22—The Global Dimension
The bomb was impressive. It exploded outside the Trincomalee Tradewinds, a new luxury hotel mainly built with Indian money. A few people, none closer than half a block away, would remember the vehicle, a small white delivery truck that had been big enough to contain half a ton of AMFO, an explosive mixture composed of nitrogen-based fertilizer and diesel fuel. It was a concoction easily made up in a bathtub or laundry basin, and in this case sufficient to rip the facade off the ten-story hotel, killing twenty-seven people and injuring another hundred or so in the process. Scarcely had the noise died when a telephone call came in to the local Reuters office.
"The final phase of liberation has begun," the voice said, probably reading the words off a prepared statement, as terrorists often did. "The Tamil Tigers will have their homeland and their autonomy or there will be no peace in Sri Lanka. This is only the beginning of the end of our struggle. We will explode one bomb per day until we achieve our goal." Click.
For more than a hundred years, Reuters had been one of the world's most efficient news services, and the Colombo office was no exception, even on a weekend. In ten minutes the report went out on the wire—a satellite link today—to the agency's London headquarters, where it was instantly relayed across the global news network as a "flash" story.
Many U.S. agencies routinely monitor the news-wire services, including the intelligence services, the FBI, Secret Service, and the Pentagon. This was also true of the White House Signals Office, and so it was that twenty-five minutes after the bomb went off, an Air Force sergeant put his hand on Jack Ryan's shoulder. The National Security Advisor's eyes opened to see a finger pointed topside.
"Flash traffic, sir," the voice whispered.
Ryan nodded sleepily, slipped off his seat belt, and thanked God that he hadn't drunk too much in Moscow. In the dim lights of the cabin everyone else was conked out. To keep from waking his wife it was necessary to step over the table. He almost tripped, but the sergeant grabbed his arm.
"Thank you, ma'am."
"No problem, sir." Ryan followed her to the spiral stairs and headed up to the communications area on the upper deck.
"What gives?" He resisted the temptation to ask the time. It would have begged another question: the time in Washington, the time where the plane was now, or the time where the flash traffic had originated. Just another sign of progress, Ryan thought, heading to the thermal printer, you had to ask when "now" was. The communications watch officer was an Air Force first lieutenant, black, slim, and pretty.
"Good morning, Dr. Ryan. The National Security Office said to flag this one for you." She handed over the slippery paper Jack hated. The thermal printers were quiet, though, and this communications room, like all the others, was noisy enough already. Jack read the Reuters dispatch, too new as yet to have any analysis from CIA or elsewhere.
"That's the indicator we were looking for. Okay, let's get a secure phone."
"Some other stuff that's just come in," an airman said, handing over more papers. "The Navy had a bad day."
"Oh?" Ryan sat down in a padded chair and flipped on a reading light.
"Oh, shit," he said next. Then he looked up. "Coffee, please, Lieutenant?"
The officer sent an enlisted man for a cup.
"NMCC, the senior watch officer." The National Security Advisor checked his watch, did the arithmetic, and decided that he'd gotten about five hours of sleep total. It was not likely that he'd get much more between here, wherever that was, and Washington.
"Line three, Dr. Ryan. Admiral Jackson on the other end."
"This is SWORDSMAN," Ryan said, using his official Secret Service code name. They'd tried to hang GUNFIGHTER on him, a token of backhanded respect for his earlier life.
"This is SWITCHBOARD. Enjoying the flight, Jack?" It was a constant amazement to Ryan that the secure digital comm links had such high transmission quality. He could recognize his friend's voice, and even his humorous tone. He could also tell that it was somewhat forced.
"These Air Force drivers are pretty good. Maybe you should think about learning from them. Okay, what gives? What are you doing in the shop?"
"Pac Fleet had a little incident a few hours ago."
"So I see. Sri Lanka first," SWORDSMAN ordered. "Nothing much more than the wire dispatch. We have some still photos, too, and we expect video in a half-hour or so. The consulate in Trincomalec is reporting in now. They confirm the incident. One American citizen injured, they think, just one, and not real serious, but he's asking to be evac'd soonest. Mike is being painted into a corner. He's going to try and maneuver out of it when the sun goes down. Our estimate is that our friends are starting to get real frisky. Their amphibs are still alongside, but we've lost track of that brigade. The area they've been using to play games in appears empty. We have overheads three hours old, and the field is empty."
