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44from one who knows the score

"Does it have to be this way?" Durling asked.

"We've run the simulation twenty times," Ryan said, flipping through the data yet again. "It's a matter of certainty. Sir, we have to take them all the way out.

The President looked at the satellite overheads again. "We're still not one hundred percent sure, are we?"

Jack shook his head. "Nothing is ever that sure, no. Our data looks pretty goodthe overheads, I mean. The Russians have developed data, too, and they have as much reason to want to be right as we do. There are ten birds here. They're dug in deep, and the site seems to have been selected deliberately for relative immunity from attack. Those are all positive indicators. This is not a deception operation. The next question is making sure that we can hit them all. And we have to do it quickly."

"Why?"

"Because they're moving ships back toward the coast that are marginally capable of detecting the aircraft."

"No other way?"

"No, Mr. President. If this is going to work, it has to be tonight." And the night, Ryan saw, checking his watch, had already started on the far side of the world.

"We protest in the strongest terms the American attack on our country," the Ambassador began. "We have refrained at all times from doing such things, and we expected a similar courtesy from the United States."

"Mr. Ambassador, I am not consulted on military operations. Have American forces struck your mainland?" Adler asked by way of reply.

"You know quite well what they have done, and you must also know that it is a precursor move to a full attack. It is important that you understand," the diplomat went on, "that such an attack could result in the gravest possible consequences." He let that phrase hang in the air like a cloud of lethal gas. Adler took a moment before responding.

"I would remind you first of all that we did not begin this conflict. I would further remind you that your country made a deliberate attack to cripple our economy"

"As you have done!" the Ambassador shot back, showing real anger that might have been a cover for something else.

"Excuse me, sir, but I believe it is my turn to speak." Adler waited patiently for the Ambassador to calm down; it was plain that neither one had gotten a full night's sleep. "I would further remind you that your country has killed American servicemen, and if you expected us to refrain from corresponding moves, then you were possibly mistaken in that expectation."

"We have never attacked vital American interests."

"The freedom and security of American citizens is ultimately my country's only vital interest, sir."

The acrimonious change in atmosphere could hardly have been more obvious, as was the reason for it. America was making a move of some sort, and the move would clearly not be a subtle one. The people on both sides of the table, again on the top floor of the State Department, might well have been carved from stone. No one wanted to concede anything, not even a blink, at the formal sessions. Heads might have turned fractionally when the leaders of the respective delegations took their turns to speak, but no more than that. The absence of facial expressions would have done professional gamblers proudbut that was precisely the game being played, even without cards or dice. The discussions never got as far before the first recess as a return to the possession of the Marianas.

"Christ, Scott," Cook said, walking through the doors to the terrace.

From the circles under his eyes, the chief negotiator, he saw, had been up most of the night, probably at the White House. The primary season would be driving this mess now. The media were harping on the crippled ships at Pearl Harbor, and TV coverage was also coming from Saipan and Guam now, people speaking with obscured faces and disguised voiceson one hand about how they wanted to be American citizens, and on the other how much they feared being on those islands if a real counterattack developed.

The ambivalence was exactly the sort of thing to confuse the public, and opinion polls were divided, though with a majority expressing outrage at what had been done, and a slightly smaller majority expressing the wish for a diplomatic solution. If possible. A plurality of 46 percent, the Washington Post/ABC poll had stated this morning, didn't see much hope of that. The wild card, however, was the Japanese possession of nuclear arms, which had been announced by neither country, in both cases for fear of panicking the respective populations. Everyone in these sessions had really hoped for a peaceful settlement, but much of that hope had just evaporated, and in a period of a mere two hours.

"It's being politically driven now," Adler explained, looking away to let out his own tension with a long breath. "It had to happen, Chris."

"What about their nukes?"

The Deputy Secretary of State shrugged uneasily. "We don't think they're that crazy."

"We don't think they are? What genius came up with that assessment?" Cook demanded.

"Ryan, who else?" Adler paused. "He's running this. He thinks the next smart move is to blockadewell, declare a maritime exclusion zone, like the Brits did down at the Falklands. Cut off their oil," Adler explained.

"Nineteen forty-one all over again? I thought that bonehead was a historian! That's what started a world war, in case anybody forgot!"

"The threat of itwell, if Koga has the guts to speak out, we think their government'll come apart. So," Scott went on, "find out what the other sideI mean, what sort of strength the opposition really has."

"It's a dangerous game we're playing, man."

"Sure enough," Adler agreed, looking right in the man's eyes.

Cook turned and walked to the other side of the terrace. Before, it had seemed a normal part of the proceedings to Adler, part of the rubric of serious negotiations, and how stupid that had been, for the real proceedings to be handled over coffee and tea and cookies because the real negotiators didn't want to risk making statements thatwell, those were the rules, he reminded himself. And the other side had made very skillful use of them. He watched the two men talk. The Japanese Ambassador looked far more uneasy than his principal subordinate. What are you really thinking? Adler would have killed to know that. It was too easy to think of the man as a personal enemy now, which would be a mistake. He was a professional, serving his country as he was paid and sworn to do. Their eyes met briefly, both of them deliberately looking away from Nagumo and Cook, and the professional impassivity broke for a moment, just an instant really, as both men realized that it was war they were talking about, life and death, issues imposed on them by others. It was a strange moment of comradeship as both men wondered how things had broken down so badly and how grossly their professional skills were being misused by others.

