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42Lightning Strikes

"Are you mad?" Scherenko asked.

"Think about it," Clark said, again back in the Russian Embassy. "We want a political solution to this, don't we? Then Koga's our best chance. You told us the government didn't put him in the bag. Who does that leave? He's probably right there." You could even see the building out Scherenko's window, as luck would have it.

"Is it possible?" the Russian asked, worried that the Americans would ask for assistance that he was quite unsuited to provide.

"There's a risk, but it's unlikely he has an army up there. He wouldn't be keeping the guy there unless he wanted to be covert about it. Figure five or six people, max."

"And two of you!" Scherenko insisted.

"Like the man said," Ding offered with a very showy smile, "no big deal."

So the old KGB file was true. Clark was not a real intelligence officer, but a paramilitary type, and the same was true of his arrogant young partner who mostly just sat there, looking out the window.

"I can offer you nothing by way of assistance."

"How about weapons?" Clark asked. "You going to tell me you don't have anything here we can use'? What kind of rezidentura is this?" Clark knew that the Russian would have to temporize. Too bad that these people weren't trained to take much initiative.

"I need permission before I can do any of that."

Clark nodded, congratulating himself on making a good guess. He opened his laptop computer. "So do we. You get yours. I'll get mine."

Jones stubbed out ms cigarette in the Navy-style aluminum ashtray. The pack had been stuck away in a desk drawer, perhaps in anticipation of just such an occasion as this. When a war started, the peacetime rules went out the window. Old habits, especially bad ones, were easy to fall back intobut then that's what war was, too, wasn't it? He could also see that Admiral Mancuso was wavering on the edge of bumming one, and so he made sure the butt was all the way out.

"What do you have, Ron?"

"You take the time to work this gear and you get results. Boomer and me have been **fff^aHang the data all week. We started on the surface ships." Jones walked to the wall chart. "We've been plotting the position of the 'cans"

"All the way from" Captain Chambers interrupted, only to be cut off.

"Yes sir, all the way from mid-Pac. I've been playing broadband and narrow-band, and checking weather, and I've plotted them." Jones pointed at the silhouettes pinned to the map.

"That's fine, Ron, but we have satellite overheads for that," ComSubPac pointed out.

"So am I right?" the civilian asked.

"Pretty close," Mancuso admitted. Then he pointed to the other shapes pinned to the wall.

"Yeah that's right, Bart. Once I figured how to track the 'cans, then we started working on me submarines. And guess what? I can still bag the fuckers when they snort. Here's your picket line. We get them about a third of the time by my reckoning, and the bearings are fairly constant."

The wall chart showed six firm contacts. Those silhouettes were within circles between twenty and thirty miles in diameter. Two more were overlaid with question marks.

"That still leaves a few unaccounted for," Chambers noted.

Jones nodded. "True. But I got six for sure, maybe eight. We can't get good cuts off the Japanese coast. Just too far. I'm plotting merchantmen shuttling back and forth to the islands, but that's all," he admitted. "I'm also tracking a big two-screw contact heading west toward the Marshalls, and I kinda noticed that there's an empty dry dock across the way this morning."

"That's secret" Mancuso pointed out with a quiet smile.

"Well if I were you guys, I'd tell Stennis to watch out for this line of SSKs, gentlemenYou might want to let the subs head into the briarpatch first, to clean things out, like."

"We can do that, but I'm worried about the others," Chambers admitted.

"Conn, sonar."

"Conn, aye." Lieutenant Ken Shaw had the midwatch.

"Possihle sonar contact hearing zero-six-zeroprobably a submerged contact. It's very faint, sir," the sonar chief reported.

The drill was automatic after all the practice they'd undergone on the trips from Bremerton and Pearl. The fire-control-tracking party immediately started a plot. A tech on the ray-path analyzer took data directly from the sonar instruments and from that tried to determine the probable range to the target The computer required only a second. "That's a direct-path signal, sir. Range is under twenty thousand yards."

Dutch Claggett hadn't really been asleep. In the way of captains, he'd been lying in his bunk, eyes closed, even dreaming something meaningless and confusing about a day fishing on the beach with the fish behind him on the sand and creeping closer to his back, when the call had gone out from sonar. Somehow he'd come completely awake, and was now in the attack center, standing barefoot in his underwear. He checked the room to determine depth, course, and speed, then headed into sonar to get his own look at the instruments.

"Talk to me, Chief."

"Right here on the sixty-hertz line." The chief tapped the screen with his grease pencil. It came and went and came and went, but kept coming back, just a series of dots trickling down the screen, all on the same frequency line. The bearing was changing slowly right to left.

"They've been at sea for more than three weeks" Claggett thought aloud.

"Long time for a diesel boat," the chief agreed. "Maybe heading back in for refueling?"

Claggett leaned in closer, as though proximity to the screen would make a difference. "Could be. Or maybe he's just changing position. Makes sense that they'd have a patrol line offshore. Keep me posted."

