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Tom Clancy The Sum of All Fears


“Like a wolf on the fold.” In recounting the Syrian attack on the Israeli-held Golan Heights at 1400 local time on Saturday, the 6th of October, 1973, most commentators automatically recalled Lord Byron's famous line. There is also little doubt that that is precisely what the more literarily inclined Syrian commanders had in mind when they placed the final touches on the operations plans that would hurl more tanks and guns at the Israelis than any of Hitler's vaunted panzer generals had ever dreamed of having.

However, the sheep found by the Syrian Army that grim October day were more like big-horned rams in autumn rut than the more docile kind found in pastoral verse. Outnumbered by roughly nine to one, the two Israeli brigades on the Golan were crack units. The 7th Brigade held the northern Golan and scarcely budged, its defensive network a delicate balance of rigidity and flexibility. Individual strongpoints held stubbornly, channeling the Syrian penetrations into rocky defiles, where they could be pinched off and smashed by roving bands of Israeli armor which lay in wait behind the Purple Line. By the time reinforcements began arriving on the second day, the situation was still in hand — but barely. By the end of the fourth day, the Syrian tank army that had fallen upon the 7th lay a smoking ruin before it.

The Barak (“Thunderbolt”) Brigade held the southern heights and was less fortunate. Here the terrain was less well-suited to the defense, and here also the Syrians appear to have been more ably led. Within hours the Barak had been broken into several fragments. Though each piece would later prove to be as dangerous as a nest of vipers, the Syrian spearheads were quick to exploit the gaps and race towards their strategic objective, the Sea of Galilee. The situation that developed over the next thirty-six hours would prove to be the gravest test of Israeli arms since 1948.

Reinforcements began arriving on the second day. These had to be thrown into the battle area piecemeal — plugging holes, blocking roads, even rallying units that had broken under the desperate strain of combat and, for the first time in Israeli history, fled the field before the advancing Arabs. Only on the third day were the Israelis able to assemble their armored fist, first enveloping, then smashing the three deep Syrian penetrations. The changeover to offensive operations followed without pause. The Syrians were hurled back towards their own capital by a wrathful counterattack, and surrendered a field littered with burned-out tanks and shattered men. At the end of this day the troopers of the Barak and the 7th heard over their unit radio nets a message from Israeli Defense Forces High Command.


And so they had. Yet outside Israel, except for schools in which men learn the profession of arms, this epic battle is strangely unremembered. As in the Six Day War of 1967, the more freewheeling operations in the Sinai were the ones that attracted the excitement and admiration of the world: bridging the Suez, the Battle of the “Chinese” Farm, the encirclement of the Egyptian 3rd Army — this despite the fearful implications of the Golan fighting, which was far closer to home. Still, the survivors of those two brigades knew what they had done, and their officers could revel in the knowledge that among professional soldiers who know the measure of skill and courage that such a stand entails, their Battle for the Heights would be remembered with Thermopylae, Bastogne and Gloucester Hill.

Each war knows many ironies, however, and the October War was no exception. As is true of most glorious defensive stands, this one was largely unnecessary. The Israelis had misread intelligence reports which, had they been acted on as little as twelve hours earlier, would have enabled them to execute pre-set plans and pour reserves onto the Heights hours before the onslaught commenced. Had they done so, there would have been no heroic stand. There would have been no need for their tankers and infantrymen to die in numbers so great that it would be weeks before the true casualty figures were released to a proud, but grievously wounded nation. Had the information been acted upon, the Syrians would have been massacred before the Purple Line for all their lavish collection of tanks and guns — and there is little glory in massacres. This failure of intelligence has never been adequately explained. Did the fabled Mossad fail so utterly to discern the Arabs' plans? Or did Israeli political leaders fail to recognize the warnings they received? These questions received immediate attention in the world press, of course, most particularly in regard to Egypt 's assault-crossing of the Suez, which breached the vaunted Bar-Lev Line.

Equally serious but less well appreciated was a more fundamental error made years earlier by the usually prescient Israeli general staff. For all its firepower, the Israeli Army was not heavily outfitted with tube artillery, particularly by Soviet standards. Instead of heavy concentrations of mobile field guns, the Israelis chose to depend heavily on large numbers of short-range mortars, and attack aircraft. This left Israeli gunners on the Heights outnumbered twelve to one, subject to crushing counter-battery fire, and unable to provide adequate support to the beleaguered defenders. That error cost many lives.

As is the case with most grave mistakes, this one was made by intelligent men, for the very best of reasons. The same attack-fighter that struck the Golan could rain steel and death on the Suez as little as an hour later. The IAF was the first modern air force to pay systematic attention to “turn-around time.” Its ground crewmen were trained to act much like a racing car's pit crew, and their speed and skill effectively doubled each plane's striking power, making the IAF a profoundly flexible and weighted instrument, and making a Phantom or a Skyhawk appear to be more valuable than a dozen mobile field guns.

What the Israeli planning officers had failed to take fully into account was the fact that the Soviets were the ones arming the Arabs, and, in doing so, would inculcate their clients with their own tactical philosophies. Intended to deal with NATO air power always deemed better than their own, Soviet surface-to-air missile (SAM) designers had always been among the world's best. Russian planners saw the coming October War as a splendid chance to test their newest tactical weapons and doctrine. They did not spurn it. The Soviets gave their Arab clients a SAM network such as the North Vietnamese or Warsaw Pact forces of the time dared not dream about, a nearly solid phalanx of interlocking missile batteries and radar systems deployed in depth, along with new mobile SAMs that could advance with the armored spearheads, extending the “bubble” of counter-air protection under which ground action could continue without interference. The officers and men who were to operate those systems had been painstakingly trained, many within the Soviet Union with the full benefit of everything the Soviets and Vietnamese had learned of American tactics and technology, which the Israelis were correctly expected to imitate. Of all the Arab soldiers in the October War, only these men would achieve their pre-war objectives. For two days they effectively neutralized the IAF. Had ground operations gone according to plan, that would have been enough.

And it is here that the story has its proper beginning. The situation on the Golan Heights was immediately evaluated as serious. The scarce and confused information coming in from the two stunned brigade staffs led the Israeli High Command to believe that tactical control of the action had been lost. It seemed that their greatest nightmare had finally occurred: they had been caught fatally unready; their northern kibbutzim were vulnerable; their civilians, their children lay in the path of a Syrian armored force that by all rights could roll down from the Heights with the barest warning. The initial reaction of the staff operations officers was something close to panic.

But panic is something that good operations officers also plan for. In the case of a nation whose enemies' avowed objective was nothing short of physical annihilation, there was no defensive measure that could be called extreme. As early as 1968, the Israelis, like their American and NATO counterparts, had based their ultimate plan on the nuclear option. At 03.55 hours, local time, on October 7th, just fourteen hours after the actual fighting began, the alert orders for OPERATION JOSHUA were telexed to the IAF base outside Beersheba.

Israel did not have many nuclear weapons at the time — and denies having any to this date. Not that many would be needed, if it came to that. At Beersheba, in one of the countless underground bomb-storage bunkers, were twelve quite ordinary-looking objects, indistinguishable from the many other items designed to be attached to tactical aircraft, except for the silver-red striped labels on their sides. No fins were attached, and there was nothing unusual in the streamlined shape of the burnished-brown aluminum skin, with barely visible seams and a few shackle points. There was a reason for that. To an unschooled or cursory observer, they might easily have been mistaken for fuel tanks or napalm canisters, and such objects hardly merit a second look. But each was a plutonium fission bomb with a nominal yield of 60 kilotons, quite enough to carve the heart out of a large city, or to kill thousands of troops in the field, or, with the addition of cobalt jackets — stored separately, but readily attachable to the external skin — to poison a landscape to all kinds of life for years to come.

On this morning, activity at Beersheba was frantic. Reserve personnel were still streaming into the base from the previous day's devotions and family-visiting all over the small country. Those men on duty had been so for too long a time for the tricky job of arming aircraft with lethal ordnance. Even the newly arriving men had had precious little sleep. One team of ordnancemen, for security reasons not told the nature of their task, was arming a flight of A-4 Skyhawk strike-fighters with nuclear weapons under the eyes of two officers, known as “watchers,” for that was their job, to keep visual track of everything that had to do with nuclear weapons. The bombs were wheeled under the centerline hardpoint of each of the four aircraft, lifted carefully by the hoisting arm, then shackled into place. The least exhausted of the groundcrew might have noticed that the arming devices and tail fins had not yet been attached to the bombs. If so they doubtless concluded that the officer assigned to that task was running late — as was nearly everything this cold and fateful morning. The nose of each weapon was filled with electronics gear. The actual exploder mechanism and capsule of nuclear material — collectively known as “the physics package”—were already in the bombs, of course. The Israeli weapons, unlike American ones, were not designed to be carried by alert aircraft during the time of peace, and they lacked the elaborate safeguards installed in American weapons by the technicians at the Pantex assembly plant, outside Amarillo, Texas. The fusing systems comprised two packages, one for attachment to the nose, and one integral with the tail fins. These were stored separately from the bombs themselves. All in all, the weapons were very unsophisticated by American or Soviet standards, in the same sense that a pistol is far less sophisticated than a machine-gun, but, at close range, equally lethal.

Once the nose and fin packages were installed and activated, the only remaining activation procedure was the installation of a special arming panel within the cockpit of each fighter, and the attachment of the power plug from the aircraft to the bomb. At that point the bomb would be “released to local control,” placed in the hands of a young, aggressive pilot, whose job was then to loft it in a maneuver called The Idiot's Loop which tossed the bomb on a ballistic path that would — probably — allow him and his aircraft to escape without harm when the bomb detonated.

Depending on the exigencies of the moment and the authorization of the “watchers,” Beersheba 's senior ordnance officer had the option to attach the arming packages. Fortunately, this officer was not at all excited about the idea of having half-live “nukes” sitting about on a flight line that some lucky Arab might attack at any moment. A religious man, for all the dangers that faced his country on that cold dawn, he breathed a silent prayer of thanks when cooler heads prevailed in Tel Aviv, and gave the order to stand JOSHUA down. The senior pilots who would have flown the strike mission returned to their squadron ready-rooms and forgot what they had been briefed to do. The senior ordnance officer immediately ordered the bombs removed, and returned to their place of safe-keeping.

The bone-tired groundcrew began removing the weapons, just as the other teams arrived on their own carts for the task of rearming the Skyhawks with Zuni rocket clusters. The strike order had been put up: The Golan. Hit the Syrian armored columns advancing on the Barak's sector of Purple Line from Kafr Shams. The ordnancemen jostled under the aircraft, two teams each trying to do their jobs, one team trying to remove bombs that they didn't know to be bombs at all, while the other hung Zunis on the wings.

There were more than four strike aircraft cycling through Beersheba, of course. The dawn's first mission over the Suez was just returning — what was left of it. The RF-4C Phantom reconnaissance aircraft had been lost, and its F-4E fighter escort limped in trailing fuel from perforated wing tanks and with one of its two engines disabled. The pilot had already radioed his warning in: there was some new kind of surface-to-air missile, maybe that new SA-6; its radar-tracking systems had not registered on the Phantom's threat-receiver; the recce bird had had no warning at all, and only luck had enabled him to evade the four targeted on his aircraft. That fact was flashed to IAF high command even before the aircraft touched down gingerly on the runway. The plane was directed to taxi down to the far end of the ramp, close to where the Skyhawks stood. The Phantom's pilot followed the jeep to the waiting fire-fighting vehicles, but just as it stopped, the left main tire blew out. The damaged strut collapsed as well and 45,000 pounds of fighter dropped to the pavement like dishes from a collapsed table. Leaking fuel ignited, and a small but deadly fire enveloped the aircraft. An instant later, 2omm ammunition from the fighter's gun pod started cooking off, and one of the two crewmen was screaming within the mass of flames. Firelighters moved in with water-fog. The two “watcher” officers were the closest, and raced towards the flames to drag the pilot clear. All three were peppered by fragments from the exploding ammunition, while a fireman coolly made his way through the flames to the second crewman and carried him out, singed but alive. Other firemen collected the watchers and the pilot, and loaded their bleeding bodies into an ambulance.

The nearby fire distracted the ordnancemen under the Skyhawks. One bomb, the one on aircraft number three, dropped a moment too soon, crushing the team supervisor's legs on the hoist. In the shrieking confusion of the moment, the team lost track of what was being done. The injured man was rushed to the base hospital while the three dismounted nuclear weapons were carted back to the storage bunker — in the chaos of an airbase on the first full day of a shooting war, the empty cradle of one of the carts somehow went unnoticed. The aircraft line chiefs arrived a moment later to begin abbreviated pre-flight checks as the jeep arrived from the ready shack. Four pilots jumped off it, each with a helmet in one hand and a tactical map in the other, each furiously eager to lash out at his country's enemies.

“What the hell's that?” snapped eighteen-year-old Lieutenant Mordecai Zadin. Called Motti by his friends, he had the gangling awkwardness of his age.

“Fuel tank, looks like,” replied the line chief. He was a reservist who owned a garage in Haifa, a kindly, competent man of fifty years.

“Shit,” the pilot replied, almost quivering with excitement. “I don't need extra fuel to go to the Golan and back!”

“I can take it off, but I'll need a few minutes.” Motti considered that for a moment. A sabra from a northern kibbutz, a pilot for barely five months, he saw the rest of his comrades strapping into their aircraft. Syrians were attacking towards the home of his parents, and he had a sudden horror of being left behind on his first combat mission.

“Fuck it! You can strip it off when I get back.” Zadin went up the ladder like a shot. The chief followed, strapping the pilot in place, and checking the instruments over the pilot's shoulder.

“She's ready, Motti! Be careful.”

“Have some tea for me when I get back.” The youngster grinned with all the ferocity such a child could manage. The line chief slapped him on the helmet.

“You just bring my airplane back to me, menchkin. Mazeltov.”

The chief dropped down to the concrete, and removed the ladder. He next gave the aircraft a last visual scan for anything amiss, as Motti got his engine turning. Zadin worked the flight controls and eased the throttle to full idle, checking fuel and engine-temperature gauges. Everything was where it should be. He looked over to the flight leader and waved his readiness. Motti pulled down the manual canopy, took a last look at the line chief, and fired off his farewell salute.

At eighteen, Zadin was not a particularly young pilot by IAF standards. Selected for his quick boy's reactions and aggressiveness, he'd been identified as a likely prospect four years earlier, and had fought hard for his place in the world's finest air force. Motti loved to fly, had wanted to fly ever since, as a toddler, he'd seen a Bf-109 training aircraft that an ironic fate had given Israel to start its air force. And he loved his Skyhawk. It was a pilot's aircraft. Not an electronicized monster like the Phantom, the A-4 was a small, responsive bird of prey that leaped at the twitch of his hand on the stick. Now he would fly combat. He was totally unafraid. It never occurred to him to fear for his life — like any teenager he was certain of his own immortality, and combat flyers are selected for their lack of human frailty. Yet he marked the day. Never had he seen so fine a dawn. He felt supernaturally alert, aware of everything: the rich wake-up coffee; the dusty smell of the morning air at Beersheba; now the manly scents of oil and leather in the cockpit; the idle static on his radio circuits; and the tingle of his hands on the control stick. He had never known such a day and it never occurred to Motti Zadin that fate would not give him another.

The four-plane formation taxied in perfect order to the end of runway zero-one. It seemed a good omen, taking off due north, towards an enemy only fifteen minutes away. On command of his flight leader — himself a mere twenty-one — all four pilots pushed their throttles to the stops, tripped their brakes, and dashed forward into the cool, calm, morning air. In seconds, all were airborne and climbing to five thousand feet, careful to avoid the civilian air traffic of Ben Gurion International Airport, which in the mad scheme of life in the Middle East was still fully active.

The captain gave his usual series of terse commands, just like a training flight: tuck it in, check engine, ordnance, electrical systems. Heads up for MiGs and friendlies. Make sure your IFF is squawking green. The fifteen minutes it took to fly from Beersheba to the Golan passed rapidly. Zadin's eyes strained to see the volcanic escarpment for which his older brother had died while taking it from the Syrians only six years before. The Syrians would not get it back, Motti told himself.

“Flight: turn right to heading zero-four-three. Targets are tank columns four kilometers east of the line. Heads up. Watch for SAMs and ground fire.”

“Lead, four: I have tanks on the ground at one,” Zadin reported coolly. “Look like our Centurions.”

“Good eye, Four,” the captain replied. “They're friendly.”

“I got a beeper, I got launch warning!” someone called. Eyes scanned the air for danger.

“Shit!” called an excited voice. “SAMs low at twelve coming up!”

“I see them. Flight, left and right, break NOW!” the captain commanded.

The four Skyhawks scattered by elements. There were a dozen SA-2 missiles several kilometers off, like flying telephone poles, coming towards them at Mach-3. The SAMs split left and right too, but clumsily, and two exploded in a mid-air collision. Motti rolled right and hauled his stick into his belly, diving for the ground and cursing the extra wing weight. Good, the missiles were not able to track them down. He pulled level a bare hundred feet above the rocks, still heading towards the Syrians at four hundred knots, shaking the sky as he roared over the cheering, beleaguered troopers of the Barak.

The mission was a washout as a coherent strike, Motti already knew. It didn't matter. He'd get some Syrian tanks. He didn't have to know exactly whose, so long as they were Syrian. He saw another A-4 and formed up just as it began its firing run. He looked forward and saw them, the dome shapes of Syrian T-62S. Zadin toggled his arming switches without looking. The reflector gunsight appeared in front of his eyes.

“Uh-oh, more SAMs, coming in on the deck.” It was the captain's voice, still cool.

Motti" s heart skipped a beat: a swarm of missiles, smaller ones — are these the SA-6s they told us about? he wondered quickly — was tracing over the rocks towards him. He checked his ESM gear; it had not sensed the attacking missiles. There was no warning beyond what his eyes told him. Instinctively, Motti clawed for altitude in which to maneuver. Four missiles followed him up. Three kilometers away. He snap-rolled right, then spiraled down and left again. That fooled three of them, but the fourth followed him down. An instant later it exploded, a bare thirty meters from his aircraft.

The Skyhawk felt as though it had been kicked aside ten meters or more. Motti struggled with the controls, getting back level just over the rocks. A quick look chilled him. Whole sections of his port wing were shredded. Warning beepers in his headset and flight instruments reported multiple disaster: hydraulics zeroing out, radio out, generator out. But he still had manual flight controls, and his weapons could fire from back-up battery power. At that instant he saw his tormentors: a battery of SA-6 missiles, four launcher vehicles, a Straight Flush radar van, and a heavy truck full of reloads, all four kilometers away. His hawk's eyes could even see the Syrians struggling with the missiles, loading one onto a launcher rail.

They saw him, too, and then began a duel no less epic for its brevity.

Motti eased as far down as he dared with his buffeting controls and carefully centered the target in his reflector sight. He had forty-eight Zuni rockets. They fired in salvos of four. At two kilometers he opened fire into the target area. The Syrian missileers somehow managed to launch another SAM. There should have been no escape, but the SA-6 had a radar-proximity fuse, and the passing Zunis triggered it, exploding the SAM harmlessly half a kilometer away. Motti grinned savagely beneath his mask, as he fired rockets and now twenty-millimeter cannon fire into the mass of men and vehicles.

The third salvo hit, then four more, as Zadin kicked rudder to drop his rockets all over the target area. The missile battery was transformed into an inferno of diesel fuel, missile propellant, and exploding warheads. A huge fireball loomed in his path, and Motti tore through it with a feral shout of glee, his enemies obliterated, his comrades avenged.

Zadin had but a moment of triumph. Great sheets of the aluminum which made up his aircraft's left wing were being ripped away by the four-hundred-knot slipstream. The A-4 began shuddering wildly. When Motti turned left for home, the wing collapsed entirely. The Skyhawk disintegrated in mid-air. It took only a few seconds before the teenaged warrior was smashed on the basaltic rocks of the Golan Heights, neither the first nor the last to die there. No other of his flight of four survived.

Of the SAM battery, almost nothing was left. All six vehicles had been blasted to fragments. Of the ninety men who had manned them, the largest piece recovered was the headless torso of the battery commander. Both he and Zadin had served their countries well, but as is too often the case, conduct which in another time or place might have inspired the heroic verse of a Virgil or a Tennyson went unseen and unknown. Three days later, Zadin's mother received the news by telegram, learning again that all Israel shared her grief, as if such a thing were possible for a woman who had lost two sons.

But the lingering footnote to this bit of unreported history was that the unarmed bomb broke loose from the disintegrating fighter and proceeded yet further eastward, falling far from the fighter-bomber's wreckage to bury itself meters from the home of a Druse farmer. It was not until three days later that the Israelis discovered that their bomb was missing, and not until the day after the October War ended that they were able to reconstruct the details of its loss. This left the Israelis with a problem insoluble even to their imaginations. The bomb was somewhere behind Syrian lines — but where? Which of the four aircraft had carried it? Where had it gone down? They could hardly ask the Syrians to search for it. And could they tell the Americans, from whom the “special nuclear material” had been adroitly and deniably obtained?

And so the bomb lay unknown, except to the Druse farmer who simply covered it over with two meters of dirt and continued to farm his rocky patch.


Arnold van Damm sprawled back in his executive swivel chair with all the elegance of a rag doll tossed into a corner. Jack had never seen him wear a coat except in the presence of the President, and not always then. At formal affairs that required black tie, Ryan wondered if Arnie needed a Secret Service agent standing by with a gun. The tie was loose in the unbuttoned collar, and he wondered if it had ever been tightly knotted. The sleeves on Arnie's L. L. Bean blue-striped shirt were rolled up, and grimy at the elbows because he usually read documents with his forearms planted on the chronically cluttered desk. But not when speaking to someone. For important conversations, the man leaned back, resting his feet on a desk drawer. Barely fifty, van Damm had thinning gray hair and a face as lined and careworn as an old map, but his pale blue eyes were always alert, and his mind keenly aware of everything that went on within or beyond his sight. It was a quality that went along with being the President's Chief of Staff.

He poured his Diet Coke into an oversized coffee mug that featured an emblem of the White House on one side and “Arnie” engraved on the other, and regarded the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence with a mixture of wariness and affection. “Thirsty?”

“I can handle a real Coke if you have one down there,” Jack observed with a grin. Van Damm's left hand dropped below sight, and a red aluminum can appeared on a ballistic path that would have terminated in Ryan's lap had he not caught it. Opening the can under the circumstances was a tricky exercise, but Jack ostentatiously aimed the can at van Damm when he popped the top. Like the man or not, Ryan told himself, he had style. He was unaffected by his job, except when he had to be. This was not such a time. Arnold van Damm only acted important for outsiders. Insiders didn't need an act.

“The Boss wants to know what the hell is going on over there,” the Chief of Staff opened.

“So do I.” Charles Alden, the President's National Security Advisor, entered the room. “Sorry I'm late, Arnie.”

“So do we, gentlemen,” Jack replied. “That hasn't changed in a couple of years. You want the best stuff we've got?”

“Sure,” Alden said.

“Next time you fly to Moscow, look out for a large white rabbit with waistcoat and pocket watch. If he offers you a trip down a rabbit hole, take it and let me know what you find down there,” Ryan said with mock gravity. “Look, I'm not one of those right-wing idiots who moans for a return to the Cold War, but then, at least, the Russians were predictable. The poor bastards are starting to act like we do now. They're unpredictable as hell. The funny part is, now I can understand what a pain in the ass we always were to the KGB. The political dynamic over there is changing on a daily basis. Narmonov is the sharpest political in-fighter in the world, but every time he goes to work, it's another crisis.”

“What sort of cat is he?” van Damm asked. “You've met the man.” Alden had met Narmonov, but van Damm had not.

“Only once,” Ryan cautioned.

Alden settled down in an armchair. “Look, Jack, we've seen your file. So has the Boss. Hell, I've almost got him to respect you. Two Intelligence Stars, the submarine business, and, Jesus, the thing with Gerasimov. I've heard of still waters running deep, fella, but never this deep. No wonder Al Trent thinks you're so damned smart.” The Intelligence Star was CIA's highest decoration for performance in the field. Jack actually had three. But the citation for the third was locked away in a very safe place, and was something so secret that even the new President didn't and would never know. “So prove it. Talk to us.”

“He's one of those rare ones. He thrives on chaos. I've met docs like that. There are some, a rare few, who keep working in emergency rooms, doing trauma and stuff like that, after everybody else burns out. Some people just groove to pressure and stress, Arnie. He's one of them. I don't think he really likes it, but he's good at it. He must have the physical constitution of a horse—”

“Most politicians do,” van Damm observed.

“Lucky them. Anyway, does Narmonov really know where he's going? I think the answer is both yes and no. He has some sort of idea where he's moving his country to, but how he gets there, and exactly where he's going to be when he arrives, that he doesn't know. That's the kind of balls the man has.”

“So, you like the guy.” It was not a question.

“He could have snuffed my life out as easy as popping open this can of Coke, and he didn't. Yeah,” Ryan admitted with a smile, “that does compel me to like him a little. You'd have to be a fool not to admire the man. Even if we were still enemies, he'd still command respect.”

“So we're not enemies?” Alden asked with a wry grin.

“How can we be?” Jack asked in feigned surprise. “The President says that's a thing of the past.”

The Chief of Staff grunted. “Politicians talk a lot. That's what they're paid for. Will Narmonov make it?”

Ryan looked out the window in disgust, mainly at his own ability to answer the question. “Look at it this way: Andrey Il'ych has got to be the most adroit political operator they've ever had. But he's doing a high-wire act. Sure, he's the best around, but remember when Karl Wallenda was the best high-wire guy around? He ended up as a red smear on the sidewalk because he had one bad day in a business where you only get one goof. Andrey Il'ych is in the same kind of racket. Will he make it? People have been asking that for eight years! We think so — I think so — but… but, hell this is virgin ground, Arnie. We've never been here before. Neither has he. Even a god-damned weather forecaster has a data base to help him out. The two best Russian historians we have are Jake Kantrowitz at Princeton and Derek Andrews at Berkley, and they're a hundred-eighty degrees apart at the moment. We just had them both into Langley two weeks ago. Personally I lean towards Jake's assessment, but our senior Russian analyst thinks Andrews is right. You guys pays your money and you takes your choice. That's the best we got. You want pontification, check the newspapers.”

Van Damm grunted and went on. “Next hot spot?”

“The nationalities question is the big killer,” Jack said. “You don't need me to tell you that. How will the Soviet Union break up — what republics will leave — when and how, peacefully or violently? Narmonov is dealing with that on a daily basis. That problem is here to stay.”

“That's what I've been saying for about a year. How long to let things shake out?” Alden wanted to know.

“Hey, I'm the guy who said East Germany would take at least a year to change over— I was the most optimistic guy in town at the time, and I was wrong by eleven months. Anything I or anyone else tells you is a wild-ass guess.”

“Other trouble spots?” van Damm asked next.

“There's always the Middle East —” Ryan saw the man's eyes light up.

“We want to move on that soon.”

“Then I wish you luck. We've been working on that since Nixon and Kissinger back during the '73 semifinals. It's chilled out quite a bit, but the fundamental problems are still there, and sooner or later it's going to be thawed. I suppose the good news is that Narmonov doesn't want any part of it. He may have to support his old friends, and selling them weapons is a big money-maker for him, but if things blow up, he won't push like they did in the old days. We learned that with Iraq. He might continue to pump weapons in — I think he won't, but it's a close call — but he will do nothing more than that to support an Arab attack on Israel. He won't move his ships, and he won't alert troops. I doubt he's willing even to back them if they rattle their sabers a little. Andrey Il'ych says those weapons are for defense, and I think he means it, despite the word we're getting from the Israelis.”

“That's solid?” Alden asked. “State says different.”

“State's wrong,” Ryan replied flatly.

“So does your boss,” van Damm pointed out.

“In that case, sir, I must respectfully disagree with the DCI's assessment.”

Alden nodded. “Now I know why Trent likes you. You don't talk like a bureaucrat. How have you lasted so long, saying what you really think?”

“Maybe I'm the token.” Ryan laughed, then turned serious. “Think about it. With all the ethnic crap he's dealing with, taking an active role bears as many dangers as advantages. No, he sells weapons for hard currency and only when the coast is clear. That's business, and that's as far as it goes.”

“So, if we can find a way to settle things down…?” Alden mused.

“He might even help. At worst, he'll stand by the sidelines and bitch that he's not in the game. But tell me, how do you plan to settle things down?”

“Put a little pressure on Israel,” van Damm replied simply.

“That's dumb for two reasons. It's wrong to pressure Israel until their security concerns are alleviated, and their security concerns will not be alleviated until some of the fundamental issues are settled first.”


“Like what is this conflict all about.” The one thing that everyone overlooks.

“It's religious, but the damned fools believe in the same things!” van Damm growled. “Hell, I read the Koran last month, and it's the same as what I learned in Sunday school.”

That's true,“ Ryan agreed, ”but so what? Catholics and Protestants both believe that Christ is the son of God, but that hasn't stopped Northern Ireland from blowing up. Safest place in the world to be Jewish. The friggin' Christians are so busy killing one another off that they don't have time to be anti-Semitic. Look, Arnie, however slight the religious differences in either place may appear to us, to them they appear big enough to kill over. That's as big as they need to be, pal."

“True, I guess,” the Chief of Staff agreed reluctantly. He thought for a moment. “ Jerusalem, you mean?”

“Bingo.” Ryan finished off his Coke and crushed the can before flipping it into van Damm's trash can for two. “The city is sacred to three religions — think of them as three tribes — but it physically belongs to only one of them. That one is at war with one of the others. The volatile nature of the region militates towards putting some armed troops in the place, but whose? Remember, some Islamic crazies shot up Mecca not that long ago. Now, if you put an Arab security force in Jerusalem, you create a security threat to Israel. If things stay as they are, with only an Israeli force, you offend the Arabs. Oh, and forget the UN. Israel won't like it because the Jews haven't made out all that well in the place. The Arabs won't like it because there's too many Christians. And we won't like it because the UN doesn't like us all that much. The only available international body is distrusted by everyone. Impasse.”

“The President really wants to move on this,” the Chief of Staff pointed out. We have to do something to make it look like we're DOING SOMETHING.

“Well, next time he sees the Pope, maybe he can ask for high-level intercession.” Jack's irreverent grin froze momentarily. Van Damm thought he was cautioning himself against speaking badly of the President, whom he disliked. But then Ryan's face went blank. Arnie didn't know Jack well enough to recognize the look. “Wait a minute…”

The Chief of Staff chuckled. It wouldn't hurt for the President to see the Pope. It always looked good with the voters, and after that the President would have a well-covered dinner with B'nai B'rith to show that he liked all religions. In fact, as van Damm knew, the President went to church only for show now that his children were grown. That was one amusing aspect of life. The Soviet Union was turning back to religion in its search for societal values, but the American political left had turned away long ago and had no inclination to turn back, lest it should find the same values that the Russians were searching for. Van Damm had started off as a left-wing believer, but twenty-five years of hands-on experience in government had cured him of that. Now he distrusted ideologues of both wings with equal fervor. He was the sort to look for solutions whose only attraction was that they might actually work. His reverie on politics took him away from the discussion of the moment.

“You thinking about something, Jack?” Alden asked.

“You know, we're all 'people of the book,' aren't we?” Ryan asked, seeing the outline of a new thought in the fog.


“And the Vatican is a real country, with real diplomatic status, but no armed forces… they're Swiss… and Switzerland is neutral, not even a member of the UN. The Arabs do their banking and carousing there… gee, I wonder if he'd go for it…?” Ryan's face went blank again, and van Damm saw Jack's eye center as the light bulb flashed on. It was always exciting to watch an idea being born, but less so when you didn't know what it was.

“Go for what? Who go for what?” the Chief of Staff asked with some annoyance. Alden just waited.

Ryan told them.

“I mean, a large part of this whole mess is over the Holy Places, isn't it? I could talk to some of my people at Langley. We have a really good—”

Van Damm leaned back in his chair. “What sort of contacts do you have? You mean talking to the Nuncio?”

Ryan shook his head. “The Nuncio is a good old guy, Cardinal Giancatti, but he's just here for show. You've been here long enough to know that, Arnie. You want to talk to folks who know stuff, you go to Father Riley at Georgetown. He taught me when I got my doctorate at G-Town. We're pretty tight. He's got a pipeline into the General.”

“Who's that?”

“The Father General of the Society of Jesus. The head Jesuit, Spanish guy, his name is Francisco Alcalde. He and Father Tim taught together at St. Robert Bellarmine University in Rome. They're both historians, and Father Tim's his unofficial rep over here. You've never met Father Tim?”

“No. Is he worth it?”

“Oh, yeah. One of the best teachers I ever had. Knows D.C. inside and out. Good contacts back at the home office.” Ryan grinned, but the joke was lost on van Damm.

“Can you set up a quiet lunch?” Alden asked. “Not here, someplace else.”

“The Cosmos Club up in Georgetown. Father Tim belongs. The University Club is closer, but—”

“Right. Can he keep a secret?”

“A Jesuit keep a secret?” Ryan laughed. “You're not Catholic, are you?”

“How soon could you set it up?”

“Tomorrow or day after all right?”

“What about his loyalty?” van Damm asked out of a clear sky.

“Father Tim is an American citizen and he's not a security risk. But he's also a priest, and he has taken vows to what he naturally considers an authority higher than the Constitution. You can trust the man to honor all his obligations, but don't forget what all those obligations are,” Ryan cautioned. “You can't order him around, either.”

“Set up the lunch. Sounds like I ought to meet the guy in any case. Tell him it's a get-acquainted thing,” Alden said. “Make it soon. I'm free for lunch tomorrow and next day.”

“Yes, sir.” Ryan stood.

* * *

The Cosmos Club in Washington is located at the corner of Massachusetts and Florida Avenues. The former manor house of Sumner Welles, Ryan thought it looked naked without about four hundred acres of rolling ground, a stable of thoroughbred horses, and perhaps a resident fox that the owner would hunt, but not too hard. These were surroundings the place had never possessed, and Ryan wondered why it had been built in this place in this style, so obviously at odds with the realities of Washington, but built by a man who had understood the workings of the city so consummately well. Chartered as a club of the intelligentsia — membership was based on “achievement” rather than money — it was known in Washington as a place of erudite conversation, and the worst food in a town of undistinguished restaurants. Ryan led Alden into a small private room upstairs.

Father Timothy Riley, S.J., was waiting for them, a briar pipe clamped in his teeth as he paged through the morning's Post. A glass sat at his right hand, a skim of sherry at the bottom of it. Father Tim was wearing a rumpled shirt and a jacket that needed pressing, not the formal priest's uniform that he saved for important meetings and had been hand-tailored by one of the nicer shops on Wisconsin Avenue. But the white Roman collar was stiff and bright, and Jack had the sudden thought that despite all his years of Catholic education he didn't know what the things were made of. Starched cotton? Celluloid like the detachable collars of his grandfather's age? In either case, its evident rigidity must have been a reminder to its wearer of his place in this world, and the next.

“Hello, Jack!”

“Hi, Father. This is Charles Alden, Father Tim Riley.” Handshakes were exchanged, and places at the table selected. A waiter came in and took drink orders, closing the door as he left.

“How's the new job, Jack?” Riley asked.

The horizons keep broadening," Ryan admitted. He left it at that. The priest would already know the problems Jack was having at Langley.

“We've had this idea about the Middle East, and Jack suggested that you'd be a good man to discuss it with,” Alden said, getting everyone back to business. He had to stop when the waiter returned with drinks and menus. His discourse on the idea took several minutes.

“That's interesting,” Riley said, when it was all on the table.

“What's your read on the concept?” the National Security Advisor wanted to know.

“Interesting…” The priest was quiet for a moment.

“Will the Pope…?” Ryan stopped Alden with a wave of the hand. Riley was not a man to be hurried when he was thinking. He was, after all, an historian, and they didn't have the urgency of medical doctors.

“It certainly is elegant,” Riley observed after thirty seconds. “The Greeks will be a major problem, though.”

“The Greeks? How so?” Ryan asked in surprise.

“The really contentious people right now are the Greek Orthodox. We and they are at each other's throats half the time over the most trivial administrative issues. You know, the rabbis and the imams are actually more cordial at the moment than the Christian priests are. That's the funny thing about religious people, it's hard to predict how they'll react. Anyway, the problems between the Greeks and Romans are mainly administrative — who gets custody over which site, that sort of thing. There was a big go-round over Bethlehem last year, who got to do the midnight mass in the Church of the Nativity. It is awfully disappointing, isn't it?”

“You're saying it won't work because two Catholic churches can't—”

“I said there could be a problem, Dr. Alden. I did not say that it wouldn't work.” Riley lapsed back into silence for a moment. "You'll have to adjust the troika… but given the nature of the operation, I think we can get the right kind of cooperation. Co-opting the Greek Orthodox is something you'll have to do in any case. They and the Muslims get along very well, you know.

“How so?” Alden asked.

“Back when Mohammed was chased out of Medina by the pre-Muslim pagans, he was granted asylum at the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai — it's a Greek Orthodox shrine. They took care of him when he needed a friend. Mohammed was an honorable man; that monastery has enjoyed the protection of the Muslims ever since. Over a thousand years, and that place has never been troubled despite all the nasty things that have happened in the area. There is much to admire about Islam, you know. We in the West often overlook that because of the crazies who call themselves Muslims — as though we don't have the same problem in Christianity. There is much nobility there, and they have a tradition of scholarship that commands respect. Except that nobody over here knows much about it.” Riley concluded.

“Any other conceptual problems?” Jack asked.

Father Tim laughed: “The Council of Vienna! How did you forget that, Jack?”

“What?” Alden sputtered in annoyance.

“Eighteen-fifteen. Everybody knows that! After the final settlement of the Napoleonic Wars, the Swiss had to promise never to export mercenaries. I'm sure we can finesse that. Excuse me, Dr. Alden. The Pope's guard detachment is composed of Swiss mercenaries. So was the French king's once — they all got killed defending King Louis and Marie Antoinette. Same thing nearly happened to the Pope's troops once, but they held the enemy off long enough for a small detachment to evacuate the Holy Father to a secure location, Castel Gandolfo, as I recall. Mercenaries used to be the main Swiss export, and they were feared wherever they went. The Swiss Guards of the Vatican are mostly for show now, of course, but once upon a time the need for them was quite real. In any case, Swiss mercenaries had such a ferocious reputation that a footnote of the Council of Vienna, which settled the Napoleonic Wars, compelled the Swiss to promise not to allow their people to fight anywhere but at home and the Vatican. But, as I just said, that is a trivial problem. The Swiss would be delighted to be seen helping solve this problem. It could only increase their prestige in a region where there is a lot of money.”

“Sure,” Jack observed. “Especially if we provide their equipment. M-1 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, cellular communications…”

“Come on, Jack,” Riley said.

“No, Father, the nature of the mission will demand some heavy weapons, for psychological impact if nothing else. You have to demonstrate that you're serious. Once you do that, then the rest of the force can wear the Michaelangelo jump suits and carry their halberds and smile into the cameras — but you still need a Smith &. Wesson to beat four aces, especially over there.”

Riley conceded the point. “I like the elegance of the concept, gentlemen. It appeals to the noble. Everyone involved claims to believe in God by one name or another. By appealing to them in His name… hmm, that's the key, isn't it? The City of God. When do you need an answer?”

“It's not all that high-priority,” Alden answered. Riley got the message. It was a matter of official White House interest, but was not something to be fast-tracked. Neither was it something to be buried on the bottom of someone's desk pile. It was, rather, a back-channel inquiry to be handled expeditiously and very quietly.

“Well, it has to go through the bureaucracy. The Vatican has the world's oldest continuously-operating bureaucracy in the world, remember.”

That's why we're talking to you,“ Ryan pointed out. ”The General can cut through all the crap."

“That's no way to talk about the princes of the church, Jack!” Riley nearly exploded with laughter.

“I'm a Catholic, remember? I understand.”

“I'll drop them a line,” Riley promised. Today, his eyes said.

“Quietly,” Alden emphasized.

“Quietly,” Riley agreed.

Ten minutes later, Father Timothy Riley was back in his car for the short drive back to his office at Georgetown. Already his mind was at work. Ryan had guessed right about Father Tim's connections and their importance. Riley was composing his message in Attic Greek, the language of philosophers never spoken by more than fifty thousand people, but the language in which he'd studied Plato and Aristotle at Woodstock Seminary in Maryland all those years before.

Once in his office, he instructed his secretary to hold all calls, closed the door, and activated his personal computer. First he inserted a disk that allowed the use of Greek characters. Riley was not a skilled typist — having both a secretary and a computer rapidly erodes that skill — and it took him an hour to produce the document he needed. It was printed up as a double-spaced nine-page letter. Riley next opened a desk drawer and dialed in his code for a small but secure office safe that was concealed in what appeared to be a file drawer. Here, as Ryan had long suspected, was a cipher book, laboriously hand-printed by a young priest on the Father General's personal staff. Riley had to laugh. It just wasn't the sort of thing one associated with the priesthood. In 1944, when Admiral Chester Nimitz had suggested to John Cardinal Spellman, Catholic Vicar General for the U.S. military, that perhaps the Marianas Islands needed a new bishop, the Cardinal had produced his cipher book, and used the communications network of the U.S. Navy to have a new bishop appointed. As with any other organization, the Catholic Church occasionally needed a secure communications link, and the Vatican cipher service had been around for centuries. In this case, the cipher key for this day was a lengthy passage from Aristotle's discourse on Being qua Being, with seven words removed, and four grotesquely misspelled. A commercial encryption program handled the rest. Then he had to print out a new copy and set it aside. His computer was again switched off, erasing all record of the communiqué. Riley next faxed the letter to the Vatican, and shredded all the hard copies. The entire exercise took three laborious hours, and when he informed his secretary that he was ready to get back to business, he knew that he'd have to work far into the night. Unlike an ordinary businessman, Riley didn't swear.

“I don't like this,” Leary said quietly behind his binoculars.

“Neither do I,” Paulson agreed. His view of the scene through the ten-power telescopic sight was less panoramic and far more focused. Nothing about the situation was pleasing. The subject was one the FBI had been chasing for more than ten years. Implicated in the deaths of two special agents of the Bureau and a United States Marshal, John Russell (a/k/a Matt Murphy, a/k/a Richard Burton, a/k/a Red Bear) had disappeared into the warm embrace of something called The Warrior Society of the Sioux Nation. There was little of the warrior about John Russell. Born in Minnesota far from the Sioux reservation, he'd been a petty felon whose one major conviction had landed him in prison. It was there that he had discovered his ethnicity and begun thinking like his perverted image of a Native American — which to Paulson's way of thinking had more of Mikhail Bakunin in it than of Cochise or Toohoolhoolzote. Joining another prison-born group called the American Indian Movement, Russell had been involved in a half-dozen nihilistic acts, ending with the deaths of three federal officers, then vanished. But sooner or later they all screwed up, and today was John Russell's turn. Taking its chance to raise money by running drugs into Canada, the Warrior Society had made its mistake, and allowed its plans to be overheard by a federal informant.

They were in the ghostly remains of a farming town six miles from the Canadian border. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team, as usual without any hostages to rescue, was acting its role as the Bureau's premier SWAT team. The ten men deployed on the mission under squad supervisor Dennis Black were under the administrative control of the Special Agent in Charge of the local field office. That was where the Bureau's customary professionalism had come to a screeching halt. The local S-A-C had set up an elaborate ambush plan that had started badly and nearly ended in disaster, with three agents already in hospitals from the auto wrecks and two more with serious gunshot wounds. In return, one subject was known dead, and maybe another was wounded, but no one was sure at the moment. The rest — three or four, they were not sure of that either — were holed up in what had once been a motel. What they knew for sure was that either the motel had a still-working phone or, more likely, the subjects had a cellular “brick” and had called the media. What was happening now was of such magnificent confusion as to earn the admiration of Phineas T. Barnum. The local S-A-C was trying to salvage what remained of his professional reputation by using the media to his advantage. What he hadn't figured out yet was that handling network teams dispatched from as far away as Denver and Chicago wasn't quite the same thing as dealing with the local reporters fresh from journalism school. It was very hard to call the shots with the pros.

“Bill Shaw is going to have this guy's balls for brunch tomorrow,” Leary observed quietly.

“That does us a whole lot of good,” Paulson replied. A snort. “Besides, what balls?”

“What you got?” Black asked over the secure radio circuit.

“Movement, but no ID,” Leary replied. “Bad light. These guys may be dumb, but they're not crazy.”

“The subjects have asked for a TV reporter to come in with a camera, and the S-A-C has agreed.”

“Dennis, have you—” Paulson nearly came off the scope at that.

“Yes, I have,” Black replied. “He says he's in command.” The Bureau's negotiator, a psychiatrist with hard-won expertise in these affairs, was still two hours away, and the S-A-C wanted something for the evening news. Black wanted to throttle the man, but he couldn't, of course.

“Can't arrest the guy for incompetence,” Leary said, his hand over the microphone. Well, the only thing these bastards don't have is a hostage. So, why not give 'em one! That'll give the negotiator something to do.

“Talk to me, Dennis,” Paulson said next.

“Rules of Engagement are in force, on my authority,” Supervisory Special Agent Black said. The reporter is a female, twenty-eight, blonde and blue, about five-six. Cameraman is a black guy, dark complexion, six-three. I told him where to walk. He's got brains, and he's playing ball."

“Roger that, Dennis.”

“How long you been on the gun, Paulson?” Black asked next. The book said that a sniper could not stay fully alert on the gun for more than thirty minutes, at which point the observer and sniper exchanged positions. Dennis Black figured that someone had to play by the book.

“About fifteen minutes, Dennis. I'm okay… okay, I got the newsies.”

They were very close, a mere hundred fifteen yards from the front door of the block building. The light was not good. The sun would set in another ninety minutes. It had been a blustery day. A hot south-westerly wind was ripping across the prairie. Dust stung the eyes. Worse, the wind was hitting over forty knots and was directly across his line of sight. That sort of wind could screw up his aim by as much as four inches.

“Team is standing by,” Black advised. “We just got Compromise Authority.”

“Well, at least he isn't a total asshole,” Leary replied over the radio. He was too angry to care if the S-A-C heard that or not. More likely, the dumbass had just choked again.

Both sniper and observer wore ghillie suits. It had taken them two hours to get into position, but they were effectively invisible, their shaggy camouflage blending them in with the scrubby trees and prairie grass here. Leary watched the newsies approach. The girl was pretty, he thought, though her hair and makeup had to be suffering from the dry, harsh wind. The man on the camera looked like he could have played guard for the Vikings, maybe tough and fast enough to clear the way for that sensational new halfback, Tony Wills. Leary shook it off.

“The cameraman has a vest on. Girl doesn't.” You stupid bitch, Leary thought. I know Dennis told you what these bastards were all about.

“Dennis said he was smart.” Paulson trained the rifle on the building. “Movement at the door!”

“Let's everyone try to be smart,” Leary murmured.

“Subject One in sight,” Paulson announced. “Russell's coming out. Sniper One is on target.”

“Got him,” three voices replied at once.

John Russell was an enormous man. Six-five, over two-hundred-fifty pounds of what had once been athletic but was now a frame running to fat and dissolution. He wore jeans, but was bare-chested with a headband securing his long black hair in place. His chest bore tattoos, some professionally done, but more of the prison spit-and-pencil variety. He was the sort of man police preferred to meet with gun in hand. He moved with the lazy arrogance that announced his willingness to depart from the rules.

“Subject One is carrying a large, blue-steel revolver,” Leary told the rest of the team. Looks like an N-Frame Smith… “I, uh — Dennis, there's something odd about him…”

“What is it?” Black asked immediately.

“Mike's right,” Paulson said next, examining the face through his scope. There was a wildness to his eyes. “He's on something, Dennis, he's doped up. Call those newsies back!” But it was too late for that.

Paulson kept the sight on Russell's head. Russell wasn't a person now. He was a subject, a target. The team was now acting under the Compromise Authority rule. At least the S-A-C had done that right. It meant that if something went badly wrong, the HRT was free to take whatever action its leader deemed appropriate. Further, Paulson's special Sniper Rules of Engagement were explicit. If the subject appeared to threaten any agent or civilian with deadly force, then his right index finger would apply four pounds, three ounces of pressure to the precision-set trigger of the rifle in his grasp.

“Let's everybody be real cool, for Christ's sake,” the sniper breathed. His Unertl telescopic sight had crosshairs and stadia marks. Automatically Paulson reestimated the range, then settled down while his brain tried to keep track of the gusting wind. The sight reticle was locked on Russell's head, right on the ear, which made a fine point of aim.

It was horridly comical to watch. The reporter smiling, moving the microphone back and forth. The burly cameraman aiming his minicam with its powerful single light running off the battery pack around the black man's waist. Russell was speaking forcefully, but neither Leary nor Paulson could hear a word he was saying against the wind. The look on his face was angry from the beginning, and did not improve. Soon his left hand balled into a fist, and his fingers started flexing around the grips of the revolver in his right. The wind buffeted the silk blouse close around the reporter's braless chest. Leary remembered that Russell had a reputation as a sexual athlete, supposedly on the brutal side. But there was a strange vacancy to his face. His expression went from emotionless to passionate in what had to be a chemically-induced whipsaw state that only added to the stress of being trapped by FBI agents. He calmed suddenly, but it wasn't a normal calm.

That asshole S-A-C, Leary swore at himself. We ought to just back off and wait them out. The situation is stabilized. They're not going anywhere. We could negotiate by phone and just wait them out…


Russell's free hand grabbed the reporter's upper right arm. She tried to draw back, but possessed only a fraction of the strength required to do so. The cameraman moved. One hand came off the Sony. He was a big, strong man, and might have pulled it off, but his move only provoked Russell. The subject's gun hand moved.

“On target on target on target!” Paulson said urgently. Stop, you asshole, STOP NOW! He couldn't let the gun come up very far. His brain was racing, evaluating the situation. A large-frame Smith & Wesson, maybe a.44. It made big, bloody wounds. Maybe the subject was just punctuating his words, but Paulson didn't know or care what those words were. He was probably telling the black guy on the camera to stop; the gun seemed to be pointing more that way than at the girl, but the gun was still coming up and—

The crack of the rifle stopped time like a photograph. Paulson's finger had moved, seemingly of its own accord, but training had simply taken over. The rifle surged back in recoil, and the sniper's hand was already moving to work the bolt and load another round. The wind had chosen a bad moment to gust, throwing Paulson's aim off ever so slightly to the right. Instead of drilling through the center of Russell's head, the bullet struck well forward of the ear. On hitting bone, it fragmented. The subject's face was ripped explosively from the skull. Nose, eyes, and forehead vanished into a wet red mist. Only the mouth remained, and that was open and screaming, as blood vented from Russell's head as though from a clogged showerhead. Dying, but not dead, Russell jerked one round off at the cameraman before falling forward against the reporter. Then the cameraman was down, and the reporter was just standing there, not having had enough time even to be shocked by the blood and tissue on her clothing and face. Russell's hands clawed briefly at a face no longer there, then went still. Paulson's radio headset screamed “GO GO GO!” but he scarcely took note of it. He drove the second round into the chamber, and spotted a face in a window of the building. He recognized it from photographs. It was a subject, a bad guy. And there was a weapon there, looked like an old Winchester lever-action. It started moving. Paulson's second shot was better than the first, straight into the forehead of Subject Two, someone named William Ames.

Time started again. The HRT members raced in, dressed in their black Nomex coveralls and body armor. Two dragged the reporter away. Two more did the same with the cameraman, whose Sony was clasped securely to his chest. Another tossed an explosive flash-bang grenade through the broken window while Dennis Black and the remaining three team members dove through the open door. There were no other shots. Fifteen seconds later, the radio crackled again.

This is Team Leader. Building search complete. Two subjects down and dead. Subject Two is William Ames. Subject Three is Ernest Thorn, looks like he's been dead for a while from two in the chest. Subjects' weapons are neutralized. Site is secure. Repeat, site secure."

“Jesus!” It was Leary's first shooting involvement after ten years in the Bureau. Paulson got up to his knees, after clearing his weapon, folded the rifle's bipod legs, then trotted towards the building. The local S-A-C beat him there, service automatic in hand, standing over the prone body of John Russell. It was just as well that the front of Russell's head was hidden. Every drop of blood he'd once had was now on the cracked cement sidewalk.

“Nice job!” the S-A-C told everyone. That was his last mistake in a day replete with them.

“You ignorant, shit-faced asshole!” Paulson pushed him against the painted block walls. “These people are dead because of you!” Leary jumped between them, pushing Paulson away from the surprised senior agent. Dennis Black appeared next, his face blank.

“Clean up your mess,” he said, leading his men away before something else happened. “How's that newsie?”

The cameraman was lying on his back, the Sony at his eyes. The reporter was on her knees, vomiting. She had good cause. An agent had already wiped her face, but her expensive blouse was a red obscenity that would occupy her nightmares for weeks to come.

“You okay?” Dennis asked. Turn that goddamned thing off!"

He set the camera down, switching off the light. The cameraman shook his head and felt at a spot just below the ribs. “Thanks for the advice, brother. Gotta send a letter to the people that make this vest. I really—” And his voice stopped. Finally the realization of what had happened took hold, and the shock started. “Oh God, oh, sweet merciful Jesus!”

Paulson walked to the Chevy Carryall and locked his rifle in the rigid guncase. Leary and one other agent stayed with him, telling him that he had done exactly the right thing. They'd do that until Paulson got over his stress period. It wasn't the sniper's first kill, but while they had all been different incidents, they were all the same, all things to be regretted. The aftermath to a real shooting does not include a commercial.

The reporter suffered the normal post-traumatic hysteria. She ripped off her blood-soaked blouse, forgetting that there was nothing under it. An agent wrapped a blanket around her and helped to steady her down. More news crews were converging on the scene, most heading towards the building. Dennis Black got his people together to clear their weapons and help with the two civilians. The reporter recovered in a few minutes. She asked if it had really been necessary, then learned that her cameraman had taken a shot that had been stopped by the Second Chance vest the Bureau had recommended to both of them, but which she had rejected. She next entered the elation phase, just as happy as she could be that she could still breathe. Soon the shock would return, but she was a bright journalist, despite her youth and inexperience, and had already learned something important. Next time, she'd listen when someone gave her good advice; the nightmares would merely punctuate the importance of the lesson. Within thirty minutes, she was standing up without assistance, wearing her back-up outfit, giving a level if brittle account of what had happened. But it was the tape footage that would impress the people at Black Rock, headquarters of CBS. The cameraman would get a personal letter from the head of the News Division. The footage had everything: drama, death, a courageous (and attractive) reporter, and would run as the lead piece for the evening news broadcast for this otherwise slow news day, to be repeated by all the network morning shows the next day. In each case the anchor would solemnly warn people that what they were about to see might disturb the sensitive — just to make sure that everyone understood that something especially juicy was about to screen. Since everyone had more than one chance to view the event, quite a few had their tape machines turning the second time around. One of them was the head of the Warrior Society. His name was Marvin Russell.

It had started innocently enough. His stomach was unsettled when he awoke. The morning jogs became a little more tiresome. He didn't feel quite himself. You're over thirty, he told himself. You're not a boy anymore. Besides, he'd always been vigorous. Maybe it was just a cold, a virus, the lingering effects of bad water, some stomach bug. He'd just work his way out of it. He added weight to his pack, took to carrying a loaded magazine in his rifle. He'd gotten lazy, that's all. That was easily remedied. He was nothing if not a determined man.

For a month or so, it worked. Sure, he was even more tired, but that was to be expected with the extra five kilos of weight he carried. He welcomed the additional fatigue as evidence of his warrior's virtue, went back to simpler foods, forced himself to adopt better sleep habits. It helped. The muscle aches were no different from the time he'd entered this demanding life, and he slept the dreamless sleep of the just. What had been tough became tougher still as his focused mind gave its orders to a recalcitrant body. Could he not defeat some invisible microbe? Had he not bested far larger and more formidable organisms? The thought was less a challenge than a petty amusement. As with most determined men, his competition was entirely within himself, the body resisting what the mind commanded.

But it never quite went away. Though his body became leaner and harder, the aches and the nausea persisted. He became annoyed with it, and the annoyance first surfaced in jokes. When his senior colleagues took note of his discomfort, he called it morning sickness, evoking gales of rough laughter. He bore the discomfort for another month, then found that it was necessary to lighten his load to maintain his place in front with the leaders. For the first time in his life, faint doubts appeared like wispy clouds in the clear sky of his determined self-image. It was no longer an amusement.

He stuck with it for still another month, never slacking in his routine except for the additional hour of sleep that he imposed on his otherwise tireless regimen. Despite this, his condition worsened — well, not exactly worsened, but did not improve a bit. Maybe it was merely the increasing years, he finally admitted to himself. He was, after all, only a man, however hard he worked to perfect his form. There was no disgrace in that, determined though he might have been to prevent it.

Finally, he started grumbling about it. His comrades were understanding. All of them were younger than he, many having served their leader for five years or more. They revered him for his toughness, and if the toughness showed a few hairline cracks, what did it mean except that he was human after all, and all the more admirable because of it? One or two suggested home remedies, but finally a close friend and comrade told him that he was foolish indeed not to see one of the local doctors — his sister's husband was a good one, a graduate of British medical schools. Determined as he was to avoid this abnegation of his person, it was time to take what he knew to be good advice.

The doctor was as good as advertised. Sitting behind his desk in a starched white laboratory coat, he took a complete medical history, then performed a preliminary examination. There was nothing overtly wrong. He talked about stress — something his patient needed no lectures about — and pointed out that over the years stress claimed an increasingly heavy forfeit on those who bore it. He talked about good eating habits, how exercise could be overdone, how rest was important. He decided that the problem was a combination of various small things, including what was probably a small but annoying intestinal disorder, and prescribed a drug to ameliorate it. The doctor concluded his lecture with a soliloquy about patients who were too proud to do what was good for them, and how foolish they were. The patient nodded approvingly, according the physician deserved respect. He'd given not dissimilar lectures to his own subordinates, and was as determined as always to do things in exactly the right way.

The medication worked for a week or so. His stomach almost returned to normal. Certainly it improved, but he noted with annoyance that it wasn't quite the same as before. Or was it? It was, he admitted to himself, hard to remember such trivial things as how one felt on awakening. The mind, after all, concerned itself with the great ideas, like mission and purpose, and left the body to attend its own needs and leave the mind alone. The mind wasn't supposed to be bothered. The mind gave orders and expected them to be followed. It didn't need distractions like this. How could purpose exist with distractions? He'd determined his life's purpose long years before.

But it simply would not go away, and finally he had to return to the physician. A more careful examination was undertaken. He allowed his body to be poked and prodded, to have his blood drawn by a needle instead of the more violent instruments for which he had prepared himself. Maybe it was something almost serious, the physician told him, a low-order systemic infection, for example. There were drugs to treat that. Malaria, once pandemic to the region for example, had similar but more serious debilitating effects, as did any number of maladies which had once been serious but were now easily defeated by the forces available to modern medicine. The tests would show what was wrong, and the doctor was determined to fix it. He knew of his patient's purpose in life, and shared it from a safer and more distant perspective.

He returned to the doctor's office two days later. Immediately, he knew that something was wrong. He'd seen the same look often enough on the face of his intelligence officer. Something unexpected. Something to interfere with plans. The doctor began speaking slowly, searching for words, trying to find a way to make the message easier, but the patient would have none of that. He had chosen to live a dangerous life, and demanded the information as directly as he would have given it. The physician nodded respectfully, and replied in kind. The man took the news dispassionately. He was accustomed to disappointments of many kinds. He knew what lay at the end of every life, and had many times helped to deliver it to others. So. Now it lay in his path also, to be avoided if possible but there nonetheless, perhaps near, perhaps not. He asked what could be done, and the news was less bad than he had expected. The doctor did not insult him with words of comfort, but read his patient's mind and explained the facts of the matter. There were things to be done. They might succeed. They might not. Time would tell. His physical strength would help a great deal, as would his iron determination. A proper state of mind, the physician told him, was highly important. The patient almost smiled at that, but stopped himself. Better to show the courage of a stoic than the hope of a fool. And what was death, after all? Had he not lived a life dedicated to justice? To the will of God? Had he not sacrificed his life to a great and worthy purpose?

But that was the rub. He was not a man who planned on failure. He had selected a goal for his life, and years before determined to reach it, regardless of cost to himself or others. On that altar he had sacrificed everything he might have been, the dreams of his dead parents, the education which they had hoped he would use for the betterment of himself and others, a normal, comfortable life with a woman who might bear him sons — all of that he had rejected in favor of a path of toil, danger, and utter determination to reach that single, shining goal.

And now? Was it all for nothing? Was his life to end without meaning? Would he never see the day for which he had lived? Was God that cruel? All these thoughts paraded through his consciousness while his face remained neutral, his eyes guarded as always. No. He would not let that be. God could not have deserted him. He would see the day — or at least see it grow closer. His life would have meaning after all. It had not been all for nothing, nor would what future he might yet have be for nothing. On that, too, he was determined.

Ismael Qati would follow his doctor's orders, do what must be done to extend his time, and perhaps defeat this internal enemy, as insidious and contemptible as those outside. In the meantime, he would redouble his efforts, push himself to the limits of physical endurance, ask his God for guidance, look for a sign of His will. As he had fought his other enemies, so would he fight this one, with courage and total dedication. He'd never known mercy in his life, after all, and he would not start showing it now. If he had to face death, the deaths of others paled even further than usual. But he would not lash out blindly. He would do what he had to do. He would carry on as before, waiting for the chance that his faith told him must lie somewhere beyond his sight, between himself and the end of his path. His determination had always been directed by intelligence. It was that which explained his effectiveness.


The letter from Georgetown arrived in a Roman office, scarce minutes after transmission, where, as with any bureaucracy, the night clerk (what intelligence agencies call a watch officer) simply dropped it on the proper desk and went back to his studies for an exam on the metaphysical discourse of Aquinas. A young Jesuit priest named Hermann Schörner, private secretary to Francisco Alcalde, Father General of the Society of Jesus, arrived the next morning promptly at seven and began sorting the overnight mail. The fax from America was third from the top, and stopped the young cleric in his tracks. Cipher traffic was a routine part of his job, but was not all that common. The code prefix at the top of the communication indicated the originator and the priority. Father Schörner hurried through the rest of the mail and went immediately to work.

The procedure was an exact inversion of what Father Riley had done, except that Schörner's typing skills were excellent. He used an optical scanner to transcribe the text into a personal computer and punched up the decryption program. Irregularities on the facsimile copy caused some garbles, but that was easily fixed, and the clear-text copy — still in Attic Greek, of course — slid out of the ink-jet printer. It had required merely twenty minutes, as opposed to Riley's three laborious hours. The young priest prepared morning coffee for himself and his boss, then read the letter with his second cup of the day. How extraordinary, Schörner reflected.

Reverend Francisco Alcalde was an elderly but uncommonly vigorous man. At sixty-six, he still played a fair game of tennis, and was known to ski with the Holy Father. A gaunt, wiry six-four, his thick mane of gray hair was brush-cut over deep-set owlish eyes. Alcalde was a man with solid intellectual credentials. The master of eleven languages, had he not been a priest he might have become the foremost medieval historian in Europe. But he was, before all things, a priest whose administrative duties chafed against his desire for both teaching and pastoral ministry. In a few years, he would leave his post as Father General of Roman Catholicism's largest and most powerful order, and find himself again as a university instructor, illuminating young minds, and leaving campus to celebrate mass in a small working-class parish where he could concern himself with ordinary human needs. That, he thought, would be the final blessing of a life cluttered with so many of them. Not a perfect man, he frequently wrestled with the pride that attended his intellect, trying and not always succeeding to cultivate the humility necessary to his vocation. Well, he sighed, perfection was a goal never to be reached, and he smiled at the humor of it.

“Guten Morgen, Hermann!” he said, sweeping through the door.

“Buongiorno,” the German priest replied, then lapsed into Greek. “Something interesting this morning.”

The busy eyebrows twitched at the message, and he jerked his head towards the inner office. Schörner followed with the coffee.

“The tennis court is reserved for four o'clock,” Schörner said, as he poured his boss's cup.

“So you can humiliate me yet again?” It was occasionally joked that Schörner could turn professional, contributing his winnings to the Society, whose members were required to take a vow of poverty. “So, what is the message?”

“From Timothy Riley in Washington.” Schörner handed it over.

Alcalde donned his reading glasses and read slowly. He left his coffee untouched and, on finishing the message, read through it again. Scholarship was his life, and Alcalde rarely spoke about something without reflection.

“Remarkable. I've heard of this Ryan fellow before… isn't he in intelligence?”

“Deputy Director of the American CIA. We educated him. Boston College and Georgetown. He's principally a bureaucrat, but he's been involved in several operations in the field. We don't know all of the details, but it would appear that none were improper. We have a small dossier on him. Father Riley speaks very highly of Dr. Ryan.”

“So I see.” Alcalde pondered that for a moment. He and Riley had been friends for thirty years. “He thinks this proposal may be genuine. And you, Hermann?”

“Potentially, it is a gift from God.” The comment was delivered without irony.

“Indeed. But an urgent one. What of the American President?”

“I would guess that he has not yet been briefed, but soon will be. As to his character?” Schörner shrugged. “He could be a better man.”

“Who of us could not?” Alcalde said, staring at the wall.

“Yes, Father.”

“How is my calendar for today?” Schörner ran over the list from memory. “Very well… call Cardinal D'Antonio and tell him that I have something of importance. Fiddle the schedule as best you can. This is something that calls for immediate attention. Call Timothy, thank him for his message, and tell him that I am working on it.”

Ryan awoke reluctantly at five-thirty. The sun was an orange-pink glow that back-lit the trees, ten miles away on Maryland 's eastern shore. His first considered course of action was to draw the shades. Cathy didn't have to go into Hopkins today, though it took him half the walk to the bathroom to remember why. His next action was to take two extra-strength Tylenol. He'd had too much to drink the previous night, and that, he reminded himself, was three days in a row. But what was the alternative? Sleep came increasingly hard to him, despite work hours that grew longer and fatigue that—

“Damn,” he said, squinting at himself in the mirror. He looked terrible. He padded his way into the kitchen for coffee. Everything was better after coffee. His stomach contracted itself into a tight, resentful ball on seeing the wine bottles still sitting on the countertop. A bottle and a half, he reminded himself. Not two. He hadn't drunk two full bottles. One had already been opened. It wasn't that bad. Ryan flipped the switch for the coffee machine and headed for the garage. There he climbed into the station wagon and drove to the gate to get his paper. Not all that long ago he'd walked out to get it, but, hell, he told himself, he wasn't dressed. That was the reason. The car radio was set to an all-news station, and he got his first exposure to what the world was doing. The ball scores. The Orioles had lost again. Damn, and he was supposed to take little Jack to a game. He'd promised after the last Little League game he'd missed. And when, he asked himself, are you going to do that, next April? Damn.

Well, the whole season, practically, was ahead. School wasn't even out yet. He'd get to it. Sure. Ryan tossed the morning Post on the car seat and drove back to the house. The coffee was ready. First good news of the day. Ryan poured himself a mug and decided against breakfast. Again. That was bad, a part of his mind warned him. His stomach was in bad enough shape already, and two mugs of straight-dripped coffee would not help. He forced his mind into the paper to stifle that voice.

It is not often appreciated how much intelligence services depend on the news media for their information. Part of it was functional. They were in much the same business, and the intelligence services didn't have the brain market cornered. More to the point, Ryan reflected, the newsies didn't pay people for information. Their confidential sources were driven either by conscience or anger to leak whatever information they let out, and that made for the best sort of information; any intelligence officer could tell you that. Nothing like anger or principle to get a person to leak all sorts of juicy stuff. Finally, though the media was replete with lazy people, quite a few smart ones were drawn by the better money that went with news-gathering. Ryan had learned which by-lines to read slowly and carefully. And he noted the datelines, as well. As Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, he knew which department heads were strong and which were weak. The Post gave him better information, for example, than the German desk. The Middle East was still quiet. The Iraq business was finally settling out. The new arrangement over there was taking shape, at long last. Now, if we could just do something about the Israeli side…. It would be nice, he thought, to set that whole area to rest. And Ryan believed it possible. The East-West confrontation which had predated his birth was now a thing of history, and who would have believed that? Ryan refilled his mug without looking, something that even a hangover allowed him to do. And all in just a brief span of years — less time, in fact, than he had spent in the Agency. Damn. Who would have believed it?

