anything with a SAM radar would be engaged beyond visual range. Otherwise, a pilot had to have eyeballs on the target before loosing a weapon. Of weapons they had plenty, and ships were fragile targets as far as missiles and thousand-pound bombs were concerned. The overall target was the PLAN South Sea Fleet, based at Guangszhou (better known to Westerners as Canton). The naval base there was well-sited for attack, though it was defended by surface-to-air missile batteries and some flak.
   The F-l4s on the LEAD were guided to aerial targets by the Hawkeyes. Again since there was commercial air traffic in the sky, the fighter pilots had to close to visual range for a positive ID of their targets. This could be dangerous, but there was no avoiding it.
   What the Navy pilots didn't know was that the Chinese knew the electronic signature of the APD-138 radar on the E-2Cs, and therefore they also knew that something was coming. Fully a hundred Chinese fighters scrambled into the air and set up their own combat air patrol over their East Coast. The Hawkeyes spotted that and radioed a warning to the advancing fighters, setting the stage for a massive air engagement in the predawn darkness.
   There was no elegant way to go about it. Two squadrons of TOMCATs, twenty-four in all, led the strike force. Each carried four AIM-54C Phoenix missiles, plus four AIM-9X Sidewinders, The Phoenixes were old—nearly fifteen years old for some of them, and in some cases the solid-fuel motor bodies were developing cracks that would soon become apparent. They had a theoretical range of over a hundred miles, however, and that made them useful things to hang on one's airframe.
   The Hawkeye crews had orders to make careful determination of what was a duck and what was a goose, but it was agreed quickly that two or more aircraft flying in close formation were not Airbuses full of civilian passengers, and the TOMCATs were authorized to shoot a full hundred miles off the Chinese mainland. The first salvo was composed of forty-eight. Of these, six self-destructed within five hundred yards of their launching aircraft, to the displeased surprise of the pilots involved. The remaining forty-two streaked upward in a ballistic path to a height of over a hundred thousand feet before tipping over at Mach-5 speed and switching on their millimeter-band Doppler homing radars. By the end of their flight, their motors were burned out, and they did not leave the smoke trail that pilots look for. Thus, though the Chinese pilots knew that they'd been illuminated, they couldn't see the danger coming, and therefore could not see anything to evade. The forty-two Phoenixes started going off in their formations, and the only survivors were those who broke into radical turns when they saw the first warheads go off. All in all, the forty-eight launches resulted in thirty-two kills. The surviving Chinese pilots were shaken but also enraged. As one man, they turned east and lit up their search radars, looking for targets for their own air-to-air missiles. These they found, but beyond range of their weapons. The senior officer surviving the initial attack ordered them to go to afterburner and streak east, and at a range of sixty miles, they fired off their PL-10 radar-guided air-to-air missiles. These were a copy of the Italian Aspide, in turn a copy of the old American AIM-7E Sparrow. To track a target, they required that the launching aircraft keep itself and its radar pointed at the target. In this case, the Americans were heading in as well, with their own radars emitting, and what happened was a great game of chicken, with the fighter pilots on either side unwilling to turn and run—and besides, they all figured that to do so merely guaranteed one's death. And so the race was between airplanes and missiles, but the PL-10 had a speed of Mach 4 against the Phoenix's Mach 5.
   Back on the Hawkeyes, the crewmen kept track of the engagement. Both the aircraft and the streaking missiles were visible on the scopes, and there was a collective holding of breath for this one.
   The Phoenixes hit first, killing thirty-one more PLAAF fighters, and also turning off their radars rather abruptly. That made some of their missiles "go dumb," but not all, and the six Chinese fighters that survived the second Phoenix barrage found themselves illuminating targets for a total of thirty-nine PL-10s, which angled for only four TOMCATs.
   The American pilots affected by this saw them coming, and the feeling wasn't particularly pleasant. Each went to afterburner and dove for the deck, losing every bit of chaff and flares he had in his protection pods, plus turning the jamming pods up to max power. One got clean away. Another lost most of them in the chaff, where the Chinese missiles exploded like fireworks in his wake, but one of the F-l4s had nineteen missiles chasing him alone, and there was no avoiding them all. The third missile got close enough to trigger its warhead, and then nine more, and the TOMCAT was reduced to chaff itself, along with its two-man crew. That left one Navy fighter whose radar-intercept officer ejected safely, though the pilot did not.
   The remaining TOMCATs continued to bore in. They were out of Phoenix missiles now, and closed to continue the engagement with Sidewinders. Losing comrades did nothing more than anger them for the moment, and this time it was the Chinese who turned back and headed for their coast, chased by a cloud of heat-seeking missiles.
   This bar fight had the effect of clearing the way for the strike force.
   The PLAN base had twelve piers with ships alongside, and the United States Navy went after its Chinese counterpart—as usually happened, on the principle that in war people invariably kill those most like themselves before going after the different ones.
   The first to draw the wrath of the Hornets were the submarines. They were mainly old Romeo-class diesel boats, long past whatever prime they'd once had. They were mainly rafted in pairs, and the Hornet drivers struck at them with Skippers and SLAMs. The former was a thousand-pound bomb with a rudimentary guidance package attached, plus a rocket motor taken off obsolete missiles, and they proved adequate to the task. The pilots tried to guide them between the rafted submarines, so as to kill two with a single weapon, and that worked in three out of five attempts. SLAM was a land-attack version of the Harpoon anti-ship missile, and these were directed at the port and maintenance facilities without which a naval base is just a cluttered beach. The damage done looked impressive on the videotapes. Other aircraft tasked to a mission called IRON HAND sought out Chinese missile and flak batteries, and engaged those at safe distance with HARM anti-radiation missiles which sought out and destroyed acquisition and illumination radars with high reliability.
   All in all, the first U.S. Navy attack on the mainland of East Asia since Vietnam went off well, eliminating twelve PRC warships and laying waste to one of its principal naval bases.
   Other bases were attacked with Tomahawk cruise missiles launched mainly from surface ships. Every PLAN base over a swath of five hundred miles of coast took one form of fire or another, and the ship count was jacked up to sixteen, all in a period of a little over an hour. The American tactical aircraft returned to their carriers, having spilled the blood of their enemies, though also having lost some of their own.
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Loss of Control

With the death of General Peng, command of 34th Shock Army devolved to Major General Ge Li, CG also of 302nd Armored. His first task was to get himself clear, and this he did, ordering his tank off the long gun-range slope while one of the surviving reconnaissance tracks recovered Peng's body. All of those tracked vehicles also pulled back, as Ge figured his first task was to determine what had happened, rather then to avenge the death of his army commander. It took him twenty minutes to motor back to his own command section, where he had a command track identical to the one Peng had driven about in. He needed the radios, since he knew the field phones were down, for whatever reason he didn't know.
   "I need to talk to Marshal Luo," he said over the command frequency, which was relayed back to Beijing via several repeater stations. It took another ten minutes because the Defense Minister, he was told, was in a Politburo meeting. Finally, the familiar voice came over the radio.
   "This is Marshal Luo."
   "This is Major General Ge Li, commanding Three-On-Second Armored. General Peng Xi-Wang is dead," he announced.
   "What happened?"
   "He went forward to join the reconnaissance section to see the front, and he was killed by a sniper bullet. The recon section ran into a small ambush, looked like a single Russian personnel carrier. I drove it off with my own tank," Ge went on. It was fairly true, and it seemed like the sort of thing he was supposed to say.
   "I see. What is the overall situation?" the Defense Minister asked.
   "Thirty-fourth Shock Army is advancing—well, it was. I paused the advance to reorganize the command group. I request instructions Comrade Minister."
   "You will advance and capture the Russian gold mine, secure it, and then continue north for the oil field."
   "Very well, Comrade Minister, but I must advise you that Twenty-ninth Army, right behind us, sustained a serious attack an hour ago, and was reportedly badly hit."
   "How badly?"
   "I do not know. Reports are sketchy, but it doesn't sound good."
   "What sort of attack was it?"
   "An air attack, origin unknown. As I said, reports are very sketchy at this time. Twenty-ninth seems very disorganized at the moment," Ge reported.
   "Very well. You will continue the attack. Forty-third Army is behind Twenty-ninth and will support you. Watch your left flank—"
   "I know of the reports of Russian units to my west," Ge said. "I will orient a mechanized division to deal with that, but. . ."
   "But what?" Luo asked.
   "But, Comrade Marshal, we have no reconnaissance information on what lies before us. I need such information in order to advance safely."
   "You will find your safety in advancing rapidly into enemy territory and destroying whatever formations you find," Luo told him forcefully. "Continue your advance!"
   "By your command, Comrade Minister." There wasn't much else he could say to that.
   "Report back to me as necessary."
   "I will do that," Ge promised.
   "Very well. Out." Static replaced the voice.
   "You heard him," Ge said to Colonel Wa Cheng-gong, whom he'd just inherited as army operations officer. "Now what, Colonel?"
   "We continue the advance, Comrade General."
   Ge nodded to the logic of the situation. "Give the order."
   It took hold four minutes later, when the radio commands filtered down to battalion level and the units started moving.
   They didn't need reconnaissance information now, Colonel Wa reasoned. They knew that there had to be some light Russian units just beyond the ridgeline where Peng had met his foolish death. Didn't I warn him? Wa raged to himself. Didn't Ge warn him? For a general to die in battle was not unexpected. But to die from a single bullet fired by some lone rifleman was worse than foolish. Thirty years of training and experience wasted, lost to a single rifleman!
   "There they go again," Major Tucker said, seeing the plume of diesel exhaust followed by the lurching of numerous armored vehicles. "About six kilometers from your first line of tanks."
   "A pity we can't get one of these terminals to Sinyavskiy," Bondarenko said.
   "Not that many of them, sir," Tucker told him. "Sun Micro Systems is still building them for us."
   "That was General Ge Li," Luo told the Politburo. "We've had some bad luck. General Peng is dead, killed by a sniper bullet, I just learned."
   "How did that happen?" Premier Xu asked.
   "Peng had gone forward, as a good general should, and there was a lucky Russian out there with a rifle," the Defense Minister explained. Then one of his aides appeared and walked to the marshal's seat, handing him a slip of paper. He scanned it. "This is confirmed?"
   "Yes, Comrade Marshal. I requested and got confirmation myself. The ships are in sight of land even now."
   "What ships? What land?" Xu asked. It was unusual for him to take an active part in these meetings. Usually he let the others talk, listened passively, and then announced the consensus conclusions reached by the others.
   "Comrade," Luo answered. "It seems some American warships are bombarding our coast near Guangszhou."
   "Bombarding?" Xu asked. "You mean with guns?"
   "That's what the report says, yes."
   "Why would they do that?" the Premier asked, somewhat nonplussed by this bit of information.
   "To destroy shore emplacements, and—"
   "Isn't that what one docs prior to invading, a preparation to putting troops on the beach?" Foreign Minister Shen asked.
   "Well, yes, it could be that, I suppose," Luo replied, "but—"
   "Invasion?" Xu asked. "A direct attack on our own soil?"
   "Such a thing is most unlikely," Luo told them. "They lack the ability to put troops ashore in sufficiently large numbers, America simply doesn't have the troops to do such a—"
   "What if they get assistance from Taiwan? How many troops do the BANDITs have?" Tong Jie asked.
   "Well, they have some land forces," Luo allowed. "But we have ample ability to—"
   "You told us a week ago that we had all the forces required to defeat the Russians, even if they got some aid from America," Qian observed, becoming agitated. "What fiction do you have for us now, Luo?"
   "Fiction!" the marshal's voice boomed. "I tell you the facts, but now you accuse me of that?"
   "What have you not told us, Luo?" Qian asked harshly. "We are not peasants here to be told what to believe."
   "The Russians are making a stand. They have fought back. I told you that, and I told you this sort of thing is to be expected—and it is. We fight a war with the Russians. It's not a burglary in an unoccupied house. This is an armed contest between two major powers—and we will win because we have more and better troops. They do not fight well. We swept aside their border defenses, and we've pursued their army north, and they didn't have the manhood to stand and fight for their own land! We will smash them. Yes, they will fight back. We must expect that, but it won't matter. We will smash them, I tell you!" he insisted.
   "Is there any information which you have not told us to this point?" Interior Minister Tong asked, in a voice more reasonable than the question itself.
   "I have appointed Major General Ge to assume command of the Thirty-fourth Shock Army. He reported to me that Twenty-ninth Army sustained a serious air attack earlier today. The effects of this attack are not clear, probably they managed to damage communications—and an air attack cannot seriously hurt a large mechanized land force. The tools of war do not permit such a thing."
   "Now what?" Premier Xu asked.
   "I propose that we adjourn the meeting and allow Minister Luo to return to his task of managing our armed forces," Zhang Han Sen proposed. "And that we reconvene, say, at sixteen hours."
   There were nods around the table. Everyone wanted the time to consider the things that they'd heard this morning—and perhaps to give the Defense Minister the chance to make good his words. Xu did a head count and stood.
   "Very well. We adjourn until this afternoon." The meeting broke up in an unusually subdued manner, without the usual pairing off and pleasantries between old comrades. Outside the conference room, Qian buttonholed Fang again.
   "Something is going badly wrong. I can feel it."
   "How sure are you of that?"
   "Fang, I don't know what the Americans have done to my railroad bridges, but I assure you that to destroy them as I was informed earlier this morning is no small thing. Moreover, the destruction inflicted was deliberately systematic. The Americans—it must have been the Americans—deliberately crippled our ability to supply our field armies. You only do such a thing in preparation to smashing them. And now the commanding general of our advancing armies is suddenly killed—stray bullet, my ass! That tset ha tset ha Luo LEADs us to disaster, Fang."
   "We'll know more this afternoon," Fang suggested, leaving his colleague and going to his office. Arriving there, he dictated another segment for his daily journal. For the first time, he wondered if it might turn out to be his testament.
   For her part, Ming was disturbed by her minister's demeanor. An elderly man, he'd always nonetheless been a calm and optimistic one for the most part. His mannerisms were those of a grandfatherly gentleman even when taking her or one of the other office girls to his bed. It was an endearing quality, one of the reasons the office staff didn't resist his advances more vigorously—and besides, he did take care of those who took care of his needs. This time she took her dictation quietly, while he leaned back in his chair, his eyes closed, and his voice a monotone. It took half an hour, and she went out to her desk to do the transcription. It was time for the midday meal by the time she was done, and she went out to lunch with her co-worker, Chai.
   "What is the matter with him?" she asked Ming.
   "The meeting this morning did not go well. Fang is concerned with the war."
   "But isn't it going well? Isn't that what they say on TV?"
   "It seems there have been some setbacks. This morning they argued about how serious they were. Qian was especially exercised about it, because the American attacked our rail bridges in Harbin and Bei'an."
   "Ah." Chai shoveled some rice into her mouth with her chopsticks. "How is Fang taking it?"
   "He seems very tense. Perhaps he will need some comfort this evening."
   "Oh? Well, I can take care of him. I need a new office chair anyway," she added with a giggle.
   Lunch dragged on longer than usual. Clearly their minister didn't need any of them for the moment, and Ming took the time to walk about on the street to gauge the mood of the people there. The feeling was strangely neutral. She was out just long enough to trigger her computer's downtime activation, and though the screen was blank, in the auto-sleep mode, the hard drive started turning, and silently activated the onboard modem.
   Mary Pat Foley was in her office, though it was past midnight, and she was logging onto her mail account every fifteen minutes, hoping for something new from SORGE.
   "You've got mail!" the mechanical voice told her.
   "Yes!" she said back to it, downloading the document at once. Then she lifted the phone. "Get Sears up here."