"Aye, Cap'n."

"Well?" Claggett asked the tracking party.

"First cut on range is fourteen thousand yards, base course is westerly, speed about six knots."

The contact was easily within range of his ADCAP torpedoes, Claggett saw. But the mission didn't allow him to do anything about it. Wasn't that just great?

"Let's get two weapons warmed up," the Captain said. "When we have a good track on our friend, we evade to the south. If he closes on us, we try to keep out of his way, and we can shoot only if there's no choice." He didn't even have to look around to know what his crewmen thought of that. He could hear the change in how they breathed.

"What do you think?" Mary Pat Foley asked.

"Interesting," Jack said after a moment's contemplation of the fax from Langley.

"It's a long-ball opportunity." This was the voice of Ed Foley. "But it's one hell of a gamble."

"They're not even sure he's there," Ryan said, rereading the signal. It had all the marks of something from John Clark. Honest. Decisive. Positive. The man knew how to think on his feet, and though often a guy at the bottom of the food chain, he tended to see the big picture very clearly from down there. "I have to go upstairs with this one, guys."

"Don't trip on the way," MP advised with a smile he could almost hear. She was still a cowgirl on field operations. "I recommend a Go-Mission on this one."

"And you, Ed?" Jack asked.

"It's a risk, but sometimes you go with what the guy in the field says. If we want a political resolution for this situation, well, then we have to have a tame political figure to lean on. We need the guy, and this might be our only way to get him out alive." The National Security Advisor could hear the gritted teeth on the other end of the STU-6 circuit. Both the Foleys were true in form. More importantly, they were in agreement.

"I'll be back to you in twenty minutes." Ryan switched over to his regular phone. "I need to see the Boss right now," he told the President's executive secretary.

The sun was rising for yet another hot, windless day. Admiral Dubro realized that he was losing weight. The waistband on his khaki trousers was looser than usual, and he had to reef in his belt a little more. His two carriers were now in regular contact with the Indians. Sometimes they came close enough for a visual, though more often some Harrier's look-down radar just look a snapshot from fifty or so miles away. Worse, his orders were to let them see his ships. Why the hell wasn't he heading east for the Straits of Malacca? There was a real war to fight. He'd come to regard the possible Indian invasion of Sri Lanka as a personal insult, but Sri Lanka wasn't U.S. territory, and the Marianas were, and his were the only carriers Dave Seaton had.

Okay, so the approach wouldn't exactly be covert. He had to pass through one of several straits to reenter the Pacific Ocean, all of them about as busy as Times Square at noon. There was even the off-chance of a sub there, but he had ASW ships, and he could pounce on any submarine that tried to hinder his passage. But his orders were to remain in the IO, and to be visible doing so.

The word was out among the crew, of course. He hadn't made even a token effort to keep things quiet. It would never have worked in any case. And his people had a right to know what was going on, in anticipation of entering the fray. They needed to know, to get their backs up, to generate an extra determination before shifting from a peacetime mentality to that of a shooting warbut once you were ready, you had to do it. And they weren't.

The result was the same for him as for every other man or woman in the battle force: searing frustration, short temper, and a building rage. The day before, one of his Tomcat drivers had blown between two Indian Harriers, with perhaps ten feet of separation, just to show them who knew how to fly and who didn't, and while that had probably put the fear of God into the visitors, it wasn't terribly professionaleven though Mike Dubro could remember what it was like to be a lieutenant, junior grade, and could also imagine himself doing the same thing. That hadn't made the personal dressing-down any easier. He'd had to do it, and had also known afterward that the flight crew in question would go back to their quarters muttering about the dumb old fart on the flag bridge who didn't know what it was like to drive fighter planes, 'cause the Spads he'd grown up with had probably used windup keys to get off the boat

"If they take the first shot, we're going to get hurt," Commander Hamson observed after announcing that their dawn patrol had shown up right on schedule.

"If they put an Exocet into us, we'll pipe 'Sweepers, man your brooms,' Ed." It was a lame attempt at humor, but Dubro didn't feel very humorous at the moment.

"Not if they get lucky and catch a JP bunker." Now his operations officer was turning pessimistic. Not good, the battle-force commander thought. "Show 'em we care," Dubro ordered.

A few moments later the screening ships lit off their fire-control radars and locked on to the Indian intruders. Through his binoculars Dubro could see that the nearest Aegis cruiser had white missiles sitting in her launch rails, and then they trained out, as did the target-illumination radars. The message was clear: Keep away.

He could have ordered another wrathful dispatch to Pearl Harbor, but Dave Seaton had enough on his plate, and the real decisions were being made in Washington by people who didn't understand the problem.

"Is it worth doing?"

"Yes, sir," Ryan replied, having come to his own conclusion on the walk to the President's office. It meant putting two friends at additional risk, but that was their job, and making the decision was his-partly anyway. It was easy to say such things, even knowing that because of them he'd sleep badly if at all. "The reasons are obvious."