Ryan nodded. He slid the plastic blind off the window by his chair. It was dark outside. There were no lights to be seen below. Either they were over the ocean already or there were clouds down there. All he could see was the blinking strobe on the aircraft's wingtip.
"Any immediate dangers there?"
"Negative," Admiral Jackson thought. "We estimate a week to take positive action, minimum, but we also estimate that positive action is now likely. The folks up the river concur. Jack," Robby added, "Admiral Dubro needs instructions on what he can do about things, and he needs them soon.
"Understood." Ryan was making notes on an Air Force One scratchpad that the journalists hadn't managed to steal yet. "Stand by." He looked up at the Lieutenant. "ETA to Andrews?"
"Seven and a half hours, sir. Winds are pretty stiff. We're approaching the Icelandic coast now."
Jack nodded. "Thank you. Robby, we're seven and a half out. I'll be talking to the Boss before we get in. Start thinking about setting a briefing up two hours after we get in."
"Okay. Now, what the hell happened to those carriers?"
"Supposedly one of the Jap 'cans had a little malfunction and rippled off her Mark 50's. They caught both CVNs in the ass. Enterprise has damage to all four shafts. Stennis has three down. They report no fatalities, some minor injuries."
"Robby, how the hell—"
"Hey, SWORDSMAN, I just work here, remember."
"Four to six months to effect repairs, that's what we have now. Wait, stand by, Jack." The voice stopped, but Ryan could hear murmurs and papers shuffling. "Wait a minute—something else just came in."
"Standing by." Ryan sipped his coffee and returned to the task of figuring out what time it was.
"Jack, something bad. We have a SuBMiss/SusSuNK in Pac Fleet."
"USS Asheville, that's a new 688, her BST-3 just started howling. Stennis has launched a bird to check it out, and a 'can's heading up there, too. This ain't good."
"What's the crew? Like a hundred?"
"More, one-twenty, one-thirty. Oh, damn. Last time this happened, I was a mid."
"We had an exercise going with them, didn't we?"
"DATELINE PARTNERS, yes, just ended yesterday. Until a couple hours ago, looked like a good exercise. Things went in the shitter in a hurry Jackson's voice trailed off. "Another signal. First report, Stennis launched a Hoover—"
"S-3 Viking, ASW bird. Four-man crew. They report no survivors from the sub. Shit," Jackson added, even though it wasn't exactly a surprise.
"Jack, I need to do some work here, okay?"
"Understood. Keep me posted."
"Will do. Out." The line went dead.
Ryan finished off his coffee and dropped the plastic cup into a basket bolted to the floor of the aircraft. There was no point in waking the President just yet. Durling would need his sleep. He was coming home to a financial crisis, a political mess, maybe a brewing war, in the Indian Ocean, and now the situation with Japan would only get worse after this damned-fool accident in the Pacific. Durling was entitled to a little good luck, wasn't he?
By coincidence Oreza's personal car was a white Toyota Land Cruiser, a popular vehicle on the island. He and his charter were walking toward it when two more just like it pulled into the marina's parking lot. Six people got out and walked straight toward them. The former Command Master Chief stopped dead in his tracks. He'd left Saipan just before dawn, having picked Burroughs up at the hotel himself, the better to catch the tuna chasing their own food in the early morning. Though traffic on the way in to the dock had been…well, a little busier than usual, the world had held its normal shape.
But not now. Now there were Japanese fighters circling over the island, and now six men in fatigues and pistol belts were walking toward him and his charter. It was like something from a movie, he thought, one of those crazy TV mini-things from when the Russians were real.
"Hello, how was the fishing?" the man asked. He had O-3 rank, Oreza saw, and a parachutist's badge on the left breast pocket. Smiling, just as pleasant and friendly as he could be.
"I bagged one hell of an albacore tuna," Pete Burroughs said, his pride amplified by the four beers he'd drunk on the way in.
A wider smile. "Ah! Can I see it?"
"Sure!" Burroughs reversed his path and led them back to the dock, where the fish was still hanging head-down from the hoist.