Now, that was so amazing that Ryan wondered how long people would be writing books about it. Generations, at least. The next week, a KGB representative was coming into Langley to seek advice on parliamentary oversight. Ryan had counseled against letting him in — and the trip was being handled with the utmost secrecy — because the Agency still had Russians working for it, and the knowledge that KGB and CIA had instituted official contacts on anything would terrify them (equally true, Ryan admitted to himself, of Americans still in the employ of KGB… probably). It was an old friend coming over, Sergey Golovko. Friend, Ryan snorted, turning to the sports page. The problem with the morning paper was that it never had the results of last night's game…

Jack's return to the bathroom was more civilized. He was awake now, though his stomach was even less happy with the world. Two antacid tablets helped that. And the Tylenol were working. He'd reinforce that with two more at work. By six-fifteen he was washed, shaved, and dressed. He kissed his still-sleeping wife on the way out — was rewarded by a vague hmmm — and opened the front door in time to see the car pulling up the driveway. It troubled Ryan vaguely that his driver had to awaken far earlier than he to get here on time. It bothered him a little more who his driver was.

“Morning, Doc,” John Clark said with a gruff smile. Ryan slid into the front seat. There was more leg room, and he thought it would insult the man to sit in back.

“Hi, John,” Jack replied.

Tied it on again last night, eh, doc! Clark thought. Damned fool. For someone as smart as you are, how can you be so dumb? Not getting the jogging in either, are you? he wondered, on seeing how tight the DDCI's belt looked. Well, he'd just have to learn, as Clark had learned, that late nights and too much booze were for dumb kids. John Clark had turned into a paragon of healthy virtue before reaching Ryan's age. He figured that it had saved his life at least once.

“Quiet night,” Clark said next, heading out the driveway.

“That's nice.” Ryan picked up the dispatch box and dialed in the code. He waited until the light flashed green before opening it. Clark was right, there wasn't much to be looked at. By the time they were halfway to Washington, he'd read everything and made a few notes.

“Going to see Carol and the kids tonight?” Clark asked as they passed over Maryland Route 3.

“Yeah, it is tonight, isn't it?”


It was a regular once-a-week routine. Carol Zimmer was the Laotian widow of Air Force sergeant Buck Zimmer, and Ryan had promised to take care of the family after Buck's death. Few people knew of it — fewer people knew of the mission on which Buck had died — but it gave Ryan great satisfaction. Carol now owned a 7-Eleven between Washington and Annapolis. It gave her family a steady and respectable income when added to her husband's pension, and, with the educational trust fund that Ryan had established, guaranteed that each of the eight would have a college degree when the time came — as it had already come for the eldest son. It would be a long haul to finish that up. The youngest was still in diapers.

“Those punks ever come back?” Jack asked.

Clark just turned and grinned. For several months after Carol took the business over, some local toughs had taken to hanging out at the store. They had objected to a Laotian woman and her mixed-race kids owning a business in the semi-rural area. Finally she had mentioned it to Clark. John had given them one warning, which they had been too dense to heed. Perhaps they'd mistaken him for an off-duty police officer, someone not to be taken too seriously. John and his Spanish-speaking friend had set things right, and after the gang leader had gotten out of the hospital, the punks had never come near the place. The local cops had been very understanding, and business had taken an immediate twenty-percent increase. I wonder if that guy's knee ever came all the way back? Clark wondered with a wistful smile. Maybe now he'll take up an honest trade…

“How are the kids doing?”

“You know, it's kinda hard to get used to the idea of having one in college, doc. A little tough on Sandy, too… doc?”

“Yeah, John?”

“Pardon my saying so, but you look a little rocky. You want to back it off a little.”

“That's what Cathy says.” It occurred to Jack to tell Clark to mind his own business, but you didn't say that sort of thing to a man like Clark, and besides, he was a friend. And besides that, he was correct.

“Docs are usually right,” John pointed out.

“I know. It's just a little — a little stressful at the office. Got some stuff happening, and—”

“Exercise beats the hell out of booze, man. You're one of the smartest guys I know. Act smart. End of advice.” Clark shrugged, and returned his attention to the morning traffic.

“You know, John, if you had decided to become a doc, you would have been very effective,” Jack replied with a chuckle.

“How so?”

“With a bedside manner like yours, people would be afraid not to do what you said.”

“I am the most even-tempered man I know,” Clark protested.

“Right, no one's ever lived long enough for you to get really mad. They're dead by the time you're mildly annoyed.”

And that was why Clark was Ryan's driver. Jack had engineered his transfer out of the Directorate of Operations to become a Security and Protective Officer. DCI Cabot had eliminated fully twenty percent of the field force, and people with paramilitary experience had been first on the block. Clark 's expertise was too valuable to lose, and Ryan had bent two rules and outright evaded a third to accomplish this much, aided and abetted by Nancy Cummings and a friend in the Admin Directorate. Besides, Jack felt very safe around this man, and he was able to train the new kids in the SPO unit. He was even a superb driver, and as usual, he got Ryan into the basement garage right on time.

The Agency Buick slid into its spot, and Ryan got out, fiddling with his keys. The one for the executive elevator was on the end, and two minutes later, he arrived at the seventh floor, walking from the corridor to his office. The DDCI's office adjoins the long, narrow suite accorded the DCI, who was not at work yet. A small, surprisingly modest place for the number-two man in the country's premier intelligence service, it overlooked the visitor-parking lot, beyond which was the thick stand of pines that separated the Agency compound from the George Washington Parkway and the Potomac River valley beyond. Ryan had kept Nancy Cummings from his previous and brief stint as Deputy Director (Intelligence). Clark took his seat in that office, going over dispatches that pertained to his duties, in preparation for the morning SPO conference — they concerned themselves with which terrorist group was making noise at the moment. No serious attempt had ever been made on a senior Agency executive, but history was not their institutional concern. The future was, and even CIA didn't have a particularly bright record for predicting that.

Ryan found his desk neatly piled with material too sensitive for the car's dispatch case, and prepped himself for the morning department-head meeting, which he co-chaired with the DCI. There was a drip-coffee machine in his office. Next to it was a clean but never-used mug that had once belonged to the man who'd brought him into the Agency, Vice Admiral James Greer. Nancy took care of that, and Ryan never began a day at Langley without thinking of his dead boss. So. He rubbed his hands across his face and eyes, and went to work. What new and interesting things did the world hold in store this day?

The logger, like most of his trade, was a big, powerful man. Six-four, and two hundred twenty pounds of former all-state defensive end, he'd joined the Marines instead of going to college — could have, he thought, could have taken the scholarship to Oklahoma or Pitt, but he'd decided against it. And he knew that he would never have wanted to leave Oregon for good. A college degree would have meant that. Maybe play pro ball, and then — turn into a “suit”? No. Since childhood he'd loved the outdoor life. He made a good living, raised his family in a friendly small town, lived a rough, healthy life, and was the best damned man in the company for dropping a tree straight and soft. He drew the special ones.

He yanked the string on the big, two-man chainsaw. On a silent command, his helper took his end off the ground as the logger did the same. The tree had already been notched with a double-headed axe. They worked the saw in slowly and carefully. The logger kept one eye on the chainsaw while the other watched the tree. There was an art to doing this just right. It was a point of honor with him that he didn't waste an inch of wood he didn't have to. Not like the guys down at the mill, though they'd told him that the mill wouldn't touch this baby. They pulled the saw after completing the first cut, and started the second without pausing for breath. This time it took four minutes. The logger was tensely alert now. He felt a puff of wind on his face and paused to make sure it was blowing the way he wanted. A tree, no matter how large, was a plaything for a stiff wind — especially when nearly cut in half…

It was swaying at the top now… almost time. He backed the saw off and waved to his helper. Watch my eyes, watch my hands! The kid nodded seriously. About another foot would do it, the logger knew. They completed it very slowly. It abused the chain, but this was the dangerous part. Safety guys were monitoring the wind, and… now!

The logger brought the saw out and dropped it. The helper took the cue and backed off ten yards as his boss did the same. Both watched the base of the tree. If it kicked, that would tell them of the danger.

But it didn't. As always, it seemed so agonizingly slow. This was the part the Sierra Club liked to film, and the logger understood why. So slow, so agonizing, like the tree knew it was dying, and was trying not to, and losing, and the groan of the wood was a moan of despair. Well, yes, he thought, it did seem like that, but it was only a goddamned tree. The cut widened as he watched and the tree fell. The top was moving very fast now, but the danger was at the bottom, and that's what he continued to watch. As the trunk passed through the forty-five-degree mark, the wood parted completely. The body of the tree kicked then, moving over the stump about four feet, like the death rattle of a man. Then the noise. The immense swish of the top branches ripping through the air. He wondered quickly how fast the top was moving. Speed of sound, maybe? No, not that fast… and then — WHUMP! The tree actually bounced, but softly, when it hit the wet ground. Then it lay still. It was lumber now. That was always a little sad. It had been a pretty tree.

The Japanese official came over next, the logger was surprised to see. He touched the tree and murmured something that must have been a prayer. That amazed him, it seemed like something an Indian would do — interesting, the logger thought. He didn't know that Shinto was an animistic religion with many similarities to those of Native Americans. Talking to the spirit of the tree? Hmph. Next he came to the logger.

“You have great skill,” the little Japanese said with an exquisitely polite bow.

“Thank you, sir.” The logger nodded his head. It was the first Japanese he'd ever met. Seemed like a nice enough guy. And saying a prayer to the tree… that had class, the logger thought on reflection.

“A great pity to kill something so magnificent.”

“Yeah, I guess it is. Is it true that you will put this in a church, like?”

“Oh, yes. We no longer have trees like this, and we need four huge beams. Twenty meters each. This one tree will do all of them, I hope,” the man said, looking back at the fallen giant. “They must all come from a single tree. It is the tradition of the temple, you see.”

“Ought to,” the logger judged. “How old's the temple?”

“One thousand two hundred years. The old beams — they were damaged in the earthquake two years ago, and must be replaced very soon. With luck, these should last as long. I hope they will. It is a fine tree.”

Under the supervision of the Japanese official, the fallen tree was cut into manageable segments — they weren't all that manageable. Quite a bit of special equipment had to be assembled to get this monster out, and Georgia-Pacific was charging a huge amount of money for the job. But that was not a problem. The Japanese, having selected the tree, paid without blinking. The representative even apologized for the fact that he didn't want the GP mill to work the tree. It was a religious thing, he explained slowly and clearly, and no insult to the American workers was intended. The senior GP executive nodded. That was okay with him. It was their tree now. They'd let it season for a little while before loading it on an American-flag timber carrier for the trip across the Pacific, where the log would be worked with skill and due religious ceremony — by hand, the GP man was amazed to hear — for its new and special purpose. That it would never reach Japan was something that, none of them knew.

The term trouble-shooter was particularly awkward for a law-enforcement official, Murray thought. Of course, as he leaned back in the leather chair, he could feel the 10mm Smith & Wesson automatic clipped to his waistband. He ought to have left it in his desk drawer, but he liked the feel of the beast. A revolver man for most of his career, he'd quickly come to love the compact power of the Smith. And Bill understood. For the first time in recent memory, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was a career cop who'd started his career on the street, busting bad guys. In fact, Murray and Shaw had started off in the same field division. Bill was slightly more skilled at the administrative side, but no one mistook him for a headquarters weenie. Shaw had first gotten high-level attention by staring down two armed bank robbers before the cavalry'd had time to arrive. He'd never fired his weapon in anger, of course — only a tiny percentage of FBI agents ever did — but he'd convinced those two hoods that he could drop both of them. There was steel under the gentlemanly velvet, and one hell of a brain. Which was why Dan Murray, a deputy assistant director, didn't mind working as Shaw's personal problem-solver.

“What the hell do we do with this guy?” Shaw asked, with quiet disgust.

Murray had just finished his report on the Warrior Case. Dan sipped at his coffee and shrugged.

“Bill, the man is a genius with corruption cases — best we've ever had. He just doesn't know dick about the muscle end of the business. He got out of his depth with this one. Luckily enough, no permanent damage was done.” And Murray was right. The newsies had treated the Bureau surprisingly well for saving the life of their reporter. What was truly amazing was the fact that the newsies had never quite understood that the reporter had had no place in that particular arena. As a result, they were grateful to the local S-A-C for letting the news team on the scene, and grateful to the Hostage Rescue Team for saving both of them when things had taken a dangerous turn. It wasn't the first time the Bureau had reaped a PR bonanza from a near-catastrophe. The FBI was more jealous of its public relations than any government agency, and Shaw's problem was simply that to fire S-A-C Walt Hoskins would look bad. Murray pressed on. “He's learned his lesson. Walt isn't stupid, Bill.”

“And bagging the governor last year was some coup, wasn't it?” Shaw grimaced. Hoskins was a genius at political corruption cases. A state governor was now contemplating life in a federal prison because of him. That was how Hoskins had become a Special-Agent-in-Charge in the first place. “You have something in mind, Dan?”

“ASAC Denver,” Murray replied with a mischievous twinkle. “It's elegant. He goes from a little field office to head of corruption cases in a major field division. It's a promotion that takes him out of command and puts him back in what he's best at — and if the rumbles we're getting out of Denver are right, he'll have lots of work to do. Like maybe a senator and a congresswoman — maybe more. The preliminary indications on the water project look big. I mean real big, Bill: like twenty million bucks changing hands.”

Shaw whistled respectfully at that. “All that for one senator and one congresscritter?”

“Like I said, maybe more. The latest thing is some environmental types being paid off — in government and out. Who do we have better at unraveling a ball of yarn that big? Walt's got a nose for this sort of thing. The man can't draw his gun without losing a few toes, but he's one hell of a bird-dog.” Murray closed the folder in his hands. “Anyway, you wanted me to look around and make a recommendation. Send him to Denver, or retire him. Mike Delaney is willing to rotate back this way — his kid's going to start at GW this fall, and Mike wants to teach down at the Academy. That gives you the opening. It's all very neat and tidy, but it's your call, Director.”

“Thank you, Mr. Murray,” Director Shaw said gravely. Then his face broke into a grin. “Remember when all we had to worry about was chasing bank bandits? I hate this admin crap!”

“Maybe we shouldn't have caught so many,” Dan agreed. “We'd still be working riverside Philly and having a beer with the troops at night. Why do people toast success? It just screws up your life.”

“We're both talking like old farts.”

“We both are old farts, Bill,” Murray pointed out. “But at least I don't travel around with a protective detail.”

“You son of a bitch!” Shaw gagged, and dribbled coffee down his necktie. “Oh, Christ, Dan!” he gasped, laughing. “Look what you made me do.”

“Bad sign when a guy can't hold his coffee, Director.”

“Out! Get the orders cut before I bust you back to the street.”

“Oh, no, please, not that, anything but that!” Murray stopped laughing and turned semi-serious for a moment. “What's Kenny doing now?”

“Just got his assignment to his submarine, USS Maine. Bonnie's doing fine with the baby — due in December. Dan?”

“Yeah, Bill?”

“Nice call on Hoskins. I needed an easy out on that. Thanks.”

“No problem, Bill. Walt will jump at it. I wish they were all this easy.”

“You following up on the Warrior Society?”

“Freddy Warder's working on it. We just might roll those bastards up in a few months.”

And both knew that would be nice. There were not many domestic terrorist groups left. Reducing their number by one more by the end of the year would be another major coup.

It was dawn in the Dakota badlands. Marvin Russell knelt on the hide of a bison, facing the sunrise. He wore jeans, but was bare-chested and barefoot. He was not a tall man, but there was no mistaking the power in him. During his first and only stint in prison — for burglary — he'd learned about pumping iron. It had begun merely as a hobby to work off surplus energy, had grown with the understanding that physical strength was the only form of self-defense that a man in the penitentiary could depend upon, and then blossomed into the attribute he'd come to associate with a warrior of the Sioux Nation. His five feet, eight inches of height supported fully two hundred pounds of lean, hard muscle. His upper arms were the size of some men's upper legs. He had the waist of a ballerina and the shoulders of an NFL linebacker. He was also slightly mad, but Marvin Russell did not know that.

Life had not given him or his brother much of a chance. Their father had been an alcoholic who had worked occasionally and not well as an auto mechanic to provide money that he had transferred regularly and immediately to the nearest package store. Marvin's memories of childhood were bitter ones: shame for his father's nearly perpetual state of inebriation, and shame greater still for what his mother did while her husband was passed-out drunk in the living room. Food came from the government dole, after the family had returned from Minnesota to the reservation. Schooling came from teachers who despaired of accomplishing anything. His neighborhood had been a scattered collection of government-built plain block houses that stood like specters in perpetual clouds of blowing prairie dust. Neither Russell boy had ever owned a baseball glove. Neither had known a Christmas as much other than a week or two when school was closed. Both had grown in a vacuum of neglect and learned to fend for themselves at an early age.

At first this had been a good thing, for self-reliance was the way of their people, but all children need direction, and direction was something the Russell parents had been unable to provide. The boys had learned to shoot and hunt before they'd learned to read. Often the dinner had been something brought home with.22-caliber holes in it. Almost as often, they had cooked the meals. Though not the only poor and neglected youth of their settlement, they had without doubt been at the bottom, and while some of the local kids had overcome their backgrounds, the leap from poverty to adequacy had been far too broad for them. From the time they had begun to drive — well before the legal age — they'd taken their father's dilapidated pickup a hundred miles or more on clear cool nights to distant towns where they might obtain some of the things their parents had been unable to provide. Surprisingly, the first time they'd been caught — by another Sioux holding a shotgun — they'd taken their whipping manfully and been sent home with bruises and a lecture. They'd learned from that. From that moment on, they'd only robbed whites.

In due course, they'd been caught at that, also, red-handed inside a country store, by a tribal police officer. It was their misfortune that any crime committed on federal property was a federal case, and further that the new district court judge was a man with more compassion than perception. A hard lesson at that point might — or might not — have changed their path, but instead they'd gotten an administrative dismissal and counseling. A very serious young lady with a degree from the University of Wisconsin had explained to them over months that they could never have a beneficial self-image if they lived by stealing the goods of others. They would have more personal pride if they found something worthwhile to do. Emerging from that session wondering how the Sioux Nation had ever allowed itself to be overrun by white idiots, they learned to plan their crimes more carefully.

But not carefully enough, since the counselor could not have offered them the graduate-school expertise that the Russell boys might have received in a proper prison. And so they were caught, again, a year later, but this time off the reservation, and this time they found themselves dispatched to a year and a half of hard time because they'd been burglarizing a gun shop.

Prison had been the most frightening experience of their lives. Accustomed to land as open and vast as the western sky, they'd spent over a year of their lives in a cage smaller than the federal government deemed appropriate for a badger in a zoo, and surrounded by people

far worse than their most inflated ideas of their own toughness. Their first night on the blocks, they'd learned from screams that rape was not a crime inflicted exclusively on women. Needing protection, they had almost immediately been swept into the protective arms of their fellow Native American prisoners of the American Indian Movement.

They had never given much thought to their ancestry. Subliminally, they might have sensed that their peer group did not display the qualities they had seen on those occasions when the family TV had worked, and probably felt some vague shame that they had always been different. They'd learned to snicker at Western movies, of course, whose “Indian” actors were most often whites or Mexicans, mouthing words that reflected the thoughts of Hollywood scriptwriters who had about as much knowledge of the West as they had of Antarctica, but even there the messages had left a negative image of what they were and from what roots they had come. The American Indian Movement had changed all that. Everything was the White Man's fault. Espousing ideas that were a mix of trendy East Coast anthropology, a dash of Jean Jacques Rousseau, more than a little John Ford Western (what else, after all, was the American cultural record?), and a great deal of misunderstood history, the Russell brothers came to understand that their ancestors were of noble stock, ideal hunter-warriors who had lived in harmony with nature and the gods. The fact that the Native Americans had lived in as peaceful a state as the Europeans — the word “Sioux” in Indian dialect means “snake”, and was not an appellation assigned with affection — and that they had only begun roaming the Great Plains in the last decade of the 18th Century were somehow left out, along with the vicious intertribal wars. Times had once been far better. They had been masters of their land, following the buffalo, hunting, living a healthy and satisfying life under the stars, and, occasionally, fighting short, heroic contests among themselves — rather like medieval jousts. Even the torture of captives was explained as an opportunity for warriors to display their stoic courage to their admiring if sadistic murderers.

Every man craves nobility of spirit, and it wasn't Marvin Russell's fault that the first such opportunity came from convicted felons. He and his brother learned about the gods of earth and sky, beliefs in which had been cruelly suppressed by false, white beliefs. They learned about the brotherhood of the plains, about how the whites had stolen what was rightfully theirs, had killed the buffalo which had been their livelihood, had divided, compressed, massacred, and finally imprisoned their people, leaving them little beyond alcoholism and despair. As with all successful lies, the cachet to this one was a large measure of truth.

Marvin Russell greeted the first orange limb of the sun, chanting something that might or might not have been authentic — no one really knew anymore, least of all him. But prison had not been an entirely negative experience. He'd arrived with a third-grade reading level, and left with high-school equivalency. Marvin Russell had not ever been a dullard, and it was not his fault either that he'd been betrayed by a public school system that had consigned him to failure before birth. He read books regularly, everything he could get on the history of his people. Not quite everything. He was highly selective in the editorial slant of the books he picked up. Anything in the least unfavorable to his people, of course, reflected the prejudice of whites. The Sioux had not been drunks before the whites arrived, had not lived in squalid little villages, had certainly not abused their children. That was all the invention of the white man.

But how to change things? he asked the sun. The glowing ball of gas was red with yet more blowing dust from this hot, dry summer, and the image that came to Marvin was of his brother's face. The stop-motion freeze-frame of the TV news. The local station had done things with the tape that the network had not. Every frame of the incident had been examined separately. The bullet striking John's face, two frames of his brother's face detaching itself from the head. Then the ghastly aftermath of the bullet's passage. The gunshot — damn that nigger and his vest! — and the hands coming up like something in a Roger Corman movie. He'd watched it five times, and each pixel of each image was so firmly fixed in his memory that he knew he'd never be able to forget it.

Just one more dead Indian. “Yes, I saw some good Indians,” General William Tecumseh — a Native American name! — Sherman had said once. “They were dead.” John Russell was dead, killed like so many without the chance for honorable combat, shot down like the animal a Native American was to whites. But more brutally than most. Marvin was sure the shot had been arranged with care. Cameras rolling. That wimp pussy reporter with her high-fashion clothes. She'd needed a lesson in what was what, and those FBI assassins had decided to give it to her. Just like the cavalry of old at Sand Creek and Wounded Knee and a hundred other nameless, forgotten battlefields.

And so Marvin Russell faced the sun, one of the gods of his people, and searched for answers. The answer wasn't here, the sun told him. His comrades were not reliable. John had died learning that. Trying to raise money with drugs! Using drugs! As though the whiskey the white man had used to destroy his people wasn't bad enough. The other “warriors” were creatures of their white-made environment. They didn't know that they'd already been destroyed by it. They called themselves Sioux warriors, but they were drunkards, petty criminals who had labored and failed to succeed even in that undemanding field. In a rare flash of honesty — how could one be dishonest before one of his gods? — Marvin admitted to himself that they were less than he. As his brother had been. Stupid to join their foolish quest for drug money. And ineffective. What had they ever accomplished? They'd killed an FBI agent and a United States Marshal, but that was long in the past. Since then? Since then they had merely talked about their one shining moment. But what sort of moment had it been? What had they accomplished? Nothing. The reservation was still there. The liquor was still there. The hopelessness was still there. Had anyone even noticed who they were and what they did? No. All they had accomplished was to anger the forces that continued to oppress them. So now the Warrior Society was hunted, even on its own reservation, living not like warriors at all, but like hunted animals. But they were supposed to be the hunters, the sun told him, not the prey.

Marvin was stirred by the thought. He was supposed to be the hunter. The whites were supposed to fear him. It had once been so, but was no more. He was supposed to be the wolf in the fold, but the white sheep had grown so strong that they didn't know there was such a thing as a wolf, and they hid behind formidable dogs who were not content to stay with the flocks, but hunted the wolves themselves until they and not the sheep were frightened, driven, nervous creatures, prisoners on their own range.

So, he had to leave his range.

He had to find his brother wolves. He had to find wolves for whom the hunt was still real.


This was the day. His day. Captain Benjamin Zadin had enjoyed rapid career growth in the Israeli National Police. The youngest captain on the force, he was the last of three sons, the father of two sons of his own, David and Mordecai, and until very recently had been on the brink of suicide. The death of his beloved mother and the departure of his beautiful but adulterous wife had come within a single week, and that had only been two months before. Despite having done everything he'd ever planned on doing, he'd suddenly been faced with a life that seemed empty and pointless. His rank and pay, the respect of his subordinates, his demonstrated intelligence and clear-headedness in times of crisis and tension, his military record on dangerous and difficult border-patrol duty, they were all as nothing compared to an empty house of perverse memories.

Though Israel is regarded most often as “the Jewish state,” that name disguises the fact that only a fraction of the country's population is actively religious. Benny Zadin had never been so, despite the entreaties of his mother. Rather he'd enjoyed the swinging life-style of a modern hedonist, and not seen the inside of a shul since his Bar Mitzvah. He spoke and read Hebrew because he had to — it was the national language — but the rules of his heritage were to him a curious anachronism, a backward aspect of life in what was otherwise the most modern of countries. His wife had only accentuated that. One might measure the religious fervor of Israel, he'd often joked, by the swimming suits on its many beaches. His wife's background was Norwegian. A tall, skinny blonde, Elin Zadin looked about as Jewish as Eva Braun — that was their joke on the matter — and still enjoyed showing off her figure with the skimpiest of bikinis, and sometimes only half of that. Their marriage had been passionate and fiery. He'd known that she'd always had a wandering eye, of course, and had occasionally dallied himself, but her abrupt departure to another had surprised him — more than that, the manner of it had left him too stunned to weep or beg, had merely left him alone in a home that also contained several loaded weapons whose use, he knew, might easily have ended his pain. Only his sons had stopped that. He could not betray them as he'd been betrayed, he was too much of a man for that. But the pain had been — still was — very real.

Israel is too small a country for secrets. It was immediately noticed that Elin had taken up with another man, and the word had quickly made its way to Benny's station, where men could see from the hollow look around the eyes that their commander's spirit had been crushed. Some wondered how and when he would bounce back, but after a week the question had changed to whether he would do so at all. At that point, one of Zadin's squad sergeants had taken matters in hand. Appearing at his captain's front door on a Thursday evening, he'd brought with him Rabbi Israel Kohn. On that evening, Benjamin Zadin had rediscovered God. More than that, he told himself, surveying the Street of the Chain in Old Jerusalem, he knew again what it was to be a Jew. What had happened to him was God's punishment, no more, no less. Punishment for ignoring the words of his mother, punishment for his adultery, for the wild parties with his wife and others, for twenty years of evil thoughts and deeds while pretending to be a brave and upstanding commander of police and soldiers. But today he would change all that. Today he would break the law of man to expiate his sins against the Word of God.

It was early in the morning of what promised to be a blistering day, with a dry easterly wind blowing in from Arabia. He had forty men arrayed behind him, all of them armed with a mixture of automatic rifles, gas guns, and other arms that fired “rubber bullets,” more accurately called missiles, made of ductile plastic that could knock a grown man down, and if the marksman were very careful, stop a heart from blunt trauma. His police were needed to allow the law to be broken — which was not the idea that Captain Zadin's immediate superiors had in mind — and to stop the interference of others willing to break a higher law to keep him from his job. That was the argument Rabbi Kohn had used, after all. Whose law was it? It was a question of metaphysics, something far too complicated for a simple police officer. What was far simpler, as the Rabbi had explained, was the idea that the site of Solomon's Temple was the spiritual home of Judaism and the Jews. The site on Temple Mount had been chosen by God, and if men had disputed that fact, it was of little account. It was time for Jews to reclaim what God had given them. A group of ten conservative and Hasidic rabbis would today stake out the place where the new temple would be reconstructed in precise accordance with the Holy Scriptures. Captain Zadin had orders to prevent their march through the Chain Gate, to stop them from doing their work, but he would ignore those orders, and his men would do as he commanded, protecting them from the Arabs who might be waiting with much the same intentions as he was supposed to have.

He was surprised that the Arabs were there so early. No better than animals, really, the people who'd killed David and Motti. His parents had told all of their sons what it had been like to be a Jew in Palestine in the 1930s, the attacks, the terror, the envy, the open hatred, how the British had refused to protect those who had fought with them in North Africa — against those who had allied themselves with the Nazis. The Jews could depend on no one but themselves and their God, and keeping faith with their God meant reestablishing His Temple on the rock where Abraham had forged the covenant between his people and their Lord. The government either didn't understand that or was willing to play politics with the destiny of the only country in the world where Jews were truly safe. His duty as a Jew superseded that, even if he'd not known it until quite recently.

Rabbi Kohn showed up at the appointed time. Alongside him was Rabbi Eleazar Goldmark, a tattooed survivor of Auschwitz, where he had learned the importance of faith while in the face of death itself. Both men held a bundle of stakes and surveyor's string. They'd make their measurements, and from this day forward a relay of men would guard the site, eventually forcing the government of Israel to clear the site of Muslim obscenities. An upwell of popular support throughout the country, and a flood of money from Europe and America, would allow the project to be completed in five years — and then no one would ever be able to talk about taking this land away from those to whom God Himself had deeded it.

“Shit,” muttered someone behind Captain Zadin, but a turn and a look from his commander stifled whoever had blasphemed the moment of destiny.

Benny nodded to the two leading Rabbis, who marched off. The police followed their captain, fifty meters behind. Zadin prayed for the safety of Kohn and Goldmark, but knew that the danger they faced was fully accepted, as Abraham had accepted the death of his son as a condition of God's Law.

But the faith that had brought Zadin to this moment had blinded him to what should have been the obvious fact that Israel was indeed a country too small for secrets, and that fellow Jews who viewed Kohn and Goldmark as simply another version of Iran's fundamentalist ayatollas knew of what was happening, and that as a result the word had gotten out. TV crews were assembled in the square at the foot of the Wailing Wall. Some wore the hard hats of construction workers in anticipation of the rain of stones that surely was coming. Perhaps that was all the better, Captain Zadin thought as he followed the rabbis to the top of Temple Mount. The world should know what was happening. Unconsciously, he increased his pace to close on Kohn and Goldmark. Though they might accept the idea of martyrdom, his job was to protect them. His right hand went down to the holster at his hip and made sure the flap wasn't too tight. He might need that pistol soon.

The Arabs were there. It was a disappointment that there were so many, like fleas, like rats in a place they didn't belong. Just so long as they kept out of the way. They wouldn't, of course, and Zadin knew it. They were opposed to the Will of God. That was their misfortune.

Zadin's radio squawked, but he ignored it. It would just be his commander, asking him what the hell he was up to, and ordering him to desist. Not today. Kohn and Goldmark strode fearlessly to the Arabs blocking their path. Zadin nearly wept at their courage and their faith, wondering how the Lord would show his favor to them, hoping that they would be allowed to live. Behind him, about half his men were truly with him, which was possible because Benny had worked his watch bill to make it so. He knew without looking that they were not using their Lexan shields; instead, safety switches on their shoulder weapons were now being flicked to the Off position. It was hard waiting for it, hard to anticipate the first cloud of stones that would be coming at any moment.

Dear God, please let them live, please protect them. Spare them as you spared Isaac.

Zadin was now less than fifty meters behind the two courageous rabbis, one Polish-born, a survivor of the infamous camps where his wife and child had died, where he had somehow kept his spirit and learned the importance of faith; the other American-born, a man who'd come to Israel, fought in her wars, and only then turned to God, as Benny himself had done so brief a span of days before.

The two were barely ten meters from the surly, dirty Arabs when it happened. The Arabs were the only ones who could see that their faces were serene, that they truly welcomed whatever the morning might hold for them, and only the Arabs saw the shock and the puzzlement on the face of the Pole, and the stunned pain on the American's at the realization of what fate had in mind.

On command, the leading row of Arabs, all of them teenagers with a lengthy history of confrontation, sat down. The hundred young men behind them did the same. Then the front row started clapping. And singing. Benny took a moment to comprehend it, though he was as fluent in Arabic as any Palestinian.

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day

The TV crews were immediately behind the police. Several of them laughed in surprise at the savage irony of it. One of them was CNN correspondent Pete Franks who summed it up for everyone: “Son of a BITCH!” And in that moment Franks knew that the world had changed yet again. He'd been in Moscow for the first democratic meeting of the Supreme Soviet, in Managua the night the Sandinistas had lost their sure-thing election, and in Beijing to see the Goddess of Liberty destroyed. And now this? he thought. The Arabs finally wised up. Holy shit.

“I hope you have that tape rolling, Mickey.”

“Are they singing what I think they're singing?”

“Sure as hell sounds like it. Let's get closer.”

The leader of the Arabs was a twenty-year-old sociology student named Hashimi Moussa. His arm was permanently scarred from an Israeli club, and half his teeth were gone from a rubber bullet whose shooter had been especially angry on one particular day. No one questioned his courage. He'd had to prove that beyond doubt. He'd had to face death a dozen times before his position of leadership had been assured, but now he had it, and people listened to him, and he was able to activate an idea he'd cherished for five endless, patient years. It had taken three days to persuade them, then the fantastic good luck of a Jewish friend disgusted with the religious conservatives of his country who'd spoken a little too loudly about the plans of this day. Perhaps it was destiny, Hashimi thought, or the Will of Allah, or simply luck. Whatever it was, this was the moment he'd lived for since his fifteenth year, when he'd learned of Gandhi and King, and how they had defeated force with naked, passive courage. Persuading his people had meant stepping back from a warrior code that seemed part of their genes, but he'd done it. Now his beliefs would be put to the test.

All Benny Zadin saw was that his path was blocked. Rabbi Kohn said something to Rabbi Goldmark, but neither turned back to where the police were stopped, because to turn away was to admit defeat. Whether they were too shocked at what they saw or too angry, he would never learn. Captain Zadin turned to his men.

“Gas!” He'd planned this part in advance. The four men with gas guns were all religious men. They leveled their weapons and fired simultaneously into the crowd. The gas projectiles were dangerous and it was remarkable that no one was injured by them. In a few seconds, gray clouds of tear gas bloomed within the mass of sitting Arabs. But on command, each of them donned a mask to protect himself from it. This impeded their singing, but not their clapping or resolution, and it only enraged Captain Zadin further when the easterly wind blew the gas towards his men and away from the Arabs. Next, men with insulated gloves lifted the hot projectiles and threw them back towards the police. In a minute, they were able to remove their masks, and there was laughter in their singing now.

Next, Zadin ordered the rubber bullets launched. He had six men armed with these weapons, and from a range of fifty meters they could force any man to run for cover. The first volley was perfect, hitting six of the Arabs in the front line. Two cried out in pain. One collapsed, but not one man moved from his place except to succor the injured. The next volley was aimed at heads not chests, and Zadin had the satisfaction of seeing a face explode in a puff of red.

The leader — Zadin recognized the face from earlier encounters — stood and gave a command the Israeli captain could not hear. But its significance became clear immediately. The singing became louder. Another volley of rubber bullets followed. One of his marksmen was very angry, the police commander saw. The Arab who'd taken one fully in the face now took another in the top of his head, and with it his body went limp in death. It should have warned Benny that he had already lost control of his men, but worse still was that he was losing control of himself.

Hashimi did not see the death of his comrade. The passion of the moment was overwhelming. The consternation on the faces of the two invading rabbis was manifest. He could not see the faces of the police behind their masks, but their actions, their movements, made their feelings clear. In a brilliant moment of clarity, he knew that he was winning, and he shouted again to his people to redouble their efforts. This they did in the face of fire and death.

Captain Benjamin Zadin stripped off his helmet and walked forcefully towards the Arabs, past the rabbis who had suddenly been struck with incomprehensible indecision. Would the Will of God be upset by the discordant singing of some dirty savages?

“Uh-oh,” Pete Franks observed, his eyes streaming from the gas that had blown over his face.

“I got it,” the cameraman said without bidding, zooming his lens in on the advancing Israeli police commander. “Something is going to happen — this guy looks pissed, Pete!”

Oh, God, Franks thought. Himself a Jew, himself strangely at home in this barren but beloved land, he knew that history was occurring before his eyes yet again, was already composing his two or three minutes of verbal reporting that would overlay the tape his cameraman was recording for posterity, and was wondering if another Emmy might be in his future for doing his tough and dangerous job supremely well.

It happened quickly, much too quickly, as the captain strode directly to the Arab leader. Hashimi now knew that a friend was dead, his skull caved in by what was supposed to be a non-lethal weapon. He prayed silently for the soul of his comrade and hoped that Allah would understand the courage required to face death in this way. He would. Hashimi was sure of that. The Israeli approaching him was a face known to him. Zadin, the name was, a man who'd been there before often enough, just one more Israeli face most often hidden behind a Lexan mask and drawn gun, one more man unable to see Arabs as people, to whom a Muslim was the launcher for a rock or a Molotov cocktail. Well, today he'd learn different, Hashimi told himself. Today he'd see a man of courage and conviction.

Benny Zadin saw an animal, like a stubborn mule, like — what? He wasn't sure what he saw, but it wasn't a man, wasn't an Israeli. They'd changed tactics, that was all, and the tactics were womanly. They thought this would stand in the way of his purpose? Just as his wife had told him that she was leaving for the bed of a better man, that he could have the children, that his threats to beat her were empty words, that he couldn't do that, wasn't man enough to take charge of his own household. He saw that beautiful empty face and wondered why he hadn't taught her a lesson; she'd just stood there, not a meter away, staring at him, smiling — finally laughing at his inability to do what his manhood had commanded him to do, and, so, passive weakness had defeated strength.

But not this time.

“Move!” Zadin commanded in Arabic.


“I will kill you.”

“You will not pass.”

“Benny!” a level-headed member of the police screamed. But it was too late for that. For Benjamin Zadin, the deaths of his brothers at Arab hands, the way his wife had left, and the way these people just sat in his way was too much. In one smooth motion, he drew his service automatic and shot Hashimi in the forehead. The Arab youth fell forward, and the singing and clapping stopped. One of the other demonstrators started to move, but two others grabbed him, and held him fast. Others began praying for their two dead comrades. Zadin turned his gun hand to one of these, but though his finger pressed on the trigger, something stopped him a gram short of the release pressure. It was the look in the eyes, the courage there, something other than defiance. Resolution, perhaps… and pity, for the look on Zadin's face was anguish that transcended pain, and the horror of what he had done crashed through his consciousness. He had broken faith with himself. He had killed in cold blood. He had taken the life of someone who had threatened no man's life. He had murdered. Zadin turned to the rabbis, looking for something, he knew not what, and whatever he sought simply was not there. As he turned away, the singing began again. Sergeant Moshe Levin came forward and took the captain's weapon.

“Come on, Benny, let's get you away from this place.”

“What have I done?”

“It is done, Benny. Come with me.”

Levin started to lead his commander away, but he had to turn and look at the morning's handiwork. Hashimi's body was slumped over, a pool of blood coursing down between the cobblestones. The sergeant knew that he had to do or say something. It wasn't supposed to be like this. His mouth hung open, and his face swung from side to side. In that moment, Hashimi's disciples knew that their leader had won.

Ryan's phone rang at 2:03 Eastern Daylight Time. He managed to get it before the start of the second ring.


“This is Saunders at the Ops Center. Get your TV on. In four minutes, CNN is running something hot.”

“Tell me about it.” Ryan's hand fumbled for the remote controller and switched the bedroom TV on.

“You ain't gonna believe it, sir. We copied it off the CNN satellite feed, and Atlanta is fast-tracking it onto the network. I don't know how it got past Israeli censors. Anyway—”

“Okay, here it comes.” Ryan rubbed his eyes clear just in time. He had the TV sound muted to keep from disturbing his wife. The commentary was unnecessary in any case. “Dear God in heaven…”

“That about covers it, sir,” the senior watch officer agreed.

“Send my driver out now. Call the Director, tell him to get in fast. Get hold of the duty officer at the White House Signals Office. He'll alert the people on his end. We need the DDI, and the desks for Israel, Jordan — hell, that whole area, all the desks. Make sure State's up to speed—”

“They have their own—”

“I know that. Call them anyway. Never assume anything in this business, okay?”

“Yes, sir. Anything else?”

“Yeah, send me about four hours' more sleep.” Ryan set the phone down.

“Jack… was that—” Cathy was sitting up. She'd just caught the replay.

“It sure was, babe.”

“What's it mean?”

“It means the Arabs just figured out how to destroy Israel,” Unless we can save the place.

Ninety minutes later, Ryan turned on the West Bend drip machine behind his desk before running over the notes from the night duty staff. It would be a day for coffee. He'd shaved in the car on the way in, and a look at the mirror showed that he'd not done a very good job of it. Jack waited until he had a full cup before marching into the Director's office. Charles Alden was there with Cabot.

“Good morning,” the National Security Advisor said.

“Yeah,” the Deputy Director replied in a husky voice. “What do you suppose is good about it? The President know yet?”

“No, I didn't want to disturb him until we know something. I'll talk to him when he wakes up — sixish. Marcus, what do you think of your Israeli friends now?”

“Have we developed anything else, Jack?” Director Cabot asked his subordinate.

“The shooter is a police captain, according to the insignia. No name on him yet, no background. The Israelis have him in the jug somewhere and they're not saying anything. From the tape it looks like two definitely dead, probably a few more with minor injuries. Chief of Station has nothing he can report to us except that it really happened, and we have that on tape. Nobody seems to know where the TV crew is. We did not have any assets at the site when all this happened, so we're going exclusively from the news coverage.” Again, Ryan didn't add. The morning was bad enough. “ Temple Mount is shut down, guarded by their army now, nobody in or out, and they've closed access to the Wailing Wall also. That may be a first. Our embassy over there has not said anything, they're waiting for instructions from here. Same story for the others. No official reaction from Europe yet, but I expect that to change within the hour. They're at work already, and they got the same pictures from their Sky News service.”

It's almost four,“ Alden said, wearily checking his watch. ”In three hours people are going to have their breakfast upset — what a hell of a thing to see in the morning. Gentlemen, I think this one's going to be big. Ryan, you called it. I remember what you said last month."

“Sooner or later, the Arabs had to wise up,” Jack said. Alden nodded agreement. It was gracious of him, Jack noted. He'd said the same thing in one of his books several years earlier.

“I think Israel can weather this, they always have—” Jack cut his Director off.

“No way, boss,” Ryan said. Someone had to straighten Cabot out. “It's what Napoleon said about the moral and the physical. Israel depends absolutely on having the moral high-ground. Their whole cachet is that they are the only democracy in the region, that they are the guys in white hats. That concept died about three hours ago. Now they look like Bull — whoever it was — in Selma, Alabama, except he used water hoses. The civil-rights community is going to go berserk.” Jack paused to sip at his coffee. “It's a simple question of justice. When the Arabs were throwing rocks and cocktails, the police could say that they were using force in response to force. Not this time. Both the deaders were sitting down and not threatening anybody.”

“It's the isolated act of one deranged man!” Cabot announced angrily.

“Not so, sir. The one shot with a pistol was like you say, but the first victim was killed with two of those rubber bullets at a range of more than twenty yards — with two aimed shots from a single-shot weapon. That's cold, and it wasn't any accident.”

“Are we sure he's dead?” Alden asked.

“My wife's a doc, and he looked dead to her. The body spasmed and went limp, probably indicating death from massive head trauma. They can't say this guy tripped and fell onto the curb. This really changes things. If the Palestinians are smart, they'll double-down their bets. They'll stay with this tactic and wait for the world to respond. If they do that, they can't lose,” Jack concluded.

“I agree with Ryan,” Alden said. “There'll be a UN resolution before dinner. We'll have to go along with it, and that just might show the Arabs that non-violence is a better weapon than rocks are. What will the Israelis say? How will they react?”

Alden knew what the answer was. This was to enlighten the DCI, so Ryan took the question. “First they'll stonewall. They're probably kicking themselves for not intercepting the tape, but it's a little late for that. This was almost certainly an unplanned incident — I mean that the Israeli government is as surprised as we are — otherwise they would have grabbed the TV crew. That police captain is having his brain picked apart now. By lunchtime they'll say that he's crazy — hell, he probably is — and that this is an isolated act. How they do their damage control is predictable, but—”

“It's not going to work,” Alden interrupted. The President's going to have to have a statement out by nine. We can't call this a 'tragic incident.' It's cold-blooded murder of an unarmed demonstrator by a state official."

“Look, Charlie, this is just an isolated incident,” Director Cabot said again.

“Maybe so, but I've been predicting this for five years.” The National Security Advisor stood and walked to the windows. “Marcus, the only thing that has held Israel together for the past thirty years has been the stupidity of the Arabs. Either they never recognized that Israeli legitimacy is based entirely on their moral position or they just didn't have the wit to care about it. Israel is now faced with an impossible ethical contradiction. If they really are a democracy that respects the rights of its citizens, they have to grant the Arabs broader rights. But that means playing hell with their political integrity, which depends on soothing their own extreme religious elements — and that crowd doesn't care a rat's ass about Arab rights, does it? But if they cave in to the religious zealots and stonewall, try to gloss over this thing, then they are not a democracy, and that imperils the political support from America without which they cannot survive economically or militarily. The same dilemma applies to us. Our support for Israel is based on their political legitimacy as a functioning liberal democracy, but that legitimacy just evaporated. A country whose police murder unarmed people has no legitimacy, Marcus. We can no more support an Israel that does things like this than we could have supported Somoza, Marcos, or any other tin-pot dictator—”

“God damn it, Charlie! Israel isn't—”

“I know that, Marcus. They're not. They're really not. But the only way they can prove that is to change, to become true to what they have always claimed to be. If they stonewall on this, Marcus, they're doomed. They'll lean on their political lobby and find out it isn't there anymore. If it goes that far, then they embarrass our government even more than it already is, and we'll be faced with the possible necessity of overtly cutting them off. We can't do that either. We must find another alternative.” Alden turned back from the window. “Ryan, that idea of yours is now on the front burner. I'll handle the President and State. The only way we can get Israel out of this is to find some kind of a peace plan that works. Call your friend at Georgetown and tell him it's no longer a study. Call it Project PILGRIMAGE. By tomorrow morning I need a good sketch of what we want to do, and how we want to do it.”

That's awful fast, sir," Ryan observed.

“Then don't let me stop you, Jack. If we don't move quickly on this, God only knows what might happen. You know Scott Adler at State?”

“We've talked a few times.”

“He's Brent Talbot's best man. I suggest you get together with him after you check with your friends. He can cover your backside on the State Department flank. We can't trust that bureaucracy to do anything fast. Better pack some bags, boy, you're going to be busy. I want facts, positions, and a gold-plated evaluation just as fast as you can generate it, and I want it done black as a coal mine.” That last remark was aimed at Cabot. “If this is going to work, we can't risk a single leak.”

“Yes, sir,” Ryan said. Cabot just nodded.

Jack had never been in the faculty residence at Georgetown. It struck him as odd, but he shoved that thought aside as breakfast was served. Their table overlooked a parking lot.

“You were right, Jack,” Riley observed. “That was nothing to wake up to.”

“What's the word from Rome?”

“They like it,” the president of Georgetown University replied simply.

“How much?” Ryan asked.

“You're serious?”

“Alden told me two hours ago that this is now on the front burner.”

Riley accepted this news with a nod. “Trying to save Israel, Jack?”

Ryan didn't know how much humor was in the question, and his physical state did not allow levity. “Father, all I'm doing is following up on something — you know, orders?”

“I am familiar with the term. Your timing was pretty good on floating this thing.”

“Maybe so, but let's save the Nobel Prize for some other time, okay?”

“Finish your breakfast. We can still catch everybody over there before lunch, and you look pretty awful.”

“I feel pretty awful,” Ryan admitted.

“Everybody should stop drinking about forty,” Riley observed. “After forty you really can't handle it anymore.”

“You didn't,” Jack noted.

“I'm a priest. I have to drink. What exactly are you looking for?”

“If we can get preliminary agreement from the major players, we want to get negotiations going ASAP, but this end of the equation has to be done very quietly. The President needs a quick evaluation of his options. That's what I'm doing.”

“Will Israel play?”

“If they don't, they're fucked — excuse me, but that's exactly where things are.”

“You're right, of course, but will they have the sense to recognize their position?”

“Father, all I do is gather and evaluate information. People keep asking me to tell fortunes, but I don't know how. What I do know is that what we saw on TV is going to ignite the biggest firestorm since Hiroshima, and we sure as hell have to try to do something before it burns up a whole region.”

“Eat. I have to think for a few minutes, and I do that best when I'm chewing on something.”

It was good advice, Ryan knew a few minutes later. The food soaked up the coffee acid in his stomach, and the energy from the food would help him get through the day. Inside an hour, he was on the move again, this time to the State Department. By lunch he was on his way home to pack, managing to nap for three hours along the way. He stopped back at Alden's White House office for a session that dragged far into the night. Alden had really taken charge there, and the skull session in his office covered a huge amount of ground. Before dawn Jack headed off to Andrews Air Force Base. He was able to call his wife from the VIP Lounge. Jack had hoped to take his son to a ball game over the weekend, but for him there wouldn't be a weekend. A final courier arrived from CIA, State, and the White House, delivering two hundred pages of data that he'd have to read on the way across the Atlantic.


The U.S. Air Force's Ramstein air base is set in a German valley, a fact which Ryan found slightly unsettling. His idea of a proper airport was one on land that was flat as far as the eye could see. He knew that it didn't make much of a difference, but it was one of the niceties of air travel to which he'd become accustomed. The base supported a full wing of F-i6 fighter-bombers, each of which was stored in its own bomb-proof shelter which in its turn was surrounded by trees — the German people have a mania for green things that would impress the most ambitious American environmentalists. It was one of those remarkable cases in which the wishes of the tree-huggers coincided exactly with military necessity. Spotting the aircraft shelters from the air was extremely difficult, and some of the shelters — French-built — had trees planted on top of them, making camouflage both aesthetically and militarily pleasing. The base also housed a few large executive aircraft, including a converted 707 with The United States of America“ painted on it. Resembling a smaller version of the President's personal transport, it was known locally as ”Miss Piggy," and was assigned to the use of the commander of USAF units in Europe. Ryan could not help but smile. Here were over seventy fighter aircraft tasked to the destruction of Soviet forces which were now drawing back from Germany, housed on an environmentally admirable facility, which was also home to a plane called Miss Piggy. The world was truly mad.

On the other hand, traveling Air Force guaranteed excellent hospitality and VIP treatment worthy of the name, in this case at an attractive edifice called the Cannon Hotel. The base commander, a full colonel, had met his VC-20B Gulfstream executive aircraft and whisked him off to his Distinguished Visitor's quarters where a slide-out drawer contained a nice collection of liquor bottles to help him to conquer jetlag with nine hours of drink-augmented sleep. That was just as well, because the available television service consisted of a single channel. By the time he awoke at about six in the morning, local, he was almost in sync with the time zones, stiff and hungry, having almost survived another bout with travel shock. He hoped.

Jack didn't feel like jogging. That was what he told himself. In fact he knew that he couldn't have jogged half a mile with a gun to his head. And so he walked briskly. He soon found himself being passed by early-morning exercise nuts, many of whom had to be fighter pilots, they were so young and lean. Morning mist hung in the trees that were planted nearly to the edge of the black-topped roads. It was much cooler than at home, with the still air disturbed every few minutes by the discordant roar of jet engines—“the sound of freedom”—the audible symbol of military force that had guaranteed the peace of Europe for over forty years — now resented by the Germans, of course. Attitudes change as rapidly as the times. American power had achieved its goal and was becoming a thing of the past, at least as far as Germany was concerned. The inner-German border was gone. The fences and guard towers were down. The mines were gone. The plowed strip of dirt that had remained pristine for two generations to betray the footprints of defectors was now planted with grass and flowers. Locations in the east once examined in satellite photos or about which Western intelligence agencies had sought information at the cost of both money and blood were now walked over by camera-toting tourists, among whom were intelligence officers more shocked than bemused at the rapid changes that had come and gone like the sweep of a spring tide. I knew that was right about this place, some thought. Or, How did we ever blow that one so badly?

Ryan shook his head. It was more than amazing. The question of the two Germanys had been the centerpiece of East-West conflict since before his birth, had appeared to be the one unchanging thing in the world, the subject of enough white papers and Special National Intelligence Estimates and news stories to fill the entire Pentagon with pulp. All the effort, all the examination of minutiae, the petty disputes — gone. Soon to be forgotten. Even scholarly historians would never have the energy to look at all the data that had been thought important — crucial, vital, worthy of men's lives — and was now little more than a vast footnote to the end of the Second World War. This base had been one such item. Designed to house the aircraft whose task it was to clear the skies of Russian planes and crush a Soviet attack, it was now an expensive anachronism whose residential apartments would soon house German families. Ryan wondered what they'd do with the aircraft shelters like that one there… Wine cellars, maybe. The wine was pretty good.

“Halt!” Ryan stopped cold in his tracks and turned to see where the sound had come from. It was an Air Force security policeman — woman. Girl, actually, Ryan saw, though her M-16 rifle neither knew nor cared about plumbing fixtures.

“Did I do something wrong?”

“ID, please.” The young lady was quite attractive, and quite professional. She also had a backup in the trees. Ryan handed over his CIA credentials.

“I've never seen one of these, sir.”

“I came in last night on the VC-2o. I'm staying over at the Inn, room 109. You can check with Colonel Parker's office.”

“We're on security alert, sir,” she said next, reaching for her radio.

“Just do your job, miss — excuse me, Sergeant Wilson. My plane doesn't leave till ten.” Jack leaned against a tree to stretch. It was too nice a morning to get excited about anything, even if there were two armed people who didn't know who the hell he was.

“Roger.” Sergeant Becky Wilson switched off her radio. “The Colonel's looking for you, sir.”

“On the way back, I turn left at the Burger King?”

That's right, sir." She handed his ID back with a smile.

Thanks, Sarge. Sorry to bother you."

“You want a ride back, sir? The colonel's waiting.”

“I'd rather walk. He can wait, he's early.” Ryan walked away from a buck-sergeant who now had to ponder the importance of a man who kept her base commander sitting on the front step of the Cannon. It took ten brisk minutes, but Ryan's directional sense had not left him, despite the unfamiliar surroundings and a six-hour time differential.

“Morning, sir!” Ryan said as he vaulted the wall into the parking lot.

“I set up a little breakfast with COMUSAFE staff. We'd like your views on what's happening in Europe.”

Jack laughed. “Great! I'm interested in hearing yours.” Ryan walked off toward his room to dress. What makes them think I know anything more than they do! By the time his plane left, he'd learned four things he hadn't known. Soviet forces withdrawing from what had formerly been called East Germany were decidedly unhappy with the fact that there was no place for them to withdraw to. Elements of the former East German army were even less happy about their enforced retirement than Washington actually knew; they probably had allies among ex-members of the already de-established Stasi. Finally, though an even dozen members of the Red Army Faction had been apprehended in Eastern Germany, at least that many others had gotten the message and vanished before they, too, could be swept up by the Bundeskriminalamt, the German federal police. That explained the security alert at Ramstein, Ryan was told.

The VC-2oB lifted off from the airfield just after ten in the morning, headed south. Those poor terrorists, he thought, devoting their lives and energy and intellect to something that was vanishing more swiftly than the German countryside below him. Like children whose mother had died. No friends now. They'd hidden out in Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic, blissfully unaware of the coming demise of both communist states. Where would they hide now? Russia? No chance. Poland? That was a laugh. The world had changed under them, and was about to change again, Ryan thought with a wistful smile. Some more of their friends were about to watch the world change. Maybe, he corrected himself. Maybe…

“Hello, Sergey Nikolayevich,” Ryan had said as the man had entered his office, a week before.

“Ivan Emmetovich,” the Russian had replied, holding out his hand. Ryan remembered the last time they'd been this close, on the runway of Moscow 's Sheremetyevo Airport. Golovko had held a gun in his hand then. It had not been a good day for either, but as usual, it was funny the way things had worked out. Golovko, for having nearly, but not quite, prevented the greatest defection in Soviet history, was now First Deputy Chairman of the Committee for State Security. Had he succeeded, he would not have gone quite so far, but for being very good, if not quite good enough, he'd been noticed by his own President, and his career had taken a leap upward. His security officer had camped in Nancy 's office with John Clark, as Ryan had led Golovko into his.

“I am not impressed.” Golovko looked around disapprovingly at the painted gypsum-board drywall. Ryan did have a single decent painting borrowed from a government warehouse, and, of course, the not-exactly-required photo of President Fowler over by the clothes tree on which Jack hung his coat.

“I do have a nicer view, Sergey Nikolayevich. Tell me, is the statue of Iron Feliks still in the middle of the square?”

“For the moment.” Golovko smiled. “Your Director is out of town, I gather.”

“Yes, the President decided that he needed some advice.”

“On what?” Golovko asked with a crooked smile.

“Damned if I know,” Ryan answered with a laugh. Lots of things, he didn't say.

“Difficult, is it not? For both of us.” The new KGB Chairman was not a professional spook either — in fact, that was not unusual. More often than not, the director of that grim agency had been a Party man, but the Party was becoming a thing of history also, and Narmonov had selected a computer expert who was supposed to bring new ideas into the Soviet Union 's chief spy agency. That would make it more efficient. Ryan knew that Golovko had an IBM PC behind his desk in Moscow now.

“Sergey, I always used to say that if the world made sense, I'd be out of a job. So, look what's happening. Want some coffee?”

“I would like that, Jack.” A moment later he expressed approval of the brew.

“ Nancy sets it up for me every morning. So. What can I do for you?”

“I have often heard that question, but never in such surroundings as this.” There was a rumbling laugh from Ryan's guest. “My God, Jack, do you ever wonder if this is all the result of some drug-induced dream?”

“Can't be. I cut myself shaving the other day, and I didn't wake up.”

Golovko muttered something in Russian that Jack didn't catch, though his translators would when they went over the tapes.

“I am the one who reports to our parliamentarians on our activities. Your Director was kind enough to respond favorably to our request for advice.”

Ryan couldn't resist that opening: “No problem, Sergey Nikolayevich. You can screen all your information through me. I'd be delighted to tell you how to present it.” Golovko took it like a man.

“Thank you, but the Chairman might not understand.” With jokes aside, it was time for business.

“We want a quid pro quo.” The fencing began.

“And that is?”

“Information on the terrorists you guys used to support.”

“We cannot do that,” Golovko said flatly.

“Sure you can.”

Next Golovko waved the flag: “An intelligence service cannot betray confidences and continue to function.”

“Really? Tell Castro that next time you see him,” Ryan suggested.

“You're getting better at this, Jack.”

“Thank you, Sergey. My government is most gratified indeed for your President's recent statement on terrorism. Hell, I like the guy personally. You know that. We're changing the world, man. Let's clean a few more messes up. You never approved of your government's support for those creeps.”

“What makes you believe that?” the First Deputy Chairman asked.

“Sergey, you're a professional intelligence officer. There's no way you can personally approve the actions of undisciplined criminals. I feel the same way, of course, but in my case it's personal.” Ryan leaned back with a hard look. He would always remember Sean Miller and the other members of the Ulster Liberation Army who'd made two earnest attempts to kill Jack Ryan and his family. Only three weeks earlier, after years exhausting every legal opportunity, after three writs to the Supreme Court, after demonstrations and appeals to the Governor of Maryland and the President of the United States for executive clemency, Miller and his colleagues had, one by one, walked into the gas chamber in Baltimore, and been carried out half an hour later, quite dead. And may God have mercy on their souls, Ryan thought. If God has a strong enough stomach. One chapter in his life was now closed for good.

“And the recent incident…?”

“The Indians? That merely illustrates my case. Those ”revolutionaries“ were dealing drugs to make money. They're going to turn on you, the people you used to fund. In a few years, they're going to be more of a problem for you than they ever were for us.” That was entirely correct, of course, and both men knew it. The terrorist-drug connection was something the Soviets were starting to worry about. Free enterprise was starting most rapidly of all in Russia 's criminal sector. That was as troubling to Ryan as to Golovko. “What do you say?”

Golovko inclined his head to the side. “I will discuss it with the Chairman. He will approve.”

“Remember what I said over in Moscow a couple of years back? Who needs diplomats to handle negotiations when you have real people to settle things?”

“I expected a quote from Kipling or something similarly poetic,” the Russian observed dryly. “So, how do you deal with your Congress?”

Jack chuckled. “Short version is, you tell them the truth.”

“I needed to fly eleven thousand kilometers to hear you say that?”

“You select a handful of people in your parliament you can trust to keep their mouths shut, and whom the rest of parliament trust to be completely honest — that's the hard part — and you brief them into everything they need to know. You have to set up ground rules—”

“Ground rules?”

“A baseball term, Sergey. It means the special rules that apply to a specific playing field.”

Golovko's eyes lit up. “Ah, yes, that is a useful term.”

“Everyone has to agree on the rules, and you may never, ever break them.” Ryan paused. He was talking like a college lecturer again, and it wasn't fair to speak that way to a fellow professional.

Golovko frowned. That was the hard part, of course: never, ever breaking the rules. The intelligence business wasn't often that cut and dried. And conspiracy was part of the Russian soul.

“It's worked for us,” Ryan added.

Or has it? Ryan wondered. Sergey knows if it has or not… well, he knows some things that I don't. He could tell me if we've had major leaks on The Hill, since Peter Henderson… but at the same time he knows that we've penetrated so many of their operations despite their manic passion for the utmost secrecy. Even the Soviets had admitted it publicly: the hemorrhage of defectors from KGB over the years had gutted scores of exquisitely-planned operations against America and the West. In the Soviet Union as in America, secrecy was designed to shield failure as well as success.

“What it comes down to is trust,” Ryan said after another moment. “The people in your parliament are patriots. If they didn't love their country, why would they put up with all the bullshit aspects of public life? It's the same here.”

“Power,” Golovko responded at once.

“No, not the smart ones, not the ones you will be dealing with. Oh, there'll be a few idiots. We have them here. They are not an endangered species. But there are always those who're smart enough to know that the power that comes with government service is an illusion. The duty that comes along with it is always greater in magnitude. No, Sergey, for the most part you'll be dealing with people as smart and honest as you are.”

Golovko's head jerked at the compliment, one professional to another. He'd guessed right a few minutes earlier, Ryan was getting good at this. He started to think that he and Ryan were not really enemies any longer. Competitors, perhaps, but not enemies. There was more than professional respect between them now.

Ryan looked benignly at his visitor, smiling inwardly at having surprised him. And hoping that one of the people Golovko would select for oversight would be Oleg Kirilovich Kadishev, code-name SPINNAKER. Known in the media as one of the most brilliant Soviet parliamentarians in a bumptious legislative body struggling to build a new country, his reputation for intelligence and integrity belied the fact that he'd been on the CIA payroll for several years, the best of all the agents recruited by Mary Pat Foley. The game goes on, Ryan thought. The rules were different. The world was different. But the game went on. Probably always would, Jack thought, vaguely sorry it was true. But, hell, America even spied on Israel — it was called “keeping an eye on things”; it was never called “running an operation.” The oversight people in Congress would have leaked that in a minute. Oh, Sergey, do you have a lot of new things to learn about!

Lunch followed. Ryan took his guest to the executive dining room, where Golovko found the food somewhat better than KGB standards — something Ryan would not have believed. He also found that the top CIA executives wanted to meet him. The Directorate chiefs and their principal deputies all stood in line to shake his hand and be photographed. Finally there was a group photo before Golovko had taken the executive elevator back to his car. Then the people from Science and Technology, and security, had swept every inch of every corridor and room Golovko and his bodyguard had traveled. Finding nothing, they had swept again. And again. And once more, until it was decided that he had not availed himself of the opportunity to play his own games. One of the S&.T people had lamented the fact that it just wasn't the same anymore.

Ryan smiled, remembering the remark. Things were happening so goddamned fast. He settled back into the chair and tightened his seatbelt. The VC-2O was approaching the Alps, and the air might be bumpy there.

“Want a paper, sir?” the attendant asked. It was a girl for a change, and a pretty one. Also married and pregnant. A pregnant staff sergeant. It made Ryan uneasy to be served by someone like that.

“What d'you have?”

“International Trib.”

“Great!” Ryan took the paper — and nearly gasped. There it was, right on the front page. Some bonehead had leaked one of the photos. Golovko, Ryan, the directors of S&.T, Ops, Admin, Records, and Intelligence, plunging through their lunches. None of the American identities were secret, of course, but even so…

“Not a real good picture, sir,” the sergeant noted with a grin. Ryan was unable to be unhappy.

“When are you due, Sarge?”

“Five more months, sir.”

“Well, you'll be bringing your child into a much better world than the one either one of us was stuck with. Why don't you sit down and relax? I'm not liberated enough to be waited on by a pregnant lady.”

* * *

The International Herald Tribune is a joint venture of the New York Times and the Washington Post. The one sure way for Americans traveling in Europe to keep track of the ball scores and important comic strips, it had already broadened its distribution into what had been the Eastern Bloc, to serve American businessmen and tourists who were flooding the former communist nations. The locals also used it, both as a way to hone their English skills and to keep track of what was happening in America, more than ever a fascination to people learning how to emulate something they'd been raised to hate. In addition it was as fine an information source as had ever been available in those countries. Soon everyone was buying it, and the American management of the paper was expanding operations to broaden its readership still further.

One such regular reader was Günther Bock. He lived in Sofia, Bulgaria, having left Germany — the eastern part — rather hurriedly some months before, after a warning tip from a former friend in the Stasi. With his wife, Petra, Bock had been a unit leader in the Baader-Meinhof Gang, and after that had been crushed by the West German police, in the Red Army Faction. Two near arrests by the Bundeskriminalamt had frightened him across the Czech border, and thence on to the DDR, where he had settled into a quiet semi-retirement. With a new identity, new papers, a regular job — he never showed up, but the employment records were completely in Ordnung — he deemed himself safe. Neither he nor Petra had reckoned with the popular revolt that had overturned the government of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, but they both decided that they could survive that change in anonymity. They'd never counted on a popular riot storming into Stasi headquarters, either. That event had resulted in the destruction of literally millions of documents. Many of the documents had not been destroyed, however. Many of the rioters had been agents of the Bundesnachrichtendienst, the West German intelligence agency, who'd been in the front ranks of the intruders, and known exactly which rooms to savage. Within days, people from the RAF had started disappearing. It had been hard to tell at first. The DDR. telephone system was so decrepit that getting phone calls through had never been easy, and for obvious security reasons the former associates had not lived in the same areas, but when another married couple had failed to make a rendezvous for dinner, Günther and Petra had sensed trouble. Too late. While the husband made rapid plans to leave the country, five heavily armed GSG-9 commandos had kicked down the flimsy door of the Bock apartment in East Berlin. They'd found Petra nursing one of her twin daughters, but whatever sympathy they might have felt at so touching a scene had been mitigated by the fact that Petra Bock had murdered three West German citizens, one quite brutally. Petra was now in a maximum-security prison, serving a life sentence in a country where “life” meant that you left prison in a casket or not at all. The twin daughters were the adopted children of a Munich police captain and his barren wife.

It was very odd, Günther thought, how much that stung him. After all, he was a revolutionary. He had plotted and killed for his cause. It was absurd that he would allow himself to be enraged by the imprisonment of his wife… and the loss of his children. But. But they had Petra 's nose and eyes, and they'd smiled for him. They would not be taught to hate him, Günther knew. They'd never even be told who he and Petra had been. He'd dedicated himself to something larger and grander than mere corporeal existence. He and his colleagues had made a conscious and reasoned decision to build a better and more just world for the common man, and yet — and yet he and Petra had decided, also in a reasoned and conscious way, to bring into it children who would learn their parents' ways, to be the next generation of Bocks, to eat the fruits of their parents' heroic labor. Günther was enraged that this might not happen.