"That would be a very foolish move," Nagumo said pleasantly, forcing a smile.

"If you have a pipeline to Koga, you better start using it."

"I have, but it's too soon for that, Christopher. We need something back. Don't your people understand that?"

"Durling can't get reelected if he trades away thirty-some-thousand U.S. citizens." It really was that simple. "If it means killing a few thousand of your people, he'll do that. And he probably thinks that threatening your economy directly is a cheap way out."

"That would change if your people knew"

"And how will your citizens react when they find it out?" Cook knew Japan well enough to understand that the ordinary men and women on the street regarded nuclear arms with revulsion. Interestingly, Americans had come to the same view. Maybe sense was breaking out, the diplomat thought, but not quickly enough, and not in this context.

"They will understand that those weapons are vital to our new interests," Nagumo answered quickly, surprising the American."But you are right, it is also vital that they never be used, and we must forestall your efforts to strangle our economy. People will die if that happens."

"People are dying now, Seiji, from what your boss said earlier." With that, the two men headed back to their respective leaders.

"Well?" Adler asked

"He says he's been in contact with Koga."

That part of it was so obvious that the FBI hadn't thought of it, and then nearly had had kittens when he'd suggested it, but Adler knew Cook. He was enjoying his part in this diplomatic effort, enjoying it just a little too much, enjoying the importance he'd acquired. Even now Cook did not know what he had blurted out, just like that. Not quite definite evidence of wrongdoing, but enough to persuade Adler that Cook was almost certainly the leak, and now Cook had probably just leaked something else, though it was something Ryan had thought up. Adler reminded himself that years ago, when Ryan had just been part of an outside group brought in to review CIA procedures, he'd come to high-level attention from his invention of the Canary Trap.

Well, it had been sprung again.

The weather this morning was cold enough that the delegations headed back inside a little early for the next set of talks. This one might actually go somewhere, Adler told himself.

Colonel Michael Zacharias handled the mission briefing. It was routine despite the fact that the B-2s had never fired a shot in angeractually dropped a shot, but the principle held. The 509th Bomb Group dated back to 1944, formed under the command of one Colonel Paul Tibbets, U.S. Army Air Force, fittingly, the Colonel thought, at a base in Utah, his own family home. The wing commander, a brigadier, would fly the lead aircraft. The wing XO would fly number two. As deputy commander operations, he would take in number three. His was the most distasteful part of the job, but it was sufficiently important that he'd considered the rules on ethics in war and decided that the mission parameters fell within the confines that lawyers and philosophers had placed upon warriors.

It was bitterly cold at Elmendorf, and vans conveyed the flight crews to the waiting bombers. That night they would fly with crews of three. The B-2 had been designed for a pilot and copilot only, with provision for a third crewman to work defensive systems which, the contractor had promised, the copilot could do, really. But real combat operations always required a safety margin, and even before the Spirits had left Missouri, the additional three hundred pounds of gear had been added along with the additional two hundred or so pounds of electronic-warfare officer.

There was so much that was odd about the aircraft. Traditionally U.S. Air Force birds had tail numbers, but the B-2 didn't have a tail, and so it was painted on the door for the nose gear. A penetrating bomber, it flew at high altitude rather than lowthough the contract had been altered in mid-design to allow for a low-flight profilelike an airliner for good fuel economy.

One of the most expensive aircraft ever built, it combined the wingspan of a DC-10 with near-total invisibility. Painted slate gray for hiding in the night sky, it was now the shining hope for ending a war. A bomber, it was hoped that its mission would go as peacefully as possible. Strapping in, it was easier for Zacharias to think of it as a bombing mission.

The four GE engines lit off in turn, the ribbon gauges moving to full idle, already drinking fuel at the same rate as if it were at full power at cruising altitude, while the copilot and EWO checked out their onboard systems and found them good. Then, one at a time, the trio of bombers taxied off the ramp and into the runway.

"They're making it easy," Jackson thought aloud, now in the carrier's Combat Information Center, below the flight deck. His overall operational plan had allowed for the possibility, but he hadn't allowed himself to expect it. His most dangerous adversary was the four Aegis destroyers the Japanese had dispatched to guard the Marianas. The Navy had not yet learned to defeat the radar-missile combination, and he expected the job to cost him aircraft and crews, but sure enough, America now had the initiative of sorts. The other side was moving to meet his possible actions, and that was always a losing game.

Robby could feel it now. John Stennis was moving at full power, heading northwest at thirty knots or so. He checked his watch and wondered if the rest of the operations he'd planned in the Pentagon were going off.