"And if it fails?"

"Two of our people are in grave danger, but"

"But that's what they're for?" Durling asked, not entirely kindly.

"They're both friends of mine, Mr. President. If you think I like the idea of"

"Settle down," the President said. "We have a lot of people at risk, and you know what? Not knowing who they are makes it harder instead of easier. I've learned that one the hard way." Roger Durling looked down at his desk, at all the administrative briefing papers and other matters that didn't have the first connection to the crisis in the Pacific but had to be handled nonetheless. The government of the United States of America was a huge business, and he couldn't ignore any of it, no matter how important some area might have suddenly become. Did Ryan understand that?

Jack saw the papers, too. He didn't have to know what they were, exactly. None had classified cover sheets on them. They were the ordinary day-to-day crap that the man had to deal with. The Boss had to time-share his brain with so many tasks. It hardly seemed fair, especially for someone who hadn't exactly gone looking for the job. But that was destiny at work, and Durling had voluntarily undertaken the Vice President's office because his character required service to others, as, indeed, did Ryan's. They really were two of a kind, Jack thought.

"Mr. President, I'm sorry I said that. Yes, sir, I have considered the risks, but also, yes, that is their job. Moreover, it's John's recommendation. His idea, I mean. He's a good field officer, and he knows both the risks and the potential rewards. Mary Pat and Ed agree, and also recommend a Go on this one. The decision necessarily is yours to make, but those are the recommendations."

"Are we grasping at straws?" Durling wanted to know.

"Not a straw, sir. Potentially a very strong branch."

"I hope they're careful about it."

"Oh, this is just great," Chavez observed. The Russian PSM automatic pistol was of .215 caliber, smaller in diameter even than the .22 rimfire that American kidsat least the politically incorrect oneslearned to shoot at Boy Scout camps. It was also the standard sidearm of the Russian military and police forces, which perhaps explained why the Russian criminal element had such contempt for the local cops.

"Well, we do have our secret weapon out in the car," Clark said, hefting the gun in his hand. At least the silencer improved its balance some what, it was renewed proof of something he'd thought for years. Europeans didn't know beans about handguns.

"We're going to need it, too." The Russian Embassy did have a pistol range for its security officers. Chavez clipped a target to the rack and cranked it downrange.

"Take the suppressor off," John said.

"Why?" Ding asked.

"Look at it." Chavez did, and saw that the Russian version was filled with steel wool. "It's only good for five or six shots."

The range did have ear protectors, at least. Clark filled a magazine with eight of the bottle-necked rounds, pointed downrange, and fired off three shots. The gun was quite noisy, its high-powered cartridge driving a tiny bullet at warp speed. He longed for a suppressed .22 automatic. Well, at least it was accurate.

Scherenko watched in silence, angered at the Americans' distaste for his country's weapons and embarrassed because they might well be right. He'd learned to shoot years before, and hadn't shown much aptitude for it. It was a skill rarely used by an intelligence officer, Hollywood movies notwithstanding. But it was clearly not true of the Americans, both of whom were hitting the bull's-eye, five meters away, firing pairs of shots called "double-taps" in the business. Finished, Clark cleared his weapon, reloaded a magazine, and took another, which he filled and slid into a back pocket. Chavez did the same.

"If you ever come to Washington," Ding observed, "we'll show you what we use."

"And the 'secret weapon' you mentioned?" Scherenko asked the senior man.

"It's a secret." Clark headed for the door, with Chavez in his wake. They had all day to wait for their chance, if that was what it was, and get their nerves even more frayed.

It was a characteristically stormy day at Shemya. Sleet driven by a fifty-knot gale pelted the base's single runway and the noise threatened to disturb the sleep of the fighter pilots. Inside the hangars, the eight fighter aircraft were crammed together to protect them from the elements. It was especially necessary for the F-22's, as no one had yet fully determined what damage the elements could do to their smooth surfaces, and thus the radar cross section. This was not the time to find out. The storm's precipitation should pass in a few hours, the weather weenies said, though the gale-force winds could well last another month. Outside, the ground crews worried about the tie-downs on the tanker and AW ACS birds, and struggled around in bulky cold-weather gear to make certain everything was secure.

The other aspects of base-security were handled at the Cobra Dane array. Though it looked like the screen from an old drive-in theater, it was in fact a massive version of the solid-state radar array used by the Japanese E-767's, or for that matter the Aegis cruisers and destroyers in both contending navies. Originally emplaced to monitor Soviet missile tests and later to do SDI research, it was powerful enough to scan thousands of miles into space, and hundreds in the atmosphere. Its electronic probes swept constantly now, searching for intruders, but so far finding only commercial airliners, and those were watched very closely indeed. An F-15E Strike Eagle loaded with air-to-air missiles could be sent aloft in ten minutes if one of them looked the least bit dangerous.