Worse still was his bewilderment. What had happened was quite impossible. Unmöglich. Unglaublich. The people, the common Volk of the DDR. had risen up like revolutionaries themselves, forsaking their nearly perfect socialist state, opting instead to merge with the exploitative monstrosity crafted by the imperialist powers. They'd been seduced by Blaupunkt appliances and Mercedes automobiles, and — what? Günther Bock genuinely did not understand. Despite his inborn intelligence, the events did not connect into a comprehensible pattern. That the people of his country had examined “scientific socialism” and decided it did not work and could never work — that was too great a leap of imagination for him to make. He'd committed too much of his life to Marxism ever to deny it. Without Marxism, after all, he was a criminal, a common murderer. Only his heroic revolutionary ethos elevated his activities above the acts of a thug. But his revolutionary ethos had been summarily rejected by his own chosen beneficiaries. That was simply impossible. Unmöglich.

It wasn't quite fair that so many impossible things piled one upon another. As he opened the paper he'd bought twenty minutes before at a kiosk seven blocks from his current residence, the photo on the front page caught his eye, as the paper's editor had fully intended.

CIA FETES KGB, the caption began.

“Was ist das denn für Quatsch?” Günther muttered.

“In yet another remarkable turn in a remarkable time, the Central Intelligence Agency hosted the First Deputy Chairman of the KGB in a conference concerning 'issues of mutual concern' to the world's two largest intelligence empires…” the story read. “Informed sources confirm that the newest area of East-West cooperation will include information-sharing on the increasingly close ties between international terrorists and the international drug trade. CIA and KGB will work together to…”

Bock set the paper down and stared out the window. He knew what it was to be a hunted animal. All revolutionaries did. It was the path he had chosen, along with Petra, and all their friends. The task was a clear one. They would test their cunning and skill against their enemies. The forces of light against the forces of darkness. Of course, it was the forces of light that had to run and hide, but that was a side issue. Sooner or later, the situation would be reversed when the common people saw the truth and sided with the revolutionaries. Except for one little problem. The common people had chosen to go another way. And the terrorist world was rapidly running out of dark places in which the forces of light might hide.

He'd come to Bulgaria for two reasons. Of all the former East Bloc countries, Bulgaria was the most backward and because of it had managed the most orderly transition from communist rule. In fact, communists still ran the country, though under different names, and the country was still politically safe, or at least neutral. The Bulgarian intelligence apparat, once the source of designated killers for KGB whose hands had finally become too clean for such activity, was still peopled with reliable friends. Reliable friends, Günther thought. But the Bulgarians were still in the thrall of their Russian masters — associates, now — and if KGB were really cooperating with CIA… The number of safe places was being reduced by one more digit.

Günther Bock should have felt a chill at the increased personal danger. Instead his face flushed and pulsed with rage. As a revolutionary he'd often enough bragged that every hand in the world was turned against him — but whenever he'd said that, it had been with the inner realization that such was not and would never be the case. Now his boast was becoming reality. There were still places to run, still contacts he could trust. But how many? How soon before trusted associates would bend to the changes in the world? The Soviets had betrayed themselves and world socialism. The Germans. The Poles. The Czechs, the Hungarians, the Romanians. Who was next?

Couldn't they see? It was all a trap, some kind of incredible conspiracy of counterrevolutionary forces. A lie. They were casting away what could be — should be — was — the perfect social order of structured freedom from want, orderly efficiency, of fairness and equality. Of…

Could that all be a lie? Could it all have been a horrible mistake? Had he and Petra killed those cowering exploiters for nothing?

But it didn't matter, did it? Not to Günther Bock, not right now. He was soon to be hunted again. One more safe patch of ground was about to become a hunting preserve for his enemies. If the Bulgarians shared their papers with the Russians, if the Russians had a few men in the right office, with the right credentials and the right access, his address and new identity could already be on its way to Washington, and from there to BND headquarters, and in a week's time he might be sharing a cell close to Petra's.

Petra, with her light brown hair and laughing blue eyes. As brave a girl as any man could want. Seemingly cold to her victims, wonderfully warm to her comrades. So fine a mother she'd been to Erika and Ursel, so superior at that task as she'd been at every other she'd ever attempted. Betrayed by supposed friends, caged like an animal, robbed of her own offspring. His beloved Petra, comrade, lover, wife, believer. Robbed of her life. And now he was being driven farther from her. There had to be a way to change things back.

But first, he had to get away.

Bock set the paper down and tidied up the kitchen. When things were clean and neat, he packed a single bag and left the apartment. The elevator had quit again, and he walked down the four flights to the street. Once there he caught a tram. In ninety minutes he was at the airport. His passport was a diplomatic one. In fact he had six of them carefully concealed in the lining of his Russian-made suitcase, and, ever the careful man, three of them were the numerical duplicates of others held by real Bulgarian diplomats, unknown to the Foreign Ministry office that kept the records. That guaranteed him free access to the most important ally of the international terrorist: air transport. Before time for lunch, his flight rotated off the tarmac, headed south.

Ryan's flight touched down at a military airport outside Rome just before noon, local time. By coincidence they rolled in right behind yet another VC-2oB of the 89th Military Airlift Wing that had arrived only a few minutes earlier from Moscow. The black limousine on the apron was waiting for both aircraft.

Deputy Secretary of State Scott Adler greeted Ryan as he stepped off with an understated smile.

“Well?” Ryan asked through the airport sounds.

“It's a go.”

“Damn,” Ryan said as he took Adler's hand. “How many more miracles can we expect this year?”

“How many do you want?” Adler was a professional diplomat who'd worked his way up the Russian side of the State Department. Fluent in their language, well-versed in their politics, past and present, he understood the Soviets as did few men in government — including Russians themselves. “You know the hard part about this?”

“Getting used to hearing da instead of nyet, right?”

“Takes all the fun out of negotiations. Diplomacy can really be a bitch when both sides are reasonable.” Adler laughed as the car pulled off.

“Well, this ought to be a new experience for both of us,” Jack observed soberly. He turned to watch “his” aircraft prepare for an immediate departure. He and Adler would be traveling together for the rest of the trip.

They sped towards central Rome with the usual heavy escort. The Red Brigade, so nearly exterminated a few years earlier, was back in business, and even if it hadn't been, the Italians were careful protecting foreign dignitaries. In the right-front seat was a serious-looking chap with a little Beretta squirt-gun. There were two lead cars, two chase cars, and enough cycles for a motocross race. The speedy progress down the ancient streets of Rome made Ryan wish he were back in an airplane. Every Italian driver, it seemed, had ambitions to ride in the Formula One circuit. Jack would have felt safer in a car with Clark, driving an unobtrusive vehicle on a random path, but in his current position his security arrangements were ceremonial in addition to being practical. There was one other consideration, of course…

“Nothing like a low profile,” Jack muttered to Adler.

“Don't sweat it. Every time I've come here it's been the same way. First time?”

“Yep. First time in Rome. I wonder how I've ever missed coming here — always wanted to, the history and all.”

“A lot of that,” Adler agreed. “Think we might make a little more?”

Ryan turned to look at his colleague. Making history was a new thought to him. Not to mention a dangerous one. “That's not my job, Scott.”

“If this does work, you know what'll happen.”

“Frankly, I never bothered thinking about that.”

“You ought to. No good deed ever goes unpunished.”

“You mean Secretary Talbot…?”

“No, not him. Definitely not my boss.”

Ryan looked forward to see a truck scuttle out of the way of the motorcade. The Italian police officer riding on the extreme right of the motorcycle escort hadn't flinched a millimeter.

“I'm not in this for credit. I just had an idea, is all. Now I'm just the advance man.”

Adler shook his head slightly and kept his peace. Jesus, how did you ever last this long in government service?

The striped jumpsuits of the Swiss Guards had been designed by Michaelangelo. Like the red tunics of the British guardsmen, they were anachronisms from a bygone era when it had made sense for soldiers to wear brightly-colored uniforms, and also, like the guardsmen uniforms, they were kept on more for their attractiveness to tourists than for any practical reason. The men and their weapons look so quaint. The Vatican guards carried halberds, evil-looking long-handled axes made originally for infantrymen to unhorse armored knights — as often as not by crippling the horse the enemy might be riding; horses didn't fight back very well, and war is ever a practical business. Once off his mount, an armored knight was dispatched with little more effort than that required to break up a lobster — and about as much remorse. People thought medieval weapons romantic somehow, Ryan told himself, but there was nothing romantic about what they were designed to do. A modern rifle might punch holes in some other fellow's anatomy. These were made to dismember. Both methods would kill, of course, but at least rifles made for neater burial.

The Swiss guards had rifles, too, Swiss rifles made by SIG. Not all of them wore Renaissance costumes, and since the attempt on John Paul II, many of the guards had received additional training, quietly and unobtrusively, of course, since such training did not exactly fit the image of the Vatican. Ryan wondered what Vatican policy was on the use of deadly force, whether the chief of the guards chafed at the rules imposed from on high by people who certainly did not appreciate the nature of the threat and the need for decisive protective action. But they'd do their best within their constraints, grumbling among themselves and voicing their opinions when the time seemed right, just like everyone else in that business.

A bishop met them, an Irishman named Shamus O'Toole whose thick red hair clashed horribly with his clothing. Ryan was first out of the car, and his first thought was a question: was he supposed to kiss O'Toole's ring or not? He didn't know. He hadn't met a real bishop since his confirmation — and it had been a long time since sixth grade in Baltimore. O'Toole deftly solved that problem by grasping Ryan's hand in a bearish grip.

“So many Irishmen in the world!” he said with a wide grin.

“Somebody has to keep things straight, Excellency.”

“Indeed, indeed!” O'Toole greeted Adler next. Scott was Jewish and had no intentions to kiss anyone's ring. “Would you come with me, gentlemen?”

Bishop O'Toole led them into a building whose history might have justified three scholarly volumes, plus a picture book for its art and architecture. Jack barely noticed the two metal detectors they passed through on the third floor. Leonardo da Vinci might have done the job, so skillfully were they concealed in door frames. Just like the White House. The Swiss guards didn't all wear uniforms. Some of the people prowling the halls in soft clothes were too young and too fit to be bureaucrats, but for all that the overall impression was a cross between visiting an old art museum and a cloister. The clerics wore cassocks, and the nuns — they were here in profusion also — were not wearing the semi-civilian attire adopted by their American counterparts. Ryan and Adler were parked briefly in a waiting room, more to appreciate the surroundings than to inconvenience them, Jack was sure. A Titian madonna adorned the opposite wall, and Ryan admired it while Bishop O'Toole announced the visitors.

“God, I wonder if he ever did a small painting?” Ryan muttered. Adler chuckled.

“He did know how to capture a face and a look and a moment, didn't he? Ready?”

“Yeah,” Ryan said. He felt oddly confident.

“Gentlemen!” O'Toole said from the open door. “Will you come this way, please?” They walked through yet another anteroom. This one had two secretarial desks, both unoccupied, and another set of doors that looked fourteen feet tall.

The office of Giovanni Cardinal D'Antonio would have been used in America for balls or formal occasions of state. The ceiling was frescoed, the walls covered with blue silk, and the floor in ancient hardwood accented with rugs large enough for an average living room. The furniture was probably the most recent in manufacture, and that looked to be at least two hundred years old, brocaded fabric taut over the cushions and gold leaf on the curved wooden legs. A silver coffee service told Ryan where to sit.

The cardinal came towards them from his desk, smiling in the way that a king might have done a few centuries earlier to greet a favored minister. D'Antonio was a man of short stature, and clearly one who enjoyed good food. He must have been a good forty pounds overweight. The room air reported that he was a man who smoked, something he ought to have stopped, since he was rapidly approaching seventy years of age. The old, pudgy face had an earthy dignity to it. The son of a Sicilian fisherman, D'Antonio had mischievous brown eyes to suggest a roughness of character that fifty years of service to the church had not wholly erased. Ryan knew his background and could easily see him pulling in nets at his father's side, back a very long time ago. The earthiness was also a useful disguise for a diplomat, and that's what D'Antonio was by profession, whatever his vocation might have been. A linguist like many Vatican officials, he was a man who had spent thirty years practicing his trade, and the lack of military power that had crippled his efforts at making the world change had merely taught him craftiness. In intelligence parlance he was an agent of influence, welcome in many settings, always ready to listen or offer advice. Of course, he greeted Adler first.

“So good to see you again, Scott.”

“Eminence, a pleasure as always.” Adler took the offered hand and smiled his diplomat's smile.

“And you are Dr. Ryan. We have heard so many things about you.”

“Thank you, Your Eminence.”

“Please, please.” D'Antonio waved both men to a sofa so beautiful that Ryan flinched at resting his weight on it. “Coffee?”

“Yes, thank you,” Adler said for both of them. Bishop O'Toole did the pouring, then sat down to take notes. “So good of you to allow us in at such short notice.”

“Nonsense.” Ryan watched in no small amazement as the cardinal reached inside his cassock and pulled out a cigar holder. A tool that looked like silver, but was probably stainless steel, performed the appropriate surgery on the largish brown tube, then D'Antonio lit it with a gold lighter. There wasn't even an apology about the sins of the flesh. It was as though the cardinal had quietly flipped off the “dignity” switch to put his guests at ease. More likely, Ryan thought, he merely worked better with a cigar in his hand. Bismarck had felt the same way.

“You are familiar with the rough outlines of our concept,” Adler opened.

“Sì. I must say that I find it very interesting. You know, of course, that the Holy Father proposed something along similar lines some time ago.”

Ryan looked up at that. He hadn't.

“When the initiative first came out, I did a paper on its merits,” Adler said. “The weak point was the inability to address security considerations, but in the aftermath of the Iraq situation, we have the opening. Also, you realize, of course, that our concept does not exactly—”

“Your concept is acceptable to us,” D'Antonio said with a regal wave of his cigar. “How could it be otherwise?”

“That, Eminence, is precisely what we wanted to hear.” Adler picked up his coffee. “You have no reservations?”

“You will find us highly flexible, so long as there is genuine good will among the active parties. If there is total equality among the participants, we can agree unconditionally to your proposal.” The old eyes sparkled. “But can you guarantee equality of treatment?”

“I believe we can,” Adler said seriously.

“I think it should be possible, else we are all charlatans. What of the Soviets?”

“They will not interfere. In fact, we are hoping for open support. In any case, what with the distractions they already have—”

“Indeed. They will benefit from the diminution of the discord in the region, the stability on various markets, and general international good will.”

Amazing, Ryan thought. Amazing how matter-of-factly people have absorbed the changes in the world. As though they had been expected. They had not. Not by anyone. If anyone had suggested their possibility ten years earlier, he would have been institutionalized.

“Quite so.” The Deputy Secretary of State set down his cup. “Now on the question of the announcement…”

Another wave of the cigar. “Of course, you will want the Holy Father to make it.”

“How very perceptive,” Adler observed.

“I am not yet completely senile,” the Cardinal replied. “And press leaks?”

“We would prefer none.”

“That is easily accomplished in this city, but in yours? Who knows of this initiative?”

“Very few,” Ryan said, opening his mouth for the first time since sitting down. “So far, so good.”

“But on your next stop…?” D'Antonio had not been informed of their next stop, but it was the obvious one.

“That might be a problem,” Ryan said cautiously. “We'll see.”

“The Holy Father and I will both be praying for your success.”

“Perhaps this time your prayers will be answered,” Adler said.

Fifty minutes later, the VC-2oB lifted off again. It soared upward across the Italian coast, then turned southwest to re-cross Italy on the way to its next destination.

“Jesus, that was fast,” Jack observed when the seatbelt light went off. He kept his buckled, of course. Adler lit a cigarette and blew smoke at the window on his side of the cabin.

“Jack, this is one of those situations where you do it fast or it doesn't get done.” He turned and smiled. “They're rare, but they happen.”

The cabin attendant — this one was a male — came aft and handed both men copies of a print-out that had just arrived on the aircraft facsimile machine.

“What?” Ryan observed crossly. “What gives?”

In Washington people do not always have time to read the papers, at least not all the papers. To assist those in government service to see what the press is saying about things is an in-house daily press-summary sheet called The Early Bird. Early editions of all major American papers are flown to D.C. on regular airline flights, and before dawn they are vetted for stories relating to all manner of government operations. Relevant material is clipped and photocopied, then distributed by the thousands to various offices whose staff members then repeat the process by highlighting individual stories for their superiors. This process is particularly difficult in the White House, whose staff members are by definition interested in everything.

Dr. Elizabeth Elliot was Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. The immediate subordinate to Dr. Charles Alden, whose title was the same, but without the “Special,” Liz, also referred to as “E.E.,” was dressed in a fashionable linen suit. Current fashions dictated that women's “power” clothing was not mannish but feminine, the idea being that since even the most obtuse of men would be able to tell the difference between themselves and women, there was little point in trying to conceal the truth. The truth was that Dr. Elliot was not physically unattractive and enjoyed dressing to emphasize the fact. Tall at five feet eight inches, and with a slender figure that long work hours and mediocre food sustained, she did not like playing second-fiddle to Charlie Alden. And besides, Alden was a Yalie. She'd most recently been Professor of Political Science at Bennington, and resented the fact that Yale was considered more prestigious by whatever authorities made such judgments.

Current work schedules at the White House were easier than those of only a few years earlier, at least in the national-security shop. President Fowler did not feel the need for a first-thing-in-the-morning intelligence briefing. The world situation was far more pacific than any of his predecessors had known, and Fowler's main problems were of the domestic political variety. Commentary on that could readily be had from watching morning TV news shows, something Fowler did by watching two or more TV sets at the same time, something that had infuriated his wife and still bemused his staffers. That fact meant that Dr. Alden didn't have to arrive until 8:00 or so to get his morning briefing, after which he would brief the President at 9:30. President Fowler didn't like dealing directly with the briefing officers from CIA. As a result, it was E.E. who had to arrive just after six so that she could screen dispatches and message traffic, confer with the CIA watch officers (she didn't like them either), and their counterparts from State and Defense. She also got to read over The Early Bird, and to highlight items of interest for her boss, the estimable Dr. Charles Alden.

Like I'm a goddamned addle-brained simpering secretary, E.E. fumed.

Alden, she thought, was a logical contradiction. A liberal who talked tough, a skirt-chaser who supported women's rights, a kindly, considerate man who probably enjoyed using her like a goddamned functionary. That he was also a distinguished observer and an amazingly accurate forecaster of events, with an even dozen books — each of them thoughtful and perceptive — was beside the point. He was in her job. It had been promised to her while Fowler had still been a longshot candidate. The compromise that had placed Alden in his west-wing corner office and her in the basement was merely another of those acts that political figures use as excuses to violate their word without anything more than a perfunctory apology. The Vice President had demanded and gotten the concession at the convention; he'd also gotten what should have been her office on the main level for one of his own people, relegating her to this most prestigious of dungeons. In return for that, the Veep was a team player, and his tireless campaigning was widely regarded as having made the difference. The Vice President had delivered California, and without California, J. Robert Fowler would still be governor of Ohio. And so she had a twelve-by-fifteen office in the basement, playing secretary and/or administrative assistant to a goddamned Yalie who appeared once a month on the Sunday talk shows, and hobnobbed with chiefs of state with her as lady-in-goddamned-waiting.

Dr. Elizabeth Elliot was in her normal early-morning mood, which was foul, as any White House regular could testify. She walked out of her office and into the White House Mess for a refill of her coffee cup. The strong drip coffee only made her mood the fouler, a thought that stopped her in her tracks and forced a self-directed smile she never bothered displaying for any of the security personnel who checked her pass every morning at the west ground-level entrance. They were just cops, after all, and cops were nothing to get excited about. Food was served by Navy stewards, and the only good thing about them was that they were largely minorities, many Filipinos in what she deemed a disgraceful carryover from America 's colonial-exploitation period. The long-service secretaries and other support personnel were not political, hence mere bureaucrats of one description or another. The important people in this building were political. What little charm E.E. had was saved for them. The Secret Service agents observed her movements with about as much interest as they might have accorded the President's dog, if he'd had a dog, which he didn't. Both they and the professionals who ran the White House, despite the arrivals and departures of various self-inflated egos in human form, regarded her as just another of many politically-elevated individuals who would depart in due course while the pros stayed on, faithfully doing their duty in accordance with their oaths of office. The White House caste system was an old one, with each regarding all the others as less than itself.

Elliot returned to her desk, and set her coffee down to get a good stretch. The swivel chair was comfortable — the physical arrangements here were first-rate, far better than those at Bennington — but the endless weeks of early mornings and late nights had taken a physical toll in addition to that on her character. She told herself that she ought to return to working out. At least to walk. Many staffers took part of lunch to pace up and down the mall. The more energetic even jogged. Some female staffers took to jogging with military officers detailed to the building, especially the single ones, doubtless drawn to the short haircuts and simplistic mentalities that attached to uniformed service. But E.E. didn't have time for that, and so she settled for a stretch before sitting down with a muttered curse. Department head at America 's most important women's college, and here she was playing secretary to a goddamned Yalie. But bitching didn't ever fix things, and she went back to work.

She was halfway through the Bird, and flipped to a new page as she picked up her yellow highlighting pen. The articles were unevenly set. Almost all were just crooked enough on the redacted pages to annoy, and E.E. was a pathologically neat person. At the top of page eleven was a small piece from the Hartford Courant. ALDEN PATERNITY CASE read the headline. Her coffee mug stopped in mid-flight.


Suit papers will be filed this week in New Haven by Ms. Marsha Blum, alleging that her newly-born daughter was fathered by Professor Charles W. Alden, former Chairman of the Department of History at Yale, and currently National Security Advisor to President Fowler. Claiming a two-year relationship with Dr. Alden, Ms. Blum, herself a doctoral candidate in Russian history, is suing Alden for lack of child support…

“That randy old goat,” Elliot whispered to herself.

And it was true. That thought came to her in a blazing moment of clarity. It had to be. Alden's amorous adventures were already the subject of humorous columns in the Post. Charlie chased skirts, slacks, any garment that had a woman inside it.

Marsha Blum… Jewish! Probably. The jerk was banging one of his doctoral students. Knocked her up even. I wonder why she just didn't get an abortion and be done with it? I bet he dumped her, and she was so mad…

Oh, God, he's scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia later today…

We can't let that happen…

The idiot. No warning. He didn't talk to anyone about it. He couldn't have. I would have heard. Secrets like that last about as long as they take to repeat in the lavatory. What if he hadn't even known himself? Could this Blum girl be that angry with Charlie? That resulted in a smirk. Sure, she could.

Elliot lifted her phone… and paused for a moment. You didn't just call the President in his bedroom. Not for just anything. Especially not when you stood to make a personal gain from what happened.

On the other hand…

What would the Vice President say? Alden was really his man. But the VP was pretty strait-laced. Hadn't he warned Charlie to keep a lower profile on his womanizing? Yes, three months ago. The ultimate political sin. He'd gotten caught. Not with his hand in the cookie jar either. That brought out a short bark of a laugh. Shtuping one of his seminar girls! What an asshole! And this guy was telling the President how to conduct affairs of state. That almost unleashed a giggle.

Damage control.

The feminists would freak. They'd ignore the stupidity of the Blum girl for not taking care of her unwanted — was it? — pregnancy in the feminist way. After all, what was “pro-choice” all about? She'd made her choice, period. To the feminist community it was simply a case of a male turd who had exploited a sister and was now employed by a supposedly pro-feminist President.

The anti-abortion crowd would also disapprove… even more violently. They'd recently done something intelligent, which struck Elizabeth Elliot as nothing short of miraculous. Two stoutly conservative senators were sponsoring legislation to compel “illegitimate fathers” to support their irregular offspring. If abortion was to be outlawed, it had finally occurred to those Neanderthals that someone had to do something about the unwanted children. Moreover, that crowd was on another morality kick, and they were kicking the Fowler Administration for a number of reasons already. To the right-wing nuts, Alden would just be another irresponsible lecher, a white one — so much the better — and one in an administration they loathed.

E.E. considered all the angles for several minutes, forcing herself to be dispassionate, examining the options, thinking it through from Alden's angle. What could he do? Deny it was his? Well, a genetic testing would establish that, and that was guts-ball, something for which Alden probably didn't have the stomach. If he admitted it… well, clearly he couldn't marry the girl (the article said she was only twenty-four). Supporting the child would be an admission of paternity, a gross violation of academic integrity. After all, professors weren't supposed to bed their students. That it happened, as E.E. well knew, was beside the point. As with politics, the rule in academia was to avoid detection. What might be the subject of a hilarious anecdote over a faculty lunch table became infamy in the public press.

Charlie's gone, and what timing…

E.E. punched the number to the upstairs bedroom.

“The President, please. This is Dr. Elliot calling.” A pause while the Secret Service agent asked if the President would take the call. God, I hope I didn't catch him on the crapper! But it was too late to worry about that.

The hand came off the mouthpiece at the other end of the circuit. Elliot heard the whirring sound of the President's shaver, then a gruff voice.

“What is it, Elizabeth?”

“Mr. President, we have a little problem I think you need to see right away.”

“Right away?”

“Now, sir. It's potentially damaging. You'll want Arnie there also.”

“It's not the proposal that we're—”

“No, Mr. President. Something else. I'm not kidding. It's potentially very serious.”

“Okay, come on up in five minutes. I presume you can wait for me to brush my teeth?” A little presidential humor.

“Five minutes, sir.”

The connection was broken. Elliot set the phone down slowly. Five minutes. She'd wanted more time than that. Quickly she took her makeup case from a desk drawer and hurried off to the nearest bathroom. A quick look in the mirror… no, first she had to take care of the morning coffee. Her stomach told her that an antacid tablet might be a good idea, too. She did that, then rechecked her hair and face. They'd do, she decided. Just some minor repairs to her cheek highlights…

Elizabeth Elliot, Ph.D., walked stiffly back to her office and took another thirty seconds to compose herself before lifting The Early Bird and leaving for the elevator. It was already at the basement level, the door open. It was manned by a Secret Service agent who smiled good morning at the arrogant bitch only because he was inveterately polite, even to people like E.E.

“Where to?”

Dr. Elliot smiled most charmingly. “Going up,” she told the surprised agent.


Ryan stayed in VIP quarters at the U.S. Embassy, waiting for the clock hands to move. He was taking Dr. Alden's place in Riyadh, but since he was visiting a prince, and princes don't like their calendars rearranged any more than the next man, he had to sit tight while the clock simulated Alden's flight time across the world to where Ryan was. After three hours he got tired of watching satellite TV, and took a walk, accompanied by a discreet security guard. Ordinarily, Ryan would have availed himself of the man's services as a tour guide, but not today. Now he wanted his brain in neutral. It was his first time in Israel and he wanted his impressions to be his own while his mind played over what he'd been watching on TV.

It was hot here on the streets of Tel Aviv, and hotter still where he was going, of course. The streets were busy with people scurrying about shopping or pursuing business. There was the expected number of police about, but more discordant was the occasional civilian toting an Uzi sub-machinegun, doubtless on his — or her — way to or from a reserve meeting. It was the sort of thing to shock an American anti-gun nut (or warm the heart of a pro-gun nut). Ryan figured that the weapons display probably knocked the hell out of purse-snatching and street crime. Ordinary civil crime, he knew, was pretty rare here. But terrorist bombings and other less pleasant acts were not. And things were getting worse instead of better. That wasn't new either.

The Holy Land, sacred to Christians, Muslims, and Jews, he thought. Historically, it had the misfortune to be at the crossroads between Europe and Africa on one hand — the Roman, Greek, and Egyptian empires — and Asia on the other — the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Persians — and one constant fact in military history was that a crossroads was always contested by somebody. The rise of Christianity, followed 700 years later by the rise of Islam, hadn't changed matters very much, though it had redefined the teams somewhat, and given wider religious significance to the crossroads already contested for three millennia. And that only made the wars all the more bitter.

It was easy to be cynical about it. The First Crusade, 1096, Ryan thought it was, had mainly been about extras. Knights and nobles were passionate people, and produced more offspring than their castles and associated cathedrals could support. The son of a noble could hardly take up farming, and those not eliminated by childhood disease had to go somewhere. And when Pope Urban II had sent out his message that the infidels had overrun the land of Christ, it became possible for men to launch a war of aggression to reclaim land of religious importance and to find themselves fiefdoms to rule, peasants to oppress, and trade routes to the Orient on which to sit and charge their tolls. Whichever objective might have been the more important probably differed from one heart to another, but they all had known of both. Jack wondered how many different kinds of feet had trodden on these streets, and how they had reconciled their personal-political-commercial objectives with their putatively holy cause. Doubtless the same had been true of Muslims, of course, since three hundred years after Mohammed the venal had doubtless added their ranks to those of the devout, just as it had happened in Christianity. Stuck in the middle were the Jews, those not scattered by the Romans, or those who had found their way back. The Jews had probably been treated more brutally by the Christians back in the early second millennium, something else which had since changed, probably more than once.

Like a bone, an immortal bone fought over by endless packs of hungry dogs.

But the reason the bone was not ever destroyed, the reason the dogs kept coming back over the span of centuries was what the land represented. So much history. Scores of historical figures had been here, including the Son of God, as the Catholic part of Ryan believed. Beyond the significance of the very location, this narrow land bridge between continents and cultures, were thoughts and ideals and hopes that lived in the minds of men, somehow embodied in the sand and stones of a singularly unattractive place that only a scorpion could really love. Jack supposed that there were five great religions in the world, only three of which had really spread beyond their own point of origin. Those three had their home within a few miles of where he stood.

So, of course, this is where they fight wars.

The blasphemy was stunning. Monotheism had been born here, hadn't it? Starting with the Jews, and built upon by Christians and Muslims, here was the place where the idea had caught on. The Jewish people — Israelites seemed too strange a term — had defended their faith with stubborn ferocity for thousands of years, surviving everything the animists and pagans could throw at them, and then facing their sternest tests at the hands of religions grown on the ideas that they had defended. It hardly seemed fair — it wasn't fair at all, of course — but religious wars were the most barbaric of all. If one were fighting for God Himself, then one could do nearly anything. One's enemies in such a war were also fighting against God, a hateful and damnable thing. To dispute the authority of Authority itself — well, each soldier could see himself as God's own avenging sword. There could be no restraint. One's actions to chastise the enemy/sinner were sanctioned as thoroughly as anything could be. Rapine, plunder, slaughter, all the basest crimes of man would become something more than right — made into a duty, a Holy Cause, not sins at all. Not just being paid to do terrible things, not just sinning because sin felt good, but being told that you could literally get away with anything, because God really was on your side. They even took it to the grave. In England, knights who had served in the Crusades were buried under stone effigies whose legs were crossed instead of lying side by side — the mark of a holy crusader — so that all eternity could know that they'd served their time in God's name, wetting their swords in children's blood, raping anything that might have caught their lonely eyes, and stealing whatever wasn't set firmly in the ground. All sides. The Jews mainly as victims, but taking their part on the hilt end of the sword when they got the chance, because all men were alike in their virtues and vices.

The bastards must have loved it, Jack thought bleakly, watching a traffic cop settling a dispute at a busy corner. There must have been some genuinely good men back then. What did they do? What did they think? I wonder what God thought?

But Ryan wasn't a priest or a rabbi or an imam. Ryan was a senior intelligence officer, an instrument of his country, an observer and reporter of information. He continued looking around, and forgot about history for the moment.

The people were dressed for the oppressive heat, and the bustle of the streets made him think of Manhattan. So many of them had portable radios. He passed a sidewalk restaurant and saw no less than ten people listening to an hourly news broadcast. Jack had to smile at that. His kind of people. When driving his car, the radio was always tuned to an all-news D.C. station. The eyes he saw flickered about. The level of alertness was so pervasive that it took him a few moments to grasp it. Like the eyes of his own security guard. Looking for trouble. Well, that made sense. The incident on Temple Mount had not sparked a wave of violence, but such a wave was expected — it did not surprise Ryan that the people in his sight failed to recognize the greater threat to them that came from the absence of violence. Israel had a myopia of outlook that was not hard to comprehend. The Israelis, surrounded by countries that had every reason to see the Jewish state immolated, had elevated paranoia to an art form, and national security to an obsession. One thousand nine hundred years after Masada and the diaspora, they'd returned to a land they'd consecrated, fleeing oppression and genocide… only to invite more of the same. The difference was that they now held the sword, and had well and truly learned its use. But that, too, was a dead end. Wars were supposed to end in peace, but none of their wars had really ended. They'd stopped, been interrupted, no more than that. For Israel, peace had been nothing more than an intermission, time to bury the dead and train the next class of fighters. The Jews had fled from near-extermination at Christian hands, betting their existence on their ability to defeat Muslim nations that had at once voiced their desire to finish what Hitler had started. And God probably thought exactly what He had thought during the Crusades. Unfortunately, parting seas and fixing the sun in the sky seemed to be things of the Old Testament. Men were supposed to settle things now. But men didn't always do what they were supposed to do. When Thomas More had written Utopia, the state in which men acted morally in all cases, he had given both the place and the book the same title. The meaning of “Utopia” is “Noplace.” Jack shook his head and turned a corner down another street of white-painted stucco buildings.

“Hello, Dr. Ryan.”

The man was in his middle fifties, shorter than Jack, and more heavyset. He had a full beard, neatly trimmed, but speckled with gray, and looked less like a Jew than a unit commander in Sennacherib's Assyrian army. A broadsword or mace would not have been out of place in his hand. Had he not been smiling, Ryan would have wanted John Clark at his side.

“Hello, Avi. Fancy meeting you here.”

General Abraham Ben Jakob was Ryan's counterpart in the Mossad, assistant director of the Israeli foreign-intelligence agency. A serious player in the intelligence trade, Avi had been a professional army officer until 1968, a paratrooper with extensive special-operations experience who'd been talent-scouted by Rafi Eitan and brought into the fold. His path had crossed Ryan's half a dozen times in the past few years, but always in Washington. Ryan had the utmost respect for Ben Jakob as a professional. He wasn't sure what Avi thought of him. General Ben Jakob was very effective at concealing his thoughts and feelings.

“What is the news from Washington, Jack?”

“All I know is what I saw on CNN at the embassy. Nothing official yet, and even if there were, you know the rules better than I do, Avi. Is there a good place to eat around here?”

That had already been planned, of course. Two minutes and a hundred yards later, they were in the back room of a quiet mom-and-pop place where both men's security guards could keep an eye on things. Ben Jakob ordered two Heinekens.

“Where you're going, they do not serve beer.”

“Tacky, Avi. Very tacky,” Ryan replied after his first sip.

“You are taking Alden's place in Riyadh, I understand.”

“How could the likes of me ever take Dr. Alden's place anywhere?”

“You will be making your presentation about the same time Adler makes his. We are interested to hear it.”

“In that case you will not mind waiting, I guess.”

“No preview, not even one professional to another?”

“Especially not one professional to another.” Jack drank his beer right out of the bottle. The menu, he saw, was in Hebrew. “Guess I'll have to let you order… That damned fool!” I've been left holding the bag before, but never one this big.

“Alden.” It was not a question. “He's my age. Good God, he should know that experienced women are both more reliable and more knowledgeable.” Even in affairs of the heart, his terminology was professional.

“He might even pay more attention to his wife.”

Ben Jakob grinned. “I keep forgetting how Catholic you are.”

“That's not it, Avi. What lunatic wants more than one woman in his life?” Ryan asked deadpan.

“He's gone. That's the evaluation of our embassy.” But what does that mean?

“Maybe so. Nobody asked me for an opinion. I really respect the guy. He gives the President good advice. He listens to us, and when he disagrees with the Agency, he generally has a good reason for doing so. He caught me short on something six months back. The man is brilliant. But playing around like that… well, I guess we all have our faults. What a damn-fool reason to lose a job like that. Can't keep his pants zipped.” And what timing, Jack raged at himself.

“Such people cannot be in government service. They are too easy to compromise.”

“The Russians are getting away from honey traps… and the girl was Jewish, wasn't she? One of yours, Avi?”

“Doctor Ryan! Would I do such a thing?” If a bear could laugh, it would have sounded like Avi Ben Jakob's outburst.

“Can't be your operation. There was evidently no attempt at blackmail.” Jack nearly crossed the line with that one. The general's eyes narrowed.

“It was not our operation. You think us mad? Dr. Elliot will replace Alden.”

Ryan looked up from his beer. He hadn't thought about that. Oh, shit…

“Both your friend and ours,” Avi pointed out.

“How many government ministers have you disagreed with in the last twenty years, Avi?”

“None, of course.”

Ryan snorted and finished off the bottle. “What was that you said earlier, the part about one professional to another, remember?”

“We both do the same thing. Sometimes, when we are very lucky, they listen to us.”

“And some of the times they listen to us, we're the ones who're wrong… ”

General Ben Jakob didn't alter his steady, relaxed gaze into Ryan's face when he heard that. It was yet another sign of Ryan's growing maturity. He genuinely liked Ryan as a man and as a professional, but personal likes and dislikes had little place in the intelligence trade. Something fundamental was happening. Scott Adler had been to Moscow. Both he and Ryan had visited Cardinal D'Antonio in the Vatican. As originally planned, Ryan was supposed to backstop Adler here with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, but Alden's astounding faux pas had changed that.

Even for an intelligence professional, Avi Ben Jakob was a singularly well-informed man. Ryan waffled on the question of whether or not Israel was America 's most dependable ally in the Middle East. That was to be expected from an historian, Avi judged. Whatever Ryan thought, most Americans did regard Israel that way, and as a result, Israelis heard more from inside the American government than any other country — more even than the British, who had a formal relationship with the American intelligence community.

Those sources had informed Ben Jakob's intelligence officers that Ryan was behind what was going on. That seemed incredibly unlikely. Jack was very bright, almost as smart as Alden, for example, but Ryan had also defined his own role as a servant, not a master, an implementer of policy, not a maker of it. Besides, the American President did not like Ryan, and had not hidden the fact from his inner circle. Elizabeth Elliot was reported to hate him, Avi knew. Something that had happened before the election, an imagined slight, a harsh word. Well, government ministers were notoriously touchy. Not like Ryan and me, General Ben Jakob thought. Both he and Ryan had faced death more than once, and perhaps that was their bond. They didn't have to agree on everything. There was respect between them.

Moscow, Rome, Tel Aviv, Riyadh. What could he deduce from that?

Scott Adler was Secretary of State Talbot's picked man, a highly skilled professional diplomat. Talbot was also bright. President Fowler might not have been terribly impressive, but he had selected superior cabinet officers and personal advisers. Except for Elliot, Avi corrected himself. Talbot used Deputy Secretary Adler to do his important advance work. And when Talbot himself entered formal negotiations, Adler was always at his side.

The most amazing thing, of course, was that not one of the Mossad's informants had a clue what was going on. Something important in the Middle East, they said. Not sure what… I heard that Jack Ryan at the Agency had something to do with it… End of report.

It should have been infuriating, but Avi was used to that. Intelligence was a game where you never saw all the cards. Ben Jakob's brother was a pediatrician with similar problems. A sick child rarely told him what was wrong. Of course, his brother could always ask, or point, or probe…

“Jack, I must tell my superiors something,” General Ben Jakob said plaintively.

“Come on, General.” Jack turned and waved for another beer. “Tell me, what the hell happened on the Mount?”

“The man was — is deranged. In the hospital they have a suicide watch on him. His wife had just left him, he came under the influence of a religious fanatic, and…” Ben Jakob shrugged. “It was terrible to see.”

That's true, Avi. Do you have any idea the political fix you're in now?"

“Jack, we've been dealing with this problem for—”

“I thought so. Avi, you are one very bright spook, but you do not know what's happening this time. You really don't.”

“So tell me.”

“I didn't mean that, and you know it. What happened a couple days ago has changed things forever, General. You must know that.”

“Changed to what?”

“You're going to have to wait. I have my orders, too.”

“Does your country threaten us?”

“Threaten? That will never happen, Avi. How could it?” Ryan warned himself that he was talking too much. This guy is good, Jack reminded himself.

“But you cannot dictate policy to us.”

Jack bit off his reply. “You're very clever, General, but I still have my orders. You have to wait. I'm sorry that your people in D.C. can't help you, but neither can I.”

Ben Jakob changed tack yet again. “I'm even buying you a meal, and my country is not so rich as yours.”

Jack laughed at his tone. “Good beer, too, and as you say, I can't do this where you say I'm going. If that's where I'm going… ”

“Your air crew has already filed the flight plan. I checked.”

“So much for secrecy.” Jack accepted the new bottle with a smile for the waiter. “Avi, let it rest for a while. Do you really think that we'd do anything to compromise your country's security?”

Yes! the General thought, but he couldn't say that, of course. Instead he said nothing. But Ryan wasn't buying, and used the silence to change the course of the discussion himself.

“I hear you're a grandfather now.”

“Yes, my daughter added to the gray in my beard. A daughter of her own, Leah.”

“You have my word: Leah will have a secure country to grow up in, Avi.”

“And who will see to that?” Ben Jakob asked.

“The same people who always have.” Ryan congratulated himself for the answer. The poor guy really was desperate for information, and he was sad that Avi had made it so obvious. Well, even the best of us can be pushed into corners…

Ben Jakob made a mental note to have the file on Ryan updated. The next time they met, he wanted to have better information. The General wasn't a man who enjoyed losing at anything.

Dr. Charles Alden contemplated his office. He wasn't leaving quite yet, of course. It would harm the Fowler Administration. His resignation, signed and sitting on the green desk blotter, was for the end of the month. But that was just for show. As of today, his duties were at an end. He'd show up, read the briefing papers, scribble his notes, but Elizabeth Elliot would do the briefs now. The President had been regretful, but his usual cool self. Sorry to lose you, Charlie, really sorry, especially now, but I'm afraid there's just no other way… He'd managed to retain his dignity in the Oval Office despite the rage he'd felt. Even Arnie van Damm had been human enough to observe “Oh, shit, Charlie!” Though enraged at the political damage to his boss, van Damm had at least mixed a little humanity and locker-room sympathy with his anger. But not Bob Fowler, champion of the poor and the helpless.

It was worse with Liz. That arrogant bitch, with her silence and her eloquent eyes. She'd get the credit for what he had done. She knew it, and was already basking in it.

The announcement would be made in the morning. It had already been leaked to the press. By whom was anyone's guess. Elliot, displaying her satisfaction? Arnie van Damm, in a rapid effort at damage control? One of a dozen others?

The transition from power to obscurity comes fast in Washington. The embarrassed look on the face of his secretary. The forced smiles of the other bureaucrats in the West Wing. But obscurity comes only after a blaze of publicity to announce the fact: like the flare of light from an exploding star, public death is preceded by dazzling fanfare. That was the media's job. The phone was ringing off the hook. There had been twenty of them waiting outside his house in the morning, cameras at the ready, sun-like lights blazing in his face. And knowing what it had to be even before the first question.

That foolish little bitch! With her cowlike eyes and cowlike udders and broad cowlike hips. How could he have been so stupid! Professor Charles Winston Alden sat in his expensive chair and stared at his expensive desk. His head was bursting with a headache that he attributed to stress and anger. And he was right. But he failed to allow for the fact that his blood pressure was nearly double what it should have been, driven to new heights by the stress of the moment. He similarly failed to consider the fact that he had not taken his antihypertensive medication in the past week. A prototypical professor, he was always forgetting the little things while his methodical mind picked apart the most intricate of problems.

And so it came as a surprise. It started at an existing weakness in part of the Circle of Willis, the brain's own blood-beltway. Designed to get blood to any part of the brain, as a means of bypassing vessels that might become blocked with age, the vessel carried a huge amount of blood. Twenty years of high blood-pressure, and twenty years of his taking his medication only when he remembered that he had an upcoming doctor's appointment, and the added stress of seeing his career stop with a demeaning personal disgrace, culminated in a rupture of the vessel on the right side of his head. What had been a searing migraine headache became death itself. Alden's eyes opened wide, and his hands flew up to grasp his skull as though to hold it together. It was too late for that. The rip widened, allowing more blood to escape. This both deprived important parts of his brain of the oxygen needed to function and further boosted intra-cranial pressure to the point that other brain cells were squeezed to extinction.

Though paralyzed, Alden did not lose consciousness for quite some time, and his brilliant mind recorded the event with remarkable clarity. Already unable to move, he knew that death was coming for him. So close, he thought, his mind racing to outrun death. Thirty-five years to get here. All those books. All those seminars. The bright young students. The lecture circuit. The talk shows. The campaigns. All to get here. I was so close to accomplishing something important. Oh, God! To die now, to die like this! But he knew that death was here, that he had to accept it. He hoped that someone would forgive him. He hadn't been a bad man, had he? He'd tried so hard to make a difference, to make the world a better place, and now on the brink of something really important… so much the better for everyone if this had happened while he was mounted on that foolish little cow… better still, he knew in one final moment, if his studies and his intellect had been his only pass—

Alden's disgrace and de facto firing determined the fact that his death would take long to discover. Instead of being buzzed by his secretary every few minutes, it took nearly an hour. Because she was intercepting all calls to him, none were forwarded. It would not have mattered in any case, though it would cause his secretary some guilt for weeks to come. Finally, when she was ready to leave for the day, she decided that she had to tell him so. She buzzed him over the intercom, and got no response. Frowning, she paused, then buzzed him again. Still nothing. Next she rose and walked to the door, knocking on it. Finally she opened it, and screamed loudly enough that the Secret Service agents outside the Oval Office in the opposite corner of the building heard her. The first to arrive was Helen D'Agustino, one of the President's personal bodyguards, who'd been walking the corridors to loosen up after sitting most of the day.

“Shit!” And that fast her service revolver was out. She'd never seen so much blood in her life, all coming out of Alden's right ear and puddling on his desk. She shouted an alert over her radio transmitter. It had to be a head shot. Her sharp eyes swept the room, tracking over the front sight of her Model 19 Smith & Wesson. Windows intact. She darted across the room. Nobody here. So, what then?

Next she felt with her left hand for Alden's pulse on the carotid artery. Of course there was none, but training dictated that she had to check. Outside the room, all exits to the White House were blocked, guns were drawn, and visitors froze in their tracks. Secret Service agents were conducting a thorough check of the entire building.

“Goddamn!” Pete Connor observed as he entered the room.

“Sweep is complete!” a voice told both of them through their ear-pieces. “Building is clear. H AWK is secure.” “Hawk” was the President's code-name with the Secret Service. It displayed the agent's institutional sense of humor, both for its association with the President's name and its ironic dissonance with his politics.

“Ambulance is two minutes out!” the communications center added. They could get an ambulance faster than a helicopter.

“Stand easy, Daga,” Connor said. “I think the man had a stroke.”

“Move!” This was a Navy chief medical corpsman. The Secret Service agents were trained in first aid, of course, but the White House always had a medical team standing by, and the corpsman was first on the scene. He carried the sort of duffel bag carried by corpsmen in the field, but didn't bother opening it. There was just too much blood on the desk, he saw instantly, and the top of the puddle was congealing. The corpsman decided not to disturb the body — it was a potential crime scene, and the Secret Service guys had briefed him on that set of rules — most of the blood had come out Dr. Alden's right ear. There was a trickle from the left one also, and postmortem lividity was already starting in what parts of the face he could see. Diagnoses didn't come much easier than that.

“He's dead, probably been close to an hour, guys. Cerebral hemorrhage. Stroke. Isn't this guy a hypertensive?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Special Agent D'Agustino said after a moment.

“You'll have to post him to be sure, but that's what he died of. Blowout.”

A physician arrived next. He was a Navy captain, and confirmed his chief's observation.

“This is Connor, tell the ambulance to take it easy. P ILGRIM is dead, looks like from natural causes. Repeat, P ILGRIM is dead,” the principal agent said over his radio.

The postmortem examination would check for many things, of course. Poison. Possible contamination of his food or water. But the White House environment was monitored on a continuous basis. D'Agustino and Connor shared a look. Yes, he had suffered from high blood pressure, and he sure as hell had had a bad day. Just about as bad as they get.

“How is he?” Heads turned. It was H AWK, the President himself, with a literal ring of agents around him, pressing through the door. And Dr. Elliot behind him. D'Agustino made a mental note that they'd have to make up a new code name for her. She wondered if H ARPY might suffice. Daga didn't like the bitch. No one on the Presidential Security Detail did. But they weren't paid to like her, or for that matter, even to like the President.

“He's dead, Mr. President,” the doctor said. “It appears he suffered a massive stroke.”

The President took the news without a visible reaction. The Secret Service agents reminded themselves that he'd seen his wife through a multiyear battle against multiple sclerosis, finally losing her while still governor of Ohio. It must have drained the man, they thought, wanting it to be true. It must have stripped all of his emotions away. Certainly there were few emotions left in him. He made a clucking sound, and grimaced, and shook his head, and then he turned away.

Liz Elliot took his place, peering over the shoulder of an agent. Helen D'Agustino examined her face as Elliot pressed forward to get her look. Elliot liked to wear makeup, Daga knew, and she watched the new National Security Advisor pale beneath it. Certainly it was a horrible scene, D'Agustino knew. It looked as though a bucket of red paint had been spilled on the desk.

“Oh, God!” Dr. Elliot whispered.

“Out of the way, please!” called a new voice. It was an agent with a stretcher. He pushed Liz Elliot roughly out of the way. Daga noticed that she was too shocked to be angry at that, that her face was still very white, her eyes unfocused. She might think she's a tough bitch, Special Agent D'Agustino thought, but she's not as tough as she thinks. The thought gave the agent satisfaction.

Little weak at the knees, eh Liz? Helen D'Agustino, one month out of the Secret Service Academy, had been out on a discreet surveillance when the subject — a counterfeiter — had “made” her and for some reason she'd never understood come out with a large automatic pistol. He'd even fired a round in her direction. No more than that, though. She'd earned her nickname, Daga, by drawing her S&W and landing three right in the poor bastard's ten-ring at a range of thirty-seven feet, just like a cardboard target at the range. Just that easy, too. She'd never even dreamed about it. And so Daga was one of the guys, a member of the Service pistol team when they'd outshot the Army's elite Delta Force commandos. Daga was tough. Clearly Liz Elliot was not, however arrogant she might be. No guts, lady! It did not occur to Special Agent Helen D'Agustino at that moment that Liz Elliot was H AWK 's chief advisor for national security.

It had been a quiet meeting, the first such meeting that Günther Bock remembered. None of the blustering rhetoric so beloved of the revolutionary soldiers. His old comrade-in-arms, Ismael Qati, was normally a firebrand, eloquent in five languages, but Qati was subdued in every way, Bock saw. The ferocity of his smile was not there. The sweeping gestures that had always punctuated his words were more restrained, and Bock wondered if the man might not be feeling well.

“I grieved when I heard the news of your wife,” Qati said, turning to personal matters for a moment.

“Thank you, my friend.” Bock decided to put his best face on it: “It is a small thing compared to what your people have endured. There are always setbacks.”

There were more than a few in this case, and both knew it. Their best weapon had always been solid intelligence information. But Bock's had dried up. The Red Army Faction had drawn for years on all sorts of information. Its own people within the West German government. Useful tidbits from the East German intelligence apparat, and all the Eastern Bloc clones of their common master, the KGB. Doubtless a good deal of their data had come from Moscow, routed through the smaller nations for political reasons that Bock had never questioned. After all, world socialism is itself a struggle with numerous tactical moves. Used to be, he corrected himself.

It was all gone now, the help upon which he'd been able to draw. The East Bloc intelligence services had turned on their revolutionary comrades like cur dogs. The Czechs and Hungarians had literally sold information on them to the West! The East Germans had given it away in the name of Greater German cooperation and brotherhood. East Germany — the German Democratic Republic — no longer existed. Now it was a mere appendage to capitalist Germany. And the Russians… Whatever indirect support they'd ever had from the Soviets was gone, possibly forever. With the demise of socialism in Europe, their sources within various government institutions had been rolled up, turned double agent, or simply stopped delivering, having lost their faith in a socialist future. At a stroke, the best and most useful weapon of the European revolutionary fighters had disappeared.

Fortunately, it was different here, different for Qati. The Israelis were as foolish as they were vicious. The one constant thing in the world, both Bock and Qati knew, was the inability of the Jews to make any kind of meaningful political initiative. Formidable as they were at the business of war, they had always been hopelessly inept at the business of peace. Added to that was their ability to dictate policy to their own masters as though they didn't want peace at all. Bock was not a student of world history, but he doubted that there was any precedent for such behavior as this. The ongoing revolt of both indigenous Israeli Arabs and Palestinian captives in the occupied territories was a bleeding sore on the soul of Israel. Once able to infiltrate Arab groups at will, Israeli police and domestic intelligence agencies were gradually being shut out as popular support for this rebellion became more and more fixed in the minds of their enemies. At least Qati had an ongoing operation to command. Bock envied him that, however bad the tactical situation might be. Another perverse advantage for Qati was the efficiency of his enemy. Israeli intelligence had waged its shadow war against the Arab freedom fighters for two generations now. Over that time the foolish ones had died by the guns of Mossad officers. Those still alive, like Qati, were the survivors, the strong, clever, dedicated products of a Darwinian selection process.

“How are you dealing with informers?” Bock asked.

“We found one last week,” Qati answered with a cruel smile. “He identified his case officer before he died. Now we have him under surveillance.”

Bock nodded. Once the Israeli officer would merely have been assassinated, but Qati had learned. By watching him — very carefully and only intermittently — they might identify other infiltrators.

“And the Russians?” This question got a strong reaction.

“The pigs! They give us nothing of value. We are on our own. It has always been so.” Qati's face showed what had today been rare animation. It came, then went, and the Arab's face lapsed back into enveloping fatigue.

“You seem tired, my friend.”

“It has been a long day. For you also, I think.”

Bock allowed himself a yawn and a stretch. “Until tomorrow?”

Qati rose with a nod, guiding his visitor to his room. Bock took his hand before retiring. They'd known each other for almost twenty years. Qati returned to the living room, and walked outside. His security people were in place and alert. Qati spoke with them briefly, as always, because loyalty resulted from attention to the needs of one's people. Then he, too, went to bed. He paused for evening prayers, of course. It troubled him vaguely that his friend Günther was an unbeliever. Brave, clever, dedicated though he was, he had no faith, and Qati did not understand how any man could carry on without that.

Carry on? Does he carry on at all? Qati asked himself as he lay down. His aching legs and arms at last knew rest, and though the pain in them didn't end, at least it changed. Bock was finished, wasn't he? Better for him if Petra had died at the hands of GSG-9. They must have wanted to kill her, those German commandos, but the rumor was that they'd found her with a babe suckling on each breast, and you could not be a man and kill such a picture as that. Qati himself, for all his hatred for Israelis, could not do that. It would be an offense at God Himself. Petra, he thought, smiling in the dark. He'd taken her once, when Günther had been away. She'd been lonely, and he'd been hot-blooded from a successful operation in Lebanon, the killing of an Israeli advisor to the Christian militia, and so they'd shared their revolutionary fervor for two blazing hours.

Does Günther know? Did Petra tell him?

Perhaps she did. It wouldn't matter. Bock was not that sort of man, not like an Arab for whom it would have been a blood insult. Europeans were so casual about such things. It was a curiosity to Qati that they should be that way, but there were many curiosities in life. Bock was a true friend. Of that he was sure. The flame burned in Günther's soul as truly and brightly as it did in his own. It was sad that events in Europe had made life so hard on his friend. His woman caged. His children stolen. The very thought of it chilled Qati's blood. It was foolish of them to have brought children into the world. Qati had never married, and enjoyed the company of women rarely enough. In Lebanon ten years earlier, all those European girls, some in their teens even. He remembered with a quiet smile. Things no Arab girl would ever learn to do. So hot-blooded they'd been, wanting to show how dedicated they were. He knew that they had used him as surely as he'd used them. But Qati had been younger then, with a young man's passions.

Those passions were gone. He wondered if they would ever return. He hoped they would. He hoped mainly that he'd recover well enough that he'd have the energy for more than one thing. Treatment was going well, the doctor said. He was tolerating it much better than most. If he always felt tired, if the crippling bouts of nausea came from time to time, he mustn't be discouraged. That was normal — no, the normal way of things was not even so “good” as this. There was real hope, the doctor assured him on every visit. It wasn't merely the things any doctor would say to encourage his patient, the doctor had told him last week. He was truly doing well. He had a good chance. The important thing, Qati knew, was that he had something still to live for. He had purpose. That, he was sure, was the thing keeping him alive.

“What's the score?”

“Just carry on,” Dr. Cabot replied over the secure satellite link. “Charlie had a massive stroke at his desk.” A pause. “Maybe the best thing that could have happened to the poor bastard.”

“Liz Elliot taking over?”

“That's right.”

Ryan compressed his lips into a tight grimace, as though he'd just taken some particularly foul medicine. He checked his watch. Cabot had arisen early to make the call and give the instructions. He and his boss were not exactly friends, but the importance of this mission had overcome that. Maybe it would be the same with E.E., Ryan told himself.

“Okay, boss. I take off in ninety minutes, and we deliver our pitches simultaneously, as per the plan.”

“Good luck, Jack.”

“Thank you, Director.” Ryan punched the Off button on the secure phone console. He walked out of the communications room and back to his room. His bag was already packed. All he had to do was knot his tie. The coat went over his shoulder. It was too hot here for that, and hotter still where he was going. He'd have to wear a coat there. It was expected, one of those curious rules of formal behavior that demanded the maximum discomfort to attain the proper degree of decorum. Ryan lifted his bag and left the room.

“Synchronize our watches?” Adler was waiting outside and chuckled.

“Hey, Scott, that isn't my idea!”

“It does make sense… kinda.”

“I suppose. Well, I got an airplane to catch.”

“Can't take off without you,” Adler pointed out.

“One advantage to government service, isn't it?” Ryan looked up and down the corridor. It was empty, though he wondered if the Israelis had managed to bug it. If so, the Muzak might interfere with their bugs. “What do you think?”

“Even money.”

“That good?”

“Yeah,” Adler said with a grin. “This is the one, Jack. It was a good idea you had.”

“Not just mine. I'll never get any credit for it anyway. Nobody'll ever know.”

“We'll know. Let's get to work.”

“Let me know how they react. Good luck, man.”

“I think mazeltov is the proper expression.” Adler took Ryan's hand. “Good flight.”

The embassy limo took Ryan directly to the aircraft, whose engines were already turning. It had priority clearance to taxi, and was airborne in less than five minutes from the time he boarded. The VC-2oB headed south, down the dagger-shape that was Israel, then east over the Gulf of Aqaba and into Saudi airspace.

As was his custom, Ryan stared out the window. His mind went over what he was supposed to do, but that had been rehearsed for over a week, and his brain could do that quietly while Ryan stared. The air was clear, the sky virtually cloudless as they flew over what was to all appearances a barren wasteland of sand and rock. What color there was came from stunted bushes too small to pick out individually, and had the general effect of an unshaven face. Jack knew that much of Israel looked exactly the same, as did the Sinai, where all those tank battles had been fought, and he found himself wondering why men chose to die for land like this. But they had, for almost as long as man had existed on the planet. Man's first organized wars had been fought here, and they hadn't stopped. At least not yet.

Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, is roughly in the center of the country, which is as large as all of America east of the Mississippi. The executive aircraft made a relatively fast descent, allowed by the modest amount of air traffic here, and the air was agreeably smooth as the pilot brought the aircraft low into the Riyadh International. In another few minutes, the Gulfstream taxied towards the cargo terminal, and the attendant opened the forward door.

After two hours' exposure to air conditioning, Jack felt as though he'd stepped into a blast furnace. The shade temperature was over 110, and there was no shade. Worse, the sun reflected off the pavement as though from a mirror, so intensely that Ryan's face stung from it. There to greet him was the deputy chief of mission at the embassy, and the usual security people. In a moment, he was sweating inside yet another embassy limo.

“Good flight?” the DCM asked.

“Not bad. Everything ready here?”

“Yes, sir.”

It was nice to be called “sir,” Jack thought. “Well, let's get on with it.”

“My instructions are to accompany you as far as the door.”

“That's right.”

“You might be interested to know that we haven't had any press inquiries. D.C. has kept this one pretty quiet.”

“That'll change in about five hours.”

Riyadh was a clean city, though quite different from Western metropolises. The contrast with Israeli towns was remarkable. Nearly everything was new. Only two hours away, but that was by air. This place had never been the crossroads Palestine had been. The ancient trading routes had given the brutal heat of Arabia a wide berth, and though the coastal fishing and trading towns had known prosperity for millennia, the nomadic people of the interior had lived a stark existence, held together only by their Islamic faith, which was in turn anchored by the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Two things had changed that. The British in the First World War had used this area as a diversion against Ottoman Turkey, drawing their forces here and away from sites which might have been of greater utility to their allies in Germany and Austria-Hungary. Then in the 1930s, oil had been discovered. Oil in quantities so vast as to make Texas an apostrophe. With that, first the Arab world had changed, and then the whole world had soon followed.

From the first, the relationship between the Saudis and the West had been delicate. The Saudis were still a curious mixture of the primitive and the sophisticated. Some people on this peninsula were but a single generation from nomadic life that was little different from that of the wanderers of the Bronze Age. At the same time, there was an admirable tradition of Koranic scholarship, a code that was harsh but scrupulously fair, and remarkably similar to the Talmudic traditions of Judaism. In a brief span of time these people had become accustomed to wealth beyond count or meaning. Viewed as comic wastrels by the “sophisticated” West, they were merely the newest entry in a long line of nouveau riche nations of which America had been a recent part. A nouveau riche himself, Ryan smiled at some of the buildings in sympathy. People with “old” money — earned by bumptious ancestors whose rough manners had long since been conveniently forgotten — were always uncomfortable around those who had made, not inherited, their comforts. As it was with individuals, so it was with nations. The Saudis and their Arab brethren were still learning how to be a nation, much less a rich and influential one, but the process was an exciting one for them and their friends. They'd had some easy lessons, and some very hard ones, most recently with their neighbors of the north. For the most part they had learned well, and now Ryan hoped that the next step would be as easily made. A nation achieves greatness by helping others to make peace, not by demonstrating prowess at war or commerce. To learn that, it had taken America from the time of Washington to the time of Theodore Roosevelt, whose Nobel Peace Prize adorned the room in the White House that still bore his name. It took us almost a hundred twenty years, Jack thought, as the car turned and slowed. Teddy got the Prize for arbitrating some little piss-ant border dispute, and we're asking these folks to help us settle the most dangerous flashpoint in the civilized world after merely fifty years of effective nationhood. What reason do we have to look down on these people?

There is a choreography to occasions of state as delicate and as adamant as any ballet. The car — it used to be a carriage — arrives. The door is opened by a functionary — who used to be called a footman. The Official waits in dignified solitude while the Visitor alights from the car. The Visitor nods to the footman if he's polite, and Ryan was. Another, more senior, functionary first greets the Visitor, then conducts him to the Official. On both sides of the entryway are the official guards, who were in this case uniformed, armed soldiers. Photographers had been left out, for obvious reasons. Such affairs would be more comfortable in temperatures under a hundred degrees, but at least here there was shade from a canopy, as Ryan was conducted to his Official.

“Welcome to my country, Dr. Ryan.” Prince Ali bin Sheik extended a firm hand to Jack.

Thank you, Your Highness."

“Would you follow me?”

“Gladly, sir.” Before I melt.

Ali led Jack and the DCM inside, where they parted ways. The building was a palace— Riyadh had quite a few palaces, since there were so many royal princes — but Ryan thought “working palace” might have been a more accurate term. It was smaller than the British counterparts Ryan had visited, and cleaner, Jack saw, somewhat to his surprise. Probably because of the cleaner and dryer air of the region, which contrasted to the damp, sooty atmosphere of London. It was also air conditioned. The inside temperature could not have been far above eighty-five, which somehow seemed comfortable to Ryan. The Prince was dressed in flowing robes with a headdress held atop his head by a pair of circular — whats? Ryan wondered. He ought to have gotten briefed on that, Jack thought too late. Alden was supposed to have done this anyway. Charlie knew this area far better than he did, and — but Charlie Alden was dead, and Jack was carrying the ball.

Ali bin Sheik was referred to at State and CIA as a Prince-Without-Portfolio. Taller, thinner, and younger than Ryan, he advised the King of Saudi Arabia on foreign affairs and intelligence matters. Probably the Saudi intelligence service — British-trained — reported to him, but that was not as clear as it should have been, doubtless another legacy of the Brits, who took their secrecy far more seriously than Americans. Though the file on Ali was a thick one, it mainly dealt with his background. Educated at Cambridge, he'd become an Army officer, and continued his professional studies at Leavenworth and Carlyle Barracks in the United States. At Carlyle he'd been the youngest man in his class, a colonel at twenty-seven — to be a royal prince was career-enhancing — and finished third in a group whose top ten graduates had each gone on to command a division or equivalent post. The Army General who'd briefed Ryan on Ali remembered his classmate fondly as a young man of no mean intellectual gifts and superb command potential. Ali had played a major role in persuading the King to accept American aid during the Iraqi war. He was regarded as a serious player quick to make decisions and quicker still to express displeasure at having his time wasted, despite his courtly manners.

The Prince's office was easily identified by the two officers at the double doors. A third man opened them, bowing to both as they passed.

“I've heard much about you,” Ali said casually.

“All good, I trust,” Ryan replied, trying to be at ease.

Ali turned with an impish smile. “We have some mutual friends in Britain, Sir John. Do you keep current with your small-arms skills?”

“I really don't have the time, sir.”

Ali waved Jack to a chair. “For some things, one should make time.”

Both sat, and things became formal. A servant appeared with a silver tray, and poured coffee for both men before withdrawing.

“I sincerely regret the news on Dr. Alden. For so fine a man to be brought down so foolishly… May God have mercy on his soul. At the same time, I have looked forward to meeting you for some time, Dr. Ryan.”

Jack sipped at his coffee. It was thick, bitter, and hideously strong.

“Thank you, Your Highness. Thank you also for agreeing to see me in the place of a more senior official.”

“The most effective efforts at diplomacy often begin informally. So, how may I be of service?” AH smiled and leaned back in his chair. The fingers of his left hand toyed with his beard. His eyes were as dark as flint, and though they seemed to gaze casually at his visitor, the atmosphere in the room was now businesslike. And that, Ryan saw, was fast enough.

“My country wishes to explore a means of — that is, the rough outline of a plan with which to alleviate tensions in this area.”

“With Israel, of course. Adler, I presume, is delivering the same proposal to the Israelis at this moment?”

“Correct, Your Highness.”

“That is dramatic,” the Prince observed with an amused smile. “Do go on.”

Jack began his pitch: “Sir, our foremost consideration in this matter must be the physical security of the State of Israel. Before either of us was born, America and other countries stood by and did very little to prevent the extermination of six million Jews. The guilt attending that infamy lies heavy on my country.”

Ali nodded gravely before speaking. “I have never understood that. Perhaps you might have done better, but the strategic decisions made during the war by Roosevelt and Churchill were made in good faith. The issue with the shipload of Jews that nobody wanted prior to the outbreak of war, of course, is another issue entirely. I find it very strange indeed that your country did not grant asylum to those poor people. Fundamentally, however, no one saw what was coming, not the Jews, not the Gentiles, and by the time it became clear what was happening, Hitler had physical control of Europe, and no direct intervention on your part was possible. Your leaders decided at that time that the best way to end the slaughter was to win the war as expeditiously as possible. That was logical. They might have made a political issue of the ongoing Endlösung, I believe the term was, but they decided that it would be ineffective from a practical point of view. That, in retrospect, was probably incorrect, but the decision was not made in malice.” Ali paused to let his history lesson sink in for a moment. “In any case, we understand and conditionally accept the reasons behind your national goal to preserve the State of Israel. Our acceptance, as I am sure you will understand, is conditional upon your recognition of other people's rights. This part of the world is not composed of Jews and savages.”

“And that, sir, is the basis of our proposal,” Ryan replied. “If we can find a formula that recognizes those other rights, will you accept a plan in which America is the guarantor of Israeli security?” Jack didn't have time to hold his breath for the reply.

“Of course. Have we not made that clear? Who else but America can guarantee the peace? If you must put troops in Israel to make them feel secure, if you must execute a treaty to formalize your guarantee, those are things we can accept, but what of Arab rights?”

“What is your view of how we should address those rights?” Jack asked.

Prince Ali was stunned by the question. Was not Ryan's mission to present the American plan? He almost lapsed into anger, but Ali was too clever for that. It wasn't a trap he saw. It was a fundamental change in American policy.

“Dr. Ryan, you asked that question for a reason, but it was a rhetorical question nonetheless. I believe the answer to that question is yours to make.”

The answer took three minutes.

Ali shook his head sadly. “That, Dr. Ryan, is something we would probably find acceptable, but the Israelis will never agree to it even though we might — more precisely, would reject it for the very reason that we would accept it. They should agree to it, of course, but they will not.”

“Is it acceptable to your government, sir?”

