"We're almost empty," the copilot said in a neutral voice, checking the manifest as part of the preflight ritual.
"What is the matter with these people?" Captain Sato growled, looking over the flight plan and checking the weather. That was a short task. It would be cool and clear all the way down, with a huge high-pressure area taking charge of the Western Pacific. Except for some high winds in the vicinity of the Home Islands, it would make for a glassy-smooth ride all the way to Saipan, for the thirty-four passengers on the flight. Thirty-four! he raged. In an aircraft built for over three hundred!
"Captain, we will be leaving those islands soon. You know that." It was clear enough, wasn't it? The people, the average men and women on the street, were no longer so much confused as frightened—or maybe even that wasn't the proper word. He hadn't seen anything like it. They felt-betrayed? The first newspaper editorials had come out to question the course their country had taken, and though the questions asked were mild, the import of them was not. It had all been an illusion. His country had not been prepared for war in a psychological sense any more than a physical one, and the people were suddenly realizing what was actually going on. The whispered reports of the murder—what else could one call it?—of some prominent zaibatsu had left the government in a turmoil. Prime Minister Goto was doing little, not even giving speeches, not even making appearances, lest he have to face questions for which he had no answers. But the faith of his captain, the copilot saw, had not yet been shaken.
"No, we will not! How can you say that? Those islands are ours."
"Time will tell," the copilot observed, returning to his work and letting it go at that. He did have his job to do, rechecking fuel and winds and other technical data necessary for the successful flight of a commercial airliner, all the things the passengers never saw, assuming that the flight crew just showed up and turned it on as though it were a taxicab.
"Enjoy your sleep?"
"You bet, Captain. I dreamed of a hot day and a hot woman." Richter stood up, and his movements belied his supposed comfort. I really am too old for this shit, the chief warrant officer thought. It was just fate and luck—if you could call it that—that had put him on the mission. No one else had as much time on the Comanche as he and his fellow warrants did, and somebody had decided that they had the brains to do it, without some goddamned colonel around to screw things up. And now he could boogie on out of here. He looked up to see a clear sky. Well, could be better. For getting in and getting out, better to have clouds.
"Tanks are topped off."
"Some coffee would be nice," he thought aloud.
"Here you go, Mr. Richter." It was Vega, the first sergeant. "Nice iced coffee, like they serve in the best Florida hotels."
"Oh, thanks loads, man." Richter took the metal cup with a chuckle.
"Anything new on the way out?"
This was not good, Claggett thought. The Aegis line had broken up, and now he had one of the goddamned things ten miles away. Worse still, there had been a helicopter in the air not long before, according to his ESM mast, which he'd briefly risked despite the presence of the world's best surveillance radar. But three Army helicopters were depending on him to be here, and that was that. Nobody had ever told him that harm's way was a safe place. Not for him. Not for them, either.
"And our other friend?" he asked his sonar chief. The substantive reply was a shake of the head. The words merely confirmed it.
"Off the scope again."
There were thirty knots of surface wind, which was whipping up the waves somewhat and interfering with sonar performance. Even holding the destroyer was becoming difficult now that it was slowed to a patrol speed of no more than fifteen knots. The submarine off to the north was gone again. Maybe really gone, but it was dangerous to bank on that. Claggett checked his watch. He'd have to decide what to do in less than an hour.
They would be going in blind, but that was an awkward necessity. Ordinarily they'd gather information with snooper aircraft, but the real effort here was in achieving surprise, and they couldn't compromise that. The carrier task force had avoided commercial air lanes, hidden under clouds, and generally worked very hard to make itself scarce for several days. Jackson felt confident that his presence was a secret, but maintaining it meant depending on spotty submarine reports of electronic activity on the islands, and all these did was to confirm that the enemy had several E-2C aircraft operating, plus a monster air-defense radar. It would be an encounter battle aloft. Well, they'd been training for that over the past two weeks.
"Okay, last check," Oreza heard over the phone. "Kobler is exclusively military aircraft?"
"That is correct, sir. Since the first couple of days, we haven't seen any commercial birds on that runway." He really wanted to ask what the questions were all about, but knew it was a waste of time. Well, maybe an oblique question: "You want us to stay awake tonight?"
"Up to you, Master Chief. Now, can I talk to your guests?"
"John? Phone," Portagee announced, then was struck nearly dumb by the normality of what he'd just said.
"Clark," Kelly said, taking it. "Yes, sir…Yes, sir. Will do. Anything else? Okay, out." He hit the kill button. "Whose idea was this friggin' umbrella?"
"Mine," Burroughs said, looking up from the card table. "It works, doesn't it?"
"Sure as hell," John said, returning to the table and tossing a quarter in the pot. "Call."
"Three ladies," the engineer announced.
"Lucky son of a gun, too," Clark said, tossing his in.
"Lucky hell! These sunzabitches ruined the best fishing trip I ever had."
"John, you want I should make some coffee for tonight?"
"He makes the best damned coffee, too." Burroughs collected the pot. He was six dollars ahead.
"Portagee, it has been a while. Sure, go ahead. It's called black-gang coffee. Pete. Old seaman's tradition," Clark explained, also enjoying the pleasant inactivity.
"John?" Ding asked.
"Later, my boy." He picked up the deck and started shuffling adeptly. It would wait.
"Sure you have enough fuel?" Checa asked. The supplies that had been dropped in included auxiliary tanks and wings, but Richter shook his head.
"No prob. Only two hours to the refueling point."
"Where's that?" The signal over the satcomm had said nothing more than PROCEED to PRIMARY, whatever that meant.
"About two hours away," the warrant officer said. "Security, Captain, security."
"You realize we've made a little history here."
"Just so I live to tell somebody about it." Richter zipped up his flight suit, tucked in his scarf, and climbed aboard. "Clear!"
The Rangers stood by one last time. They knew the extinguishers were worthless, but somebody had insisted on packing them along. One by one the choppers lifted off, their green bodies soon disappearing into the darkness. With that, the Rangers started dumping the remaining equipment into holes dug during the day. That required an hour, and all that remained was their walk to Hirose. Checa lifted his cellular phone and dialed the number he'd memorized.
"Hello?" a voice said in English.
"See you in the morning, I hope?" The question was in Spanish.