This was a little different. Richter powered up his Comanche as he had the night before, wondering how often he could get away with this, and reminding himself of the axiom in military operations that the same thing rarely worked more than once. A pity that the guy who'd thought this idea up had not known that fact. His last mental lapse was to wonder whether it had been that Navy fighter jock he'd met at Nellis all those months before. Probably not, he judged. That guy was too much of a pro.

Again the Rangers stood by with their dinky little extinguishers, and again they proved unnecessary, and again Richter lifted off without incident, climbing immediately up the slopes of Shuraishi-san, east for Tokyo, but this time with two other aircraft behind him.

"He wants to see Durling personally," Adler said. "He said that at the end of the morning session."

"What else?" Ryan asked. Typically, the diplomat had covered his business first.

"Cook's our boy. He told me that his contact has been working with Koga."

"Did you"

"Yes, I told him what you wanted. What about the Ambassador?"

Ryan checked his watch. The timing had to be so close, and he didn't need this complication, but neither had he expected the other side to cooperate.

"Give it ninety minutes. I'll clear it with the Boss."

The electronic-warfare officer also drew the duty of checking out the weapons systems. Able to carry eighty 500-pound bombs, the bomb bays were large enough for only eight of the two-thousand-pound penetrators, and 8 times 3 made 24. It was another exercise in arithmetic that made the final part of the mission necessary, which the carriage of nuclear weapons would have made entirely unnecessary, but the orders didn't contemplate that, and Colonel Zacharias didn't object. He had a conscience to live with.

"Everything's green, sir," the EWO said. Not too surprising, as every weapon had been checked out personally by a senior weapons officer, a chief master sergeant, and an engineer from the contractor, individually run through a dozen simulations, and then handled like fresh fruit all the way into the bomb bay. They had to be if they wanted to maintain the manufacturer's guaranteed Pk of 95%, though even that wasn't enough for certainty.

They needed more aircraft for the mission, but there were no more aircraft to be had, and working three Spirits together was tricky enough.

"Starting to get some fuzz, bearing two-two-five. Looks like an E-2 for starters," the EWO reported. Ten minutes later it was clear that every ground-based radar in the country was lit up to full power. Well, that's why they'd built the thing, all three members of the crew thought.

"Okay, give me a course," Zacharias ordered, checking his own screen.

"One-nine-zero looks good for the moment." The instruments identified every radar by type, and the smartest move was to exploit the oldest of them, happily enough an American design whose characteristics they knew quite well.

Forward of the B-2's, the Lightnings were working again, this time alone and covertly, approaching Hokkaido from the east while the bombers behind took a more southerly course. The exercise was more mental than physical now. One of the E-767's was up, this time well back over land, and probably with fighters in close attendance while the less capable E-2C's patrolled just offshore. They'd be working the fighter pilots hard now, and sure enough, his threat receiver showed that some Eagles were searchlighting their APG-70 radars around the sky. Well, time to make them pay for that. His two-plane element turned slightly right and headed for the two nearest Eagles.

Two were still on the ground, one of them with a scaffolding around the radome. Maybe that was the one undergoing overhaul, Richter thought, approaching cautiously from the west. There were still hills to hide behind, though one of them had a radar on it, a big, powerful air-defense system. His onboard computer plotted a null-area for him, and he flew lower to follow that in. He ended up three miles from the radar site, but below it, and then it was time to do what the Comanche was designed for.

Richter lifted up over the final hilltop, and his Longbow radar swept the area before him. Its computerized memory selected the two E-767's from its library of hostile shapes and lit them up on the weapons display. The touch screen at Richter's left knee showed them as icons numbered 1 and 2 and identified as what they were. The pilot selected Hellfire from his short list of weapons options, the weapons-bay doors opened, and he fired twice. The Hellfire missiles roared off the rails, heading downhill toward the air base, five miles away.

Target Four was an apartment building, happily the top floor. ZORRO-Three had taken a southerly route into the city, and now its pilot slewed his helicopter sideways, worried about being spotted from the ground but wanting to find a window with a light on. There. Not a light, the pilot thought. More like a TV. Good enough in any case. He used the manual-guidance mode to lock on the spot of blue light.

Kozo Matsuda now wondered how he'd gotten into this mess in the first place, but the answer always came up the same. He'd overextended his business, and then been forced to ally himself with Yamatabut where was his friend now? Saipan? Why? They needed him here. The Cabinet was getting nervous, and though Matsuda had his man in that room to do what he was told to do, he'd learned a few hours earlier that the ministers were thinking on their own now, and that wasn't goodbut neither were recent developments. The Americans had breached his country's defenses to some extent, a most unwelcome surprise. Didn't they understand that the war had to be ended, the Marianas secured once and for all, and America forced to accept the changes? It seemed that power was the only thing they understood, but while Matsuda and his colleagues had thought that they had the ability to employ power, the Americans weren't intimidated the way they were supposed to be.