“I must, of course, present it to others, but I think our response would be favorable.”

“Any objections at all?”

The Prince paused to finish his coffee. He stared over Ryan's head towards something on the far wall. “We could offer several modifications, none of them really substantive to the central thesis of your scheme. Actually, I think the negotiations on those minor issues would be easily and quickly accomplished, since they are not matters of consequence to the other interested parties.”

“And who would be your choice for the Muslim representative?”

Ali leaned forward. “That is simple. Anyone could tell you. The Imam of the Al-Aqusa Mosque is a distinguished scholar and linguist. His name is Ahmed bin Yussif. Ahmed is consulted by scholars throughout Islam for his opinions on matters of theology. Sunni, Shi'a, all defer to him on selected issues. He is even a Palestinian by birth.”

“That easy?” Ryan closed his eyes and let out a breath. He'd guessed right on that one. Yussif was not exactly a political moderate, and had called for the expulsion of Israel from the West Bank. But he had also denounced terrorism per se on theological grounds. He wasn't quite perfect, but if the Muslims could live with him, he was perfect enough.

“You are very confident, Dr. Ryan.” Ali shook his head. “Too confident. I grant you that your plan is fairer than anything I or my government expected, but it will never happen.” Ali paused again and fixed Ryan with his eyes. “Now I must ask myself if this was ever a serious proposal, or merely something to give the appearance of fairness.”

“Your Highness, President Fowler addresses the United Nations General Assembly next Thursday. He will present this very plan then, live and in color. I am authorized to extend your government an invitation to the Vatican to negotiate the treaty formally.”

The Prince was sufficiently surprised by that that he lapsed into an Americanism: “Do you really think you can bring this off?”

“Your Highness, we're going to give it one hell of a try.”

Ali rose and walked to his desk. There he lifted a phone, pushed a button and spoke rapidly and, to Ryan, incomprehensibly. Jack had a sudden, giddy moment of whimsy. The Arabic language, as with the Hebrew, went from right to left instead of left to right, and Ryan wondered how one's brain dealt with that.

Son of a BITCH, Jack thought to himself. This just might work!

Ali replaced the phone and turned to his visitor. “I think it is time for us to see His Majesty.”

“That fast?”

“One advantage to our form of government is that when one government minister wishes access to another, it is merely a matter of calling a cousin or an uncle. We are a family business. I trust that your President is a man of his word.”

“The UN speech is already written. I've seen it. He expects to take heat from the Israeli lobby at home. He's ready for that.”

I've seen them in action, Dr. Ryan. Even when we were fighting for our lives alongside American soldiers, they denied us weapons we needed for our own security. Do you think that will change?"

“Soviet communism is at an end. The Warsaw Pact is at an end. So many things that shaped the world I grew up in are gone, and gone forever. It's time to get rid of the rest of the turmoil in the world. You ask if we can do it — why not? Sir, the only constant factor in human existence is change.” Jack knew that he was being outrageously confident, and wondered how Scott Adler was doing in Jerusalem. Adler wasn't a screamer, but he knew how to lay down the word. That hadn't been done with the Israelis for a long enough time that Jack didn't know when it had last been — or ever — been tried. But the President was committed to this. If the Israelis tried to stop it, they might just find out how lonely the world was.

“You forgot God, Dr. Ryan.”

Jack smiled. “No, Your Highness. That's the point, isn't it?”

Prince Ali wanted to smile, but didn't. It wasn't time yet. He pointed to the door. “Our car is waiting.”

At the New Cumberland Army Depot in Pennsylvania, the storage facility for standards and flags dating back to Revolutionary times, a brigadier general and a professional antiquarian laid flat on a table the dusty regimental colors once carried by the 10th United States Cavalry. The General wondered if some of the grit on the standard was left over from Colonel Benjamin Henry Grierson's campaign against the Apaches. This standard would go to the regiment. It wouldn't see much use. Maybe once a year it would be taken out, but from this pattern a new one would be made. That this was happening at all was a curiosity. In an age of cutbacks, a new unit was forming. Not that the General objected. The 10th had a distinguished history, but had never gotten its fair shake from Hollywood, for example, which had made but a single movie about the Black regiments. For the 10th was one of four Black units — the 9th and 10th Cavalry, the 24th and 25th Infantry — each of which had played its part in settling the West. This regimental standard dated back to 1866. Its centrepiece was a buffalo, since the Indians who'd fought the troopers of the 10th thought their hair similar to the rough coat of an American bison. Black soldiers had been there at the defeat of Geronimo, and saved Teddy Roosevelt's ass on the charge up San Juan Hill, the General knew. It was about time that they got a little official recognition and if the President had ordered it for political reasons, so what? The 10th had an honorable history, politics notwithstanding.

“Take a week,” the civilian said. “I'll do this one personally. God, I wonder what Grierson would have thought of the TO & E for the Buffalos today!”

“It is substantial,” the General allowed. He'd commanded the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment a few years earlier. The Black Horse Cav was still in Germany, though he wondered how much longer that would last. But the historian was right. With 129 tanks, 228 armored personnel carriers, 24 self-propelled guns, 83 helicopters, and 5,000 troopers, a modern Armored Cavalry Regiment was in fact a reinforced brigade, fast-moving and very hard-hitting.

“Where are they going to be based?”

“The regiment will form up at Fort Stewart. After that, I'm not sure. Maybe it'll be the round-out for i8th Airborne Corps.”

“Paint them brown, then?”

“Probably. The regiment knows about deserts, doesn't it?” The General felt the standard. Yeah, there was still grit in the fabric, from Texas, and New Mexico, and Arizona. He wondered if the troopers who had followed this standard knew that their outfit was being born anew. Maybe so.


The Navy's change-of-command ceremony, little changed since the time of John Paul Jones, concluded on schedule at 11:24. It had been held two weeks earlier than expected, so that the departing skipper could more quickly assume the Pentagon duty that he would just as happily have avoided. Captain Jim Rosselli had brought USS Maine through the final eighteen months of her construction at General Dynamics' Electric Boat Division at Groton, Connecticut, through the launching and final outfitting, through builder's trials and acceptance trials, through commissioning, through shakedown and post-shakedown availability, through a day of practice missile shoots out of Port Canaveral, and through the Panama Canal for her trip to the missile-submarine base at Bangor, Washington. His last job had been to take the boat— Maine was huge, but in U.S. Navy parlance still a “boat”—on her first deterrence patrol into the Gulf of Alaska. That was over now, and, four days after returning his boat to port, he ended his association with the boat by turning her over to his relief, Captain Harry Ricks. It was slightly more complicated than that, of course. Missile submarines since the first, USS George Washington — long since converted to razor blades and other useful consumer items — had two complete crews, called “Blue” and “Gold.” The idea was simply that the missile boats could spend more time at sea if the crews switched off duty. Though expensive, it worked very effectively. The “ Ohio ” class of fleet ballistic missile submarines was averaging over two-thirds of their time at sea, with continuing seventy-day patrols divided by twenty-five-day refit periods. Rosselli had, therefore, really given Ricks half of the command of the massive submarine, and full command of the “Gold” crew, which was now vacating the ship for the “Blue” crew, which would conduct the next patrol.

The ceremony concluded, Rosselli retired one last time to his stateroom. As the “plankowner” commanding officer, certain special souvenirs were his for the asking. A piece of teak decking material drilled for cribbage pegs was part of the tradition. That the skipper had never played cribbage in his life, after a single failed attempt, was beside the point. These traditions were not quite as old as Captain John Paul Jones, but were just as firm. His ball-cap, with C.O. and Plankowner emblazoned in gold on the back, would form part of his permanent collection, as would a ship's plaque, a photo signed by the entire crew, and various gifts from Electric Boat.

“God, I've wanted one of these!” Ricks said.

“They are pretty nice, Captain,” Rosselli replied with a wistful smile. It really wasn't fair. Only the best of officers got to do what he'd done, of course. He'd had command of a fast-attack, USS Honolulu, whose reputation as a hot and lucky boat he had continued for his two-and-a-half-year tour as CO. Then he'd been given the Gold crew of USS Tecumseh, where he'd excelled yet again. This third — and most unusual — command tour had been necessarily abbreviated. His job had been to oversee the shipwrights at Groton, then get the boat “dialed in” for her first real team of COs. He'd only had the boat underway for — what? A hundred days, something like that. Just enough to get to know the girl.

“You're not making it any easier on yourself, Rosey,” said the squadron commander, Captain (now a Rear Admiral Selectee) Bart Mancuso.

Rosselli tried to put humor in his voice. “Hey, Bart, one wop to another, show some pity, eh?”

“I hear ya', paisan. It isn't supposed to be easy.”

Rosselli turned to Ricks. “Best crew I ever had. The XO is going to be one hell of a skipper when the time comes. The boat is fuckin' perfect. Everything works. The refit's a waste of time. The only thing on the gripe sheet that matters is the wiring in the wardroom pantry. Some yard electrician crossed a few cables, and the breakers aren't labeled right. Regs say we have to reset the wiring instead of relabeling the breakers. And that's it. Nothing else.”

“Power plant?”

“Four-point-oh, people and equipment. You've seen the results of the ORSE, right?”

“Um-hum.” Ricks nodded. The ship had scored almost perfectly on the Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination, which was the Holy Grail of the nuclear community.


“The equipment is the best in the fleet — we got the new upgrade before it became standard. I worked a deal with the guys at SubGru Two right before we commissioned. One of your old guys, Bart. Dr. Ron Jones. He's with Sonosystems, even rode for a week with us. The ray-path analyzer is like magic. Torpedo department needs a little work, but not much. I figure they can knock another thirty seconds off their average time. A young chief — matter of fact that department's pretty young across the board. Hasn't quite settled in yet, but they're not much slower than the guys I had on Tecumseh, and if I'd had a little more time I could have gotten them completely worked up.”

“No sweat,” Ricks observed comfortably. “Hell, Jim, I have to have something to do. How many contacts did you have on the patrol?”

“One Akula-class, the Admiral Lunin. Picked her up three times, never closer than sixty thousand yards. If he got a sniff of us — hell, he didn't. Never turned towards us. We held him for sixteen hours once. Had really good water, and, well—” Rosselli smiled—“I decided to trail him for a while, way the hell away, of course.”

“Once a fast-attack, always a fast-attack,” Ricks said with a grin. He was a lifelong boomer driver, and the idea did not appeal to him, but what the hell, it wasn't a time to criticize.

“Nice profile you did on him,” Mancuso put in, to show that he wasn't the least offended by Rosselli's action. “Pretty good boat, isn't it?”

“The Akula? Too good. But not good enough,” Rosselli said. “I wouldn't start worrying until we find a way to track these mothers. I tried when I had Honolulu, against Richie Seitz on Alabama. He greased my ass for me. Only time that ever happened. I figure God could find an Ohio, but He'll have to have a good day.”

Rosselli wasn't kidding. The Ohio-class of missile submarines were more than just quiet. Their level of radiated noise was actually lower than the background noise level of the ocean, like a whisper at a rock concert. To hear them you had to get incredibly close, but to prevent that from happening, the Ohios had the best sonar systems yet devised. The Navy had done everything right with this class. The original contract had specified a maximum speed of 26-7 knots. The first Ohio had made 28.5. On builder's trials Maine had made 29.1, due to a new and very slick super-polymer paint. The seven-bladed propeller enabled almost twenty knots without a hint of noisy cavitation, and the reactor plant operated in almost all regimes on natural convection circulation, obviating the need for potentially noisy feed-pumps. The Navy's mania for noise-control had reached its pinnacle in this class of submarine. Even the blades of the galley mixer were coated with vinyl to prevent metal-to-metal clatter. What Rolls-Royce was to cars, Ohio was to submarines.

Rosselli turned. “Well, she's yours now, Harry.”

“You couldn't have set her up much better, Jim. Come on, the O-Club's open, and I'll buy you a beer.”

“Yeah,” the former commanding officer observed with a husky voice. On the way out, members of the crew lined up to shake his hand one last time. By the time Rosselli got to the ladder, there were tears in his eyes. On the walk down the brow, they were running down his cheeks. Mancuso understood. It had been the same for him. A good CO developed a genuine love for his boat and his men, and for Rosselli it was worse still. He'd had his extra shots at command, more than even he had gotten, and that made the last one all the harder to leave. Like Mancuso, all Rosselli could look forward to now was a staff job, commanding a desk, nevermore to hold that godlike post of commanding officer of a ship of war. He'd be able to ride the boats, of course, to rate skippers, check ideas and tactics, but henceforth he'd be a tolerated visitor, never really welcome aboard. Most uncomfortable of all, he'd have to avoid revisiting his former command, lest the crew compare his command style to that of their new CO, possibly undermining the new man's command authority. It was, Mancuso reflected, like it must have been for immigrants, as it had been for his own ancestors, looking back one last time at Italy, knowing that they would never return to it, that their lives were irrevocably changed.

The three men climbed into Mancuso's staff car for the ride to the reception at the Officers Club. Rosselli set his souvenirs on the floor and extracted a handkerchief to wipe his eyes. It isn't fair, just isn't fair. To leave command of a ship like this one to be a goddamned telephone operator at the NMCC. Joint service billet, my ass! Rosselli blew his nose and contemplated the shore duty that the remainder of his active career held.

Mancuso looked away in quiet respect.

Ricks just shook his head. No need to get all that emotional about it. He was already making mental notes. The Torpedo Department wasn't up to speed yet, eh? Well, he'd do something about that! And the XO was supposed to be super-hot. Hmph. What skipper ever failed to praise his XO? If this guy thought he was ready for command, that meant an XO who might be a little too ready, and might not be totally supportive, might be feeling his oats. Ricks had had one of those already. Such XOs often needed some subtle reminders of who was boss. Ricks knew how to do that. The good news, the most important news, of course, was about the power plant. Ricks was a product of the Nuclear Navy's obsession with the nuclear power plant. It was something the Squadron Commander, Mancuso, was overly casual about, Ricks judged. The same was probably true of Rosselli. So, they'd passed their ORSE — so what? On his boats, the engineering crew had to be ready for an ORSE every goddamned day. One problem with those Ohios was that the systems worked so well people took things casually. That would be doubly true after maxing their ORSE. Complacency was the harbinger of disaster. And these fast-attack guys and their dumb mentality! Tracking an Akula, for God's sake! Even from sixty-K yards, what did this lunatic think he was doing?

Ricks' motto was that of the boomer community: W E H IDE WITH P RIDE (the less polite version was C HICKEN OF THE S EA). If they can't find you, they can't hurt you. Boomers weren't supposed to go around looking for trouble. Their job was to run from it. Missile submarines weren't actually combatant ships at all. That Mancuso didn't reprimand Rosselli on the spot was amazing to Ricks.

He had to consider that, however. Mancuso hadn't reprimanded Rosselli. He'd commended him.

Mancuso was his squadron commander, and did have those two Distinguished Service Medals. It wasn't exactly fair that Ricks was a boomer type stuck working for a fast-attack puke, but there it was. A charger himself, he was clearly a man who wanted aggressive skippers. And Mancuso was the guy who'd be doing his fitness reports. That was the central truth in the equation, wasn't it? Ricks was an ambitious man. He wanted command of a squadron, followed by a nice Pentagon tour, then he'd get his star as a Rear Admiral (Lower Half), then command of a Submarine Group — the one at Pearl would be nice; he liked Hawaii — after which he'd be very well-suited for yet another Pentagon tour. Ricks was a man who'd mapped out his career path while still a lieutenant. So long as he did everything exactly by The Book, more exactly than anyone else, he'd stick to that path.

He hadn't quite planned on working for a fast-attack type, though. He'd have to adapt. Well, he knew how to do that. If that Akula showed up on his next patrol, he'd do what Rosselli had done — but better, of course. He had to. Mancuso would expect it, and Ricks knew that he was in direct competition with thirteen other SSBN COs. To get that squadron command, he had to be the best of fourteen. To be the best, he had to do things that would impress the squadron commander. Okay, so to keep his career path as straight as it had been for twenty years, he had to do a few new and different things. Ricks would have preferred not to, but career came first, didn't it? He knew that he was destined to have an Admiral's flag in the corner of his Pentagon office someday — someday soon. He'd make the adjustment. With an Admiral's flag came a staff, and a driver, and his own parking place in the acres of Pentagon blacktop, and further career-enhancing jobs that might, if he were very lucky, culminate in the E-Ring office of the CNO — better yet, Director of Naval Reactors, which was technically junior to the CNO, but carried with it eight full years in place. He knew himself better suited for that job, which was the one that set policy for the entire nuclear community. DNR wrote The Book. Everything he had to do was set forth in The Book. As the Bible was the path to salvation for Christian and Jew, The Book was the path of flag rank. Ricks knew The Book. Ricks was a brilliant engineer.

J. Robert Fowler was human after all, Ryan told himself. The conference was held upstairs, on the bedroom level of the White House, because the air conditioning in the West Wing was down for repairs, and the sun blasting through the windows of the Oval Office made that room uninhabitable. Instead they were using an upstairs sitting room, the one often delegated for the buffet line at those “informal” White House dinners that the President liked to have for “intimate” groups of fifty or so. The antique chairs were grouped around a largish dinner table in a room whose walls were decorated with a mural mélange of historical scenes. Moreover, it was a shirtsleeve environment. Fowler was a man uncomfortable with the trappings of his office. Once a federal prosecutor, an attorney who had not once defended a criminal before entering politics with both feet and never looking back, he'd grown up in an informal working environment and seemed to prefer a tie loose in his collar and sleeves rolled up to the elbow. It seemed so very odd to Ryan, who knew the President also to be priggish and stiff in his relationship with subordinates. Odder still, the President had walked into the room carrying the sports page from the Baltimore Sun, which he preferred to the local papers' sports coverage. President Fowler was a rabid football fan. The first NFL pre-season games were already history, and he was handicapping the teams for the coming season. The DDCI shrugged, leaving his coat on. There was as much complexity in this man as any other, Jack knew, and complexities were not predictable.

The President had discreetly cleared his calendar for this afternoon conference. Sitting at the head of the table, and directly under an air-conditioning vent, Fowler actually smiled a little as his guests took their places. At his left was G. Dennis Bunker, Secretary of Defense. Former CEO of Aerospace, Inc., Bunker was a former USAF fighter pilot who'd flown 100 missions in the early days of Vietnam, then left the service to found a company he'd ultimately built into a multibillion-dollar empire that sprawled across southern California. He'd sold that and all his other commercial holdings to take this job, keeping only one enterprise under his control — the San Diego Chargers. That retention had been the subject of considerable joshing during his confirmation hearings, and there was light-hearted speculation that Fowler liked Bunker mainly for his SecDef's love of football. Bunker was a rarity in the Fowler administration, as close to a hawk as anyone here, a knowledgeable player in the defense area whose lectures to men in uniform were listened to. Though he'd left the Air Force as a captain, he'd left with three Distinguished Flying Crosses earned driving his F-105 fighter-bomber “downtown” into the environs of Hanoi. Dennis Bunker had seen the elephant. He could talk tactics with captains and strategy with generals. Both the uniforms and the politicians respected the SecDef, and that was rare.

Next to Bunker was Brent Talbot, Secretary of State. A former professor of political science at Northwestern University, Talbot was a long-time friend and ally of the President. Seventy years old, with regal white hair over a pale, intelligent face, Talbot was less an academic than an old-fashioned gentleman, albeit one with a killer instinct. After years of sitting on PFIAB — the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board — and countless other commissions, he was in a place where he could make his impact felt. The archetypical outside-insider, he'd finally picked a winning horse in Fowler. He was also a man with genuine vision. The changes in the East-West relationship signaled to the SecState a historic opportunity to change the face of the world, and he wanted his name on the changes.

On the President's right was his Chief of Staff, Arnold van Damm. This was, after all, a political assembly, and political advice was of paramount import. Next to van Damm was Elizabeth Elliot, the new National Security Advisor. She looked rather severe today, Ryan noted, dressed in an expensive suit with a wispy cravat knotted around her pretty, thin neck. Beside her was Marcus Cabot, Director of Central Intelligence, and Ryan's immediate boss.

The second-rank people were farther away from the seat of power, of course. Ryan and Adler were at the far end of the table, both to separate them from the President and to allow their fuller visibility to the senior members of the conference when they began speaking.

“This your year, Dennis?” the President asked the SecDef.

“You bet it is!” Bunker said. I've waited long enough, but with those two new linebackers, this year we're going to Denver."

Then you'll meet the Vikings there,“ Talbot observed. ”Dennis, you had the first draft pick, why didn't you take Tony Wills?"

“I have three good running backs. I needed linebackers, and that kid from Alabama is the best I've ever seen.”

“You'll regret it,” the Secretary of State pronounced. Tony Wills had been drafted from Northwestern. An academic All-American, Rhodes Scholar, winner of the Heisman Trophy, and the kid who had almost single-handedly resurrected Northwestern as a football school, Wills had been Talbot's prize student. By all accounts an exceptional young man, people were already talking about his future in politics. Ryan thought that premature, even in America 's changing political landscape. “He'll kick your butt, third game of the season. And then again in the Super Bowl, if your team makes it that far, which I doubt, Dennis.”

“We'll see,” Bunker snorted.

The President laughed as he arranged his papers. Liz Elliot tried and failed to hide her disapproval, Jack noted from twenty feet away. Her papers were already arranged, her pen in its place to make notes, and her face impatient at the locker-room talk at her end of the table. Well, she had the job she'd angled for, even if it had taken a death — Ryan had heard the details by now — to get it for her.

“I think we'll call the meeting to order,” President Fowler said. Noise in the room stopped cold. “Mr. Adler, could you fill us in on what happened on your trip?”

“Thank you, Mr. President. I would say that most of the pieces are in place. The Vatican agrees to the terms of our proposal unconditionally, and is ready to host the negotiations at any time.”

“How did Israel react?” Liz Elliot asked, to show that she was on top of things.

“Could have been better,” Adler said neutrally. “They'll come, but I expect serious resistance.”

“How serious?”

“Anything they can do to avoid being nailed down, they'll do. They are very uncomfortable with this idea.”

This was hardly unexpected, Mr. President," Talbot added.

“What about the Saudis?” Fowler asked Ryan.

“Sir, my read is that they'll play. Prince Ali was very optimistic. We spent an hour with the King, and his reaction was cautious but positive. Their concern is that the Israelis won't do it, no matter what pressure we put on them, and they are worried about being left hanging. Setting that aside for the moment, Mr. President, the Saudis appear quite willing to accept the plan as drafted, and to accept their participatory role in its implementation. They offered some modifications, which I outlined in my briefing sheet. As you can see none of them are substantively troublesome. In fact, two of them look like genuine enhancements.”

“The Soviets?”

“Scott handled that,” Secretary Talbot replied. “They have signed off on the idea, but their read also is that Israel will not cooperate. President Narmonov cabled us day before yesterday that the plan is wholly compatible with his government's policy. They are willing to underwrite the plan to the extent that they will restrict arms sales to the other nations in the region to cover defensive needs only.”

“Really?” Ryan blurted.

“That does clobber one of your predictions, doesn't it?” DCI Cabot noted with a chuckle.

“How so?” the President asked.

“Mr. President, arms sales to that area are a major cash cow for the Sovs. For them to reduce those sales will cost them billions in hard-currency earnings that they really need.”

Ryan leaned back and whistled. “That is surprising.”

“They also want to have a few people at the negotiations. That seems fair enough. The arms-sales aspect of the treaty — if we get that far — will be set up as a side-bar codicil between America and the Soviets.”

Liz Elliot smiled at Ryan. She'd predicted that development.

“In return, the Soviets want some help on farm commodities, and a few trade credits,” Talbot added. “It's cheap at the price. Soviet cooperation in this affair is hugely important to us, and the prestige associated with the treaty is important for them. It's a very equitable deal for the both of us. Besides, we have all that wheat lying around and doing nothing.”

“So, the only stumbling block is Israel?” Fowler asked the table. He was answered with nods. “How serious?”

“Jack,” Cabot said, turning to his deputy, “how did Avi Ben Jakob react to things?”

“We had dinner the day before I flew to Saudi Arabia. He looked very unhappy. Exactly what he knew I do not know. I didn't give him very much to warn his government with, and —”

“What does 'not very much' mean, Ryan?” Elliot snapped down the table.

“Nothing,” Ryan answered. “I told him to wait and see. Intelligence people don't like that. I would speculate that he knew something was up, but not what.”

“The looks I got at the table over there were pretty surprised,” Adler said to back Ryan up. “They expected something, but what I gave them wasn't it.”

The Secretary of State leaned forward. “ Mr. President, Israel has lived for two generations under the fiction that they and they alone are responsible for their national security. It's become almost a religious belief over there — and despite the fact that we give them vast amounts of arms and other grants every year, it is their government policy to live as though that idea were true. Their institutional fear is that once they mortgage their national security to the good will of others, they become vulnerable to the discontinuance of that good will.”

“You get tired of hearing that,” Liz Elliot observed coldly.

Maybe you wouldn't if six million of your relatives got themselves turned into air pollution, Ryan thought to himself. How the hell can we not be sensitive to memories of the Holocaust?

“I think we can take it as given that a bilateral defense treaty between the United States and Israel will sail through the Senate,” Arnie van Damm said, speaking for the first time.

“How quickly can we deploy the necessary units to Israeli territory?” Fowler wanted to know.

“It would take roughly five weeks from the time you push the button, sir,” the SecDef replied. The 10th Armored Cavalry Regiment is forming up right now. That's essentially a heavy brigade force, and it'll defeat — make that 'destroy'—any armored division the Arabs could throw at it. To that we'll add a Marine unit for show, and with the home-port deal at Haifa, we'll almost always have a carrier battle-group in the Eastern Med. Toss in the F-16 wing from Sicily, and you've got a sizable force. The military will like it, too. It gives them a big play area to train in. We'll use our base in the Negev the same way we use the National Training Center in Fort Irwin. The best way to keep that unit tight and ready is to train the hell out of it. It'll be expensive to run it that way, of course, but —"

“But we'll pay that price,” Fowler said, cutting Bunker off gently. “It's more than worth the expenditure, and we won't have any problems on the Hill keeping that funded, will we, Arnie?”

“Any congressman who bitches about this will have his career cut short,” the Chief of Staff said confidently.

“So, it's just a matter of eliminating Israeli opposition?” Fowler went on.

“Correct, Mr. President,” Talbot replied for the assembly.

“What's the best way to do that?” This Presidential question was rhetorical. That answer was already delineated. The current Israeli government, like all which had preceded it for a decade, was a shaky coalition of disparate interests. The right kind of shove from Washington would bring it down. “What about the rest of the world?”

“The NATO countries will not be a problem. The rest of the UN will go along grudgingly,” Elliot said, before Talbot could speak. “So long as the Saudis play ball on this, the Islamic world will fall into line. If Israel resists, they'll be as alone as they have ever been.”

“I don't like putting too much pressure on them,” Ryan said.

“Dr. Ryan, that's not within your purview,” Elliot said gently. A few heads moved slightly, and a few eyes narrowed, but no one rose to Jack's defense.

“That is true, Dr. Elliot,” Ryan said, after the awkward silence. “It is also true that too much pressure might have an effect opposite from what the President intends. Then there is a moral dimension that needs to be considered.”

“Dr. Ryan, this is all about the moral dimension,” the President said. “The moral dimension is simply put: there has been enough war there, and it is time to put an end to it. Our plan is a means of doing that.”

Our plan, Ryan heard him say. Van Damm's eyes flickered for a moment, then went still. Jack realized that he was as alone here in this room as the President intended Israel to be. He looked down at his notes and kept his mouth shut. Moral dimension, my ass! Jack thought angrily. This is about setting footprints in the sands of time, and about the political advantages of being seen as The Great Peacemaker. But it wasn't a time for cynicism, and though the plan was no longer Ryan's, it was a worthy one.

“If we have to squeeze them, how do we go about it?” President Fowler asked lightly. “Nothing harsh, just to send a quiet and intelligible message.”

“There's a major shipment of aircraft spares ready to go next week. They're replacing the radar systems on all their F-15 fighters,” Secretary of Defense Bunker said. “There are other things, too, but that radar system is very important to them. It's brand-new. We're just installing it ourselves. The same is true for the F-16's new missile system. Their Air Force is their crown jewel. If we are forced to withhold that shipment for technical reasons, they'll get the signal loud and clear.”

“Can it be done quietly?” Elliot asked.

“We can let them know that if they make noise, it won't help,” van Damm said. “If the speech goes over well at the UN, as it should, we might be able to obviate their congressional lobby.”

“It might be preferable to sweeten the deal by allowing them to get more arms instead of crippling systems they already have.” That was Ryan's last toss. Elliot slammed the door on the DDCI.

“We can't afford that.”

The Chief of Staff agreed: “We can't possibly squeeze any more defense dollars out of the budget, even for Israel. The money just isn't there.”

“I'd prefer to let them know ahead of time — if we really intend to squeeze them,” the Secretary of State said.

Liz Elliot shook her head. “No. If they need to get the message, let them get it the hard way. They like to play tough. They ought to understand.”

“Very well.” The President made a last note on his pad. “We hold until the speech next week. I change the speech to include an invitation to enter formal negotiations in Rome starting two weeks from yesterday. We let Israel know that they either play ball or face the consequences, and that we're not kidding this time. We send that message as Secretary Bunker suggested, and do that by surprise. Anything else?”

“Leaks?” van Damm said quietly.

“What about Israel?” Elliot asked Scott Adler.

“I told them that this was highly sensitive, but—”

“Brent, get on the phone to their Foreign Minister, and tell them that if they start making noise prior to the speech, there will be major consequences.”

“Yes, Mr. President.”

“And as far as this group is concerned, there will be no leaks.” That Presidential command was aimed at the far end of the table. “Adjourned.”

Ryan took his papers and walked outside. Marcus Cabot joined him in the hall after a moment.

“You should know when to keep your mouth shut, Jack.”

“Look, Director, if we press them too hard—”

“We'll get what we want.”

“I think it's wrong, and I think it's dumb. We'll get what we want. Okay, so it takes a few extra months, we'll still get it. We don't have to threaten them.”

“The President wants it done that way.” Cabot ended the discussion by walking off.

“Yes, sir,” Jack responded to thin air.

The rest of the people filed out. Talbot gave Ryan a wink and a nod. The rest, except for Adler, avoided eye contact. Adler came over after a whisper from his boss.

“Nice try, Jack. You almost got yourself fired a few minutes ago.”

That surprised Ryan. Wasn't he supposed to say what he thought? “Look, Scott, if I'm not allowed to—”

“You're not allowed to cross the President, not this one. You do not have the rank to make adverse advice stick. Brent was ready to make that point, but you got in the way — and you lost, and you didn't leave him any room to maneuver. So, next time keep it zipped, okay?”

“Thanks for your support,” Jack answered with an edge on his voice.

“You blew it, Jack. You said the right thing the wrong way. Learn from that, will you?” Adler paused. The boss also says 'well done' for your work in Riyadh. If you'd just learn when to shut up, he says, you'd be a lot more effective."

“Okay, thanks.” Adler was right, of course. Ryan knew it.

“Where you headed?”

“Home. I don't have anything left to do today at the office.”

“Come along with us. Brent wants to talk to you. We'll have a light dinner at my shop.” Adler led Jack to the elevator.

“Well?” the President asked, still back in the room.

“I'd say it looks awfully good,” van Damm said. “Especially if we can bring this one in before the elections.”

“Be nice to hold a few extra seats,” Fowler agreed. The first two years of his administration had not been easy. Budget problems, added to an economy that couldn't seem to decide what it wanted to do, had crippled his programs and saddled his tough managerial style with more question marks than exclamation points. The congressional elections in November would be the first real public response to their new President, and early poll numbers looked exceedingly iffy. It was the general way of things that the President's party lost seats in off-year elections, but this President could not afford to lose many. “Shame we have to pressure the Israelis, but…”

“Politically it'll be worth it — if we can bring the treaty off.”

“We can,” Elliot said, leaning against the doorframe. “If we make the time line, we can have the treaties out of the Senate by October 16th.”

“You are one ambitious lady, Liz,” Arnold noted. “Well, I have work to do. If you will excuse me, Mr. President?”

“See you tomorrow, Arnie.”

Fowler walked over to the windows facing Pennsylvania Avenue. The blistering heat of early August rose in shimmers from the streets and sidewalks. Across the street in Lafayette Park, there remained two anti-nuclear-weapons signs. That garnered a smirk and a snort from Fowler. Didn't those dumb hippies know that nukes were a thing of the past? He turned.

“Join me for dinner, Elizabeth?”

Dr. Elliot smiled at her boss. “Love to, Bob.”

The one good thing about his brother's involvement with drugs was that he had left nearly a hundred thousand dollars cash behind in a battered suitcase. Marvin Russell had taken that and driven to Minneapolis, where he'd bought presentable clothes, a decent set of luggage, and a ticket. One of the many things he'd learned in prison was the proper methodology for obtaining an alternate identity. He had three of them, complete with passports, that no cop knew anything about. He'd also learned about keeping a low profile. His clothes were presentable, but not flashy. He purchased a stand-by ticket on a flight he expected to be underbooked, saving himself another few hundred dollars. That $91,545.00 had to last him a long time, and life got expensive where he was heading. Life also got very cheap, he knew, but not in terms of money. A warrior could face that, he decided early on.

After a layover in Frankfurt, he traveled on in a southerly direction. No fool, Russell had once participated in an international conference of sorts — he'd sacrificed a total identity-set for that trip, four years previously. At the conference he'd made a few contacts. Most importantly of all, he'd learned of contact procedures. The international terrorist community was a careful one. It had to be, with all the forces arrayed against it, and Russell did not know his luck — of the three contact numbers he remembered, one had long since been compromised and two Red Brigade members rolled quietly up with it. He used one of the others, and that number still worked. The contact had led him to a dinner meeting in Athens where he'd been checked and cleared for further travel. Russell hurried back to his hotel — the local food did not agree with him — and sat down to wait for the phone to ring. To say he was nervous was an understatement. For all Marvin's caution, he knew that he was vulnerable. With not even a pocketknife to defend himself — travelling with weapons was far too dangerous — he was an easy mark for any cop who carried a gun. What if this contact line had been burned? If it had, he'd be arrested here, or summoned into a carefully prepared ambush from which he'd be lucky to escape alive. European cops weren't as mindful of constitutional rights as the Americans — but that thought died a rapid and quiet death. How kindly had the FBI treated his brother?

Damn! One more Sioux warrior shot down like a dog. Not even time to sing his Death Song. They'd pay for that. But only if he lived long enough, Marvin Russell corrected himself.

He sat by the window, the lights behind him extinguished, watching the traffic, watching for approaching police, waiting for the phone to ring. How would he make them pay? Russell asked himself. He didn't know, and really didn't care. Just so there was something he could do. The money belt was tight around his waist. One drawback of his physical condition was that there wasn't much slack in his waistline to take up. But he couldn't risk losing his money — without it, where the hell would he be? Keeping track of money was a pain in the ass, wasn't it? Marks in Germany. Drachmas or douche bags or something else here. Fortunately, you got your airline tickets with bucks. He traveled American-flag carriers mainly for that reason, certainly not because he liked the sight of the Stars and Stripes on the tail fins of the aircraft. The phone rang. Russell lifted it.


“Tomorrow, nine-thirty, be in front of the hotel, ready to travel. Understood?”

“Nine-thirty. Yes.” The phone clicked off before he could say more.

“Okay,” Russell said to himself. He rose and moved towards the bed. The door was double-locked and chained, and he had a chair propped under the knob. Marvin pondered that. If he were being set up, they'd bag him like a duck in autumn right in front of the hotel, or maybe they'd take him away by car and spring the trap away from civilians… that was more likely, he judged. But certainly they wouldn't go to all the trouble of setting up a rendezvous and then kick in the door here. Probably not. Hard to predict what cops would do, wasn't it? So he slept in his jeans and shirt, the money belt securely wrapped around his waist. After all, he still had thieves to worry about…

The sun rose about as early here as it did at home. Russell awoke with the first pink-orange glow. On checking in he'd requested an east-facing room. He said his prayers to the sun and prepared himself for travel. He had breakfast sent up — it cost a few extra drachmas, but what the hell? — and packed what few things he'd removed from his suitcase. By nine he was thoroughly ready and thoroughly nervous. If it was going to happen, it would happen in thirty minutes. He could easily be dead before lunch, dead in a foreign land, distant from the spirits of his people. Would they even send his body back to the Dakotas? Probably not. He'd just vanish from the face of the earth. The actions he ascribed to policemen were the same ones he would himself have taken, but what would be good tactics for a warrior were something else to cops, weren't they? Russell paced the room, looking out the window at the cars and street vendors. Any one of those people selling trinkets or Cokes to the tourists could so easily be a police officer. No, more than one, more like ten. Cops didn't like fair fights, did they? They shot from ambush and attacked in gangs.

9:15. The numbers on the digital clock marched forward with a combination of sloth and alacrity that depended entirely on how often Russell turned to check them. It was time. He lifted his bags and left the room without a backward glance. It was a short walk to the elevator, which arrived quickly enough that it piqued Russell's paranoia yet again. A minute later, he was in the lobby. A bellman offered to take his bags, but he declined the offer and made his way to the desk. The only thing left on his bill was breakfast, which he settled with his remaining local currency. He had a few minutes left over, and walked to the newsstand for a copy of anything that was in English. What was happening in the world? It was an odd moment of curiosity for Marvin, whose world was a constricted one of threats and responses and evasions. What was the world? he asked himself. It was what he could see at the time, little more than that, a bubble of space defined by what his senses reported to him. At home he could see distant horizons and a huge enveloping dome of sky. Here, reality was circumscribed by walls, and stretched a mere hundred feet from one horizon to another. He had a sudden attack of anxiety, knowing what it was to be a hunted animal, and struggled to fight it off. He checked his watch: 9:28. Time.

Russell walked outside to the cab stand, wondering what came next. He set his two bags down, looking about as casually as he could manage in the knowledge that guns might even now be aimed at his head. Would he die as John had died? A bullet in the head, no warning at all, not even the dignity an animal might have? That was no way to die, and the thought of it sickened him. Russell balled his hands into tight, powerful fists to control the trembling as a car approached. The driver was looking at him. This was it. He lifted his bags and walked to it.

“Mr. Drake?” It was the name under which Russell was currently traveling. The driver wasn't the one he'd met for dinner. Russell knew at once that he was dealing with pros, who compartmented everything. That was a good sign.

“That's me,” Russell answered with a smile/grimace.

The driver got out and opened the trunk. Russell heaved the bags in, then walked to the passenger door and got in the front seat. If this were a trap, he could throttle the driver before he died. At least he'd accomplish that much.

Fifty meters away, Sergeant Spiridon Papanicolaou of the Hellenic National Police sat in an old Opel liveried as a taxi. Sitting there with an extravagant black mustache and munching on a breakfast roll, he looked like anything but a cop. He had a small automatic in the glove box, but like most European cops, he was not skilled in its use. The Nikon camera sitting in a clip holder under his seat was his only real weapon. His job was surveillance, actually working at the behest of the Ministry of Public Order. His memory for faces was photographic — the camera was for people lacking the talent of which he was justifiably proud. His method of operation was one that required great patience, but Papanicolaou had plenty of that. Whenever his superiors got wind of a possible terrorist operation in the Athens area, he prowled hotels and airports and docks. He wasn't the only such officer, but he was the best. He had a nose for it as his father had had a nose for where the fish were running. And he hated terrorists. In fact, he hated all variety of criminals, but terrorists were the worst of the lot, and he chafed at his government's off-again/on-again interest in running the murderous bastards out of his ancient and noble country. Currently the interest was on-again. A week earlier there had been a possible sighting report of someone from the PFLP near the Parthenon. Four men from his squad were at the airport. A few others were checking the cruise docks, but Papanicolaou liked to check the hotels. They had to stay somewhere. Never the best — they were too flashy. Never the worst — these bastards liked a modest degree of comfort. The middle sort, the comfortable family places on the secondary streets, with lots of college-age travelers whose rapid shuffling in and out made for difficulty in spotting one particular face. But Papanicolaou had his father's eyes. He could recognize a face from half a second's exposure at seventy meters.

And the driver of that blue Fiat was a “face.” He couldn't remember if it had a name attached to it, but he remembered seeing the face somewhere. The “Unknown” file, probably, one of the hundreds of photographs in the files that came in from Interpol and the military-intelligence people whose lust for the blood of terrorists was even more frustrated by their government's policy. This was the country of Leonidas and Xenophon, Odysseus and Achilles. Greece — Hellas to the sergeant — was the home of epic warriors and the very birthplace of freedom and democracy, not a place for foreign scum to kill with impunity…

Who's the other one! Papanicolaou wondered. Dresses like an American… odd features, though. He raised the camera in one smooth motion, zoomed the lens to full magnification and got off three rapid frames before putting it back down. The Fiat was moving… well, he'd see where it was going. The sergeant switched off his on-call light and headed out of the cab rank.

Russell settled back in the seat. He didn't bother with the seatbelt. If he had to escape the car, he didn't want to be bothered. The driver was a good one, maneuvering in and out of traffic, which was lively here. He didn't say a word. That was fine with Russell, too. The American moved his head to the side, and scanned forward, looking for a trap. His eyes flickered around the inside of the car. No obvious places to hide a weapon. No visible microphones or radio equipment. That didn't mean anything, but he looked anyway. Finally he pretended to relax and cocked his head in a direction from which he could look ahead and also behind by eyeing the right-side mirror. His hunter's instincts were taut and alert this morning. There was potential danger everywhere.

The driver took what seemed to be an aimless path. It was hard for Russell to be sure, of course. The streets of this city had predated chariots, much less automobiles, and later concessions made to wheeled vehicles had fallen short of making Athens a Los Angeles. Though the autos on the street were tiny ones, traffic seemed to be a constant, moving, anarchic log-jam. He wanted to know where they were going, but there was no sense in asking. He would be unable to distinguish between a truthful answer and a lie — and even if he got a straight answer, it probably would not have meant anything to him. He was for better or worse committed to this course of action, Russell knew. It didn't make him feel any more comfortable, but to deny the truth of it was to lie to himself, and Russell was not that sort. The best he could do was to stay alert. That he did.

The airport, Papanicolaou thought. That was certainly convenient. In addition to his squad-mates, there were at least twenty other officers there, armed with pistols and sub-machineguns. That should be easy. Just move a few of the plain-clothes people in close while two heavily-armed people in uniform strolled by, and take them down — he liked that American euphemism — quickly and cleanly. Off into a side room to see if they were what he thought, and if not — well, then his captain would fuss over them. Sorry, he'd say, but you fit a description we got from — whomever he might conveniently blame; maybe the French or Italians — and one cannot be too careful with international air travel. They would automatically upgrade whatever tickets the two people had to first-class ones. It almost always worked.

On the other hand, if that face was what Papanicolaou thought it was, well, then he'd have gotten his third terrorist of the year. Maybe even the fourth. Just because the other one dressed like an American didn't mean he had to be one. Four in just eight months — no, only seven months, the sergeant corrected himself. Not bad for one somewhat eccentric cop who liked to work alone. Papanicolaou allowed his car to close in slightly. He didn't want to lose these fish in traffic.

Russell counted a bunch of cabs. They had to cater to tourists mainly, or other people who didn't care to drive in the local traffic… that's odd. It took him a moment to figure why. Oh, sure, he thought, its dome light wasn't on. Only the driver. Most of the others had passengers, but even those without had their dome lights on. It must have been the on-duty light, he judged. But that one's was out. Russell's driver had it easy, taking the next right turn to head down towards what appeared to be something akin to a real highway. Most of the cabs failed to take the turn. Though Russell didn't know it, they were heading either towards museums or shopping areas. But the one with the light out followed them around the corner, fifty yards back.

“We're being followed,” Marvin announced quietly. “You have a friend watching our back?”

“No.” The driver's eyes immediately went up to the mirror. “Which one do you think it is?”

“I don't 'think,' sport. It's the taxi fifty yards back, right side, dirty-white, without the dome-light on, I don't know the make of the car. He's made two turns with us. You should pay better attention,” Russell added, wondering if this was the trap he feared. He figured he could kill the driver easily enough. A little guy with a skinny neck that he could wring as easily as he killed a mourning dove, yeah, it wouldn't be hard.

“Thank you. Yes, I should,” the driver replied, after identifying the cab. And who might you be…? We'll see. He made another random turn. It followed.

“You are correct, my friend,” the driver said thoughtfully. “How did you know?”

“I pay attention to things.”

“So I see… this changes our plans somewhat.” The driver's mind was racing. Unlike Russell, he knew that he hadn't been set up. Though he had been unable to establish his guest's bonafides, no intelligence or police officer would have given him that warning. Well, probably not, he corrected himself. But there was one way to check that. He was also angry at the Greeks. One of his comrades had disappeared off the streets of Piraeus in April, to turn up in Britain a few days later. That friend was now in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight. They'd once been able to operate in relative impunity in Greece, most often using the country as a safe transit point. He knew that doing actual operations here had been a mistake — just having the country as a sally-port had been quite valuable enough, an advantage not to be squandered — but that didn't mitigate his anger at the Greek police.

“It may be necessary to do something about this.”

Russell's eyes went back to the driver. “I don't have a weapon.”

“I do. I would prefer not to use it. How strong are you?”

By way of answering, Russell reached out his left hand and squeezed the driver's right knee.

“You have made your point,” the driver said with a level voice. “If you cripple me, I cannot drive.” Now, how do we do this…? “Have you killed before?”

“Yes,” Russell lied. He hadn't ever personally killed a man, but he'd killed enough other things. “I can do that.”

The driver nodded and increased speed on his way out of town. He had to find…

Papanicolaou frowned. They were not heading to the airport. Too bad. Good thing he hadn't called it in. Well. He allowed himself to lay back, shielding himself with other vehicles. The paint job on the Fiat made it easy to spot, and as traffic thinned out, he could take it a little more casually. Maybe they were going to a safe house. If so, he'd have to be very careful, but also if so, he'd have a valuable piece of information. Identifying a safe house was about the best thing he could accomplish. Then the muscle boys could move in, or the intelligence squad could stake it out, identifying more and more faces, then assaulting the place in such a way as to arrest three or even more of the bastards. There could be a decoration and promotion at the end of this surveillance. Again he thought of making a radio call, but — but what did he really know? He was letting his excitement get away with him, wasn't he? He had a probable identification on a face without a name. Might his eyes have deceived him? Might the face be something other than what he thought? A common criminal, perhaps?

Spiridon Papanicolaou grumbled a curse at fate and luck, his trained eyes locked on the car. They were entering an old part of Athens, with narrow streets. Not a fashionable area, it was a working-class neighborhood with narrow streets, mainly empty. Those with jobs were at them. Housewives were at the local shops. Children played in parks. Quite a few people were taking their holidays on the islands, and the streets were emptier than one might have expected. The Fiat slowed suddenly and turned right into one of many anonymous sidestreets.



The car stopped briefly. Russell had already removed his jacket and tie, still wondering if this could be the final act of the trap, but he didn't really care anymore. What would happen would happen. He flexed his hands as he walked back up the street.

Sergeant Spiridon Papanicolaou increased speed to approach the corner. If they were heading into this rabbit warren of narrow lanes, he could not maintain visual contact without getting closer. Well, if they identified him, he'd call for help. Police work was unpredictable, after all. As he approached the corner, he saw a man standing on the side street, looking at a paper. Not either of the men he was shadowing. This one wasn't wearing a jacket, though his face was turned away, and the way he was standing there was like something in a movie. The sergeant smiled wryly at that — but the smile stopped at once.

As soon as Papanicolaou was fully onto the sidestreet, he saw the Fiat, no more than twenty meters away, and backing up rapidly towards him. The police officer stood on the brakes to stop his taxi, and started to think about reversing himself when an arm reached across his face. His hands came off the wheel to grab it, but the powerful hand gripped his chin, and another seized the back of his neck. His instinct to turn and see what was happening was answered by the way one hand wrenched his head to the left, and he saw the face of the American — but then he felt his vertebrae strain for a brief instant and snap with an audible sound that announced his death to Papanicolaou as surely and irrevocably as a bullet. Then he knew. The man did have odd features, like something else from a movie, like something…

Russell jumped out of the way and waved. The Fiat pulled forward again, then went into reverse and slammed hard into the taxi. The driver's head lolled forward atop its broken neck. Probably the man was dead already, Russell knew, but that wasn't a matter of concern. Yes, it was. He felt for a pulse, then made sure the neck was well and truly snapped — he worked it around to make sure the spine was severed, too — before moving to the Fiat. Russell smiled to himself as he got in. Gee, that wasn't so hard…

“He's dead. Let's get the hell out of here!”

“Are you sure?”

“I broke his neck like a toothpick. Yeah, he's dead, man. It was easy. Little pencil-neck of a guy.”

“Like me, you mean?” The driver turned and grinned. He'd have to dump the car, of course, but the joy of their escape and the satisfaction of the killing was sufficient to the moment. And he had found a comrade, a worthy one. “Your name is?”


“I am Ibrahim.”

The President's speech was a triumph. The man did know how to deliver a good performance, Ryan told himself as the applause rippled across the General Assembly auditorium in New York. His gracious, if rather cold, smile thanked the assembled representatives of a hundred sixty or so countries. The cameras panned to the Israeli delegation, whose clapping was rather more perfunctory than that of the Arab states — there evidently hadn't been time to brief them. The Soviets outdid themselves, joining those who stood. Jack lifted the remote control and switched off the set before the ABC commentator could summarize what the President had said. Ryan had a draft of the speech on his desk, and had made notes of his own. Moments earlier, the invitations had been telexed by the Vatican to all of the concerned foreign ministries. All would come to Rome in ten days. The draft treaty was ready for them. Quiet, rapid moves by a handful of ambassadors and deputy-assistant-secretaries of state had informed other governments of what was in the offing, and uniform approval had come back. The Israelis knew about that. The proper back-channel leaks had been allowed to percolate in the desired direction. If they stonewalled — well, Bunker had put a hold on that shipment of aircraft parts, and the Israelis had been too shocked to react yet. More accurately, they'd been told not to react if they ever wanted to see the new radar systems. There were already rumbles from the Israeli lobby, which had its own sources throughout the US government, and was making discreet calls to key members of Congress. But Fowler had briefed the congressional leadership two days earlier, and the initial read on the Fowler Plan was highly favorable. The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had promised passage of both draft treaties in under a week. It was going to happen, Jack thought to himself. It might really work. Certainly it wouldn't hurt anything. All the good will America had generated in its own adventure in the Persian Gulf was on the line. The Arabs would see this as a fundamental change in US policy — which it was— America was slapping Israel down. Israel would see it the same way, but that wasn't really true. The peace would be guaranteed the only way that was possible, by American military and political power. The demise of East-West confrontation had made it possible for America, acting in accord with the other major powers, to dictate a just peace. What we think a just peace is, Ryan corrected himself. God, I hope this works out.

It was too late for that, of course. It had, after all, been his idea. The Fowler Plan. They had to break the cycle, to find a way out of the trap. America was the only country trusted by both sides, a fact won with American blood on the one hand, and vast amounts of money on the other. America had to guarantee the peace, and the peace had to be founded on something looking recognizably like justice to all concerned. The equation was both simple and complex. The principles could be expressed in a single short paragraph. The details of execution would take a small book. The monetary cost — well, the enabling legislation would sail through Congress despite the size of it. Saudi Arabia was actually underwriting a quarter of the cost, a concession won only four days earlier by Secretary Talbot. In return, the Saudis would be buying yet another installment of high-tech arms, which had been handled by Dennis Bunker. Those two had really handled their end superbly, Ryan knew. Whatever the President's faults, his two most important cabinet members — two close friends — were the best such team he'd ever seen in government service. And they'd served their President and their country well in the past week.

This is going to work,“ Jack said quietly to himself in the privacy of his office. ”Maybe, maybe, maybe." He checked his watch. He'd have a read on that in about three hours.

Qati faced his television with a frown. Was it possible! History said no, but—

But the Saudis had broken off their supply of money, seduced by the help America had given them against Iraq. And his organization had bet on the wrong horse in that one. Already his people were feeling the financial pinch, though they'd been careful to invest what funds they had received over the previous generation. Their Swiss and other European bankers had ensured a steady flow of money, and the pinch was more psychological than real, but to the Arab mind the psychological was real, just as it was to any politically astute mind.

The key to it, Qati knew, was whether or not the Americans would put real pressure on the Zionists. They'd never done so. They'd allowed the Israelis to attack an American warship and kill American sailors — and forgiven them before the bleeding had stopped, before the last victim had died. When American military forces had to fight for every dollar of funds from their own Congress, that same spineless body of political whores fell over itself giving arms to the Jews. America had never pressured Israel in any meaningful way. That was the key to his existence, wasn't it? So long as there was no peace in the Middle East, he had a mission: the destruction of the Jewish State. Without that—

But the problems in the Middle East predated his birth. They might go away, but only when—

But it was a time for truth, Qati told himself, stretching tired and sore limbs. What prospects for destroying Israel did he have? Not from without. So long as America supported the Jews, and so long as the Arab states failed to unite…

And the Russians? The cursed Russians had stood like begging dogs at the end of Fowler's speech.

It was possible. The thought was no less threatening to Qati than the first diagnosis of his cancer. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. What if the Americans did pressure the Jews? What if the Russians did support his absurd new plan? What if the Israelis gave in to the pressure? What if the Palestinians found the concessions demanded of Israel to their taste? It could work. The Zionist state might continue to exist. The Palestinians might find contentment in their new land. A modus vivendi might evolve into being.

It would mean that his life had been to no purpose. It would mean that all the things he had worked for, all the sacrifice and self-denial had gone for nothing. His freedom fighters had fought and died for a generation… for a cause that might be forever lost.

Betrayed by his fellow Arabs, whose money and political support had sustained his men.

Betrayed by the Russians, whose support and arms had sustained his movement from its birth.

Betrayed by the Americans — the most perversely of all. By taking away their enemy.

Betrayed by Israel — by making something akin to a fair peace. It wasn't fair at all, of course. So long as a single Zionist lived on Arab lands, there would be no fairness.

Might he be betrayed by the Palestinians also? What if they came to accept this? Where would his dedicated fighters come from?

Betrayed by everyone!

No, God could not let that be. God was merciful, and gave his light to the faithful.

No, this could not really happen. It wasn't possible. Too many things had to fall into place for this hellish vision to become real. Had not there been so many peace plans for this region? So many visions. And where had they led? Even the Carter-Sadat-Begin talks in America, where the Americans had browbeaten their putative allies into serious concessions, had choked and died when Israel had utterly failed to consider an equitable settlement for the Palestinians. No, Qati was sure of that. Perhaps he could not depend on the Russians. Perhaps he could not depend on the Saudis. Certainly he could not depend on the Americans. But he could depend on Israel. The Jews were far too stupid, far too arrogant, far too short-sighted to see that their best hope for long-term security could only lie in an equitable peace. The irony struck him very hard, hard enough to garner a smile. It had to be God's plan, that his movement would be safeguarded by his bitterest enemies. Their obstinacy, their stiff Jewish necks would never bow to this. And if that was what was required for the war to continue, then the fact of it, and the irony of it, could only be a sign from God Himself that the cause guiding Qati and his men was indeed the Holy Cause they believed it to be.

“Never! Never will I bow to this infamy!” the Defense Minister shouted. It was a dramatic performance, even for him. He'd pounded the table hard enough to upset his water glass, and the puddle from it threatened to seep over the edge and into his lap. He studiously ignored it as his fierce blue eyes swept around the cabinet room.

“And what if Fowler is serious with his threats?”

“We'll break his career!” Defense said. “We can do that. We've jerked American politicians into line before!”

“More than we've been able to do here,” the Foreign Minister observed sotto voce to his neighbor at the table.

“What was that?”

“I said it might not be possible in this case, Rafi.” David Askenazi took a sip from his glass before going on. “Our ambassador in Washington tells me that his people on the Hill find real support for Fowler's plan. The Saudi ambassador threw a major party last weekend for the congressional leadership. He performed well, our sources tell us. Right, Avi?”

“Correct, Minister,” General Ben Jakob answered. His boss was out of the country at the moment, and he spoke for the Mossad. “The Saudis and the rest of the 'moderate' Gulf states are willing to end their declared state of war, to institute ministerial relations with us preparatory for full recognition at an unspecified later date, and to underwrite part of the American costs for stationing their troops and planes here — plus, I might add, picking up the entire cost of the peace-keeping force and the economic rehabilitation of our Palestinian friends.”

“How do we say no to that?” the Foreign Minister inquired dryly. “Are you surprised at the support in the American Congress?”

“It's all a trick!” Defense insisted.

“If so, it's a damnably clever one,” Ben Jakob said.

“You believe this twaddle, Avi? You?” Ben Jakob had been Rafi Mandel's best battalion commander in the Sinai, so many years before.

“I don't know, Rafi.” The deputy director of the Mossad had never been more cognizant of his position as a deputy, and speaking in the name of his boss did not come easily.

“Your evaluation?” the Prime Minister asked gently. Someone at the table, he decided, had to be calm.

“The Americans are entirely sincere,” Avi replied. “Their willingness to provide a physical guarantee — the mutual-defense treaty, and the stationing of troops — is genuine. From a strictly military point of—”

“I speak for the defense of Israel!” Mandel snarled.

Ben Jakob turned to stare his former commander down. “Rafi, you have always outranked me, but I've killed my share of enemies, and you know it well.” Avi paused for a moment to let that rest on the table. When he went on, his voice was quiet and measured and dispassionate as he allowed his reason to overcome emotions no less strong than Mandel's. “The American military units represent a serious commitment. We're talking about a twenty-five percent increase in the striking power of our air force, and that tank unit is more powerful than our strongest brigade. Moreover, I do not see how that commitment can ever be withdrawn. For that to happen — our friends in America will never let it happen.”

“We've been abandoned before!” Mandel pointed out coldly. “Our only defense is ourselves.”

“Rafi,” the Foreign Minister said. “My friend, where has that led us? You and I have fought together, too, and not merely in this room. Is there to be no end to it?”

“Better no treaty than a bad treaty!”

“I agree,” the Prime Minister said. “But how bad will this treaty be?”

“We have all read the draft. I will propose some modest changes, but, my friends, I think it is time,” the Foreign Minister said. “My advice to you is that we accept the Fowler Plan, with certain conditions.” The Foreign Minister outlined them.

“Will the Americans grant those, Avi?”

“They'll complain about the cost, but our friends in their Congress will go along, whether President Fowler approves them or not. They will recognize our historic concessions, and they will wish to make us feel secure within our borders.”

“Then I will resign!” Rafi Mandel shouted.

“No, Rafi, you will not,” the Prime Minister said, growing a little tired of his histrionics. “If you resign, you cast yourself out. You want this seat someday, and you will never have it if you leave the cabinet now.”

Mandel flushed crimson at that rebuke.

The Prime Minister looked around the room. “So, what is the opinion of the government?”

Forty minutes later, Jack's phone rang. He lifted it, noting that it was his most secure line, the direct one that bypassed Nancy Cummings.

“Ryan.” He listened for a minute and made some notes. “Thanks.”

Next the DDCI rose and walked into Nancy 's office, then turned left through the door into Marcus Cabot's more capacious room. Cabot was lying on the couch in the far corner. Like Judge Arthur Moore, his predecessor, Cabot liked to smoke the occasional cigar. His shoes were off, and he was reading over a file with striped tape on the borders. Just one more secret file in a building full of them. The folder dropped, and Cabot, looking like a pink, chubby volcano, eyed Ryan as he approached.

“What is it, Jack?”

“Just got a call from our friend in Israel. They're coming to Rome, and the cabinet voted to accept the treaty terms, with a few modifications.”

“What are they?” Ryan handed over his notes. Cabot scanned them. “You and Talbot were right.”

“Yeah, and I should have let him play the card instead of me.”

“Good call, you predicted all but one.” Cabot rose and slipped into his black loafers before walking to his desk. Here he lifted a phone. “Tell the President I'll meet him at the White House when he gets back from New York. I want Talbot and Bunker there also. Tell him it's a go.” He set the phone back in the cradle. He grinned around the cigar in his teeth, trying to look like George Patton, who hadn't smoked to the best of Ryan's knowledge. “How about that?”

“How long you figure to finalize it?”

“With the advance work you and Adler did, plus the finishing work from Talbot and Bunker…? Hmm. Give it two weeks. Won't go as fast as it did with Carter at Camp David, because too many professional diplomats are involved, but in fourteen days the President takes his seven-four-seven to Rome to sign the documents.”

“You want me to go down with you to the White House?”

“No, I'll handle it.”

“Okay.” That wasn't unexpected. Ryan left the room the same way he'd come in.


The cameras were in place. Air Force C-5B Galaxy transports had loaded the newest state-of-the-art ground-station vans at Andrews Air Force Base and flown them to Leonardo da Vinci Airport. This was less for the signing ceremony — if they got that far, commentators worried — than what wags called the pre-game show. The fully digital improved-definition equipment just coming on line, the producers felt, would better depict the art collections that litter Vatican walls as trees line national parks. Local carpenters and specialists from New York and Atlanta had worked around the clock to build the special booths from which the network anchors would broadcast. All three network morning news shows were originating from the Vatican. CNN was also there in force, as were NHK, BBC, and nearly every other television network in the world, all fighting for space in the grand piazza that sprawls before the church begun in 1503 by Bramante, carried on by Raphael, Michelangelo, and Bernini. A brief but violent windstorm had carried spray from the central fountain into the Deutsche Welle anchor booth and shorted out a hundred thousand marks' worth of equipment. Vatican officials had finally protested that there would be no room for the people to witness the event — for which they prayed — but by then it had been far too late. Someone remembered that in Roman times this had been the site of the Circus Maximus, and it was generally agreed that this was the grandest circus of recent years. Except that the Roman “circus” was mainly for chariot races.

The TV people enjoyed their stay in Rome. The crews for Today and Good Morning America were able, for once, to rise indecently late instead of before the paperboy, to begin their broadcasts after lunch—!!!—and finish in time for afternoon shopping, followed by dinner at one of Rome 's many fine restaurants. Their research people scoured reference books for historical remote locations like the Colosseum — correctly called the Flavian Amphitheater, one careful back-room type discovered — where people waxed rhapsodic on the Roman substitute for NFL football: combat, to the death, man against man, man against beast, beast against Christian, and various other permutations thereof. But it was the Forum that was the symbolic focus for their time in Rome. Here were the ruins of Rome 's civic center, where Cicero and Scipio had walked and talked and met with supporters and opponents, the place to which visitors had come for centuries. Eternal Rome, mother of a vast empire, playing yet another role on the world stage. In its center was the Vatican, just a handful of acres, really, but a sovereign country nonetheless. “How many divisions has the Pope?” a TV anchorman quoted Stalin, then rambled into a discourse on how the Church and its values had outlasted Marxism-Leninism to the extent that the Soviet Union had decided to open diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and had its own evening news, Vremya, originating from a booth less than fifty yards from his own.

Additional attention was given to the two other religions present in the negotiations. At the arrival ceremony, the Pope had recalled an incident from the earliest days of Islam: a commission of Roman Catholic bishops had traveled to Arabia, essentially on an intelligence-gathering mission to see what Mohammed was up to. After a cordial first meeting, the senior Bishop had asked where he and his companions might celebrate Mass. Mohammed had immediately offered the use of the mosque in which they stood. After all, the Prophet had observed, is this not a house consecrated to God? The Holy Father extended the same courtesy to the Israelis. In both cases there was some measure of discomfort to the more conservative churchmen present, but the Holy Father had swept that aside with a speech characteristically delivered in three languages.

“In the name of the God Whom we all know by different names, but Who is nevertheless the same God of all men, we offer our city to the service of men of good will. We share so many beliefs. We believe in a God of mercy and love. We believe in the spiritual nature of man. We believe in the paramount value of faith, and in the manifestation of that faith in charity and brotherhood. To our brothers from distant lands, we give you greetings and we offer our prayers that your faith will find a way to the justice and the peace of God to which all of our faiths direct us.”

“Wow,” a morning-show anchor observed off-mike. “I'm beginning to think this circus is serious.”

But coverage didn't stop there, of course. In the interest of fairness, balance, controversy, a proper understanding of events, and selling commercials, the TV coverage included the head of a Jewish paramilitary group who vociferously recalled Ferdinand and Isabella's expulsion of the Jews from Iberia, the czar's Black Hundreds, and, naturally, Hitler's Holocaust — which he emphasized further because of German reunification — and concluded that Jews were fools to trust anyone at all except the weapons in their own strong hands. From Qum, the Ayatolla Daryaei, the religious leader of Iran and long an enemy of everything Americans did, railed against all unbelievers, consigning each and every one to his personal version of hell, but translation made understanding difficult for American viewers, and his grandiloquent ranting was cut short. A self-styled “charismatic Christian” from the American South got the most air time. After first denouncing Roman Catholicism as the quintessential Anti-Christ, he repeated his renowned claim that God didn't even hear the prayers of the Jews, much less the infidel Muslims, whom he called Mohammedans as an unnecessary further insult.

But somehow those demagogues were ignored — more correctly, their views were. The TV networks received thousands of angry calls that such bigots were given air time at all. This delighted the TV executives, of course. It meant that people would return to the same show seeking further outrage. The American bigot immediately noticed a dip in his contribution envelopes. B'nai B'rith raced to condemn the off-the-reservation rabbi. The leader of the League of Islamic Nations, himself a distinguished cleric, denounced the radical imam as a heretic against the words of the Prophet, whom he quoted at length to make his point. The TV networks provided all of the countervailing commentary also, thus showing balance enough to pacify some viewers and enrage others.

Within a day, one newspaper column noted that the thousands of correspondents attending the conference had taken to calling it the Peace Bowl, in recognition of the circular configuration of the Piazza San Pietro. The more observant realized that this was evidence of the strain on reporters with a story to cover but nothing to report. Security at the conference was hermetically tight. Those participants who came and went were carried about by military aircraft via military air bases. Reporters and cameramen with their long lenses were kept as far from the action as possible, and for the most part travel was accomplished in darkness. The Swiss Guards of the Vatican, outfitted though they were in Renaissance jumpsuits, let not a mouse pass by their lines, and perversely when something significant did happen — the Swiss Defense Minister discreetly entered a remote doorway — no one noticed.

Polling information in numerous countries showed uniform hope that this would be the one. A world tired of discord and riding a euphoric wave of relief at recent changes in East-West relations somehow sensed that it was. Commentators warned that there had been no harder issue in recent history, but people the world over prayed in a hundred languages and a million churches for an end to this last and most dangerous dispute on the planet. To their credit, the TV networks reported that, too.

Professional diplomats, some of them the most certified of cynics who hadn't seen the inside of a church since childhood, felt the weight of such pressure as they had never known. Sketchy reports from Vatican custodial staffers spoke of solitary midnight walks down the nave of Saint Peter's, strolls along outside balconies on clear, starlit nights, long talks of some participants with the Holy Father. But nothing else. The highly paid TV anchors stared at one another in awkward silences. Print journalists struggled and stole any good idea they could find just so that they could produce some copy. Not since Carter's marathon stint at Camp David had such weighty negotiations proceeded with so little reportage.

And the world held its breath.

The old man wore a red fez trimmed with white. Not many continued the characteristic manner of dress, but this one kept to the way of his ancestors. Life was hard for the Druse, and the one solace he had lay in the religion he'd observed for all of his sixty-six years.

The Druse are members of a Middle Eastern religious sect combining aspects of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, founded by Al-hakim bi'amrillahi, Caliph of Egypt in the 11th Century, who had deemed himself the incarnation of God Himself. Living for the most part in Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, they occupy a precarious niche in the societies of all three nations. Unlike Muslim Israelis, they are allowed to serve in the armed forces of the Jewish state, a fact that does not engender trust for the Syrian Druse in the government that rules over them. While some Druse have risen to command in the Syrian army, it was well remembered that one such officer, a colonel commanding a regiment, had been executed after the 1973 war for being forced off a strategic crossroads. Though in strictly military terms he'd fought bravely and well, and had been lucky to extract what remained of his command in good order, the loss of that crossroads had cost the Syrian army a pair of tank brigades, and as a result the colonel had been summarily executed… for being unlucky, and probably for being a Druse.