"I'll be there, Se~nor."
"Montoya, lead off," the Captain ordered. They'd keep to the treeline as far as they could. The Rangers clasped weapons so far unused, hoping to keep it that way.
"I recommend two weapons," Lieutenant Shaw said. "Spread the bearings about ten degrees, converge them in from under the layer, and nail him fore and aft."
"I like it." Claggett walked over to the plot for a final examination of the tactical situation. "Set it up."
"So what gives?" one of the Army sergeants asked at the entrance to the attack center. The trouble with these damned submarines was that you couldn't just hang around and watch stuff.
"Before we can refuel those helos of yours, we have to make that 'can go away," a petty officer explained as lightly as he could.
"Is it hard?"
"I guess we'd prefer he was someplace else. It puts us on the surface with—well, somebody's gonna know there's somebody around."
"Nah," the sailor lied. Then both men heard the Captain speak.
"Mr. Shaw, let's go to battle stations torpedo. Firing-point procedures."
The Tomcats went off first, one every thirty seconds or so until a full squadron of twelve was aloft. Next went four EA-6B jammers, led by Commander Roberta Peach. Her flight of four broke up into elements of two, one to accompany each of the two probing Tomcat squadrons.
Captain Bud Sanchez had the lead division of tour, unwilling to entrust the attack of his air group to anyone else. They were five hundred miles out, heading southwest. In many ways the attack was a repeat of another action in the early days of 1991, but with a few nasty additions occasioned by the few airfields available to the enemy and weeks of careful analysis of operational patterns. The Japanese were very regular in their patrols. It was a natural consequence of the orderliness of military life and for that reason a dangerous trap to fall into. He gave one look back at the formation's sparkling wakes and then focused his mind on the mission.
"Set on one and three."
"Match generated bearings and shoot," Claggett said calmly.
The weapons technician turned his handle all to the left, then back to the right, repeating the exercise for the second tube.
"One and three away, sir."
"One and three running normal," sonar reported an instant later.
"Very well," Claggett acknowledged. He had been aboard a submarine and heard those words before, and that shot had missed, to which fact he owed his life. This was tougher. They didn't have as good a feel for the location of the destroyer as they would have liked, but neither did he have much choice in the matter. The two ADCAPs would run slow under the layer for the first six miles before shifting to their highest speed setting, which was seventy-one knots. With luck the target wouldn't have much chance to figure where the fish had come from. "Reload one and three with ADCAPs."
Timing, as always, was crucial. Jackson left the flag bridge after the fighters got off, and headed below to the combat information center, the better to coordinate an operation already figured out down to the minute. The next part was for his two Spruance destroyers, now thirty miles south of the carrier group. That made him nervous. The Spruances were his best ASW ships, and though SubPac reported that the enemy sub screen was withdrawing west, hopefully into a trap, he worried about the one SSK that might be left behind to cripple Pacific Heel's last carrier deck. So many things to worry about, he thought, looking at the sweep hand on the bulkhead-mounted clock.
Precisely at 11:45:00 local time, destroyers Gushing and Ingersoll turned broadside to the wind and began launching their Tomahawk missiles, signaling this fact by a five-element satellite transmission. A total of forty cruise missiles angled up into the sky, shed their solid-fuel boosters, then angled down for the surface. After the six-minute launch exercise, the destroyers increased speed to rejoin the battle group, wondering what their Tomahawks would accomplish.
"I wonder which one it is?" Sato murmured. They'd passed two already, the Aegis destroyers visible only from their wakes now, the barely visible arrowhead at the front of the spreading V of white foam.
"Call them up again?"
"It will anger my brother, but it must be lonely down there." Again Sato switched his radio setting, then depressed the switch on the wheel. "JAL 747 Flight calling Mutsu."
Admiral Sato wanted to grumble, but it was a friendly voice. He took the headset from the junior communications officer and closed his thumb on the switch. "Torajiro, if you were an enemy I would have you now."
He checked the radar display-only commercial targets were on the two-meter-square tactical-display screen. The SPY-1D radar showed everything within a hundred-plus miles, and most things out to nearly three hundred. The ship's SH-60J helicopter had just refueled for another antisub sweep, and though he was still at sea in time of war, he could allow himself a joke with his brother, flying up there in the big aluminum tub, doubtless filled with his countrymen.
"Time, sir," Shaw said, checking his electronic stopwatch. Commander Claggett nodded.
"Weps, bring them up and go active."
The proper command went to the torpedoes, now nearly two miles apart on either side of the target. The ADCAP-"additional capability"-version of the Mark 48 had a huge solid-state sonar system built into its twenty-one-inch nose. The unit launched from tube one was slightly closer, and its advanced imaging system acquired the destroyer's hull on the second sweep. Immediately, the torpedo turned right to home in, relaying its display to the launch point as it did so.
"Hydrophone effects, bearing two-three-zero! Enemy torpedo hearing three-zero!" a sonar officer shouted. "Its seeker is active!"
Sato's head turned sharply toward the sonar room, and instantly a new item appeared on the tactical display. Damn, he thought, and Kurushio said the area was safe. The SSK was only a few miles oil.
"Countermeasures!" Mutsu's captain ordered at OIKC. In seconds the destroyer streamed an American-designed Nixie decoy off her fantail.
"Launch the helicopter at once!"
"Brother, I am somewhat busy now. Have a good flight. Good-bye for now." The radio circuit went dead.
Captain Sato first wrote off the end of the conversation to the fact that his brother did have duties to perform, then before his eyes he saw the destroyer five miles below him turn sharply to the left, with more boiling foam at her stern to indicate a sudden increase in speed.
"Something's wrong here," he breathed over the intercom.
"We got him, sir. One or both," the fire-controlman announced.
"Target is increasing speed and turning to starboard," sonar reported.
"Both units are in acquisition and closing. Target isn't pinging anything yet."
"Unit one range to target is now two thousand yards. Unit three is twenty-two hundred out. Both units are tracking nicely, sir." The petty officer's eyes were locked on the weapons display, ready to override a possible mistake made by the automated homing systems. The ADCAP was at this point not unlike a miniature submarine with its own very precise sonar picture, enabling the weapons tech to play vicarious kamikaze, in this case two at once, a skill that nicely complemented his skill on the boat's Nintendo system. The really good news for Claggett was that he wasn't trying a counter-detection, but rather trying to save his ship first. Well, that was a judgment call, wasn't it?