What if theywhat if they don't cave in? Yamata-san had assured them all that they had to, but he'd assured them also that he could wreak chaos in their financial system, and somehow the bastards had reversed that more adroitly than one of Mushashi's swordfights, such as he was now watching on late-night TV. There was no way out now. They had to see it through or they would all face a ruin worse than what hisfaulty judgment had almost inflicted on his conglomerate. Faulty judgment? Matsuda asked himself. Well, yes, but he'd weathered that by allying himself with Yamata, and if his colleague would only return to Tokyo and help them all keep the government in line, then maybe

The channel on the TV changed. Odd. Matsuda picked up the controller and changed it back. Then it changed again.

Fifteen seconds out, the pilot of ZORRO-Three activated the infrared laser used to guide the antitank missile in for terminal flight. His Comanche was in auto-hover now, allowing him essentially to hand-fly the weapon. It never occurred to him that the infrared beam of the laser was on the same frequency as the simple device his kids used at home to switch from Nickelodeon to the Disney Channel.

Damn the thing! Matsuda flipped the channel back a third time, and still it reverted back to a news broadcast. He hadn't seen this movie in years, and what was wrong with the damned TV? It was even one of his own largescreen models. The industrialist got out of bed and walked over to it, aiming the channel-controller right at the receptor on the front of the TV. And it changed again.

"Bakayaro!" he growled, kneeling down in front of it and changing the channel manually, and yet once more it flipped back to the news. The lights were out in his bedroom, and at the last second Matsuda saw a yellow glow on the screen of the TV. A reflection? Of what? He turned to see a yellow semicircle of flame approaching his window, a second or so before the Hellfire missile struck the steel I-beam just next to his bed.

ZORRO-Three noted the explosion on the top floor of the apartment building, turned abruptly left, and tracked in on the next target. This was really something, the pilot thought, better even than his minor part in Task Force NORMANDY, six years before. He'd never really wanted to be a snake-eater, but here he was, doing their work. The next shot was similar to the first. He had to blink his eyes clear, but he was sure that anyone within twenty meters of the missile hit would not have lived to tell the tale.

The first Hellfire took the plane with crewmen around it. Mercifully it hit the E-767 right on the nose, and the explosion may have spared some of them, Richter thought. The second missile, like the first guided exclusively by the computer, blew the tail off the other one. Japan was down to two of the things now, both probably aloft somewhere, and he couldn't do anything about that. They wouldn't even come back here, but to make sure of it, Richter turned, selected his cannon, and strafed the air-defense radar site on the way out.

Binichi Murakami was just leaving the building after a lengthy chat with Tanaka Itagake. He would meet with his friends in the Cabinet tomorrow and counsel them to stop this madness before it grew too late. Yes, his country had nuclear missiles, but they had been built in the expectation that their mere existence would be sufficient to prevent their use. Even the thought of revealing their presence on his country's soilrock, as it turned outthreatened to destroy the political coalition that Goto had in place, and he understood now that you could order political figures only so far before they realized that they did have power of a sort.

A beggar in the street was the thought that kept coming back. But for that, he might not have been swayed by Yamata's arguments. But for that, he tried to tell himself. Then the sky turned white over his head. Murakami's bodyguard was next to him and flung him to the ground next to the car while glass rained on them. The sound of the event had hardly passed before he heard the echoes of another several kilometers away.

"What is this?" he tried to ask, but when he moved, he felt liquid on his face, and it was blood from his employee's arm, slashed open from glass. The man bit his lip and kept his dignity, but he was badly hurt. Murakami helped him into the car and ordered his driver to head for the nearest hospital. As the man nodded at the order, yet another flash appeared in the sky.

"Two more baby seals," the Colonel said quietly to himself. He'd gotten within five miles before launching his Slammers from behind them, and only one of the Eagles had even attempted to evade, that one too late, though the pilot punched out and was now floating to the ground. That was enough for now. He turned his Lightning northeast and headed out at Mach 1.5. His flight of four had slashed a hole in the Hokkaido defenses, and behind them the Japanese Air Force would move aircraft to plug the gap, fulfilling his mission for the night. For years the Colonel had told everyone who would listen that combat wasn't about fairness, and he'd laughed at the cruel euphemism for a stealthy aircraft in combat against a conventional plane. Killing baby seals. But they weren't seals, and it was the next thing to murder, and the officer raged at the necessity for what he was doing.

The EWO had steered them between two air-defense radars, and within a hundred miles of an orbiting E-2C. There was all manner of radio chatter, terse and excited, from ground stations to fighters, all to their north now. Landfall was over a town named Arai. The B-2A was at forty-three thousand feet, cruising smoothly at just under six hundred knots. Under the first layer of the fabric-based skin, a copper mesh absorbed much of the electronic energy now sweeping over their aircraft. It was part of the stealth design to be found in any high-school physics book. The copper filaments gathered in much of the energy, much like a simple radio antenna, converting it to heat that dissipated in the cold night air. The rest of the signals hit the inner structure, to be deflected elsewhere, or so everyone hoped.