   With that done, Mrs. Foley looked at the time entry on the e-mail. It had gone out in the early afternoon in Beijing . . . what might that mean? she wondered, afraid that any irregularity could spell the death of SONGBIRD, and the loss of the SORGE documents.
   "Working late?" Sears asked on entering.
   "Who isn't?" MP responded. She held out the latest printout. "Read."
   "Politburo meeting, in the morning for a change," Sears said, scanning the first page. "Looks a little raucous. This Qian guy is raising a little hell—oh, okay, he chatted with Fang after it and expressed serious concerns . . . agreed to meet later in the day and—oh, shit!"
   "What's that?"
   "They discussed increasing the readiness of their ICBM force . . . let's see ... nothing firm was decided for technical reasons, they weren't sure how long they could keep the missiles fueled, but they were shook by our takeout of their missile submarine ..."
   "Write that up. I'm going to hang a CRITIC on it," the DDO announced.
   CRITIC—shorthand for "CRITICal"—is the highest priority in the United States government for message traffic. A CRITIC-flagged document must be in the President's hands no less than fifteen minutes after being generated. That meant that Joshua Sears had to get it drafted just as quickly as he could type in his keyboard, and that made for errors in translation.
   Ryan had been asleep for maybe forty minutes when the phone next to his bed went off.
   "Mr. President," some faceless voice announced in the White House Office of Signals, "we have CRITIC traffic for you."
   "All right. Bring it up." Jack swung his body across the bed and planted his feet on the rug. As a normal human being living in his home, he wasn't a bathrobe person. Ordinarily he'd just pad around his house barefoot in his underwear, but that wasn't allowed anymore, and he always kept a long blue robe handy now. It was a gift from long ago, when he'd taught history at the Naval Academy—a gift from the students there—and bore on the sleeves the one wide and four narrow stripes of a Fleet Admiral. So dressed, and wearing leather slippers that also came with the new job, he walked out into the upstairs corridor. The Secret Service night team was already up and moving. Joe Hilton came to him first.
   "We heard, sir. It's on the way up now."
   Ryan, who'd been existing on less than five hours of sleep per night for the past week, had an urgent need to lash out and rip the face off someone—anyone—but, of course, he couldn't do that to men who were just doing their job, with miserable hours of their own.
   Special Agent Charlie Malone was at the elevator. He took the folder from the messenger and trotted over to Ryan.
   "Hmm." Ryan rubbed his hand over his face as he flipped the folder open. The first three lines jumped into his consciousness. "Oh, shit."
   "Anything wrong?" Hilton asked.
   "Phone," Ryan said.
   "This way, sir." Hilton led him to the Secret Service upstairs cubbyhole office.
   Ryan lifted the phone and said, "Mary Pat at Langley." It didn't take long. "MP, Jack here. What gives?"
   "It's just what you see. They're talking about fueling their intercontinental missiles. At least two of them are aimed at Washington."
   "Great. Now what?"
   "I just tasked a KH-11 to give their launch sites a close look. There's two of them, Jack. The one we need to look at is Xuanhua. That's at about forty degrees, thirty-eight minutes north, one hundred fifteen degrees, six minutes east. Twelve silos with CCC-4 missiles inside. This is one of the newer ones, and it replaced older sites that stored the missiles in caves or tunnels. Straight, vertical, in-the-ground silos. The entire missile field is about six miles by six miles. The silos are well separated so that a single nuclear impact can't take out any two missiles," MP explained, manifestly looking at overheads of the place as she spoke.
   "How serious is this?"
   A new voice came on the line. "Jack, it's Ed. We have to take this one seriously. The naval bombardment on their coast might have set them off. The damned fools think we might be attempting a no-shit invasion."
   "What? What with?" the President demanded.
   "They can be very insular thinkers, Jack, and they're not always logical by our rules," Ed Foley told him.
   "Great. Okay. You two come on down here. Bring your best China guy with you."
   "On the way," the DCI replied.
   Ryan hung up and looked at Joe Hilton. "Wake everybody up. The Chinese may be going squirrelly on us."
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The drive up the Potomac River hadn't been easy. Captain Blandy hadn't wanted to wait for a river pilot to help guide him up the river—naval officers tend to be overly proud when it comes to navigating their ships—and that had made it quite tense for the bridge watch. Rarely was the channel more than a few hundred yards wide, and cruisers are deepwater ships, not riverboats. Once they came within a few yards of a mudbank, but the navigator got them clear of it with a timely rudder order. The ship's radar was up and running—people were actually afraid to turn off the billboard system because it, like most mechanical contrivances, preferred operation to idleness, and switching it off might have broken something. As it was, the RF energy radiating from the four huge billboard transmitters on Gettysburg's superstructure had played hell with numerous television sets on the way northwest, but that couldn't be helped, and probably nobody noticed the cruiser in the river anyway, not at this time of night. Finally, Gettysburg glided to a halt within sight of the Woodrow Wilson bridge, and had to wait for traffic to be halted on the D.C. Beltway. This resulted in the usual road rage, but at this time of night there weren't that many people to be outraged, though one or two did honk their horns when the ship passed through the open drawbridge span. Perhaps they were New Yorkers, Captain Blandy thought. From there it was another turn to starboard into the Anacostia River, through another drawbridge, this one named for John Philip Sousa—accompanied by more surprised looks from the few drivers out—and then a gentle docking alongside the pier that was also home to USS Barry, a retired destroyer relegated to museum status.
   The line handlers on the pier, Captain Blandy saw, were mainly civilians. Wasn't that a hell of a thing?
   The "evolution"—that, Gregory had learned, was what the Navy called parking a boat—had been interesting but unremarkable to observe, though the skipper looked quite relieved to have it all behind him.
   "Finished with engines," the CO told the engine room, and let out a long breath, shared, Gregory could see, by the entire bridge crew.
   "Captain?" the retired Army officer asked.
   "What is this all about, exactly?"
   "Well, isn't it kinda obvious?" Blandy responded. "We have a shooting war with the Chinese. They have ICBMs, and I suppose the SecDef wants to be able to shoot them down if they loft one at Washington. SACLANT is also sending an Aegis to New York, and I'd bet Pacific Fleet has some looking out for Los Angeles and San Francisco. Probably Seattle, too. There's a lot of ships there anyway, and a good weapons locker. Do you have spare copies of your software?"
   "Well, we'll have a phone line from the dock in a few minutes. We'll see if there's a way for you to upload it to other interested parties."
   "Oh," Dr. Gregory observed quietly. He really should have thought that one all the way through.
   This is RED WOLF FOUR. I have visual contact with the Chinese advance guard," the regimental commander called on the radio. "About ten kilometers south of us."
   "Very well," Sinyavskiy replied. Just where Bondarenko and his American helpers said they were. Good. There were two other general officers in his command post, the CGs of 201st and 80th Motor Rifle divisions, and the commander of the 34th was supposed to be on his way as well, though 94th had turned and reoriented itself to attack east from a point about thirty kilometers to the south.
   Sinyavskiy took the old, sodden cigar from his mouth and tossed it out into the grass, pulling another from his tunic pocket and lighting it. It was a Cuban cigar, and superb in its mildness. His artillery commander was on the other side of the map table—just a couple of planks on sawhorses, which was perfect for the moment. Close by were holes dug should the Chinese send some artillery fire their way, and most important of all, the wires which led to his communications station, set a full kilometer to the west—that was the first thing the Chinese would try to shoot at, because they'd expect him to be there. In fact the only humans present were four officers and seven sergeants, in armored personnel carriers dug into the ground for safety. It was their job to repair anything the Chinese might manage to break.
   "So, comrades, they come right into our parlor, eh?" he said for those around him. Sinyavskiy had been a soldier for twenty-six years. Oddly, he was not the son of a soldier. His father was an instructor in geology at Moscow State University, but ever since the first war movie he'd seen, this was the profession he'd craved to join. He'd done all the work, attended all the schools, studied history with the manic attention common in the Russian army, and the Red Army before it. This would be his Battle of the Kursk Bulge, remembering the battle where Vatutin and Rokossovskiy had smashed Hitler's last attempt to retake the offensive in Russia—where his mother country had begun the long march that had ended at the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. There, too, the Red Army had been the recipient of brilliant intelligence information, letting them know the time, place, and character of the German attack, and so allowing them to prepare so well that even the best of the German field commanders, Erich von Manstein, could do no more than break his teeth on the Russian steel.
   And so it will be here, Sinyavskiy promised himself. The only unsatisfactory part was that he was stuck here in this camouflaged tent instead of in the line with his men, but, no, he wasn't a captain anymore, and his place was here, to fight the battle on a goddamned printed map.
   "RED WOLF, you will commence firing when the advance guard gets to within eight hundred meters."
   "Eight hundred meters, Comrade General," the commander of his tank regiment acknowledged. "I can see them quite clearly now."
   "What exactly can you see?"
   "It appears to be a battalion-strength formation, principally Type 90 tanks, some Type 98s but not too many of those, spread out as though they went to sub-unit commanders. Numerous tracked personnel carriers. I do not see any artillery-spotting vehicles, however. What do we know of their artillery?"
   "It's rolling, not set up for firing. We're watching them," Sinyavskiy assured him.
   "Excellent. They are now two kilometers off by my range finder."
   "Stand by."
   "I will do that, Command."
   "I hate waiting," Sinyavskiy commented to the officers around him. They all nodded, having the same prejudice. He hadn't seen Afghanistan in his younger years, having served mainly in 1st and 2nd Guards lank armies in Germany back then, preparing to fight against NATO, an event which blessedly had never taken place. This was his very first experience with real combat, and it hadn't really started yet, and he was ready for it to start.
   "Okay, if they light those missiles up, what can we do about it?" Ryan asked.
   "If they launch 'em, there's not a goddamned thing but run for cover," Secretary Bretano said.
   "That's good for us. We'll all get away. What about the people who live in Washington, New York, and all the other supposed targets?" POTUS asked.
   "I've ordered some Aegis cruisers to the likely targets that are near the water," thunder went on. "I had one of my people from TRW look at the possibility of upgrading the missile systems to see if they might do an intercept. He's done the theoretical work, and he says it looks good on the simulators, but that's a ways from a practical test, of course. It's better than nothing, though."
   "Okay, where are the ships?"
   "There's one here now," Bretano answered.
   "Oh? When did that happen?" Robby Jackson asked.
   "Less than an hour ago. Gettysburg. There's another one going to New York—and San Francisco and Los Angeles. Also Seattle, though that's not really a target as far as we know. The software upgrade is going out to them to get their missiles reprogrammed."
   "Okay, that's something. What about taking those missiles out, before they can launch?" Ryan asked next.
   "The Chinese silos have recently been upgraded in protection, steel armor on the concrete covers—shaped like a Chinese coolie hat, it will probably deflect most bombs, but not the deep penetrators, the GBU-27s we used on the railroad bridges—"
   "If they have any left over there. Better ask Gus Wallace," the Vice President warned.
   "What do you mean?" Bretano asked.
   "I mean we never made all that many of them, and the Air Force must have dropped about forty last night."
   "I'll check that," SecDef promised.
   "What if he doesn't?" Jack asked.
   "Then either we get some more in one big hurry, or we think up something else," TOMCAT replied.
   "Like what, Robby?"
   "Hell, send in a special-operations team and blow them the fuck up," the former fighter pilot suggested.
   "I wouldn't much want to try that myself," Mickey Moore observed.
   "Beats the hell out of a five-megaton bomb going off on Capitol Hill, Mickey," Jackson shot back. "Look, the preferred thing to do is find out if Gus Wallace has the right bombs. It's a long stretch for the Black Jets, but you can tank them going and coming—and put fighters up to protect the tankers. It's complicated, but we practice that sort of thing. If he doesn't have the goddamned bombs, we fly them to him, assuming there are any. You know, weapons storage isn't a cornucopia, guys. There's a finite, discrete number for every item in the inventory."
   "General Moore," Ryan said, "call General Wallace and find out, right now, if you would."
   "Yes, sir." Moore stood and left the Situation Room.
   "Look," Ed Foley said, pointing to the TV. "It's started."
   The wood line erupted in a sheet of flame two kilometers across. The sight caused the eyes of the Chinese tankers to flare, but most of the front rank of tank crews didn't have time for much more than that. Of the thirty tanks in that line, only three escaped immediate destruction. It was little better for the personnel carriers interspersed with them.
   "You may commence firing, Colonel," Sinyavskiy told his artillery commander.
   The command was relayed at once, and the ground shook beneath their feet.
   It was spectacular to see on the computer terminal. The Chinese had walked straight into the ambush, and the effect of the Russian opening volley was ghastly to behold.
   Major Tucker took in a deep breath as he saw several hundred men lose their lives.
   "Back to their artillery," Bondarenko ordered.
   "Yes, sir." Tucker complied at once, altering the focus of the high-altitude camera and finding the Chinese artillery. It was mainly of the towed sort, being pulled behind trucks and tractors. They were a little slow getting the word. The first Russian shells were falling around them before any effort was made to stop the trucks and lift the limbers off the towing hooks, and for all that the Chinese gunners worked rapidly.
   But theirs was a race against Death, and Death had a head start. Tucker watched one gun crew struggle to manhandle their 122-mm gun into a firing position. The gunners were loading the weapon when three shells landed close enough to upset the weapon and kill more than half their number. Zooming in the camera, he could see one private writhing on the ground, and there was no one close by to offer him assistance.
   "It is a miserable business, isn't it?" Bondarenko observed quietly.
   "Yeah," Tucker agreed. When a tank blew up it was easy to tell yourself that a tank was just a thing. Even though you knew that three or four human beings were inside, you couldn't see them. As a fighter pilot never killed a fellow pilot, but only shot down his aircraft, so Tucker adhered to the Air Force ethos that death was something that happened to objects rather than people. Well, that poor bastard with blood on his shirt wasn't a thing, was he? He backed off the camera, taking a wider field that permitted godlike distancing from the up-close-and-personal aspects of the observation.
   "Better that they should have remained in their own country, Major," the Russian explained to him.
   "Jesus, what a mess," Ryan said. He'd seen death up-close-and-personal himself in his time, having shot people who had at the time been quite willing to shoot him, but that didn't make this imagery any the more palatable. Not by a long fucking shot. The President turned. "Is this going out, Ed?" he asked the DCI. "Ought to be," Foley replied.
   And it was, on a URL – "Uniform Resource Locator" in 'Netspeak – called It didn't even have to be advertised. Some 'Net crawlers stumbled onto it in the first five minutes, and the "hits" from people looking at the "streaming video" site climbed up from 0 to 10 in a matter of three minutes. Then some of them must have ducked into chat rooms to spread the word. The monitoring program for the URL at CIA headquarters also kept track of the locations of the people logging into it. The first Asian country, not unexpectedly, was Japan, and the fascination of the people there in military operations guaranteed a rising number of hits. The video also included audio, the real-time comments of Air Force personnel giving some perverse color-commentary back to their comrades in uniform. It was sufficiently colorful that Ryan commented on it.
   "It's not meant for anyone much over the age of thirty to hear," General Moore said, coming back into the room.
   "What's the story on the bombs?" Jackson asked at once.
   "He's only got two of them," Moore replied. "The nearest others are at the factory, Lockheed-Martin, Sunnyvale. They're just doing a production run right now."
   "Uh-oh," Robby observed. "Back to Plan B."
   "It might have to be a special operation, then, unless, Mr. President, that is, you are willing to authorize a strike with cruise missiles."
   "What kind of cruise missiles?" Ryan asked, knowing the answer even s6.
   "Well, we have twenty-eight of them on Guam with W-80 warheads. They're little ones, only about three hundred pounds. It has two settings, one-fifty or one-seventy kilotons."
   "Thermonuclear weapons, you mean?"