"There's another one forward of us, bearing one-four-zero!"
"They have us," the Captain said, looking at the display and thinking that probably two submarines had shot at him. Still, he had to try, and ordered a crash turn to port. Top-heavy like her American Aegis cousins, Mutsu heeled violently to the right. As soon as the turn was made, the CO ordered full astern, hoping that the torpedo might miss forward.
It couldn't be anything else. Sato was losing sight of the battle, and overrode the autopilot, turning his aircraft into a tight left bank, leaving it to his right-seater to hit the seat belt signs for the passengers. He could see it all in the clear light of a quarter moon. Mutsu had executed one radical turn and then twisted into another. There were flashing lights on her stern as the ship's antisub helicopter started turning its rotor, struggling to get off and hunt whatever—yes, it had to be a submarine, Captain Sato thought, a sneaking, cowardly submarine attacking his brother's proud and beautiful destroyer. He was surprised to see the ship slow—to stop almost dead with the astern thrust of her reversible propeller—and wondered why that maneuver had been attempted. Wasn't it the same as for aircraft, whose rule was the simple axiom: Speed Is Life…
"Major cavitation sounds, maybe a crash-stop, sir," the sonar chief said.
The weapons tech didn't give Claggett a chance to react.
"Don't matter. I have him cold on both, sir. Setting three for contact explosion, getting some magnetic interference from—they must use our Nixie, eh?"
"Well, we know how that puppy works. Unit one is five hundred out, closing fast." The technician cut one of the wires, letting unit one go on its own now, rising to thirty feet and fully autonomous, activating its onboard magnetic field and seeking the metal signature of the target, then finding it, letting it grow and grow…
The helicopter just got off, its strobe lights looping away from the now-stationary destroyer. The moment seemed fixed in time when the ship started turning again, or seemed to, then a violent green flash appeared in the water on both sides of the ship, just forward of the bridge under the vertical launch magazine for her surface-to-air missiles. The knifelike shape of the hull was backlit in an eerie, lethal way. The image fixed in Sato's mind for the quarter second it lasted, and then one or more of the destroyer's SAMs exploded, followed by forty others, and Mutsu's forward half disintegrated. Three seconds later, another explosion took place, and when the white water returned back to the surface, there was little more to be seen than a patch of burning oil. Just like her namesake in Nagasaki harbor in 1943…
" Captain!" The copilot had to wrench the control-wheel level away from the Captain before the Boeing went into a stall. "Captain, we have passengers aboard!"
"That was my brother…"
"We have passengers aboard, damn you!" Without resistance now, he brought the 747 back to level flight, looking at his gyrocompass for the proper heading. "Captain!"
Sato turned his head back into the cockpit, losing sight of his brother's grave as the airliner changed its heading back to the south.
"I am sorry, Captain Sato, but we also have a job we must do." He engaged the autopilot before reaching out to the man. "Are you all right now?"
Sato looked forward into the empty sky. Then he nodded and composed himself. "Yes, I am quite all right. Thank you. Yes. I am quite all right now," he repeated more firmly, required by the rules of his culture to set his personal emotions aside for now. Their father had survived his destroyer command, had moved on to captain a cruiser on which he had died off Samar, the victim of American destroyers and their torpedoes…and now again…
"What the hell was that?" Commander Ugaki demanded of his sonar officers.
"Torpedoes, two of them, from the south," the junior lieutenant replied.
"They've killed Mutsu."
"What from?" was the next angry shout.
"Something undetected, Captain," was the weak reply.
"Come south, turns for eight knots."
"That will take us right through the disturbance from—"
"Yes, I know that."
"Definite kill," sonar told him. The signature on the sonar screen was definite. "No engine sounds from target bearing, but breakup noises, and this here was one big secondary explosion. We got him, sir."
Richter crossed over the same town the C-17 had overflown a few days earlier, and though somebody might have heard him, that was less of a concern now. Besides, at night a chopper was a chopper, and there were plenty of them here. He settled his Comanche to a cruising altitude of fifty feet and headed due south, telling himself that, sure, the Navy would be there, and sure, he could land on a ship, and sure, everything was going to go just fine.
He was grateful for the tailwind until he saw the waves it was whipping up. Oh, shit…
"Mr. Ambassador, the situation has changed, as you know," Adler said gently. The room had never heard the sound of more than one voice, but somehow it seemed far quieter now.
Seiji Nagumo, sitting next to his senior, noted that the chair next to Adler was occupied by someone else, another Japanese specialist from the fourth floor. Where was Chris Cook? he asked himself as the American negotiator went on. Why was he not here-and what did it mean?
"As we speak, American aircraft are attacking the Marianas. As we speak, American fleet units are engaging your fleet units. I must tell you that we have every reason to believe that our operations will be successful and that we will be able to isolate the Marianas from the rest of the world. The next part of the operation, if it becomes necessary, will be to declare a maritime exclusion zone around your Home Islands. We have no wish to attack your country directly, but it is within our capabilities to cut off your maritime trade in a matter of days.
"Mr. Ambassador, it is time to put an end to this…"
"As you see," the CNN reporter said from her perch next to USS Enterprise. Then the camera panned to her right, showing an empty box. "USS John Stennis has left her dry dock. We are informed that the carrier is even now launching a strike against the Japanese-held Marianas. We were asked to cooperate with government deception operations, and after careful consideration, it was decided that CNN is, after all, an American news service…"
"Bastards!" General Arima breathed, looking at the empty concrete structure, occupied only by puddles and wooden blocks now. Then his phone rang.
When it was certain that the Japanese E-2Cs had them, two Air Force AWACS aircraft flipped their radars on, having staged in from Hawaii, via Dyess on Kwajalein Atoll. In electronic terms it would be an even fight, but the Americans had more aircraft up to make sure it was fair in no other way. Four Japanese Eagles were aloft, and their first instinctive action was to turn northeast toward the intruders, the better to give their comrades standing ground alert time to get aloft and join the air battle before the incoming attack got close enough to catch their comrades on the ground. Simultaneously the ground defenses were warned to expect inbound hostile aircraft.