"This is your boat, Captain Oreza?" the soldier asked. Only one other man had followed their captain down. The others stayed behind, watching closely, as though under orders not to be too…something, Portagee thought. He also took note of the fact that this officer had troubled himself to learn his name.
"That's right, sir. Interested in a little fishing?" he asked with an innocent smile.
"My grandfather was a fisherman," the ishii told them.
Portagee nodded and smiled. "So was mine. Family tradition."
Oreza nodded as they got to Springer. "More than a hundred years."
"Ah, a fine boat you have. May I look at it?"
"Sure, jump aboard." Portagee went first and waved him over. The sergeant who'd walked down with his captain, he saw, stayed on the dock withMr. Burroughs, keeping about six feet away from him. There was a pistol in the man's holster, a SIG P22O, the standard sidearm of the Japanese military. By this time all kinds of alarm were lighting off in Oreza's brain.
"What does 'Springer' denote?"
"It's a kind of hunting dog."
"Ah, yes, very good." The officer looked around. "What sort of radios do you need for a boat like this. Expensive?"
"I'll show you." Oreza led him into the salon. "Your people make it, sir, NEC, a standard marine VHP and a backup. Here's my GPS nav system, depth finder, fish-finder, radar." He tapped each instrument. They were in fact all Japanese-made, high quality, reasonably priced, and reliable as hell.
"You have guns aboard?"
Click. "Guns? What for?"
"Don't many islanders own guns?"
"Not that I know of." Oreza shook his head. "Anyway, I've never been attacked by a fish. No, I don't have any, even at home."
Clearly the officer was pleased by that news. "Oreza, what sort of name is that?" It sounded native to the Ishii.
"Originally, you mean? Way back, my people come from Portugal."
"Your family here a long time?"
Oreza nodded. "You bet." Five years was a long time, wasn't it? A husband and wife constituted a family, didn't they?
"The radios, VHP you say, short-range?" The man looked around for other instruments, but clearly there were none.
"Mainly line-of-sight, yes, sir."
The captain nodded. "Very good. Thank you. Beautiful boat. You take great pride in it, yes?"
"Yes, sir, I do."
"Thank you for showing me around. You can go now," the man said finally, not quite knowing how discordant the final sentence was. Oreza escorted him to the dock and watched him leave, rejoining his men without another word.
"Pete, you want to button it for a minute?" The command was delivered in his Master Chief's voice, and had the desired effect. They walked over to Oreza's car, letting the others pull away, marching as soldiers did to a precise one hundred twenty paces per minute, the sergeant a step to his cap tain's left and half a pace behind, walking exactly in step. By the time the fisherman got to his car it was clear that yet another Toyota Land Cruiser was at the entrance to the marina parking lot, not really doing anything but sitting there, with three men inside, all in uniform.
"Some kind of exercise? War games? What gives?" Burroughs asked once they were in Oreza's car.
"Beats the shit out of me, Pete." He started up and headed out of the lot, turning right to go south on Beach Road. In a few minutes they passed by the commercial docks. Portagee took his time, obeying all rules and limits, and blessing his luck that he had the same model car and color the soldiers used.
Or almost. The vehicles off-loading from Orchid Ace now were mainly olive-green. A steady cab-rank of airport buses off-loaded people in uniforms of the same color. They appeared to be going to a central point, then dispersing either to the parked military vehicles or to the ship, perhaps to off-load their assigned units.
"What are those big boxy things?"
"It's called MLRS, Multiple-Launch Rocket System." There were six of them now, Oreza saw.
"What's it for?" Burroughs asked.
"Killing people," Portagee replied tersely. As they drove by the access road to the docks, a soldier waved them on vigorously. More trucks, deuce-and-a-halfs. More soldiers, maybe five or six hundred. Oreza continued south. Every major intersection had a Land Cruiser in place, and no less than three soldiers, some with pistol belts, occasionally one with a slung rifle. It took a few minutes to realize that there wasn't a single police car in evidence. He turned left onto Wallace Highway.
"How about dinner at my place tonight?" Oreza headed up the hill, past the hospital, finally turning left into his development. Though a man of the sea, he preferred a house in high ground. It also afforded a fine view of the southern part of the island. His was a home of modest size with lots of windows. His wife, Isabel, was an administrator at the hospital, and the home was close enough that she could walk to work if the mood suited her. The mood this evening was not a happy one. As soon as he pulled into the driveway, his wife was out the door.