The old farmer didn't know all of the details behind that story, but knew enough. The Syrian Muslims had killed another Druse then, and more since. He accordingly trusted no one from the Syrian army or government. But that did not mean that he had the least affection for Israel, either. In 1975, a long-barrelled Israeli 175mm gun had scoured his area, searching for a Syrian ammunition depot, and the fragments from one stray round had mortally wounded his wife of forty years, adding loneliness to his surfeit of misery. What for Israel was a historical constant was for this simple farmer an immediate and deadly fact of life. Fate had decided that he should live between two armies, both of which regarded his physical existence as an annoying inconvenience. He was not a man who had ever asked much of life. He had a small holding of land which he farmed, a few sheep and goats, a simple house built of stones he'd carried from his rocky fields. All he wanted to do was live. It was not, he'd once thought, all that much to ask, but sixty-six turbulent years had proven him wrong and wrong again. He'd prayed for mercy from his God, and for justice, and for just a few comforts — he'd always known that wealth would never be his — so that his lot and that of his wife would be just a little easier. But that had never happened. Of the five children his wife had borne him, only one had survived into his teens, and that son had been conscripted into the Syrian army in time for the 1973 war. His son had more luck than the entire family had known: when his BTR-6o personnel carrier had taken a hit from an Israeli tank, he'd been thrown out the top, losing only an eye and a hand in the process. Alive, but half-blinded, he'd married and given his father grandchildren as he lived a modestly successful life as a merchant and money-lender. Not much of a blessing, in contrast to what else had happened in his life, it seemed to the farmer the only joy he'd known.

The farmer grew his vegetables and grazed his few head of stock on his rocky patch close to the Syrian-Lebanese border. He didn't persevere, didn't really endure, and even survival was an overstatement of his existence. Life for the farmer was nothing more than a habit he could not break, an endless succession of increasingly weary days. When each spring his ewes produced new lambs, he prayed quietly that he'd not live to see them slaughtered — but he also resented the fact that these meek and foolish animals might outlast himself.

Another dawn. The farmer neither had nor needed an alarm clock. When the sky brightened, the bells of his sheep and goats started to clatter. His eyes opened, and he again became conscious of the pain in his limbs. He stretched in his bed, then rose slowly. In a few minutes he'd washed and scraped the gray stubble from his face, eaten his stale bread and strong, sweet coffee, and begun one more day of labor. The farmer did his gardening in the morning, before the heat of the day really took hold. He had a sizable garden, because selling off its surplus in the local market provided cash for the few things that he counted as luxuries. Even that was a struggle. The work punished his arthritic limbs, and keeping his animals away from the tender shoots was one more curse in his life, but the sheep and goats could also be sold for cash, and without that money he would long since have starved. The truth of the matter was that he ate adequately from the sweat of his wrinkled brow, and had he not been so lonely, he could have eaten more. As it was, solitude had made him parsimonious. Even his gardening tools were old. He trudged out to the field, the sun still low in the sky, to destroy the weeds that every day sprang up anew among his vegetables. If only someone could train a goat, he thought, echoing words of his father and grandfather. A goat that would eat the weeds but not the plants, that would be something. But a goat was no more intelligent than a clod of dirt, except when it came to doing mischief. The three-hour effort of lifting the mattock and tearing up the weeds began in the same corner of the garden, and he worked his way up one row and down the next with a steady pace that belied his age and infirmity.


What was that? The farmer stood up straight and wiped some sweat away. Halfway through the morning labor, beginning to look forward to the rest that came with attending to the sheep… Not a stone. He used his tool to pull the dirt away from — oh, that.

People often wonder at the process. Farmers the world over have joked of it since farming first began, the way that farm fields produce rocks. Stone fences along New England lanes attest to the superficially mysterious process. Water does it. Water falling as rain seeps into the soil. In the winter the water freezes into ice, which expands as it becomes a solid. As it expands, it pushes up rather than down, because pushing up is easier. That action moves rocks in the soil to the surface, and so fields grow rocks, something especially true in the Golan region of Syria, whose soil is a geologically recent construct of volcanism, and whose winters, surprisingly to many, can grow cold and frosty.

But this one was not a rock.

It was metallic, a sandy brown color, he saw, pulling the dirt away. Oh, yes, that day. The same day his son had been—

What do I do about this damned thing! the farmer asked himself. It was, of course, a bomb. He wasn't so foolish that he didn't know that much. How it had gotten here was a mystery, of course. He'd never seen any aircraft, Syrian or Israeli, drop bombs anywhere close to his farm, but that didn't matter. He could scarcely deny that it was here. To the farmer it might as well have been a rock, just a big, brown rock, too big to dig out and carry off to the edge of the field, big enough to interrupt two rows of carrots. He didn't fear the thing. It had not gone off, after all, and that meant that it was broken. Proper bombs fell off airplanes and exploded when they hit the ground. This one had just dug its small crater, which he'd filled back up the next day, unmindful at the time of the injuries to his son.

Why couldn't it have just stayed two meters down, where it belonged? he asked himself. But that had never been the pattern of his life, had it? No, anything that could do him harm had found him, hadn't it? The farmer wondered why God had been so cruel to him. Had he not said all his prayers, followed all of the strict rules of the Druse? What had he ever asked for? Whose sins was he expiating?

Well. There was no sense asking such questions at this late date. For the moment, he had work to do. He continued his weeding, standing on the exposed tip of the bomb to get a few, and worked his way down the row. His son would visit in a day or two, allowing the old man to see and beam at his grandchildren, the one unqualified joy of his life. He'd ask his son's advice. His son had been a soldier, and understood such things.

It was the sort of week that any government employee hated. Something important was happening in a different time zone. There was a six-hour differential, and it seemed very strange to Jack that he was being afflicted with jet-lag without having traveled anywhere.

“So, how's it going over there?” Clark asked from the driver's seat.

“Damned well.” Jack flipped through the documents. “The Saudis and Israelis actually agreed on something yesterday. They both wanted to change something, and both actually proposed the same change.” Jack chuckled at that. It had to be accidental, and if they'd known, both sides would have changed their positions.

“That must have embarrassed the hell out of somebody!” Clark laughed aloud, thinking the same as his boss. It was still dark, and the one good thing about the early days was that the roads were empty. “You really liked the Saudis, didn't you?”

“Ever been over there?”

“Aside from the war, you mean? Lots of times, Jack. I staged into Iran from there back in '79 and '80, spent a lot of time with the Saudis, learned the language.”

“What did you think of the place?” Jack asked.

“I liked it there. Got to know one guy pretty well, a major in their army — spook really, like me. Not much field experience, but a lot of book-learning. He was smart enough to know that he had a lot to learn, and he listened when I told him stuff. Got invited to his house a coupla-three times. He had two sons, nice little kids. One's flying fighters now. Funny how they treat their women, though. Sandy 'd never go for it.” Clark paused as he changed lanes to pass a truck. “Professionally speaking, they were cooperative as hell. Anyway, what I saw I sort of liked. They're different from us, but so what? World ain't full of Americans.”

“What about the Israelis?” Jack asked as he closed the document case.

“I've worked with them once or twice — well, more than that, doc, mainly in Lebanon. Their intelligence guys are real pros, cocky, arrogant bastards, but the ones I met had a lot to be cocky about. Fortress mentality, like — us-and-them mentality, y'know? Also understandable.” Clark turned. “That's the big hang-up, isn't it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Weaning them away from that. It can't be easy.”

“It isn't. I wish they'd wake up to the way the world is now,” Ryan growled.

“Doc, you have to understand. They all think like front-line grunts. What do you expect? Hell, man, their whole country is like a free-fire zone for the other side. They have the same way of thinking that us line-animals had in ' Nam. There are two kinds of people — your people, and everybody else.” John Clark shook his head. "You know how many times I've tried to explain that to kids at The Farm? Basic survival mentality. The Israelis think that way 'cause they can't think any other way. The Nazis killed millions of Jews and we didn't do dick about it — well, okay, maybe we couldn't have done anything 'cause of the way things were at the time. Then again, I wonder if Hitler was all that hard a target if we woulda ever got serious about doing his ass.

“Anyway, I agree with you that they have to look beyond all that, but you gotta remember that we're asking one hell of a lot.”

“Maybe you should have been along when I met with Avi,” Jack observed with a yawn.

“General Ben Jakob? Supposed to be one tough, serious son of a bitch. His troops respect the man. That says a lot. Sorry I wasn't there, boss, but that two weeks of fishing was just about what I needed.” Even line animals got vacations.

“I hear you, Mr. Clark.”

“Hey, I gotta go down to Quantico this afternoon to requalify on pistol. If you don't mind me saying so, you look like you could use a little stress-relief, man. Why not come on down? I'll get a nice little Beretta for you to play with.”

Jack thought about that. It sounded nice. In fact, it sounded great. But. But he had too much work to do.

“No time, John.”

“Aye aye, sir. You're not getting your exercise, you're drinking too goddamned much, and you look like shit, Dr. Ryan. That is my professional opinion.”

About what Cathy told me last night, but Clark doesn't know just how bad it is. Jack stared out the window at the lights of houses whose government-worker occupants were just waking up.

“You're right. I have to do something about it, but today I just don't have the time.”

“How about tomorrow at lunch we take a little run?”

“Lunch with the directorate chiefs,” Jack evaded.

Clark shut up and concentrated on his driving. When would the poor, dumb bastard learn? Smart guy as he was, he was letting the job eat him up.

The President awoke to find an unkempt mountain of blonde hair on his chest, and a thin, feminine arm flung across him. There were worse ways to awaken. He asked himself why he'd waited so long. She'd been clearly available to him for — God, for years. In her forties, but lithe and pretty, as much as any man could want, and the President was a man with a man's needs. His wife, Marian, had lingered for years, bravely fighting the MS that had ultimately stolen her life, but only after crushing what had once been a lively, charming, intelligent, bubbling personality, the light of his life, Fowler remembered. What personality he'd once had had largely been her creation, and it had died its own lingering death. A defense mechanism, he knew. All those endless months. He'd had to be strong for her, to provide for her the stoic reserve of energy without which she would have died so much sooner. But doing that had made an automaton of Bob Fowler. There was only so much personality, so much strength, so much courage a man contained, and as Marian's life had drained away, so had his humanity ebbed with it. And perhaps more than that, Fowler admitted to himself.

The perverse thing was that it had made him a better politician. His best years as governor and his presidential campaign had displayed the calm, dispassionate, intellectual reason that the voters had wanted, much to the surprise of pundits and mavens or whatever you called the commentators who thought they knew so much but never tried to find out themselves. It had also helped that his predecessor had run an unaccountably dumb campaign, but Fowler figured he would have won anyway.

The victory, almost two Novembers ago, had left him the first President since— Cleveland, wasn't it? — without a wife. And also without much of a personality. The Technocrat President, the editorial writers called him. That he was by profession a lawyer didn't seem to matter to the news media. Once they had a simple label that all could agree on, they made it truth whether it was accurate or not. The Ice Man.

If only Marian could have lived to see this. She'd known he wasn't made of ice. There were those who remembered what Bob Fowler had once been like, a passionate trial lawyer, advocate of civil rights, the scourge of organized crime. The man who cleaned up Cleveland. Not for very long, of course, for all such victories, like those in politics, were transitory. He remembered the birth of each of his children, the pride of fatherhood, the love of his wife for him and their two children, the quiet dinners in candle-lit restaurants. He remembered meeting Marian at a high-school football game, and she'd loved the spectacle as much as he ever had. Thirty years of marriage which had begun while both were still in college, the last three of which had been an ongoing nightmare as the disease that had manifested itself in her late thirties had in her late forties taken a dramatic and downward turn and, finally, a death too long in coming but too soon in arriving, by which time he'd been too exhausted even to shed tears. And then the years of aloneness.

Well, perhaps that was over.

Thank God for the Secret Service, Fowler thought. In the governor's mansion in Columbus it would quickly have gotten out. But not here. Outside his door was a pair of armed agents, and down the hall that Army warrant officer with the leather briefcase called the Football, an appellation which did not please the President, but there were things even he could not change. His National Security Advisor could, in any case, share his bed, and the White House staffers kept the secret. That, he thought, was rather remarkable.

Fowler looked down at his lover. Elizabeth was undeniably pretty. Her skin was pale because her work habits denied her sunlight, but he preferred women with pale, fair skin. The covers were askew because of the previous night's gyrations, and he could examine her back; the skin was so smooth and soft. He felt her relaxed breath on his chest, and the way her left arm wrapped around him. He ran a hand down her back and was rewarded by a hmmmmm and a slight increase in pressure from the sleeping hug she gave him.

There was a discreet knock at the door. The President pulled the covers up and coughed. After a five-count, the door opened, and an agent came in with a coffee tray with some document print-outs before withdrawing. Fowler knew he couldn't trust one of the ordinary staff that far, but the Secret Service really was the American version of the Praetorian Guard. The agent never betrayed his emotions, except for a good-morning nod at the Boss, as the agents referred to him. The devotion they gave him was almost slavish. Though well-educated men and women, they really did have a simple outlook on things, and Fowler knew that there was room in the world for such people. Someone, often someone quite skilled, had to carry out the decisions and orders of his or her superiors. The gun-toting agents were sworn to protect him, even to interpose their bodies between the President and any danger — the maneuver was called “catching the bullet”—and it amazed Fowler that such bright people could train themselves to do something so selflessly dumb. But it was to his benefit. As was their discretion. Well, the joke was that such good help was hard to come by. It was true: you had to be President to have that kind of servant.

Fowler reached for his coffee and poured a cup one-handed. He drank it black. After his first sip he used a remote-control to switch on a TV set. It was tuned to CNN, and the lead story — it was two in the afternoon there — was Rome, of course.

“Mmmmm.” Elizabeth moved her head, and her hair swept across him. She always awoke slower than he. Fowler ran a finger down her spine, earning himself a last cuddle before her eyes opened. Her head came up with a violent start.



“Somebody's been here!” She pointed to the tray with the cups, and knew that Fowler hadn't fetched it himself.



“Look, Elizabeth, the people outside the door know that you're here. What do you think we are hiding, and from whom are we hiding it? Hell, they probably have microphones in here.” He'd never said that before. He didn't know for sure, and had studiously refrained from inquiring, but it was a logical thing to expect. The institutional paranoia of the Secret Service denied the agents the ability to trust Elizabeth or anyone else, except the President. Therefore, if she tried to kill him, they needed to know, so that the agents outside the door could burst in with their guns and save H AWK from his lover. There probably were microphones. Cameras, too? No, probably not cameras, but surely there had to be microphones. Fowler actually found that thought somewhat stimulating, a fact that editorial writers would never have believed. Not the Ice Man.

“My God!” Liz Elliot had never thought of that. She hoisted herself up, and her breasts dangled deliciously before his eyes. But Fowler was not that sort of morning person. Mornings were for work.

“I am the President, Elizabeth,” Fowler pointed out as she disengaged herself. The idea of cameras occurred to her, too, and she quickly rearranged the bedclothes. Fowler smiled at the foolishness of it. “Coffee?” he asked again.

Elizabeth Elliot almost giggled. Here she was, in the President's bed, naked as a jaybird, with armed guards outside the door. But Bob had let someone in the room! The man was incredible. Had he even covered her up? She could ask, but decided not to, fearing that he might display his twisted sense of humor, which was at its best when it was slightly cruel. And yet. Had she ever had so good a lover as he? The first time — it must have been years, but he was so patient, so… respectful. So easy to manage. Elliot smiled her secret smile to herself. He could be directed to do exactly what she wanted, when she wanted it, and do it consummately well, for he loved to give pleasure to a woman. Why? she wondered. Perhaps he wanted to be remembered. He was a politician, after all, and what they all craved was a few lines in history books. Well, he'd have those, one way or another. Every President did, even Grant and Harding were remembered, and with what was happening… Even here he craved being remembered, and so he did what the woman wanted, if the woman had the wit to ask.

“Turn the sound up,” Liz said. Fowler complied at once, she was gratified to see. So eager to please, even in this. So, why the hell had he let some servant in with the coffee! There was no understanding this man. He was already reading over the faxes from Rome.

“My dear, this is going to work. I hope your bags are packed, Elizabeth.”


“The Saudis and the Israelis actually agreed on the big one last night… according to Brent — God, this is amazing! He had separate solo sessions with both sides, and both of them suggested the same thing… and to keep them from knowing it, he simply cycled back and forth as he said it would probably be acceptable… then confirmed it on another round trip! Ha!” Fowler slapped the back of his hand on the page. “Brent is really delivering for us. And that Ryan guy, too. He's a pretentious pain in the ass, but that idea of his—”

“Come on, Bob! It wasn't even original. Ryan just repeated some things other people have been saying for years. It was new to Arnie, but Arnie's interests stop at the White House fence. Giving credit to Ryan for this is like saying he managed a nice sunset for you.”

“Maybe,” the President allowed. He thought there was more to the DDCI's concept-proposal than that, but it wasn't worth upsetting Elizabeth about. “Ryan did do a nice job with the Saudis, remember?”

“He'd be a lot more effective if he'd just keep his mouth shut. Fine, he gave the Saudis a good brief. That's not exactly a great moment in American foreign policy, is it? Giving briefs is his job. Brent and Dennis are the guys who really pulled it together, not Ryan.”

“I suppose not. You're right, I guess. Brent and Dennis are the ones who got the final commitments to the conference… Brent says three more days, maybe four.” The President handed the faxes over. It was time for him to rise and prepare for a day's work, but before he did he ran a hand over a particular curve in the sheet, just to let her know that…

“Stop that!” Liz giggled to make it sound playful. He did as told, of course. To ease the blow, she leaned over for a kiss, which was delivered, bad breath and all, just as requested.

“What gives?” a truck driver asked at the lumber terminal. Four enormous trailers sat in a line, away from the stacks of felled trees being prepared for shipment to Japan. “They were here last time, too.”

“Going to Japan,” the dispatcher observed, going over the trucker's manifest.

“So what here ain't?”

“Something special. They're paying to have those logs kept that way, renting the trailers and everything. I hear the logs are being made into beams for a church or temple or something. Look close — they're chained together. Tied with a silk rope, too, but chains to make sure they stay together. Something about the tradition of the temple or something. Going to be a bitch of a rigging job to load them on the ship that way.”

“Renting the trailers just to keep the logs in a special place? Chaining them together. Jeez! They got more money'n brains, don't they?”

“What do we care?” the dispatcher asked, tired of answering the same question every time a driver came through his office.

And they were sitting there. The idea, the dispatcher thought, was to let the logs season some. But whoever had thought that one up hadn't been thinking very clearly. This was the wettest summer on record in an area known for its precipitation, and the logs, which had been heavy with moisture when their parent tree had been felled, were merely soaking up more rain as it fell down across the yard. The stubs of branches trimmed off in the field hadn't helped much either. The rain just soaked into the exposed capillaries and proceeded into the trunk. The logs were probably heavier now than when they had been cut. Maybe they should throw a tarp over them, the dispatcher thought, but then they'd just be trapping the moisture in, and besides, the orders were to let them sit on the trailers. It was raining now. The yard was turning into a damned swamp, the mud churned by every passing truck and loading machine. Well, the Japanese probably had their own plans for seasoning and working the logs. Their orders precluded doing any real seasoning here, and it was their money. Even when they were loaded on the ship, they were supposed to be carried topside, the last items loaded on the MV George McReady for shipment across the Pacific. Sure as hell they'd get wet that way, too. If they got much wetter, the dispatcher thought, someone would have to be careful with them. If they got dropped into the river, they would scarcely float.

* * *

The farmer knew that his grandchildren were embarrassed by his backwardness. They resisted his hugs and kisses, probably complained a little before their father brought them out here, but he didn't mind. Children today lacked the respect of his generation. Perhaps that was a price for their greater opportunities. The cycle of the ages was breaking. His life had been little different from ten generations of ancestors, but his son was doing better despite his injuries, and his children would do better still. The boys were proud of their father. If their schoolmates commented adversely on their Druse religion, the boys could point out that their father had fought and bled against the hated Israelis, had even killed a few of the Zionists. The Syrian government was not totally ungrateful to its wounded veterans. The farmer's son had his own modest business, and government officials did not harass him, as they might otherwise have done. He'd married late, which was unusual for the area. His wife was pretty enough, and respectful — she treated the farmer well, possibly in gratitude for the fact that he had never shown an interest in moving into her small household. The farmer showed great pride in his grandchildren, strong, healthy boys, headstrong and rebellious as boys should be. The farmer's son was similarly proud, and was prospering. He and his father walked outside after the noon meal. The son looked at the garden that he'd once weeded, and felt pangs of guilt that his father was still working there every day. But hadn't he offered to take his father in? Hadn't he offered to give his father a little money? All such offers had been rejected. His father didn't have much, but he did have his stubborn pride.

“The garden looks very healthy this year.”

“The rain has been good,” the farmer agreed. “There are many new lambs. It has not been a bad year. And you?”

“My best year. Father, I wish you did not have to work so hard.”

“Ah!” A wave of the hand. “What other life have I known? This is my place.”

The courage of the man, the son thought. And the old man did have courage. He endured. Despite everything. He had not been able to give his son much, but he had passed along his stoic courage. When he'd found himself lying stunned on the Golan Heights, twenty meters from the smoking wreckage of the personnel carrier, he could have just lain down to die, the son knew, his eye put out, and his left hand a bloody mess that doctors would later have to remove. He could have just lain there on the ground and died, but he'd known that giving up was not something his father would have done. And so he'd risen and walked six kilometers to a battalion aid station, arriving there still carrying his rifle and accepting treatment only after making his report. He had a decoration for that, and his battalion commander had made life a little easier for him, giving him some money to start his little shop, making sure that local officials knew that he was to be treated with respect. The colonel had given him the money, but his father had given him the courage. If only he would now accept a little help.

“My son, I need your advice.”

That was something new. “Certainly, father.”

“Come I will show you.” He led his son into the garden, where the carrots were. With his foot, he scraped dirt off the—

“Stop!” the son nearly screamed. He took his father by the arm and pulled him back. “My God — how long has that been there?”

“Since the day you were hurt,” the farmer answered.

The son's right hand went to his eye patch, and for one horrid moment the terror of the day came back to him. The blinding flash, flying through the air, his dead comrades screaming as they burned to death. The Israelis had done that. One of their cannons had killed his mother, and now — this?

What was it? He commanded his father to stay put and walked back to see. He moved very carefully, as though he were traversing a minefield. His assignment in the army had been with the combat engineers; though his unit had been committed to battle with the infantry, their job was supposed to have been laying a minefield. It was big, it looked like a thousand-kilo bomb. It had to be Israeli; he knew that from the color. He turned to look at his father.

“This has been here since then?”

“Yes. It made its own hole, and I filled it in. The frost must have brought it up. Is there danger? It is broken, no?”

“Father, these things never truly die. It is very dangerous. Big as it is, if it goes off it could destroy the house and you in it!”

The farmer gestured contempt for the thing. “If it wanted to explode, it would have done so when it fell.”

“That is not true! You will listen to me on this. You will not come close to this cursed thing!”

“And what of my garden?” the farmer asked simply.

“I will find a way to have this removed. Then you can garden.” The son considered that. It would be a problem. Not a small problem, either. The Syrian army did not have a pool of skilled people to disarm unexploded bombs. Their method was to detonate them in place, which was eminently sensible, but his father would not long survive the destruction of his house. His wife would not easily tolerate having him in their own home, and he could not help his father rebuild, not with only one hand. The bomb had to be removed, but who would do that?

“You must promise me that you will not enter the garden!” the son announced sternly.

“As you say,” the farmer replied. He had no intention of following his son's orders. “When can you have it removed?”

“I don't know. I need a few days to see what I can do.”

The farmer nodded. Perhaps he'd follow his son's instructions after all, at least about not approaching this dead bomb. It had to be dead, of course, despite what his son had said. The farmer knew that much of fate. If the bomb had wanted to kill him, it would have happened by now. What other misfortune had avoided him?

The newsies finally got something to sink their teeth into the next day. Dimitrios Stavarkos, Patriarch of Constantinople, arrived by car — he refused to fly in helicopters — in broad daylight.

“A nun with a beard?” a cameraman asked over his hot mike as he zoomed in. The Swiss Guards at the door rendered honors, and Bishop O'Toole conducted the new visitor inside and out of view.

“Greek,” the anchorman observed at once. “Greek Orthodox, must be a bishop or something. What's he doing here?” the anchor mused.

“What do we know about the Greek Orthodox Church?” his producer asked.

“They don't work for the Pope. They allow their priests to marry. The Israelis threw one of them in prison once for giving arms to the Arabs, I think,” someone else observed over the line.

“So, the Greeks get along with the Arabs, but not the Pope? What about the Israelis?”

“Don't know,” the producer admitted. “Might be a good idea to find out.”

“So, now there are four religious groups involved.”

“Is the Vatican really involved, or did they just offer this place as neutral ground?” the anchor asked. Like most anchormen, he was at his best when reading copy from a TelePrompTer.

“When has this happened before? If you want 'neutral,' you go to Geneva,” the cameraman observed. He liked Geneva.

“What gives?” one of the researchers entered the booth. The producer filled her in.

“Where's that damned consultant?” the Anchor growled.

“Can you run the tape back?” the researcher asked. The control-room crew did that, and she freeze-framed the monitor.

“Dimitrios Stavarkos. He's the Patriarch of Constantinople— Istanbul to you, Rick. He's the head of all the Orthodox churches, kind of like the Pope. The Greek, Russian, and Bulgarian Orthodox Churches have their own heads, but they all defer to the Patriarch. Something like that.”

“They allow their priests to marry, don't they?”

Their priests, yes… but as I recall if you become a bishop or higher, you have to be celibate—"

“Bummer,” Rick observed.

“Stavarkos led the battle with the Catholics over the Church of the Nativity last year — won it, too, as I recall. He really pissed a few Catholic bishops off. What the hell is he doing here?”

“You're supposed to tell us that, Angie!” the anchor noted crossly.

“Hold your water, Rick.” Angie Miriles was tired of dealing with the air-headed prima donna. She sipped at her coffee for a minute or two, and made her announcement. “I think I have this figured out.”

“You mind filling us in?”

“Welcome!” Cardinal D'Antonio kissed Stavarkos on both cheeks. He found the man's beard distasteful, but that could not be helped. The Cardinal led the Patriarch into the conference room. There were sixteen people grouped around a table, and at the foot of it was an empty chair. Stavarkos took it.

“Thank you for joining us,” said Secretary Talbot.

“One does not reject an invitation of this sort,” the Patriarch replied.

“You've read the briefing material?” That had been delivered by messenger.

“It is very ambitious,” Stavarkos allowed cautiously.

“Can you accept your role in the agreement?”

This was going awfully fast, the Patriarch thought. But—“Yes,” he answered simply. “I require plenipotentiary authority over all Christian shrines in the Holy Land. If that is agreed to, then I will gladly join your agreement.”

D'Antonio managed to keep his face impassive. He controlled his breathing and prayed rapidly for divine intervention. He'd never quite be able to decide whether he got it or not.

“It is very late in the day for such a sweeping demand.” Heads turned. The speaker was Dmitriy Popov, First Deputy Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union. “It is also inconsiderate to seek unilateral advantage when everyone here has conceded so much. Would you stand in the way of the accord on that basis alone?”

Stavarkos was not accustomed to such direct rebukes.

“The question of Christian shrines is not of direct significance to the agreement, Your Holiness,” Secretary Talbot observed. “We find your conditional willingness to participate disappointing.”

“Perhaps I misunderstood the briefing material,” Stavarkos allowed, covering his flanks. “Could you perhaps clarify what my status would be?”

“No way,” the anchor snorted.

“Why not?” Angela Miriles replied. “What else makes sense?”

“It's just too much.”

“It is a lot,” Miriles agreed, “but what else fits?”

“I'll believe it when I see it.”

“You might not see it. Stavarkos doesn't much like the Roman Catholic Church. That battle they had last Christmas was a nasty one.”

“How come we didn't report it, then?”

“Because we were too damned busy talking about the downturn in Christmas sales figures,” you asshole, she didn't add.

“A separate commission, then?” Stavarkos didn't like that.

“The Metropolitan wishes to send his own representative,” Popov said. Dmitriy Popov still believed in Marx rather than God, but the Russian Orthodox Church was Russian, and Russian participation in the agreement had to be real, however minor this point might appear. “I must say that I find this matter curious. Do we hold up the agreement on the issue of which Christian church is the most influential? Our purpose here is to defuse a potential flashpoint for war between Jews and Muslims, and the Christians stand in the way?” Popov asked the ceiling — a little theatrically, D'Antonio thought.

“This side issue is best left to a separate committee of Christian clerics,” Cardinal D'Antonio finally allowed himself to say. “I pledge you my word before God that sectarian squabbles are at an end!”

I've heard that before, Stavarkos reminded himself — and yet. And yet, how could he allow himself to be so petty? He reminded himself also of what the scriptures taught, and that he believed in every word of it. I am making a fool of myself, and doing it before the Romans and the Russians! An additional consideration was that the Turks merely tolerated his presence in Istanbul — Constantinople! — and this gave him the chance to earn immense prestige for his churches and his office.

“Please forgive me. I have allowed some regrettable incidents to color my better judgment. Yes, I will support this agreement, and I will trust my brethren to keep their word.”

Brent Talbot leaned back in his chair and whispered his own prayer of thanks. Praying wasn't a habit with the Secretary of State, but here, in these surroundings, how could one avoid it?

“In that case, I believe we have an agreement.” Talbot looked around the table, and one after another, the heads nodded, some with enthusiasm, some with resignation. But they all nodded. They had reached an agreement.

“Mr. Adler, when will the documents be ready for initialing?” D'Antonio asked.

“Two hours, Your Eminence.”

“Your Highness,” Talbot said as he rose to his feet, “Your Eminences, Ministers, we have done it”

Strangely, they scarcely realized what they had done. The process had lasted for quite some time, and as with all such negotiations, the process had become reality, and the objective had become something separate from it. Now suddenly they were at the place they all intended to reach, and the wonder of the fact gave to them a sense of unreality that, for all their collective expertise at formulating and reaching foreign-policy goals, overcame their perceptions. Each of the participants stood, as Talbot did, and the movement, the stretch of legs, altered their perceptions somewhat. One by one, they understood what they had done. More importantly, they understood that they had actually done it. The impossible had just happened.

David Askenazi walked around the table to Prince Ali, who had handled his country's part in the negotiations, and extended his hand. That wasn't good enough. The Prince gave the Minister a brotherly embrace.

“Before God, there will be peace between us, David.”

“After all these years, Ali,” replied the former Israeli tanker. As a lieutenant, Askenazi had fought in the Suez in 1956, again as a captain in 1967, and his reserve battalion had reinforced the Golan in 1973. Both men were surprised by the applause that broke out. The Israeli burst into tears, embarrassing himself beyond belief.

“Do not be ashamed. Your personal courage is well known, Minister,” Ali said graciously. “It is fitting that a soldier should make the peace, David.”

“So many deaths. All those fine young boys who — on both sides, Ali. All those boys.”

“But no more.”

“Dmitriy, your help was extraordinary,” Talbot told his Russian counterpart, at the other end of the table.

“Remarkable what can happen when we cooperate, is it not?”

What occurred to Talbot had come already to Askenazi: Two whole generations pissed away, Dmitriy. All that wasted time."

“We cannot recover lost time,” Popov replied. “We can have the wit not to lose any more.” The Russian smiled crookedly. “For moments like this, there should be vodka.”

Talbot jerked his head towards Prince Ali. “We don't all drink.”

“How can they live without vodka?” Popov chuckled.

“One of the mysteries of life, Dmitriy. We both have cables to send.”

“Indeed we do, my friend.”

To the fury of the correspondents in Rome, the first to break the story was a Washington Post reporter in Washington. It was inevitable. She had a source, an Air Force sergeant who did electronic maintenance on the VC-25A, the President's new military version of the Boeing 747. The sergeant had been prepped by the reporter. Everyone knew that the President was heading to Rome. It was just a question of when. As soon as the sergeant learned that she'd be heading out, she'd ostensibly called home to check that her good uniform was back from the cleaners. That she had called the wrong number was an honest mistake. It was just that the reporter had the same gag message on her answering machine. That was the story she'd use if she ever got caught, but she didn't in this case, and didn't ever expect to be.

An hour later, at the routine morning meeting between the President's press secretary and the White House correspondents, the Post reporter announced an “unconfirmed report” that Fowler was going to Rome — and did this mean that the treaty negotiations had reached an impasse or success? The press secretary was caught short by that. He'd just learned ten minutes before that he'd be flying to Rome, and as usual was sworn to total secrecy — an admonition that carried about as much weight as sunlight on a cloudy day. He allowed himself to be surprised by the question, though, and that surprised the man who had fully expected to engineer the leak — but only after lunch at the afternoon briefing. His “no comment” hadn't carried enough conviction, and the White House correspondents smelled the blood in the water. They all had edited copies of the President's appointments schedule, and sure enough, there were names to check with.

The President's aides were already making calls to cancel appointments and appearances. Even the President cannot allow important people to be inconvenienced without warning, and while those might keep secrets, not all of their assistants and secretaries can. It was a classic case of the phenomenon upon which a free press depends. People who know things cannot keep them inside. Especially secret things. Within an hour, confirmation was obtained from four widely-separated sources: President Fowler had cancelled several days' worth of appointments. The President was going somewhere, and it wasn't Peoria. That was enough for all the TV networks to run bulletins timed to erase segments of various game shows with hastily written statements, which immediately cut to commercials, denying millions of people the knowledge of what the word or phrase was, but informing them of the best way to get their clothes clean despite deep grass stains.

It was late afternoon in Rome, a sultry, humid summer day, when the pool headquarters was told that three, only three, cameras — and no correspondents — would be permitted into the building whose outside had been subjected to weeks of careful scrutiny. In the “green room” trailers near each of the anchor booths, the network anchors on duty had makeup applied and hustled to their chairs, putting their earpieces in and waiting for word from their directors.

The picture that appeared simultaneously on the booth monitors and TV sets all over the world showed the conference room. In it was a large table all of whose seats were filled. At its head was the Pope, and before him was a folder of folio size, made of red calfskin — the reporters would never know of the momentary panic that had erupted when someone realized that he didn't know what kind of leather it was, and had to check with the supplier; fortunately, no one objected to the skin of a calf.

It had been agreed that no statement would be made here. Preliminary statements would be made in the capitals of each of the participants, and the really flowery speeches were being drafted for the formal signing ceremonies. A Vatican spokesman delivered a written release to all of the TV correspondents. It said in essence that a draft treaty concerning a final settlement of the Middle East dispute had been negotiated, and that the draft was ready for initialing by representatives of the interested nations. The formal treaty documents would be signed by the chiefs of state and/or foreign ministers in several days. The text of the treaty was not available for release, nor were its provisions. This did not exactly thrill the correspondents — mainly because they realized that the treaty details would be broken from the foreign ministries in the respective capitals of the concerned nations, to other reporters.

The red folder was passed from place to place. The order of the initialers, the Vatican statement pointed out, had been determined by lot, and it turned out that the Israeli Foreign Minister went first, followed by the Soviet, the Swiss, the American, the Saudi, and the Vatican representatives. Each used a fountain pen, and a curved blotter was applied to each set of initials by the priest who moved the document from place to place. It wasn't much of a ceremony, and it was swiftly accomplished. Handshakes came next, followed by a lengthy bit of mutual applause. And that was it.

“By God,” Jack said, watching the TV picture change. He looked down to the fax of the treaty outline, and it was not very different from his original concept. The Saudis had made changes, as had the Israelis, the Soviets, the Swiss, and, of course, the State Department, but the original idea was his — except insofar as he himself had borrowed ideas from a multitude of others. There were few genuinely original ideas. What he'd really done had been to organize them, and pick an historically correct moment to make his comment. That was all. For all that it was the proudest moment of his life. It was a shame that there was no one to congratulate him.

In the White House, President Fowler's best speech-writer was already working on the first draft of his speech. The American President would have primacy of place at the ceremony because it had been his idea, after all, his speech before the UN that had brought them all together in Rome. The Pope would speak — hell, they would all speak, the speechwriter thought, and for her that was a problem, since each speech had to be original and un-repetitive. She realized that she'd probably still be working on it while hopping the Atlantic on the -25A, pecking busily away on her laptop. But that, she knew, was what they paid her for, and Air Force One had a LaserJet printer.

Upstairs in the Oval Office the President was looking over his hastily revised schedule. A committee of new Eagle Scouts would have to be disappointed, as would the new Wisconsin Cheese Queen, or whatever the young lady's title was, and a multitude of business people whose importance in their own small ponds quite literally paled when they entered the side door into the President's workshop. His appointments secretary was getting the word out. Some people whose visits were genuinely important were being shoe-horned into every spare minute of the next thirty-six hours. That would make the President's next day and a half as hectic as it ever got, but that, too, was part of the job.

“Well?” Fowler looked up to see Elizabeth Elliot grinning at him through the open door to the secretary's ante-room.

Well, this is what you wanted, isn't it? Your presidency will forever be remembered as the one in which the Middle East problems were settled once and for all. If — Liz admitted to herself in a rare moment of objective clarity — it all works out, which is not a given in such disputes as this.

“We have done a service to the whole world, Elizabeth.” By “we” he actually meant “I,” Elliot knew, but that was fair enough. It was Bob Fowler who'd endured the months of campaigning on top of his executive duties in Columbus, the endless speeches, kissing babies and kissing ass, stroking legions of reporters whose faces changed far more rapidly than their brutally repetitive questions. It was an endurance race to get into this one small room, this seat of executive power. It was a process that somehow did not break the men — pity it was still only men, Liz thought — who made it safely here. But the prize for all the effort, all the endless toil, was that the person who occupied it got to take the credit. It was a simple historical convention that people assumed the President was the one who directed things, who made the decisions. Because of that, the President was the one who got the kudos and the barbs. The President was responsible for what went well and for what went badly. Mostly that concerned domestic affairs, the blips in the unemployment figures, interest rates, inflation (wholesale and retail), and the all-powerful Leading Economic Indicators, but on rare occasions, something really important happened, something that changed the world. Reagan, Elliot admitted to herself, would be remembered by history as the guy who'd happened to be around when the Russians decided to cash in their chips on Marxism, and Bush was the man who'd collected that particular political pot. Nixon was the man who'd opened the door to China, and Carter the one who had come so tantalizingly close to doing what Fowler would now be remembered for. The American voters might select their political leaders for pocketbook issues, but history was made of more important stuff. What earned a man a few paragraphs in a general-history text and focused volumes of scholarly study were the fundamental changes in the shape of the political world. That was what really counted. Historians remembered the ones who shaped political events — Bismarck, not Edison — treating technical changes in society as though they were driven by political factors, and not the reverse, which, she judged, might have been equally likely. But historiography had its own rules and conventions that had little to do with reality, because reality was too large a thing to grasp, even for academics working years after events. Politicians played within those rules, and that suited them because following those rules meant that when something memorable happened, the historians would remember them.

“Service to the world?” Elliot responded after a lengthy pause. “Service to the world. I like the sound of that. They called Wilson the man who kept us out of war. You will be remembered as the one who put an end to war.”

Fowler and Elliot both knew that scant months after being reelected on that platform, Wilson had led America into his first truly foreign war, the war to end all wars, optimists had called it, well before holocaust and nuclear nightmares. But this time, both thought, it was more than mere optimism, and Wilson 's transcendent vision of what the world could be was finally within the grasp of the political figures who made the world into the shape of their own choosing.

The man was a Druse, an unbeliever, but for all that he was respected. He bore the scars of his own battle with the Zionists. He'd gone into battle, and been decorated for his courage. He'd lost his mother to their inhuman weapons. And he'd supported the movement whenever asked. Qati was a man who had never lost touch with the fundamentals. As a boy he'd read the Little Red Book of Chairman Mao. That Mao was, of course, an infidel of the worst sort — he'd refused even to acknowledge the idea of a God and persecuted those who worshipped — was beside the point. The revolutionary was a fish who swam in a peasant sea, and maintaining the good will of those peasants — or in this case, a shopkeeper — was the foundation of whatever success he might enjoy. This Druse had contributed what money he could, had once sheltered a wounded freedom fighter in his home. Such debts were not forgotten. Qati rose from his desk to greet the man with a warm handshake and the perfunctory kisses.

“Welcome, my friend.”

“Thank you for seeing me, Commander.” The shopkeeper seemed very nervous, and Qati wondered what the problem was.

“Please, take a chair. Abdullah,” he called, “would you bring coffee for our guest?”

“You are too kind.”

“Nonsense. You are our comrade. Your friendship has not wavered in — how many years?”

The shopkeeper shrugged, smiling inwardly that this investment was about to pay off. He was frightened of Qati and his people — that was why he had never crossed them. He also kept Syrian authorities informed of what he'd done for them, because he was wary of those people, too. Mere survival in that part of the world was an art form, and a game of chance.

“I come to you for advice,” he said, after his first sip of coffee.

“Certainly.” Qati leaned forward in his chair. “I am honored to be of help. What is the problem, my friend?”

“It is my father.”

“How old is he now?” Qati asked. The farmer had occasionally given his men gifts also, most often a lamb. Just a peasant, and an infidel peasant at that, but he was one who shared his enemy with Qati and his men.

“Sixty-six — you know his garden?”

“Yes, I was there some years ago, soon after your mother was killed by the Zionists,” Qati reminded him.

“In his garden there is an Israeli bomb.”

“Bomb? You mean a shell.”

“No, Commander, a bomb. What you can see of it is half a meter across.”

“I see — and if the Syrians learn of it…”

“Yes, as you know, they explode such things in place. My father's house would be destroyed.” The visitor held up his left forearm. I cannot be of much help rebuilding it, and my father is too old to do it himself. I come here to ask how one might go about removing the damned thing."

“You have come to the right place. Do you know how long it has been there?”

“My father says that it fell the very day this happened to me.” The shopkeeper gestured with his ruined arm again.

“Then surely Allah smiled on your family that day.”

Some smile, the shopkeeper thought, nodding.

“You have been our most faithful friend. Of course we can help you. I have a man highly skilled in the business of disarming and removing Israeli bombs — and then he takes the guts from them and makes bombs for our use.” Qati stopped and held up an admonishing finger. “You must never repeat that.”

The visitor jerked somewhat in his chair. “For my part, Commander, you may kill all of them you wish, and if you can do it from a bomb the pigs dropped into my father's garden, I will pray for your safety and success.”

“Please excuse me, my friend. No insult was intended. I must say such things, as you can understand.” Qati" s message was fully understood.

“I will never betray you,” the shopkeeper announced forcefully.

“I know this.” Now it was time to keep faith with the peasant sea. “Tomorrow I will send my man to your father's home. Insh'Allah,” he said, God willing.

“I am in your debt, Commander.” Sometime between now and the new year, he hoped.


The converted Boeing 747 rotated off the Andrews runway just before sunset. President Fowler had had a bad day and a half of briefings and unbreakable appointments. He would have two more even worse; even presidents are subject to the vagaries of ordinary human existence, and in this case, the eight-hour flight to Rome was coupled with a six-hour time change. The jet lag would be a killer. Fowler was a seasoned enough traveler to know that. To attenuate the worst of it, he'd fiddled with his sleep pattern yesterday and today so that he'd be sufficiently tired to sleep most of the way across, and the VC-25A had lavish accommodations to make the flight as comfortable as Boeing and the United States Air Force could arrange. An easy-riding aircraft, the -25A had its Presidential accommodations in the very tip of the nose. The bed — actually a convertible sofa — was of decent size and the mattress had been selected for his personal taste. The aircraft was also large enough that a proper separation between the press and the administration people was possible — nearly two hundred feet, in fact; the press was in a closed-off section in the tail — and while his press secretary was dealing with the reporters aft, Fowler was discreetly joined by his National Security Advisor. Pete Connor and Helen D'Agustino shared a look that an outsider might take to be blank, but which spoke volumes within the close fraternity of the Secret Service. The Air Force Security Policeman assigned to the door just stared at the aft bulkhead, trying not to smile.

“So, Ibrahim, what of our visitor?” Qati asked.

“He is strong, fearless, and quite cunning, but I don't know what possible use we have for him,” Ibrahim Ghosn replied. He related the story of the Greek policeman.

“Broke his neck?” At least the man was not a plant… that is, if the policeman had really died, and this was not an elaborate ruse of the Americans, Greeks, Israelis, or God only knew who.

“Like a twig.”

“His contacts in America?”

“They are few. He is hunted by their national police. His group, he says, killed three of them, and his brother was recently ambushed and murdered by them.”

“He is ambitious in his choice of enemies. His education?”

“Poor in formal terms, but he is clever.”


“Few that are of use to us.”

“He is an American,” Qati pointed out. “How many of those have we had?”

Ghosn nodded. “That is true, Commander.”

“The chance that he could be an infiltrator?”

“I would say slim, but we must be careful.”

“In any case, I have something I need you to do.” Qati explained about the bomb.

“Another one?” Ghosn was an expert at this task, but he was not exactly excited about being stuck with it. “I know the farm — that foolish old man. I know, I know, his son fought against the Israelis, and you like the cripple.”

“That cripple saved the life of a comrade. Fazi would have bled to death had he not received shelter in that little shop. He didn't have to do that. That was at a time when the Syrians were angry with us.”

“All right. I have nothing to do for the rest of the day. I need a truck and a few men.”

“This new friend is strong, you say. Take him with you.”

“As you say, Commander.”

“And be careful!”

“Insh'Allah.” Ghosn was almost a graduate of the American University of Beirut — almost because one of his teachers had been kidnapped, and two others had used that as an excuse to leave the country. That had denied Ghosn the last nine credit hours needed for a degree in engineering. Not that he really needed it. He'd been at the top of his class, and learned well enough from the textbooks without having to listen to the explanations of instructors. He'd spent quite a bit of time in labs of his own making. Ghosn had never been a frontline soldier of the movement. Though he knew how to use small arms, his skills with explosives and electronic devices were too valuable to be risked. He was also youthful in appearance, handsome, and quite fair-skinned, as a result of which he traveled a lot. An advance-man of sorts, he often surveyed sites for future operations, using his engineer's eye and memory to sketch maps, determine equipment needs, and provide technical support for the actual operations people, who treated him with far more respect than an outsider might have expected. Of his courage there was no doubt. He'd proven his bravery more than once, defusing unexploded bombs and shells that the Israelis had left in Lebanon, then reworking the explosives recovered into bombs of his own. Ibrahim Ghosn would have been a welcome addition to any one of a dozen professional organizations anywhere in the world. A gifted, if largely self-taught engineer, he was also a Palestinian whose family had evacuated Israel at the time of the country's founding, confidently expecting to return as soon as the Arab armies of the time erased the invaders quickly and easily. But that happy circumstance had not come about, and his childhood memories were of crowded, insanitary camps where antipathy for Israel had been a creed as important as Islam. It could not have been otherwise. Disregarded by the Israelis as people who had voluntarily left their country, largely ignored by other Arab nations who might have made their lot easier but had not, Ghosn and those like him were mere pawns in a great game whose players had never agreed upon the rules. Hatred of Israel and its friends came as naturally as breathing, and finding ways to end the lives of such people was his task in life. It had never occurred to him to wonder why.

Ghosn got the keys for a Czech-built GAZ-66 truck. It wasn't as reliable as a Mercedes, but a lot easier to obtain — in this case it had been funnelled to his organization through the Syrians years before. On the back was a home-built A-frame. Ghosn loaded the American in the cab with himself and the driver. Two other men rode on the loadbed as the truck pulled out of the camp.

Marvin Russell examined the terrain with the interest of a hunter in a new territory. The heat was oppressive, but really no worse than the Badlands during a bad summer wind, and the vegetation — or lack of it — wasn't all that different from the reservation of his youth. What appeared to others as bleak was just another dusty place to an American raised in one. Except here they didn't have the towering thunderstorms — and the tornados they spawned — of the American Plains. The hills were also higher than the rolling Badlands. Russell had never seen mountains before. Here he saw them, high and dry and hot enough to make a climber gasp. Most climbers, Marvin Russell thought. He could hack it. He was in shape, better shape than these Arabs.

The Arabs, on the other hand, seemed to be believers in guns. So many guns, mostly Russian AK-47s at first, but soon he was seeing heavy anti-aircraft guns, and the odd battery of surface-to-air missiles, tanks, and self-propelled field guns belonging to the Syrian army. Ghosn noted his guest's interest, and started explaining things.

These are here to keep the Israelis out,“ he said, casting his explanation in accordance with his own beliefs. ”Your country arms the Israelis, and the Russians arm us." He didn't add that this was becoming increasingly tenuous.

“Ibrahim, have you been attacked?”

“Many times, Marvin. They send their aircraft. They send commando teams. They have killed thousands of my people. They drove us from our land, you see. We are forced to live in camps that—”

“Yeah, man. They're called reservations where I come from.” That was something Ghosn didn't know about. “They came to our land, the land of our ancestors, killed off the buffalo, sent in their army, and massacred us. Mainly they attacked camps of women and children. We tried to fight back. We killed a whole regiment under General Custer at a place called the Little Big Horn — that's the name of a river — under a leader named Crazy Horse. But they didn't stop coming. Just too many of them, too many soldiers, too many guns, and they took the best of our land, and left us shit, man. They make us live like beggars. No, that's not right. Like animals, like we're not people, even, 'cause we were in a place they wanted to have, and they just moved us out, like sweepin' away the garbage.”

“I didn't know about that,” Ghosn said, amazed that his were not the only people to be treated that way by the Americans and their Israeli vassals. “When did it happen?”

“Hundred years ago. Actually started around 1865. We fought, man, we did the best we could, but we didn't have much of a chance. We didn't have friends, see? Didn't have friends like you got. Nobody gave us guns and tanks. So they killed off the bravest. Mainly they trapped the leaders and murdered them — Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull died like that. Then they squeezed us and starved us until we had to surrender. Left us dusty, shitty places to live, sent us enough food to keep us alive, but not enough to be strong. When some of us try to fight back, try to be men — well, I told you what they did to my brother. Shot him from ambush like he was an animal. Did it on television, even, so's people would know what happened when an Indian got too big for his britches.”

The man was a comrade, Ghosn realized. This was no infiltrator, and his story was no different from the story of a Palestinian. Amazing.

“So, why did you come here, Marvin?”

“I had to leave before they got me, man. I ain't proud of it, but what else could I do — you want me to wait till they could ambush me?” Russell shrugged. “I figured I'd come someplace, find people like me, maybe learn a few things, learn how I could go back, maybe, teach my people how to fight back some.” Russell shook his head. “Hell, maybe it's all hopeless, but I ain't gonna give in — you understand that?”

“Yes, my friend, I understand. It has been so with my people since before I was born. But you, too, must understand: it is not hopeless. So long as you stand up and fight back, there is always hope. That is why they hunt you — because they fear you!”

“Hope you're right, man.” Russell stared out the open window, and the dust stung his eyes, 7,000 miles from home. “So, what are we doing?”

“When you fought the Americans, how did your warriors get weapons?”

“Mainly we took what they left behind.”

“So it is with us, Marvin.”

Fowler woke up about halfway across the Atlantic. Well, that was a first, he told himself. He'd never managed to do it in an airplane before. He wondered if any US President had, or done it on the way to see the Pope, or with his National Security Advisor. He looked out the windows. It was bright this far north — the aircraft was close to Greenland — and he wondered for a moment if it were morning or still night. That was almost a metaphysical question on an airplane, of course, which changed the time far faster than a watch could.

Also metaphysical was his mission. This would be remembered. Fowler knew his history. This was something unique. It had never happened before. Perhaps it was the beginning of the process, perhaps the end of it, but what he was up to was simply expressed. He would put an end to war. J. Robert Fowler's name would be associated with this treaty. It was the initiative of his Presidential administration. His speech at the UN had called the nations of the world to the Vatican. His subordinates had run the negotiations. His name would be the first on the treaty documents. His armed forces would guarantee the peace. He had truly earned his place in history. That was immortality, the kind that all men wanted but few earned. Was it any wonder that he was excited? he asked himself with dispassionate reflectivity.

A president's greatest fear was gone now. He'd asked himself that question from the first moment, the first fleeting self-directed thought, while still a prosecutor chasing after the capo of the Cleveland family of La Cosa Nostra — if you're the President, what if you have to push the button? Could he have done it? Could he have decided that the security of his country required the deaths of thousands — millions — of other human beings? Probably not, he judged. He was too good a man for that. His job was to protect people, to show them the way, to lead them along a beneficial path. They might not always understand that he was right and they wrong, that his vision was the correct one, the logical one. Fowler knew himself to be cold and aloof on such matters, but he was always right. Of that he was certain. He had to be certain, of himself and his motivations. Were he ever wrong, he knew, his conviction would be mere arrogance, and he'd faced that charge often enough. The one thing he was unsure about was his ability to face a nuclear war.

But that was no longer an issue, was it? Though he'd never admit it publicly, Reagan and Bush had ended that chance, forcing the Soviets to face their own contradictions, and facing them, to change their ways. And it had all happened in peace, because men really were more logical than beasts. There would continue to be hot spots, but so long as he did his job right they would not get out of hand — and the trip he was making now would end the most dangerous problem remaining in the world, the one with which no recent administration could cope. What Nixon and Kissinger had failed to do, what had defied the valiant efforts of Carter, the half-hearted attempts of Reagan, and the well-meaning gambits of Bush and his own predecessor, what all had failed to do, Bob Fowler would accomplish. It was a thought in which to bask. Not only would he find his place in the history books, but he would also make the rest of his presidency that much easier to manage. This would also put the seal on his second term, a forty-five state majority, solid control of Congress, and the remainder of his sweeping social programs. With historic accomplishments like this one came international prestige and immense domestic clout. It was power of the best kind, earned in the best way, and the sort that he could put to the best possible use. With a stroke of a pen — actually several pens, for that was the custom — Fowler became great, a giant among the good, and a good man among the powerful. Not once in a generation did a single man have such a moment as this. Maybe not once in a century. And no one could take it away.

The aircraft was traveling at 43,000 feet, moving at a ground speed of 633 knots. The placement of his cabin allowed him to look forward, as a President should look, and down at a world whose affairs he was managing so well. The ride was silky smooth, and Bob Fowler was going to make history. He looked over to Elizabeth, lying on her back, her right hand up around her head, and the covers down at her waist, exposing her lovely chest to his eyes. While most of the rest of the passengers fidgeted in their seats, trying to get some sleep, he looked. Fowler didn't want to sleep right now. The President had never felt more like a man, a great man to be sure, but at this moment, just a man. His hand slid across her breasts. Elizabeth 's eyes opened wide and she smiled, as though in her dreams she had read his thoughts.

Just like home, Russell thought to himself. The house was made of stones instead of block, and the roof was flat instead of peaked, but the dust was the same, and the pathetic little garden was the same. And the man might as easily have been a Sioux, the tiredness in his eyes, the bent back, the old, gnarled hands of one defeated by others.

“This must be the place,” he said, as the truck slowed.

“The old man's son fought the Israelis and was badly wounded. Both have been friends to us.”

“You have to look out for your friends,” Marvin agreed. The truck stopped, and Russell had to hop out to allow Ghosn to step down.

“Come along, I will introduce you.”

It was all surprisingly formal to the American. He didn't understand a word, of course, but he didn't have to. The respect of his friend Ghosn for the old one was good to see. After a few more remarks, the farmer looked at Russell and bowed his head, which embarrassed the American. Marvin took his hand gently and shook it in the manner of his people, muttering something that Ghosn translated. Then the farmer led them into his garden.

“Damn,” Russell observed when he saw it.

“American Mark 84 2,000 pound bomb, it would appear…” Ghosn said off-handedly, then knew he was wrong… the nose wasn't quite right… of course, the nose was crushed and distorted… but oddly so… He thanked the farmer and waved him back to the truck. “First we must uncover it. Carefully, very carefully.”

“I can handle that,” Russell said. He went back to the truck, and selected a folding shovel of a military design.

“We have people—” The American cut Ghosn off.

“Let me do it. I'll be careful.”

“Do not touch it. Use the shovel to dig around it, but use your hands to remove the soil from the bomb itself. Marvin, I warn you, this is very dangerous.”

“Better step back, then.” Russell turned and grinned. He had to show this man that he was courageous. Killing the cop had been easy, no challenge at all. This was different.

“And leave my comrade in danger?” Ghosn asked rhetorically. He knew that this was the intelligent thing to do, what he would have done had his own people done the digging, because his skills were too valuable to be risked stupidly, but he could not show weakness in front of the American, could he? Besides, he could watch and see if the man was as courageous as he seemed.

Ghosn was not disappointed. Russell stripped to the waist and got on his knees to dig around the periphery of the bomb. He was even careful of the garden, far more so than Ghosn's men would have been. It took an hour until he'd dug a shallow pit around the device, piling up the soil in four neat mounds. Already Ghosn knew that there was something odd here. It was not a Mark 84. It had roughly the same size, but the shape was wrong, and the bombcase was… just wasn't right. The Mark 84 had a sturdy case made of cast steel, so that when the explosive filler detonated, the case would be transformed into a million razor-sharp fragments, the better to tear men to bits. But not this one. In two visible places the case was broken, and it wasn't quite thick enough for that kind of bomb. So what the hell was it?

Russell moved in closer and used his hands to pull the dirt off the surface of the bomb itself. He was careful and thorough. The American worked up a good sweat but didn't slacken his efforts even once. The muscles in his arms rippled, and Ghosn admired him for that. The man had a physical power like none he had ever seen. Even Israeli paratroopers didn't look so formidable. He'd excavated two or three tons of dirt, yet he barely showed the effort, his movements as steady and powerful as a machine.

“Stop for a minute,” Ghosn said. “I must get my tools.”

“Okay,” Russell replied, sitting back and staring at the bomb.

Ghosn returned with a rucksack and a canteen, which he handed to the American.

Thanks, man. It is a little warm here.“ Russell drank half a liter of water. ”Now what?"

Ghosn took a paint brush from the sack and began sweeping the last of the dirt from the weapon. “You should leave now,” he warned.

“That's okay, Ibrahim. I'll stay if you don't mind.”

“This is the dangerous part.”

“You stayed by me, man,” Russell pointed out.

“As you wish. I am now looking for the fuse.”

“Not in front?” Russell pointed to the nose of the bomb.

“Not there. There is usually one at the front — it appears to be missing, that's just a screw-on cap — one in the middle, and one at the back.”

“How come it don't have no fins on it?” Russell asked. “Don't bombs have fins on 'em, you know, like an arrow?”

“The fins were probably stripped off when it hit the ground. That's often how we find such bombs, because the fins come off and lie on the surface.”

“Want me to uncover the back of the thing, then?”

“Very, very carefully, Marvin. Please.”

“Okay, man.” Russell moved around his friend and resumed pulling the dirt off the back end of the bombcase. Ghosn, he noted, was one cool son of a bitch. Marvin was as scared as he had ever been, this close to a shitload of explosives, but he could not and damned well would not show anything that looked like fear to this guy. Ibrahim might be a little pencil-necked geek, but the dude had real balls, dicking with a bomb like this. He noted that Ghosn was sweeping the dirt off like he was using the brush on a girl's tits, and made his own efforts just as cautious. Ten minutes later, he had uncovered the back.


“Yes, Marvin?” Ghosn said without looking.

“There ain't nothing here. The back's just a hole, man.”

Ghosn lifted the brush from the case and turned to look. That was odd. But he had other things to do. “Thank you. You can stop now. I still have not found a fuse.”

Russell backed off, sat on a mound of dirt, and proceeded to empty the rest of the canteen. On reflection he walked over to the truck. The three men there along with the farmer were just standing — the farmer watching in the open, the others observing more circumspectly behind the stone walls of the house. Russell tossed one man the empty canteen, and had a full one returned the same way. He gave a thumbs-up sign to all of them and walked back to the bomb.

“Back off for a minute and have a drink,” Marvin said on his return.

“Good idea,” Ghosn agreed, setting his brush down next to the bomb.

“Find anything?”

“A plug connection, nothing else.” That was odd, too, Ghosn thought, pulling the top off the canteen. There were no stenciled markings, just a silver-and-red label block near the nose. Color-codes were common on bombs, but he'd never seen that one before. So, what was this damned thing? Maybe an FAE or some kind of sub-munition canister? Something old and obsolete that he'd never seen before. It had come down in 1973, after all. Maybe something that had long since gone out of service. That was very bad news. If it were something he'd never seen before, it might have a fusing system that he didn't know. His manual for dealing with such things was Russian in origin, though printed in Arabic. Ghosn had long since committed it to memory, but there was no description for anything like this. And that was truly frightening. Ghosn took a long pull from the canteen and then poured a little across his face.

“Take it easy, man,” Russell said, noticing the man's tension.

“This job is never easy, my friend, and it is always very frightening.”

“You look pretty cool, Ibrahim.” It wasn't a lie. While brushing the dirt off, he looked like a doctor, almost, doing something real hard, Russell thought, but doing it. The little fucker had balls, Marvin told himself again.

Ghosn turned and grinned. “That is all a lie. I am quite terrified. I truly hate doing this.”

“You got a big pair, boy, and that's no shit.”

“Thank you. Now I must return while I still can. You really should leave, you know.”

Russell spat into the dirt. “Fuck it.”

“That would be very difficult.” Ghosn grinned. “And if you got a reaction from 'her', you might not like it.”

“I guess when these suckers come, the earth really does move!”

Ghosn knew enough of American idiom that he fell backwards and laughed uproariously. “Please, Marvin, do not say such things when I am working!” I like this man! Ghosn told himself. We are too humorless a lot. I like this American! He had to wait another few minutes before he calmed down enough to resume his work.

Another hour's brushing showed nothing. There were seams in the bombcase, even some sort of hatch… he'd never seen that before. But no fuse point. If there were one, it had to be underneath. Russell moved away some more dirt, allowing Ghosn to continue his search, but again, nothing. He decided to examine the back.

There's a flashlight in my sack…"

“Got it.” Russell handed the light over.

Ghosn lay down on the dirt and contorted himself to look into the hole. It was dark, of course, and he switched on the light… He saw electrical wiring, and something else, some sort of metal framework — latticework would be more accurate. He judged he could see perhaps eighty centimeters… and if this were a real bomb, there would not be so much empty space. So. So. Ghosn tossed the light to the American.

“We have just wasted five hours,” he announced.


“I don't know what this thing is, but it is not a bomb.” He sat up and had a brief attack of the shakes, but it didn't last long.

“What is it then?”

“Some kind of electronic sensing device, perhaps, a warning system. Maybe a camera pod — the lens assembly must be underneath. That doesn't matter. What is important is that it is no bomb.”

“So, now what?”

“We move it, take it back with us. It might be valuable. Perhaps something we can sell to the Russians or the Syrians.”

“So the old guy was worried about nothing?”

“Correct.” Ghosn rose and the two men walked back to the truck. “It is safe now,” he told the farmer. Might as well tell him what he wanted to know, and why confuse him with the facts of the matter? The farmer kissed Ghosn's dirty hands, and those of the American, which further embarrassed Russell.

The driver pulled the truck around, and backed into the garden, careful to do as little damage to the rows of vegetables as possible. Russell watched as two men filled a half-dozen sandbags and hoisted them into the truck. Next they put a sling around the bomb, and began to crank it up with a winch. The bomb — or whatever it was — was heavier than expected, and Russell took over the hand winch, displaying his strength yet again as he cranked it up alone. The Arabs swung the A-frame forward, then he lowered the bomb into the nest made of sandbags. A few ropes secured it in place, and that was that.

The farmer would not let them leave. He brought out tea and bread, insisting on feeding the men before they left, and Ghosn accepted the man's hospitality with appropriate humility. Four lambs were added to the truck's load before they left.

“That was a good thing you did, man,” Russell observed as they pulled off.

“Perhaps,” Ghosn said tiredly. Stress was so much more tiring than actual labor, though the American seemed to handle both quite well. Two hours later, they were back in the Bekaa Valley. The bomb — Ghosn didn't know what else to call it — was dropped unceremoniously in front of his workshop, and the party of five went to feast on fresh lamb. To Ghosn's surprise, the American had never had lamb before, and so was properly introduced to the traditional Arab delicacy.

“Got something interesting, Bill,” Murray announced, as he came into the Director's office.

“What's that, Danny?” Shaw looked up from his appointments schedule.

“A cop got himself killed over in Athens, and they think it was an American who did it.” Murray filled Shaw in on the technical details.

“Broke his neck barehanded?” Bill asked.

That's right. The cop was a skinny little guy,“ Murray said, ”but…"

“Jesus. Okay, let's see.” Murray handed the photo over. “We know this guy, Dan? It's not the best picture in the world.”

“Al Denton thinks it might be Marvin Russell. He's playing computer games on the original slide. There were no prints or other forensic stuff. The car was registered to a third party who disappeared, probably never existed in the first place. The driver of the other vehicle is an unknown. Anyway, it fits Russell's description, short and powerful, and the cheekbones and coloration make him look like an Indian. Clothing is definitely American. So's the suitcase.”

“So you think he skipped the country after we got his brother… smart move,” Shaw judged. “He was supposed to be the bright one, wasn't he?”

“Smart enough to get teamed up with an Arab.”

“Think so?” Shaw examined the other face. “Could be Greek, or anything Mediterranean. Skin's a little fair for an Arab, but it's a pretty ordinary face, and you said it's an unknown. Gut call, Dan?”

“Yep.” Murray nodded. “I checked the file. A confidential informant told us a few years ago that Marvin made a trip east a few years back and made contacts with the PFLP. Athens is a convenient place to renew the association. Neutral ground.”

“Also a good place to make connections for a drug deal,” Shaw suggested. “What current info do we have on Brother Marvin?”

“Not much. Our best CI out there is back in the joint — had a brawl with a couple of reservation cops and came off second-best.”

Shaw grunted. The problem with Confidential Informants, of course, was that most of them were criminals who did illegal things and regularly ended up in jail. That both established their bonafides and made them temporarily useless. Such were the rules of the game. “Okay,” the FBI Director said. “You want to do something. What is it?”

“With a little nudge, we can spring the CI on good-time rules and get him back into the Warrior Society. If this is a terrorist connection, we'd better start running some leads down. Ditto if it's for drugs. Interpol has already come up blank on the driver. No record of his face for either terrorist or drug connections. The Greeks have come to a blank wall. Information on the car didn't lead them anywhere. They have a dead sergeant, and all they got to go on is two faces with no names attached. Sending the photo to us was their last shot. They figured him for an American…”

“Hotel?” the Director asked, ever the investigator.

“Yeah, they identified that — that is, they know it's one of two places side by side. There were ten people with American passports who checked out that day, but they're both little places with lots of in-and-out, and they came up with nothing useful for identification purposes. The hotel staff is forgetful. That kind of a place. Who's to say that our friend even stayed there? The Greeks want us to do follow-up on the names from the hotel register,” Murray concluded.

Bill Shaw handed the photo back. “That's simple enough. Run with it.”

“Already being done.”

“Assuming we know that these two had anything to do with the killing. Well, you gotta go with your best guess. Okay: let the US Attorney know that our CI has paid his debt to society. It's about time we ran those 'warriors' down once and for all.” Shaw had won his spurs on counter-terrorism, and that class of criminal was still his first hate.

“Yeah, I'll play up the drug connection on that. We ought to have him sprung in two weeks or so.”

“Fair enough, Dan.”

“When's the President get into Rome?” Murray asked.

“Pretty soon. Really something, isn't it?”

“Bet your ass, man. Kenny'd better find himself another line of work soon. Peace is breaking out.”

Shaw grinned. “Who woulda thunk it? We can always get him a badge and a gun so's he can earn an honest living.”

Presidential security was completed with a discreetly located flight of four Navy Tomcat fighters that had followed the VC-25A at a distance of five miles while a radar-surveillance aircraft made sure that nothing was approaching Air Force One. Normal commercial traffic was set aside, and the environs of the military airfield being used for the arrival had not so much been combed as strained. Already waiting on the pavement was the President's armored limousine, which had been flown in a few hours earlier by an Air Force C-141B, and enough Italian soldiers and police to discourage a regiment of terrorists. President Fowler emerged from his private washroom shaved and scrubbed pink, his tie exquisitely knotted, and smiling as brightly as Pete and Daga had ever seen. As well he might, Connor thought. The agent did not moralize as deeply as D'Agustino did. The President was a man, and as most presidents were, a lonely man — doubly so with the loss of his wife. Elliot might be an arrogant bitch, but she was undeniably attractive, and if that's what it took to allay the stress and pressure of the job, then that's what it took. The President had to relax, else the job would burn him up — as it had burned others up — and that was bad for the country. So long as H AWK didn't break any major laws, Connor and D'Agustino would protect both his privacy and his pleasures. Pete understood. Daga merely wished that he had better taste. E.E. had left the quarters a little earlier, and was dressed in something especially nice. She joined the President in the dining area just before landing for coffee and donuts. There was no denying that she was attractive, especially this morning. Maybe, Special Agent Helen D'Agustino thought, she was a good lay. Certainly she and the President were the best-rested people on the flight. The media pukes — the Secret Service has an institutional dislike for reporters — had squirmed and fidgeted in their seats throughout the flight, and looked rumpled, despite their upbeat expressions. The most harried of all was the President's speechwriter, who'd worked through the night without pause, except for coffee and head-calls, and finally delivered the speech to Arnie van Damm a bare twenty minutes before touchdown. Fowler had run through it over breakfast and loved it.