Sanchez lit off his own targeting radar as he saw the Japanese fighters just over a hundred miles away, heading in to launch their missiles. But they were armed with AMRAAMs, and he was armed with Phoenix, which had about double the range. He and three other aircraft launched two each for a max-range engagement. The eight missiles went into ballistic arcs, heading up to a hundred thousand feet before tipping over at Mach-5 and heading back down, their height giving them the largest possible radar cross section to home on. The Eagles detected the attack and tried to maneuver clear, but seconds later two of the F-15J's were blotted from the sky. The remaining pair kept driving in. The second wave of Phoenixes took care of that.
"What the hell?" Oreza wondered.
The sound of many jet engines starting up interrupted the card game, and all four men in the room went to the windows. Clark remembered to turn all the lights out, and stole the only set of binoculars in the house. The first pair of aircraft blasted off Kobler Field just as he brought them to his eyes. They were single-engine aircraft judging by their afterburner flames.
"What's happening, John?"
"Nobody told me, really, but it shouldn't be too hard to figure out."
Lights were on all over the field. What mattered was getting the fighters off as rapidly as possible. The same thing would be happening on Guam, probably, but Guam was a good ways off, and the two fighter groups would be engaging the Americans separately, negating the Japanese numerical advantage.
"What are those?"
Commander Peach and her jammers were also at work now. The search radar was powerful, but like all of its type it also transmitted low-frequency waves, and those were easily jammed. The massive collection of false dots both confused their understanding of the developing air action and knocked back their ability to detect the small but unstealthy cruise missiles. Fighters that might have tried to engage them had in fact overrun the inbound targets, giving them a free advance to the island's targets. The search radar atop Mount Takpochao picked them up barely thirty miles out instead of the hoped-for hundred, and was also trying to get a count on the inbound fighters. That gave the three operators on the set a complex task, but they were trained men, and they bent to the demands of the moment, one of their number sounding the alarm to get the island's Patriot missile batteries alerted.
The first part of the operation was going well. The standing Combat Air Patrol had been eliminated without loss, Sanchez saw, wondering if it had been one of his missiles that scored. No one would ever know about that. The next task was to take out the Japanese radar aircraft before the rest of their fighters arrived. To accomplish that, a division of four Tomcats went to burner and rocketed straight for them, rippling off all their missiles for the task.
They were just too brave for then own good, Sanchez saw. The Japanese Hawkeyes should have pulled back, and the defending Eagles should have done the same, but true to the fighter pilot's ethos they'd come out to engage the first wave of raiders instead of waiting. Probably because they thought this was a genuine raid instead of a mere fighter-sweep. The flanking division of four, called Blinder Flight, fulfilled its limited mission of killing the airborne-radar birds, then turned hack to John Stennis to refuel and rearm. Now the only airborne radar was American. The Japanese came on, trying to blunt the attack that really did not exist, seeking to engage targets whose only goal had been the attention of the outbound interceptors.
It was obvious to the radar operators that the majority of the missiles were headed for them instead of the airfield. They didn't trade remarks about that. There wasn't time. They watched as the E-2s fell from the sky, too far away for them to guess exactly why, but the remaining AEW aircraft were still on the runway at Kobler as the fighters were racing to get off, the first of them were approaching the distant American aircraft, which were, surprisingly, not headed in as expected. Guam was on the radio now, requesting information at the same time it announced that its fighters were off the ground to deal with the attack.
"Two minutes on the cruise missiles," one of the operators said over the interphones.
"Tell Kobler to get its E-2 up immediately," the senior officer in the control van said when he saw that the two already up were gone. Their van was a hundred yards from the radar transmitter, but it hadn't been dug in yet. It had been planned for the coming week.
"Wow!" Chavez observed. They were outside now. Some clever soul had killed the electrical power for their part of the island, which allowed them to step out of the house for a better view of the light show. Half a mile to their east, the first Patriot blew out of its box-launcher. The missile streaked only a few hundred meters up before its thrust-vector controls turned it as sharply as a billiard ball off a rail, aiming it down below the visible horizon. Three more followed a few seconds later.
"Cruise missiles coming in." This remark came from Burroughs. "Over to the north, looks like."
"Going for the radar on that hilltop, I bet," Clark thought. There followed a series of flashes that outlined the high ground to their east. The thunder of the explosions they represented took a few seconds more. Additional Patriots went off, and the civilians watched as the battery crew erected another box-launcher on its truck-transporter. They could also see that the process was taking too long.
The first wave of twenty Tomahawks was climbing now. They'd streaked in a bare three meters over the wave tops toward the sheer cliffs of Saipan's eastern coast. Automated weapons, they did not have the ability to avoid or even to detect fire directed at them, and the first ripple of Patriot SAMs did well, with twelve shots generating ten kills, but the remaining ten were climbing now, all targeted on the same spot. Four more of the cruise missile fell to SAMs, and a fifth lost power and slammed into the cliff face at Laolao Kattan. The SAM radars lost them at that point, and the battery commander called a warning to the radar people, but it was far too late to be helpful, and, one by one, five-thousand pound warheads exploded over the top of Mount Tokpochao.
"That takes care of that," Clark said when the sound passed. Then he paused to listen. Others were out in the open now, standing around the cul-de-sac neighborhood. Individual hoots joined into a chorus of cheers that drowned out the shouts of the missile crew on the hilltop to the east.
Fighters were still rocketing off Kobler Field below them, generally taking off in pairs, with some singles. The blue flames of their afterburners turned in the sky before blinking off, as the Japanese fighters turned to form up and meet the inbound raid. Last of all, Clark and the others heard the electric-fan sound of the last remaining Hawkeye, heading off last of all despite the advice of the now-dead radar crew. The island grew silent for a few moments, a strange emptiness to the air as people caught their breath and waited for the second act of the midnight drama.
Only fifty miles offshore, USS Pasadena and three other SSNs came to antenna depth and launched six missiles each. Some of them were aimed at Saipan. Four went to Tinian. Two to Rota. The rest skimmed the wave tops for Andersen Air Force Base on Guam.
"Up scope!" Claggett ordered. The search periscope hissed up on hydraulic power. "Hold!" he called as the top of the instrument cleared the water. He turned slowly, looking for lights in the sky. None.