"Manni, what's going on?" Her ancestry was like his. Short, round, and dark-complected, now her swarthy skin was pale.
"Let's go inside, okay? Honey, this is Pete Burroughs. We went fishing today." His voice was calm, but his eyes swept around. The landing lights of four aircraft were visible to the east, lined up a few miles apart, approaching the island's two large runways. When the three of them were inside, and the doors shut, the talking could start.
"The phones are out. I tried to call Rachel and I got a recording. The overseas lines are down. When I went to the mall—"
"Soldiers?" Portagee asked his wife.
"Lots of 'em, and they're all—"
"Japs." Master Chief Quartermaster Manuel Oreza, United States Coast Guard, retired, completed the thought.
"Hey, that's not the polite way to—"
"Neither's an invasion, Mr. Burroughs."
Oreza lifted the kitchen phone and hit the speed-dial button for his daughter's house in Massachusetts.
"We're sorry, but a cable problem has temporarily interrupted Trans-pacific service. Our people are working on the problem. Thank you for your patience—"
"My ass!" Oreza told the recording. "Cable, hell, what about the satellite dishes?"
"Can't call out?" Burroughs was slow to catch on, but at least this was something he knew about.
"No, doesn't seem that way."
"Try this." The computer engineer reached into his pocket and pulled out his cellular phone.
"I have one," Isabel said. "It doesn't work either. I mean it's fine for local calls, but—"
"Area code 617," Portagee said, giving the rest of the number.
"Wait, I need the USA prefix."
"It's not going to work," Mrs. Oreza insisted.
"You don't have satellite phones here yet, eh?" Burroughs smiled. "My company just got us all these things. I can download on my laptop, send faxes with it, all that stuff. Here." He handed the phone over. "It's ringing."
The entire system was new, and the first such phone had not yet been sold in the islands yet, a fact that the Japanese military had troubled itself to learn in the past week, but the service was global, even if the local marketing people hadn't started selling the things here. The signal from the small device went to one of thirty-five satellites in a low-orbit constellation to the nearest ground station. Manila was the closest, beating Tokyo by a mere thirty miles, though even one mile would have been enough for the executive programming that ran the system. The Luzon ground station had been in operation for only eight weeks, and immediately relayed the call to another satellite, this one a Hughes bird in geosynchronous orbit over the Pacific, back down to a ground station in California, and from there via fiberoptic to Cambridge, Massachusetts.
"Hello?" the voice said, somewhat crossly, since it was 5:00 A.M. in America's Eastern Time Zone.
"You okay out there?" his daughter asked urgently "What do you mean?"
"I tried to call Mom, but the recording said you had a big storm and the lines were down."
"There wasn't any storm, Rach," Oreza said without much thought on the matter.
"What's the matter, then?"
Jesus, where do I start? Portagee asked himself. What if nobody…was that possible?
"Uh, Portagee," Burroughs said.
"What is it?" Oreza asked.
"What's what, Daddy?" his daughter asked also, of course.
"Wait a minute, honey. What is it, Pete?" He put his hand over the receiver.
"You mean like, invasion, like war, taking over, all that stuff?"
Portagee nodded. "Yes, sir, that's what it looks like."
"Turn the phone off, now!" The urgency in his voice was unmistakable. Nobody had thought any of this through yet, and both were coming to terms with it from different directions and at different speeds.
"Honey, I'll be back, okay? We're fine. 'Bye." Oreza thumbed the CLEAR button. "What's the problem, Pete?"
"This isn't some joke, right? You're not doing a number to mess with my head, tourist games and all that stuff, are you?"
"Jesus, I need a beer." Oreza opened the refrigerator and took one out. That it was a Japanese brand did not for the moment matter. He tossed one to his guest. "Pete, this ain't no play-acting, okay? In case you didn't notice, we seen at least a battalion of troops, mechanized vehicles, fighters. And that asshole on the dock was real interested in the radio on my boat."
"Okay." Burroughs opened his beer and took a long pull. "Let's say this is a no-shitter. You can DF one of those things."