The dreary routine continued through the day. For a brief few hours there was enough gray illumination through the clouds to suggest that the sun might be up, in a theoretical sense, but by the time the pilots were roused, the view out the windows of their quarters might as well have been painted black, for even the runway lights were out, lest they give some unwelcome visitor a visual aid in finding the base through the gloom.


The operation had been planned rapidly but carefully, and the four lead pilots had taken a hand in it, then tested it the night before, and while there were risks, well, hell, there always were.

"You Eagle jocks think you can handle this?" the most senior Rapier driver asked. He was a lieutenant colonel, which didn't protect him from the reply.

"Don't worry, sir," a major said. "It's such a nice ass to look at." Then she blew a kiss.

The Colonel, actually an engineering test pilot pulled away from developmental work under way on the F-22 with the 57th Weapons Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, knew the "old" Air Force only from the movies and stories he'd heard when he'd been a youngster coming up the line, but he took the insult in the spirit in which it had been offered. The Strike Eagles might not be stealthy, but they were pretty damned mean. They were about to engage in a combat mission, and rank didn't matter as much as competence and confidence.

"Okay, people"once he would have just said men"we're time-critical on this one. Let's get it on."

The tanker crews chuckled to themselves about the fighter-jock mentality, and how the women in the Air Force had really bought into it. The Major was a dish, one of them thought. Maybe when she grew up she could come and fly United, he observed to the captain who'd be right-seating for him.

"A man could do worse," the Southwest Airlines first officer noted. The tankers got off twenty minutes later, followed by one of the E-3B's.

The fighters, typically, went off last. The crews all wore their cold-weather nomex flight-suits and made the proper gestures about survival gear, which was really a joke over the North Pacific this time of year, but rules were rules. G-suits went on last of all, uncomfortable and restrictive as they were. One by one, the Rapier drivers walked to their birds, the Eagle crews two-by-two. The colonel who'd lead the mission ostentatiously tore off the Velcro RAPIER patch and replaced it with the counterculture one Lockheed employees had made up. The silhouette of the original P-38 Lightning overlaid with the graceful profile of the company's newest steed, and further decorated with a while-yellow thunderbolt. Tradition, after all, the Colonel thought, even though he hadn't been born until the last of the twin-boom -38's had been sold to the strippers. He did remember building models of the first American long-range fighter, used only one time for their actual designed purpose, for which a driver named Tex Lamphier had won a little immortality. This one would not be terribly different from that day over the northern Solomons.

The fighters had to be towed out into the open, and even before they started engines, every crew member could feel the wind buffeting the fighters. It was the time when the fingers tingle on the controls and the pilots shift around a little in the seats to make everything just so. Then, one by one, the fighters lit off and taxied down to the runway's edge. The lights came back on, blue parallel lines stretching off into the gloom, and the fighters lifted off singly, a minute apart, because paired takeoffs in these weather conditions were too dangerous, and this wasn't a night for unnecessary mistakes. Three minutes later, the two flights of four formed up over the top of the clouds, where the weather was clear, with bright stars and the multicolored aurora to their right, curtains of changing colors, greens and purples as the stellar wind affected charged particles in the upper atmosphere. The curtain effect was both lovely and symbolic to the Lightning pilots.

The first hour was routine, the two quartets of aircraft cruising southwest, their anticollision lights blinking away to give visual warning of the close proximity. Systems checks were performed, instruments monitored, and stomachs settled as they approached the tanker aircraft. The tanker crews, all reservists who flew airliners in civilian life, had taken care to locate smooth-weather areas, which the fighter drivers appreciated even though they deemed everyone else second best. It took more than forty minutes to top off everyone's fuel tanks, and then the tankers resumed their orbit, probably so that their crews could catch up on their Wall Street Journals, the fighter pilots all thought, heading southwest again.

Things changed now. It was time for business. Their kind.

Sandy Richter drew the mission, of course, because it had been his idea from the start, months before at Nellis Air Force Base. It had worked there, and all he had to figure out was whether it would work here as well. On that he was probably betting his life.

Richter had been in that business since he was seventeenwhen he'd lied about his age and gotten away with it, being large and tough. Along the way, he'd corrected his official package, but he was still in his twenty-ninth year of service and soon to retire to a quieter life. All that time, Richter had driven snakes and only snakes. If a helicopter didn't carry weapons, then he wasn't interested. Starting with the AH-1 Huey Cobra, he had in time graduated to the AH-64 Apache and driven it into his second, briefer war in the skies over the Arabian Peninsula. Now with the last bird he would ever fly, he started the engines on the Comanche and began his 6,751st hour of flight, according to the log book.

The twin turboshaft engines spun up normally and the rotor began its rotation. The ersatz ground crew of Rangers were hamming it up with the one fire extinguisher they had. It was about large enough to put out a cigarette, Richter thought crossly as he increased power and lifted off. The thin mountain air had a negative effect on performance, but not that much, and he'd soon be down at sea level anyway. The pilot gave his head the usual shake to make sure the helmet was securely in place and headed eastward, tracing up the wooded slopes of Shiraishi-san.