Ryan met the Ambassador and escorted him into the West Wing, further surrounded by five Secret Service agents. The atmosphere was what diplomats called "frank." There was no overt impoliteness, but the atmosphere was tense and minus the usual pleasantries that marked such meetings. No words were exchanged beyond those required, and by the time they entered the Oval Office Jack was mainly worried about what threat, if any, would be delivered at this most inopportune of moments.

"Mr. Ambassador, won't you please take a seat," Durling said.

"Thank you, Mr. President."

Ryan picked one between the visiting diplomat and Roger Durling. It was an automatic action to protect his president, but unnecessary. Two of the agents had come in and would not leave the room. One stood at the door. The other stood directly behind the Ambassador.

"I understand you have something you wish to tell me," Durling observed.

The diplomat's delivery was matter-of-fact. "My government wishes me to remind you that we will soon make public our possession of strategic weapons. We wish to give you fair warning of that."

"That will be seen as an overt threat to our country, Mr. Ambassador," Ryan said, performing his task of shielding the President from the necessity of speaking directly.

"It is only a threat it you make it so."

"You are aware," Jack noted next, "that we too have nuclear arms which can be delivered to your country."

"As you have already done," the Ambassador replied at once.

Ryan nodded. "Yes, in the case of another war begun by your country."

"We keep telling you, this is only a war if you make it so."

"Sir, when you attack American territory and kill American servicemen, that is what makes it a war."

Durling watched the exchange with no more reaction than a tilted head, playing his part as his National Security Advisor played his own. He knew his subordinate well enough now to recognize the tension in him, the way his feet crossed at the bottom of his chair while his hands clasped lightly in his lap, his voice soft and pleasant-sounding despite the nature of the conversation. Bob Fowler had been right all along, more so than either the former President or the current one had realized. Good man in a storm, Roger Durling thought yet again, a saying that dated as far back as men had gone to sea.

Headstrong and hot-tempered though he sometimes was, in a crisis Ryan settled down rather like a doctor in an operating room. Something he'd learned from his wife? the President wondered, or perhaps something he'd learned because it had been forced upon him in the past ten or twelve years, in and out of government service. Good brains, good instinct, and a cool head when needed. What a shame the man had avoided politics. That thought almost made Durling smile, but this wasn't the place for it. No, Ryan would not be good at politics. He was the sort who sought to handle problems directly. Even his subtlety had a sharp point to it, and he lacked the crucial ability to lie effectively, but for all that, a good man for dealing with a crisis.

"We seek a peaceful conclusion to this episode," the Ambassador was saying now. "We are willing to concede much."

"We require nothing more than a return to status quo ante," Ryan replied, taking a chance that made his shoes turn under him. He hated this, hated taking the point, but now he had to float the ideas that he and the President had discussed, and if something went wrong, it would merely be remembered that it was Ryan who misspoke and not Roger Durling. "And the elimination of your nuclear arms under international inspection."

"You force us to play a very dangerous game."

"The game is of your making, sir." Ryan commanded himself to relax. His right hand was over his left wrist now. He could feel his watch, but didn't dare to look down at it for fear of giving an indication that something time-related was now under way. "You are already in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. You have violated the U.N. Charter, which your government has also signed. You are in violation of several treaty relationships with the United States of America, and you have launched a war of aggression. Do you expect us to accept all of this, and your enslavement of American citizens? Tell me, how will your citizens react when they learn all of this?" The events of the previous night over Northern Japan had not become public yet. They had controlled their media far more thoroughly than Ryan's own play with the American TV networks, but there was a problem with that sort of thing. The truth always got out. Not a bad thing if the truth worked for you, it could be a terrible thing if it did not.

"You must offer us something!" the Ambassador insisted, visibly losing his diplomatic composure. Behind him, the Secret Service agent's hands flexed a little.

"What we offer you is the chance to restore the peace honorably."

"That is nothing!"

"This is more properly a subject for Deputy Secretary Adler and his delegation. You are aware of our position," Ryan said. "If you choose to go public with your nuclear weapons, we cannot stop you from doing so. But I caution you that it would be a grave psychological escalation which neither your country nor ours needs."

The Ambassador looked at Durling now, hoping for a reaction of some sort. Iowa and New Hampshire would be happening soon, and this man had to start off wellwas that the reason for the hard line? the diplomat wondered. His orders from Tokyo commanded him to get some maneuvering room for his country, but the Americans weren't playing, and the culprit for that had to be Ryan.

"Does Dr. Ryan speak for the United States?" His heart skipped a beat when he saw the President shake his head slightly.

"No, Mr. Ambassador. Actually, I speak for the United States." Durling paused for a cruel instant before adding, "But Dr. Ryan speaks for me in this case. Do you have anything else for us?"

"No, Mr. President."

"In that case we will not detain you further. We hope that your government will see that the most profitable way out of this situation is what we propose. The other alternatives do not bear inspection. Good day, sir." Durling didn't stand, though Ryan did, to walk the man out. He was back in two minutes.