"Dee-eff? What do you mean?" A pause while he dusted off some long-unused memories. "Oh…yeah."
It was busy at the headquarters of Commander-in-Chief Pacific. CINCPAC was a Navy command, a tradition that dated back to Admiral Chester Nimitz. At the moment people were scurrying about. They were almost all in uniform. The civilian employees were rarely in on weekends, and with a few exceptions it was too late for them anyway. Mancuso saw the collective mood as he came through security, people looking down with harried frowns, moving quickly the better to avoid the heavy atmosphere of an office in considerable turmoil. Nobody wanted to be caught in the storm.
"Where's Admiral Seaton?" ComSubPac asked the nearest yeoman. The petty officer just pointed to the office suite. Mancuso led the other two in that direction.
"Where the hell have you been?" CINCPAC demanded as they came into his inner office.
"SOSUS, sir. Admiral, you know Captain Chambers, my operations officer. This is Dr. Ron Jones—"
"The sonarman you used to brag on?" Admiral David Seaton allowed himself a pleasant moment. It was brief enough.
"That's right, sir. We were just over at SOSUS checking the data on—"
"No survivors, Bart. Sorry, but the S-3 crew says—"
"Sir, they were killed," Jones interrupted, tired of the preliminaries. His statement stopped everything cold.
"What do you mean, Dr. Jones?" CINCPAC asked after perhaps as much as a second.
"I mean Asheville and Charlotte were torpedoed and sunk by Japanese submarines, sir."
"Now wait a minute, son. You mean Charlotte, too?" Seaton's head turned. "Bart, what is this?" SubPac didn't get a chance to answer.
"I can prove it, sir." Jones held up the sheaf of papers under his arm. "I need a table with a light over it."
Mancuso's face was pretty grim. "Sir, Jonesy appears to be right. These were not accidents."
"Gentlemen, I have fifteen Japanese officers in the operations room right now trying to explain how the fire control on their 'cans works and—"
"You have Marines, don't you?" Jones asked coldly. "They carry guns, don't they?"
"Show me what you have." Dave Seaton gestured at his desk.
Jones walked CINCPAC through the printouts, and if Seaton wasn't exactly a perfect audience, he surely was a quiet one. On further examination, the SOSUS traces even showed the surface ships and the Mark 50 antisub torpedoes that had crippled half of PacFlt's carriers. The new array off Kure was really something, Jones thought.
"Look at the time, sir. All of this happened over a period of what? Twenty minutes or so. You have two hundred fifty dead sailors down there, and it wasn't any accident."
Seaton shook his head like a horse shedding troublesome insects. "Wait a minute, I haven't had any word-I mean, the threat board is blank. There aren't any indications at all that—"
"There are now, sir." Jones wasn't letting up at all.
"Goddamn it, Admiral!" Jones swore. "Here it is, black and while, okay? There are other copies of this back at the SOSUS building, there's a tape record, and I can show it to you on a fucking TV screen. You want your own experts to go over there, well, shit, they're right here, ain't they?" The contractor pointed to Mancuso and Chambers. "We have been attacked, sir."
"What are the chances that this is some sort of mistake?" Seaton asked. His face was as ghostly pale as the cloth of his undress-white uniform shirt.
"Just about zero. I suppose you could wait for them to take an ad out in The New York Times if you want additional confirmation." Diplomacy had never been Jones's strongest suit, and he was too angry to consider it anyway.
"Listen, mister—" Seaton began, but then he bit off his words, and instead looked up at his type commander. "Bart?"
"I can't argue with the data, sir. If there were a way to dispute it, Wally or I would have found it. The people at SOSUS concur. It's hard for me to believe, too," Mancuso conceded. "Charlotte has failed to check in and—"
"Why didn't her beacon go off?" CINCPAC asked.
"The gadget is located on the sail, aft corner. Some of my skippers weld them down. The fast-attack guys resisted putting them aboard last year, remember? Anyway, the fish could have destroyed the BST or for some reason it didn't deploy properly. We have that noise indicator at Charlotte's approximate location, and she has failed to respond to an emergency order to communicate with us. There is no reason, sir, to assume that she's still alive." And now that Mancuso had said it, it was official. There was one more thing that needed to be said.