“Callie, this is just wonderful!” The President beamed at the weary staff member, who had the literary elegance of a poet. Fowler amazed everyone in sight by giving the young lady — she was still on the sunny side of thirty — a hug that left tears in Callie Weston's eyes. “Get yourself some rest, and enjoy Rome.”

“A pleasure, Mr. President.”

The aircraft came to a stop at the appointed place. The mobile stairs came immediately into place. A section of red carpet was rolled in place to lead from the stairs to the longer carpet that led in turn to the podium. The President and Prime Minister of Italy moved to their appointed places, along with the US Ambassador, and the usual hangers-on, including some exhausted protocol officers who'd had to plan this ceremony literally on the fly. The door of the aircraft was opened by an Air Force sergeant. Secret Service agents looked outside suspiciously for any sign of trouble, and caught glances from other agents of the advance team. When the President appeared, the Italian Air Force band played its arrival fanfare, different from the traditional American “Ruffles and Flourishes.”

The President made his way down the steps alone, walking from reality to immortality, he reflected. Reporters noticed that his stride was bouncy and relaxed, and envied him the comfortable quarters where he could sleep in regal solitude. Sleep was the only sure cure for jetlag, and clearly the President had enjoyed a restful flight. The Brooks Brothers suit was newly pressed — Air Force One has all manner of amenities — his shoes positively sparkled, and his grooming was perfection itself. Fowler made his way to the US Ambassador and his wife, who conducted him to the Italian president. The band struck up “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Next came the traditional review of the assembled troops, and a brief arrival speech that only hinted at the eloquence that would soon follow. In all, it took twenty minutes before Fowler got into his car, along with the Ambassador, Dr. Elliot, and his personal bodyguards.

“First one of those I've ever enjoyed,” was Fowler's evaluation of the ceremony. There was general agreement that the Italians had handled it with elegance.

“ Elizabeth, I want you to stay close. There are a few aspects to the agreement that we need to go over. I need to see Brent, too. How's he doing?” Fowler asked the Ambassador.

“Tired but pretty happy with himself,” Ambassador Coates replied. “The last negotiation session lasted over twenty hours.”

“What's the local press saying?” E. E. asked.

“They're euphoric. They all are. This is a great day for the whole world.” It's happening on my turf, and I'll be there to see it! Jed Coates said to himself. Not often you get to see history made.

“Well, that was nice.”

The National Military Command Center — NMCC — is located in the D-Ring of the Pentagon near the River Entrance. One of the few such installations in government which actually looks like its Hollywood renditions, it is an arena roughly the size and proportions of a basketball court and two stories in height. NMCC is in essence the central telephone switchboard for the United States military. It is not the only one — the nearest alternate is at Fort Ritchie in the Maryland hills — since it is far too easy to destroy, but it is the most conveniently located of its type. It's a regular stop for VIPs who want to see the sexier parts of the Pentagon, much to the annoyance of the staff for whom it's merely the place where they work.

Adjoining the NMCC is a smaller room in which one can see a set of IBM PC/AT personal computers — old ones with 5.25-inch floppy drives — that constitute the Hot Line, the direct communications link between the American and Soviet presidents. The NMCC “node” for the link was not the only one, but it was the primary down-link. That fact was not widely known in America, but it had been purposefully made known to the Soviets. Some form of direct communications between the two countries would be necessary even during an ongoing nuclear war, and letting the Soviets know that the only readily usable down-link was here might serve, some “experts” had judged three decades earlier, as a life-insurance policy for the area.

That, Captain James Rosselli, USN, thought, was just so much theoretician-generated horseshit. That no one had ever seriously questioned it was another example of all the horseshit that lay and stank within Washington in general and the Pentagon in particular. With all the nonsense that took place within the confines of Interstate 495, the Washington Beltway, it was just one more bit of data accepted as gospel, despite the fact that it didn't make a whole lot of sense. To “Rosey” Rosselli, Washington, D.C. was about 300 square miles surrounded by reality. He wondered if the laws of physics even applied inside the Beltway. He'd long since given up on the laws of logic.

Joint duty, Rosey grunted to himself. The most recent effort of Congress to reform the military — something it was singularly unable to do for itself, he groused — had prescribed that uniformed officers who aspired to flag rank — and which of them didn't? — had to spend some of their time in close association with peers from the other uniformed services. Rosselli had never been told how hanging around with a field-artilleryman might make him a better submarine driver, but then no one else had evidently wondered about that. It was simply accepted as an article of faith that cross-pollination was good for something, and so the best and brightest officers were taken away from their professional specialties and dropped into things which they knew not the first thing about. Not that they'd ever learn how to do their new jobs, of course, but they might learn just enough to be dangerous, plus losing currency in what they were supposed to do. That was Congress's idea of military reform.

“Coffee, Cap'n?” an Army corporal asked.

“Better make it decaf,” Rosey replied. If my disposition gets any worse, I might start hurting people.

Work here was career-enhancing. Rosselli knew that, and he also knew that being here was partly his fault. He'd majored in sub and minored in spook throughout his career. He'd already had a tour at the Navy's intelligence headquarters at Suitland, Maryland, near Andrews Air Force Base. At least this was a better commute — he'd gotten official housing at Boiling Air Force Base, and the trip to the Pentagon was a relatively simple hop across I-295/395 to his reserved parking place, another perk that came with duty in the NMCC, and one worth shedding blood for.

Once duty here had been relatively exciting. He remembered when the Soviets had splashed the Korean Airlines 747 and other incidents, and it must have been wonderfully chaotic during the Iraq war — that is, when the senior watch officer wasn't answering endless calls of “what's happening?” to anyone who'd managed to get the direct-line number. But now?

Now, as he had just watched on his desk TV, the President was about to defuse the world's biggest remaining diplomatic bomb, and soon Rosselli's work would mostly involve taking calls about collisions at sea, or crashed airplanes, or some dumbass soldier who'd gotten himself run over by a tank. Such things were serious, but not matters of great professional interest. So here he was. His paperwork was finished. That was something Jim Rosselli was good at — he'd learned how to shuffle papers in the Navy, and here he had a superb staff to help him with it — and the rest of the day was mainly involved with sitting and waiting for something to happen. The problem was that Rosselli was a do-er, not a wait-er, and who wanted a disaster to happen anyway?

“Gonna be a quiet day.” This was Rosselli's XO, an Air Force F-15 pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Barnes.

“I think you're right, Rocky.” Just what I wanted to hear! Rosselli checked his watch. It was a twelve-hour shift, with five hours left to go. “Hell, it's getting to be a pretty quiet world.”

“Ain't it the truth.” Barnes turned back to the display screen. Well, I got my two MiGs over the Persian Gulf. At least it hasn't been a complete waste of time.

Rosselli stood and decided to walk around. The duty watch officers thought this was to look at what they were doing, to make sure they were doing something. One senior civilian ostentatiously continued doing the Post crossword. It was his “lunch” break and he preferred eating here to the mostly empty cafeterias. Here he could watch TV. Rosselli next wandered over to the left into the Hot Line room, and he was lucky for a change. A message was announced by the dinging of a little bell. The actual message received looked like random garbage, but the encryption machine changed that into cleartext Russian which a Marine translated:

"So you think you know the real meaning of fear?
Yeah, you think you do know, but I doubt it.
When you sit in a shelter with bombs falling all over.
And the houses around you are burning like torches,
I agree that you experience horror and fright.
For such moments are dreadful, for as long as they last,
But the all-clear sounds — then it's okay—
You take a deep breath, the stress has passed by,
But real fear is a stone deep down in your chest.
You hear me? A stone. That's what it is, no more."

“Ilya Selvinskiy,” the Marine lieutenant said.


“Ilya Selvinskiy, Russian poet, did some famous work during the Second World War. I know this one, Sprakh, the title is 'Fear.' It's very good.” The young officer grinned. “My opposite number is pretty literate. So…” TRANSMISSION RECEIVED. THE REST OF THE POEM IS EVEN BETTER, ALEKSEY, the lieutenant typed, STAND BY FOR REPLY.

“What do you send back?” Rosselli asked.

“Today… maybe a little Emily Dickinson. She was a morbid bitch, always talking about death and stuff. No, better yet — Edgar Allan Poe. They really like him over there. Hmmm, which one…?” The lieutenant opened a desk drawer and pulled out a volume.

“Don't you do it in advance?” Rosselli asked.

The Marine grinned up at his boss. “No, sir, that's cheating. We used to do it that way, but we changed things about two years ago, when things lightened up. Now it's sort of a game. He picks a poem, and I have to respond with a corresponding passage from an American poet. It helps pass the time, Cap'n. Good for language skills on both sides. Translating poetry is a bitch — good exercise.” The Soviet side transmitted its messages in Russian, and the Americans in English, necessitating skilled translators at both ends.

“Much real business on the line?”

“Captain, I've never seen much more than test messages. Oh, when we have the SecState flying over, sometimes we check weather data. We even chatted a little about hockey when their national team came over to play with the NHL guys last August, but mainly it's duller than dirt, and that's why we trade poetry passages. Weren't for that, we'd all go nuts. Shame we can't talk like on CB or something, but the rules are the rules.”

“Guess so. They say anything about the treaty stuff in Rome?”

“Not a word. We don't do that, sir.”

“I see.” Rosselli watched the lieutenant pick a stanza from “Annabel Lee.” He was surprised. Rosey had expected something from “The Raven.” Nevermore…

The arrival day was one of rest and ceremony — and mystery. The treaty terms had still not been leaked, and news agencies, knowing that something “historic” had happened, were frantic to discover exactly what it was. To no avail. The chiefs of state of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, the Soviet Union, the United States of America, and their host, Italy, arrayed themselves around a massive 15th Century table, punctuated with their chief diplomats and representatives of the Vatican and the Greek Orthodox church. In deference to the Saudis, toasts were offered in water or orange juice, which was the only discordant note of the evening. Soviet President Andrey Il'ych Narmonov was particularly effusive. His country's participation in the treaty was a matter of great importance, and the inclusion of the Russian Orthodox Church on the Commission for Christian Shrines would have major political import in Moscow. The dinner lasted three hours, after which the guests departed in view of the cameras on the far side of the avenue, and once more the newsies were thunderstruck by the fellowship. A jovial Fowler and Narmonov traveled together to the former's hotel and availed themselves for only the second time of the opportunity to discuss matters of bilateral interest.

“You have fallen behind in your deactivation of your missile forces,” Fowler observed after pleasantries were dispensed with. He eased the blow by handing over a glass of wine.

“Thank you, Mr. President. As we told your people last week, our disposal facility has proven inadequate. We can't dismantle the damned things fast enough, and our nature-lovers in parliament are objecting to our method of neutralizing the propellant stocks.”

Fowler smiled in sympathy. “I know the problem, Mr. President.” The environmental movement had taken off in the Soviet Union the previous spring, with the Russian parliament passing a new set of laws modeled on — but much tougher than — American statutes. The amazing part was that the central Soviet government were abiding by the laws, but Fowler couldn't say that. The environmental nightmare inflicted on that country by more than seventy years of Marxism would take a generation of tough laws to fix. “Will this affect the deadline for fulfilling the treaty requirements?”

“You have my word, Robert,” Narmonov said solemnly. The missiles will be destroyed by 1st March even if I must blow them up myself."

“That is good enough for me, Andrey.”

The reduction treaty, a carryover from the previous administration, mandated a 50 percent reduction in intercontinental launchers by the coming spring. All of America 's Minuteman-II missiles had been tagged for destruction, and the U.S. side of the treaty obligations was fully on track. As had been done under the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, the surplus missiles were dismantled to their component stages, which were either crushed or otherwise destroyed before witnesses. The news had covered the first few destructions, then grown tired of it. The missile silos, also under inspection, were stripped of their electronic equipment and, in the case of American structures, fifteen had already been declared surplus and sold — in four cases, farmers had purchased them and converted them to real silos. A Japanese conglomerate that had large holdings in North Dakota had further purchased a command bunker and made it into a wine cellar for the hunting lodge its executives used each fall.

American inspectors on the Soviet side reported that the Russians were trying mightily, but that the plant built for dismantlement of the Russian missiles had been poorly designed, as a result of which the Soviets were 30 percent behind schedule. Fully a hundred missiles were sitting on trailers outside the plant, the silos they'd left already destroyed by explosives. Though the Soviets had in each case removed and burned the guidance package in front of American inspectors, there were lingering intelligence evaluations that it was all a sham — the erector trailers, some argued, could elevate and fire the missiles. Suspicion of the Soviets was too hard a habit to break for some in the U.S. intelligence community, as was doubtless true of the Russians as well, Fowler thought.

“This treaty is a major step forward, Robert,” Narmonov said, after a sip from his wine glass — now that they were alone they could relax like gentlemen, the Russian thought with a sly grin. “You and your people are to be congratulated.”

“Your help was crucial to its success, Andrey,” Fowler replied graciously. It was a lie, but a politic one which both men understood. In fact it was not a lie, but neither man knew that.

“One less trouble spot for us to worry about. How blind we were!”

“That is true, my friend, but it is behind us. How are your people dealing with Germany?”

“The army is not happy, as you might imagine—”

“Neither is mine.” Fowler interrupted gently with his pronouncement. “Soldiers are like dogs. Useful, of course, but they must know who the master is. Like dogs, they can be forgetful, and must be reminded from time to time.”

Narmonov nodded thoughtfully as the translation came across. It was amazing how arrogant this man was. Just what his intelligence briefings had told him, the Soviet president noted. And patronizing, too. Well, the American had the luxury of a firm political system, Andrey Il'ych told himself. It allowed Fowler to be so sure of himself while he, Narmonov, had to struggle every day with a system not yet set in stone. Or even wood, the Russian thought bleakly. What a luxury indeed to be able to look on soldiers as dogs to be cowed. Didn't he know that dogs had teeth? So strange the Americans were. Throughout Communist rule in the Soviet Union, they had fretted about the political muscle of the Red Army — when in fact it had had none at all after Stalin's elimination of Tukhachevskiy. But now they discounted all such stories while the dissolution of the iron hand of Marxism-Leninism was allowing soldiers to think in ways that would have ended in execution only a few years earlier. Well, this was no time to disabuse the American of his illusions, was it?

“Tell me, Robert, this treaty idea — where exactly did it come from?” Narmonov asked. He knew the truth and wanted to see Fowler's abilities as a liar.

“Many places, as with all such ideas,” the President replied lightly. “The moving force was Charles Alden — poor bastard. When the Israelis had that terrible incident, he activated his plan immediately and — well, it worked, didn't it?”

The Russian nodded again, and made his mental notes. Fowler lied with skill, evading the substance of the question to give a truthful but evasive answer. Khrushchev was right, as he'd already known. Politicians all the world over are not terribly different. It was something to remember about Fowler. He didn't like sharing credit, and was not above lying in the face of a peer, even over something so small as this. Narmonov was vaguely disappointed. Not that he'd expected anything else, but Fowler could have shown grace and humanity. He'd stood to lose nothing by it, after all. Instead he was as petty as any local Party apparatchik. Tell me, Robert, Narmonov asked behind a poker face that would have stood him well in Las Vegas, what sort of man are you?

“It is late, my friend,” Narmonov observed. “Tomorrow afternoon, then?”

Fowler stood. “Tomorrow afternoon, Andrey.”

Bob Fowler escorted the Russian to the door and saw him off, then returned to his suite of rooms. Once there he pulled the handwritten checklist out of his pocket to make sure he'd asked all the questions.


“Well, the missile problem, he says, is exactly what our inspectors said it is. That ought to satisfy the guys at DIA.” A grimace; it wouldn't. “I think he's worried about his military.”

Dr. Elliot sat down. “Anything else?”

The President poured her a glass of wine, then sat beside his National Security Advisor. The normal pleasantries. He's a very busy, very worried man. Well, we knew that, didn't we?"

Liz swirled the wine around the glass and sniffed at it. She didn't like Italian wines, but this one wasn't bad. “I've been thinking, Robert…”

“Yes, Elizabeth?”

“What happened to Charlie… we need to do something. It isn't fair that he should have disappeared like that. He's the guy who put this treaty on track, isn't he?”

“Well, yes,” Fowler agreed, sipping at his own replenished glass. “You're right, Elizabeth. It really was his effort.”

“I think we should let that out — quietly, of course. At the very least—”

“Yes, he should be remembered for something other than a pregnant grad student. That's very gracious of you, Elizabeth.” Fowler tapped his glass against hers. “You handle the media people. You're releasing the treaty details tomorrow before lunch?”

“That's right, about nine, I think.”

“Then after you're finished, take a few of the journalists aside and give it to them on background. Maybe Charlie will rest a little easier.”

“No problem, Mr. President,” Liz agreed. Exorcizing that particular demon came easily enough, didn't it? Was there anything she could not talk him into?

“Big day tomorrow.”

“The biggest, Bob, the biggest.” Elliot leaned back and loosened the scarf from her throat. “I never thought I'd ever have a moment like this.”

“I did,” Fowler observed with a twinkle in his eye. There came a momentary pang of conscience. He'd expected to have it with someone else, but that was fate, wasn't it? Fate. The world was so strange. But he had no control over that, did he? And fate had decreed that he would be here at the moment in question, with Elizabeth. It wasn't his doing, was it? Therefore, he decided, there was no guilt, was there? How could there be guilt? He was making the world into a better, safer, more peaceful place. How could guilt attach to that?

Elliot closed her eyes as the President's hand caressed her offered neck. Never in her wildest dreams had she expected a moment like this.

The entire floor of the hotel was reserved for the President's party, and the two floors under it. Italian and American guards stood at all the entrances, and at various places in the buildings along the street. But the corridor outside the President's suite of rooms was the exclusive domain of the Presidential Protective Detail. Connor and D'Agustino made their own final check before retiring for the evening. A full squad of ten agents were in view, and another ten were behind various closed doors. Three of the visible agents had FAG-bags, black satchels across their chests. Officially called fast-action-gun bags, each contained an Uzi sub-machinegun, which could be extracted and fired in about a second and a half. Anyone who got this far would find a warm reception.

“I see H AWK and H ARPY are discussing affairs of state,” Daga observed quietly.

“Helen, I didn't think you were so much of a prude,” Pete Connor replied with a sly grin.

“None of my business, but in the old days people outside the door had to be eunuchs or something.”

“Keep talking like that and Santa will drop coal in your stocking.”

“I'd settle for that new automatic the FBI adopted,” Daga said with a chuckle. “They're like teenagers. It's unseemly.”


“I know, he's The Boss, and he's a big boy, and we have to look the other way. Relax, Pete, you think I'm going to blab to a reporter?” She opened the door to the fire stairs and saw three agents, two of whom had their FAG-bags at the ready.

“And I was about to offer you a drink, too…” Connor said deadpan. It was a joke. He and Daga were nondrinkers while on duty, and they were nearly always on duty. It wasn't that he had never thought about getting into her pants. He was divorced, as was she, but it would never have worked, and that was that. She knew it, too, and grinned at him.

“I could use one — the stuff they have here is what I was raised on. What a crummy job this is!” A final look down the corridor. “Everybody's in place, Pete. I think we can call it a night.”

“You really like the ten-millimeter?”

“Fired one last week up at Greenbelt. Got a possible with my first string. It doesn't get much better than that, lover.”

Connor stopped dead in his tracks and laughed. “Christ, Daga!”

“People might notice?” D'Agustino batted her eyes at him. “See what I mean, Pete?”

“God, who ever heard of a Guinea puritan?”

Helen D'Agustino elbowed the senior agent in the ribs and made her way to the elevator. Pete was right. She was turning into a damned prude, and she'd never ever been like that. A passionate woman whose single attempt at marriage had collapsed because one household wasn't large enough for two assertive egos — at least not two Italian ones — she knew she was allowing her prejudices to color her judgment. That was not a healthy thing, even over something both trivial and divorced from her job. What H AWK did on his own time was his business, but the look in his eyes… He was infatuated with the bitch. Daga wondered if any president had allowed that to happen. Probably, she admitted. They were only men, after all, and all men sometimes thought from the testicles instead of the brain. That the President should become a lackey of such a shallow woman as this — that was what offended her. But that, she admitted to herself, was both odd and inconsistent. After all, women didn't come much more liberated than she was. So why, she asked herself, was it bothering her? It had been too long a day for that. She needed sleep, and knew that she'd only get five or six hours before she was on duty again. Damn these overseas trips…

“So what is it?” Qati asked, just after dawn. He'd been away the previous day, meeting some other guerilla leaders, and also for a trip to the doctor, Ghosn knew, though he could not ask about that.

“Not sure,” the engineer replied. “I'd guess a jamming pod, something like that.”

“That's useful,” the commander said at once. Despite the rapprochement, or whatever the key phrase was, between East and West, business was still business. The Russians still had a military, and that military still had weapons. Countermeasures against those weapons were items of interest. Israeli equipment was particularly prized, since the Americans copied it. Even old equipment showed how the Israeli engineers thought through problems, and could provide useful clues to newer systems.

“Yes, we should be able to sell it to our Russian friends.”

“How did the American work out?” Qati asked next.

“Quite well. I do like him, Ismael. I understand him better now.” The engineer explained why. Qati nodded.

“What should we do with him, then?”

Ghosn shrugged. “Weapons training, perhaps? Let's see if he fits in with the men.”

“Very well. I'll send him out this morning to see how well he knows combat skills. And you, how soon will you pick the thing apart?”

“I planned to do it today.”

“Excellent. Do not let me stop you.”

“How are you feeling, Commander?”

Qati frowned. He felt terrible, but he was telling himself that part of that was the possibility of some sort of treaty with the Israelis. Could it be real? Could it be possible? History said no, but there had been so many changes… Some sort of agreement between the Zionists and the Saudis… well, after the Iraq business, what could he expect? The Americans had played their role, and now they were presenting some kind of bill. Disappointing, but hardly unexpected, and whatever the Americans were up to would divert attention away from the latest Israeli atrocity. That people calling themselves Arabs had been so womanly as to meekly accept fire and death… Qati shook his head. You didn't fight that way. So, the Americans would do something or other to neutralize the political impact of the Israeli massacre, and the Saudis were playing along like the lapdogs they were. Whatever was in the offing, it could hardly affect the Palestinian struggle. He should soon be feeling better, Qati told himself.

“It is of no account. Let me know when you've determined exactly what it is.”

Ghosn took his dismissal and left. He was worried about his commander. The man was ill — he knew that much from his brother-in-law, but exactly how sick he didn't know. In any case, he had work to do.

The workshop was a disreputable-looking structure of plain wood walls and a roof of corrugated steel. Had it looked more sturdy, some Israeli F-16 pilot might have destroyed it years before.

The bomb — he still thought of it by that name — lay on the dirt floor. An A-frame like that used for auto or truck service stood over it, with a chain for moving the bomb if necessary, but yesterday two men had set it up in accordance with his instructions. Ghosn turned on the lights — he liked a brightly-lit work-area — and contemplated the… bomb.

Why do I keep calling it that? he asked himself. Ghosn shook his head. The obvious place to begin was the access door. It would not be easy. Impact with the ground had telescoped the bombcase, doubtless damaging the internal hinges… but he had all the time he wanted.

Ghosn selected a screwdriver from his tool box and went to work.

President Fowler slept late. He was still fatigued from the flight, and… he almost laughed at himself in the mirror. Good Lord, three times in less than twenty-four hours… wasn't it? He tried to do the arithmetic in his head, but the effort defeated him before his morning coffee. In any case, three times in relatively short succession. He hadn't done that in quite a long time! But he'd also gotten his rest. His body was composed and relaxed after the morning shower, and the razor plowed through the cream on his face, revealing a man with younger, leaner features that matched the twinkle in his eyes. Three minutes later, he selected a striped tie to go with the white shirt and gray suit. Not somber, but serious was the prescription for the day. He'd let the churchmen dazzle the cameras with their red silk. His speech would be all the more impressive if delivered by a well turned-out businessman/politician, which was his political image, despite the fact that he'd never in his life run a private business of any sort. A serious man, Bob Fowler — with a common touch to be sure, but a serious man whom one could trust to do The Right Thing.

Well, I will sure as hell prove that today, the President of the United States told himself in yet another mirror as he checked his tie. His head turned at the knock on the door. “Come in.”

“Good morning, Mr. President,” said Special Agent Connor.

“How are you today, Pete?” Fowler asked, turning back to the mirror… the knot wasn't quite right, and he started afresh.

“Fine, thank you, sir. It's a mighty nice day outside.”

“You people never get enough rest. Never get to see the sights, either. That's my fault, isn't it?” There, Fowler thought, that's perfect.

“It's okay, Mr. President. We're all volunteers. What do you want for breakfast, sir?”

“Good morning, Mr. President!” Dr. Elliot came in behind Connor. “This is the day!”

Bob Fowler turned with a smile. “It sure as hell is! Join me for breakfast, Elizabeth?”

“Love to. I have the morning brief — it's a nice short one for a change.”

“Pete, breakfast for two… a big one. I'm hungry.”

“Just coffee for me,” Liz said to the servant. Connor caught the tone of her voice, but did not react beyond nodding before he left. “Bob, you look wonderful.”

“So do you, Elizabeth.” And so she did, in her most expensive suit, which was also serious-looking, but just feminine enough. She took her seat and did the briefing.

“CIA says the Japanese are up to something,” she said as she concluded.


They caught a whiff, Ryan says, of something in the next round of trade negotiations. The Prime Minister is quoted as saying something unkind."

“What exactly?”

“'This is the last time we'll be cut out of our proper role on the world stage, and I'll make them pay for this,'” Dr. Elliot quoted. “Ryan thinks it's important.”

“What do you think?”

“I think Ryan's being paranoid again. He's been cut out of this end of the treaty works, and he's trying to remind us how important he is. Marcus agrees with my assessment, but forwarded the report out of a fit of objectivity,” Liz concluded with heavy irony.

“Cabot is something of a disappointment, isn't he?” Fowler observed as he looked over the briefing notes.

“He doesn't seem very effective at telling his people who the boss is. He's being captured by the bureaucracy over there, especially Ryan.”

“You really don't like him, do you?” the President noted.

“He's arrogant. He's—”

“ Elizabeth, he has a very impressive record. I don't much care for him either as a person, but as an intelligence officer he has done a lot of things very, very well.”

“He's a throwback. He's James Bond — or thinks he is. Fine,” Elliot admitted, “he's done some important things, but that sort of thing is history. We need someone now with a broader view.”

“Congress won't go for it,” the President said, as breakfast was wheeled in. The food had been scanned for radioactives, checked for electronic devices, and sniffed for explosives — which, the President thought, put one hell of a strain on the dogs, who probably liked sausage as well as he did. “We'll serve ourselves, thanks,” the President dismissed the Navy steward before going on. They love him there, Congress loves the guy." He didn't have to add the fact that Ryan, as Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, was not merely a Presidential appointee. He'd also been through a confirmation hearing in the US Senate. Such people were not easily dismissed. There had to be a reason.

“I never have figured that out. Especially Trent. Of all the people to sign off on Ryan, why him?”

“Ask him,” Fowler suggested, as he buttered his pancakes.

“I have. He danced around the issue like the prima ballerina at the New York Ballet.” The President laughed uproariously at that.

“Christ, woman, don't ever let anybody hear you say that!”

“Robert, we both support the estimable Mr. Trent's choice of sexual preference, but he is a prissy son of a bitch and we both know it.”

“True,” Fowler had to agree. “So, what are you telling me, Elizabeth?”

“It's time for Cabot to put Ryan in his place.”

“How much of this is envy for Ryan's part in the treaty, Elizabeth?”

Elliot's eyes flared, but the President was looking at his plate. She took a deep breath before speaking, and tried to decide if it were a goad or not. Probably not, but the President wasn't the sort to be impressed by emotions in matters like this. “Bob, we've been through that. Ryan connected a few ideas that other people had already come up with. He's an intelligence officer, for God's sake! All they do is report what other people do.”

“He's done more than that.” Fowler saw where this was going, but it was fun to play games with her.

“Fine, he's killed people! Is that what's special about him? James goddamned Bond! You even let them execute the ones who—”

“ Elizabeth, those terrorists also killed seven Secret Service agents. My life depends on those people, and it would have been damned ungracious and just plain idiotic of me to commute the sentences of people who had killed their colleagues.” The President almost frowned at that — So much for strongly-held principle, eh, Bob! a voice asked him — but managed to control himself.

“And now you can't do it at all, or people will say that you failed to do it once out of personal self-interest. You allowed yourself to be trapped and out-maneuvered,” she pointed out. She had been goaded after all, Liz decided, and answered in kind, but Fowler wasn't buying.

“ Elizabeth, I may be the only former prosecutor in America who doesn't believe in capital punishment, but… we do live in a democracy, and the people support the idea.” He looked up from his meal. “Those people were terrorists. I can't say I'm happy that I allowed them to be executed, but if anyone deserved it, they did. The time wasn't right to make a statement on that issue. Maybe in my second term. We have to wait for the right case. Politics is the art of the possible. That means one thing at a time, Elizabeth. You know that as well as I do.”

“If you don't do something, you'll wake up and find that Ryan is running CIA for you. He's able, I admit, but he's something from the past. He's the wrong person for the times we live in.”

God, you're an envious woman, Fowler thought. But we all have our weaknesses. It was time to stop playing with her, though. It wouldn't do to offend her too deeply.

“What do you have in mind?”

“We can ease him out.”

“I'll think about it— Elizabeth, let's not spoil the day with a discussion like this one, okay? How do you plan to break the news of the treaty terms?”

Elliot leaned back and sipped at her coffee. She reproached herself for moving too soon and too passionately on this. She disliked Ryan greatly, but Bob was right. It wasn't the time, wasn't the place. She had all the time in the world to make her play, and she knew that she had to do it with skill.

“A copy of the treaty, I think.”

“Can they read that fast?” Fowler laughed. The media was full of such illiterates.

“You should see the speculation. The lead Times piece was faxed in this morning. They're frantic. They'll eat it up. Besides, I ginned up some Cliff Notes for them.”

“However you want to do it,” the President said, as he finished off his sausage. He checked his watch. Timing was everything. There was a six-hour time difference between Rome and Washington. That meant the treaty could not be signed until two in the afternoon at the earliest, so as to catch the morning news shows. But the American people had to be prepped for the news, and that meant that the TV crews had to have the details of the treaty by three, Eastern Daylight Time, in order to absorb everything fully. Liz would break the news at nine, twenty minutes from now, he noted. “And you'll be playing up Charlie's part in it?”

“Right. It's only fair that he should get most of the credit.”

And so much for Ryan's part in the process, Bob Fowler noted without comment. Well, Charlie was the guy who really got it moving, wasn't he? Fowler felt vaguely sorry for Ryan. Though he also thought the DDCI something from the past, he'd learned all that the man had done, and was impressed. Arnie van Damm thought a lot of Ryan, also, and Arnie was the best judge of character in the administration. But Elizabeth was his National Security Advisor, and he could not have her and the DDCI at each other's throats, could he? No, he couldn't. It was that simple.

“Dazzle them, Elizabeth.”

“Won't be hard.” She smiled at him and left.

The task proved much harder than he'd expected. Ghosn thought about asking for help, but decided against it. Part of his aura in the organization was that he worked alone with these things, except for the donkey work for which he would occasionally require a few strong backs.

The bomb/device/pod turned out to be of sturdier construction than he'd expected. Under the strong work lights, he took the time to wash it off with water, and found a number of unexplained items. There were screw-in points which were plugged shut with slot-bolts. On removing one, he found yet another electrical lead. More surprising, the bombcase was thicker than he'd expected. He'd dismantled an Israeli jamming pod before, but though it had mostly been of aluminum construction, there had been several places where the case had been of fiberglass or plastic, which was transparent to electronic radiation.

He'd started on the access hatch, but found it nearly impossible to pry open and tried to find something easier. But there wasn't anything easier. Now he returned to the hatch, frustrated that several hours of work had led nowhere.

Ghosn sat back and lit a cigarette. What are you? he asked the object.

It was so much like a bomb, he realized. The heavy case — why hadn't he realized that it was so damned heavy, too heavy for a jamming pod… but it couldn't be a bomb, could it? No fuses, no detonator, what he had seen of the inside was electrical wiring and connectors. It had to be some kind of electronic device. He stubbed the cigarette out in the dirt and walked over to his workbench.

Ghosn had a wide variety of tools, one of which was a gasoline-powered rotary saw, useful for cutting steel. It was really a two-man tool, but he decided to use it alone, and to use it on the hatch, which had to be less sturdy than the case itself. He set the cutting depth to nine millimeters and started the tool, manhandling it onto the hatch. The sound of the saw was dreadful, more so as the diamond-edge of the blade bit into the steel, but the weight of the saw was sufficient to keep it from jerking off the bomb, and he slowly worked it down along the edge of the access hatch. It took twenty minutes for him to make the first cut. He stopped the saw and set it aside, then probed the cut with a bit of thin wire.

Finally! he told himself. He was through. He'd guessed right. The rest of the bombcase seemed to be… four centimeters or so, but the hatch was only a quarter of that. Ghosn was too happy to have accomplished something to ask himself why a jamming pod needed a full centimeter of hardened steel around it. Before starting again, he donned ear protection. His ears were ringing from the abuse of the first cut, and he didn't want a headache to make the job worse than it already was.

The “Special Report” graphics appeared on all the TV networks within seconds of one another. The network anchors who'd risen early — by the standards of their stint in Rome, that is — to receive their brief from Dr. Elliot raced to their booths literally breathless, and handed over their notes to their respective producers and researchers.

“I knew it,” Angela Miriles said. “Rick, I told you!”

“Angie, I owe you lunch, dinner, and maybe breakfast in any restaurant you can name.”

“I'll hold you to that,” the chief researcher chuckled. The bastard could afford it.

“How do we do this?” the producer asked.

“I'm going to wing it. Give me two minutes, and we're flying.”

“Shit,” Angie observed quietly to herself. Rick didn't like winging it. He did, however, like scooping the print reporters, and the timing of the event made that a gimme. Take that, New York Times! He sat still only long enough for makeup, then faced the cameras as the network's expert — some expert! Miriles thought to herself — joined Rick in the anchor booth.

“Five!” the assistant director said. “Four, three, two, one!” His hand jerked at the anchor.

“It's real,” Rick announced. “In four hours, the President of the United States, along with the President of the Soviet Union, the King of Saudi Arabia, and the Prime Ministers of Israel and Switzerland, plus the chiefs of two major religious groups will sign a treaty that offers the hope for a complete settlement of the disputed areas of the Middle East. The details of the treaty are stunning.” He went on for three uninterrupted minutes, speaking rapidly, as though to race with his counterparts on the other networks.

“There has been nothing like this in living memory, yet another miracle — no, yet another milestone on the road to world peace. Dick?” The anchor turned to his expert commentator, a former ambassador to Israel.

"Rick, I've been reading this for half an hour now, and I still don't believe it. Maybe this is a miracle. We sure picked the right place for it. The concessions made by the Israeli government are stunning, but so are the guarantees that America is making to secure the peace. The secrecy of the negotiations is even more impressive. Had these details broken as recently as two days ago, the whole thing might have come apart before our eyes, but here and now, Rick, here and now, I believe it. It's real. You said it right. It's real. It's really happening, and in a few hours we'll see the world change once more.

“This would never have happened but for the unprecedented cooperation of the Soviet Union, and clearly we owe a vast debt of thanks to the embattled Soviet president, Audrey Narmonov.”

“What do you make of the concessions made by all the religious groups?”

“Just incredible. Rick, there have been religious wars in this region for virtually all of recorded history. But we should put in here that the architect of the treaty was the late Dr. Charles Alden. A senior administration official was generous in praise to the man who died only weeks ago, and died in disgrace. What a cruel irony it is that the man who really identified the base problem in the region as the artificial incompatibility of the religions, all of which began in this one troubled region, that man is not here to see his vision become reality. Alden was apparently the driving force behind this agreement, and one can only hope that history will remember that, despite the timing and circumstances of his death, it was Dr. Charles Alden of Yale who helped to make this miracle happen.” The former ambassador was also a Yalie, and a classmate of Charlie Alden.

“What of the others?” the anchor asked.

“Rick, when something of this magnitude happens — and it's darned rare when it does — there are always a lot of people who play their individual roles, and all of those roles are important. The Vatican Treaty was also the work of Secretary Brent Talbot, ably supported by Undersecretary Scott Adler, who is, by the way, a brilliant diplomatic technician and Talbot's right-hand man. At the same time, it was President Fowler who approved this initiative, who used muscle when that was needed, and who took Charlie's vision forward after his death. No president has ever had the political courage and dazzling vision to stake his political reputation on so wild a gambit. Had we failed on this, one can scarcely imagine the political fallout, but Fowler pulled it off. This is a great day for American diplomacy, a great day for East-West understanding, and perhaps the greatest moment for world peace in all of human history.”

“I couldn't have said it better, Dick. What about the Senate, which has to approve the Vatican Treaty, and also the U.S.-Israeli Bilateral Defense Treaty?”

The commentator grinned and shook his head in overt amusement. “This will go through the United States Senate so fast that the President might smear the printer's ink on the bill. The only thing that can slow this up is the rhetoric you'll hear in the committee room and on the Senate floor.”

“But the cost of stationing American troops—”

“Rick, we have a military for the purpose of preserving the peace. That's their job, and to do that job in this place, America will pay whatever it costs. This isn't a sacrifice for the American tax-payer. It's a privilege, an historic honor to place the seal of American strength on the peace of the world. Rick, this is what America is all about. Of course we'll do it.”

“And that's it for now,” Rick said, turning back to Camera One. “We'll be back in two and a half hours for live coverage of the signing of the Vatican Treaty. We now return you to New York. This is Rick Cousins reporting to you from the Vatican.”

“Son of a bitch!” Ryan breathed. This time, unfortunately, the TV had awakened his wife, who was watching the events on the tube with interest.

“Jack, how much did you—” Cathy stood and went off to make the morning coffee. “I mean, you went over there, and you—”

“Honey, I was involved. I can't say how much.” Jack knew he ought to have been angry at how credit for the first proposal had been assigned to Alden, but Charlie had been a good guy, even if he had displayed his share of human weaknesses, and Alden had pushed it along when it had needed a push. Besides, he told himself, history will find out a little, as it usually did. The real players knew. He knew. He was used to being in the background, to doing things that others didn't and couldn't know about. He turned to his wife and smiled.

And Cathy knew. She'd heard him speculating aloud a few months earlier. Jack didn't know that he murmured to himself when he shaved, and thought he didn't wake her up when he arose so early, but she'd never yet failed to see him off, even if she didn't open her eyes. Cathy liked the way he kissed her, thinking her asleep, and didn't want to spoil it. He was having trouble enough. Jack was hers, and the goodness of the man was no mystery to his wife.

It's not fair, the other Dr. Ryan told herself. It was Jack's idea — at least part of it was. How many other things didn't she know? It was a question Caroline Muller Ryan, M.D., F.A.C.S., rarely asked herself. But she could not pretend that Jack's nightmares weren't real. He had trouble sleeping, was drinking too much, and what sleep he had was littered with things she could never ask about. Part of that frightened her. What had her husband done? What guilt was he carrying?

Guilt? Cathy asked herself. Why had she asked herself that?

Ghosn pried the hatch off after three hours. He'd had to change a blade on the cutting tool, but the delay had mainly resulted from the fact that he ought to have asked for an extra hand but been too proud to do so. In any case it was done, and a prybar finished the job. The engineer took a work-light and looked into the thing. He found yet another mystery.

The inside of the device was a metal lattice-frame — titanium perhaps? he wondered — which held in place a cylindrical mass… secured with heavy bolts. Ghosn used his work-light to look around the cylinder and saw more wires, all connected to the cylinder. He caught the edge of a largish electronic device… some sort of radar transceiver, he thought. Aha! So it was some sort of… but why, then…? Suddenly he knew that he was missing something… something big. But what? The markings on the cylinder were in Hebrew, and he didn't know that other Semitic language well, and he didn't understand the significance of these markings. The frame which held it, he saw, was partially designed as a shock-absorber… and it had worked admirably. The framing was grossly distorted, but the cylinder it held seemed largely intact. Damaged to be sure, but it had not split… Whatever was inside the cylinder was supposed to be protected against shock. That made it delicate, and that meant it was some sort of delicate electronic device. So he came back to the idea that it was a jamming pod. Ghosn was too focused to realize that his mind had closed out other options; that his engineer's brain was so fixed on the task at hand that he was ignoring possibilities and the signals that presented them. Whatever it was, however, he had to get it out first. He next selected a wrench and went to work on the bolts securing the cylinder in place.

Fowler sat in a 16th-century chair, watching the protocol officers flutter around like pheasants unable to decide whether to walk or fly. People commonly thought that affairs like this one were run smoothly by professional stage-managers who planned everything in advance. Fowler knew better. Sure, things were smooth enough when there had been time enough — a few months — to work out all the details. But this affair had been set up with days, not months, of preparation, and the dozen or so protocol officers had scarcely decided who was the boss among themselves. Curiously, it was the Russian and the Swiss officers who were the calmest, and before the American president's eyes, it was they who huddled and worked out a quick alliance, then presented their plan — whatever it was — to the others, which they then put into play. Just like a good football squad, the President smiled to himself. The Vatican representative was too old for a job like this. The guy — a bishop, Fowler thought, maybe a monsignor — was over sixty and suffering from an anxiety attack that might just kill him. Finally the Russian took him aside for two quick minutes, nods were exchanged and a handshake, then people started moving as though they had a common purpose. Fowler decided that he'd have to find out the Russian's name. He looked like a real pro. More importantly, it was hugely entertaining to watch, and it relaxed the President at a moment when he needed the relaxation.

Finally — only five minutes late, and that was a miracle, Fowler thought with a suppressed grin — the various heads of state rose from their chairs, summoned like the members of a wedding party by the nervous mother-in-law-to-be, and told where to stand in line. More perfunctory handshakes were exchanged, along with a few jokes that suffered from the absence of translators. The Saudi King looked cross at the delays. As well he might, Fowler thought. The King probably had other things on his mind. Already there were death threats directed at him. But there was no fear on the man's face, Bob Fowler saw. He might be a humorless man, but he had the bearing and courage — and the class, the President admitted to himself — that went with his title. It had been he who'd first committed to the talks after two hours with Ryan. That was too bad, wasn't it? Ryan had filled in for Charlie Alden, taking his assignment to himself at that. He'd allowed himsell to forget just how frantic the initial maneuvers had been. Scott Adler in Moscow, Rome, and Jerusalem, and Jack Ryan in Rome and Riyadh. They'd done very well, and neither would ever get much credit. Such were the rules of history, President Fowler concluded. If they'd wanted credit, they ought to have tried for his job.

Two liveried Swiss Guards opened the immense bronze doors, revealing the corpulent form of Giovanni Cardinal D'Antonio. The sun-bright TV lights surrounded him with a man-made halo that nearly elicited a laugh from the President of the United States of America. The procession into the room began.

Whoever had built this thing, Ghosn thought, knew a thing or two about designing for brute force. It was odd, he thought. Israeli equipment always had a delicacy to it — no, wrong term. The Israelis were clever, efficient, elegant engineers. They made things as strong as they had to be, no more, no less. Even their ad-hoc gear showed foresight and meticulous workmanship. But this one… this one was over-engineered to a fare-thee-well. It had been hurriedly designed and assembled. It was almost crude, in fact. He was grateful for that. It made disassembly easier. No one had thought to include a self-destruct device that he'd have to figure out first — the Zionists were getting devilishly clever at that! One such sub-system had nearly killed Ghosn only five months earlier, but there was none here. The bolts holding the cylinder in place were jammed, but still straight, and that meant it was just a matter of having a big enough wrench. He squirted penetrating oil onto each, and after waiting for fifteen minutes and two cigarettes, he attached the wrench to the first. The initial turns came hard, but soon the bolt allowed itself to be withdrawn. Five more to go.

It would be a long afternoon. The speeches came first. The Pope began, since he was the host, and his rhetoric was surprisingly muted, drawing quiet lessons from Scripture, again focusing on the similarities among the three religions present. Earphones gave each of the chiefs of state and religious figures simultaneous translations, which were quite unnecessary, as each of them had a written copy of the various speeches, and the men around the table struggled not to yawn, for speeches were only speeches, after all, and politicians have trouble listening to the words of others, even other chiefs of state. Fowler had the most trouble. He'd be going last. He surreptitiously checked his watch, keeping his face blank as he pondered the ninety minutes left to go.

It took another forty minutes, but finally all the bolts came out. Big, heavy, non-corrosive ones. This thing had been built to last, Ghosn thought, but that merely worked to his benefit. Now, to get the cylinder out. He took another careful look for possible anti-tamper devices — caution was the only defense in a job like his — and felt around the inside of the pod. The only thing connected was the radar transceiver, though there were three other plug connections, they were all vacant. In his fatigue, it did not strike Ghosn as odd that all three were facing him, easily accessible. The cylinder was jammed in place by the telescoped framing, but with the bolts removed, it was just a matter of applying enough force to drag it clear.

Andrey Il'ych Narmonov spoke briefly. His statement, Fowler thought, was simple and most dignified, showing remarkable modesty that was sure to elicit comment from the commentators.

Ghosn set an additional block and tackle on the A-frame. The cylinder, conveniently enough, had a hoist eye built into it. Thankfully the Israelis didn't like to waste energy any more than he did. The remainder of the pod was less heavy than he expected, but in a minute he had the cylinder hoisted to the point at which its friction in its nesting frame was lifting the whole pod. That couldn't last. Ghosn sprayed more penetrating oil on the internal frame, and waited for gravity to assert itself… but after a minute his patience wore thin, and he found a gap large enough for a prybar and started levering the frame away from the cylinder walls one fraction of a millimeter at a time. Inside of four minutes, there was a brief shriek of protesting metal, and the pod fell free. Then it was just a matter of pulling on the chain and hoisting the cylinder free.

The cylinder was painted green, and had its own access hatch, which was not entirely surprising. Ghosn identified the type of wrench he needed and began work on the four bolts holding it in place. These bolts were tight, but yielded quickly to his pressure. Ghosn was going faster now, and the excitement that always came near the end of the job took hold, despite the good sense that told him to relax.

Finally, it was Fowler's turn.

The President of the United States walked to the lectern, a brown-leather folder in his hands. His shirt was starched stiff as plywood, and it was already chafing his neck, but he didn't care. This was the moment for which he had prepared his entire life. He looked straight into the camera, his face set in an expression serious but not grave, elated but not yet joyous, proud but not arrogant. He nodded to his peers.

“Holy Father, Your Majesty, Mr. President,” Fowler began, "Messrs Prime Minister, and to all the people of our troubled but hopeful world:

“We have met in this ancient city, a city that has known war and peace for three thousand years and more, a city from which sprang one of the world's great civilizations, and is today home to a religious faith greater still. We have all come from afar, from deserts and from mountains, from sweeping European plains and from yet another city by a wide river, but unlike many foreigners who have visited this ancient city, we have all come in peace. We come with a single purpose — to bring an end to war and suffering, to bring the blessings of peace to one more troubled part of a world now emerging from a history bathed in blood but lit by the ideals that set us apart from the animals as a creation in the image of God.” He looked down only to turn pages. Fowler knew how to give a speech. He'd had lots of practice over the previous thirty years, and he delivered this one as confidently as he'd addressed a hundred juries, measuring his words and his cadences, adding emotional content that belied his Ice Man image, using his voice like a musical instrument, something physical that was subordinate to and part of his intense personal will.

"This city, this Vatican state, is consecrated to the service of God and man, and today it has fulfilled that purpose better than at any time. For today, my fellow citizens of the world, today we have achieved another part of the dream that all men and women share wherever they may live. With the help of your prayers, through a vision given us so many centuries ago, we have come to see that peace is a better thing than war, a goal worthy of efforts even more mighty, demanding courage far greater than is required for the shedding of human blood. To turn away from war, to turn towards peace, is the measure of our strength.

"Today it is my honor, and a privilege that all of us share, to announce to the world a treaty to put a final end to the discord that has sadly defiled an area holy to us all. With this agreement, there will be a final solution based on justice, and faith, and the word of the God Whom we all know by different names, but Who knows each of us.

“This treaty recognizes the rights of all men and women in the region to security, and freedom of religion, to freedom of speech, to the basic dignity enshrined in the knowledge that all of us are God's creation, that each of us is unique, but that we are all equal in His sight… ”

The final hatch came open. Ghosn closed his eyes and whispered a fatigued prayer of thanks. He'd been at this for hours, skipping his noon meal. He set the hatch down, placing the bolts on the concave surface so that they wouldn't be lost. Ever the engineer, Ghosn was neat and tidy in everything he did. Inside the hatch was a plastic seal, still tight, he noted with admiration. That was a moisture and weather seal. And that definitely made it a sophisticated electronic device. Ghosn touched it gently. It wasn't pressurized. He used a small knife to cut the plastic, and peeled it carefully aside. He looked for the first time into the cylinder, and it was as though a hand of ice suddenly gripped his heart. He was looking at a distorted sphere of yellow-gray… like dirty bread dough.

It was a bomb.

At least a self-destruct device. A very powerful one, fifty kilos of high-explosive…

Ghosn backed off; a sudden urge to urinate gripped his loins. The engineer fumbled for a smoke and lit it on the third attempt. How had he missed… what? What had he missed? Nothing. He'd been as careful as he always was. The Israelis hadn't killed him yet. Their design engineers were clever, but so was he.

Patience, he told himself. He commenced a new examination of the cylinder's exterior. There was the wire, still attached, from the radar device, and three additional plug points, all of them empty.

What do I know of this thing!

Radar transceiver, heavy case, access hatch… explosive sphere wired with…

Ghosn leaned forward again to examine the object. At regular and symmetrical intervals in the sphere were detonators… the wires from them were…

It isn't possible. No. It cannot be that!

Ghosn removed the detonators one by one, detaching the wires from each, and setting them down on a blanket, slowly and carefully, for detonators were the most twitchy things man made. The high explosive, on the other hand, was so safe to use that you could pinch off a piece and set it on fire to boil water. He used the knife to pry loose the surprisingly hard blocks.

"There is an ancient legend of Pandora, a woman of mythology given a box. Though told not to open it, she foolishly did so, admitting strife and war and death into our world. Pandora despaired at her deeds until she found, remaining alone in the bottom of the nearly empty box, the spirit of hope. We have seen all too much of war and strife, but now we have finally made use of hope. It has been a long road, a bloody road, a road marked with despair, but it has always been an upward road, because hope is humanity's collective vision of what can, should, and must be, and hope has led us to this point.

"That ancient legend may have its origin in paganism, but its truth is manifest today. On this day we put war and strife and unnecessary death back into the box. We close the box on conflict, leaving in our possession hope, Pandora's last and most important gift to all humanity. This day is the fulfillment of the dream of all mankind.

"On this day, we have accepted from the hands of God the gift of peace.

“Thank you.” The President smiled warmly at the cameras and made his way to his chair amid the more-than-polite applause of his peers. It was time to sign the treaty. The moment was here, and after being the last speaker, Fowler would be the first to sign. The moment came quickly, and J. Robert Fowler became a man of history.

He was not going slowly now. He pulled the blocks away, knowing as he did so that he was being reckless and wasteful, but now he knew — thought he knew — what he had in his hands.

And there it was, a ball of metal, a shining nickel-plated sphere, not corroded or damaged by its years in the Druse's garden, protected by the plastic seal of the Israeli engineers. It was not a large object, not much larger than a ball that a child might play with. Ghosn knew what he would do next. He reached his hand all the way into the sundered mass of explosives, extending his fingers to the gleaming nickel surface.

Ghosn's fingertips brushed the ball of metal. It was warm to the touch.

“Allahu akhbar!”


“This is interesting.”

“It's a rather unique opportunity,” Ryan agreed.

“How reliable — how trustworthy?” Cabot asked.

Ryan smiled at his boss. “Sir, that's always the question. You have to remember how the game works. You're never sure of anything — that is, what certainty you have generally takes years to acquire. This game only has a few rules, and nobody ever knows what the score is. In any case, this is a lot more than a defection.” His name was Oleg Yurievich Lyalin — Cabot didn't know that yet — and he was a KGB “Illegal” who operated without the shield of diplomatic immunity and whose cover was that of a representative of a Soviet industrial concern. Lyalin ran a string of agents with the code-name of THISTLE, and he was running it in Japan. “This guy is a real field-spook. He's got a better net going than the KGB Rezident in Tokyo, and his best source is right in the Japanese cabinet.”


“And he's offering us the use of his network.”

“Is this as important as I'm starting to think it is…?” The DCI asked his deputy.

“Boss, we rarely get a chance like this. We've never really run ops in Japan. We lack a sufficient number of Japanese-speaking people — even here on the inside to translate their documents — and our priorities have always been elsewhere. So just establishing the necessary infrastructure to conduct ops there would take years. But the Russians have been working in Japan since before the Bolsheviks took over. The reason is historical: the Japanese and the Russkies have fought wars for a long time, and they've always regarded Japan as a strategic rival — as a result of which they placed great emphasis on operations there even before Japanese technology became so important to them. What he is doing is essentially giving us the Russian business at a bargain price, the inventory, the accounts receivables, the physical plant, everything. It doesn't get much better than this.”

“But what he's asking…”

“The money? So what? That's not a thousandth of a percent of what it's worth to our country,” Jack pointed out.

“It's a million dollars a month!” Cabot protested. Tax free! the Director of Central Intelligence did not add.

Ryan managed not to laugh. “So, the bastard's greedy, okay? Our trade deficit with Japan is how much at last count?” Jack inquired with a raised eyebrow. “He's offering us whatever we want for as long as we want it. All we have to do is arrange to pick him up and fly him and his family over whenever it becomes necessary. He doesn't want to retire to Moscow. He's forty-five, and that's the age when they get antsy. He has to rotate home in ten years — to what? He's lived in Japan almost continuously for thirteen years. He likes affluence. He likes cars, and VCRs, and not standing in line for potatoes. He likes us. About the only people he doesn't like is the Japanese — he doesn't like them at all. He figures he's not even betraying his country, 'cause he's not giving us anything he isn't feeding them, and part of the deal is that he does nothing against Mother Russia. Fine, I can live with that.” Ryan chuckled for a moment. “It's capitalism. The man is starting an elite news service, and it's information we can really use.”

“He's charging enough.”

“Sir, it's worth it. The information he can give us will be worth billions in our trade negotiations, and billions in federal taxes as a result. Director, I used to be in the investment business, that's how I made my money. Investment opportunities like this come along about once every ten years. The Directorate of Operations wants to run with it. I agree. We'd have to be crazy to say no to this guy. His introductory package — well, you've had a chance to read it, right?”

The introductory package was the minutes of the last Japanese cabinet meeting, every word, grunt, and hiss. It was highly valuable for psychological analysis if nothing else. The nature of the exchange in the cabinet meetings could tell American analysts all sorts of things about how their government thought and reached decisions. That was data often inferred, but never confirmed.

“It was most enlightening, especially what they said about the President. I didn't forward that. No sense getting him annoyed at a time like this. Okay — the operation is approved, Jack. How do we run things like this?”

“The code name we've selected is M USHASHI. That's the name of a famous samurai dueling master, by the way. The operation will be called NIITAKA. We'll use Japanese names for the obvious reason”— Jack decided to explain; though Cabot was bright, he was new to the intelligence trade—“in the event of compromise or a leak from our side, we want it to appear that our source is Japanese, not Russian. Those names stay in this building. For outsiders who get let into this, we use a different code name. That one will be computer-generated, and it'll change on a monthly basis.”

“And the real name of the agent?”

“Director, it's your choice. You have the right to know it. I deliberately have not told you to this point because I wanted you to see the whole picture first. Historically it's evenly split, some directors want to know, and about the same number do not. It's a principle of intelligence operations that the fewer the number of people who know things, the less likely that there will be any sort of leak. Admiral Greer used to say the First Law of Intelligence Operations is that the likelihood of an operation's being burned was proportional to the square of the people in on the details. Your call, sir.”

Cabot nodded thoughtfully. He decided to temporize. “You liked Greer, didn't you?”

“Like a father, sir. After I lost Dad in the plane crash, well, the Admiral sort of adopted me.” More like I adopted him, Ryan thought. “On M USHASHI, you'll probably want to think it through.”

“And if the White House asks to know the details?” Cabot asked next.

“Director, despite what M USHASHI thinks, his employers will regard what he is doing as high treason, and that's a capital crime over there. Narmonov is a good guy and all that, but the Soviets have executed forty people that we know of for espionage. That included T OP H AT, J OURNEYMAN, and a guy named Tolkachev, all of whom were highly productive agents for us. We tried to do a trade in all three cases, but they were popped before negotiations had a chance to get underway. The appeals process in the Soviet Union is still somewhat abbreviated,” Ryan explained. “The simple fact, sir, is that if this guy gets burned, he will probably be shot right in the head. That's why we take agent-identity so seriously. If we screw up, people die, glasnost notwithstanding. Most presidents understand that. One more thing.”


“He's told us something else. He wants all his reports to be handled physically, not by cable. If we don't agree, he doesn't do business. Okay, technically that's no problem. We've done that before with agents of this caliber. The nature of his information is such that immediacy is not required. There's daily air service to and from Japan via United, Northwest, and even All Nippon Airways straight into Dulles International Airport.”

“But…” Cabot's face twisted into a grimace.

“Yeah.” Jack nodded. “He doesn't trust our communications security. That scares me.”

“You don't think…?”

“I don't know. We've had very limited success penetrating Soviet ciphers for the past few years. NSA assumes that they have the same problems with ours. Such assumptions are dangerous. We've had indications before that our signals are not fully secure, but this one comes from a very senior guy. I think we have to take this seriously.”

“Just how scary could this be?”

“Terrifying,” Jack answered flatly. “Director, for obvious reasons we have numerous communications systems. We have M ERCURY right downstairs to handle all of our stuff. The rest of the government mainly uses stuff from NSA; Walker and Pelton compromised their systems a long time ago. Now, General Olson over at Fort Meade says they've fixed all that, but for expense reasons they have not fully adopted the TAPDANCE one-time systems that they've been playing with. We can warn NSA again — I think they'll ignore this warning also, but we have to do it — and on our end, I think it's time to act. For starters, sir, we need to think about a reexamination of M ERCURY.” That was the CIA's own communications nexus, located a few floors below the Director's office, and using its own encrypting systems.

“Expensive,” Cabot noted seriously. “With our budget problems…”

“Not half as expensive as a systematic compromise of our message traffic is. Director, there is nothing as vital as secure communications links. Without that, it doesn't matter what else we have. Now, we've developed our own one-time system. All we need is authorization of funds to make it go.”

“Tell me about it. I haven't been briefed in.”

“Essentially, it's our own version of the TAPDANCE. It's a one-time pad with transpositions stored on laser-disk CD ROM. The transpositions are generated from atmospheric radio noise, then superencrypted with noise from later in the day — atmospheric noise is pretty random, and by using two separate sets of the noise, and using a computer-generated random algorithm to mix the two, well, the mathematicians say that's as random as it gets. The transpositions are generated by computer and fed onto laser disks in realtime. We use a different disk for every day of the year. Each disk is unique, two copies only, one to the station, one in M ERCURY — no backups. The laser-disk reader we use at both ends looks normal, but has a beefed-up laser, and as it reads the transposition codes from the disk, it also burns them right off the plastic. When the disk is used up, or the day ends — and the day will end first, since we're talking billions of characters per disk — the disk is destroyed by baking it in a microwave oven. That takes two minutes. It ought to be secure as hell. It can only be compromised at three stages: first, when the disks are manufactured; second, from disk-storage here; third, from disk-storage in each station. Compromise of one station does not compromise anyone else. We can't make the disks tamperproof — we've tried, and it would both cost too much and make them overly vulnerable to accidental damage. The downside of this is that it'll require us to hire and clear about twenty new communications technicians. The system is relatively cumbersome to use, hence the increased number of communicators. The main expense component is here. The field troops we've talked to actually prefer the new system because it's user-friendly.”

“How much to set it up?”

“Fifty million dollars. We have to increase the size of M ERCURY, and set up the manufacturing facility. We have the space, but the machinery is expensive. From the time we get the money, we could have it up and running in maybe as little as three months.”

“I see your point. It's probably worth doing, but getting the money…?”

“With your permission, sir, I could talk to Mr. Trent about it.”

“Hmmm.” Cabot stared down at his desk. “Okay, feel him out very gently. I'll bring this up with the President when he gets back. I'll trust you on M USHASHI. You and who else know his real name?”

“The DO, Chief of Station Tokyo, and his case officer.” The Director of Operations was Harry Wren, and if he were not quite Cabot's man, he was the man Cabot had picked for the job. Wren was on his way to Europe at the moment. A year ago Jack had thought the choice a mistake, but Wren was doing well. He'd also picked a superb deputy, actually a pair of them: the famous Ed and Mary Pat Foley, one of whom — Ryan could never decide which — would have been his choice for DO. Ed was the organization man, and Mary Pat was the cowboy side of the best husband-wife team the Agency had ever fielded. Making Mary Pat a senior executive would have been a worldwide first, and probably worth a few votes in Congress. She was pregnant again with her third, but that wasn't expected to slow Supergirl down. The Agency had its own day-care center, complete to cipher locks on the doors, a heavily-armed response team of security officers, and the best play equipment Jack had ever seen.

“Sounds good, Jack. I'm sorry I faxed the President as soon as I did. I ought to have waited.”

“No problem, sir. The information was thoroughly laundered.”

“Let me know what Trent thinks about the funding.”

“Yes, sir.” Jack left for his office. He was getting good at this, the DDCI told himself. Cabot wasn't all that hard to manage.

Ghosn took his time to think. This was not a time for excitement, not a time for precipitous action. He sat down in the corner of his shop and chain-smoked his cigarettes for several hours, all the time staring at the gleaming metal ball that lay on the dirt floor. How radioactive is it! one part of his brain wondered almost continuously, but it was a little late for that. If that heavy sphere were giving off hard gammas, he was already dead, another part of his brain had already decided. This was a time to think and evaluate. It required a supreme act of will for him to sit still, but he managed it.

For the first time in many years he was ashamed of his education. He had expertise both in electrical and mechanical engineering, but he'd hardly bothered cracking a book about their nuclear equivalent. What possible use could such a thing have for him! he asked himself on the rare occasions that he'd considered acquiring knowledge in that area. Obviously none. As a result of that, he'd limited himself to broadening and deepening his knowledge in areas of direct interest: mechanical and electronic fusing systems, electronic counter-measure gear, the physical characteristics of explosives, the capabilities of explosive-sensing systems. He was a real expert on this last category of study. He read everything he could find on the instrumentation used in detecting explosives at airports and other areas of interest.

Number One, Ghosn told himself on lighting cigarette number fifty-four of the day, every book I can find on nuclear materials, their physical and chemical properties: bomb technology, bomb physics: radiological signatures… the Israelis must know the bomb is missing — since 1973! he thought in amazement. Then why…? Of course. The Golan Heights are volcanic in origin. The underlying rock and the soil in which those poor farmers tried to raise their vegetables were largely basaltic, and basalt had a relatively high background-radiation count… the bomb was buried two or three meters in rocky soil, and whatever emissions it gave off were lost in background count…

I'm safe! Ghosn realized.

Of course! If the weapon were that “hot”, it would have been better shielded! Praise be to Allah for that!

Can I… can I? That was the question, wasn't it?

Why not?

“Why not?” Ghosn said aloud. “Why not. I have all the necessary pieces, damaged, but.. ”

Ghosn stubbed the cigarette out in the dirt next to all the others and rose. His body was racked by coughing — he knew that cigarettes were killing him… more dangerous than that… but they were good for thinking.

The engineer lifted the sphere. What to do with it? For the moment, he set it in the corner and covered it with a tool box. Then he walked out of the building towards his jeep. The drive to headquarters took fifteen minutes.

“I need to see the Commander,” Ghosn told the chief guard.

“He just retired for the evening,” the guard said. The entire detail was becoming protective of their commander.

“He'll see me.” Ghosn walked right past him and into the building.

Qati's quarters were on the second floor. Ghosn went up the steps, past another guard and pulled open the bedroom door. He heard retching from the adjoining bathroom.

“Who the devil is it?” a cross voice asked. “I told you that I didn't want to be disturbed!”

“It's Ghosn. We need to talk.”

“Can't it wait?” Qati appeared from the lighted doorway. His face was ashen. It came out as a question, not an order, and that told Ibrahim more than he'd ever known of his Commander's condition. Perhaps this would make him feel better.

“My friend, I need to show you something. I need to show it to you tonight.” Ghosn strained to keep his voice level and unexcited.

“Is it that important?” Almost a moan.


“Tell me about it.”

Ghosn just shook his head, tapping his ear as he did so. “It's something interesting. That Israeli bomb has some new fusing systems. It nearly killed me. We need to warn our colleagues about it.”

“Bomb? I thought—” Qati stopped himself. His face cleared for a moment and the Commander's expression formed a question. “Tonight, you say?”

“I'll drive you over myself.”

Qati's strength of character prevailed. “Very well. Let me get my clothes on.”

Ghosn waited downstairs. “The Commander and I have to go see about something.”

“Mohammed!” the chief guard called, but Ghosn cut him off.

I'll take the Commander myself. There is no security problem in my shop."


“But you worry like an old woman! If the Israelis were that clever, you'd already be dead, and the Commander with you!” It was too dark to see the expression on the guard's face, but Ghosn could feel the rage that radiated towards him from the man, an experienced front-line fighter.

“We'll see what the Commander says!”

“What's the problem now?” Qati emerged from the door, tucking his shirt in.

“I'll drive you myself, Commander. We don't need a security force for this.”

“As you say, Ibrahim.” Qati walked to the jeep and got in. Ghosn drove off past some astonished security guards.

“What exactly is this all about?”

“It's a bomb after all, not an electronics pod,” the engineer replied.

“So? We've retrieved scores of the cursed things! What is this all about?”

“It is easier to show you.” The engineer drove rapidly, watching the road. “If you think I have wasted your time — when we are done, feel free to end my life.”

Qati's head turned at that. The thought had already occurred to him, but he was too good a leader for that. Ghosn might not be the material of a fighter, but he was an expert at what he did. His service to the organization was as valuable as any man's. The Commander endured the rest of the ride in silence, wishing the medicines he was taking allowed him to eat — no, to retain what he ate.

Fifteen minutes later, Ghosn parked his jeep fifty meters from the shop, and led his Commander to the building by an indirect route. By this time Qati was thoroughly confused and more than a little angry. When the lights went on, he saw the bombcase.

“So, what about it?”

“Come here.” Ghosn led him to the corner. The engineer bent down and lifted the tool box. “Behold!”

“What is it?” It looked like a small cannonball, a sphere of metal. Ghosn was enjoying this. Qati was angry, but that would soon change.

“It's plutonium.”

The commander's head snapped around as though driven by a steel spring. “What? What do—”

Ghosn held up his hand. He spoke softly, but positively. “What I am sure of, Commander, is that this is the explosive portion of an atomic bomb. An Israeli atomic bomb.”

“Impossible!” the Commander whispered.

“Touch it,” Ghosn suggested.

The Commander bent down and touched a finger to it. “It's warm, why?”

“From the decay of alpha particles. A form of radiation that is not harmful — here it is not, in any case. That is plutonium, the explosive element of an atomic bomb. It can be nothing else.”

“You're sure?”