"When?" the President asked.

"Anytime."

"This had better work."

The sky was clear below them, though there were some wisps of cirrus clouds at fifty thousand feet. Even so, the Initial Point, called the IP, was too difficult for the unaided human eye to see. Worse, the other aircraft in the flight of three were quite invisible, though they were programmed to be only four and eight miles ahead, respectively. Mike Zacharias thought of his father, all the missions he'd down into the most sophisticated defenses of his time, and how he'd lost his professional gamble, just once, and miraculously survived a camp supposed to be a final resting place. This was easier, after a fashion, but also harder, since the B-2 could not maneuver at all except to adjust its position slightly for winds.

"A Patriot battery around here, off at two o'clock," the captain on the electronic-warfare board warned. "It just lit off."

Then Zacharias saw why. There were the first flashes on the ground, a few miles ahead. So the intelligence reports were right, the colonel thought. The Japanese didn't have many Patriots, and they wouldn't put them out here for the fun of it. Just then, looking down, he saw the moving lights of a train just outside the valley they were about to attack.

"Interrogate-one," the pilot ordered. Now it got dangerous. The LPI radar under the nose of his bomber aimed itself at the piece of ground the satellite-navigation system told it to, instantly fixing the bomber's position with respect to a known ground reference. The aircraft then swept into a right turn and two minutes later it repeated the procedure

"Missile-launch warning! Patriot is flying nowmake that two," the EWO warned.

"That's -Two," Zacharias thought. Must have caught him with the doors open. The bomber wasn't stealthy with its bomb bay open, but that only took a few seconds beforeThere. He saw the Patriots coming up from behind a hill, far faster than the SA-2s that his father had dodged, not like rockets at all, more like some sort of directed-energy beams, so fast the eye could hardly follow them, so fast he didn't have much chance to think. But the two missiles, only a few hundred meters apart, didn't alter their path at all, blazing toward a fixed point in space, and streaking past his bomber's altitude, exploding like fireworks at about sixty thousand feet. Okay, this stealth stuff really does work against Patriot, as all the tests said it did. The operators on the ground must be going crazy, he thought.

"Starting the first run," the pilot announced.

There were ten target pointsmissile silos, the intelligence data said, and it pleased the Colonel to be eliminating the hateful things, even though the price of that was the lives of other men. There were only three of them, and his bomber, like the others, carried only eight weapons. The total number of weapons carried for the mission was only twenty-four, with two designated for each silo, and Zacharias's last four for the last target. Two bombs each.

Every bomb had a 95 percent probability of hitting within four meters of the aim point, pretty good numbers really, except that this sort of mission had precisely no margin for error. Even the paper probability was less than half a percent chance of a double miss, but that number times ten targets meant a five percent chance that one missile would survive, and that could not be tolerated.

The aircraft was under computer control now, which the pilot could override but would not unless something went badly wrong. The Colonel pulled his hands back from the controls, not touching them lest he interfere with the process that required better control than he could deliver.

"Systems?" he asked over the intercom.

"Nominal," the EWO replied tensely. His eyes were on the GPS navigation system, which was taking its signals from four orbiting nuclear clocks and fixing the aircraft's exact position in three dimensions, along with course and groundspeed and wind-drift figure generated by the bomber's own systems. The information was crossloaded to the bombs, already programmed to know the exact location of their targets. The first bomber had covered targets 1 through 8. The second bomber had covered 3 through 10.

His third bomber would take the second shots at 1, 2, 9, and 10. This would theoretically ensure that since no single aircraft handled both shots at one target, an electronic fault would not guarantee the survival of one of the missiles on the ground.

"That Patriot battery is still looking. It seems to be at the entrance to the valley."

Too bad for them, Zacharias thought.

"Bomb doors coming open-now!" the copilot said. The resulting news from the third crewman was instant.

"He's got usthe SAM site has us now," the EWO said as the first weapon fell free. "Lock-on, he has lock-onlaunch launch launch!"

"It takes a while, remember," Zacharias said, far more coolly than he felt. The second bomb was now out. Then came a new thoughthow smart was that battery commander? Had he learned something from his last chance at a bomber? God, the mission could still fail if he

Two seconds later the fourth weapon dropped free, and the bomb doors closed, returning the B-2 Spirit to electronic invisibility.

"It's a stealth bomber, it has to be," the intercept controller said. "Look!"

The large, inviting contact that had suddenly appeared just over then heads was gone. The big phased-array acquisition radar had announced the target's presence visually and with a tone, and now the screen was blank, but not completely. Now there were four objects descending, just as there had been eight only a minute before. Bombs. The battery commander had felt, not heard the impact up-valley from his launch vehicles. The last time, he'd gone for the bombers, wasting two precious missiles; and the two he'd just fired would also go wildbut

"Reengage now!" the battery commander shouted at his people.

"They're not guiding on us," the EWO said with more hope than conviction. The tracking radar was searchlighting now, then it steadied down, but not on them.