"Okay, the antenna next." Another hiss announced the raising of the UHF whip antenna. The Captain kept his eyes on the scope, still looking around. His right hand waved. There were some fuzzy radar signals from distant transmitters, but nothing able to detect the submarine.
"INDY CARS, this is PIT CREW, over," the communications officer said into a microphone.
"Thank God," Richter said aloud, keying his microphone. "PIT CREW, this is INDY LEAD, authenticate, over."
"Charlie Tango," Richter replied, checking the radio codes on his knee pad. "We are five out, and we sure could use a drink, over."
"Stand by," he heard back.
"Surface the ship," Claggett ordered, lifting the 1-MC. "Now hear this, we're surfacing the ship, maintain battle stations. Army crews, stand by."
The proper gear was sitting next to the midships escape trunk and the larger capsule hatch designed to handle the guidance packages for ballistic missiles. One of Tennessee's damage-control parties stood by to pass the gear, and a chief would work the fueling-hose connector hidden in the casing over the missile room.
"What's that?" INDY-TWO asked over the radio circuit. "Lead, this is Three, chopper to the north. Say again, chopper to the north, big one."
"Take him out!" Richter ordered at once. There could be no friendly choppers about. He turned and increased altitude for a look of his own. The guy even had his strobes on. "PIT CREW, this is INDY LEAD, there's chopper traffic up here to the north. What gives, over?"
Claggett didn't hear that. Tennessee's sail had just broken the surface, and he was standing by the ladder to the top of the sail. Shaw took the microphone.
"That's probably an ASW helo from the destroyer we just sunk—splash him, splash him now!"
"Aerial radar to the north!" an ESM tech called a second later. "Helicopter radar close aboard!"
"Two, take him out now!" Richter relayed the order.
"On the way, Lead," the second Comanche responded, turning and dipping his nose to increase speed. Whoever it was, that was just too bad. The pilot selected guns. Under his aircraft the 20-millimeter cannon emerged from its canoelike enclosure and turned forward. The target was five miles out and didn't see the inbound attack chopper.
It was another Sikorsky, Two's pilot saw, possibly assembled in the same Connecticut plant as his Comanche, the Navy version of the UH-60, a big target. His chopper blazed directly at it, hoping to get his kill before it could get a radio call out. Not much chance of that, and the pilot cursed himself for not engaging with a Stinger, but it was too late for that now. His helmet pipper locked on to the target and he triggered off fifty rounds, most of which found the nose of the approaching gray helicopter. The results were instant.
"Kill," he announced. "I got him, Lead."
"Roger, what your fuel state?"
"Thirty minutes," Two replied.
"Circle and keep your eyes open," Lead commanded.
"Roger, Leader." As soon as he got to three hundred feet came another unwelcome surprise. "Lead, Two, radar to the north, system says it's a Navy billboard one."
"Great," Richter snarled, circling the submarine. It was large enough to land on, but it would have been easier if the goddamned thing wasn't rolling around like the beer barrel at an Irish wake. Richter brought his chopper into hover, approaching from straight aft, and lowered his wheels for landing.
"Come left into the wind," Claggett told Lieutenant Shaw. "We have to cut the rolls down for 'em."
"Gotcha, Skipper." Shaw made the necessary orders, and Tennessee steadied up on a northwesterly heading.
"Stand by the escape and capsule hatches!" the CO ordered next. As he watched, the helo came down slowly, carefully, and as usual, landing a helicopter aboard a ship reminded him of two porcupines making love. It wasn't lack of willingness; it was just that you couldn't afford any mistakes.
They were lined up like an army of mounted knights now, Sanchez thought, with the Japanese two hundred miles off Saipan's northeast tip, and the Americans a hundred miles beyond. This game had been played out many times by both sides, and often enough in the same war game centers. Both sides had their tracking radars on and searching. Both sides could now see and count the strength of the other. It was just a question of who would make the first move. The Japanese were at the disadvantage and knew it. Their remaining E-2C was not yet in position, and worse than that, they could not be entirely sure who the opposition was. On Sanchez's command, the Tomcats moved oft first, going to afterburner and climbing high to volley off their remaining Phoenix missiles. They fired at a range of fifty miles, and over a hundred of the sophisticated weapons turned into a wave of yellow flames climbing higher still before tipping over while their launch aircraft turned and retreated.
That was the signal for a general melee. The tactical situation had been clear, and then became less so as the Japanese fighters also went to maximum speed to close the Americans, hoping to duck under the Phoenix launch to launch their own fire-and-forget missiles. It was a move that required exquisite timing, which was hard to do without expert quarterbacking from a command-and-control aircraft, for which they had not waited.
It hadn't been possible to train Navy personnel to do it quickly enough, though a party of sailors did hold the wings up as two trained Army ground crewmen attached them to hardpoints on the side of the first Comanche. Then the fuel hoses were snaked to the openings, and the ship's pumps were switched on, filling all the tanks as rapidly as possible. Another Navy crewman tossed Richter a phone on the end of an ordinary wire.
"How did it go, Army?" Dutch Claggett asked.
"Kinda exciting. Y'all got some coffee, like hot maybe?"
"On the way, soldier." Claggett made the necessary call to the galley. "Who was that chopper from?" Richter asked, looking back at the fueling operations.
"We had to take out a 'can about an hour ago. He was in the way. I guess the helo was from him. Ready to copy your destination?"
"Negative. There's a carrier waiting for you at twenty-five north, one-fifty east. Say again, two-five north, one-five-zero east."
The warrant officer repeated the coordinates back twice, getting an addilional confirmation. A whole carrier to land on? Damn, Richter thought.
"Roger that, and thank you, sir."
"Thanks for splashing the helo, INDY."
A Navy crewman stepped up and banged on the side of the aircraft, giving a thumbs-up sign. He also handed over a Tennessee ball cap. Then Richter saw that the breast pocket on his shirt had a bulge in it. Most impolitely, he reached down and plucked out the half-pack of cigarettes. The sailor laughed over the noise and tossed a lighter to go along with it.
"Stand clear!" Richter shouted. The deck crewmen retreated, but then another man jumped out of the hatch with a thermos bottle, which was passed up. With that, the canopy came down and Richter started his engines back up.