“Positive, absolutely positive. It can only be what I say it is.” Ghosn walked over to the bombcase. “These”—he held up some tiny electronic parts—“they look like glass spiders, no? They are called kryton switches, they perform their function with total precision, and that kind of precision is necessary for only one application found inside a bombcase. These explosive blocks, the intact ones, note that some are hexagons, some are pentagons? That is necessary to make a perfect explosive sphere. A shaped charge, like that for an RPG, but the focus is inward. These explosive blocks are designed to crush that sphere to the size of a walnut.”

“But it's metal! What you say is not possible.”

"Commander, I do not know as much as I should of these matters, but I do know a little. When the explosives go off, they compress that metal sphere as though it were made of rubber. It is possible — you know what an RPG does to the metal on a tank, no? There is enough explosive here for a hundred RPG projectiles. They will crush the metal as I say. When it is compressed, the proximity of the atoms begins a nuclear chain-reaction. Think, Commander:

“The bomb fell into the old man's garden on the first day of the October War. The Israelis were frightened by the force of the Syrian attack, and they were immensely surprised by the effectiveness of the Russian rockets. The aircraft was shot down, and the bomb was lost. The exact circumstances don't matter. What matters, Ismael, is that we have the parts of a nuclear bomb.” Ghosn pulled out another cigarette and lit it.

“Can you…”

“Possibly,” the engineer said. Qati's face was suddenly cleared of the pain he'd known for over a month.

“Truly Allah is beneficent.”

“Truly He is. Commander, we need to think about this, very carefully, very thoroughly. And security…”

Qati nodded. “Oh, yes. You did well to bring me here alone. For this matter we can trust no one… no one at all… ” Qati let his voice trail off, then turned to his man. “What do you need to do?”

“My first need is for information — books, Commander. And do you know where I must go to get them?”

“ Russia?”

Ghosn shook his head. “ Israel, Commander. Where else?”

Representative Alan Trent met with Ryan in a House hearing room. It was the one used for closed-door hearings, and was swept daily for bugs.

“How's life treating you, Jack?” the congressman asked.

“No special complaints, Al. The President had a good day.”

“Indeed he did — the whole world did. The country owes you a debt of thanks, Dr. Ryan.”

Jack's smile dripped with irony. “Let's not allow anybody to learn that, okay?”

Trent shrugged. “Rules of the game. You should be used to it by now. So. What brings you down on such short notice?”

“We have a new operation going. It's called NIITAKA.” The DDCI explained on for several minutes. At a later date he would have to hand over some documentation. All that was required now was notification of the operation and its purpose.

“A million dollars a month. That's all he wants?” Trent laughed aloud.

“The Director was appalled,” Jack reported.

“I've always liked Marcus, but he's a tightfisted son of a bitch. We've got two certified Japan-bashers on the oversight committee, Jack. It's going to be hard to rein them in with this stuff.”

“Three, counting you, Al.”

Trent looked very hurt. “Me, a Japan-basher? Just because there used to be two TV factories in my district, and a major auto-parts supplier has laid off half its people? Why the hell should I be the least bit angry about that? Let me see the cabinet minutes,” the congressman commanded.

Ryan opened his case. “You can't copy them, you can't quote from them. Look, Al, this is a long-term op and—”

“Jack, I didn't just get into town from the chicken ranch, did I? You've turned into a humorless SOB. What's the problem?”

“Long hours,” Jack explained, as he handed the papers over. Al Trent was a speed reader, and flicked through the pages with indecent speed. His face went into neutral, and he turned back into what he was before all things, a cold, calculating politician. He was well to the left side of the spectrum, but, unlike most of his ilk, Trent let his ideology stop at the water's edge. He also saved his passion for the House floor and his bed at home. Elsewhere he was icily analytical.

“Fowler will go ballistic when he sees this. They are the most arrogant people. You've sat in on cabinet meetings. Ever hear stuff like this?” Trent asked.

“Only on political matters. I was surprised by the tone of the language, too, but it might just be a cultural thing, remember.”

The congressman looked up briefly. “True. Beneath the patina of good manners, they can be wild and crazy folks, kind of like the Brits, but this is like Animal House… Christ, Jack, this is explosive. Who recruited him?”

“The usual mating dance. He shows up at various receptions, and Chief of Station Tokyo caught a whiff, let it simmer for a few weeks, then made his move. The Russian handed over the packet and his contractual demands.”

“Why Operation NIITAKA, by the way? I've heard that before somewhere, haven't I?”

“I picked it myself. When the Japanese strike force was heading for Pearl Harbor, the mission-execute signal was ”Climb Mount Niitaka.“ Remember, you're the only guy here who knows that word. We're going onto a monthly-change identification cycle on this. This is hot enough that we're giving him the whole treatment.”

“Right,” Trent agreed. “What if this guy's an agent provocateur?”

“We've wondered about that. It's possible, but unlikely. For KGB to do that — well, it kinda breaks the rules as they are understood now, doesn't it?”

“Wait!” Trent read over the last page again. “What the hell's this about communications?”

“What it is, is scary.” Ryan explained what he wanted to do.

“Fifty million? You sure?”

That's the one-time start-up costs. Then there's the new communicators. Total annual costs after start-up are about fifteen million."

“Pretty reasonable, actually.” Trent shook his head. “NSA is quoting a much higher price to switch over to their system.”

They have a bigger infrastructure to worry about. That number I gave you ought to be solid. M ERCURY is pretty small."

“How soon do you want it?” Trent knew that Ryan quoted hard budget numbers. It came from his business experience, Al knew, which was pretty thin in government service.

“Last week would be nice, sir.”

Trent nodded. “I'll see what I can do. You want it 'black,' of course?”

“Like a cloudy midnight,” Ryan answered.

“God damn it!” Trent swore. “I've told Olson about this. His technical weenies do their rain dance and he buys it every time. What if—”

“Yeah, what if all our communications are compromised.” Jack did not make it a question. “Thank God for glasnost, eh?”

“Does Marcus understand the implications?”

“I explained it to him this morning. He understands. Al, Cabot may not have all the experience you or I would like, but he's a fast learner. I've had worse bosses.”

“You're too loyal. Must be a lingering symptom of your time in the Marines,” Trent observed. “You'd be a good director.”

“Never happen.”

“True. Now that Liz Elliot is National Security Advisor, you'll have to cover your ass. You know that.”


“What in hell did you do to piss her off? Not that it's all that hard to do.”

“It was back right after the convention,” Ryan explained. “I was up in Chicago to brief Fowler. She caught me tired from a couple of long trips and she yanked my chain pretty hard. I yanked back.”

“Learn to be nice to her,” Trent suggested.

“Admiral Greer said that.”

Trent handed the papers back to Ryan. “It is difficult, isn't it?”

“Sure is.”

“Learn anyway. Best advice I can give you.” Probably a total waste of time, of course.

“Yes, sir.”

“Good timing on the request, by the way. The rest of the committee will be impressed as hell with the new operation. The Japan-bashers will put the word out to their friends on Appropriations that the Agency is really doing something useful. We'll have the money to you in two weeks if we're lucky. What the hell, fifty million bucks — chicken feed. Thanks for coming down.”

Ryan locked his case and stood. “Always a pleasure.”

Trent shook his hand. “You're a good man, Ryan. What a damned shame you're straight.”

Jack laughed. “We all have our handicaps, Al.”

Ryan returned to Langley to put the NIITAKA documents back in secure storage, and that ended his work for the day. He and Clark took the elevator down to the garage, and left the building an hour early, something they did every two weeks or so. Forty minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot of a 7-Eleven between Washington and Annapolis.

“Hello, Doc Ryan!” Carol Zimmer said from behind the register. One of her sons relieved her there, and she led Jack into the back room. John Clark checked out the store. He wasn't worried about Ryan's security, but he had some lingering worries about the way some local toughs felt about the Zimmer enterprise. He and Chavez had taken care of that one gang leader, having done so in front of three of his minions, one of whom had tried to interfere. Chavez had shown mercy to that lad, who hadn't required an overnight stay at the local hospital. That, Clark judged, was a sign of Ding's growing maturity.

“How is business?” Jack asked in the back room.

“We up twenty-six 'rcent from this time las' year.”

Carol Zimmer had been born in Laos less than forty years before, rescued from a hilltop fortress by an Air Force special-operations helicopter just as the North Vietnamese Army had overrun that last outpost of American power in Northern Laos. She'd been sixteen at the time, the last living child of a Hmong chieftain who'd served American interests and his own — he'd been a willing agent — courageously and well, and to the death. She'd married Air Force sergeant Buck Zimmer, who'd died in yet another helicopter after yet another betrayal, and then Ryan had stepped in. He hadn't lost his business sense despite his years of government service. He'd selected a good site for the store, and as fate had it, they hadn't needed his educational trust fund for the first of the kids now in college. With a kind word from Ryan to Father Tim Riley, the lad had a full scholarship at Georgetown and was already dean's-listed in pre-med. Like most Asians, Carol had a reverence for learning that bordered on religious fanaticism, and which she passed on to all of her kids. She also ran her store with the mechanistic precision a Prussian sergeant expected of an infantry squad. Cathy Ryan could have performed a surgical procedure on the register counter. It was that clean. Jack smiled at the thought. Maybe Laurence Alvin Zimmer, Jr., would do just that.

Ryan looked over the books. His CPA certificate had lapsed, but he could still read a balance sheet.

“You eat dinnah with us?”

“Carol, I can't. I have to get home. My son has a Little League game tonight. Everything's okay? No problems — not even those punks?”

“They not come back. Mistah Clark scare them away fo' good!”

“If they ever come back, I want you to call me right away,” Jack said seriously.

“Okay, okay. I learn lesson,” she promised him.

“Fine. You take care.” Ryan stood.

“Doc Ryan?”


“Air Force say Buck die in accident. I never ask anybody, but I ask you: Accident, no accident?”

“Carol, Buck lost his life doing his job, saving lives. I was there. So was Mr. Clark.”

“The ones make Buck die…?”

“You have nothing to fear from them,” Ryan said evenly. “Nothing at all.” Jack saw the recognition in her eyes. Though Carol had modest language skills, she'd caught what he'd meant by his answer.

“Thank you, Doc Ryan. I never ask again, but I must know.”

“It's okay.” He was surprised she'd waited so long.

The bulkhead-mounted speaker rattled. “ Conn, sonar. I have a routine noise level bearing zero-four-seven, designate contact Sierra-5. No further information at this time. Will advise.”

“Very well.” Captain Ricks turned to the plotting table. “Tracking party, begin your TMA.” The Captain looked around the room. Instruments showed a speed of seven knots, a depth of four hundred feet, and a course of three-zero-three. The contact was broad on his starboard beam.

The ensign commanding the tracking party immediately consulted the Hewlett-Packard mini-computer located in the starboard-after corner of the attack center. “Okay,” he announced, “I have a trace angle… little shaky… computing now.” That took the machine all of two seconds. “Okay, I have a range gate… it's a convergence zone, range between three-five and four-five thousand yards if he's in CZ-1, five-five and six-one thousand yards for CZ-2.”

“It's almost too easy,” the XO observed to the skipper.

“You're right, X, disable the computer,” Ricks ordered.

Lieutenant Commander Wally Claggett, Executive Officer, “Gold,” USS Maine walked back to the machine and switched it off. “We have a casualty to the HP computer… looks like it'll take hours to fix,” he announced. “Pity.”

“Thanks a lot,” Ensign Ken Shaw observed quietly to the quartermaster hunched next to him at the chart table.

“Be cool, Mr. Shaw,” the petty officer whispered back. “We'll take care o'ya. Don't need that thing now anyway, sir.”

“Let's keep it quiet in the attack center!” Captain Ricks observed.

The submarine's course took her northwest. The sonar operators fed information to the attack center as she did so. Ten minutes later, the tracking party made its decision.

“Captain,” Ensign Shaw announced. “Estimate contact Sierra-5 is in the first CZ, range looks like three-nine thousand yards, course is generally southerly, speed between eight and ten knots.”

“You can do better than that!” the CO announced sharply.

“ Conn, sonar, Sierra-5 looks like Akula-class Soviet fast-attack, preliminary target ident is Akula number six, the Admiral Lunin. Stand by”—a moment's silence—“possible aspect change on Sierra-5, possible turn. Conn, we have a definite aspect change. Sierra-5 is now beam-on, definite beam-aspect on target.”

“Captain,” the XO said, “that maximizes the effectiveness of his towed array.”

“Right. Sonar, conn. I want a self-noise check.”

“Sonar aye, stand by, sir.” Another few seconds. “ Conn, we're making some sort of noise… not sure what, rattle, like, maybe something in the aft ballast tanks. Didn't show before, sir. Definitely aft… definitely metallic.”

“Conn, maneuvering room, we got something screwy back here. I can hear something from aft, maybe in the ballast tanks.”

“Captain,” Shaw said next. “Sierra-5 is now on a reciprocal heading. Target course is now southeasterly, roughly one-three-zero.”

“Maybe he can hear us,” Ricks growled. “I'm taking us up through the layer. Make your depth one hundred feet.”

“One hundred feet, aye,” the diving officer responded immediately. “Helm, five degrees up on the fairwater planes.”

“Five degrees up on the fairwater planes, aye. Sir, the fairwater planes are up five degrees, coming to one hundred feet.”

“ Conn, maneuvering, the rattle has stopped. It stopped when we took the slight up-angle.”

The XO grunted next to the captain. “What the hell does that mean…?”

“It probably means that some dumbass dockyard worker left his toolbox in the ballast tank. That happened to a friend of mine once.” Ricks was truly angry now, but if you had to have such incidents, here was the place for them. “When we get above the layer, I want to go north and clear datum.”

“Sir, I'd wait. We know where the CZ is. Let him slide out of it, then we can maneuver clear while he can't hear us. Let him think he's got us scoped before we start playing tricks. He probably thinks we don't have him. By maneuvering radically, we're tipping our hand.”

Ricks considered that. “No, we've cancelled the noise aft, we've probably dropped off his scopes already, and when we get above the layer, we can get lost in the surface noise and maneuver clear. His sonar isn't all that good. He doesn't even know what we are yet. He's just sniffing for something. This way we can put more distance between us.”

“Aye aye,” the XO responded neutrally.

Maine leveled off at one hundred feet, well above the thermocline layer, the boundary between relatively warm surface water and the cold deep water. It changed acoustical conditions drastically and, Ricks judged, should eliminate any chance that the Akula had him.

“ Conn, sonar, contact lost in Sierra-5.”

“Very well. I have the conn,” Ricks announced.

“Captain has the conn,” the officer of the deck acknowledged.

“Left ten degrees rudder, come to new course three-five-zero.”

“Left ten degrees rudder, aye, coming to new course three-five-zero. Sir, my rudder is left ten degrees.”

“Very well. Engine room, conn, make turns for ten knots.”

“Engine room, aye, turns for ten knots. Building up slowly.”

Maine steadied up on a northerly course and increased speed. It took several minutes for her towed-array sonar to straighten out and be useful again. During this time, the American submarine was somewhat blinded.

“ Conn, maneuvering, we got that noise again!” the speaker announced.

“Slow to five — all ahead one-third!”

“All ahead one-third, aye. Sir, engine room answers all ahead one-third.”

“Very well. Maneuvering, conn, what about that noise?”

“Still there, sir.”

“We'll give it a minute,” Ricks judged. “Sonar, conn, got anything on Sierra-5?”

“Negative, sir, holding no contacts at this time.”

Ricks sipped at his coffee and watched the clock on the bulkhead for three minutes. “Maneuvering, conn, what about the noise?”

“Has not changed, sir. It's still there.”

“Damn! X, bring her down a knot.” Claggett did as he was told. The skipper was losing it, he realized. Not good. Another ten minutes passed. The worrisome noise aft attenuated, but did not go away.

“ Conn, sonar! Contact bearing zero-one-five, just appeared real sudden, like, it's Sierra-5, sir. Definite Akula-class, Admiral Lunin. Evaluate as direct-path contact, bow-on aspect. Probably just came up through the layer, sir.”

“Does he have us?” Ricks asked.

“Probably yes, sir,” the sonarman reported.

“Stop!” another voice announced. Commodore Mancuso walked into the room. “Okay, we conclude the exercise at this point. Will the officers please come with me?”

Everyone let out a collective breath as the lights went up. The room was set in a large square building shaped not at all like a submarine, though its various other rooms duplicated most of the important parts of an Ohio-class boomer. Mancuso led the attack-center crew into a conference room and closed the door.

“Bad tactical move, Captain.” Bart Mancuso was not known for his diplomacy. “XO, what advice was that you gave to your skipper?” Claggett recited it word for word. “Captain, why did you reject that advice?”

“Sir, I estimated that our acoustical advantage was sufficient to allow me to do that in such a way as to maximize separation from the target.”

“Wally?” Mancuso turned to the skipper of the Red Team, Commander Wally Chambers, about to become the CO of USS Key West. Chambers had worked for Mancuso on Dallas, and had the makings of one hell of a fast-attack skipper. He had just proven that, in fact.

“It was too predictable, Captain. Moreover, by continuing course and changing depth course you presented the noise source to my towed array, and also gave me a hull-popping transient that ID'd you as a definite submarine contact. You would have been better off to turn bow-on, maintain depth, and slow down. All I had was a vague indication. If you'd slowed down, I would never have ID'd you. Since you didn't, I noted your hop on top the layer and sprinted in fast underneath as soon as I cleared the CZ. Captain, I didn't know I had you until you let me know, but you let me know, and you did let me get close. I floated my tail over the layer while I stayed right underneath it. There was a fairly good surface duct, and I had you at two-nine thousand yards. I could hear you, but you couldn't hear me. Then it was just a matter of continuing my sprint until I was close enough for a high-probability solution. I had you cold.”

The point of the exercise was to show you what happened when you lost your acoustical advantage.“ Mancuso let that sink in before going on. ”Okay, so it wasn't fair, was it? Who ever said life was fair?"

“Akula's a good boat, but how good is its sonar?”

“We assume it's as good as a second-flight 688.”

No way, Ricks thought to himself. “What other surprises can I expect?”

“Good question. The answer is that we don't know. And if you don't know, you assume they're as good as you are.”

No way, Ricks told himself.

Maybe even better, Mancuso didn't add.

“Okay,” the Commodore told the assembled attack-center crew. “Go over your own data and we do the wash-up in thirty minutes.”

Ricks watched Captain Mancuso exit the room sharing a chuckle with Chambers. Mancuso was a smart, effective sub-driver, but he was still a damned fast-attack jockey who didn't belong in command of a boomer squadron, because he simply didn't think the right way. Calling in his former shipmate from Atlantic Fleet, another fast-attack jockey — well, yeah, that's how it was done, but damn it! Ricks was sure he'd done the right thing.

It had been an unrealistic test. Ricks was sure of that. Hadn't Rosselli told the both of them that Maine was quiet as a black hole? Damn. This was his first chance to show the commodore what he could do, and he'd been faked out of making a favorable impression by an artificial and unfair test, and some goofs from his people — the ones Rosselli had been so damned proud of.

“Mr. Shaw, let's see your TMA records.”

“Here, sir.” Ensign Shaw, who'd graduated sub school at Groton less than two months before, was standing in the corner, the chart and his notes grasped tightly in his tense hands. Ricks snatched them away and spread them on a work table. The Captain's eyes scanned the pages.

“Sloppy. You could have done this at least a minute faster.”

“Yes, sir,” Shaw replied. He didn't know how he might have gone faster, but the Captain said so, and the Captain was always right.

“That could have made the difference,” Ricks told him, a muted but still nasty edge on his voice.

“Sorry, sir.” That was Ensign Shaw's first real mistake. Ricks straightened, but still had to look up to meet Shaw's eyes. That didn't help his disposition either.

“'Sorry' doesn't cut it, Mister. 'Sorry' endangers our ship and our mission. 'Sorry' gets people killed. 'Sorry' is what an unsatisfactory officer says. Do you understand me, Mr. Shaw?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Fine.” The word came out as a curse. “Let's make sure this never happens again.”

The rest of the half hour was spent going over the records of the exercise. The officers left the room for a larger one, where they would relive the exercise, learning what the Red Team had seen and done. Lieutenant Commander Claggett slowed the Captain down.

“Skipper, you were a little hard on Shaw.”

“What do you mean?” Ricks asked in annoyed surprise.

“He didn't make any mistakes. I couldn't have done the track more than thirty seconds faster myself. The quartermaster I had with him has been doing TMAs for five years. He's taught it at sub school. I kept an eye on both of them. They did okay.”

“Are you saying the mistake was my fault?” Ricks asked in a deceptively gentle voice.

“Yes, sir,” the XO replied honestly, as he had been taught to do.

“Is that a fact?” Ricks walked out the door without another word.

To say that Petra Hassler-Bock was unhappy was an understatement of epic proportions. A woman in her late thirties, she'd lived over fifteen years on the run, hiding from the West German police before things had simply become too dangerous, precipitating her escape to the East Zone — what had been the East Zone, the Bundeskriminalamt investigator smiled to himself. Amazingly, she'd thrived on it. Every photo in the thick file showed an attractive, vital, smiling woman with a girl's unlined face framed by pretty brown hair. This same face had coldly watched three people die, one after several days of knife-work, the detective told himself. That murder had been part of an important political statement — it had been at the time of the vote on whether or not to allow the Americans to base their Pershing-2 and Cruise missiles in Germany, and the Red Army Faction had wanted to terrify people into seeing things their way. It hadn't worked, of course, though it had made the victim's death into a gothic exercise.

“Tell me, Petra, did you enjoy killing Wilhelm Manstein?” the detective asked.

“He was a pig,” she answered defiantly. “An overweight, sweaty, whoremongering pig.”

That was how they'd caught him, the detective knew. Petra had set up the kidnapping first by attracting his attention, then by establishing a brief but fiery relationship. Manstein had not been the most attractive example of German manhood, of course, but Petra 's idea of women's liberation was rather more robust than the norm in Western countries. The nastiest members of Baader-Meinhof and the RAF had been the women. Perhaps it was a reaction to the Kinder-Küche-Kirche mindset of German males, as some psychologists said, but the woman before him was the most coldly frightening assassin he'd ever met. The first body parts mailed to Manstein's family had been those which had offended her so greatly. Manstein had lived for ten days after that, the pathologist's report stated, providing noisy red entertainment for this still-young lady.

“Well, you took care of that, didn't you? I imagine Günther was somewhat unsettled by your passion, wasn't he? After all, you spent — what? Five nights with Herr Manstein before the kidnapping? Did you enjoy that part also, mein Schatz?” The insult scored, the detective saw. Petra had been attractive once, but no longer. Like a flower a day after cutting, she was no longer a living thing. Her skin was sallow, her eyes surrounded by dark rings, and she'd lost at least eight kilos. Defiance blazed out from her, but only briefly. "I expect you did, giving in to him, letting him 'do his thing.' You must have enjoyed it enough that he kept coming back. It wasn't just baiting him, was it? It could not have been just an act. Herr Manstein was a discerning philanderer. He had so much experience, and he only frequented the most skillful whores. Tell me, Petra, how did you acquire so much skill? Did you practice beforehand with Günther — or with others? All in the name of revolutionary justice, of course, or revolutionary Komaradschaft, nicht wahr? You are a worthless slut, Petra. Even whores have morals, but not you.

“And your beloved revolutionary cause,” the detective sneered. “Doch! Such a cause. How does it feel to be rejected by the entire German Volk?” She stirred in her chair at that, but couldn't quite bring herself… “What's the matter, Petra, no heroic words now? You always talked about your visions of freedom and democracy, didn't you? Are you disappointed now that we have real democracy — and the people detest you and your kind! Tell me, Petra, what is it like to be rejected? Totally rejected. And you know it's true,” the investigator added. “You know it's no joke. You watched the people in the street from your windows, didn't you, you and Günther? One of the demonstrations was right under your apartment, wasn't it? What did you think while you watched, Petra? What did you and Günther say to each other? Did you say it was a counter-revolutionary trick?” The detective shook his head, leaning forward to stare into those empty, lifeless eyes, enjoying his own work as she had done.

“Tell me, Petra, how do you explain the votes? Those were free elections. You know that, of course. Everything you stood for and worked for and murdered for — all a mistake, all for nothing! Well, it wasn't a total loss, was it? At least you got to make love to Wilhelm Manstein.” The detective leaned back and lit a small cigar. He blew smoke up at the ceiling. “And now, Petra? I hope you enjoyed that little tryst, mein Schatz. You will never leave this prison alive. Never, Petra. No one will ever feel pity for you, not even when you're confined to a wheelchair. Oh, no. They'll remember your crimes and tell themselves to leave you here with all the other vicious beasts. There is no hope for you. You will die in this building, Petra.”

Petra Hassler-Bock's head jerked at that. Her eyes went wide for an instant as she thought to say something, but stopped short.

The detective went on conversationally. “We lost track of Günther, by the way. We nearly got him in Bulgaria — missed him by thirty hours. The Russians, you see, have been giving us their files on you and your friends. All those months you spent at those training camps. Well, in any case, Günther is still on the run. In Lebanon, we think, probably holed up with your old friends in that ratpack. They're next,” the detective told her. "The Americans, the Russians, the Israelis, they're cooperating now, didn't you hear? It's part of this treaty business. Isn't that wonderful? I think we'll get Günther there… with luck he'll fight back or do something really foolish, and we can bring you a picture of his body… Pictures, that's right! I almost forgot!

“I have something to show you,” the investigator announced. He inserted a video cassette into a player and switched on the TV. It took a moment for the picture to settle down into what was plainly an amateur video taken with a hand-held camera. It showed twin girls, dressed in matching pink dirndl outfits, sitting side by side on a typical rug in a typical German apartment — everything was fully in Ordnung, even the magazines on the table were squared off. Then the action started.

“Komm, Erika, Komm, Ursel!” a woman's voice urged, and both infants pulled themselves up on a coffee table and tottered towards her. The camera followed their halting, unstable steps into the woman's arms.

“Mutti, Mutti!” they both said. The detective switched the TV off.

“They're talking and walking. Ist das nicht wunderbar! Their new mother loves them very much, Petra. Well, I thought you'd like to see that. That's all for today.” The detective pressed a hidden button, and a guard appeared to take the manacled prisoner back to her cell.

The cell was stark, a cubicle made of white-painted bricks. There was no outside window, and the door was of solid steel except for a spyhole and a slot for food trays. Petra didn't know about the TV camera that looked through what seemed to be yet another brick near the ceiling, but was really a small plastic panel transparent to red and infra-red light. Petra Hassler-Bock retained her composure all the way to the cell, and until the door was slammed shut behind her.

Then she started coming apart.

Petra 's hollow eyes stared at the floor — that was painted white, also — too wide and horrified for tears at first, contemplating the nightmare that her life had become. It could not be real, part of her said with confidence that bordered on madness. All she'd believed in, all she'd worked for — gone! Günther, gone. The twins, gone. The cause, gone. Her life, gone.

The Bundeskriminalamt detectives only interrogated her for amusement. She knew that much. They had never seriously probed her for information, but there was a reason for that. She had nothing worthwhile to give them. They'd shown her copies of the files from Stasi headquarters. Nearly everything her erstwhile fraternal socialist brothers had had on her — far more than she had expected — was now in West German hands. Names, addresses, phone numbers, records dating back more than twenty years, things about herself that she'd forgotten, things about Günther that she'd never known. All in the hands of the BKA.

It was all over. All lost.

Petra gagged and started weeping. Even Erika and Ursel, her twins, the product of her own body, the physical evidence of her faith in the future, of her love for Günther. Taking their first steps in the apartment of strangers. Calling some stranger Mutti, mommy. The wife of a BKA captain — they'd told her that much. Petra wept for half an hour, not making noise, knowing that there had to be a microphone in the cell, this cursed white box that denied her sleep.

Everything lost.

Life — here? The first and only time she'd been in the exercise yard with other prisoners, they'd had to pull two of them off her. She could remember their screams as the guards had taken her for medical treatment — whore, murderess, animal… To live here for forty years or more, alone, always alone, waiting to go mad, waiting for her body to weaken and decay. For her life meant life. Of that she was certain. There would be no pity for her. The detective had made that clear. No pity at all. No friends. Lost and forgotten… except for the hate.

She made her decision calmly. In the manner of prisoners all over the world, she'd found a way of getting a piece of metal with an edge on it. It was, in fact, a segment of razor blade from the instrument with which she was allowed to shave her legs once a month. She removed it from its place of hiding, then pulled the sheet — also white — from the mattress. It was like any other, about ten centimeters thick, covered with heavy striped fabric. Its trim was a loop of fabric in which was inserted a rope-like stiffener, with the mattress fabric sewn tight around it to give the edge strength. With the razor edge she began detaching the trim from the mattress. It took three hours and not a small amount of blood, for the razor segment was small, and it cut her fingers many times, but finally she had two full meters of improvised rope. She turned one end of the rope into a noose. The free end of the rope she tied to the light fixture over the door. She had to stand on her chair to do that, but she'd have to stand on the chair in any case. It took three attempts to get the knot right. She didn't want too much length on the rope.

When she was satisfied with that, she proceeded without pause. Petra Hassler-Bock removed her dress and her bra. Next she knelt on the chair with her back to the door, getting its position and hers just right, placed the noose around her neck, and drew it tight. Then she drew up her legs, using her bra to secure them between her back and the door. She didn't want to flinch from this. She had to show her courage, her devotion. Without stopping for a prayer or lament, her hands pushed the chair away. Her body fell perhaps five centimeters before the improvised rope stopped her fall and drew tight. Her body rebelled against her will at this point. Her drawn-up legs fought against the bra holding them between the backs of her thighs and the metal door, but in fighting the restraint, they merely pushed Petra fractionally away from the door, and that increased the strangulation on her upper neck.

She was surprised by the pain. The noose fractured her larynx before sliding over it to a point under her jaw. Her eyes opened wide, staring at the white bricks of the far wall. That's when the panic hit her. Ideology has its limits. She couldn't die, didn't want to die, didn't want to—

Her fingers raced to her throat. It was a mistake. They fought to get under the mattress trim, but it was too thin, cutting so deeply into the soft flesh of her neck that she couldn't get a single finger under it. Still she fought, knowing that she had mere seconds before the blood loss to her brain… it was getting vague now, her vision was beginning to suffer. She couldn't see the lines of mortar between the even German-made brickwork on the far wall. Her hands kept trying, cutting into the surface blood vessels of her throat, drawing blood that only made the noose slick, able to sink in tighter, cutting off circulation through the carotid arteries even more. Her mouth opened wide and she tried to scream, no, she didn't want to die, didn't — needed help. Couldn't anyone hear her? Could no one help her? Too late, just two seconds, maybe only one, maybe not even that, the last remaining shred of consciousness told her that if she could just loosen the bra holding her legs, she could have stood and…

The detective watched the TV picture, saw her hands flutter towards the bra, searching limply for the clasp before they fell away, and twitched for a few more seconds, then stopped. So close, he thought. So very close to saving herself. It was a pity. She'd been a pretty girl, but she'd chosen to murder and torture, and she'd also chosen to die, and if she'd changed her mind at the end — didn't they all? Well, not quite all — that was merely renewed proof that the brutal ones were cowards after all, nicht wahr?

Aber natürlich.

“This television is broken,” he said, switching it off. “Better get a new one to keep an eye on Prisoner Hassler-Bock.”

“That will take about an hour,” the guard supervisor said.

“That's fast enough.” The detective removed the cassette from the same tape recorder he'd used to show the touching family scene. It went into his briefcase with the other. He locked the case and stood. There was no smile on his face, but there was a look of satisfaction. It wasn't his fault that the Bundestag and Bundesrat were unable to pass a simple and effective death-penalty statute. That was because of the Nazis, of course. Damned barbarians. But even barbarians were not total fools. They hadn't ripped up the autobahns after the war, had they? Of course not. So just because the Nazis had executed people — well, some of them had even been ordinary murderers whom any civilized government of the era would have executed. And if anyone merited death, Petra Hassler-Bock did. Murder by torture. Death by hanging. That, the detective figured, was fair enough. The Wilhelm Manstein murder case had been his from the start. He'd been there when the man's genitals had arrived by mail. He'd watched the pathologists examine the body, had attended the funeral, and he remembered the sleepless nights when he'd been unable to wash the horrid spectacles from his mind. Perhaps now he would. Justice had been slow, but it had come. With luck, those two cute little girls would grow into proper citizens, and no one would ever know who and what their birth mother had once been.

The detective walked out of the prison towards his car. He didn't want to be near the prison when her body was discovered. Case closed.

“Hey, man.”

“Marvin. I hear that you did well with weapons,” Ghosn said to his friend.

“No big deal, man. I've been shooting since I was a kid. That's how you get dinner where I come from.”

“You outshot our best instructor,” the engineer pointed out.

“Your targets are a hell of a lot bigger than a rabbit, and they don't move. Hell, I used to hit jacks on the move with my.22. If you have to shoot what you eat, you learn right quick to hit what you aim at, boy. How'd you do with that bomb thing?” Marvin Russell asked.

“A lot of work for very little return,” Ghosn replied.

“Maybe you can make a radio from all that electrical stuff,” the American suggested.

“Perhaps something useful.”


Flying west is always easier than flying east. The human body adjusts more easily to a longer day than a shorter one, and the combination of good food and good wine makes it all the easier. Air Force One had a sizable conference room that could be used for all manner of functions. In this case it was a dinner for senior administration officials and selected members of the press pool. The food, as usual, was superb. Air Force One may be the only aircraft in the world which serves something other than TV dinners. Its stewards shop daily for fresh foods, which are most often prepared at six hundred knots at eight miles altitude, and more than one of the cooks had left military service to become executive chef at a country club or posh restaurant. Having cooked for the President of the United States of America looks good on any chef's resume.

The wine in this case was from New York, a particularly good blush Chablis that the President was known to like, when he wasn't drinking beer. The converted 747 had three full cases stowed below. Two white-coated sergeants kept all the glasses filled as the courses came in and out. The atmosphere was relaxed, and the conversations all off the record, on deep background, and be careful or you'll never eat in here again.

“So, Mr. President,” the New York Times asked. “How quickly do you think this will be implemented?”

“It is starting even as we speak. The Swiss army representatives are already in Jerusalem to look things over. Secretary Bunker is meeting with the Israeli government to facilitate the arrival of American forces in the region. We expect to have things actually moving inside of two weeks.”

“And the people who'll have to vacate their homes?” the Chicago Tribune continued the question.

They will be seriously inconvenienced, but with our help the new homes will be constructed very rapidly. The Israelis have asked for and will get credits with which to purchase prefabricated housing made in America. We're also paying to set up a factory of that type for them to continue on their own. Many thousands of people will be relocated. That will be somewhat painful, but we're going to make it just as easy as we can."

“At the same time,” Liz Elliot put in, let's not forget that quality of life is more than having a roof over your head. Peace has a price, but it also has benefits. Those people will know real security for the first time in their lives."

“Excuse me, Mr. President,” the Tribune reporter said with a raised glass. “That was not meant as criticism. I think we all agree that this treaty is a godsend.” Heads nodded all around the table. “The way it is implemented is an important story, however, and our readers want to know about it.”

“The relocations will be the hardest part,” Fowler responded calmly. “We must salute the Israeli government for agreeing to it, and we must do the best we can to make the process just as painless as is humanly possible.”

“And what American units will be sent over to defend Israel?” another reporter asked.

“Glad you asked,” Fowler said. He was. The previous questioner had overlooked the most obvious potential obstacle to treaty-implementation — would the Israeli Knesset ratify the agreements? “As you may have heard, we're reestablishing a new Army unit, the 1oth United States Cavalry Regiment. It's being formed at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and at my direction ships of the National Defense Reserve Fleet are being mobilized right now to get them over to Israel just as quickly as we can. The 10th Cavalry is a famous unit with a distinguished history. It was one of the Black units that the westerns have almost totally ignored. As luck would have it”—luck had nothing to do with it—“the first commander will be an African American, Colonel Marion Diggs, a distinguished soldier, West Point grad and all that. That's the land force. The air component will be a complete wing of F-16 fighter-bombers, plus a detachment of AWACS aircraft, and the usual support personnel. Finally, the Israelis are giving us home-porting at Haifa, and we'll almost always have a carrier battle-group and a Marine Expeditionary unit in the Eastern Med to back up everything else.”

“But with the draw-down—”

“Dennis Bunker came up with the idea on the 1oth Cavalry, and frankly I wish I could say that it's one of mine. As for the rest, well, we'll try to fit it in somehow or other with the rest of the defense budget.”

“Is it really necessary, Mr. President? I mean, with all the budget battles, particularly on the matter of defense, do we really have to—”

“Of course we do.” The National Security Advisor cut the reporter off at his ugly knees. You asshole, Elliot's expression said. “ Israel has serious and very real security considerations, and our commitment to preserving Israeli security is the sine qua non of this agreement.”

“Christ, Marty,” another reporter muttered.

“We'll compensate for the additional expense in other areas,” the President said. “I know I'm returning to one more round of ideologically based wrangling over how we pay for the cost of government, but I think we have demonstrated here that government's costs do pay off. If we have to nudge taxes up a little to preserve world peace, then the American people will understand and support it,” Fowler concluded matter-of-factly.

Every reporter took note of that. The President was going to propose yet another tax increase. There had already been Peace Dividend-I and — II. This would be the first Peace Tax, one of them thought with a wry smile. That would sail through Congress, along with everything else. The smile had another cause as well. She noted the look in the President's eyes when he gazed over at his National Security Advisor. She'd wondered about that. She'd tried to get Liz Elliot at home twice, right before the trip to Rome, and both times all she'd gotten on her private line was the answering machine. She could have followed up on that. She could have staked out Elliot's townhouse off Kalorama Road and made a record of how often Elliot was sleeping at home, and how often she was not. But. But that was none of her business, was it? No, it wasn't. The President was a single man, a widower, and his personal life had no public import so long as he was discreet about it, and so long as it didn't interfere with his conduct of official business. The reporter figured she was the only one who'd noticed. What the hell, she thought, if the President and his National Security Advisor were that close, maybe it was a good thing. Look how well the Vatican Treaty had gone…

Brigadier General Abraham Ben Jakob read over the treaty text in the privacy of his office. He was not a man who often had difficulty in defining his thoughts. That was a luxury accorded him by paranoia, he knew. For all of his adult life — a life that had started at age 16 in his case, the first time he'd carried arms for his country — the world had been an exceedingly simple place to understand: there were Israelis and there were others. Most of the others were enemies or potential enemies. A very few of the others were associates or perhaps friends, but friendship for Israel was mostly a unilateral business. Avi had run five operations in America, “against” the Americans. “Against” was a relative term, of course. He'd never intended harm to come to America, he'd merely wanted to know some things the American government knew, or to obtain something the American government had and Israel needed. The information would never be used against America, of course, nor would the military hardware, but the Americans, understandably, didn't like having their secrets taken away. That did not trouble General Ben Jakob in any way. His mission in life was to protect the State of Israel, not to be pleasant to people. The Americans understood that. The Americans occasionally shared intelligence information with the Mossad. Most often this was done on a very informal basis. And on rare occasions, the Mossad gave information to the Americans. It was all very civilized — in fact, it was not at all unlike two competing businesses who shared both adversaries and markets, and sometimes cooperated but never quite trusted each other.

That relationship would now change. It had to. America was now committing its own troops to Israeli defense. That made America partly responsible for the defense of Israel — and reciprocally made Israel responsible for the safety of the Americans (something the American media had not yet noted). That was the Mossad's department. Intelligence-sharing would have to become a much wider street than it had been. Avi didn't like that. Despite the euphoria of the moment, America was not a country with which to entrust secrets, particularly those obtained after much effort and often blood by intelligence officers in his employ. Soon the Americans would be sending a senior intelligence representative to work out the details. They'd send Ryan, of course. Avi started making notes. He needed to get as much information as he could on Ryan so that he could cut as favorable a deal with the Americans as possible.

Ryan… was it true that he'd gotten this whole thing started? There was a question, Ben Jakob thought. The American government had denied it, but Ryan was not a favorite of President Fowler or his National Security Bitch, Elizabeth Elliot. The information on her was quite clear. While Professor of Political Science at Bennington, she'd had PLO representatives in to lecture on their view of the Middle East — in the name of fairness and balance! It could have been worse. She wasn't Vanessa Redgrave, dancing with an AK-47 held over her head, Avi told herself, but her “objectivity” had stretched to the point of listening politely to the representatives of the people who'd attacked Israeli children at Ma'alot, and Israeli athletes at Munich. Like most members of the American government, she had forgotten what principle was. But Ryan wasn't one of those…

The Treaty was his work. His sources were right. Fowler and Elliot would never have come up with an idea like this. Using religion as the key would never have occurred to them.

The Treaty. He went back to it, returning to his notes. How had the government ever allowed itself to be maneuvered into this?

We shall overcome…

That simple, wasn't it? The panicked telephone calls and cables from Israel 's American friends, the way they were starting to jump ship, as though…

But how could it have been otherwise? Avi asked himself. In any case, the Vatican Treaty was a done deal. Probably a done deal, he told himself. The eruptions in the Israeli population had begun, and the next few days would be passionate. The reasons were simple enough to understand:

Israel was essentially vacating the West Bank. Army units would remain in place, much as American units were still based in Germany and Japan, but the West Bank was to become a Palestinian state, demilitarized, its borders guaranteed by the UN, which was probably a nice sheet of framed parchment, Ben Jakob reflected. The real guarantee would come from Israel and America. Saudi Arabia and its sister Gulf states would pay for the economic rehabilitation of the Palestinians. Access to Jerusalem was guaranteed, also — that's where most of the Israeli troops would be, with large and easily-secured base camps, and the right to patrol at will. Jerusalem itself became a dominion of the Vatican. An elected mayor — he wondered if the Israeli now holding the post would keep his post… Why not? he asked himself, he was the most even-handed of men — would handle civil administration, but international and religious affairs would be managed under Vatican authority by a troika of three clerics. Local security for Jerusalem was to be handled by a Swiss motorized regiment. Avi might have snorted at that, but the Swiss had been the model for the Israeli army, and the Swiss were supposed to train with the American regiment. The 1oth Cavalry were supposed to be crack regular troops. On paper, it was all very neat.

Things on paper usually were.

On Israel 's streets, however, the rabid demonstrations had already begun. Thousands of Israeli citizens were to be displaced. Two police officers and a soldier had already been hurt — at Israeli hands. The Arabs were keeping out of everyone's way. A separate commission run by the Saudis would try to settle which Arab family owned what piece of ground — a situation that Israel had thoroughly muddled when it had seized land that may or may not have been owned by Arabs, and — but that was not Avi's problem, and he thanked God for it. His given name was Abraham, not Solomon.

Will it work? he wondered.

It cannot possibly work, Qati told himself. Word that a treaty had been signed had thrown him into a ten-hour bout of nausea, and now that he had the treaty text, he felt himself at death's door itself.

Peace? And yet Israel will continue to exist? What, then, of his sacrifices, what of the hundreds, thousands, of freedom fighters sacrificed under Israeli guns and bombs? For what had they died? For what had Qati sacrificed his life? He might as well have died, Qati told himself. He'd denied himself everything. He might have lived a normal life, might have had a wife and sons and a house and comfortable work, might have been a doctor or engineer or banker or merchant. He had the intelligence to succeed at anything his mind selected as worthy of himself — but no, he had chosen the most difficult of paths. His goal was to build a new nation, to make a home for his people, to give them the human dignity they deserved. To lead his people. To defeat the invaders.

To be remembered.

That was what he craved. Anyone could recognize injustice, but to remedy it would have allowed him to be remembered as a man who had changed the course of human history, if only in a small way, if only for a small nation…

That wasn't true, Qati admitted to himself. To accomplish his task meant defying the great nations, the Americans and Europeans who had inflicted their prejudices on his ancient homeland, and men who did that were not remembered as small men. Were he successful, he would be remembered among the great, for great deeds define great men, and the great men were those whom history remembered. But whose deeds would be remembered now? Who had conquered what — or whom?

It was not possible, the Commander told himself. Yet his stomach told him something else as he read over the treaty text with its dry, precise words. The Palestinian people, his noble, courageous people, could they possibly be seduced by this infamy?

Qati stood and walked back to his private bathroom to retch again. That, part of his brain said, even as he bent over the bowl, was the answer to his question. After a time, he stood and drank a glass of water to remove the vile taste from his mouth, but there was another taste that was not so easily removed.

Across the street, in another safe house run by the organization, Günther Bock was listening to Deutsche Welle's German overseas radio service. Despite his politics and his location, Bock would never stop thinking of himself as a German. A German revolutionary-socialist, to be sure, but a German. It had been another warm day in his true home, the radio reported, with clear skies, a fine day to walk along the Rhein holding Petra 's hand, and…

The brief news report stopped his heart. "Convicted murderess Petra Hassler-Bock was found hanged in her prison cell this afternoon, the victim of an apparent suicide. The wife of escaped terrorist Günther Bock, Petra Hassler-Bock was convicted of the brutal murder of Wilhelm Manstein after her arrest in Berlin, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Petra Hassler-Bock was thirty-eight years of age.

“The resurgence of the Dresden football club has surprised many observers. Led by star forward Willi Scheer…”

Bock's eyes went wide in the unlit darkness of his room. Unable even to look at the lit radio dial, his eyes found the open window and stared at the stars of evening.

Petra, dead?

He knew it was true, knew better than to tell himself it was impossible. It was all too possible… inevitable, in fact. Apparent suicide! Of course, just as all the Baader-Meinhof members had apparently committed suicide, one having reportedly shot himself in the head… three times. “A real death-grip on the gun,” had been the joke of the West German police community of the time.

They'd murdered his wife, Bock knew. His beautiful Petra was dead. His best friend, his truest comrade, his lover. Dead. It should not have hit him as hard as it did, Günther knew. What else might he have expected? They'd had to kill her, of course. She was both a link with the past, and a potentially dangerous link with Germany 's socialist future. In killing her, they'd further secured the political stability of the new Germany, Das Vierte Reich.

“ Petra,” he whispered to himself. She was more than a political figure, more than a revolutionary. He remembered every contour of her face, every curve of her youthful body. He remembered waiting for their children to be born, and the smile with which she'd greeted him after delivering Erika and Ursel. They, too, were gone, as totally removed from him as though they'd also died.

It was not a time to be alone. Bock dressed and walked across the street. Qati, he was glad to see, was still awake, though he looked ghastly.

“What is wrong, my friend?” the Commander asked.

“ Petra is dead.”

Qati showed genuine pain on his face. “What happened?”

The report is that she was found dead in her cell — hanged." His Petra, Bock thought in delayed shock, found strangled by her graceful neck. The image was too painful for contemplation. He'd seen that kind of death. He and Petra had executed a class enemy that way and watched his face turn pale, then darken, and… The image was unbearable. He could not allow himself to see Petra that way.

Qati bowed his head in sorrow. “May Allah have mercy on our beloved comrade.”

Bock managed not to frown. Neither he nor Petra had ever believed in God, but Qati had meant well by his prayer, even though it was nothing more than a waste of breath. At the very least, it was an expression of sympathy and good will — and friendship. Bock needed that right now, and so he ignored the irrelevancy and took a deep breath.

“It is a bad day for our cause, Ismael.”

“Worse than you think, this cursed treaty—”

“I know,” Bock said. “I know.”

“What do you think?” One thing Qati could depend on was Bock's honesty. Günther was objective about everything.

The German took a cigarette from the Commander's desk and lit it from the table lighter. He didn't sit, but rather paced the room. He had to move about to prove to himself that he was still alive, as he commanded his mind to consider the question objectively.

“One must see this as merely one part of a larger plan. When the Russians betrayed World Socialism, they set in motion a series of events aimed at solidifying control over most of the world on the part of the capitalist classes. I used to think that the Soviets merely advanced this as a matter of clever strategy, to get economic assistance for themselves — you must understand that the Russians are a backward people, Ismael. They couldn't even make Communism work. Of course, Communism was invented by a German,” he added with an ironic grimace (that Marx had been a Jew was something he diplomatically left out). Bock paused for a moment, then went on with a coldly analytical voice. He was grateful for the chance to close the door briefly on his emotions and speak like the revolutionary of old.

"I was wrong. It was not a question of tactics at all. It is a complete betrayal. Progressive elements within the Soviet Union have been outmaneuvered even more thoroughly than in the DDR. Their rapprochement with America is quite genuine. They are trading ideological purity for temporary prosperity, yes, but there is no plan on their part to return to the socialist fold.

“ America, for its part, is charging a price for the help they offer. America forced the Soviets to deny support for Iraq, to lessen support for you and your Arab brothers, and finally to accede to their plan to secure Israel once and for all. Clearly, the Israel Lobby in America has been planning this trick for some time. What makes it different is Soviet acquiescence. What we now face is not merely America, but conspiracy on a global scale. We have no friends, Ismael. We have only ourselves.”

“Do you say we are defeated?”

“No!” Bock's eyes blazed for a moment. “If we stop now — they have advantage enough already, my friend. Give them one more and they will use the current state of affairs to hunt all of us down. Your relationship with the Russians is as bad as it has ever been. It will get worse still. Next, the Russians will begin cooperation with the Americans and Zionists.”

“Who would have ever thought that the Americans and Russians would—”

“No one. No one except those who brought it about, the American ruling elite and their bought dogs, Narmonov and his lackies. They were exceeding clever, my friend. We ought to have seen it coming, but we did not. You didn't see it coming here. I never saw it coming in Europe. The failure was ours.”

Qati told himself that the truth was precisely what he needed to hear, but his stomach told him something else entirely.

“What ideas do you have for remedying the situation?” the Commander asked.

“We are faced with an alliance of two very unlikely friends and their hangers-on. One must find a way to destroy the alliance. In historical terms, when an alliance is broken, the former allies are even more suspicious of each other than they were before the alliance was formed. How to do that?” Bock shrugged. “I don't know. That will require time… The opportunities are there. Should be there,” he corrected himself. There is much potential for discord. There are many people who feel as we do, many still in Germany who feel as I do."

“But you say it must begin between America and Russia?” Qati asked, interested as always by his friend's meanderings.

“That is where it must lead. If there were a way to make it start there, so much the better, but that would seem unlikely.”

“Perhaps not as unlikely as you imagine, Günther,” Qati thought to himself, scarcely aware that he'd spoken aloud.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing. We will discuss this later. I am tired, my friend.”

“Forgive me for troubling you, Ismael.”

“We will avenge Petra, my friend. They will pay for their crimes!” Qati promised him.

“Thank you.” Bock left. Two minutes later, he was back in his room. The radio was still on, now playing traditional music. It came back to him then, the weight of the moment. He did not manage tears, however. All Bock felt was rage. Petra 's death was a wrenching personal tragedy, but his whole world of ideas had been betrayed. The death of his wife was just one more symptom of a deeper and more virulent disease. The whole world would pay for Petra 's murder, if he could manage it. All in the name of revolutionary justice, of course.

Sleep came hard for Qati. Surprisingly, part of the problem was guilt. He too had his memories of Petra Hassler and her supple body — she hadn't been married to Günther then — and the thought of her dead, found at the end of a German rope… How had she died? Suicide, the news report had said? Qati believed it. They were brittle, these Europeans. Clever, but brittle. They knew the passion of the struggle, but they did not know of endurance. Their advantage lay in their broader view. That came from their more cosmopolitan environment and their generally superior education. Whereas Qati and his people tended to be overly focused on their immediate problem, their European comrades could see the broader issues more clearly. The moment of perceptive clarity came as something of a surprise. Qati and his people had always regarded the Europeans as comrades but not as equals, as dilettantes in the business of revolution. That was a mistake. They had always faced a more rigorous revolutionary task because they lacked the ready-made sea of discontent from which Qati and his colleagues drew their recruits. That they had been less successful in their goals was due to objective circumstances, not a reflection on their intelligence or dedication.

Bock could have made a superb operations officer because he saw things clearly.

And now? Qati asked himself. That was a question, but one that would require time for contemplation. It was not a question for a hasty answer. He'd sleep on that one for several days… more like a week, the Commander promised himself, as he tried to find sleep.

* * *

“… I have the great privilege and high honor of introducing the President of the United States.”

The assembled members of Congress stood as one person from their crowded seats in the House chamber. Arrayed in the front row were the members of the cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Justices of the Supreme Court, who also rose. In the balconies were others, among them the Saudi and Israeli ambassadors sitting side-by-side for the first time in memory. The TV cameras panned the great room in which both history and infamy had been made. The applause echoed from wall to wall until hands grew red from it.

President Fowler rested his notes on the lectern. He turned to shake the hand of the Speaker of the House, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and his own Vice President, Roger Durling. In the euphoria of the moment, no one would comment that Durling came last. Next he turned to smile and wave at the assembled multitude, and the noise increased yet again. Every gesture in Fowler's repertoire came into play. The one-hand wave, the two-hand wave, hands at shoulder level, and hands over the head. The response was truly bipartisan, and that was remarkable, Fowler noted. His most vociferous enemies in the House and Senate were assiduous in their enthusiasm, and he knew it to be genuine. There still was true patriotism in the Congress, much to the surprise of everyone. Finally, he waved for silence and the applause grudgingly subsided.

“My fellow Americans, I come to this house to report on recent events in Europe and the Middle East, and to lay before the United States Senate a pair of treaty documents which, I hope, will meet with your speedy and enthusiastic approval.” More applause. "With these treaties, the United States, operating in close cooperation with many other nations — some trusted old friends, and some valuable new ones — has helped to bring about peace in a region that has helped to give peace to the world, but which has known all too little peace itself.

“One can search all of human history. One can trace the evolution of the human spirit. All of human progress, all the shining lights that have lit our way up from barbarism, all the great and good men and women who have prayed and dreamed and hoped and worked for this moment — this moment, this opportunity, this culmination, is the last page in the history of human conflict. We have reached not a starting point, but a stopping point. We—” More applause interrupted the President. He was very slightly annoyed, having not planned for this interruption. Fowler smiled broadly, waving for silence.

“We have reached a stopping point. I have the honor to report to you that America has led the way on the road to justice and peace.” Applause. “It is fitting that this should be so…”

“A little thick, isn't it?” Cathy Ryan asked.

“A little.” Jack grunted in his chair and reached for his wine. “It's just how things go, babe. There are rules for this sort of thing just as there are for opera. You have to follow the formula. Besides, it is a major — hell, a colossal development. Peace is breaking out again.”

“When are you leaving?” Cathy asked.

“Soon,” Jack replied.

“Of course, there is a price we must pay for this, but history demands responsibility from those who forge it,” Fowler said on the TV. “It is our task to guarantee the peace. We must send American men and women to protect the State of Israel. We are sworn to defend that small and courageous country against all enemies.”

“What enemies are they?” Cathy asked.

“ Syria isn't happy with the treaty as yet. Neither is Iran. As far as Lebanon goes, well, there isn't any Lebanon in any real sense of the word. It's just a place on the map where people die. Libya and all those terrorist groups. There are still enemies to be concerned about.” Ryan finished off the glass and walked into the kitchen to refill it. It was a shame to waste good wine like this, Jack told himself. The way he was guzzling it, he might as well drink anything…

“There will be a monetary cost as well,” Fowler was saying, as Ryan came back.

“Taxes are going up again,” Cathy observed crossly.

“Well, what did you expect?” Fifty million of it is my fault, of course. A billion here, and a billion there…

“Will this really make a difference?” she asked.

“It should. We'll find out if all those religious leaders believe in what they say, or if they're just bullshit artists. What we've done is to hoist them on their own petards, babe… Make that 'principles,'” Jack said after a moment. “Either they work things out in accordance with their beliefs or they reveal themselves as charlatans.”


“I don't think they're charlatans. I think they'll be faithful to what they've always said. They have to be.”

“And soon you won't have any real work to do, will you?”

Jack caught the hopeful note in her voice. “I don't know about that.”

After the end of the President's speech came the commentary. Speaking in opposition was Rabbi Solomon Mendelev, an elderly New Yorker who was one of Israel 's most fervent — some would say rabid — supporters. Oddly, he'd never actually traveled to Israel. Jack didn't know why that was true and made a mental note to find out why tomorrow. Mendelev led a small but effective segment of the Israeli lobby. He'd been nearly alone in voicing approval — well, understanding — of the shootings on Temple Mount. The rabbi had a beard, and wore a black yarmulke over what looked like a well-rumpled suit.

“This is a betrayal of the State of Israel,” he said, after receiving the first question. Surprisingly, he spoke with calm reason. “In forcing Israel to return what was rightfully hers, the United States has betrayed the Jewish people's historic right to the land of their fathers, and also gravely compromised the physical security of the country. Israeli citizens will be forced from their homes at gunpoint, just as happened fifty years ago,” he concluded ominously.

“Now wait a minute!” another commentator responded heatedly.

“God, these people are passionate,” Jack noted.

“I lost family members in the Holocaust,” Mendelev said, his voice still reasonable. The whole point of the State of Israel is to give Jews a place where they can be safe."

“But the President is sending American troops—”

“We sent American troops to Vietnam,” Rabbi Mendelev pointed out. “And we made promises, and there was a treaty involved there also. Israel 's only possible security is within defensible borders behind her own troops. What America has done is to bully that country into accepting an agreement. Fowler cut off defense supplies to Israel as a means of 'sending a message.' Well, the message was sent and received: either give in or be cut off. That is what happened. I can prove it, and I will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to prove it.”

“Uh-oh,” Jack observed quietly.

“Scott Adler, Deputy Secretary of State, personally delivered that message while John Ryan, the Deputy Director of the CIA, made his own pitch to Saudi Arabia. Ryan promised the Saudi king that America would bring Israel to heel. That's bad enough, but for Adler, a Jew, to do what he did…” Mendelev shook his head.

“This guy's got some good sources.”

“Is what he says true, Jack?” Cathy asked.

“Not exactly, but what we were doing over there was supposed to be secret. It wasn't supposed to be widely-known that I was out of the country.”

“I knew you were gone—”

“But not where to. It won't matter. He can make a little noise, but it won't matter.”

The demonstrations began the next day. They'd bet everything on this. It was the last desperate throw. The two leaders were Russian Jews who'd only recently been allowed to leave a country that manifestly had little love for them. On arrival in their only true home, they'd been allowed to settle on the West Bank, that part of Palestine that had been taken from Jordan by force of arms in the Six Day War of 1967. Their prefabricated apartments — tiny by American standards, but incomprehensibly luxurious by Russian ones — stood on one of the hundreds of rocky slopes that defined the region. It was new and strange to them, but it was home, and home is something people fight to defend. The son of Anatoliy — he'd renamed himself Nathan — was already a regular officer in the Israeli army. The same was true of David's daughter. Their arrival in Israel so short a time before had seemed to all of them like salvation itself — and now they were being told to leave their homes? Again? Their lives had borne enough recent shocks. This was one too many.

The whole block of apartments was similarly occupied by Russian immigrants, and it was easy for Anatoliy and David to form a local kollektiv and get things properly organized. They found themselves an orthodox rabbi — the only thing they didn't have in their small community — to provide religious guidance and began their march towards the Knesset behind a sea of flags and a holy Torah. Even in so small a country, this took time, but the march was of such a nature as to attract the inevitable media coverage. By the time the sweating and weary marchers arrived at their destination, all the world knew of their trek and its purpose.

The Israeli Knesset is not the most sedate of the world's parliamentary bodies. The body of men and women ranges from the ultra-right to the ultra-left, with precious little room for a moderate middle. Voices are often raised, fists are often shaken or pounded on whatever surface presents itself, all beneath the black-and-white photo of Theodor Herzl, an Austrian whose ideal of Zionism in the mid-19th century was the guiding vision for what he hoped would be a safe homeland for his abused and mistreated people. The passion of the parliamentarians is such as to make many an observer wonder how it is possible, in a country where nearly everyone is a member of the army reserves and consequently has an automatic weapon in his (or her) closet, that some Knesset members have failed to be blasted to quivering fragments at their seats in the course of a spirited debate. What Theodor Herzl would have thought of the goings-on is anyone's guess. It was Israel 's curse that the debates were too lively, the government too severely polarized both on political or religious grounds. Almost every religious sub-sect had its own special area of land, and consequently its own parliamentary representation. It was a formula calculated to make France 's often-fragmented assembly look well organized, and it had for a generation denied Israel a stable government with a coherent national policy.

The demonstrators, joined by many others, arrived an hour before debate was to begin on the question of the treaties. It was already possible — likely — that the government would fall, and the newly-arrived citizens sent representatives to every member of the Knesset they could locate. Members who agreed with them came outside and gave fiery speeches denouncing the treaties.

“I don't like this,” Liz Elliot observed, watching the TV in her office. The political furor in Israel was much stronger than she had expected, and Elliot had called Ryan in for an assessment of the situation.

“Well,” the DDCI agreed, “it is the one thing we couldn't control, isn't it?”

“You're a big help, Ryan.” On Elliot's desk was the polling data. Israel's most respected public-opinion firm had conducted a survey of five thousand people, and found the numbers were 38 percent in favor of the treaty, 41 percent opposed, and 21 percent undecided. The numbers roughly matched the political makeup of the Knesset, whose right-wing elements slightly outnumbered the left, and whose precarious center was always fragmented into small groupings, all of which waited for a good offer from one side or the other that would magnify their political importance.

“Scott Adler went over this weeks ago. We knew going in that the Israeli government was shaky. For Christ's sake, when in the last twenty years has it not been shaky?”

“But if the Prime Minister cannot deliver…”

Then it's back to Plan B. You wanted to put pressure on their government, didn't you? You'll get your wish." This was the one thing that hadn't been fully considered, Ryan thought, but the truth of the matter was that full consideration would not have helped. The Israeli government had been a model of anarchy in action for a generation. The treaty work had gone ahead on the assumption that, once transformed into a fait accompli, the treaty would have to be ratified by the Knesset. Ryan had not been asked for an opinion on that, though he still thought it a fair assessment.

The political officer at the embassy says that the balance of power may be the little party controlled by our friend Mendelev," Elliot noted, trying to be calm.

“Maybe so,” Jack allowed.

“It's absurd!” Elliot snarled. “That little old fart hasn't even been there—”

“Some sort of religious thing. I checked. He doesn't want to go back until the Messiah arrives.”

“Jesus!” the National Security Advisor exclaimed.

“Exactly. You got it.” Ryan laughed and got a nasty look. “Look, Liz, the man has his personal religious beliefs. We may think they're a little off, but the Constitution demands that we both tolerate and respect them. That's the way we do things in this country, remember?”

Elliot waved her fist at the TV set. “But this crazy rabbi is screwing things up! Isn't there anything we can do about it?”

“Like what?” Jack asked quietly. There was more to her demeanor than panic.

“I don't know — something… ” Elliot allowed her voice to trail off, leaving an opening for her visitor.

Ryan leaned forward and waited until he had her full attention. “The historical precedent you're looking for, Dr. Elliot, is, 'Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?' Now, if you're trying to tell me something, let's get it clear and in the open, shall we? Are you proposing that we interfere with the parliament of a friendly democratic country, or that we do something illegal within the borders of the United States of America?” A pause while her eyes focused a little more tightly. “Neither one of those things will happen, Dr. Elliot. We let them make up their own minds. If you even think of telling me to interfere with Israel 's democratic processes, the President gets my resignation just as fast as I can drive down here to deliver it. If you're wishing out loud for us to hurt that little old guy in New York, remember that such wishes fall under at least two conspiracy statutes. My duty as an ordinary citizen, much less an official of the government of my country, is to report suspected violations of the law to the appropriate law-enforcement agencies.” The look Ryan got after his pronouncement was venomous.

“Damn you! I never said—”

“You just fell into the most dangerous trap in government service, ma'am. You started to think that your wishes to make the world a better place supersede the principles under which our government is supposed to operate. I can't stop you from having such thoughts, but I can tell you that my agency will not be a party to it, not as long as I'm there.” It sounded too much like a lecture, but Ryan felt that she needed it. She was entertaining the most dangerous of thoughts.

“I never said that!”

Bullshit. “Fine, you never said or thought that. I was mistaken. You have my apology. Let the Israelis decide to ratify the treaties or not. They have a democratic government. It is their right to decide. We have the right to nudge them in the right direction, to tell them that our continued level of aid is contingent upon their agreeing to it, but not to interfere directly with their governmental processes. There are some lines you may not cross, even if 'you' happen to be the U.S. government.”

The National Security Advisor managed a smile. “Thank you for your views on the matter of proper government policy, Dr. Ryan. That will be all.”

“Thank you, Dr. Elliot. My assessment, by the way, is that we should let things be. The treaty will be approved, despite what you see here.”

“Why?” Elliot managed not to hiss.

“The treaties are good for Israel in any objective sense. The people will realize that as soon as they've had a chance to digest the information, and make their views known to their representatives. Israel is a democracy, and democracies generally do the smart thing. History, you see. Democracy has become popular in the world because it works. If we panic and take precipitous action, we'll only mess things up. If we let the process work as it's supposed to work, the right thing will probably happen.”


“There are no certainties in life; there are only probabilities,” Ryan explained. Why didn't everyone understand that? he wondered to himself. “But interference has a higher probability of failure than doing nothing. Doing nothing at all is often the right thing. This is such a case. Let their system work. I think it will work. That is my opinion.”

“Thank you for your assessment,” she said, turning away.

“A pleasure, as always.”

Elliot waited until she heard the door close before turning to look. “You arrogant prick, I'll break you for that,” she promised.

Ryan climbed back into his car on West Executive Drive. You went too far, man, he told himself.

No, you didn't. She was starting to think that way, and you had to slam the door on it right there and then.

It was the most dangerous thought that a person in government could have. He'd seen it before. Some dreadful thing happened to people in Washington, D.C. They arrived in the city, usually full of ideals, and those fine thoughts evaporated so rapidly in what was in fact a muggy and humid environment. Some called it being captured by the system. Ryan thought of it as a kind of environmental pollution. The very atmosphere of Washington corroded the soul.

And what makes you immune, Jack?

Ryan considered that, unmindful of the look Clark gave him in the mirror as they drove towards the river. What had made him different to this point was the fact that he had never given in, not even once… or had he? There were things he might have done differently. There were some things that hadn't worked out quite as well as he might have wished.

You're not different at all. You just think you are.

As long as I can face the question and the answers, then I am safe.



“So, I can do many things,” Ghosn replied. “But not alone. I will need help.”

“And security?”

“That is an important question. I have to make a serious assessment of what the possibilities are. At that point I will know my precise requirements. I know I will need help in some areas, however.”

“Such as?” the Commander asked.

“The explosives.”

“But you are an expert in such things,” Qati objected.

“Commander, this task requires precision such as we have never been forced to face. We cannot use ordinary plastic explosives, for example, for the simple reason that they are plastic — they change shape. The explosive blocks I use must be as rigid as stone, must be shaped to a thousandth of a millimeter, and the shape must be determined mathematically. The theoretical side of that is something I could assimilate, but it will take months. I would rather devote my time to refabricating the nuclear material… and…”


“I believe I can improve the bomb, Commander.”

“Improve? How?”

“If my initial readings are correct, this type of weapon can be adapted to become not a bomb but a trigger.”

Trigger for what?" Qati asked.

“A thermonuclear fusion bomb, a hydrogen bomb, Ismael. The yield of the weapon might be increased by a factor of ten, perhaps a hundred. We could destroy Israel, certainly a very large part of it.”

The commander paused for a few breaths, assimilating that bit of information. When he spoke, he spoke softly. “But you need help. Where might be the best place?”

“Günther may have some valuable contacts in Germany. If he can be trusted,” Ghosn added.

“I have considered this. Günther can be trusted.” Qati explained why.

“We are sure the story is real?” Ghosn asked. “I have no more faith in coincidences than you, Commander.”

“There was a photograph in a German newspaper. It appeared quite genuine.” A German tabloid had managed to get a graphic black-and-white photo that showed the results of a hanging in all its ghastly splendor. The fact that Petra was nude above the waist had ensured its publication. Such an end for a terrorist murderer was too juicy to be denied to the German males, one of whom had been castrated by this woman.

The problem is simply that we must minimize the number of people who know about this, else — excuse me, Ismael."

“But we need some help. Yes, I understand that.” Qati smiled. “You are correct. It is time to discuss our plans with our friend. You propose to explode the bomb in Israel?”

“Where else? It is not my place to make such plans, but I assumed—”

“I have not thought about it. One thing at a time, Ibrahim. When are you leaving for Israel?”

“I planned to do so in the next week or so.”

“Let it wait until we see what this treaty business will do.” Qati thought. “Begin your studies. We will make haste slowly on this matter. First you must determine your requirements. We will then try to meet them in the most secure location we can arrange.”