"You're telling me we're at war." The statement was delivered in an eerily quiet voice. ComSubPac nodded.
"Yes, sir, I am."
"I didn't have any warning at all," Seaton objected.
"Yeah, you have to admire their sense of tradition, don't you?" Jones observed, forgetting that the last time there had been ample warning, all of it unheeded.
Pete Burroughs didn't finish his fifth beer of the day. The night had not brought peace. Though the sky was clear and full of stars, brighter lights continued to approach Saipan from the east, taking advantage of the trade winds to ease their approach into the island's two American-built runways. Each jumbo jet had to be carrying at least two hundred soldiers, probably closer to three. They could see the two airfields. Oreza's binoculars were more than adequate to pick out the aircraft and the fuel trucks that scurried about to fill up the arriving jets so that they could rapidly go home to make another shuttle run. It didn't occur to anyone to keep a count until it was a few hours too late.
"Car coming in," Burroughs warned, alerted by the glow of turning lights. Oreza and he retreated to the side of the house, hoping to be invisible in the shadows. The car was another Toyota Land Cruiser, which drove down the lane, reversed direction at the end of the cul-de-sac, and headed back out after having done not very much of anything but look around and perhaps count the cars in the various driveways-more likely to see if people were gathered in an inopportune way. "You have any idea what to do?" he asked Oreza when it was gone.
"Hey, I was Coast Guard, remember? This is Navy shit. No, more like Marine shit."
"It sure is deep shit, man. You suppose anybody knows?"
"They gotta. Somebody's gotta," Portagee said, lowering the glasses and heading back into the house. "We can watch from inside our bedroom. We always leave the windows open anyway." The cool evenings here, always fresh and comfortable from the ocean breezes, were yet another reason for his decision to move to Saipan. "What exactly do you do, Pete?"
"Computer industry, several things really. I have a masters in EE. My real specialty area is communications, how computers talk to each other. I've done a little government work. My company does plenty, but mostly on another side of the house." Burroughs looked around the kitchen. Mrs. Oreza had prepared a light dinner, a good one, it appeared, though it was growing cold.
"You were worried about having people track in on your phone."
"Maybe just being paranoid, but my company makes the chips for scanners that the Army uses for just that purpose."
Oreza sat down and started shoveling some of the stir-fry onto his plate.
"I don't think anything's paranoid anymore, man."
"I hear ya, Skipper." Burroughs decided to do the same, and looked at the food with approval. "Y'all trying to lose weight?"
Oreza grunted. "We both need to, Izzy and me. She's been taking classes in low-fat stuff."
Burroughs looked around. Though the home had a dining room, like most retired couples (that's how he thought of them, even though they clearly were not), they ate at a small table in their kitchen. The sink and counter were neatly laid out, and the engineer saw the steel mixing and serving bowls. The stainless steel gleamed. Isabel Oreza, too, ran a tight ship, and it was plain enough who was the skipper at home.
"Do I go to work tomorrow?" she asked, her mind drilling, trying to come to terms with the change in local affairs.
"I don't know, honey," her husband replied, his own thoughts stopped cold by the question. What would he do? Go fishing again as though nothing at all had happened?
"Wait a minute," Pete said, still looking at the mixing bowls. He stood, took the two steps needed to reach the kitchen counter, and lifted the largest bowl. It was sixteen inches in diameter and a good five or six inches deep. The bottom was flat, perhaps a three-inch circle, but the rest of it was spherical, almost parabolic in shape. He pulled his sat-phone out of his shirt pocket. He'd never measured the antenna, but now, extending it, he saw it was less than four inches in length. Burroughs looked over at Oreza. "You have a drill?"
"DF, hell. I got it!"
"You lost me, Pete."
"We drill a hole in the bottom, put the antenna through it. The bowl's made out of steel. It reflects radio waves just like a microwave antenna. Everything goes up. Hell, it might even make the transmitter more efficient."
"You mean like, E.T. phone home?"
"Close enough, Cap'n. What if nobody's phoned home on this one?"
Burroughs was still trying to think it through, coming to terms slowly with a very frightening situation. "Invasion" meant "war." War, in this case, was between America and Japan, and however bizarre that possibility was, it was also the only explanation for the things he'd seen that day. If it was a war, then he was an enemy alien. So were his hosts. But he'd seen Oreza do some very fancy footwork at the marina.