Barely a minute later, the Comanche lifted off, making room for -Two as his lead aircraft took an orbit position over the sub. Thirty seconds after that, the pilot was sipping coffee. It was different from the Army brew, far more civilized. A little Hennessey, he thought, and it would be about perfect.
"Sandy, look north!" his backseater said as -Two came down on the deck of the submarine.
Six Eagles fell to the first volley of missiles, with two more damaged and withdrawing, the AWAC'S controllers said. Sanchez couldn't see, as he was heading away from the advancing enemy fighters, the Tomcats making room now for the Hornets. It was working. The Japanese were pursuing, coming away from their island at high-power settings, driving the Americans away, or so they thought. His threat receiver said that there were enemy missiles in the air now, but they were American-designed missiles, and he knew what they could do.
"What's that?" Oreza wondered.
Just a shadow at first. The airfield lights were still on for some reason or other, and they saw a single white streak crossing the end of Kobler's runway. It banked sharply over the threshold and tracked down the center of the single strip. Then it changed shape, the nose blowing off, and small objects sprinkling down on the concrete. A few exploded. The rest just disappeared, too small to see unless they were moving. Then came another, and another, all doing the same thing, except for one that headed straight for the tower, and blew the top right off of it, and along with it, the fighter wing's radios. Farther south, the commercial airfield was also lit up still, four 747's sitting at the terminal or elsewhere on the ramp. Nothing seemed to approach the airport. To their east, several more missile launches lit up the Patriot battery, but they'd shot off their first load of missiles, and the crews now had to reload additional box launchers, then connect them to the command van, and that took time. They were getting kills, but not enough.
"Not going for the SAMs," Chavez noted, thinking that they really ought to be under cover for all this, but…but nobody else was, as though this were some sort of glorious Fourth of July display.
"Avoiding civilian areas, Ding," Clark replied.
"Nice nick. By the way, what's this Kelly stuff?"
"My real name," the senior officer observed.
"John, how many of the bastards did you kill?" Oreza wanted to know.
"Huh?" Chavez asked.
"Hack when we were both children, your boss here did a little private hunting, drug dealers, as I recall."
"It never happened. Portagee. Honest." John shook his head and grinned. "Well, not that anybody can prove." he added. "I really am dead, you know?"
"In that case you got the right set of initials for the new name, man." Oreza paused. "Now what'"
"Beats me, pal." Oreza wasn't cleared for his new orders, and he didn't know that they were possible anyway. A few seconds later it occurred to someone to switch off the remaining electrical power on the south end of the island.
Mutsu's helicopter had announced the presence of a submarine on the surface, but nothing more. That had caused Kongo to launch her Seahawk, now coming south. Two P-3C Orion antisub aircraft were approaching as well, but the helicopter would get in first, carrying two torpedoes. That aircraft was coming in at two hundred feet, without its look-down radar on, but with flashing strobes that looked very bright in Richter's headset.
"Sure is busy here," Richter said. He was at five hundreds feet, with a new target just on the horizon. "PIT CREW, this in INDY ONE, we have another chopper in the neighborhood."
"Copy that." Richter increased speed for his intercept. The Navy didn't have any problems making decisions. The closure speed guaranteed a rapid intercept. Richter selected STINGER and fired at five miles Whoever it was, he didn't expect hostile aircraft in the area, and the cold water under him made a fine contrast background for the heat-seeking missile The Seahawk spun in, leaving Richter to wonder if there might be survivor, but he didn't have the ability to perform a rescue, and didn't close in to see.
-Two was up now, and took the protective orbit position, allowing the leader to turn for the rendezvous. He gave the submarine a low saluting pass and headed off. He had neither the fuel nor the time to linger.
"You realize we're an aircraft carrier?" Ken Shaw asked, watching the deck crew finishing up refueling for the third and last visitor. "We scored kills and everything."
"Just so we live long enough to be a submarine again," Claggett replied tensely. As he watched, the canopy came down and the crewmen started securing topside. Two minutes later his deck was nearly clear. One of his chiefs tossed extraneous gear over the side, waved to the sail, and disappeared down the capsule hatch.
"Clear the bridge!" Claggett ordered. He took one last look around before keying the microphone one last time. "Take her down."
"We don't have a straight board yet," the Chief of the Boat objected in the attack center.
"You heard the man," the officer of the deck snapped back. With that command the vents were opened and the main ballast tanks flooded. The topside bridge hatch changed a second later from a circle to a dash, and Claggett appeared a moment later, closing the bottom-end hatch to the bridge, making a straight board.
"Rigged for dive, get us out of here!"
"That's a submarine," the Lieutenant said. "Diving-venting his tanks."
"I have to go active for that," the sonar officer warned.
"Then do it!" Ugaki hissed.
"What are those flashes?" the copilot wondered. They were just over the horizon to the left of their flight path, no telling the distance, but however far away they were, they were bright, and one turned into a streak that circled down into the sea. More streaks erupted in the darkness, lines of yellow-white going mainly right-to-left. That made it clear. "Oh."
Saipan Approach, this is JAL Seven-Oh-Two, two hundred miles out. What is happening, over?" There was no reply.
"Return to Narita?" the copilot asked.
"No! No, we will not do that!" Torajiro Sato replied.
It was a tribute to his professionalism that rage didn't quite overcome his training. He'd already dodged two missiles to this point, and Major Shiro Sato did not panic despite the ill-luck that had befallen his wingman. His radar showed more than twenty targets, just out of missile range, and though some others of his squadron mates had fired their AMRAAMs, he wouldn't until he had a better chance. He also showed multiple radars tracking his aircraft, but there was no helping that. He jerked his Eagle around the sky, taking hard turns and heavy gees as he closed on burner. What had begun as unorganized battle was now a wild melee, with individual fighters entirely on their own, like samurai in the darkness. He turned north now, selecting the nearest blip. The IFF systems automatically interrogated them, and the answer was not what he expected. With that Sato triggered off his fire-and-forget missiles then turned back sharply to the south. It wasn't at all what he'd hoped for, not a fair fight, skill against skill in a clear sky. This had been a chaotic encounter in darkness, and he simply didn't know who had won or lost. He had to turn and run now. Courage was one thing, but the Americans had drawn them out so that he scarcely had the fuel remaining for his home field. He'd never know it his missiles had scored. Damn.