   General Moore let out a breath before replying. "Yes, Mr. President."
   "That's the only option we have for taking those missiles out?" He didn't have to say that he would not voluntarily launch a nuclear strike.
   "We could go in with conventional smart bombs—GBU-l0s and -15s. Gus has enough of those, but not deep penetrators, and the protection on the silos would have a fair chance at deflecting the weapon away from the target. Now, that might not matter. The CSS-4 missiles are delicate bastards, and the impact even of a miss could scramble their guidance systems . . . but we couldn't be sure."
   "I'd prefer that those things not fly."
   "Jack, nobody wants them to fly," the Vice President said. "Mickey, put together a plan. We need something to take them out, and we need it in one big fuckin' hurry."
   "I'll call SOCOM about it, but, hell, they're down in Tampa." "Do the Russians have special-operations people?" Ryan asked. "Sure, it's called Spetsnaz."
   "And some of these missiles are targeted on Russia?" "It certainly appears so, yes, sir," the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs confirmed.
   "Then they owe us one, and they damned well owe it to themselves," Jack said, reaching for a phone. "I need to talk to Sergey Golovko in Moscow," he told the operator.
   "The American President," his secretary said. "Ivan Emmetovich!" Golovko said in hearty greeting. "The reports from Siberia are good."
   "I know, Sergey, I'm watching it live now myself. Want to do it yourself?"
   "It is possible?"
   "You have a computer with a modem?"
   "One cannot exist without the damned things," the Russian replied.
   Ryan read off the URL identifier. "Just log onto that. We're putting the feed from our Dark Star drones onto the Internet."
   "Why is that, Jack?" Golovko asked at once.
   "Because as of two minutes ago, one thousand six hundred and fifty Chinese citizens are watching it, and the number is going up fast."
   "A political operation against them, yes? You wish to destabilize their government?"
   "Well, it won't hurt our purposes if their citizens find out what's happening, will it?"
   "The virtues of a free press. I must study this. Very clever, Ivan Emmetovich."
   "That's not why I called."
   "Why is that, Tovarisch Prezidyent?" the SVR chairman asked, with sudden concern at the change in his tone. Ryan was not one to conceal his feelings well.
   "Sergey, we have a very adverse indication from their Politburo. I'm faxing it to you now," he heard. "I'll stay on the line while you read it."
   Golovko wasn't surprised to see the pages arrive on his personal fax machine. He had Ryan's personal numbers, and the Americans had his. It was just one way for an intelligence service to demonstrate its prowess in a harmless way. The first sheets to come across were the English translation of the Chinese ideographs that came through immediately thereafter.
   Sergey, I sent you our original feed in case your linguists or psychologists are better than ours," the President said, with an apologetic glance at Dr. Sears. The CIA analyst waved it off. "They have twelve CSS-4 missiles, half aimed at you, half at us. I think we need to do something about those things. They may not be entirely rational, the way things are going now."
   "And your shore bombardment might have pushed them to the edge, Mr. President," the Russian said over the speakerphone. "I agree, this is a matter of some concern. Why don't you bomb the things with your brilliant bombs from your MAGICal invisible bombers."
   "Because we're out of bombs, Sergey. They ran out of the sort they need."
   "Nichevo" was the reaction.
   "You should see it from my side. My people are thinking about a commando-type operation."
   "I see. Let me consult with some of my people. Give me twenty minutes, Mr. President."
   "Okay, you know where to reach me." Ryan punched the kill button on the phone and looked sourly at the tray of coffee things. "One more cup of this shit and I'm going to turn into an urn myself."
   The only reason he was alive now, he was sure, was that he'd withdrawn to the command section for 34th Army. His tank division was being roughly handled. One of his battalions had been immolated in the first minute of the battle. Another was now trying to maneuver east, trying to draw the Russians out into a running battle for which his men were trained. The division's artillery had been halved at best by Russian massed fire, and 34th Army's advance was now a thing of the past. His current task was to try and use his two mechanized divisions to establish a base of fire from which he could try to wrest back control of the battle. But every time he tried to move a unit, something happened to it, as though the Russians were reading his mind.
   "Wa, pull what's left of Three-Oh-Second back to the ten o'clock start-line, and do it now!" he ordered.
   "But Marshal Luo won't—"
   "And if he wishes to relieve me, he can, but he isn't here now, is he?" Ge snarled back. "Give the order!"
   "Yes, Comrade General."
   "With this toy in our hands, the Germans would not have made it as far as Minsk," Bondarenko said.
   "Yeah, it helps to know what the other guy's doing, doesn't it?"
   "It's like being a god on Mount Olympus. Who thought this thing up?"
   "Oh, a couple of people at Northrop started the idea, with an airplane called Tacit RAINBOW, looked like a cross between a snow shovel and a French baguette, but it was manned, and the endurance wasn't so good."
   "Whoever it is, I would like to buy him a bottle of good vodka," the Russian general said. "This is saving the lives of my soldiers."
   And beating the living shit out of the Chinese, Tucker didn't add. But combat was that sort of game, wasn't it?
   "Do you have any other aircraft up?"
   "Yes, sir. Grace Kelly's back up to cover First Armored."
   "Show me."
   Tucker used his mouse to shrink one video window and then opened another. General Diggs had a second terminal up and running, and Tucker just stole its take. There were what looked like two brigades operating, moving north at a measured pace and wrecking every Chinese truck and track they could find. The battlefield, if you could call it that, was a mass of smoke columns from shot-up trucks, reminding Tucker of the vandalized Kuwaiti oil fields of 1991. He zoomed in to see that most of the work was being done by the Bradleys. What targets there were simply were not worthy of a main-gun round from the tanks. The Abrams just rode herd on the lighter infantry carriers, doing protective overwatch as they ground mercilessly forward. The major slaved one camera to his terminal and went scouting around for more action . . .
   "Who's this?" Tucker asked.
   "That must be BOYAR," Bondarenko said.
   It was what looked like twenty-five T-55 tanks advancing on line, and these tanks were using their main guns . . . against trucks and some infantry carriers . . .
   "Load HEAT," Lieutenant Komanov ordered. "Target track, one o'clock! Range two thousand."
   "I have him," the gunner said a second later.
   "Firing," the gunner said, squeezing the trigger. The old tank rocked backwards from the shot. Gunner and commander watched the tracer arcing out. . .
   "Over, damn it, too high. Load another HEAT."
   The loader slammed another round into the breech in a second: "Loaded!"
   "I'll get the bastard this time," the gunner promised, adjusting his sights down a hair. The poor bastard out there didn't even know he'd been shot at the first time ...
   Yet another recoil, and ...
   "Hit! Good shooting Vanya!"
   Three Company was doing well. The time spent in gunnery practice was paying off handsomely, Komanov thought. This was much better than sitting in a damned bunker and waiting for them to come to you . . .
   "What is that?" Marshal Luo asked. "Comrade Marshal, come here and see," the young lieutenant colonel urged.
   "What is this?" the Defense Minister asked with a trailing-off voice . . . "Cao ni ma" he breathed. Then he THUNDERED: "What the hell is this?"
   "Comrade Marshal, this is a web site, from the Internet. It purports to be a live television program from the battlefield in Siberia." The young field-grade officer was almost breathless. "It shows the Russians fighting Thirty-fourth Shock Army ..."
   "And they're slaughtering our men, according to this," the lieutenant colonel went on.
   "Wait a minute—what—how is this possible?" Luo demanded.
   "Comrade, this heading here says darkstar. 'Dark Star' is the name of an American unmanned aerial vehicle, a reconnaissance drone, reported to be a stealth aircraft used to collect tactical intelligence. Thus, it appears that they are using this to feed information, and putting the information on the Internet as a propaganda tool." He had to say it that way, and it was, in fact, the way he thought about it.
   "Tell me more."
   "The officer was an intelligence specialist. This explains the success they've had against us, Comrade Marshal. They can see everything we do, almost before we do it. It's as though they listen to our command circuit, or even listen into our staff and planning meetings. There is no defense against this," the staff officer concluded.
   "You young defeatist!" the marshal raged.
   "Perhaps there is a way to overcome this advantage, but I do not know what it is. Systems like this can see in the dark as well as they can in the sunlight. Do you understand, Comrade Marshal? With this tool they can see everything we do, see it long before we approach their formations. It eliminates any possibility of surprise . . . see here," he said, pointing at the screen. "One of Thirty-fourth Army's mechanized divisions is maneuvering east. They are here—" he pointed to a printer map on the table– "and the enemy is here. If our troops get to this point unseen, then perhaps they can hit the Russians on their left flank, but it will take two hours to get there. For the Russians to get one of their units to a blocking position will take but one hour. That is the advantage," he concluded.
   "The Americans do that to us?"
   "Clearly, the feed on the Internet is from America, from their CIA."
   "This is how the Russians have countered us, then?"
   "Clearly. They've outguessed us at every turn today. This must be how they do it."
   "Why do the Americans put this information out where everyone can see it?" Luo wondered. The obvious answer didn't occur to him. Information given out to the public had to be carefully measured and flavored for the peasants and workers to draw the proper conclusions from it.
   "Comrade, it will be difficult to say on state television that things are going well when this is available to anyone with a computer."
   "Ahh." Less a sound of satisfaction than one of sudden dread. "Anyone can see this?"
   "Anyone with a computer and a telephone line." The young lieutenant colonel looked up, only to see Luo's receding form.
   "I'm surprised he didn't shoot me," the officer observed.
   "He still might," a full colonel told him. "But I think you frightened him." He looked at the wall clock. It was sixteen hours, four in the afternoon.
   "Well, it is a concern."
   "You young fool. Don't you see? Now he can't even conceal the truth from the Politburo."
   "Hello, Yuri," Clark said. It was different to be in Moscow in time of war. The mood of the people on the street was unlike anything he'd ever seen. They were concerned and serious—you didn't go to Russia to see the smiling people any more than you went to England for the coffee—but there was something else, too. Indignation. Anger . . . determination? Television coverage of the war was not as strident and defiant as he'd expected. The new Russian news media were trying to be even-handed and professional. There was commentary to the effect that the army's inability to stop the Chinese cold spoke ill of their country's national cohesion. Others lamented the demise of the Soviet Union, whom China would not have dared to threaten, much less attack. More asked what the hell was the use of being in NATO if none of the other countries came to the aid of their supposed new ally.
   "We told the television people that if they told anyone of the American division now in Siberia, we'd shoot them, and of course they believed us," Lt. Gen. Kirillin said with a smile. That was something new for Clark and Chavez to see. He hadn't smiled much in the past week.
   "Things looking up?" Chavez inquired.
   "Bondarenko has stopped them at the gold mine. They will not even see that, if my information is correct. But there is something else," he added seriously.
   "What's that, Yuriy?" Clark asked.
   "We are concerned that they might launch their nuclear weapons."
   "Oh, shit," Ding observed. "How serious is that?"
   "It comes from your president. Golovko is speaking with President Grushavoy right now."
   "And? How do they plan to go about it? Smart bombs?" John asked.
   "No, Washington has asked us to go in with a special-operations team," Kirillin said.
   "What the hell?" John gasped. He pulled his satellite phone out of his pocket and looked for the door. "Excuse me, General. E.T. phone home."
   "You want to say that again, Ed?" Foley heard. "You heard me. They've run out of the bombs they need. Evidently, it's a pain in the ass to fly bombs to where the bombers are."
   "Fuck!" the CIA officer observed, out in the parking lot of this Russian army officers' club. The encryption on his phone didn't affect the emotion in his voice. "Don't tell me, since RAINBOW is a NATO asset, and Russia's part of NATO now, and since you're going to be asking the fucking Russians to front this operation, in the interest of North Atlantic solidarity, we're going to get to go and play, too, right?"
   "Unless you choose not to, John. I know you can't go yourself. Combat's a kid's game, but you have some good kids working for you."
   "Ed, you expect me to send my people in on something like that and I stay home and fucking knit socks?" Clark demanded heatedly.
   "That's your call to make. You're the RAINBOW commander."
   "How is this supposed to work? You expect us to jump in?"
   "Russian helicopters. No thanks, buddy, I—"
   "Our choppers, John. First Armored Division had enough and they're the right kind ..."
   "They want me to do what?" Dick Boyle asked. "You heard me."
   "What about fuel?"
   "Your fueling point's right about here," Colonel Masterman said, holding the just-downloaded satellite photo. "Hilltop west of a place called Chicheng. Nobody lives there, and the numbers work out."
   "Yeah, except out flight path takes us within ten miles of this fighter base."
   "Eight F-111s are going to hit it while you're on the way in. Ought to close down their runways for a good three days, they figure."
   "Dick," Diggs said, "I don't know what the problem is exactly, but Washington is really worried that Joe is going to launch his ICBMs at us at home, and Gus Wallace doesn't have the right bombs to take them out reliably. That means a special-ops force, down and dirty. It's a strategic mission, Dick. Can you do it?"
   Colonel Boyle looked at the map, measuring distance in his mind . . . "Yeah, we'll have to mount the outrigger wings on the Black-hawks and load up to the max on gas, but, yeah, we got the range to get there. Have to refuel on the way back, though."
   "Okay, can you use your other birds to ferry the fuel out?"
   Boyle nodded. "Barely."
   "If necessary, the Russians can land a Spetsnaz force anywhere through here with additional fuel, so they tell me. This part of China is essentially unoccupied, according to the maps."
   "What about opposition on the ground?"
   "There is a security force in the area. We figure maybe a hundred people on duty, total, say a squad at each silo. Can you get some Apaches out there to run interference?"
   "Yeah, they can get that far, if they travel light." Just cannon rounds and 2.75-inch rockets, he thought.
   "Then get me your mission requirements," General Diggs said. It wasn't quite an order. If he said it was impossible, then Diggs couldn't make him do it. But Boyle couldn't let his people go out and do something like this without being there to command them.
   The MI-24s finished things off. The Russian doctrine for their attack helicopters wasn't too different from how they used their tanks. Indeed, the MI-24—called the Hind by NATO, but strangely unnamed by the Russians themselves—was referred to as a flying tank. Using AT-6 Spiral missiles, they finished off a Chinese tank battalion in twenty minutes of jump and shoot, sustaining only two losses in the process. The sun was setting now, and what had been Thirty-fourth Shock Army was wreckage. What few vehicles had survived the day were pulling back, usually with wounded men clinging to their decks.
   In his command post, General Sinyavskiy was all smiles. Vodka was snorted by all. His 265th Motor Rifle Division had halted and thrown back a force more than double its size, suffering fewer than three hundred dead in the process. The TV news crews were finally allowed out to where the soldiers were, and he delivered the briefing, paying frequent compliments to his theater commander, Gennady Iosefovich Bondarenko, for his cool head and faith in his subordinates. "He never lost his nerve," Sinyavskiy said soberly. "And he allowed us to keep ours for when the time came. He is a Hero of Russia," the division commander concluded. "And so are many of my men!"
   Thank you for that, Yuriy Andreyevich, and, yes, for that you will get your next star," the theater commander told the television screen. Then he turned to his staff. "Andrey Petrovich, what do we do tomorrow?"
   "I think we will let Two-Six-Five start moving south. We will be the hammer, and Diggs will be the anvil. They still have a Type-A Group army largely intact to the south, the Forty-third. We will smash it starting day after tomorrow, but first we will maneuver it into a place of our choosing."
   Bondarenko nodded. "Show me a plan, but first, I am going to sleep for a few hours."
   "Yes, Comrade General."
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 It was the same Spetsnaz people they'd trained for the past month or so. Nearly everyone on the transport aircraft was a commissioned officer, doing sergeants' work, which had its good points and its bad ones. The really good thing was that they all spoke passable English. Of the RAINBOW troopers, only Ding Chavez and John Clark spoke conversational Russian.