To make it even less likely, Zacharias turned the aircraft, which was necessary for the second part of the mission anyway. It would take him off track for the programmed path of the missiles and avoid the chance possibility of a skin-skin contact.

"Talk to me!" the pilot ordered.

"They're past us by now" A thought confirmed by one, then another bright flash of light that lit up the clouds over their heads. Though the three crewmen cringed at the light, there wasn't a sound or even a buffet from the explosions, they must have been so far behind them.

Okay, that's thatI hope.

"He's still-lock-on-signal!" the EWO shouted. "But"

"On us?"

"No, something elseI don't know"

"The bombs. Damn it," Zacharias swore. "He's tracking the bombs!"

There were four of them, the smartest of smart bombs, falling rapidly now, but not so fast as a diving tactical aircraft. Each one knew where it was in space and time and knew where it was supposed to go. Data from the B-2s' onboard navigation systems had told them where they werethe map coordinates, the altitude, the speed and direction of the aircraft, and against that the computers in the bombs themselves had compared the location of their programmed targets. Now, tailing, they were connecting the invisible dots in three-dimensional space, and they were most unlikely to miss. But the bombs were not stealthy, because it hadn't occurred to anyone to make them so, and they were also large enough to track.

The Patriot battery still had missiles to shoot, and a site to defend, and though the bomber had disappeared, there were four objects on the screen, and the radar could see them. Automatically, the guidance systems tracked in on them as the battery commander swore at himself for not thinking of this sooner. His operator nodded at the command and turned the key that "enabled" the missile systems to operate autonomously, and the computer didn't know or care that the inbound targets were not aircraft. They were moving through the air, they were within its hemisphere of responsibility, and the human operators said, kill.

The first of four missiles exploded out of its boxlike container, converting its solid-rocket fuel into a white streak in the night sky. The guidance system was one that tracked targets via the missile itself, and though complex, it was also difficult to jam and exceedingly accurate. The first homed in on its target, relaying its own signals to the ground and receiving tracking instructions from the battery's computers. Had the missile a brain, it would have felt satisfaction as it led the falling target, selecting a point in space and time where both would meet

"Kill!" the operator said, and night turned to day as the second SAM tracked in on the next bomb.

The light on the ground told the tale. Zacharias could see the strobelike flashes reflected off the rocky hillsides, too soon for bomb hits on the ground. So whoever had drawn up the mission parameters hadn't been paranoid after all.

"There's IP Two," the copilot said, recalling the aircraft commander back to the mission.

"Good ground-fix," the EWO said.

Zacharias could see it clearly this time, the wide flat path of deep blue, different from the broken, darker ground of this hill country, and the pale wall that held it back. There were even lights there for the powerhouse.

"Doors coming open now."

The aircraft jumped upwards a few feet when the six weapons fell free. The flight controls adjusted for that, and the bomber turned right again for an easterly course, while the pilot felt better about what he'd been ordered to do.

The battery commander slammed his hand down on his instrument panel with a hoot of satisfaction. He'd gotten three of the four, and the last explosion, though it had been a miss, might well have knocked the bomb off-target, though he felt the ground shake with its impact on the ground. He lifted his field phone for the missile command bunker.

"Are you all right?" he asked urgently.

"What the hell hit us?" the distant officer demanded. The Patriot commander ignored that foolish question.

"Your missiles?"

"Eight of them are gonebut I think I have two left. I have to call Tokyo for instructions." It was amazing to the officer at the other end, and his immediate thought was to credit the site selection. His silos were drilled into solid rock, which had made a fine armor for his ICBMs after all. What orders would he receive now that the Americans had tried to disarm him and his nation?

I hope they tell you to launch, the SAM officer didn't quite have the courage to say aloud.

The last four bombs from the third B-2 tracked in on the hydroelectric dam at the head of the valley. They were programmed to strike from bottom to top in the reinforced-concrete face of the structure, the timing and placement of the target points no less crucial than those of the weapons that had tracked in on the missile silos. Unseen and unheard by anyone, they came down in a line, barely a hundred feet separating one from another.

The dam was a hundred thirty meters high and almost exactly that thick at its base, the structure narrowing as it rose to a spillway width of only ten meters. Strong, both to withstand the weight of the reservoir it held back and also to withstand the earthquakes that plague Japan, it had generated electricity for more than thirty years.

The first bomb hit seventy meters below the spillway. A heavy weapon with a thick case of hardened steel, it burrowed fifteen meters into the structure before exploding, first ripping a miniature cavern in the concrete, the shock of the event rippling through the immense wall as the second weapon struck, about five meters over the first.

A watchman was there, awakened from a nap by the noise from down-valley, but he'd missed the light show and was wondering what it had been when he saw the first muted flash that seemed to come from inside his dam. He heard the second weapon hit. then the delay of a second or so before the shock almost lifted him off his feet.