"There they are," the lead -22 pilot said to himself. The first sign was chirping in his headset, immediately followed by information on his threat receiver: AIR DEFENSE RADAR, AIRBORNE, TYPE J, BEARING 213. Next came data linked over from the E-3B, which had been in place long enough to plot its location. The Sentry wasn't using its radar at all tonight. After all, the Japanese had taught the Americans a lesson the night before, and they needed time to absorb such lessonsRANGE TO TARGET 456 MILES. Still well under the horizon from the Japanese aircraft, he gave his first vocal command of the mission.

"Lightning Lead to Flight. Split into elements, now!"

Instantly, the two sets of four aircraft divided into pairs, separated by two thousand yards. In both cases the F-22's held the lead, and in both cases the trailing F-15E's tucked in dangerously close to create a radar overlap. The colonel in command flew as straight and level as his practiced skills allowed, and he smiled to himself at the memory of the major's remark. Nice ass, eh? She was the first woman to fly with the Thunderbirds. Strobe lights went off, and he hoped that the low-light gear she was wearing was working properly. The northern E-767 was now four hundred miles away. The fighters cruised in at five hundred knots, altitude thirty-five thousand feet for fuel economy.

The work schedule typical of Japanese executives made the entry less obvious than would have been the case in America. A man was in the lobby, but he was watching TV, and Clark and Chavez walked through as though they knew where they were going, and crime was not a problem in Tokyo anyway. Breathing a little rapidly, they got into an elevator and punched a button, trading a relieved look that soon changed to renewed apprehension.

Ding was carrying his briefcase. Clark was not, and both were dressed in their best suits and ties and white shirts, looking for all the world like businesspeople coining in for a late night's conference on something or other. The elevator slopped five floors from the top, a level selected because of the lack of lights in the windows. Clark stuck his head out, knowing that it looked vaguely criminal to do so, but the corridor was empty.

They moved quickly and quietly around the central bearing core of the building, found the fire stairs, and started to climb. They looked for security cameras, and again, thankfully, there were none on this level. Clark checked up and down. No one else was in the stairwell. He continued to head up, looking and listening before every movement.

"Our friends are back," one of the airborne controllers announced over the intercom. "Bearing zero-three-three, range four-two-zero kilometers. One-no, two contacts, close formation, military aircraft inbound, speed five hundred knots," he concluded the announcement rapidly.

"Very well," the senior controller responded evenly, selecting the display for his screen as he switched channels on his command phones. "Any radar activity to the northeast?"

"None," the electronic-countermeasures officer replied at once. "He could be out there monitoring us, of course."


The next order of business was to release the two fighters orbiting east of the Kami aircraft. Both F-15J's had recently arrived on station, and had nearly full fuel tanks. An additional call ordered two more up from Chitose Air Base. They would need about fifteen minutes to get on station, but that was fine, the senior controller thought. He had the time.

"Lock on to them," he ordered the operator.

"Got us already, do you?" the Colonel asked himself. "Good." He held course and speed, wanting them to get a good feel for his location and activities. The rest was mainly a matter of arithmetic. Figure the Eagles were now about two hundred miles away, closing speed about a thousand. Six minutes to separation. He checked his clock and commanded his eyes to sweep the skies for something a little too bright to be a star.

There was a camera on the top level of the stairs. So Yamata was a little paranoid. But even paranoids had enemies, Clark thought, noticing that the body of the camera appeared to be pointed at the next landing. Ten steps to the landing, and ten more to the next, where the door was. He decided to take a moment to think about that. Chavez turned the knob on the door to his right. It didn't appear to be locked. Probably fire codes, Clark thought, acknowledging the information with a nod but getting out his burglar tools anyway.

"Well, what d'ya think?"

"I think I'd rather be somewhere else." Ding had his light in his hand as John took his pistol out and screwed the suppressor in place. "Fast or slow?"

That was the only remaining choice, really. A slow approach, like people on regular business, lost, perhapsno, not this time. Clark held up one finger, took a deep breath and bounded upwards. Four seconds later he twisted the knob at the top landing and flung the door open. John dove to the floor, his pistol out and training in on the target. Ding jumped past him, stood, and aimed his own weapon.

The guard outside the door had been looking the other way when the stairway entrance swung open. He turned in automatic alarm and saw a large man lying sideways on the floor and possibly aiming a gun at him. That caused him to reach for his own as his eyes locked on the potential targets.

There was a second man, holding something else that

At this range the light had almost a physical force. The three million candles of energy turned the entire world into the face of the sun, and then the energy overload invaded the man's central nervous system along the trigeminal nerve, which runs from the back of the eye along the base of the brain, branching out through the neural network that controls the voluntary muscles. The effect, as in Africa, was to overload the guard's nervous system.