"Let me get my drill. How big a hole you need?" Burroughs handed over the sat-phone. He'd been tempted to toss it through the air, but stopped himself on the realization that it was perhaps his most valuable possession. Oreza checked the diameter of the little button at the end of the slim metal whip and went for his tool kit.
"Rachel? It's Dad."
"You sure you're okay? Can I call you guys now?"
"Honey, we're fine, but there's a problem here." How the hell to explain this? he wondered. Rachel Oreza Chandler was a prosecuting attorney in Boston, actually looking forward to leaving government service and becoming a criminal lawyer in private practice, where the job satisfaction was rarer, but the pay and hours were far better. Approaching thirty, she was now at the stage where she worried about her parents in much the same way they'd once worried about her. There was no sense in worrying Rachel now, he decided. "Could you get a phone number for me?"
"Sure, what number?"
"Coast Guard Headquarters. It's in D.C., at Buzzard's Point. I want the watch center. I'll wait," he told her.
The attorney put one line on hold and dialed D.C. information. In a minute she relayed the number, hearing her father repeat it word for word back to her. "That's right. You sure things are okay? You sound a little tense."
"Mom and I are just fine, honest, baby." She hated it when he called her that, but it was probably too late to change him. Poppa would just never be PC.
"Okay, you say so. I hear that storm was really bad. You have electricity back yet?" she asked, forgetting that there hadn't been a storm at all.
"Not yet, honey, but soon, probably," he lied. "Later, baby."
"Coast Guard Watch Center, Chief Petty Officer Obrecki, this is a nonsecure line," the man said, just as rapidly as possible to prevent the person on the other end from understanding a single word.
"Are you telling me that that fuzzy-cheeked infant who sailed on Panache with me made chief?" It was good enough to startle the man at the other end, and the reply was comprehensible.
"This is Chief Obrecki. Who's this?"
"Master Chief Oreza," was the answer.
"Well, how the hell are you, Portagee? I heard you retired." The chief of the watch leaned back in his chair. Now that he was a chief himself, he could refer to the man at the other end by his nickname.
"I'm on Saipan. Okay, kid, listen up: put your watch officer on right now."
"What's the matter, Master Chief?"
"No time, okay? Let's do it."
"Fair enough." Obrecki put the call on hold. "Commander, could you pick up on one, ma'am?"
"NMCC, this is Rear Admiral Jackson," Robby said, tired and in a very foul mood. Only reluctantly did he lift the phone, on the recommendation of a youngish Air Force major.
"Admiral, this is Lieutenant Commander Powers, Coast Guard, over at Buzzard's Point. I have a call on the line from Saipan. The caller is a retired Command Master Chief. One of ours."
Damn it, I have a broke carrier division out there, his mind grumbled. "That's nice, Commander. You want to clue me in fast? It's busy here."
"Sir, he reports a whole lot of Japanese troops on the island at Saipan."
Jackson's eyes came up off the dispatches on his desk. "What?"
"I can patch him over now, sir."
"Okay," Robby said guardedly.
"Who's this?" another voice asked, old and gruff. He sounded like a chief, Robby thought.
"I'm Rear Admiral Jackson, in the National Military Command Center."
He didn't have to order a tape on the line. They were all taped.
"Sir, this is Master Chief Quartermaster Manuel Oreza, U.S. Coast Guard, retired, serial number three-two-eight-six-one-four-zero-three-zero. I retired five years ago and moved to Saipan. I operate a fishing boat here. Sir, there are a lot—and I mean a whole goddamned pisspot full—of Japanese troops, uniformed and carrying arms, on this-here rock, right now, sir."
Jackson adjusted his hand on the phone, gesturing for another officer to pick up. "Master Chief, I hope you understand that I find that a little bit hard to believe, okay?"
"Shit, sir, you oughta see it from my side. I am looking out my window right now. I can see down on the airport and Kobler Field. I count a total of six jumbo-jet aircraft, four at the airport and two at Kobler. I observed a pair of F-15 Eagle fighters with meatball markings circling over the island a few hours ago. Question, sir, is there any sort of joint exercise under way at this time?" the voice asked. It was stone sober, Jackson thought. It sure as hell sounded like a command master chief.