"Jesus, did we get them all?" Ryan asked. Contrary to popular belief, and contrary now to his own fervent wishes, the National Reconnaissance Office had never extended real-time capability to the White House. He had to depend on someone else, watching a television in a room at the Pentagon.

"Not sure, sir. They were all close hitswell, I mean, some were, but some of the bombs appeared too premature"

"What does that mean?"

"They seem to have exploded in midairthree of them, that is, all from the last bomber. We're trying to isolate in on the individual silos now and"

"Are there any left intact, damn it'.'" Ryan demanded. Had the gamble failed?

"One. Maybe two. we're not sure. Stand by, okay?" the analyst asked rather plaintively. "We have another bird overhead in a few minutes."

The dam might have survived two, but the third hit, twenty meters from the spillway, opened a gapreally, it dislodged a chunk of concrete triangular in shape. The section jerked forward, then stopped, held in place by the immense friction of the man-made rock, and for a second the watchman wondered if the dam might hold. The fourth hit struck in the center of that section and fragmented it. By the time the dust cleared, it had been replaced with fog and vapor as the water started pouring through the thirty-meter gap carved in the dam's face. That gap grew before the watchman's eyes, and only then did it occur to him to race for his shack and lift a phone to warn the people downstream. By that time, a river reborn after three decades of enforced sleep was racing down a valley it had carved over hundreds of millennia.

"Well?" the man in Tokyo demanded.

"One missile seems to be fully intact. That's number nine. Number twowell, there may be some minor damage. I have my people checking them all now. What are my orders?"

"Prepare for a possible launch and stand by."

"Hai." The line clicked off.

Now what do I do? the watch officer wondered. He was new at this, new at the entire idea of managing nuclear weapons, a job he'd never wanted, but nobody had ever asked him about that. His remembered protocol of orders came quickly to him, and he lifted a phonejust an ordinary black instrument; there hadn't been time for the theatrics the Americans had affectedfor the Prime Minister.

"Yes, what is this?"

"Goto-san, this is the Ministry. There has been an attack on our missiles!"

"What? When?" the Prime Minister demanded. "How bad?"

"One, possibly two missiles are operational. The rest may be destroyed. We're checking them all now." The senior watch officer could hear the rage at the other end of the line.

"How quickly can you get them ready for launch?"

"Several minutes. I have already given the order to bring them to launch status." The officer flipped an order book open to determine the procedures to actually launch the things. He'd been briefed in on it, of course, but now, in the heat of the moment, he felt the need to have it in writing before him as the others in the watch center turned and looked at him in an eerie silence.

"I'm calling my cabinet now!" And the line went dead.

The officer looked around. There was anger in the room, but even more, there was fear. It had happened again, a systematic attack, and now they knew the import of the earlier American actions. Somehow they had learned the location of the camouflaged missiles, and then they had used timed attacks on the Japanese air-defense system to cover what they really wanted to do. So what would they themselves be ordered to do now? Launch a nuclear attack? That was madness. The General thought so, and he could see that the cooler heads in his command center felt the same way.

It was a miracle of sorts. Missile Number Nine's silo was nearly intact. One bomb had exploded a mere six meters away, but the rock around theno, the officer saw, the bomb hadn't exploded at all. There was a hole in the rocky floor of the valley, but in the light of his flashlight he could see right there, amid the broken rock, the afterpart of somethinga fin, perhaps. A dud, he realized, a smart bomb with a faulty fuse. Wasn't that amusing? He raced off next to see Number Two. Running down the valley, he heard some sort of alarm horn and wondered what that was all about. It was a frightening trip, and he marveled at the fact that the Americans hadn't attempted to attack the control bunker. Of the ten missiles in the collection, eight were certainly destroyed. He choked with the fumes of the remaining propellants, but most of that had fireballed into the sky already, leaving behind only noxious gas that the night winds were sweeping away. On reflection he donned a gas mask that covered his face, and, fatally, his ears.

Silo two had taken a single bomb hit-near miss, he corrected himself. This bomb had missed the center target by perhaps twelve meters, and though it had thrown tons of rock about and cracked the concrete liner, all they had to do was sweep off the debris from the access hatch, then go down to see if the missile was intact.

Damn the Americans for this! he raged, lifting his portable radio and calling the control hunker. Strangely, there was no reply. Then he noticed that the ground was shaking, but halfway wondered if it might be his own trembling. Commanding himself to be still, he took a deep breath, but the rumbling didn't stop. An earthquakeand what was that howling outside his gas mask? Then he saw it, and there wasn't time to race for the valley walls.

The Patriot crew heard it also, but ignored it. It was the reload crew who got the only warning. Set in the wye of the railroad tracks, they were rigging a launch canister of four more missiles when the white wall exploded out the entrance to the valley. Their shouts went unheard, though one of their number managed to scramble to safety before the hundred-foot wave engulfed the site.

Two hundred miles over his head, an orbiting camera overflew the valley from southwest to northeast, all nine of its cameras following the same rush of water.


43 Dancing to the Tune | Debt of Honor | 45 Line of Battle