   The maps and photos came from SRV and CIA, the latter transmitted to the American Embassy in Moscow and messengered to the military airfield out of which they'd flown. They were in an Aeroflot airliner, fairly full with over a hundred passengers, all of them soldiers.
   "I propose that we divide by nationalities," Kirillin said. "Vanya, you and your RAINBOW men take this one here. My men and I will divide the rest among us, using our existing squad structures."
   "Looks okay, Yuriy. One target's pretty much as good as another. When will we be going in?"
   "Just before dawn. Your helicopters must have good range to take us all the way down, then back with only one refueling."
   "Well, that'll be the safe part of the mission."
   "Except this fighter base at Anshan," Kirillin said. "We pass within twenty kilometers of it."
   "Air Force is going to hit that, they tell me, Stealth fighters with smart bombs, they're gonna post-hole the runways before we drive past."
   "Ah, that is a fine idea," Kirillin said.
   "Kinda like that myself," Chavez said. "Well, Mr. C, looks like I get to be a soldier again. It's been a while."
   "What fun," Clark observed. Oh, yeah, sitting in the hack of a helicopter, going deep into Indian Country, where there were sure to be people with guns. Well, could be worse. Going in at dawn, at least the gomers on duty would be partly asleep, unless their boss was a real prick. How tough was discipline in the People's Liberation Army? John wondered. Probably pretty tough. Communist governments didn't encourage back talk.
   "How, exactly, are we supposed to disable the missiles?" Ding asked.
   "They're fueled by a ten-centimeter pipe—two of them, actually– from underground fueling tanks adjacent to the launch silo. First, we destroy the pipes," Kirillin said. "Then we look for some way to access the missile silo itself. A simple hand grenade will suffice. These are delicate objects. They will not sustain much damage," the general said confidently.
   "What if the warhead goes off?" Ding asked.
   Kirillin actually laughed at that. "They will not, Domingo Stepanovich. These items are very secure in their arming procedures, for all the obvious reasons. And the sites themselves will not be designed to protect against a direct assault. They are designed to protect against nuclear blast, not a squad of engineer-soldiers. You can be sure of that."
   Hope you're right on that one, fella, Chavez didn't say aloud.
   "You seem knowledgeable on this subject, Yuriy."
   "Vanya, this mission is one Spetsnaz has practiced more than once. We Russians have thought from time to time about taking these missiles—how you say? Take them out of play, yes?"
   "Not a bad idea at all, Yuriy. Not my kind of weapons," Clark said. He really did prefer to do his killing close enough to see the bastard's face. Old habits died hard, and a telescopic sight was just as good as a knife in that respect. Much better. A rifle bullet didn't make people flop around and make noise the way a knife across the throat did. But death was supposed to be administered one at a time, not whole cities at once. It just wasn't tidy or selective enough.
   Chavez looked at his Team-2 troopers. They didn't look overtly tense, but good soldiers did their best to hide such feelings. Of their number, only Ettore Falcone wasn't a career soldier, but instead a cop from the Italian Carabinieri, which was about halfway between military and police. Chavez went over to see him.
   "How you doing, BIG BIRD?" Ding asked.
   "It is tense, this mission, no?" Falcone replied.
   "It might be. You never really know until you get there."
   The Italian shrugged. "As with raids on mafiosi, sometimes you kick the door and there is nothing but men drinking wine and playing cards. Sometimes they have machinapistoli, but you must kick the door to find out."
   "You do a lot of those?"
   "Eight," Falcone replied. "I am usually the first one through the door because I am usually the best shot. But we have good men on the team there, and we have good men on the team here. It should go well, Domingo. I am tense, yes, but I will be all right. You will see," BIG BIRD ended. Chavez clapped him on the shoulder and went off to see Sergeant-Major Price.
   "Hey, Eddie."
   "Do we have a better idea for the mission yet?"
   "Getting there. Looks like mainly a job for Paddy, blowing things up."
   "Connolly's the best explosives man I've ever seen," Price observed. "But don't tell him that. His head's swollen enough already."
   "What about Falcone?"
   "Ettore?" Price shook his head. "I will be very surprised if he puts a foot wrong. He's a very good man, Ding, bloody machine—a robot with a pistol. That sort of confidence rarely goes bad. Things are too automatic for him."
   "Okay, well, we've picked our target. It the north– and east-most silo. Looks like it's on fairly flat ground, two four-inch pipes running to it. Paddy'll blow those, and then try to find a way to pop the cover off the silo or otherwise find an access door—there's one on the overhead. Then get inside, toss a grenade to break the missile, and we get the hell out of Dodge City."
   "Usual division of the squad?" Price asked. It had to be, but there was no harm in making sure.
   Chavez nodded. "You take Paddy, Louis, Hank, and Dieter, and your team handles the actual destruction of the missile. I take the rest to do security and overwatch." Price nodded as Paddy Connolly came over.
   "Are we getting chemical gear?"
   "What?" Chavez asked.
   "Ding, if we're going to be playing with bloody liquid-fueled missiles, we need chemical-warfare gear. The fuels for these things– you don't want to breathe the vapor, trust me. Red-fuming nitric acid, nitrogen tetroxide, hydrazine, that sort of thing. Those are bloody corrosive chemicals they use to power rockets, not like a pint of bitter at the Green Dragon, I promise you. And if the missiles are fueled and we blow them, well, you don't want to be close, and you definitely don't want to be downwind. The gas cloud will be bloody lethal, like what you chaps use in America to execute murderers, but rather less pleasant."
   "I'll talk to John about that." Chavez made his way back forward.
   "Oh, shit," Ed Foley observed when he took the call. "Okay, John, I'll get hold of the Army on that one. How long 'til you're there?"
   "Hour and a half to the airfield."
   "You okay?"
   "Yeah, sure, Ed, never been better."
   Foley was struck by the tone. Clark had been CIA's official iceman for close to twenty years. He'd gone out on all manner of field operations without so much as a blink. But being over fifty—had it changed him, or did he just have a better appreciation of his own mortality now? The DCI figured that sort of thing came to everybody. "Okay, I'll get back to you." He switched phones. "I need General Moore."
   "Yes, Director?" the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said in greeting. "What can I do for you?"
   "Our special-operations people say they need chemical-warfare gear for their mission and—"
   "Way ahead of you, Ed. SOCOM told us the same thing. First Armored's got the right stuff, and it'll be waiting for them at the field."
   "Thanks, Mickey."
   "How secure are those silos?"
   "The fueling pipes are right in the open. Blowing them up ought not to be a problem. Also, every silo has a metal access door for the maintenance people, and again, getting into it ought not to be a problem. My only concern is the site security force; there may be as much as a whole infantry battalion spread out down there. We're waiting for a KH-11 to overfly the site now for a final check."
   "Well, Diggs is sending Apaches down to escort the raiding force. That'll be an equalizer," Moore promised. "What about the command bunker?"
   "It's centrally located, looks pretty secure, entirely underground, but we have a rough idea of the configuration from penetrating radar." Foley referred to the KH-14 Lacrosse satellite. NASA had once published radar photos that had shown underground tributaries of the Nile that emptied into the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria. But the capability hadn't been developed for hydrologists. It had also spotted Soviet missile silos that the Russians had thought to be well camouflaged, and other sensitive facilities, and America had wanted to let the Russians know that the locations were not the least bit secret. "Mickey, how do you feel about the mission?"
   "I wish we had enough bombs to do it," General Moore replied honestly.
   "Yeah," the DCI agreed.
   The Politburo meeting had gone past midnight. "So, Marshal Luo," Qian said, "things went badly yesterday. How badly? We need the truth here," he concluded roughly. If nothing else, Qian Kun had made his name in the past few days, as the only Politburo member with the courage to take on the ruling clique, expressing openly the misgivings that they'd all felt. Depending on who won, it could mean his downfall, either all the way to death or simply to mere obscurity, but it seemed he didn't care. That made him unusual among the men in the room, Fang Gan thought, and it made him a man to be respected.
   "There was a major battle yesterday between 34th Shock Army and the Russians. It appears to have been a draw, and we are now maneuvering to press our advantage," the Defense Minister told them. They were all suffering from fatigue in the room, and again the Finance Minister was the only one to rise to his words.
   "In other words, a battle was fought, and we lost it," Qian shot back.
   "I didn't say that!" Luo responded angrily.
   "But it is the truth, is it not?" Qian pressed the point.
   "I told you the truth, Qian!" was the thundering reply.
   "Comrade Marshal," the Finance Minister said in a reasonable tone, "you must forgive me for my skepticism. You see, much of what you've said in this room has turned out to be less than completely accurate. Now, I do not blame you for this. Perhaps you have been misinformed by some of your subordinates. All of us are vulnerable to that, are we not? But now is the time for a careful examination of objective realities. I am developing the impression that objective reality may be adverse to the economic and political objectives on whose pursuit this body has sent our country and its people. Therefore, we must now know what the facts are, and what also are the dangers facing us. So, Comrade Marshal, now, what is the military situation in Siberia?"
   "It has changed somewhat," Luo admitted. "Not entirely to our benefit, but the situation is by no means lost." He'd chosen his words a little too carefully.
   By no means lost, everyone around the table knew, was a delicate way of saying that a disaster had taken place. As in any society, if you knew the aphorisms, you could break the code. Success here was always proclaimed in the most positive terms. Setbacks were brushed aside without admission as something less than a stunning success. Failure was something to be blamed on individuals who'd failed in their duty– often to their great misfortune. But a real policy disaster was invariably explained as a situation that could yet be restored.
   "Comrades, we still have our strengths," Zhang told them all. "Of all the great powers of the world, only we have intercontinental missiles, and no one will dare strike us hard while we do,"
   "Comrade, two days ago the Americans totally destroyed bridges so stout that one would have thought that only an angry deity could so much as scratch them. How secure can those missiles be, when we face a foe with invisible aircraft and MAGICal weapons?" Qian asked. "I think we may be approaching the time when Shen might wish to approach America and Russia to propose an end to hostilities," he concluded.
   "You mean surrender?" Zhang asked angrily. "Never!"
   It had already started, though the Politburo members didn't know it yet. All over China, but especially in Beijing, people owning computers had logged onto the Internet. This was especially true of young people, and university students most of all.
   The CIA feed,, had attracted a global audience, catching even the international news organizations by surprise. CNN, Fox, and Europe's SkyNews had immediately pirated it, and then called in their expert commentators to explain things to their viewers in the first continuous news coverage of an event since February of 1991. CIA had taken to pirating CNN in turn, and now available on the CIA website were live interviews from Chinese prisoners. They spoke freely, they were so shocked at their fates—stunned at how near they'd come to death, and so buoyantly elated at their equally amazing survival when so many of their colleagues had been less fortunate. That made for great verbosity, and it was also something that couldn't be faked. Any Chinese citizen could have spotted false propaganda, but equally, any could discern this sort of truth from what he saw and heard.
   The strange part was that Luo hadn't commented on the Internet phenomenon, thinking it irrelevant to the political facts of life in the PRC, but in that decision he'd made the greatest political misapprehension of his life.
   They met in college dorm rooms first of all, amid clouds of cigarette smoke, chattering animatedly among themselves as students do, and like students everywhere they combined idealism with passion. That passion soon turned to resolve. By midnight, they were meeting in larger groups. Some Leaders emerged, and, being Leaders, they felt the need to take their associates somewhere. When the crowds mingled outside, the individual Leaders of smaller groups met and started talking, and super-Leaders emerged, rather like an instant military or political hierarchy, absorbing other groups into their own, until there were six principal Leaders of a group of about fifteen hundred students. The larger group developed and then fed upon its own energy. Students everywhere are well supplied with piss and vinegar, and these Chinese students were no different. Some of the boys were there hoping to score with girls—another universal motivation for students—but the unifying factor here was rage at what had happened to their soldiers and their country, and even more rage at the lies that had gone out over State TV, lies so clearly and utterly refuted by the reality they saw over the Internet, a source they'd learned to trust.
   There was only one place for them to go, Tiananmen Square, the "Square of Heavenly Peace," the psychological center of their country, and they were drawn there like iron filings to a magnet. The time of day worked for them. The police in Beijing, like police everywhere, worked twenty-four-hour days divided into three unequal shifts, and the shift most lightly manned was that from 2300 to 0700. Most people were asleep then, and as a direct result there was little crime to suppress, and so this shift was the smallest in terms of manning, and also composed of those officers loved the least by their commanders, because no man in his right mind prefers the vampire life of wakefulness in darkness to that in the light of day. And so the few police on duty were those who had failed to distinguish themselves in their professional skills, or were disliked by their captains, and returned the compliment by not taking their duties with sufficient gravity.
   The appearance of the first students in the square was barely noted by the two policemen there. Their main duties involved directing traffic and/or telling (frequently inebriated) foreign tourists how to stumble back to their hotels, and the only danger they faced was usually that of being blinded by the flashes of foreign cameras held by oafishly pleasant but drunken gwai.
   This new situation took them totally by surprise, and their first reaction was to do nothing but watch. The presence of so many young people in the square was unusual, but they weren't doing anything overtly unlawful at the moment, and so the police just looked on in a state of bemusement. They didn't even report what was going on because the watch captain was an ass who wouldn't have known what to do about it anyway.
   "What if they strike at our nuclear arms?" Interior Minister Tong Jie asked.
   "They already have," Zhang reminded them. "They sank our missile submarine, you will recall. If they also strike at our land-based missiles, then it would mean they plan to attack us as a nation, not just our armed forces, for then they would have nothing to hold them back. It would be a grave and deliberate provocation, is that not so, Shen?"
   The Foreign Minister nodded. "It would be an unfriendly act."
   "How do we defend against it?" Tan Deshi asked.
   "The missile field is located far from the borders. Each is in a heavily constructed concrete silo," Defense Minister Luo explained. "Moreover, we have recently fortified them further with steel armor to deflect bombs that might fall on them. The best way to add to their defense would be to deploy surface-to-air missiles."
   "And if the Americans use their stealthy bombers, then what?" Tan asked.
   "The defense against that is passive, the steel hats we put on the silos. We have troops there—security personnel of Second Artillery Command—but they are there only for site security against intruders on the ground. If such an attack should be made, we should launch them. The principle is to use them or lose them. An attack against our strategic weapons would have to be a precursor to an attack against our nationhood. That is our one trump card," Luo explained. "The one thing that even the Americans truly fear."
   "Well, it should be," Zhang Han Sen agreed. "That is how we tell the Americans where they must stop and what they must do. In fact, it might now be a good time to tell the Americans that we have those missiles, and the willingness to use them if they press us too hard."
   "Threaten the Americans with nuclear arms?" Fang asked. "Is that wise? They know of our weapons, surely. An overt threat against a powerful nation is most unwise."
   "They must know that there are lines they may not cross," Zhang insisted. "They can hurt us, yes, but we can hurt them, and this is one weapon against which they have no defense, and their sentimentality for their people works for us, not them. It is time for America to regard us as an equal, not a minor country whose power they can blithely ignore."
   "I repeat, Comrade," Fang said, "that would be a most unwise act. When someone points a gun at your head, you do not try to frighten him."
   "Fang, you have been my friend for many years, but in this you are wrong. It is we who hold that pistol now. The Americans only respect strength controlled by resolve. This will make them think. Luo, are the missiles ready for launch?"
   The Defense Minister shook his head. "No, yesterday we did not agree to ready them. To do so takes about two hours—to load them with fuel. After that, they can be kept in a ready condition for about forty-eight hours. Then you defuel them, service them—it takes about four hours to do that—and you can refuel them again. We could easily maintain half of them in a ready-launch condition indefinitely."
   "Comrades, I think it is in our interest to ready the missiles for flight."