He increased power one last tune, going to burner to disengage, angling right to keep clear of the fighters advancing in from the south. Those were the planes from Guam, probably. He wished them luck.
"TURKEY, this is TISKKI \ I i M> Disengage now. I say again, disengage now!" Sanchez was well behind the action now, wishing that he were in his Hornet instead of the larger Tomcat. Acknowledgments came in, and though he'd lost a few aircraft, and though the battle had not been entirely to his liking, he knew that it had been a success. He headed north to clear the area, checking his fuel state. Then he saw strobe lights at his ten o'clock and turned further to investigate.
"Jesus, Bud, it's an airliner." his radar-intercept officer said. "JAL markings." That was obvious from the stylized red crane on the high tailfin.
"Better warn him off." Sanchez turned on his own strobes and closed from the portside. "JAL 747, JAL 747, this is U.S. Navy aircraft to your portside."
"Who are you?" the voice asked over the guard frequency.
"We are a U.S. Navy aircraft. Be advised there is a battle going on here. I suggest you reverse course and head back home. Over."
"I don't have the fuel for that."
"Then you can bingo to Iwo Jima. There's a field there, but watch out for the radio tower southwest of the strip, over."
"Thank you," was the terse reply. "I will continue on my flight plan. Out."
"Dumbass." Sanchez didn't put on the air, though his backseater fully agreed. In a real war they would have just shot him down, but this wasn't a real war, or so some people had decided. Sanchez would never know the magnitude of his error.
"Captain, that is very dangerous!"
"Iwo Jima is not lighted. We'll approach from the west and stay clear," Captain Sato said, unmoved by all that he'd heard. He altered course to the west, and the copilot kept his peace on the matter.
"Active sonar to starboard, bearing zero-one-zero, low-frequency, probably a sub." And that was not good news.
"Snapshot!" Claggett ordered at once. He'd drilled his crew mercilessly on this scenario, and the boomers did have the best torpedomen in the fleet.
"Setting up on tube four," the weapons petty officer answered. On command, the torpedo was activated. "Flooding four. Tube four is flooded. Weapon is hot."
"Initial course zero-one-zero," the weapons officer said, checking the plot, which didn't reveal much. "Cut the wires, set to go active at one thousand!"
"Match and shoot!" Claggett ordered.
"Fire four, four away!" The sailor nearly broke the firing handle.
"Range four thousand meters," the sonar officer reported. "Large submerged target, beam aspect. Transient—he's launched!"
"So can we. Fire one, fire two!" Ugaki shouted. "Left full rudder," he added the moment the second tube was clear. "Ahead flank!"
"Torpedo in the water. Two torpedoes in the water, bearing zero-one-zero. Ping-and-listen, the torpedoes are in search mode!" sonar reported.
"Oh, shit. We've been here before," Shaw noted, recalling an awful experience on USS Maine. The Army officer aboard and his senior sergeant had just come into the attack center to thank the Captain for his part in the helicopter mission. They stopped cold on the portside, looking around and seeing the tension in the compartment.
"Six-inch room, launch decoy, now!"
"Launching now." There was slight noise a second later, just a jolt of compressed air.
"We have a MOSS set up?" Claggett asked, even though he'd given orders for exactly that.
"Tube two, sir," the weapons tech replied.
"Warm it up."
"Okay." Commander Claggett allowed himself a deep breath and time to think. He didn't have much, but he had some. How smart was that Japanese fish? Tennessee was doing ten knots, not having had rudder or speed orders after submerging, and was at three hundred feet of keel depth. Okay.
"Six-inch room, set up a spread of three canisters to launch on my command. "
"Standing by, sir."
"Weps, set the MOSS for three hundred feet, circling as tight as you can at this depth. Make it active as soon as it clears the tube."
"Stand by…set. Tube is flooded."
"MOSS away, sir."
"Six-inch room, launch now!"
Tennessee shuddered again, with three decoys ejected into the sea along with the torpedo-based lure. The approaching torpedo now had a very attractive false target to track.
"Surface the ship! Emergency surface!"
"Emergency surface, aye," the chief of the boat replied, reaching himself for the air manifold, "Full rise on the planes!"
"Full rise, aye!" the helmsman repealed, pulling back on his control yoke.
"Conn, sonar, the inbound torpedoes are still in ping-and-listen. Our outbound unit is now on continuous pinging. It has a sniff."
"Their fish is like an early 48, troops," Claggett said calmly. His demeanor was a lie, and he knew that, but the crew might not. "Remember the three rules of a -48. It has to be a valid target, it has to be over eight hundred yards, and it has to have a bearing rate. Helm, all stop."
"All stop, aye. Sir, engine room answers all stop."
"Very well, we'll let her coast up now," the Captain said, out of things to say now. He looked over at the Army people and winked. They looked rather pale. Well, that was one advantage of being black, wasn't it? Claggett thought.
Tennessee look a thirty-degree up-angle, killing a lot of her forward as she rose and tumbling several people to the deck, it came so abruptly Claggett held on to the red-and-white periscope-control wheel to steady himself.
"Breaking the surface now, sir!" the COB reported. A second later came a rush of exterior noise, and then the submarine crashed sickeningly back down.
"Rig for ultraquiet. "
The shaft was stopped now. Tennessee wallowed on the surface while three hundred feet down and half a mile aft, the MOSS was circling in and out of the decoy bubbles. He'd done all that he could do. A crewman reached into his pocket for a smoke, then realized that he'd lost his pack topside.
"Our unit is in acquisition!" sonar reported.
"Come right! " Ugaki said, trying to be calm and succeeding, but the American torpedo had run straight through the decoy field…just as his had done, he remembered. He looked around his control room. The faces were on him, just as they had been the other time, but this time the other boat had shot first despite his advantage, and he only needed a look at the plot to see that he'd never know if his second submarine attack had succeeded or not. "I'm sorry," he said to his crew, and a few heads had time to nod at his final, sincere apology to them.
"Hit!" sonar called next.
"Thank you, Sonar," Claggett acknowledged.