He fell to the floor like a rag doll, his twitching right hand still grasping a pistol. The light was sufficiently bright that reflection from the white-painted walls dazzled Chavez slightly, but Clark had remembered to shut his eyes and raced for the double doors, which he drove apart with his shoulder. One man was in view, just getting up from a chair in front of the TV, his face surprised and alarmed at the unannounced entry. There wasn't time for mercy. Clark brought the gun up in both hands and squeezed twice, both shots entering the man's forehead. John felt Ding's hand on his shoulder, which allowed him to move right, almost running now, down a hallway, looking into each room. Kitchen, he thought. You always found people in the

He did. This man was almost his height, and his gun was already out as he moved for the hallway that led to the foyer, calling out a name and a question, but he, too, was a little slow, and his gun was still down, and he met a man with his pistol up and ready. It was the last thing he would ever see.

Clark needed another half a minute to check out the rest of the luxury apartment, but found only empty rooms.

"Yevgeniy Pavlovich?" he called.

"Vanya, this way!"

Clark moved back left, taking a quick look at both of the men he'd killed as he did so, just to make sure, really. He knew that he'd remember these bodies, as he did all the others, knew that they'd come back to him, and he'd try to explain away their deaths, as he always did.

Koga was sitting there, remarkably pale as Chavez/Chekov finished checking out the room. The guy in front of the TV hadn't managed to clear the pistol from his shoulder holsterprobably an idea he'd gotten from a movie, Clark thought. The things were damned near useless if you needed your weapon in a hurry.

"Clear left," Chavez said, remembering to speak in Russian.

"Clear right." Clark commanded himself to calm down, looking at the guy by the TV, wondering which of the people they'd killed had been responsible for the death of Kim Norton. Well, probably not the one outside.

"Who are you?" Koga demanded with a mixture of shock and anger, not quite remembering that they had met before. Clark took a breath before answering.

"Koga-san, we are the people who are rescuing you."

"You killed them!" The man pointed with a shaking hand.

"We can speak about that later, perhaps. Will you come with us, please? You are not in danger from us, sir."

Koga wasn't inhuman. Clark admired his concern for the dead men, even though they had clearly not been friends. But it was time to get him the hell out of here.

"Which one was Kaneda?" Chavez asked. The former Prime Minister pointed to the one in the room. Ding walked over for a last look and managed not to say anything before directing his eyes to Clark, his expression one that only the two could possibly understand.

"Vanya, time to leave."

His threat receiver was going slightly nuts. The screen was all reds and yellows, and the female voice was telling him that he'd been detected, but in this case he knew better than the computer did, Richter thought, and it was nice to know that the goddamned things didn't quite get everything right. Just the flying part was hard enough, and though the Apache might have had the agility for the mission, it was better to be in the RAH-66. His body displayed no obvious tension. Years of practice allowed him to sit comfortably in the armored seat, his right forearm resting on the space provided while his hand worked the sidestick controller. His head traced regularly around the sky, and his eyes automatically compared the real horizon with the one generated by the sensing gear located in the aircraft's nose. The Tokyo skyline was just perfect for what he was doing. The various buildings had to be generating all manner of confusing signals for the radar aircraft he was closing on, and the best of computer systems could not defeat this sort of clutter. Better yet, he had the time to do it right.

The river Tone would take him most of the way he needed to go, and on the south side of the river was a rail line, and on the rail line was a train that would go all the way to Choshi. The train was cruising at over a hundred knots, and he took position right over it, one eye on the train below while another kept track of a moving indicator on his threat-receiver display. He held one hundred feet over the tops of the catenary towers, pacing the train exactly, just over the last car in the "consist."

"That's funny." The operator on Kami-Two noticed a blip, enhanced by the computer systems, closing in on the position of his aircraft. He keyed the intercom for the senior controller. "Possible low-level inbound," he reported, highlighting the contact and crossloading it for the crew commander. "It's a train," the man replied at once, comparing the location with a map overlay. The problem with flying these damned things too close to land. The standard discrimination software, originally purchased from the Americans, had been modified, but not in all details. The airborne radar could track anything that moved, but there wasn't enough computer power in all the world to classify and display all the contacts that would develop from cars and trucks moving on the highways under the aircraft. To de-clutter the screens, nothing going slower than one hundred fifty kilometers per hour was passed through the computer-filtering system, but over land even that was not good enough, not over the country with the world's finest trains. Just to be sure, the senior officer watched the blip for a few seconds. Yes, it was following the mainline from Tokyo to Choshi. It couldn't possibly be a jet aircraft. A helicopter, theoretically, could do something like this, but from the weak character of the signal, it was probably just scatter off the metal roof of the train, and probably reflection off the catenary towers.

"Adjust your MTI-discriminator to two hundred," he ordered his people. It took three seconds for all of them to do that, and sure enough, that moving blip by the Tone and two other more obvious ground contacts disappeared. They had more interesting things to do, since -Two was crossloading the "take" from Kamis Four and Six and then downloading it to the Air Defense HQ just outside Tokyo. The Americans were probing their defenses again, and probably, again, with their advanced F-22's, trying to see if they could defeat the Kamis. Well, this time the reception wouldn't be quite so friendly. Eight F-I5 Eagle interceptors were now up, four under the control of each E-767. If the American fighters came closer, they'd be made to pay for it.