   "No!" Fang countered. "That will be seen by the Americans as a dangerous provocation, and provoking them this way is madness!"
   "And we should have Shen remind the Americans that we have such weapons, and they do not," Zhang went on.
   "That invites an attack on us!" Fang nearly shouted. "They do not have rockets, yes, but they have other ways of attacking us, and if we do that now, when a war is already under way, we guarantee a response."
   "I think not, Fang," Zhang replied. "They will not gamble millions of their citizens against all of ours. They have not the strength for such gambling."
   "Gambling, you say. Do we gamble with the life of our country? Zhang, you are mad. This is lunacy," Fang insisted.
   "I do not have a vote at this table," Qian observed. "But I have been a Party member all of my adult life, and I have served the People's Republic well, I think. It is our job here to build a country, not destroy it. What have we done here? We've turned China into a thief, a highway robber—and a failed highway robber at that! Luo has said it. We have lost our play for riches, and now we must adjust to that. We can recover from the damage we have done to our country and its people. That recovery will require humility on our part, not blustering defiance. To threaten the Americans now is an act of weakness, not strength. It's the act of an impotent man trying to show off his gau. It will be seen by them as a foolish and reckless act."
   "If we are to survive as a nation—if we are to survive as the rulers of a powerful China," Zhang countered, "we must let the Americans know that they cannot push us farther. Comrades, make no mistake. Our lives lie on this table." And that focused the discussion. "I do not suggest that we launch a nuclear strike on America. I propose that we demonstrate to America our resolve, and if they press us too far, then we will punish them—and the Russians. Comrades, I propose that we fuel up our missiles, to place them in a ready posture, and then have Shen tell the Americans that there are limits beyond which we cannot be pushed without the gravest possible consequences."
   "No!" Fang retorted. "That is tantamount to the threat of nuclear war. We must not do such a thing!"
   "If we do not, then we are all doomed," said Tan Deshi of the Ministry of State Security. "I am sorry, Fang, but Zhang is correct here. Those are the only weapons with which we can hold the Americans back. They will be tempted to strike at them—and if they do ..."
   "If they do, then we must use them, because if they take those weapons away from us, then they can strike us at will, and destroy all we have built in sixty years," Zhang concluded. "I call a vote."
   Suddenly and irrationally, Fang thought, the meeting had struck out on a path with no logic or direction, leading to disaster. But he was the only one who saw this, as for the first time in his life he took a stand against the others. The meeting finally broke up. The Politburo members drove directly home. None of them passed through Tiananmen Square on the way, and all of them fell rapidly asleep.
   There were twenty-five UH-60A Blackhawks and fifteen Apaches on the ramp. Every one had stubby wings affixed to the fuselage. Those on the Blackhawks were occupied with fuel tanks. The Apaches had both fuel and rockets. The flight crews were grouped together, looking at maps.
   Clark took the LEAD. He was dressed in his black Ninja gear, and a soldier directed him and Kirillin—he was in the Snowflake camouflage used by Russian airborne troops—to Colonel Boyle.
   "Howdy, Dick Boyle."
   "I'm John Clark, and this is Lieutenant General Yuriy Kirillin. I'm RAINBOW," John explained. "He's Spetsnaz."
   Boyle saluted. "Well, I'm your driver, gentlemen. The objective is seven hundred sixteen miles away. We can just about make it with the fuel we're carrying, but we're going to have to tank up on the way back. We're doing that right here"—he pointed to a spot on the navigation chart—"hilltop west of this little town named Chicheng. We got lucky. Two C-130s are going to do bladder drops for us. There will be a fighter escort for top cover, F-15s, plus some F-l6s to go after any radars along the way, and when we get to about here, eight F-117s are going to trash this fighter base at Anshan. That should take care of any Chinese fighter interference. Now, this missile base has an associated security force, supposed to be battalion strength, in barracks located here"—this time it was a satellite photo—"and five of my Apaches are going to take that place down with rockets. The others will be flying direct support. The only other question is, how close do you want us to put you on these missile silos?"
   "Land right on top of the bastards," Clark told him, looking over at Kirillin.
   "I agree, the closer the better."
   Boyle nodded. "Fair enough. The helicopters all have numbers on them indicating the silo they're flying for. I'm flying LEAD, and I'm going right to this one here."
   "That means I go with you," Clark told him.
   "How many?"
   "Ten plus me."
   "Okay, your chem gear's in the aircraft. Suit up, and we go. Latrine's that way," Boyle pointed. It would be better for every man to take a piss before the flight began. "Fifteen minutes."
   Clark went that way, and so did Kirillin. Both old soldiers knew what they needed to do in most respects, and this one was as vital as loading a weapon.
   "Have you been to China before, John?"
   "Nope. Taiwan once, long ago, to get screwed, blued, and tattooed."
   "No chance for that on this trip. We are both too old for this, you know."
   "I know," Clark said, zipping himself up. "But you're not going to sit back here, are you?"
   "A Leader must be with his men, Ivan Timofeyevich."
   "That is true, Yuriy. Good luck."
   "They will not launch a nuclear attack on my country, or on yours," Kirillin promised. "Not while I live."
   "You know, Yuriy, you might have been a good guy to have in 3rd SOG."
   "And what is that, John?"
   "When we get back and have a few drinks, I will tell you."
   The troops suited up outside their designated helicopters. The U.S. Army chemical gear was bulky, but not grossly so. Like many American-issue items, it was an evolutionary development of a British idea, with charcoal inside the lining to absorb and neutralize toxic gas, and a hood that—
   "We can't use our radios with this," Mike Pierce noted. "Screws up the antenna."
   "Try this," Homer Johnston suggested, disconnecting the antenna and tucking it into the helmet cover.
   "Good one, Homer," Eddie Price said, watching what he did and trying it himself. The American-pattern Kevlar helmet fit nicely into the hoods, which they left off in any case as too uncomfortable until they really needed it. That done, they loaded into their helicopters, and the flight crews spooled up the General Electric turboshaft engines. The Blackhawks lifted off. The special-operations troops were set in what were—for military aircraft—comfortable seats, held in place with four-point safety belts. Clark took the jump seat, aft and between the two pilots, and tied into the intercom.
   "Who, exactly, are you?" Boyle asked.
   "Well, I have to kill you after I tell you, but I'm CIA. Before that, Navy."
   "SEAL?" Boyle asked.
   "Budweiser badge and all. Couple years ago we set up this group, called RAINBOW, special operations, counter-terror, that sort of thing."
   "The amusement park job?"
   "That's us."
   "You had a -60 supporting you for that. Who's the driver?"
   "Dan Malloy. Goes by 'BEAR' when he's driving. Know him?"
   "Marine, right?" "Yep." Clark nodded.
   "Never met him, heard about him a little. I think he's in D.C. now."
   "Yeah, when he left us he took over VMH-1."
   "Flies the President?"
   "Bummer," Boyle observed.
   "How long you been doing this?"
   "Flying choppers? Oh, eighteen years. Four thousand hours. I was born in the Huey, and grew up into these. Qualified in the Apache, too."
   "What do you think of the mission?" John asked.
   "Long" was the reply, and Clark hoped that was the only cause for concern. A sore ass you could recover from quickly enough.
   "I wish there was another way to do this one, Robby," Ryan said over lunch. It seemed utterly horrid to be sitting here in the White House Mess, eating a cheeseburger with his best friend, while others—including two people he knew well, Jack had learned—were heading into harm's way. It was enough to kill his appetite as dead as the low-cholesterol beef in the bun. He set it down and sipped at his Coke.
   "Well, there is—if you want to wait the two days it's going to take Lockheed-Martin to assemble the bombs, then a day to fly them to Siberia, and another twelve hours to fly the mission. Maybe longer. The Black Jet only flies at night, remember?" the Vice President pointed out.
   "You're handling it better than I am."
   "Jack, I don't like it any more than you do, okay? But after twenty years of flying off carriers, you learn to handle the stress of having friends in tight corners. If you don't, might as well turn in your wings. Eat, man, you need your strength. How's Andrea doing?"
   That generated an ironic smile. "Puked her guts out this morning. Had her use my own crapper. It's killing her, she was embarrassed as a guy caught naked in Times Square."
   "Well, she's in a man's job, and she doesn't want to be seen as a wimp," Robby explained. "Hard to be one of the boys when you don't have a dick, but she tries real hard. I'll give her that."
   "Cathy says it passes, but it isn't passing fast enough for her." He looked over to see Andrea standing in the doorway, always the watchful protector of her President.
   "She's a good troop," Jackson agreed.
   "How's your dad doing?"
   "Not too bad. Some TV ministry agency wants him and Gerry Patterson to do some more salt-and-pepper shows on Sunday mornings. He's thinking about it. The money could dress up the church some."
   "They were impressive together."
   "Yeah, Gerry didn't do bad for a white boy—and he's actually a pretty good guy, Pap says. I'm not sure of this TV-ministry stuff, though. Too easy to go Hollywood and start playing to the audience instead of being a shepherd to your flock."
   "Your father's a pretty impressive gent, Robby."
   Jackson looked up. "I'm glad you think so. He raised us pretty good, and it was pretty tough on him after Mom died. But he can be a real sundowner. Gets all pissy when he sees me drink a beer. But, what the hell, it's his job to yell at people, I suppose."
   "Tell him that Jesus played bartender once. It was his first public miracle."
   "I've pointed that out, and then he says, if Jesus wants to do it, that's okay for Jesus, boy, but you ain't Jesus." The Vice President had a good chuckle. "Eat, Jack."
   "Yes, Mom."
   "This food isn't half bad," Al Gregory said, two miles away in the wardroom of USS Gettysburg.
   "Well, no women and no booze on a ship of war," Captain Blandy pointed out. "Not this one yet, anyway. You have to have some diversion. So, how are the missiles?"
   "The software is fully loaded, and I e-mailed the upgrade like you said. So all the other Aegis ships ought to have it."
   "Just heard this morning that the Aegis office in the Pentagon is having a bit of a conniption fit over this. They didn't approve the software."
   "Tell 'em to take it up with Tony Bretano," Gregory suggested.
   "Explain to me again, what exactly did you upgrade?"
   "The seeker software on the missile warhead. I cut down the lines of code so it can recycle more quickly. And I reprogrammed the nutation rate on the laser on the fusing system so that I can handle a higher rate of closure. It should obviate the problem the Patriots had with the Scuds back in '91—I helped with that software fix, too, back then, but this one's about half an order of magnitude faster."
   "Without a hardware fix?" the skipper asked.
   "It would be better to increase the range of the laser, yes, but you can get away without it—at least it worked okay on the computer simulations."
   "Hope to hell we don't need to prove it.'
   "Oh, yeah, Captain. A nuke headed for a city is a bad thing."
   There were five thousand of them now, with more coming, summoned by the cell phones that they all seemed to have. Some even had portable computers tied into cellular phones so that they could tap into the Internet site out here in the open. It was a clear night, with no rain to wreck a computer. The Leaders of the crowd—they now thought of it as a demonstration—huddled around them to see more, and then relayed it to their friends. The first big student uprising in Tiananmen Square had been fueled by faxes. This one had taken a leap forward in technology. Mainly they milled around, talking excitedly with one another, and summoning more help. The first such demonstration had failed, but they'd all been toddlers then and their memory of it was sketchy at best. They were all old and educated enough to know what needed changing, but not yet old and experienced enough to know that change in their society was impossible. And they didn't know what a dangerous combination that could be.
   The ground below was dark and unlit. Even their night-vision goggles didn't help much, showing only rough terrain features, mainly the tops of hills and ridges. There were few lights below. There were some houses and other buildings, but at this time of night few people were awake, and all of the lights were turned off.
   The only moving light sources they could see were the rotor tips of the helicopters, heated by air friction to the point that they would be painful to touch, and hot enough to glow in the infrared spectrum that the night goggles could detect. Mainly the troops were lulled into stuporous lassitude by the unchanging vibration of the aircraft, and the semi-dreaming state that came with it helped to pass the time.
   That was not true of Clark, who sat in the jump seat, looking down at the satellite photos of the missile base at Xuanhua, studying by the illumination of the IR light on his goggles, looking for information he might have missed on first and twenty-first inspection. He was confident in his men. Chavez had turned into a fine tactical Leader, and the troops, experienced sergeants all, would do what they were told to the extent of their considerable abilities.
   The Russians in the other helicopters would do okay, too, he thought. Younger—by eight years on average—than the RAINBOW troopers, they were all commissioned officers, mainly lieutenants and captains with a leavening of a few majors, and all were university graduates, well educated, and that was almost as good as five years in uniform. Better yet, they were well motivated young professional soldiers, smart enough to think on their feet, and proficient in their weapons.
   The mission should work, John thought. He leaned to check the clock on the helicopter's instrument panel. Forty minutes and they'd find out. Turning around, he noticed the eastern sky was lightening, according to his goggles. They'd hit the missile field just before dawn.
   It was a stupidly easy mission for the Black Jets. Arriving overhead singly, about thirty seconds apart, each opened its bomb bay doors and dropped two weapons, ten seconds apart. Each pilot, his plane controlled by its automatic cruising system, put his laser dot on a preplanned section of the runway. The bombs were the earliest Paveway-II guidance packages bolted to Mark-84 2,000-pound bombs with cheap—$7.95 each, in fact—M905 fuses set to go off a hundredth of a second after impact, so as to make a hole in the concrete about twenty feet across by nine feet deep. And this all sixteen of them did, to the shocked surprise of the sleepy tower crew, and with enough noise to wake up every person within a five-mile radius—and just that fast, Anshan fighter base was closed, and would remain so for at least a week. The eight F-117s turned singly and made their way back to their base at Zhigansk. Flying the Black Jet wasn't supposed to be any more exciting than driving a 737 for Southwest Airlines, and for the most part it wasn't.
   "Why the hell didn't they send one of those Dark Stars down to cover the mission?" Jack asked.
   "I suppose it never occurred to anybody," Jackson said. They were back in the situation room.
   "What about satellite overheads?"
   "Not this time," Ed Foley advised. "Next pass over is in about four hours. Clark has a satellite phone. He'll clue us in."
   "Great." Ryan leaned back in a chair that suddenly wasn't terribly comfortable.
   Objective in sight," Boyle said over the intercom. Then the radio. "BANDIT SIX to chicks, objective in sight. Check in, over."
   "Two." "Three." "Four." "Five." "Six." "Seven." "Eight." "Nine." "Ten."
   "COCHISE, check in."
   "This is COCHISE LEADER with five, we have the objective."
   "Crook with five, objective in sight," the second attack-helicopter team reported.
   "Okay, move in as briefed. Execute, execute, execute!"
   Clark was perked up now, as were the troops in the back. Sleep was shaken off, and adrenaline flooded into their bloodstreams. He saw them shake their heads and flex their jaws. Weapons were tucked in tight, and every man moved his left hand to the twist-dial release fitting on the belt buckle.
   COCHISE flight went in first, heading for the barracks of the security battalion tasked to guard the missile base. The building could have been transported bodily from any WWII American army base—a two-story wood-frame construction, with a pitched roof, and painted white. There was a guard shack outside, also painted white, and it glowed in the thermal sights of the Apache gunners. They could even see the two soldiers there, doubtless approaching the end of their duty tour, standing slackly, their weapons slung over their shoulders, because nobody ever came out here, rarely enough during the day, and never in living memory at night—unless you counted the battalion commander coming back drunk from a command-staff meeting.