The Air Force major listening fifteen feet away was scribbling notes, though an invitation to Jurassic Park would have seemed somewhat more realistic.
"We just concluded a joint exercise, but Saipan didn't have anything to do with it."
"Sir, then this ain't no fuckin' exercise. There are three car-carrier-type merchant ships tied alongside the dock up the coast from me. One of 'em's named Orchid Ace. I have personally observed military-type vehicles, I think MLRS-Mike Lima Romeo Sierra-six of those sitting in the parking lot at the commercial dock area. Admiral, you check with the Coast Guard and pull my package. I did thirty years in CG blue. I ain't dickin' around, sir. Check for yourself, the phone lines to the rock are out. The story is supposedly that we had a big windstorm, took lines down and stuff. Ain't been no windstorm, Admiral. I was out fishing all day, okay? Check with your weather pukes to confirm that one, too. There are Japanese troops on this island, wearing fatigue uniforms and under arms."
"You got a count, Master Chief?"
The best confirmation of this insane tale, Robby thought, was the embarrassed tone of the answer to that question. "No, sir, sorry, I didn't think to count the airplanes. I'd guess three to six arrivals per hour, over the last six hours at least, probably more, but that's just a guess, sir. Wait…Kobler, one of the birds is moving, like to take off. It's a 747, but I can't make out the markings."
"Wait. If the phones are out, how are you talking to me?" Oreza explained, giving Jackson a conventional number to call back on. "Okay, Master Chief. I'm going to do some checking here. I'll be back to you in less than an hour. Fair enough?"
"Yes, sir, I figure we done our part." The line went dead.
"Major!" Jackson shouted without looking up. When he did that, he saw the man was there.
"Sir, I know he sounded normal and all, but—"
"But call Andersen Air Force Base right now."
"Roger." The young pilot went back to his desk and flipped open his Autovon directory. Thirty seconds later he looked up and shook his head, a curious look on his face.
"Is someone telling me," Jackson asked the ceiling, "that a U.S. Air Force base dropped off the net today and nobody noticed?"
"Admiral, CINCPAC on your STU, sir, it's coded as CRITIC traffic."
CRITIC was a classification of priority even higher than FLASH, and not a prefix often used, even by a Theater Commander in Chief. What the hell, Jackson thought. Why not ask?
"Admiral Seaton, this is Robby Jackson. Are we at war, sir?"
His part in the exercise seemed easy enough, Zhang Han San thought. Just one flight to one place, to talk first with one person, then another, and it had gone even more easily than he'd expected. Well, he shouldn't have been surprised, he thought, returning to the airport in the back of the embassy car. Korea would be cut off, certainly for a period of months, and perhaps indefinitely. To do anything else would have carried with it great dangers for a country whose military had been downsized and whose next-door neighbor was the nation with the world's largest standing army, and an historical enemy at that. Han hadn't even been forced to bring up that unseemly thought. He'd simply delivered an observation. There seemed to be difficulties between America and Japan. Those difficulties did not pertain directly to the Republic of Korea. Nor would it appear that the Republic had any immediate ability to ameliorate those differences, except perhaps as an honest broker of influence when diplomatic negotiations were undertaken, at which time the good offices of the Republic of Korea would be most welcome indeed by all sides in the dispute, certainly by Japan.
He'd taken no particular pleasure at the discomfort his mild words had given to his hosts. There was much to admire in the Koreans, a fact lost on Japan in their blind racism, Zhang thought. With luck, he might firm up the trading relationship between the PRC and the ROK, and they, too, would profit from the ultimate objective—and why not? The ROKs had no reason to love the Russians, and even less to love the Japanese. They simply had to get over their regrettable friendship with America and become part of a new reality. It was sufficient to the moment that they had indeed seen things his way, and that America's one remaining ally in this part of the world was off the playing field, their president and foreign minister having seen the light of reason. And with luck, the war, such as it was, might already be over for all intents and purposes.
"Ladies and gentlemen." The voice came from the living room, where Mrs. Oreza had left the TV on. "In ten minutes there will be a special announcement. Please stay tuned."
"I heard it, honey."
"You have a blank tape for your VCR?" Burroughs asked.