He had to risk one open transmission, and even over an encrypted burst-channel it made the Colonel nervous, but the business entailed risks under the best of circumstances.

"Lightning Lead to flight. Separate in five-tour-three-two-one-Separate!"

He pulled back on the stick, jerking his fighter up and away from the Strike Eagle that had spent the last half hour in his jetwash. At the same time his right hand flipped off the radar transponder that he'd had on to boost the return signal the Japanese AEW aircraft had been taking off his aircraft. Behind and below, the F-isE and its female flight crew would be diving slightly and turning left. The Lightning climbed rapidly, in the process losing almost all of its forward velocity. The Colonel punched burners for rapid acceleration and used the thrust-vector capability of the aircraft to initiate a radical maneuver in the opposite direction, greatly speeding the separation.

The Japanese radar might or might not have gotten some sort of return off his fighter, the Colonel knew, but he knew how the radar system was working now: It was operating at high power and getting all sorts of spurious returns as a result, which the computer system had to classify before presenting them to the system controllers. In essence it did a job no different from that of human operator, albeit more quickly and efficiently, but it was not perfect, as he and the other three Lightnings were about to prove.

"Turning south," the controller reportedunnecessarily, as four separate people were now monitoring the progress of the inbounds. Neither he nor his fellows could know that the computer had noted a few ghostly returns turning north, but these had been weaker than other returns that were not moving rapidly enough to be classified as aircraft. Nor did they mimic the probable flight paths of aircraft. Then things got harder.

"Getting jamming from the inbounds."

The lead Lightning was now in a nearly vertical climb. There was danger in this, since the flight profile offered the E-767 the least stealthy aspect of the aircraft, but it was also offered no lateral motion to speak of, and so could well appear to be a ghost return, especially in the electronic clutter being generated by the powerful jammers on the Strike Eagles. In less than thirty seconds, the Lightnings tipped over to level flight at an altitude of fifty-five thousand feet. The Colonel was paying very close attention to his threat systems now. If the Japanese had him, they would show it by using their electronic scanning to hammer his fighter with radar energybut they weren't.

The stealthy nature of his fighter was enough that he was lost amid the trashreturns. The system caught side lobes now. The E-767 had shifted to its high-frequency fire-control mode, and was not targeted on him. Okay. He boosted power to supercruise, and his Lightning accelerated to a thousand miles per hour as the pilot selected fire-control mode for his HUD system.

"One o'clock high. I have him, Sandy," the backseater reported. "He even has his a/c lights on."

The train had stopped at a suburban station, and the Comanche had left it behind, cruising now at one hundred twenty knots toward the coastal town.

Richter flexed his fingers one last time, looked up, and saw the aircraft's strobe lights far overhead. He was almost under it now, and good as its radar might be, it wouldn't be able to look straight down through the body of the airframe itselfyes, the center of his threat screen was black now.

"Here we go," he said over the intercom. He jammed his throttles to the firewall, deliberately overspooling the engines as he pulled back sharply in the sidestick. The Comanche leaped upwards in a spiraling climb. The only real worry here was his engine temperature. They were designed to take abuse, but this would take it to the very limit. A warning indicator appeared in his helmet display, a vertical bar that started growing in height and changing color almost as rapidly as the numbers changed on the altitude display.

"Whoa," the backseater breathed, then he looked down and selected the weapons display for his screens, the better to utilize his time before going back to scanning outside. "Negative traffic."

Which figured, Richter thought. They wouldn't want people cluttering up the air around something as valuable as this target. That was fine. He could see it now, as his helicopter shot through ten thousand feet, climbing like the fighter plane it really was, rotor-driven or not. He could see it in his targeting display now, still too far away to shoot, but there, a blip in a little box in the center of the head-up display. Time for a check. He activated his missile illumination systems. The F-22 had an LPI radar, meaning that there was a low probability of interception at the other end. That proved optimistic.

"We just took a hit," the countermeasures officer said. "We just look a high-frequency hit, bearing unknown," he went on, looking at his instruments for additional data.

"Probably a scatter from us," the senior controller said, busy now with vectoring his fighters onto the still-inbound contacts.

"No, no, frequency wasn't right for that." The officer ran another instrument check, but there was nothing else to support the bad feeling that had just turned his arms cold.

"Engine-heat warning. Engine-heat warning," the voice was telling him because he'd ignored the visual display rather blatantly, the onboard computer thought.

"I know, honey," Richter replied.