   Their heads twisted slightly when they thought they heard something strange, but the four-bladed rotor on the Apache was also designed for sound suppression, and so they were still looking when they saw the first flash—
   –the weapons selected were the 2.75-inch-diameter free-flight rockets, carried in pods on the Apaches' stub wings. Three of the section of five handled the initial firing run, with two in reserve should the unexpected develop. They burned in low, so as to conceal their silhouettes in the hills behind them, and opened up at two hundred meters. The first salvo of four blew up the guard shack and its two sleepy guards. The noise would have been enough to awaken those in the barracks building, but the second salvo of rockets, this time fifteen of them, got there before anyone inside could do more than blink his eyes open. Both floors of the two-story structure were hit, and most of those inside died without waking, caught in the middle of dreams. The Apaches hesitated then, still having weapons to fire. There was a subsidiary guard post on the other side of the building; COCHISE LEAD looped around the barracks and spotted it. The two soldiers there had their rifles up and fired blindly into the air, but his gunner selected his 20-mm cannon and swept them aside as though with a broom. Then the Apache pivoted in the air and he salvoed his remaining rockets into the barracks, and it was immediately apparent that if anyone was alive in there, it was by the grace of God Himself, and whoever it was would not be a danger to the mission.
   "COCHISE Four and Five, LEAD. Go back up Crook, we don't need you here."
   "Roger, LEAD," they both replied. The two attack helicopters moved off, leaving the first three to look for and erase any signs of life.
   Crook flight, also of five Apaches, smoked in just ahead of the Black-hawks. It turned out that each silo had a small guard post, each for two men, and those were disposed of in a matter of seconds with cannon fire. Then the Apaches climbed to higher altitude and circled slowly, each over a pair of missile silos, looking for anything moving, but seeing nothing.
   BANDIT SIX, Colonel Dick Boyle, flared his Blackhawk three feet over Silo #1, as it was marked on his satellite photo.
   "Go!" the co-pilot shouted over the intercom. The RAINBOW troopers jumped down just to the cast of the actual hole itself; the "Chinese hat" steel structure, which looked like an inverted blunt ice cream cone, prohibited dropping right down on the door itself.
   The base command post was the best-protected structure on the entire post. It was buried ten meters underground, and the ten meters was solid reinforced concrete, so as to survive a nuclear bomb's exploding within a hundred meters, or so the design supposedly promised. Inside was a staff of ten, commanded by Major General Xun Qing-Nian. He'd been a Second Artillery (the Chinese name for their strategic missile troops) officer since graduating from university with an engineering degree. Only three hours before, he'd supervised the fueling of all twelve of his CSS-4 intercontinental ballistic missiles, which had never happened before in his memory. No explanation had come with that order, though it didn't take a rocket scientist—which he was, by profession– to connect it with the war under way against Russia.
   Like all members of the People's Liberation Army, he was a highly disciplined man, and always mindful of the fact that he had his country's most valuable military assets under his personal control. The alarm had been raised by one of the silo-guard posts, and his staff switched on the television cameras used for site inspection and surveillance. They were old cameras, and needed lights, which were switched on as well.
   "What the fuck!" Chavez shouted. "Turn the lights off!" he ordered over his radio.
   It wasn't demanding. The light standards weren't very tall, nor were they very far away. Chavez hosed one with his MP-10, and the lights went out, thank you. No other lasted for more than five seconds at any of the silos.
   "We are under attack," General Xun said in a quiet and disbelieving voice. "We are under attack," he repeated. But he had a drill for this. "Alert the guard force," he told one NCO. "Get me Beijing," he ordered another.
   At Silo #1, Paddy Connolly ran to the pipes that led to the top of the concrete box that marked the top of the silo. To each he stuck a block of Composition B, his explosive of choice. Into each block he inserted a blasting cap. Two men, Eddie Price and Hank Patterson, knelt close by with their weapons ready for a response force that was nowhere to be seen.
   "Fire in the hole!" Patterson shouted, running back to the other two. There he skidded down to the ground, sheltered behind the concrete, and twisted the handle on his detonator. The two pipes were blown apart a millisecond later.
   "Masks!" he told everyone on the radio . . . but there was no vapor coming off the fueling pipes. That was good news, wasn't it?
   "Come on!" Eddie Price yelled at him. The three men, guarded now by two others, looked for the metal door into the maintenance entrance for the silo.
   "Ed, we're on the ground, we're on the ground," Clark was saying into his satellite phone, fifty yards away. "The barracks are gone, and there's no opposition on the ground here. Doing our blasting now. Back to you soon. Out."
   "Well, shit," Ed Foley said in his office, but the line was now dead.
   "What?" It was an hour later in Beijing, and the sun was up. Marshal Luo, having just woken up after not enough sleep following the worst day he'd known since the Cultural Revolution, had a telephone thrust into his hands. "What is this?" he demanded of the phone.
   "This is Major General Xun Qing-Nian at Xuanhua missile base. We are under attack here. There is a force of men on the ground over our heads trying to destroy our missiles. I require instructions!"
   "Fight them off!" was the first idea Luo had.
   "The defense battalion is dead, they do not respond. Comrade Minister, what do I do?"
   "Are your missiles fueled and ready for launch?"
   Luo looked around his bedroom, but there was no one to advise him. His country's most priceless assets were now about to be ripped from his control. His command wasn't automatic. He actually thought first, but in the end, it wouldn't matter how considered his decision was.
   "Launch your missiles," he told the distant general officer.
   "Repeat your command," Luo heard.
   "Launch your missiles!" his voice boomed. "Launch your missiles NOW!"
   "By your command," the voice replied.
   "Fuck," Sergeant Connolly said. "This is some bloody door!" The first explosive block had done nothing more than scorch the paint. This time he attached a hollow-charge to the upper and lower hinges and backed off again. "This one will do it," he promised as he trailed the wires back.
   The crash that followed gave proof to his words. When next they looked in, the door was gone. It had been hurled inward, must have flown into the silo like a bat out of—
   –"Bloody hell!" Connolly turned. "Run! RUN!"
   Price and Patterson needed no encouragement. They ran for their lives. Connolly caught them reaching for his protective hood as he did so, not stopping until he was over a hundred yards away.
   "The bloody missile's fueled. The door ruptured the upper tank. It's going to blow!"
   "Shit! Team, this is Price, the missiles are fueled, I repeat the missiles are fueled. Get the fucking hell away from the silo!"
   The proof of that came from Silo #8, off to Price's south. The concrete structure that sat atop it surged into the air, and under it was a volcanic blast of fire and smoke. Silo #1, theirs, did the same, a gout of flame going sideways out of the open service door.
   The infrared signature was impossible to miss. Over the equator, a DSP satellite focused in on the thermal bloom and cross-loaded the signal to Sunnyvale, California. From there it went to NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, dug into the sub-basement level of Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. "Launch! Possible launch at Xuanhua!" "What's that?" asked CINC-NORAD.
   "We got a bloom, a huge—two huge ones at Xuanhua," the female captain announced. "Fuck, there's another one."
   "Okay, Captain, settle down," the four-star told her. "There's a special op taking that base down right now. Settle down, girl."
   In the control bunker, men were turning keys. The general in command had never really expected to do this. Sure, it was a possibility, the thing he'd trained his entire career for, but, no, not this. No. Not a chance.
   But someone was trying to destroy his command—and he did have his orders, and like the automaton he'd been trained to be, he gave the orders and turned his command key.
   The Spetsnaz people were doing well. Four silos were now disabled. One of the Russian teams managed to crack the maintenance door on their first try. This team, General Kirillin's own, sent its technical genius inside, and he found the missile's guidance module and blew it apart with gunfire. It would take a week at least to fix this missile, and just to make sure that didn't happen, he affixed an explosive charge to the stainless steel body and set the timer for fifteen minutes. "Done!" he called.
   "Out!" Kirillin ordered. The lieutenant general, now feeling like a new cadet in parachute school, gathered his team and ran to the pickup point. As guilty as any man would be of mission focus, he looked around, surprised by the fire and flame to his north—
   –but more surprised to see three silo covers moving. The nearest was only three hundred meters away, and there he saw one of his Spetsnaz troopers walk right to the suddenly open silo and toss something in—then he ran like a rabbit—
   –because three seconds later, the hand grenade he'd tossed in exploded, and took the entire missile up with it. The Spetsnaz soldier disappeared in the fireball he'd caused, and would not be seen again—
   –but then something worse happened. From exhaust vents set left and right of Silos #5 and #7 came two vertical fountains of solid white-yellow flame, and less than two seconds later appeared the blunt, black shape of a missile's nosecone.
   "Fuck," breathed the Apache pilot coded CROOK Two. He was circling a kilometer away, and without any conscious thought at all, lowered his nose, twisted throttle, and pulled collective to jerk his attack helicopter at the rising missile.
   "Got it," the gunner called. He selected his 20-mm cannon and held down the trigger. The tracers blazed out like laser beams. The first set missed, but the gunner adjusted his LEAD and walked them into the missile's upper half—
   –the resulting explosion threw CROOK Two out of control, rolling it over on its back. The pilot threw his cyclic to the left, continuing the roll before he stopped it, barely, a quarter of the way through the second one, and then he saw the fireball rising, and the burning missile fuel falling back to the ground, atop Silo #9, and on all the men there who'd disabled that bird.
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Ryan was actually feeling somewhat relaxed. No more rushing about, here he was, surrounded by people calmly and quietly going about their jobs-outwardly so, anyway. The captain looked a little tense, but captains were supposed to, Ryan figured, being responsible in this case for a billion dollars' worth of warship and computers.
   "Okay, how are we doing?"
   "Sir, the inbound, if it's aimed at us, is not on the scope yet."
   "Can you shoot it down?"
   "That's the idea, Mr. President," Blandy replied. "Is Dr. Gregory around?"
   "Here, Captain," a voice answered. A shape came closer. "Jesus!"
   "That's not my name—I know you!" Ryan said in considerable surprise "Major—Major . . ."
   "Gregory, sir. I ended up a half a colonel before I pulled the plug. SDIO. Secretary Bretano had me look into upgrading the missiles for the Aegis system," the physicist explained. "I guess we're going to see if it works or not."
   "What do you think?" Ryan asked.
   "It worked fine on the simulations" was the best answer available.
   "Radar contact. We got us a bogie," a petty officer said. "Bearing three-four-niner, range nine hundred miles, speed—that's the one, sir. Speed is one thousand four hundred knots—I mean fourteen thousand knots, sir." Damn, he didn't have to add.
   "Four and a half minutes out," Gregory said.
   "Do the math in your head?" Ryan asked.
   "Sir, I've been in the business since I got out of West Point."
   Ryan finished his cigarette and looked around for—
   "Here, sir." It was the friendly chief with an ashtray that had magically appeared in CIC. "Want another one?"
   "Why not?" the President reasoned. He took a second one, and the senior chief lit it up for him. "Thanks."
   "Gee, Captain Blandy, maybe you're declaring a blanket amnesty?"
   "If he isn't, I am," Ryan said.
   "Smoking lamp is lit, people," Senior Chief Leek announced, an odd satisfaction in his voice.
   The captain looked around in annoyance, but dismissed it.
   "Four minutes, it might not matter a whole lot," Ryan observed as coolly as the cigarette allowed. Health hazard or not, they had their uses.
   "Captain, I have a radio call for the President, sir."
   "Where do I take it?" Jack asked.
   "Right here, sir," yet another chief said, lifting a phone-type receiver and pushing a button.
   "Jack, it's Robby." "My family get off okay?"
   "Yeah, Jack, they're fine. Hey, what the hell are you doing down there?"
   "Riding it out. Robby, I can't run away, pal. I just can't."
   "Jack if this thing goes off—"
   "Then you get promoted," Ryan cut him off.
   "You know what I'll have to do?" the Vice President demanded.
   "Yeah, Robby, you'll have to play catch-up. God help you if you do." But it won't be my problem, Ryan thought. There was some consolation in that. Killing some guy with a gun was one thing. Killing a million with a nuke . . . no, he just couldn't do that without eating a gun afterward. You're just too Catholic, Jack, my boy.
   "Jesus, Jack," his old friend said over the digital, encrypted radio link. Clearly thinking about what horrors he'd have to commit, son of a preacher-man or not. . .
   "Robby, you're the best friend any man could hope to have. If this doesn't work out, look after Cathy and the kids for me, will ya?"
   "You know it."
   "We'll know in about three minutes, Rob. Get back to me then, okay?"
   "Roger," the former TOMCAT driver replied. "Out."
   "Dr. Gregory, what can you tell me?"
   "Sir, the inbound is probably their equivalent of one of our old W-51s. Five megatons, thereabouts. It'll do Washington, and everything within ten miles—hell, it'll break windows in Baltimore."
   "What about us, here?"
   "No chance. Figure it'll be targeted inside a triangle defined by the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Pentagon. The ship's keel might survive, only because it's under water. No people. Oh, maybe some really lucky folks in the D.C. subway. That's pretty far underground. But the fires will suck all the air out of the tunnels, probably." He shrugged. "This sort of thing's never happened before. You can't say for sure until it does."
   "What chances that it'll be a dud?"
   "The Pakistanis have had some failed detonations. We had fizzles once, mainly from helium contamination in the secondary. That's why the terrorist bomb at Denver fizzled-"
   "I remember."
   "Okay," Gregory said. "It's over Buffalo now. Now it's reentering the atmosphere. That'll slow it down a little."
   "Sir, the track is definitely on us, the NMCC says," a voice said.
   "Agreed," Captain Blandy said.
   "Is there a civilian alert?" Ryan asked.
   "It's on the radio, sir," a sailor said. "It's on CNN, too."
   "People will be panicking out there," Ryan murmured, taking another drag.
   Probably not. Most people don't really know what the sirens mean, and the rest won't believe the radio, Gregory thought. "Captain, we're getting close." The track crossed over the Pennsylvania/New York border—
   "System up?" Blandy asked.
   "We are fully on line, sir," the Weapons Officer answered. "We are ready to fire from the forward magazine. Firing order is selected, all Block IVs."
   "Very well." The captain leaned forward and turned his key in the lock. "System is fully enabled. Special-Auto." He turned. "Sir, that means the computer will handle it from here."
   "Target range is now three hundred miles," a kid's voice announced.
   They're so cool about this, Ryan thought. Maybe they just don't believe it's real. . . hell, it's hard enough for me . . . He took another drag on the cigarette, watching the blip come down, following its computer-produced velocity vector right for Washington, D.C.
   "Any time now," the Weapons Officer said.
   He wasn't far off. Gettysburg shuddered with the launch of the first missile.
   "One away!" a sailor said off to the right. "One is away clean."
   The SM2-ER missile had two stages. The short booster kicked the assembly out of its silo-type hole in the forward magazine, trailing an opaque column of gray smoke.
   "The idea is to intercept at a range of two hundred miles," Gregory explained. "The interceptor and the inbound will rendezvous at the same spot, and—zap!"
   "Mainly farmland there, place you go to shoot pheasants," Ryan said, remembering hunting trips there in his youth.
   "Hey, I got a visual on the fucker," another voice called. There was a TV camera with a ten-power lens slaved into the fire-control radar, and it showed the inbound warhead, just a featureless white blob now, like a meteor, Ryan thought.
   "Intercept in four—three—two—one—"
   The missile came close, but exploded behind the target.
   "Firing Two!" Gettysburg shook again.
   "Two away clean!" the same voice as before announced.
   It was over Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, now, its speed "down" to thirteen thousand miles per hour . . .
   Then a third missile launched, followed a second later by a fourth. In the "Special-Auto" setting, the computer was expending missiles until it saw a dead target. That was just fine with everyone aboard.
   "Only two Block IVs left," Weps said.
   "They're cheap," Captain Blandy observed. "Come on, baby!"
   Number Two also exploded behind the target, the TV picture showed.
   So did Number Three.
   "Oh, shit, oh, my God!" Gregory exclaimed. That caused heads to snap around.