"The enemy fish are circling below us, sir…they seem to be…yeah, they're chasing into the decoy…we're getting some pings, but…"
"But the early -48s didn't track stationary surface targets, Chief," Claggett said quietly. The two men might have been the only people breathing aboard. Well, maybe Ken Shaw, who was standing at the weapons panel. It only made things worse that you couldn't hear the ultrasonic noise of a torpedo sonar.
"The damned things run forever."
"Yep." Claggett nodded. "Raise the ESM," he added as an afterthought.
The sensor mast went up at once, and people cringed at the noise.
"Uh, Captain, there's an airborne radar bearing three-five-one."
"Low but increasing. Probably a P-3, sir."
It was too much for the Army officer. "We just sit still?"
Sato brought the 747 in largely from memory. There were no runway lights, but he had enough from the moon to see what he was doing, and once again the copilot marveled at the man's skill as the aircraft's landing lights caught reflections from the lights on the ground. The landing was slightly to the right of the centerline, but Sato managed a straight run to the end, this time without his usual look over at the junior officer. He was bringing the aircraft right onto the taxiway when there was a flash in the distance.
Major Sato was the first Eagle back to Kobler, actually having passed two damaged aircraft on his way in. There was activity on the ground, but the only radio chatter was incoherent. He had little choice in any case. His fighter was running on vapors and memory now, all the fuel gauges showing almost nothing Also without lights, the aviator chose the proper glide-slope and touched down in exactly the right spot. He didn't see the softball-size submunition his nosegear hit. The fighter's nose collapsed, and the Eagle slid, pinwheeling off the end of the runway. There was just enough vapor in the tanks to start a fire, then an explosion to scatter parts over the Kobler runway. A second Eagle, half a mile behind Sato's, found another bomblet and exploded. The twenty remaining fighters angled away, calling on their radios for instructions. Six of them turned for the commercial field. The rest looked for and approached the large twin runways on Tinian, not knowing that they, too, had been sprinkled with cluster munitions from a series of Tomahawk missiles. Roughly half survived the landing without hitting anything
Admiral Chandraskatta was in his control room, watching the radar display. He'd have to recall his fighters soon. He didn't like risking his pilots in night operations, but the Americans were up in strength, doing another of their shows of force. And surely they could attack and destroy his fleet if they wished, but now? With a war against Japan under way, would America choose to initiate another combat action? No. His amphibious force was now at sea, and in two days, at sunset, the time would come.
The B-1's were lower than the flight crews had ever driven them. These were reservists, mostly airline pilots, assigned by a particularly beneficent Pentagon (with the advice of a few senior members of Congress) to a real combat aircraft for the first time in years. For practice bombing missions over land, they had a standard penetration altitude of no less than two hundred feet, more usually three hundred, because even Kansas farms had windmills and people erected radio towers in the damnedest places—but not at sea. Here they were down to fifty feet, and smokin', one pilot observed, nervously entrusting his aircraft to the terrain-avoidance system. His group of eight was heading due south, having turned over Dondra Head. The other four were heading northwest after using a different navigational marker. There was lots of electronic activity ahead, enough to make him nervous, though none of it was on him yet, and he allowed himself the sheer exhilaration of the moment, flying over Mach-1, and doing it so low that his bomber was trailing a different sort of vapor trail, more like an unlimited-class racing boat, and maybe cooking some fish along the way…
"Low-level contacts from the north!"
"What?" The Admiral looked up. "Range?"
"Less than twenty kilometers, coming in very fast!"
"Are they missiles?"
Chandraskatta looked down at his plot. There they were, the opposite direction from the American carrier aircraft. His fighters were not in a position to—
"Inbound aircraft!" a lookout called next.
"Engage?" Captain Mehta asked.
"Shoot first without orders?" Chandraskatta ran for the door, emerging onto the flight deck just in time to see the white lines in the water even before the aircraft causing them.
"Coming up now," the pilot said, aiming himself just at the carrier's bridge. He pulled back on the stick, and when it vanished under his nose, checked his altitude indicator.
"Pull up!" the voice-warning system told him in the usual sexy voice.
"I already did, Marilyn." It sounded like a Marilyn to the TWA pilot.
Next he checked his speed. Just under nine hundred knots. Wow. The noise this big mother would make…
The sonic boom generated by the huge aircraft was more like a bomb blast, knocking the Admiral off his feet and shattering glass on the wheelhouse well over his head and wrecking other topside gear. Another followed seconds later, and then he heard more still as the massive aircraft buzzed over his fleet. He was slightly disoriented as he stood, and there were glass fragments on the flight deck as he made his way back under cover. Somehow he knew his place was on the bridge.
"Two radars are out," he heard a petty officer say. "Rajput reports her SAMs are down."
"Admiral," a communications lieutenant called, holding up a growler phone.
"Who is this?" Chandraskatta asked.
"This is Mike Dubro. The next time we won't be playing. I am authorized to tell you that the U.S. Ambassador is now meeting with your Prime Minister…"
"It is in everyone's best interest that your fleet should terminate its operations," the former Governor of Pennsylvania said after the usual introductory pleasantries.
"You may not order us about, you know."
"That was not an order, Madame Prime Minister. It was an observation. I am also authorized to tell you that my government has requested an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to discuss your apparent intentions to invade Sri Lanka. We will offer to the Security Council the service of the U.S. Navy to safeguard the sovereignty of that country. Please forgive me for speaking bluntly, but my country does not intend to see the sovereignty of that country violated by anyone. As I said, it is in everyone's interest to prevent a clash of arms."
"We have no such intentions," the Prime Minister insisted, taken very aback by the directness of this message after the earlier one she'd ignored.
"Then we are agreed," Ambassador Williams said pleasantly. "I will communicate that to my government at once."
It took nearly forever, in this case just over half an hour, before the first, then the second torpedo stopped circling, then stopped pinging. Neither found the MOSS a large-enough target to engage, but neither found anything else, either.
"Strength on that P-3 radar?" Claggett asked.
"Approaching detection values, sir."
"Take her down, Mr. Shaw. Let's get below the layer and tool on out of here."
"Aye, Cap'n." Shaw gave the necessary orders. Two minutes later, USS Tennessee was underwater, and five minutes after that at six hundred feet, turning southeast at a speed often knots. Soon thereafter they heard splashes aft, probably sonobuoys, but it took a long time for a P-3 to generate enough data to launch an attack, and Tennessee wasn't going to linger about.