Over the Nevada desert, he'd managed a zoom-climb to twenty-one thousand feet, so far beyond the normal flight envelope of a helicopter that it had actually frightened him, Richter remembered, but that had been in relatively warm air, and it was colder here. He blazed through twenty thousand feet, still with a respectable climb rate, just as the target changed course, turning away from him. It seemed to be orbiting at about three hundred knots, probably using one engine for propulsion and the other to generate power for its radar. He hadn't been briefed on it, but it seemed reasonable enough. What mattered was that he had seconds to get within range, but the huge turbofan engines on the converted airliner were inviting targets for his Stingers.

"Just in range, Sandy."

"Roger." His left hand selected missiles from his weapons panel. The side doors on the aircraft snapped open. Attached to each of them were three Stinger missiles. With his last vestige of control, he slued the aircraft around, flipped the cover off the trigger switch, and squeezed six times. All of the missiles blazed off their rails, arcing upwards toward the aircraft two miles away. With that, Richter eased way back on the throttles and nosed over, diving and cooling his abused engines, watching the ground while his backseater followed the progress of the missiles.

The first Stinger burned out and fell short. The remaining five did better, and though two of them lost power before reaching the target, four of them found it, three to the right engine and one to the left.

"Hits, multiple hits."

The E-767, at low speed, didn't have much of a chance. The Stingers had small warheads, hut the civilian-spec engines on the aircraft were poorly designed to deal with damage. Both immediately lost power, and the one that had actually been powering the aircraft came apart first. Fragments of turbine blades exploded through the safety casing and ripped into the right wing, severing the flight controls and destroying aerodynamic performance.

The converted airliner rolled immediately right, and did not recover, its flight crew surprised at the unannounced disaster and quite unable to deal with it. Half of the starboard wing separated from the aircraft almost at once, and on the ground, radar operators saw the alpha-numeric display marking the position of Kami-Two flip to the emergency setting of 7711 and then simply disappear.

"That's a hard kill, Sandy."

"Roger." The Comanche was falling rapidly now, heading toward the clutter of the coast. Engine temps were back to normal, and Richter hoped he hadn't done them permanent harm. As for the rest, he'd killed people before.

"Kami-Two just dropped off the air," the communications officer reported.

"What?" the senior controller asked, distracted by his intercept mission.

"Garbled call, explosion, something like that, then the data links just dropped off."

"Stand by, I have to vector my Eagles in."

It had to be getting twitchy for the 15-Echoes, the Colonel knew. Their job for the moment was to be bait, to draw the Japanese Eagles out farther over the water while the Lightnings went in behind them to chop down their AEW support and spring the trap. The good news for the moment was that the third E-767 had just gone off the air. So the other side of the mission had happened as planned. That was nice for a change. And so, for the rest

"Two, this is lead, executing, now!" The Colonel flipped his illumination radars on, twenty miles from the orbiting AEW aircraft. Next he opened the weapons-bay doors to give the AMRAAM missiles a chance to see their quarry. Both One and Two had acquisition, and he triggered both off. "Fox-Two, Fox-Two on the North Guy with two Slammers!"

The opening of the weapons bay instantly made the Lightnings about as stealthy as a tall building. Blips appeared on five different screens, along with additional warnings as to the speed and heading of the newly discovered aircraft. The additional word from the countermeasures officer was the final voice of doom.

"We're being illuminated at very close range, bearing zero-two-seven!"

"What? Who is that?" He had problems of his own, with his Eagles about to launch missiles at the incoming Americans. Kami-Six had just switched to fire-control mode, to allow the interceptors to fire in the blind-launch mode, as they'd done with the B-1 bombers. He couldn't stop that now, the senior officer told himself.

The last warning was far too late for counteraction. Just five miles out, the two missiles switched on their own homing radars. They were coming in at Mach-3+, driven by solid-fuel rocket motors toward a huge radar target, and the AIM-120 AMRAAM, known to its users as the Slammer, was one of the new generation of brilliant weapons. The pilot finally got the word, listening in to the countermeasures channel. He rolled his aircraft left, attempting a nearly impossible split-S dive that he knew was a waste of effort because at the last second he saw the yellow glow of rocket exhaust.

"Kill," Lightning Lead whispered to himself. "Lightning Flight, this is Lead. North Guy is down."

"Lead, this is Three, South Guy is down," he heard next.

And now, the Colonel thought, using a particularly cruel Air Force euphemism, it was time to kill some baby seals. The four Lightnings were between the Japanese coast and eight F-15J Eagle interceptors. To seaward of them, the F-15C Strike Eagles would be turning back in, lighting off their own radars and loosing their own AMRAAMs. Some would make kills, and the Japanese fighters that survived them would run for home, right into his flight of F-22's.

The ground control radars couldn't see the aerial combat taking place. It was too far out and below the radar horizon. They did see one aircraft racing for their coast, one of theirs by the transponder code. Then it stopped cold in the air, and the transponder went off. In the air-defense headquarters, data downloaded from the three dead AEW aircraft gave no clues, except for one factthe war their country had started was now very real and had taken an unexpected turn.

41 CTF-77 | Debt of Honor | 43 Dancing to the Tune