   "What?" Blandy demanded.
   The IR seekers, they're going for the centroid of the infrared source, and that's behind the inbound."
   "What?" Ryan asked, his stomach in an instant knot.
   "The brightest part of the target is behind the target. The missiles are going for that! Oh, fuck!" Dr. Gregory explained.
   "Five away . . . Six away . . . both got off clean," the voice to the right announced again.
   The inbound was over Frederick, Maryland, now, doing twelve thousand knots . . .
   "That's it, we're out of Block IVs."
   "Light up the Block IIIs," Blandy ordered at once.
   The next two interceptors did the same as the first two, coming within mere feet of the target, but exploding just behind it, and the inbound was traveling faster than the burn rate of explosive in the Standard -2-ER missile warheads. The lethal fragments couldn't catch up—
   "Firing Seven! Clean." Gettysburg shook yet again.
   "That one's a radar homer," Blandy said, clenching his fist before his chest.
   Five and Six performed exactly as the four preceding them, missing by mere yards, but a miss in this case was as good as a mile.
   Another shudder.
   "Eight! Clean!"
   "We have to get it before it gets to five or six thousand feet. That's optimal burst height," Gregory said.
   "At that range, I can engage it with my five-inch forward," Blandy said, some fear in his voice now.
   For his part, Ryan wondered why he wasn't shaking. Death had reached its cold hand out for him more than once . . . the Mall in London ... his own home ... Red October. . . some nameless hill in Colombia. Someday it would touch him. Was this the day? He took a last drag on the smoke and stabbed it out in the aluminum ashtray.
   "Okay, here comes seven—five—four—three—two—one—now!"
   "Miss! Fuck!"
   "Nine away—Ten away, both clean! We're out of missiles," the distant chief called out. "This is it, guys."
   The inbound crossed over the D.C. Beltway, Interstate Highway 695, now at an altitude of less than twenty thousand feet, streaking across the night sky like a meteor, and so some people thought it was, pointing and calling out to those nearby. If they continued to look at it until detonation, their eyes would explode, and they would then die blind . . .
   "Eight missed! Missed by a cunt hair!" a voice announced angrily. Clear on the TV, the puff of the explosion appeared mere inches from the target.
   "Two more to go," the Weapons Officer told them.
   Aloft, the forward port-side SPG-62 radar was pouring out X-band radiation at the target. The rising SM-2 missile, its rocket motor still burning, homed in on the reflected signal, focusing, closing, seeing the source of the reflected energy that drew it as a moth to a flame, a kamikaze robot the size of a small car, going at nearly two thousand miles per hour, seeking an object going six times faster . . . two miles . . . one mile ... a thousand yards . . . five hundred, one hun—
   –On the TV screen the RV meteor changed to a shower of sparks and fire—
   "Yeah!" twenty voices called as one.
   The TV camera followed the descending sparks. The adjacent radar display showed them falling within the city of Washington.
   "You're going to want to get people to collect those fragments. Some of them are going to be plutonium. Not real healthy to handle," Gregory said, leaning against a stanchion. "Looked like a skin-skin kill. Oh, God, how did I fuck up my programming like that?" he wondered aloud.
   "I wouldn't sweat it too bad, Dr. Gregory," Senior Chief Leek observed. "Your code also helped the last one home in more efficient-like. I think I might want to buy you a beer, fella."
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As usual, the news didn't get back quickly to the place where it had actually started. Having given the launch order, Defense Minister Luo had little clue what to do next. Clearly, he couldn't go back to sleep. America might well answer his action with a nuclear strike of its own, and therefore his first rational thought was that it might be a good idea for him to get the hell out of Beijing. He rose, made normal use of his bathroom, and splashed water on his face, but then again his mind hit a brick wall. What to do? The one name he knew to call was Zhang Han Sen. Once connected, he spoke very quickly indeed.
   "You did—what happened, Luo?" the senior Minister Without Portfolio asked with genuine alarm.
   "Someone—Russians or Americans, I'm not sure which—struck at our missile base at Xuanhua, attempting to destroy our nuclear deterrent. I ordered the base commander to fire them off, of course," Luo told his associate minister, in a voice that was both defiant and defensive. "We agreed on this in our last meeting, did we not?"
   "Luo, yes, we discussed the possibility. But you fired them without consulting with us?" Zhang demanded. Such decisions were always collegial, never unilateral.
   "What choice did I have, Zhang?" Marshal Luo asked in reply. "Had I hesitated a moment, there would have been none left to fire."
   "I see," the voice on the phone said. "What is happening now?"
   "The missiles are flying. The first should hit their first targets,
   Moscow and Leningrad, in about ten minutes. I had no choice, Zhang. I could not allow them to disarm us completely."
   Zhang could have sworn and screamed at the man, but there was no point in that. What had happened had happened, and there was no sense expending intellectual or emotional energy on something he could not alter. "Very well. We need to meet. I will assemble the Politburo. Come to the Council of Ministers Building at once. Will the Americans or Russians retaliate?"
   "They cannot strike back in kind. They have no nuclear missiles. An attack by bombers would take some hours," Luo advised, trying to make it sound like good news.
   At his end of the connection, Zhang felt a chill in his stomach that rivaled liquid helium. As with many things in life, this one– contemplated theoretically in a comfortable conference room—was something very different now that it had turned into a most uncomfortable reality. And yet—was it? It was a thing too difficult to believe. It was too unreal. There were no outward signs—you'd at least expect thunder and lightning outside the windows to accompany news like this, even a major earthquake, but it was merely early morning, not yet seven o'clock. Could this be real?
   Zhang padded across his bedroom, switched on his television, and turned it to CNN—it had been turned off for most of the country, but not here, of course. His English skills were insufficient to translate the rapid-fire words coming over the screen now. They were showing Washington, D.C., with a camera evidently atop the CNN building there– wherever that was, he had not the faintest idea. It was a black American speaking. The camera showed him standing atop a building, microphone in hand like black plastic ice cream, speaking very, very rapidly– so much so that Zhang was catching only one word in three, and looking off to the camera's left with wide, frightened eyes.
   So, he knows what is coming there, doesn't he? Zhang thought, then wondered if he would see the destruction of the American capital via American news television. That, he thought, would have some entertainment value.
   "Look!" the reporter said, and the camera twisted to see a smoke trail race across the sky—
   – What the hell is that? Zhang wondered. Then there was another . . . and more besides . . . and the reporter was showing real fear now. . .
   ... it was good for his heart to see such feelings on the face of an American, especially a black American reporter. Another one of those monkeys had caused his country such great harm, after all...
   So, now he'd get to see one incinerated ... or maybe not. The camera and the transmitter would go, too, wouldn't they? So, just a flash of light, maybe, and a blank screen that would be replaced by CNN headquarters in Atlanta . . .
   ... more smoke trails. Ah, yes, they were surface-to-air missiles ... could such things intercept a nuclear missile? Probably not, Zhang judged. He checked his watch. The sweep hand seemed determined to let the snail win this race, it jumped so slowly from one second to the next, and Zhang felt himself watching the display on the TV screen with anticipation he knew to be perverse. But America had been his country's principal enemy for so many years, had thwarted two of his best and most skillfully laid plans—and now he'd see its destruction by means of one of its very own agencies, this cursed medium of television news, and though Tan Deshi claimed that it was not an organ of the American government, surely that could not be the case. The Ryan regime in Washington must have a very cordial relationship with those minstrels, they followed the party line of the Western governments so fawningly. . .
   . . . two more smoke trails . . . the camera followed them and . . . what was that? Like a meteor, or the landing light of a commercial aircraft, a bright light, seemingly still in the sky—no, it was moving, unless that was the fear of the cameraman showing—oh, yes, that was it, because the smoke trails seemed to seek it out. . . but not quite closely enough, it would seem .. . and so, farewell, Washington, Zhang Han Sen thought. Perhaps there'd be adverse consequences for the People's Republic, but he'd have the satisfaction of seeing the death of—
   –what was that? Like a bursting firework in the sky, a shower of sparks, mainly heading down . . . what did that mean . . . ?
   It was clear sixty seconds later. Washington had not been blotted from the map. Such a pity, Zhang thought. . . especially since there would be consequences . . . With that, he washed and dressed and left for the Council of Ministers Building.
   Dear God," Ryan breathed. The initial emotions of denial and elation were passing now. The feelings were not unlike those following an auto accident. First was disbelief, then remedial action that was more automatic than considered, then when the danger was past came the whiplash after-fear, when the psyche started to examine what had passed, and what had almost been, and fear after survival, fear after the danger was past, brought on the real shakes. Ryan remembered that Winston Churchill had remarked that there was nothing more elating than rifle fire that had missed—"to be shot at without result" was the exact quote the President remembered. If so, Winston Spencer Churchill must have had ice water in his cardiovascular system, or he enjoyed braggadocio more than this American President did.
   "Well, I hope that was the only one," Captain Blandy observed.
   "Better be, Cap'n. We be out of missiles," Chief Leek said, lighting up another smoke in accordance with the Presidential amnesty.
   "Captain," Jack said when he was able to, "every man on this ship gets promoted one step by Presidential Order, and USS Gettysburg gets a Presidential Unit Citation. That's just for starters, of course. Where's a radio? I need to talk to KNEECAP."
   "Here, sir." A sailor handed him a phone receiver. "The line's open,
   "You're still Vice President," SWORDSMAN told TOMCAT.
   "For now, I suppose. Christ, Jack, what the hell were you trying to do?"
   "I'm not sure. It seemed like the right idea at the time." Jack was seated now, both holding the phone in his hand and cradling it between cheek and shoulder, lest he drop it on the deck. "Is there anything else coming in?"
   "NORAD says the sky is clear—only one bird got off. Targeted on us. Shit, the Russians still have dedicated ABM batteries all around Moscow. They probably could have handled it better than us." Jackson paused. "We're calling in the Nuclear Emergency Search Team from Rocky Mountain Arsenal to look for hot spots. DOD has people coordinating with the D.C. police . . . Jesus, Jack, that was just a little intense, y'know?"
   "Yeah, it was that way here, too. Now what?" the President asked.
   "You mean with China? Part of me says, load up the B-2 bombers on Guam with the B-61 gravity bombs and send them to Beijing, but I suppose that's a little bit of an overreaction."
   "I think some kind of public statement—not sure what kind yet. What are you gonna be doing?"
   "I asked. The drill is for us to stay up for four hours before we come back to Andrews. Same for Cathy and the kids. You might want to call them, too."
   "Roger. Okay, Robby, sit tight. See you in a few hours. I think I'm going to have a stiff one or two."
   "I hear that, buddy."
   "Okay, POTUS out." Ryan handed the phone back. "Captain?"
   "Yes, Mr. President?"
   "Your entire ship's crew is invited to the White House, right now, for some drinks on the house. I think we all need it."
   "Sir, I will not disagree with that."
   "And those who stay aboard, if they feel the need to bend an elbow, as Commander in Chief, I waive Navy Regulations on that subject for twenty-four hours."
   "Aye, aye, sir."
   "Chief?" Jack said next.
   "Here, sir." He handed his pack and lighter over. "I got more in my locker, sir."
   Just then two men in civilian clothes entered CIC. It was Hilton and Malone from the night crew.
   "How'd you guys get here so fast?" Ryan asked.
   "Andrea called us, sir—did what we think happened just happen?"
   "Yep, and your President needs a bottle and a soft chair, gentlemen.
   "We have a car on the pier, sir. You want to come with us?" "Okay—Captain, you get buses or something, and come to the White House right away. If it means locking the ship up and leaving her without anyone aboard, that's just fine with me. Call the Marine Barracks at Eighth and I for security if you need to."
   "Aye, aye, Mr. President. We'll be along shortly."
   I might be drunk before you get there, the President thought.
   The car Hilton and Malone had brought down was one of the black armored Chevy Suburbans that followed the President everywhere he went. This one just drove back to the White House. The streets were suddenly filled with people simply standing and looking up—it struck Ryan as odd. The thing was no longer in the sky, and whatever pieces were on the ground were too dangerous to touch. In any case, the drive back to the White House was uneventful, and Ryan ended up in the Situation Room, strangely alone. The uniformed people from the White House Military Office—called Wham-O by the staff, which seemed particularly inappropriate at the moment—were all in a state somewhere between bemused and stunned. And the immediate consequence of the great effort to whisk senior government officials out of town—the scheme was officially called the Continuation of Government—had had the reverse effect. The government was at the moment still fragmented in twenty or so helicopters and one E-4B, and quite unable to coordinate itself. Ryan figured that the emergency was better designed to withstand a nuclear attack than to avoid one, and that, at the moment, seemed very strange.
   Indeed, the big question for the moment was What the hell do we do now? And Ryan didn't have much of a clue. But then a phone rang to help him.
   "This is President Ryan."
   "Sir, this is General Dan Liggett at Strike Command in Omaha. Mr. President, I gather we just dodged a major bullet."
   "Yeah, I think you can say that, General."
   "Sir, do you have any orders for us?"
   "Like what?"
   "Well, sir, one option would be retaliation, and—"
   "Oh, you mean because they blew a chance to nuke us, we should take the opportunity to nuke them for real?"
   "Sir, it's my job to present options, not to advocate any," Liggett told his Commander-in-chief.
   "General, do you know where I was during the attack?"
   "Yes, sir. Gutsy call, Mr. President."
   "Well, I am now trying to deal with my own restored life, and I don't have a clue what I ought to do about the big picture, whatever the hell that is. In another two hours or so, maybe we can think of something, but at the moment I have no idea at all. And you know, I'm not sure I want to have any such idea. So, for the moment, General, we do nothing at all. Are we clear on that?"
   "Yes, Mr. President. Nothing at all happens with Strike Command."
   "I'll get back to you."
   "Jack?" a familiar voice called from the door.
   "Arnie, I hate drinking alone—except when there's nobody else around. How about you and me drain a bottle of something? Tell the usher to bring down a bottle of Midleton, and, you know, have him bring a glass for himself."
   "Is it true you rode it out on the ship down at the Navy Yard?"
   "Yep." Ryan bobbed his head.
   "I couldn't run away, Arnie. I couldn't run off to safety and leave a couple of million people to fry. Call it brave. Call it stupid. I just couldn't bug out that way."
   Van Damm leaned into the corridor and made the drink order to someone Jack couldn't see, and then he came back in. "I was just starting dinner at my place in Georgetown when CNN ran the flash. Figured I might as well come here—didn't really believe it like I should have, I suppose."
   "It was somewhat difficult to swallow. I suppose I ought to ask myself if it was our fault, sending the special-operations people in. Why is it that people second-guess everything we do here?"
   "Jack, the world is full of people who can only feel big by making other people look small, and the bigger the target, the better they feel about it. And reporters love to get their opinions, because it makes a good story to say you're wrong about anything. The media prefers a good story to a good truth most of the time. It's just the nature of the business they're in."
   "That's not fair, you know," Ryan observed, when the head usher arrived with a silver tray, a bottle of Irish whiskey, and some glasses with ice already in them. "Charlie, you pour yourself one, too," the President told him.
   "Mr. President, I'm not supposed—"
   "Today the rules changed, Mr. Pemberton. If you get too swacked to drive home, I'll have the Secret Service take you. Have I ever told you what a good guy you are, Charlie? My kids just plain love you."
   Charles Pemberton, son and grandson of ushers at the White House, poured three drinks, just a light one for himself, and handed the glasses over with the grace of a neurosurgeon.
   "Sit down and relax, Charlie. I have a question for you."
   "Yes, Mr. President?"
   "Where did you ride it out? Where did you stay when that H-bomb was coming down on Washington?"
   "I didn't go to the shelter in the East Wing, figured that was best for the womenfolk. I—well, sir, I took the elevator up to the roof and figured I'd just watch."
   "Arnie, there sits a brave man," Jack said, saluting with his glass.
   "Where were you, Mr. President?" Pemberton asked, breaking the etiquette rules because of pure curiosity.
   "I was on the ship that shot the damned thing down, watching our boys do their job. That reminds me, this Gregory guy, the scientist that Tony Bretano got involved. We look after him, Arnie. He's one of the people who saved the day."
   "Duly noted, Mr. President." Van Damm took a big pull on his glass. "What else?"
   "I don't have a what-else right now," SWORDSMAN admitted.
   Neither did anyone in Beijing, where it was now eight in the morning, and the ministers were filing into their conference room like sleepwalkers, and the question on everyone's lips was "What happened?"
   Premier Xu called the meeting to order and ordered the Defense Minister to make his report, which he did in the monotone voice of a phone recording.
   "You ordered the launch?" Foreign Minister Shen asked, aghast.
   "What else was I to do? General Xun told me his base was under attack. They were trying to take our assets away—we spoke of this possibility, did we not?"
   "We spoke of it, yes," Qian agreed. "But to do such a thing without our approval? That was a political action without reflection, Luo. What new dangers have you brought on us?"
   "And what resulted from it?" Fang asked next.
   "Evidently, the warhead either malfunctioned or was somehow intercepted and destroyed by the Americans. The only missile that launched successfully was targeted on Washington. The city was not, I regret to say, destroyed."
   "You regret to say—you regret to say?" Fang's voice spoke more loudly than anyone at the table could ever remember. "You fool! If you had succeeded, we would be facing national death now! You regret?"
   At about that time in Washington, a mid-level CIA bureaucrat had an idea. They were feeding live and taped coverage from the Siberian battlefield over the Internet, because independent news coverage wasn't getting into the People's Republic. "Why not," he asked his supervisor, "send them CNN as well?" That decision was made instantaneously, though it was possibly illegal, maybe a violation of copyright laws. But on this occasion, common sense took precedence over bureaucratic caution. CNN, they decided quickly, could bill them later.
   And so, an hour and twenty minutes after the event, began to cover the coverage of the near-destruction of Washington, D.C. The news that a nuclear war had been begun but aborted stunned the students in Tiananmen Square. The collective realization that they themselves might be the targets of a retaliatory strike did not put fear so much as rage into their young hearts. There were about ten thousand of them now, many with their portable laptop computers, and many of those hooked into cell phones for Internet access. From overhead you could tell their positions just by the tiny knots of pressed-together bodies. Then the Leaders of the demonstration got together and started talking fast among themselves. They knew they had to do something, they just didn't know exactly what. For all they knew, they might well all be facing death.
   The ardor was increased by the commentators CNN had hurriedly rushed into their studios in Atlanta and New York, many of whom opined that the only likely action for America was to reply in kind to the
   Chinese attack, and when the reporter acting as moderator asked what "in kind" meant, the reply was predictable.
   For the students, the question now was not so much life and death as saving their nation—the thirteen hundred million citizens whose lives had been made forfeit by the madmen of the Politburo. The Council of Ministers Building was not all that far away, and the crowd started heading that way.
   By this time, there was a police presence in the Square of Heavenly Peace. The morning watch replaced the night team and saw the mass of young people—to their considerable surprise, since this had not been a part of their morning briefing. The men going off duty explained that nothing had happened at all that was contrary to the law, and for all they knew, it was a spontaneous demonstration of solidarity and support for the brave PLA soldiers in Siberia. So, there were few of them about, and fewer still of the People's Armed Police. It would probably not have mattered in any case. The body of students coalesced, and marched with remarkable discipline to the seat of their country's government. When they got close, there were armed men there. These police officers were not prepared to see so many people coming toward them. The senior of their number, a captain, walked out alone and demanded to know who was in charge of this group, only to be brushed aside by a twenty-two-year-old engineering student.
   Again, it was a case of a police officer totally unaccustomed to having his words disregarded, and totally nonplussed when it took place. Suddenly, he was looking at the back of a young man who was supposed to have stopped dead in his tracks when he was challenged. The security policeman had actually expected the students to stop as a body at his command, for such was the power of law in the People's Republic, but strong as the force of law was, it was also brittle, and when broken, there was nothing behind it. There were also only forty armed men in the building, and all of them were on the first floor in the rear, kept out of the way because the ministers wanted the armed peasants out of sight, except in ones and twos. The four officers on duty at the main entrance were just swept aside as the crowd thundered in through the double doors. All drew their pistols, but only one fired, wounding three students before being knocked down and kicked into senselessness. The other three just ran to the main post to find the reserve force. By the time they got there, the students were running up the wide, ceremonial stairs to the second floor.
   The meeting room was well soundproofed, a security measure to prevent eavesdropping. But soundproofing worked in both directions, and so the men sitting around the table did not hear anything until the corridor was filled with students only fifty meters away, and even then the ministers just turned about in nothing more than annoyance—
   –the armed guard force deployed in two groups, one running to the front of the building on the first floor, the other coming up the back on the second, led by a major who thought to evacuate the ministers. The entire thing had developed much too quickly, with virtually no warning, because the city police had dropped the ball rather badly, and there was no time to call in armed reinforcements. As it played out, the first-floor team ran into a wall of students, and while the captain in command had twenty men armed with automatic rifles, he hesitated to order opening fire because there were more students in view than he had cartridges in his rifles, and in hesitating, he lost the initiative. A number of students approached the armed men, their hands raised, and began to engage them in reasonable tones that belied the wild-eyed throng behind them.
   It was different on the second floor. The major there didn't hesitate at all. He had his men level their rifles and fire one volley high, just to scare them off. But these students didn't scare. Many of them crashed through doors off the main corridor, and one of these was the room in which the Politburo was sitting.
   The sudden entrance of fifteen young people got every minister's attention.
   "What is this!” Zhang Han Sen thundered. "Who are you?"
   "And who are you?" the engineering student sneered back. "Are you the maniac who started a nuclear war?"
   "There is no such war—who told you such nonsense?" Marshal Luo demanded. His uniform told them who he was.
   "And you are the one who sent our soldiers to their death in Russia!"
   "What is this?" the Minister Without Portfolio asked.
   "I think these are the people, Zhang," Qian Kun observed. "Our people, Comrade," he added coldly.
   Into the vacuum of power and direction, more of the students forced their way into the room, and now the guard force couldn't risk shooting—too many of their country's Leadership was right there, right in the field of fire.
   "Grab them, grab them! They will not shoot these men!" one student shouted. Pairs and trios of students raced around the table, each to a separate seat.
   "Tell me, boy," Fang said gently to the one closest to him, "how did you learn all this?"
   "Over our computers, of course," the youngster replied, a little impolitely, but not grossly so.
   "Well, one finds truth where one can," the grandfatherly minister observed.
   "So, Grandfather, is it true?"
   "Yes, I regret to say it is," Fang told him, not quite knowing what he was agreeing to.
   Just then, the troops appeared, their officer in the lead with a pistol in his hand, forging their way into the conference room, wide-eyed at what they saw. The students were not armed, but to start a gunfight in this room would kill the very people he was trying to safeguard, and now it was his turn to hesitate.
   "Now, everyone be at ease," Fang said, pushing his seat gently back from the table. "You, Comrade Major, do you know who I am?"
   "Yes, Minister—but—"
   "Good, Comrade Major. First, you will have your men stand down. We need no killing here. There has been enough of that."
   The officer looked around the room. No one else seemed to be speaking just yet, and into that vacuum had come words which, if not exactly what he wanted to hear, at least had some weight in them. He turned and without words—waving his hands—had his men relax a little.
   "Very good. Now, comrades," Fang said, turning back to his colleagues. "I propose that some changes are needed here. First of all, we need Foreign Minister Shen to contact America and tell them that a horrible accident has occurred, and that we rejoice that no lives were lost as a result, and that those responsible for that mistake will be handled by us. To that end, I demand the immediate arrest of Premier Xu, Defense Minister Luo, and Minister Zhang. It is they who caused us to embark on the foolish adventure in Russia that threatens to bring ruin to us all. You three have endangered our country, and for this crime against the people, you must pay.
   "Comrades, what is your vote?" Fang demanded.
   There were no dissents; even Tan and Interior Minister Tong nodded their assent.
   "Next, Shen, you will immediately propose an end to hostilities with Russia and America, telling them also that those responsible for this ruinous adventure will be punished. Are we agreed on that, comrades?"
   They were.
   "For myself, I think we ought all to give thanks to Heaven that we may be able to put an end to this madness. Let us make this happen quickly. For now, I will meet with these young people to see what other things are of interest to them. You, Comrade Major, will conduct the three prisoners to a place of confinement. Qian, will you remain with me and speak to the students as well?"
   "Yes, Fang," the Finance Minister said. "I will be pleased to."
   "So, young man," Fang said to the one who'd seemed to act like a Leader. "What is it you wish to discuss?"
   The Blackhawks were long on their return flight. The refueling went off without a hitch, but it was soon apparent that almost thirty men, all Russians, had been lost in the attack on Xuanhua. It wasn't the first time Clark had seen good men lost, and as before, the determining factor was nothing more than luck, but that was a lousy explanation to have to give to a new widow. The other thing eating at him was the missile that had gotten away. He'd seen it lean to the east. It hadn't gone to Moscow, and that was all he knew right now. The flight back was bleakly silent the whole way, and he couldn't fix it by calling in on his satellite phone because he'd taken a fall at some point and broken the antenna off the top of the damned thing. He'd failed. That was all he knew, and the consequences of this kind of failure surpassed his imagination. The only good news he could come up with was that no one in his family lived close to any likely target, but lots of other people did. Finally the chopper touched down, and the doors were opened for the troopers to get out. Clark saw General Diggs there and went over to him.
   "How bad?"
   "The Navy shot it down over Washington."
   "General Moore told me. Some cruiser—Gettysburg, I think he said—shot the bastard down right over the middle of D.C. We got lucky, Mr. Clark."
   John's legs almost buckled at that news. For the past five hours, he'd been imagining a mushroom cloud with his name on it over some American city, but God, luck, or the Great Pumpkin had intervened, and he'd settle for that.
   "What gives, Mr. C?" Chavez asked, with considerable worry in his voice. Diggs gave him the word, too.
   "The Navy? The fuckin' Navy? Well, I'll be damned. They are good for something, eh?"
   Jack Ryan was about half in the bag by this time, and if the media found out about it, the hell with them. The cabinet was back in town, but he'd put off the meeting until the following morning. It would take time to consider what had to be done. The most obvious response, the one talking heads were proclaiming on the various TV stations, was one he could not even contemplate, much less order. They'd have to find something better than wholesale slaughter. He wouldn't order that, though some special operation to take out the Chinese Politburo certainly appealed to his current state of mind. A lot of blood had been spilled, and there would be some more, too. To think it had all begun with an Italian cardinal and a Baptist preacher, killed by some trigger-happy cop. Did the world really turn on so perverse an axis as that?
   That, Ryan thought, calls for another drink.
   But some good had to come from this. You had to learn lessons from this sort of thing. But what was there to learn? It was too confusing for the American President. Things had happened too fast. He'd gone to the brink of something so deep and so dreadful that the vast maw of it still filled his eyes, and it was just too much for one man to handle. He'd bounced back from facing imminent death himself, but not the deaths of millions, not as directly as this. The truth of the matter was that his mind was blanked out by it all, unable to analyze, unable to correlate the information in a way that would help him take a step forward, and all he really wanted and needed to do was to embrace his family, to be certain that the world still had the shape he wanted it to have.
   People somehow expected him to be a superman, to be some godlike being who handled things that others could not handle—well, yeah, Jack admitted to himself. Maybe he had shown courage by remaining in Washington, but after courage came deflation, and he needed something outside himself to restore his manhood. The well he'd tapped wasn't bottomless at all, and this time the bucket was clunking down on rocks . . .
   The phone rang. Arnie got it. "Jack? It's Scott Adler."
   Ryan reached for it. "Yeah, Scott, what is it?"
   "Just got a call from Bill Kilmer, the DCM in Beijing. Seems that Foreign Minister Shen was just over to the embassy. They have apologized for launching the missile. They say it was a horrible accident and they're glad the thing didn't go off—"
   "That's fucking nice of them," Ryan observed.
   "Well, whoever gave the order to launch is under arrest. They request our assistance in bringing an end to hostilities. Shen said they'd take any reasonable action to bring that about. He said they're willing to declare a unilateral cease-fire and withdraw all their forces back to their own borders, and to consider reparations to Russia. They're surrendering, Jack."
   "Really? Why?"
   "There appears to have been some sort of riot in Beijing. Reports are very sketchy, but it seems that their government has fallen. Minister Fang Gan seems to be the interim Leader. That's all I know, Jack, but it looks like a decent beginning. With your permission, and with the concurrence of the Russians, I think we ought to agree to this."
   "Approved," the President said, without much in the way of consideration. Hell, he told himself, you don't have to dwell too much on ending a war, do you? "Now what?"
   "Well, I want to talk to the Russians to make sure they'll go along.
   I think they will. Then we tan negotiate the details. As a practical matter, we hold all the cards, Jack. The other side is folding."
   "Just like that? We end it all just like that?" Ryan asked.
   "It doesn't have to be Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, Jack. It just has to work."
   "Will it work?"
   "Yes, Jack, it ought to."
   "Okay, get hold of the Russians," Ryan said, setting his glass down.
   Maybe this was the end of the last war, Jack thought. If so, no, it didn't have to be pretty.
   It was a good dawn for General Bondarenko, and was about to get better. Colonel Tolkunov came running into his command center holding a sheet of paper.
   "We just copied this off the Chinese radio, military and civilian. They are ordering their forces to cease fire in place and to prepare to withdraw from our territory."
   "Oh? What makes them think we will let them go?" the Russian commander asked.
   "It's a beginning, Comrade General. If this is accompanied by a diplomatic approach to Moscow, then the war will soon be over. You have won," the colonel added.
   "Have I?" Gennady Iosifovich asked. He stretched. It felt good this morning, looking at his maps, seeing the deployments, and knowing that he held the upper hand. If this was the end of the war, and he was the winner, then that was sufficient to the moment, wasn't it? "Very well. Confirm this with Moscow."
   It wasn't that easy, of course. Units in contact continued to trade shots for some hours, until the orders reached them, but then the firing died down, and the invading troops withdrew away from their enemies, and the Russians, with orders of their own, didn't follow. By sunset, the shooting and the killing had stopped, pending final disposition. Church bells rang all over Russia.
   Golovko took note of the bells and the people in the streets, swigging their vodka and celebrating their country's victory. Russia felt like a great power again, and that was good for the morale of the people. Better yet, in another few years they'd start reaping the harvest of their resources—and before that would come bridge loans of enormous size . . . and maybe, just maybe, Russia would turn the corner, finally, and begin a new century well, after wasting most of the previous one.
   It was nightfall before the word got out from Beijing to the rest of China. The end of the war so recently started came as a shock to those who'd never really understood the reasons or the facts in the first place. Then came word that the government had changed, and that was also a puzzling development for which explanations would have to wait. The interim Premier was Fang Gan, a name known from pictures rather than words or deeds, but he looked old and wise, and China was a country of great momentum rather than great thoughts, and though the course of the country would change, it would change slowly so far as its people were concerned. People shrugged, and discussed the puzzling new developments in quiet and measured words.
   For one particular person in Beijing, the changes meant that her job would change somewhat in importance if not in actual duties. Ming went out to dinner—the restaurants hadn't closed—with her foreign lover, gushing over drinks and noodles with the extraordinary events of the day, then walked off to his apartment for a dessert of Japanese sausage.
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