It took forever, it seemed, but forever in political terms can be a time period ranging from five minutes to five years. In this case, it took less than three days for the important part to happen. Fifty thousand more demonstrators arrived before the Knesset. Led by veterans of all of Israel 's wars, the new crowd supported the treaties. There were more shouts and shaken fists, but for once there was no overt violence, as the police managed to keep the two passionate groups separated. Instead they labored to outshout each other.

The cabinet met again in closed session, both ignoring and attending to the din outside their windows. The Defense Minister was surprisingly quiet during the discussion. On being asked, he agreed that the additional arms promised by the Americans would be hugely useful: 48 additional F-16 fighter-bombers; and for the first time, M-2/3 Bradley fighting vehicles, Hellfire antitank missiles, and access to the revolutionary new tank-gun technology America was developing. The Americans would underwrite most of the cost of building a high-tech training center in the Negev similar to their own National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, where the 10th Cav unit would train constantly as the “OpFor” or opposing force against Israeli units. The Defense Minister knew the effect the NTC had had for the U.S. Army, which was at its highest state of professionalism since World War II. With the new materiel and training base, he judged that the real effectiveness of Israel 's defense forces would increase by fifty percent. To that he added the U.S. Air Force F-16 wing and the tank regiment, both of which, as spelled out in a secret codicil of the Mutual Defense Treaty, chopped to Israeli command in time of emergency — a situation that was defined by Israel. That was totally unprecedented in American history, the Foreign Minister pointed out.

“So, is our national security degraded or enhanced by the treaties?” the Prime Minister asked.

“It is somewhat enhanced,” the Defense Minister admitted.

“Then will you say so?”

Defense pondered that for a moment, his eyes boring in on the man seated at the head of the table. Will you support me when I make my bid for the premiership? his eyes asked.

The Prime Minister nodded.

“I will address the crowds. We can live with these treaties.”

The speech did not pacify everyone, but it was enough to convince a third of the antitreaty demonstrators to depart. The crucial middle element in the Israeli parliament observed the events, consulted its conscience, and made its decision. The treaties were ratified by a slim margin. Even before the United States Senate had a chance to clear the treaties through the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, implementation of both agreements began.


They weren't supposed to look human. The Swiss guards were all over 185 centimeters in height and not one weighed less than eighty-five kilograms, which translated to about six-one and a hundred eighty pounds for American tourists. Their physical fitness was manifest. The guard encampment, just outside the city in what had been a Jewish settlement until less than two weeks before, had its own high-tech gymnasium, and the men were “encouraged” to pump iron until their exposed skin looked as taut as a drumhead. Their forearms, exposed below rolled-up sleeves, were thicker than the lower legs of most men, and already tanned brown beneath what were often sun-bleached blond hairs. Their mostly blue eyes were always hidden behind dark glasses in the case of the officers, and tinted Lexan shields for the rest.

They were outfitted in fatigues of an urban-camouflage pattern, a curious design of black, white, and several shades of gray that allowed them to blend in with the stones and whitewashed stucco of Jerusalem in a way that was eerily effective, especially at night. Their boots were the same, not the spit-shined elegance of parade soldiers. The helmets were Kevlar, covered with cloth of the same pattern. Over the fatigues went camouflaged flak jackets of American design that merely seemed to increase the physical bulk of the soldiers. Over the flak jackets came the web gear. Each man always carried four fragmentation grenades and two smokes, plus a one-liter canteen, first-aid packet, and ammo pouches for a light total load-out of about twelve kilos.

They traveled about the city in teams of five, one non-com and four privates per team, and twelve teams to each duty section. Each man carried a SIG assault rifle, two of which had grenade launchers slung underneath the barrel. The sergeant also carried a pistol, and two men in each team carried radios. The teams on patrol were in constant radio contact and regularly practiced mutual-support maneuvers.

Half of each duty section walked, while the other half moved about slowly and menacingly in American-built HMMWVs. Essentially an oversized jeep, each “hummer” had at least a pintel-mounted machine-gun, and some had six-barreled miniguns, plus Kevlar armor to protect the crews against the casual enemy. At the commanding note of their horns, everyone cleared a path.

At the command post were several armored fighting vehicles — English-built armored cars that could just barely navigate the streets of the ancient city. Always on duty at the post was a platoon-sized unit commanded by a captain. This was the emergency-response team. They were armed with heavy weapons, like the Swedish Carl Gustav M-2 recoilless, just the right thing for knocking a hole in any building. Supporting them was an engineer section with copious quantities of high explosives; the “sappers” ostentatiously practiced by knocking down those settlements which Israel had agreed to abandon. In fact, the entire regiment practiced its combat skills at those sites, and people were allowed to observe from a few hundred meters away in what was rapidly becoming a genuine tourist attraction. Already, Arab merchants were producing T-shirts with logos like ROBOSOLDIER! for anyone who cared to buy them. The commercial sense of the merchants was not unrewarded.

The Swiss guards did not smile, nor did they speak to the casual interrogator, a facility that came easily to them. Journalists were encouraged to meet with the commanding officer, Colonel Jacques Schwindler, and were occasionally allowed to speak with lower ranks in barracks or at training exercises, but never on the street. Some contact with the locals was inevitable, of course. The soldiers were learning rudimentary Arabic, and English sufficed for everyone else. They occasionally issued traffic citations, though this was mainly a function of the local civil police force that was still forming up — with support from the Israelis who were phasing out of the function. More rarely a Swiss guard would step into a street fight or other disturbance. Most often the mere sight of a five-man team would reduce people to respectful silence and docile civility. The mission of the Swiss was intimidation, and it didn't require many days for people to appreciate how good they were at it. At the same time, their operations depended most of all on something other than the physical.

On the right shoulder of each uniform was a patch. It was in the shape of a shield. The centerpiece was the white cross on red background of the Swiss, to demonstrate the origin of the soldiers. Around it were the Star and Crescent of Islam, the six-pointed Judaic Star of David, and the Christian Cross. There were three versions of the patch, so that each religious emblem had an equal chance of being on top. It was publicly known that the patches were distributed at random, and the symbology indicated that the Swiss flag protected them all equally.

The soldiers deferred always to religious leaders. Colonel Schwindler met daily with the religious troika which governed the city. It was believed that they alone made policy, but Schwindler was a clever, thoughtful man, whose suggestions from the first had carried great weight with the Imam, the Rabbi, and the Patriarch. Schwindler had also traveled to the capitals of every Middle East nation. The Swiss had chosen well — he'd been known as the best colonel in their army. An honest and scrupulously fair man, he'd acquired an enviable reputation. Already on his office wall was a gold-mounted sword, a present from the King of Saudi Arabia. A stallion of equal magnificence was quartered at the guard force encampment. Schwindler didn't know how to ride.

It was up to the troika to run the city. They had proven to be even more effective than anyone had dared to hope. Chosen for their piety and scholarship, each soon impressed the others. It had been agreed upon at once that each week there would be a public prayer service particular to one of the represented religions, and that each would attend, not actually participating, but demonstrating the respect that was at the foundation of their collective purpose. Originally suggested by the Imam, it had unexpectedly proven to be the most effective method of tempering their internal disagreements and also setting the example for the citizens of the city in their care. This was not to say that there were not disagreements. But those were invariably difficulties between two of the members, and in such cases the uninvolved third would mediate. It was in the interests of all to reach a peaceful and reasonable settlement. “The Lord God”—a phrase each of the three could use without prejudice — required their good will, and after a few initial teething problems, that good will prevailed. Over coffee, after concluding one dispute over scheduling access to one shrine or another, the Greek Patriarch noted with a chuckle that perhaps this was the first miracle he had ever witnessed. No, the Rabbi had replied, it was no miracle that men of God should have the conviction to obey their own religious principles. All at once? the Imam had asked with a smile, perhaps not a miracle, but certainly it had required over a millennium to achieve. Let us not begin a new dispute, the Greek had said with a rumbling laugh, over the settlement of another — now, if you can only help me find a way to deal with my fellow Christians!

Outside on the streets, when clerics of one faith encountered those of another, greetings were exchanged to set an example for everyone. The Swiss Guards saluted each in their turn, and when speaking with the most senior, they would remove their glasses or helmets to show public respect.

That was the only humanity the Swiss Guards were allowed to demonstrate. It was said that they didn't even sweat.

“Scary sons of bitches,” Ryan observed, standing in shirt-sleeves at a corner. American tourists snapped pictures. Jews still looked a touch resentful. Arabs smiled. The Christians who'd largely been driven out of Jerusalem by increasing violence had barely started to return. Everyone got the hell out of their way as the five men moved briskly down the street, not quite marching, their helmeted heads turning left and right. “They really do look like robots.”

“You know,” Avi said, “there hasn't been a single attack on them since the first week. Not one.”

“I wouldn't want to fool with them,” Clark observed quietly.

In the first week, as though by Providence, an Arab youth had killed an elderly Israeli woman with a knife — it had been a street robbery rather than a crime with political significance — and had made the mistake of doing so in view of a Swiss private, who'd run him down and subdued him with a martial-arts blow right out of a movie. The Arab in question had been taken to the troika and given the choice of a trial by Israeli or Islamic law. He'd made the mistake of choosing the latter. After a week in an Israeli hospital to allow his injuries to heal, he'd faced a trial in accordance with the word of the Koran, chaired by Imam Ahmed bin Yussif. One day after that, he had been flown to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, driven to a public square, and, after having had time to repent his misdeeds, publicly beheaded with a sword. Ryan wondered how you said pour encourager les autres in Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic. Israelis had been amazed at the speed and severity of justice, but the Muslims had merely shrugged and pointed out that the Koran had its own stern criminal code, and that it had proven highly effective over the years.

“Your people are still a little unhappy with this, aren't they?”

Avi frowned. Ryan had faced him with the necessity of expressing his personal opinion, or speaking the truth. “They'd feel safer with our paratroops here… man-to-man, Ryan?” Truth won out, as it had to with Avi.


“They'll learn. It will take a few more weeks, but they will learn. The Arabs like the Swiss, and the key to the peace on this street is how our Arab friends feel. Now, will you tell me something?” Clark 's head moved fractionally at that.

“Maybe,” Ryan answered, looking up the street.

“How much did you have to do with this?”

“Nothing at all,” Jack replied with a neutral coldness that matched the pace of the soldiers. “It was Charlie Alden's idea, remember? I was just the messenger boy.”

“So Elizabeth Elliot has told everyone.” Avi didn't have to say any more.

“You wouldn't have asked the question unless you knew the answer, Avi. So why ask the question?”

“Artfully done.” General Ben Jakob sat down and waved for the waiter. He ordered two beers before speaking again. Clark and the other bodyguard weren't drinking. “Your president pushed us too hard. Threatening us with withholding our arms… ”

“He could have gone a little easier, I suppose, but I do not make policy, Avi. Your people made it happen when they murdered those demonstrators. That reopened a part of our own history that we wish to forget. It neutralized your congressional lobby — a lot of those people were on the other side of our own civil rights movement, remember. You forced us to move, Avi. You know that. Besides—” Ryan stopped abruptly.


“Avi, this thing just might work. I mean, look around!” Jack said, as the beers arrived. He was thirsty enough that a third of it disappeared in an instant.

“It is a slim possibility,” Ben Jakob admitted.

“You get better intel from Syria than we do,” Ryan pointed out. “I've heard that they've started saying nice things about the settlement — very quietly, I admit. Am I right?”

“If it's true.” Avi grunted.

“You know the hard part about 'peace' intel?”

Ben Jakob's eyes were focused on a distant wall as he contemplated — what? “Believing it is possible?”

Jack nodded. “That's one area where we have the advantage over you guys, my friend. We've been through all that.”

“True, but the Soviets never said — proclaimed — for two generations that they wanted to wipe you from the face of the earth. Tell the worthy President Fowler that such concerns are not so easily allayed.”

Jack sighed. “I have. I did. Avi, I'm not your enemy.”

“Neither are you my ally.”

“Allies? We are now, General. The treaties are in force. General, my job is to provide information and analysis to my government. Policy is made by people senior to me, and smarter than me,” Ryan added with deadpan irony.

“Oh? And who might they be?” General Ben Jakob smiled at the younger man. His voice dropped a few octaves. “You've been in the trade for what — not even ten years, Jack. The submarine business, what you did in Moscow, the role you played in the last election—”

Ryan tried to control his reaction, but failed. “Jesus, Avi!” How the hell did he find that out!

“You cannot take the Lord's name in vain, Dr. Ryan,” the deputy chief of the Mossad chided. “This is the City of God. Those Swiss chaps might shoot you. Tell the lovely Miss Elliot that if she pushes too hard, we still have friends in your media, and a story such as that…” Avi smiled.

“Avi, if your people mention that to Liz, she will not know what you are talking about.”

“Rubbish!” General Ben Jakob snorted.

“You have my word on that, sir.”

It was General Ben Jakob's turn to be surprised. “That is difficult to believe.”

Jack finished off the beer. “Avi, I've said what I can. Has it ever occurred to you that your information may not have come from an entirely reliable source? I will tell you this: I have no personal knowledge of what you alluded to. If there was any kind of deal, I was kept out of it. Okay, I have reason to believe that something may have happened, and I can even speculate what it might have been, but if I ever have to sit in front of a judge and answer questions, all I can say is that I do not know anything. And you, my friend, cannot blackmail someone with something that person doesn't know about. You'd have to do a pretty good selling job just to convince them that something had happened in the first place.”

“My God, what Moore and Ritter set up really was elegant, wasn't it?”

Ryan set down his empty glass. “Things like that never happen in real life, General. That's movie stuff. Look, Avi, maybe that report you have is a little on the thin side. The spectacular ones often are. Reality never quite keeps up with art, after all.” It was a good play. Ryan grinned to carry the point.

“Dr. Ryan, in 1972 the Black September faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization contracted the Japanese Red Army to shoot up Ben Gurion Airport, which they did, killing off mainly American Protestant pilgrims from your island of Puerto Rico. The single terrorist taken alive by our security forces told his interrogators that his dead comrades and their victims would become a constellation of stars in the heavens. In prison he purportedly converted himself to Judaism, and even circumcised himself with his teeth, which speaks volumes for his flexibility,” Brigadier General Avi Ben Jakob added matter-of-factly. “Do not ever tell me that there is something too mad to be true. I have been an intelligence officer for more than twenty years, and the only thing of which I am certain is that I have not yet seen it all.”

“Avi, even I'm not that paranoid.”

“You have never experienced a holocaust, Dr. Ryan.”

“Oh? Cromwell and the Potato Famine don't count? Get off that horse, General. We're deploying the U.S. troops here. If it comes to that, there will be American blood on the Negev, or Golan, or whatever.”

“And what if—”

“Avi, you ask what if. If that what-if ever happens, General, I will fly here myself. I used to be a Marine. You know I've been shot at before. There will be no second Holocaust. Not while I live. My countrymen will not let it happen ever again. Not my government, Avi, my countrymen. We will not let that happen. If Americans have to die to help protect this country, then Americans will die to do so.”

“You said that to Vietnam.” Clark 's eyes flared at that one, Ben Jakob noticed. “You have something to say?”

“General, I'm no high official, just a grunt with pretensions. But I got more combat time than anybody in this country of yours, and I'm telling you, sir, that what really scares me about this place is how you guys always fuck up the same way we did over there — we learned, you didn't. And what Dr. Ryan says is right. He'll come over. So will I, if it comes to that. I've killed my share of enemies, too,” Clark told him in a low, quiet voice.

“Another Marine?” Avi asked lightly, though he knew better.

“Close enough,” Clark said. “And I've kept current, as they say,” he added with a smile.

“What about your associate?” Avi motioned towards Chavez, who stood casually at the corner, eyeing the street.

“Good as I ever was. So're those kids in the Cav. But this war talk is all bullshit. You guys both know that. You want security, sir, you settle your domestic problems. Peace will follow that like a rainbow after a storm.”

“Learn from your mistakes…”

“We had a four-thousand-mile buffer to fall back through, General. It isn't that far from here to the Med. You'd better learn from our mistakes. Good news is, you are better able to make a real peace than we ever were.”

“But to have it imposed—”

“Sir, if it works, you'll thank us. If it doesn't work, we have a lot of people to stand by you when the crap hits the fan.” Clark noticed that Ding had moved casually from his post across the street, moving aimlessly, it seemed, like a tourist.

“Including you?”

“Bet your ass, General,” Clark replied, alert now, watching the people on the street. What had Chavez spotted? What had he missed?

* * *

Who are they? Ghosn wondered. It took a second. Brigadier General Abraham Ben Jakob, Deputy Director of the Mossad, his brain answered after sorting through all the recognition photographs he'd memorized. Talking to an American. I wonder who he is… Ghosn's head turned slowly and casually. The American would have several bodyguards… the one close by was obvious. A very serious fellow that one was, old… late forties, perhaps. It was the hardness — no, not hardness, but alertness. One could control the face but not the eyes — ah, the man put sunglasses back on. More than one. Had to be more than one, plus Israeli security officers. Ghosn knew that he'd let his eyes linger a touch too long, but—

“Oops.” A man had bumped into him, a fraction smaller and slighter than Ghosn. Dark complexion, possibly even a brother Arab, but he'd spoken in English. Contact was broken before Ghosn had time to realize that he'd been quickly and expertly frisked. “Sorry.” The man moved off. Ghosn didn't know, wasn't sure if it had been what it seemed to be or if he'd just been checked out by an Israeli, American, or other security officer. Well, he wasn't carrying a weapon, not even a pocket knife, just a shopping bag full of books.

Clark saw Ding give the all-clear sign, an ordinary gesture, like shooing an insect off his neck. Then why the eye-recognition from the target — anyone who took an interest in his protectee was a target — why had he stopped and looked? Clark turned around. There was a pretty girl just two tables away. Not Arab or Israeli, some sort of European, Germanic language, sounded like, maybe Dutch. Good-looking girl, and such girls attracted looks. Maybe he and the other two had just been between a looker and his lookee. Maybe. For a protective officer, the balance between awareness and paranoia was impossible to draw, even when you understood the tactical environment, and Clark had no such illusions here. On the other hand, they'd selected a random eatery on a random street, and the fact that Ryan was here, and that Ben Jakob and he had decided to look things over… nobody had intelligence that good, and nobody had enough troops to cover even a single city — except maybe the Russians in Moscow — to make the threat a real one. But why the eye-recognition?

Well. Clark recorded the face, and it went into the memory hopper with all the hundreds of others.

* * *

Ghosn continued his own patrol. He'd purchased all the books he needed, and was now observing the Swiss troops, how they moved, how tough they looked. Avi Ben Jakob, he thought. Missed opportunity. Targets like that one didn't appear every day. He continued down the rough, cobbled street, his eyes vacant as they appeared to scan at random. He'd take the next right, increase his pace, and try to get ahead of the Swiss before they made it to the next cross street. He both admired what he saw in them and regretted that he saw it.

“Nicely done,” Ben Jakob observed to Clark. “Your subordinate is well trained.”

“He shows promise.” As Clark watched, Ding Chavez looped back to his lookout point across the street. “You know the face?”

“No. My people probably got a photograph. We'll check it out, but it was probably a young man with normal sexual drives,” Ben Jakob jerked his head towards the Dutch girl, if that's what she was.

Clark was surprised the Israelis hadn't made a move. A shopping bag could contain anything. And “anything” had generally negative connotations in this environment. God, he hated this job. Looking out for himself was one thing. He typically used mobility, random paths, irregular pacing, always keeping an eye out for escape routes or ambush opportunities. But Ryan, while he might have had similar instincts — tactically speaking, the DDCI was pretty swift, Clark judged — had an overdeveloped sense of faith in the competence of his two bodyguards.

“So, Avi?” Ryan asked.

“Well, the first echelon of your cavalry troops is settling in. Our tank people like your Colonel Diggs. I must say I find their regimental crest rather odd — a bison is just a kind of wild cow, after all.” Avi chuckled.

“As with a tank, Avi, you probably don't want to stand in front of one.” Ryan wondered what would happen when the 10th Cav ran its first full-up training exercise with the Israelis. It was widely believed in the U.S. Army that the Israelis were overrated, and Diggs had a big reputation as a kick-ass tactician. “It looks like I can report to the President that the local situation is showing real signs of promise.”

“There will be difficulties.”

“Of course there will. Avi, the millennium doesn't arrive for a few more years,” Jack noted. “But did you think things would go so smoothly so fast?”

“No, I didn't,” Ben Jakob admitted. He fished out the cash to pay the check, and both men rose. Clark took his cue and went over to Chavez.


“Just that one guy. Heavy shopping bag, but it looked like books — textbooks, matter of fact. There was a sales slip still in one. Would you believe books on nuclear physics? The one title I saw was, anyway. Big, thick, heavy mother. Maybe he's a grad student or something, and that is one pretty lady over there, man.”

“Let's keep our minds on business, Mr. Chavez.”

“She's not my type, Mr. Clark.”

“What do you think of the Swiss guys?”

They look awful pretty for track-toads. I wouldn't want to play with them unless I picked the turf and the time, man.“ Chavez paused. ”You notice the guy I frisked eyeballed them real hard?"


“He did… looked like he knew what he was—” Domingo Chavez paused. “I suppose people around here seen a lot of soldiers. Anyway, he gave 'em a professional sorta look. That's what I noticed first, not the way he eyeballed you and the doc. The guy had smart eyes, y'know what I mean?”

“What else?”

“Moved good, decent shape. Hands looked soft, though, not hard like a soldier. Too old for a college kid, but maybe not for a grad student.” Chavez paused again. “Jesucristo! this is a paranoid business we're in, man. He was not carrying a weapon. His hands didn't look like he was a martial-arts type. He just came down the street looking at those Swiss grunts, eyeballed over where the doc and his friend were, then he just kept going. End of story.” There were times when Chavez wished he'd opted to remain in the Army. He would have had his degree and his commission by now instead of cramming in night courses at George Mason while he played bodyguard to Ryan. At least the doc was a good guy, and working with Clark was… interesting. But this intelligence stuff was a strange life.

“Time to move,” Clark advised.

“I got the point.” Ding's hand checked the automatic clipped under his loose shirt. The Israeli guards were already moving up the street.

Ghosn caught them just as he'd planned. The Swiss had helped. An elderly Muslim cleric had stopped the squad sergeant to ask a question. There was a problem with translation, the imam didn't speak English, and the Swiss soldier's Arabic was still primitive. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.

“Excuse me,” Ghosn said to the imam, “can I help with translation?” He absorbed the rapid-fire string of his native language and turned to the soldier.

The imam is from Saudi Arabia. This is his first time in Jerusalem since he was a boy and he requires directions to the Troika's office."

On recognizing the seniority of the cleric, the sergeant removed his helmet and inclined his head respectfully. “Please tell him that we would be honored to escort him there.”

“Ah, there you are!” another voice called. It was obviously an Israeli. His Arabic was accented, but literate. “Good day, Sergeant,” the man added in English.

“Greetings, Rabbi Ravenstein. You know this man?” the soldier asked.

“This is Imam Mohammed Al Faisal, a distinguished scholar and historian from Medina.”

“Is it all I have been told?” Al Faisal asked Ravenstein directly.

“All that and more!” the rabbi replied.

“Excuse me?” Ghosn had to say.

“You are?” Ravenstein asked.

“A student. I was attempting to assist with the language problem.”

“Ah, I see,” Ravenstein said. “Very kind of you. Mohammed is here to look at a manuscript we uncovered at a dig. It's a scholarly Muslim commentary on a very old Torah, Tenth Century, a fantastic find. Sergeant, I can manage things from here, and thank you also, young man.”

“Do you require escort, sir?” the sergeant asked. “We are heading that way.”

“No, thank you, we are both too old to keep up with you.”

“Very well.” The sergeant saluted. “Good day.”

The Swiss moved off. The few people who'd taken note of the brief encounter pointed and smiled.

“The commentary is by Al Qalda himself, and it seems to cite the work of Nuchem of Acre,” Ravenstein said. “The state of preservation is incredible.”

“Then I must see it!” The two scholars began walking down the street as rapidly as their aged legs would carry them, oblivious to everything around them.

Ghosn's face didn't change. He'd shown wonder and amusement for the benefit of the Swiss infantrymen now halfway down the block, themselves with a trailing escort of small children. His discipline allowed him to sidle off to the side, take another turn, and vanish down a narrow alley, but what he had just seen was far more depressing.

Mohammed Al Faisal was one of the five greatest Islamic scholars, a highly-respected historian, and a distant member of the Saudi royal family, despite his unpretentious nature. Except for his age — the man was nearing eighty — he might have been one of the members of the troika running Jerusalem — that and the fact that they'd wanted a scholar of Palestinian ancestry for political reasons. No friend of Israel, and one of the most conservative of the Saudi religious leaders, had he become enamored of the treaty also?

Worse still, the Swiss had treated the man with the utmost respect. Worst of all, the Israeli rabbi had done the same. The people in the streets, nearly all of them Palestinians, had watched it all with amusement and… what? Tolerance? Acceptance, as though it were the most natural thing in the world. The Israelis had long ago given lip-service to respect for their Arab neighbors, but that promise had not even been written on sand for all the permanence it had carried.

Ravenstein wasn't like that, of course. Another scholar, living in his own little world of dead things and ideas, he'd often counseled moderation in dealings with Arabs, and handled his archaeological digs with Muslim consultation… and now…

And now he was a psychological bridge between the Jewish world and the Arab one. People like that would continue doing what they had always done, but now it was not an aberration, was it?

Peace. It was possible. It could happen. It wasn't just another mad dream imposed on the region by outsiders. How quickly the ordinary people were adapting to it. Israelis were leaving their homes. The Swiss had already taken over one settlement and demolished several others. The Saudi commission was set up, and was beginning to work on restoring land parcels to their rightful owners. A great Arab university was planned for the outskirts of Jerusalem, to be built with Saudi money. It was moving so fast! Israelis were resisting, but less than he had expected. In another week, he'd heard from twenty people, tourists would flood the city — hotel bookings were arriving as rapidly as satellite phone links could deliver them. Already two enormous new hotels were being planned for the influx, and on the basis of increased tourism alone the Palestinians here would reap fantastic economic benefits. They were already proclaiming their total political victory over Israel, and had collectively decided to be magnanimous in their triumph — it made financial sense to be so, and the Palestinians had the most highly developed commercial sense in the Arab world.

But Israel would still survive.

Ghosn stopped at a street cafe, set down his bag and ordered a glass of juice. He contemplated the narrow street as he waited. There were Jews and Muslims. Tourists would soon flood the place; the first wave had barely broken at local airports. Muslims, of course, to pray at the Dome of the Rock. Americans with their money, even Japanese, curious at a land even more ancient than their own. Prosperity would soon come to Palestine.

Prosperity was the handmaiden of peace, and the assassin of discontent.

But prosperity was not what Ibrahim Ghosn wanted for his people or his land. Ultimately, perhaps, but only after the other necessary preconditions had been met. He paid for his orange juice with American currency and walked off. Soon he was able to catch a cab. Ghosn had entered Israel from Egypt. He'd leave Jerusalem for Jordan, thence back to Lebanon. He had work to do, and he hoped the books he carried contained the necessary information.

Ben Goodley was a post-doctoral student from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. A bright, good-looking academic of twenty-seven years, he was also possessed of enough ambition for the entire family after which the school had been named. His doctoral thesis had examined the folly of Vietnam from the intelligence side of the equation, and it had been sufficiently controversial that his professor had forwarded it to Liz Elliot for comment. The National Security Advisor's only beef with Goodley was that he was a man. Nobody was perfect.

“So, exactly what sort of research do you want to do?” she asked him.

“Doctor, I hope to examine the nature of intelligence decisions as they relate to recent changes in Europe and the Middle East. The problem is getting FOI'd into certain areas.”

“And what is your ultimate objective? I mean,” Elliot said, “is it teaching, writing, government service, what?”

“Government service, of course. The historical environmental demands, I think, that the right people take the right action. My thesis made it clear, didn't it, that we've been badly served by the intelligence community almost continuously since the 1960s. The whole institutional mindset over there is geared in the wrong direction. At least”—he leaned back and tried to look comfortable—“that's how it often appears to an outsider.”

“And why is that, do you think?”

“Recruiting is one problem. The way CIA, for example, selects people really determines how they obtain and analyze data. They create a gigantic self-fulfilling prophecy. Where's their objectivity, where's their ability to see trends? Did they predict 1989? Of course not. What are they missing now? Probably a lot of things. It might be nice,” Goodley said, “to get a handle on the important issues before they become crisis items.”

“I agree.” Elliot watched the young man's shoulders drop as he discreetly let out a deep breath. She decided to play him just a little, just enough to let him know whom he'd be working for. “I wonder what we can do with you…?” Elliot let her eyes trace across the far wall.

“Marcus Cabot has an opening for a research assistant. You'll need a security clearance, and you'll need to sign a very strict non-disclosure agreement. You cannot publish anything without having it cleared in advance.”

“That's almost prior-restraint,” Goodley pointed out. “What about the Constitutional issue?”

“Government must keep some secrets if it is to function. You may have access to some remarkable information. Is getting published your goal, or is it what you said? Public service does require some sacrifices.”


“There will be some important openings at CIA in the next few years,” Elliot promised.

“I see,” Goodley said, quite truthfully. “I never intended to publish classified information, of course.”

“Of course,” Elliot agreed. “I can handle that through my office, I suppose. I found your paper impressive. I want a mind like yours working for the government, if you can agree to the necessary restrictions.”

“In that case, I guess I can accept them.”

“Fine.” Elliot smiled. “You are now a White House Fellow. My secretary will take you across the street to the security office. You have a bunch of forms to fill out.”

“I already have a 'secret' clearance.”

“You'll need more than that. You'll have to get a SAP/ SAR clearance — that means 'special-access programs/ special access required.' It normally takes a few months for that—”

“Months?” Goodley asked.

“I said 'usually.' We can fast-track part of that. I suggest you start apartment-hunting. The stipend is sufficient?”

“Quite sufficient.”

“Fine. I'll call Marcus over at Langley. You'll want to meet him.” Goodley beamed at the National Security Advisor. “Glad to have you on the team.”

The new White House Fellow took his cue and stood. “I will try not to disappoint you.”

Elliot watched him leave. It was so easy to seduce people, she knew. Sex was a useful tool for the task, but power and ambition were so much better. She'd already proven that, Elliot smiled to herself.

“An atomic bomb?” Bock asked.

“So it would seem,” Qati replied.

“Who else knows?”

“Ghosn is the one who discovered it. Only he.”

“Can it be used?” the German asked. And why have you told me?

“It was severely damaged and must be repaired. Ibrahim is now assembling the necessary information for evaluating the task. He thinks it possible.”

Günther leaned back. “This is not some elaborate ruse? An Israeli trick, perhaps an American one?”

“If so, it is a very clever one,” Qati said, then explained the circumstances of the discovery.

“Ninteen seventy-three… it does fit. I remember how close the Syrians came to destroying the Israelis…” Bock was silent for a moment. He shook his head briefly. “How to use such a thing…”

“That is the question, Günther.”

“Too early to ask such a question. First, you must determine if the weapon can be repaired. Second, you must determine its explosive yield — no, before that you must determine its size, weight, and portability. That is the most important consideration. After that comes the yield — I will assume that—” He fell silent. “Assume? I know little of such weapons. They cannot be too heavy. They can be fired from artillery shells of less than twenty-centimeter diameter. I know that much.”

This one is much larger than that, my friend."

“You should not have told me this, Ismael. In a matter like this one, security is everything. You cannot trust anyone with knowledge such as this. People talk, people boast. There could be penetration agents in your organization.”

“It was necessary. Ghosn knows that he will need some help. What contacts do you have in the DDR?”

“What sort?” Qati told him. “I know a few engineers, people who worked in the DDR. nuclear program… it's a dead program, you know.”

“How so?”

“Honecker was planning to build several reactors of the Russian sort. When Germany reunited, their environmental activists took one look at the design and — well, you can imagine. The Russian designs do not have a sterling reputation, do they?” Bock grunted. “As I keep telling you, the Russians are a backward people. Their reactors, one fellow told me, were designed mainly for production of nuclear material for weapons…”


“And it is likely that there was a nuclear-weapons program within the DDR. Interesting, I never thought that through, did I?” Bock asked himself quietly. “What exactly do you want me to do?”

“I need you to travel to Germany and find some people — we would prefer merely one, for obvious reasons — to assist us.”

Back to Germany? Bock asked himself. “I'll need—”

Qati tossed an envelope into his friend's lap. “ Beirut has been a crossroads for centuries. Those travel documents are better than the real ones.”

“You will need to move your location immediately,” Bock said. “If I am caught, you will have to assume that they will get every bit of information I have. They broke Petra. They can break me or anyone else they wish.”

“I will pray for your safety. In that envelope is a telephone number. When you return, we will be elsewhere.”

“When do I leave?”



“And I'll raise you a dime,” Ryan said, after taking his draw.

“You're bluffing,” Chavez said after a sip of beer.

“I never bluff,” Jack replied.

“Out.” Clark tossed in his cards.

“They all say that,” the Air Force sergeant observed. “See your dime and bump you a quarter.”

“Call,” Chavez said.

“Three jacks.”

“Beats my eights,” the sergeant groused.

“But not a straight, doc.” Ding finished off his beer. “Gee, that puts me five bucks ahead.”

“Never count your winnings at the table, son,” Clark advised soberly.

“I never did like that song.” Chavez grinned. “But I like this game.”

“I thought soldiers were lousy gamblers,” the Air Force sergeant observed sourly. He was three bucks down, and he was a real poker player. He got to practice against politicians all the time on long flights when they needed a good dealer.

“One of the first things they teach you at CIA is how to mark cards,” Clark announced, as he went for the next round of drinks.

“Always knew I should have taken the course at The Farm,” Ryan said. He was about even, but every time he'd had a good hand, Chavez had held a better one. “Next time, I'll let you play with my wife.”

“She good?” Chavez asked.

“She's a surgeon. She deals seconds so smooth she can fool a professional mechanic. She plays with cards as a kind of dexterity exercise,” Ryan explained with a grin. I never let her deal."

“Mrs. Ryan would never do anything like that,” Clark said, when he sat back down.

“Your turn to deal,” Ding said.

Clark started shuffling, something he also did fairly well. “So, what you think, doc?”

“ Jerusalem? Better than I hoped. How about you?”

“Last time I was there—'84, I think — God, it was like Olongapo in the P.I. You could smell it — the trouble, I mean. You couldn't actually see it, but, man, it was there. You could feel people watching you. Now? It's sure chilled out some. How about some five-card stud?” Clark asked.

“Dealer's choice,” the sergeant agreed.

Clark dealt the hole cards, then the first set of up cards. “Nine of spades to the Air Force. Five of diamonds to our Latino friend. Queen of clubs to the doc, and the dealer gets — how about that? Dealer gets an ace. Ace bets a quarter.”

“Well, John?” Ryan asked after the first round of bets.

“You do put a lot of faith in my powers of observation, Jack. We'll know for sure in a couple of months, but I'd say it looks all right.” He dealt four more cards. “Possible straight — possible straight flush to the Air Force. Your bet, sir.”

“Another quarter.” The Air Force sergeant felt lucky. The Israeli security guys have mellowed out some, too."

“How so?”

“Dr. Ryan, the Israelis really know about security. Every time we fly over here, they put a wall up around the bird, y'know? This time the wall wasn't so high. I talked to a couple of 'em, and they're more relaxed — not officially, but personal, y'know? Used to be they hardly talked at all. Looked like a big difference to me, anyway.”

Ryan smiled as he decided to fold. His eight, queen, and deuce weren't going anywhere. It never failed. You always got better data from sergeants than generals.

“What we have here,” Ghosn said, flipping his book to the right page, “is essentially an Israeli copy of an American Mark-12 fission bomb. It's a boosted-fission design.”

“What does that mean?” Qati asked.

“It means that tritium is squirted into the core just as the act of firing begins. That generates more neutrons and greatly increases the efficiency of the reaction. As a result, you need only a small amount of fissionable material…”

“But?” Qati heard the “but” coming.

Ghosn leaned back and stared at the core of the device. “But the mechanism to insert the boost material was destroyed by the impact. The kryton switches for the conventional explosives are no longer reliable and must be replaced. We have enough intact explosive blocks to determine their proper configuration, but manufacturing new ones will be very difficult. Unfortunately, I cannot depend on simply reverse-engineering the entire weapon. I must duplicate the original design theoretically first, determine what it can and cannot do, then re-invent the processes for fabrication. Do you have any idea what the original cost for that was?”

“No,” Qati admitted, sure that he was about to learn.

“More than what it cost to land people on the moon. The most brilliant minds in human history were part of this process: Einstein, Fermi, Bohr, Oppenheimer, Teller, Alvarez, von Neumann, Lawrence — a hundred others! The giants of physics in this century. Giants.”

“You're telling me you cannot do it?”

Ghosn smiled. “No, Commander, I am telling you that I can. What is the work of genius the first time is the work of a tinsmith soon thereafter. It required genius the first time because it was the first time, and also because technology was so primitive. All the calculations had to be done manually at first, on big mechanical calculators. All the work on the first hydrogen bomb was done on the first primitive computers — Eniac, I think it was called. But today?” Ghosn laughed. It really was absurd. "A videogame has more computing power than Eniac ever did. I can run the calculations on a high-end personal computer in seconds and duplicate what took Einstein months. But the most important thing is that they did not really know if it was possible. It is, and I know that! Next, they made records of how they proceeded. Finally, I have a template, and though I cannot reverse-engineer it entirely, I can use this as a theoretical model.

“You know, given two or three years, I could do it all myself.”

“Do you think we have two or three years?”

Ghosn shook his head. He'd already reported on what he saw in Jerusalem. “No, Commander. We surely do not.”

Qati explained what he had ordered their German friend to do.

“That is good. Where do we move to?”

Berlin was once more the capital of Germany. It had been Bock's plan that this should be so, of course, but not that it should be this sort of Germany. He'd flown in from Italy — via Greece, and, before that, Syria — and cleared passport control with scarcely a wave. From that point, he'd simply rented a car and driven out of Berlin on highway E-74 north towards Greifswald.

Günther had rented a Mercedes Benz. He rationalized this by telling himself that his cover was that of a businessman, and besides he hadn't rented the biggest one available. There were times when he thought he might as well have rented a bicycle. This road had been neglected by the DDR. government, and now that the Federal Republic was fully in place, the highway was little more than a linear repair gang. It went without saying that the other side of the road was already fixed. His peripheral vision caught hundreds of big, powerful Benzes and BMWs streaking south towards Berlin as the capitalists from the West blazed about to reconquer economically what had collapsed under political betrayal.

Bock took his exit outside Greifswald, driving east through the town of Kemnitz. The attempts at road repair had not yet reached the secondary roads. After hitting half a dozen potholes Günther had to pull over and consult his map. He proceeded three kilometers, then made a series of turns, ending up on what had once been an upscale neighborhood of professionals. In the driveway of the house he sought was a Trabant. The grass was still neatly trimmed, of course, and the house was neatly arranged, down to the even curtains in the windows — this was Germany, after all — but there was an air of disrepair and depression not so much seen as felt. Bock parked his car a block away and walked an indirect route back to the house.

“I am here to see Herr Doktor Fromm,” he told the woman, Frau Fromm, probably, who answered the door.

“Who may I say is calling?” she asked formally. She was in her middle forties, her skin tight over severe cheeks, with too many lines radiating from her dull blue eyes and tight, colorless lips. She examined the man on her front step with interest, and perhaps a little hope. Though Bock had no idea why this should be so, he took the chance to make use of it.

“An old friend,” Bock smiled to reinforce the image. “May I surprise him?”

She wavered for a moment, then her face changed and good manners took hold. “Please come in.”

Bock waited in the sitting room, and he realized that his impression was right — but why it was right struck him hard. The interior of the house reminded him of his own apartment in Berlin. The same specially made furniture that had once looked so good in contrast to what was available for ordinary citizens in the German Democratic Republic did not impress as it once had. Perhaps it was the Mercedes he'd driven up, Bock told himself, as he heard footsteps approaching. But no. It was dust. Frau Fromm was not cleaning the house as a good German Hausfrau did. A sure sign that something was badly wrong.

“Yes?” Dr. Manfred Fromm said, as a question before his eyes widened in delayed recognition. “Ah, so good to see you!”

“I wondered if you'd remember your old friend Hans,” Bock said with a chuckle, stretching out his hand. “A long time, Manfred.”

“A very long time indeed, Junge! Come to my study.” The two men walked off under the inquisitive eyes of Frau Fromm. Dr. Fromm closed the door behind himself before speaking.

“I am sorry about your wife. It was unspeakable what happened.”

“That is past. How are you doing?”

“You haven't heard? The Greens have attacked us. We're about to shut down.”

Doktor Manfred Fromm was, on paper, the deputy assistant director of the Lubmin/Nord Nuclear Power Station. The station had been built twenty years earlier from the Soviet VVER Model 230 design, which, primitive as it was, had been adequate with an expert German operations team. Like all Soviet designs of the period, the reactor was a plutonium producer. But unlike Chernobyl it had a containment dome. It was neither terribly efficient nor especially safe, but did carry the benefit of producing weapons-grade nuclear material, in addition to 816 megawatts of electrical power from its two functioning reactors.

“The Greens,” Bock repeated quietly. “Them.” The Green Party was a natural consequence of the German national spirit, which venerated all growing things on one hand, while trying very hard to kill them on the other. Formed from the extreme — or the consistent — elements of the environmental movement, it had fought against many things equally upsetting to the Communist Bloc. But where it had failed to prevent the deployment of theater nuclear weapons — and after their successful deployment had resulted in the INF Treaty, which had eliminated all such weapons on both sides of the line — it was now successfully raising the purest form of political hell in what had once been the German Democratic Republic. The nightmare of pollution in the East was now the obsession of the Greens, and number one on their hit list was the nuclear-power industry, which they called hideously unsafe. Bock reminded himself that the Greens had never truly been under proper political control. The party would never be a major power in German politics, and now it was being exploited by the same government that it had once annoyed. Whereas once the Greens had shrieked about the pollution of the Ruhr and the Rhein from Krupp, and howled about the deployment of NATO nuclear arms, now it was crusading in the East more fervently than Barbarossa had ever attempted in the Holy Land. Their incessant carping on the mess in the East was ensuring that socialism would not soon return to Germany. It was enough to make both men wonder if the Greens had not been a subtle capitalist ploy from the very beginning.

Fromm and the Bocks had met five years earlier. The Red Army Faction had come up with a plan to sabotage a West German reactor, and wanted technical advice on how to do so most efficiently. Though never revealed to the public, their plan had been thwarted only at the last minute. Publicity on the BND's intelligence success would conversely have threatened Germany 's own nuclear industry.

“Less than a year until they shut us down for good. I only go in to work three days a week now. I've been replaced by a 'technical expert' from the West. He lets me 'advise' him, of course,” Fromm reported.

“There must be more, Manfred,” Bock observed. Fromm had also been the chief engineer in Erich Honecker's most cherished military project. Though allies within the World Socialist Brotherhood, the Russians and the Germans could never have been true friends. The bad blood between the nations stretched back a thousand years, and while Germany had at least made a go of socialism, the Russians had failed completely. As a result, the East German military had never been anything like the much larger force in the West. To the last, the Russians had feared Germans, even those on their own side, before incomprehensibly allowing the country to be unified. Erich Honecker had decided that such distrust might have strategic ramifications, and had drawn plans to keep some of the plutonium produced at Greifswald and elsewhere. Manfred Fromm knew as much about nuclear bomb design as any Russian or American, even if he'd never quite been able to put his expertise into play. The plutonium stockpile secretly accumulated over ten years had been turned over to the Russians as a final gesture of Marxist fealty, lest the Federal German government get it. That last honorable act had resulted in angry recriminations — angry enough that one other cache of material had never been turned over. What connections Fromm and his colleagues had once had with the Soviets were completely gone.

“Oh, I have a fine offer.” Fromm lifted a manila envelope on his cluttered desk. “They want me to go to Argentina. My counterparts in the West have been there for years, along with most of the chaps I worked with.”

“What do they offer?”

Fromm snorted. “One million D-Mark per year until the project is completed. No difficulties with taxes, numbered account, all the normal enticements,” Fromm said with an emotionless voice. And that, of course, was quite impossible. Fromm could no more work for Fascists than he could breathe water. His grandfather, one of the original Spartacists, had died in one of the first labor camps soon after Hitler's accession to power. His father had been part of the Communist underground and a player in a spy ring, had somehow survived the war despite the systematic hunting of the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst, and been an honored local Party member to the day of his death. Fromm had learned Marxism-Leninism while he'd learned to walk, and the elimination of his profession had not enamored him of the new political system which he'd been educated to despise. He'd lost his job, had never fulfilled his prime ambition, and was now being treated like an office boy by some pink-cheeked engineer's assistant from Göttingen. Worst of all, his wife wanted him to take the job in Argentina and was making a further hell of his life so long as he refused to consider it. Finally he had to ask his question. “Why are you here, Günther? The entire country is looking for you, and despite that fine disguise, you are in danger here.”

Bock smiled confidently. “Isn't it amazing what new hair and glasses can do for you?”

“That does not answer my question.”

“I have friends who need your skills.”

“What friends might those be?” Fromm asked dubiously.

They are politically acceptable to me and to you. I have not forgotten Petra," Bock replied.

“That was a good plan we put together, wasn't it? What went wrong?”

“We had a spy among us. Because of her, they changed the security arrangements at the plant three days before we were supposed to go in.”

“A Green?”

Günther allowed himself a bitter smile, “Ja. She had second thoughts about possible civilian casualties and damage to the environment. Well, she is now part of the environment.” Petra had done the shooting, her husband remembered. There was nothing worse than a spy, and it was fitting that Petra should have done the execution.

“Part of the environment, you say? How poetic.” It was Fromm's first attempt at levity, and about as successful as all his attempts. Manfred Fromm was a singularly humorless man.

“I cannot offer you money. In fact, I cannot tell you anything else. You must decide on the basis of what I have already said.” Bock didn't have a gun, but he did have a knife. He wondered if Manfred knew the alternatives he faced. Probably not. Despite his ideological purity, Fromm was a technocrat, and narrowly focused.

“When do we leave?”

“Are you being watched?”

“No. I had to travel to Switzerland for the 'business offer.' Such things cannot be discussed in this country, even if it is united and happy,” he explained. “I made my own travel arrangements. No, I do not think I am being watched.”

“Then we can leave at once. You need not pack anything.”

“What do I tell my wife?” Fromm asked, then wondered why he'd bothered. It wasn't as though his marriage was a happy one.

“That is your concern.”

“Let me pack some things. It's easier that way. How long…?”

“I do not know.”

It took half an hour. Fromm explained to his wife that he was going to be away for a few days for further business discussions. She gave him a hopeful kiss. Argentina might be nice, and nicer still to be able to live well somewhere. Perhaps this old friend had been able to talk sense into him. He drove a Mercedes, after all. Perhaps he knew what the future really held.

Three hours later, Bock and Fromm boarded a flight to Rome. After an hour's layover, their next stop was Turkey, and from there to Damascus, where they checked into a hotel to get some needed rest.

If anything, Ghosn told himself, Marvin Russell was even more formidable-looking than he'd been before. What little excess weight he'd carried had sweated off, and his daily fitness exercises with the soldiers of the movement had only added to an already muscular physique, while the sun had bronzed him until he might almost have been mistaken for an Arab. The one discordant note was his religion. His comrades reported that he was a true pagan, an unbeliever, who prayed to the sun, of all things. It disquieted the Muslims, but people were working, gently, to show him the true faith of Islam, and it was reported that he listened respectfully. It was also reported that he was a dead shot with any weapon to any range; that he was the most lethal hand-to-hand fighter they'd ever encountered — he'd nearly crippled an instructor — and that he had field-craft skills that would impress a fox. A clever, cunning, natural warrior was the overall assessment. Aside from his religious eccentricities, the others liked and admired him.

“Marvin, if you get any tougher, you will frighten me!” Ghosn chuckled at his American friend.

“Ibrahim, this is the best thing I've ever done, coming here. I never knew that there were other folks who been fucked over like my people, man — but you guys are better at fighting back. You guys got real balls.” Ghosn blinked at that — this from a man who'd snapped a policeman's neck like a twig. “I really want to help, man, any way I can.”

“There is always a place for a true warrior.” If his language skills improved, he'd make a fine instructor, Ghosn thought. “Well, I must be off.”

“Where are you going?”

“A place we have east of here.” It was to the north. “Some special work I must do.”

That thing we dug up?" Russell asked casually. Almost too casually, Ghosn thought, but that was not possible, was it? Caution was one thing. Paranoia was another.

“Something else. Sorry, my friend, but we must take our security seriously.”

Marvin nodded. “It's cool, man. That's what killed my brother, fucking up security. See ya' when you get back.”

Ghosn left for his car and drove out of the camp. He took the Damascus road for an hour. Foreigners so often failed to appreciate how small the Middle East was — the important parts, at least. The drive from Jerusalem to Damascus, for example, would have been a mere two hours on decent roads, though the two cities were the proverbial worlds apart politically… or had been, Ghosn reminded himself. He'd heard of some ominous rumblings from Syria of late. Was even that government tiring of the struggle? It was easy to call that an impossibility, but that word no longer had its prior meaning.

Five kilometers outside Damascus, he spotted the other car waiting at the prescribed place. He drove past it for two thousand meters, scanning for surveillance before he decided it was safe to turn around. A minute later, he pulled over close to it. The two men got out as they'd been directed to do, and their driver, a member of the Organization, simply drove away.

“Good morning, Günther.”

“And to you, Ibrahim. This is my friend, Manfred.” Both men got into the back of the car, and the engineer drove off at once.

Ghosn eyed the newcomer in the mirror. Older than Bock, thinner, with deep-sunk eyes. He was poorly dressed for the environment and sweating like a pig. Ibrahim handed back a plastic water bottle. The newcomer wiped off the top with his handkerchief before drinking. Arabs not sanitary enough for you? Ghosn wondered. Well, that was not his concern, was it?

The drive to the new location took two hours. Ghosn deliberately took a circuitous route despite the fact that the sun would keep a careful observer informed of their direction. He didn't know what sort of training this Manfred fellow had, and while it was prudent to assume he knew every skill there was, it was also prudent to employ every trick in the book. By the time they arrived at their destination, only a trained reconnaissance soldier would have been able to duplicate the route.

Qati had chosen well. Until a few months earlier, it had been a command center for Hezbollah. Dug into the side of a steep hillside, the corrugated-iron roof was covered with earth and planted with the sparse local shrubbery. Only a skilled man who knew exactly what he was looking for could ever have spotted it, and that was unlikely. Hezbollah was particularly adept at routing out informers in its midst. A dirt track ran right past it to an abandoned farm whose land was too played-out even for opium and hashish production, which was the major cash crop in the area. Inside the structure was about a hundred square meters of concrete-floored shade, even with room to park a few vehicles. The only bad news was that this place would be a deathtrap in case of an earthquake, Ghosn told himself, not an unknown occurrence in the region. He pulled the car in between two posts, out of sight. On leaving the car, he dropped camouflage netting behind it. Yes, Qati had chosen well.

The hardest balance, as always, was choosing between the two aspects of security. On the one hand, the more people who knew that anything was happening, the worse it was. On the other, some people were necessary just to provide a guard force. Qati had brought most of his personal guard, ten men of known loyalty and skill. They knew Ghosn and Bock by sight, and their leader came forward to meet Manfred.

“This is our new friend,” Ghosn told the man, who looked closely at the German's face and walked away.

“Was gibt's hier?” Fromm asked in tense German.

“What we have here,” Ghosn answered in English, “is very interesting.”

Manfred took his lesson from that.

“Kommen Sie mit, bitte.” Ghosn led them to a wall with a door in it. A man with a rifle stood outside of it, which made much better sense than a lock. The engineer nodded to the guard, who nodded curtly back. Ghosn led them into the room and pulled a cord to turn on the fluorescent lighting. There was a large metal work table covered with a tarp. Ghosn removed the tarp without further comment. He was tiring of the drama in any case. It was time for real work.

“Gott im Himmel!”

“I've never seen it myself,” Bock admitted. “So that is what it looks like?”

Fromm put on some glasses and peered over the mechanism for perhaps a minute before looking up. “American design, but not American manufacture.” He pointed. “Wrong sort of wiring. Crude device, thirty years — no, older than that in design, but not in fabrication. These circuit boards are… 1960s, perhaps early '7os. Soviet? From the cache in Azerbaijan, perhaps?”

Ghosn merely shook his head.

“Israeli? Ist das möglich?” That question got a nod.

“More than possible, my friend. It is here.”

“Gravity bomb. Tritium injection into the pit to boost yield — fifty to seventy kilotons, I'd guess — radar and impact fusing. It has actually been dropped, but did not go off. Why?”

“Apparently it was never armed. Everything we recovered is before you,” Ghosn answered. He was already impressed with Manfred.

Fromm ran his fingers inside the bombcase, searching for connectors. “You're correct. How interesting.” There was a long pause. “You know that it can probably be repaired… and even…”

“Even what?” Ghosn asked, knowing the answer.

“This design can be converted into a triggering device.”

“For what?” Bock asked.

“For a hydrogen bomb,” Ghosn answered. “I suspected that.”

“Awfully heavy, nothing like the efficiency of a modern design. As they say, crude but effective…” Fromm looked up. “You want my help to repair it, then?”

“Will you help?” Ghosn asked.

“Ten years — more, twenty years I have studied and thought… How will it be used?”

“Does that trouble you?”

“It will not be used in Germany?”

“Of course not,” Ghosn answered, almost in annoyance. What quarrel did the Organization really have with the Germans, after all?

Something in Bock's mind, however, went click. He closed his eyes for a moment to engrave the thought in his memory.

“Yes, I will help.”

“You will be well paid,” Ghosn promised him. He saw a moment later that this was a mistake. But that didn't matter, did it?

“I do not do such things for money! You think I am a mercenary?” Fromm asked indignantly.

“Excuse me. I meant no insult. A skilled worker is someone to be rewarded for his time. We are not beggars, you know.”

Neither am I, Fromm almost said, before his good sense intervened. These were not the Argentines, were they? They were not Fascists, not capitalists, they were revolutionary comrades who had also fallen upon bad political times… though he was sure their fiscal situation was highly favorable indeed. The Soviets had never given arms to the Arabs. It had all been sold for hard currency, even under Brezhnev and Andropov, and if that had been good enough for the Soviets when they still held the true faith… then…

“Forgive me. I merely stated a fact, and I did not mean to insult you, either. I know you are not beggars. You are revolutionary soldiers, freedom fighters, and I will be honored to assist you in any way I can.” He waved his hand. “You may feel free to pay me whatever you think fair”—it would be plenty, more than a mere million D-Mark! — “but please understand that I do not sell myself for money.”

“It is a pleasure to meet an honorable man,” Ghosn said, with a satisfied look.

Bock thought they had both laid it on rather thick, but kept his peace. He already suspected how Fromm would be paid.

“So,” Ghosn said next. “Where do we begin?”

“First, we think. I need paper and pencil.”

“And who might you be?” Ryan asked.

“Ben Goodley, sir.”

“ Boston?” Ryan asked. The accent was quite distinctive.

“Yes, sir. Kennedy School. I'm a postdoctoral fellow and, well, now I'm a White House Fellow also.”

“ Nancy?” Ryan turned to his secretary.

“The Director has him on your calendar, Dr. Ryan.”

“Okay, Dr. Goodley,” Ryan said with a smile, “come on in.” Clark took his seat after sizing the new guy up.

“Want some coffee?”

“You have decaf?” Goodley asked.

“You want to work here, boy, you'd better get used to the real stuff. Grab a seat. Sure you don't want any?”

“I'll pass, sir.”

“Okay.” Ryan poured his customary mug and sat down behind his desk. “So, what are you doing in this puzzle palace?”

“The short version is, looking for a job. I did my dissertation on intelligence operations, their history and prospects. I need to see some things to finish my work at Kennedy, then I want to find out if I can do the real thing.”

Jack nodded. That sounded familiar enough. “Clearances?”

“TS, SAP/SAR. Those are new. I already have a 'secret', because some of my work at Kennedy involved going into some presidential archives, mainly in D.C., but some of the stuff in Boston is still sensitive. I was even part of the team that FOI'd a lot of stuff from the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

“Dr. Nicholas Bledsoe, his work?”

“That's right.”

“I didn't buy all of Nick's conclusions, but that was a hell of a piece of research.” Jack raised his mug in salute.

Goodley had written nearly half of that monograph, including the conclusions. “What did you take issue with — if I may ask?”

“Khrushchev's action was fundamentally irrational. I think — and the record bears this out — that his placing the missiles there was impulsive rather than reasoned.”

“I disagree. The paper pointed out that the principal Soviet concern was our IRBMs in Europe, especially the ones in Turkey. It seems logical to conclude that it was all a ploy to reach a stable situation regarding theater forces.”

“Your paper didn't report on everything,” Jack said.

“Such as?” Goodley asked, hiding his annoyance.

“Such as the intel we were getting from Penkovskiy and others. Those documents are still classified, and will remain so for another twenty years.”

“Isn't fifty years a long time?”

“Sure is,” Ryan agreed. “But there's a reason. Some of that information is still — well, not exactly current, but it would reveal some tricks we don't want revealed.”

“Isn't that just a little extreme?” Goodley asked, as dispassionately as he could manage.

“Let's say we had Agent B ANANA operating back then. Okay, he's dead now — died of old age, say — but maybe Agent P EAR was recruited by him, and he's still working. If the Sovs find out who B ANANA was, that might give them a clue. Also you have to think about certain methods of message-transfer. People have been playing baseball for a hundred fifty years, but a change-up is still a change-up. I used to think the same way you do, Ben. You learn that most of the things that are done here are done for a reason.”

Captured by the system, Goodley thought.

“By the way, you did notice that Khrushchev's last batch of tapes pretty much proved Nick Bledsoe wrong on some of his points — one other thing.”


“Let's say that John Kennedy had hard intel in the spring of 1961, really good stuff that Khrushchev wanted to change the system. In '58, he'd effectively gutted the Red Army, and he was trying to reform the Party. Let's say that Kennedy had hard stuff on that, and he was told by a little bird that if he cut the Russkies a little slack, maybe we could have had a rapprochement in the 6os. Glasnost, say, thirty years early. Let's say all that happened, and the President blew the call, decided for political reasons that it was disadvantageous to cut Nikita a little slack… That would mean that the 1960s were all a great big mistake. Vietnam, everything, all a gigantic screwup.”

“I don't believe it. I've been through the archives. It's not consistent with everything we know about—”

“Consistency in a politician?” Ryan interrupted. “There's a revolutionary concept.”

If you're saying that really happened—"

“It was a hypothetical,” Jack said with a raised eyebrow. Hell, he thought, the information was all out there for anyone who wanted to pull it together. That it had never been done was just another manifestation of a wider and more troubling problem. But the part that worried him was right in this building. He'd leave history to historians… until, someday, he decided to rejoin their professional ranks. And when will that be, Jack?

“Nobody'd ever believe it.”

“Most people believe that Lyndon Johnson lost the New Hampshire primary to Eugene McCarthy because of the Tet Offensive, too. Welcome to the world of intelligence, Dr. Goodley. You know what's the hard part of recognizing the truth?” Jack asked.

“What's that?”

“Knowing that something just bit you on the ass. It's not as easy as you think.”

“And the breakup of the Warsaw Pact?”

“Case in point,” Ryan agreed. “We had all kinds of indicators, and we all blew the call. Well, that's not true, exactly. A lot of the youngsters in the DI — Directorate of Intelligence,” Jack explained unnecessarily, which struck Goodley as patronizing “were making noise, but the section chiefs pooh-poohed it.”

“And you, sir?”

“If the Director's agreeable, we can let you see some of that. Most of it, in fact. The majority of our agents and field officers got faked out of their jockstraps, too. We all could have done better, and that's as true of me as it is of anybody else. If I have a weakness, it's that I have too tactical a focus.”

“Trees instead of the forest?”

“Yep,” Ryan admitted. “That's the big trap here, but knowing about it doesn't always help a whole hell of a lot.”

“I guess that's why they sent me over,” Goodley observed.

Jack grinned. “Hell, that's not terribly different from how I got started here. Welcome aboard. Where do you want to start, Dr. Goodley?”

Ben already had a good idea on that, of course. If Ryan could not see it coming, that was not his problem, was it?

“So, where do you get the computers?” Bock asked. Fromm was closeted away with his paper and pencils.

“ Israel for a start, maybe Jordan or Turkey,” Ghosn replied.

“This will be rather expensive,” Bock warned.

“I have already checked out the computer-controlled machine tools. Yes, they are expensive.” But not that expensive. It occurred to Ghosn that he had access to hard-currency assets that might boggle the mind of this unbeliever. “We will see what your friend requires. Whatever it is, we will get it.”


Why did I ever accept this job?

Roger Durling was a proud man. The upset winner of what was supposed to have been a secure Senate seat, then the youngest governor in the history of California, he knew pride to be a weakness, but he also knew that there was much to justify his.

I could have waited a few years, maybe returned to the Senate and earned my way into the White House, instead of cutting a deal, and delivering the election to Fowler… in return for this.

“This” was Air Force Two, the radio callsign for whatever aircraft the Vice President rode on. The implicit contrast with “Air Force One” made just one more joke that attached to what was putatively the second most important political post in the United States, though not as earthily apt as John Nance Garner's observation: “A pitcher of warm spit.” The whole office of Vice President, Durling judged, was one of the few mistakes made by the Founding Fathers. It had once been worse. Originally, the Vice President was supposed to have been the losing candidate who, after losing, would patriotically take his place in a government not his and preside over the Senate, setting aside petty political differences to serve the country. How James Madison had ever been that foolish was something scholars had never really examined, but the mistake had been corrected quickly enough by the 12th Amendment in 1803. Even in an age when gentlemen preparing for a duel referred to each other as “sir,” that was something that pressed selflessness too far. And so the law had been changed, and the Vice President was now an appendage instead of a defeated enemy. That so many Vice Presidents had succeeded to the top job was less a matter of design than happenstance. That so many had done well — Andrew Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman — was miraculous.

It was in any case a chance he would never have. Bob Fowler was physically healthy and politically as secure as any President had been since… Eisenhower? Durling wondered. Maybe even FDR. The important, almost co-equal role for the Vice President that Carter had initiated with Walter Mondale — something largely ignored but highly constructive — was a thing of the past. Fowler did not need Durling anymore. The President had made that quite clear.

And so Durling was relegated to subsidiary — not even secondary — duties. Fowler got to fly about in a converted 747 dedicated to his use alone. Roger Durling got whatever aircraft might be available, in this case one of the VC-2oB Gulfstreams that were used by anyone who had the right credentials. Senators and House members on junkets got them if they were on the right committees, or if the President sensed a need to stroke their egos.

You're being petty, Durling told himself. By being petty, you justify all the crap you have to put up with.

His misjudgment had been at least as great as Madison 's, the Vice President told himself as the aircraft taxied out. In deciding that a political figure would place country above his own ambition, Madison had merely been optimistic. Durling, on the other hand, had ignored an evident political reality, that the real difference in importance between President and Vice President was far greater than the difference between Fowler and any of a dozen committee chairmen in the House or Senate. The President had to deal with Congress to get any work done. He didn't need to deal with his Vice President.

How had he allowed himself to get here? That earned an amused grunt, though the question had occurred to Durling a thousand times. Patriotism, of course, or at least the political version of it. He'd delivered California, and without California he and Fowler would both still be governors. The one substantive concession he'd gotten — the accession of Charlie Alden to the post of National Security Advisor — had been for naught, but he had been the deciding factor in changing the Presidency from one party to another. And his reward for that was drawing every crap detail in the executive branch, delivering speeches that would rarely make the news, though those of various cabinet officials did, speeches to keep faithful the party faithful, speeches to float new ideas — usually bad ones, and rarely his own — and wait for lightning to strike himself instead of the President. Today he was going out to talk about the need to raise taxes to pay for the peace in the Middle East. What a marvelous political opportunity! he thought. Roger Durling would outline the need for new taxes in St Louis before a convention of purchasing managers, and he was sure the applause would be deafening.

But he had accepted the job, had given his word to perform the duties of the office, and if he did any less, then what would he be?

The aircraft rolled unevenly past the hangars and various aircraft, including NEACP, the 747 configured as the National Emergency Airborne Command Post, known as “Kneecap,” or more dramatically as “The Doomsday Plane.” Always within two flying hours of wherever the President might be (a real headache when the President visited Russia or China), it was the only safe place the President might occupy in a nuclear crisis — but that didn't really matter anymore, did it? Durling saw people shuffling in and out of the aircraft. Funding hadn't been reduced on that yet — well, it was part of the President's personal fleet — and it was still kept ready for a rapid departure. He wondered how soon that might change. Everything else had.

“We're ready for departure. All buckled, sir?” the sergeant-attendant asked.

“You bet! Let's get this show on the road,” Durling replied with a smile. On Air Force One, he knew, people often showed their confidence in the aircraft and the crew by not buckling. More evidence that his airplane was second-best, but he could hardly growl at the sergeant for being a pro, and to this man Roger Durling was important. The Vice President reflected that this made the sergeant E-6 in the U.S. Air Force a more honorable man than most of the people in politics, but that wasn't much of a surprise, was it?

“That's a roger.”

“Again?” Ryan asked.

“Yes, sir,” the voice on the other end of the phone said.

“Okay, give me a few minutes.”

“Yes, sir.”

Ryan finished off his coffee and walked off towards Cabot's office. He was surprised to see Goodley in there again. The youngster was keeping his distance from the Director's cigar smoke, and even Jack thought that Marcus was overdoing the Patton act, or whatever the hell Cabot thought he was trying to look like.

“What is it, Jack?”

“C AMELOT,” Jack replied with visible annoyance. “Those White House pukes have bowed out again. They want me to join in instead.”

“Well, are you that tied up?”

“Sir, we talked about that four months ago. It's important for the people at the White House to—”

“The President and his people are busy on some things,” the DCI explained tiredly.

“Sir, these things are scheduled weeks in advance, and it's the fourth straight time that—”

“I know, Jack.”

Ryan stood his ground. “Director, somebody has to explain to them how important this is.”

“I've tried, dammit!” Cabot shot back. He had done so, Jack knew.

“Have you tried working through Secretary Talbot, or maybe Dennis Bunker?” Jack asked. At least the President listens to them, Jack didn't add.

He didn't have to. Cabot got the message. “Look, Jack, we can't give orders to the President. We can only give advice. He doesn't always take it. You're pretty good at this, anyway. Dennis likes playing with you.”

“Fine, sir, but it's not my job — do they even read the wash-up notes?”

“Charlie Alden did. I suppose Liz Elliot does, too.”

“I bet,” Ryan observed icily, ignoring Goodley's presence. “Sir, they are being irresponsible.”

“That's a little strong, Jack.”

“It's a little true, Director,” Ryan said, as calmly as he could.

“Can I ask what C AMELOT is?” Ben Goodley asked.

“It's a game,” Cabot answered. “Crisis-management, usually.”

“Oh, like S AGA and G LOBAL?”

“Yeah,” Ryan said. ”The President never plays. The reason is that we cannot risk knowledge of how he would act in a given situation — and yes, that is overly Byzantine, but it's always been that way. Instead, the National Security Advisor or some other senior staff member takes his place, and the President is supposed to be briefed on how it goes. Except that President Fowler thinks that he doesn't have to bother, and now his people are starting to act the same dumb way.“ Jack was sufficiently annoyed that he used the words ”President Fowler“ and ”dumb" in the same sentence.

“Well, I mean, is it really necessary?” Goodley asked. “Sounds like an anachronism to me.”

“You have car insurance, Ben?” Jack asked.

“Yes, sure.”

“Ever have an auto accident?”

“Not one that was my fault,” Goodley replied.

“Then why bother with insurance?” Jack answered the question: “Because it's insurance, right? You don't expect to need it, you never want to need it, but because you might need it, you spend the money — or time, in this case — to have it.”

The Presidential Scholar made a dismissive gesture. “Come on, it's a different thing altogether.”

“That's right. In a car, it's just your ass.” Ryan stopped the sermon. “Okay, Director, I'm off for the rest of the day.”

“Your objections and recommendations are noted, Jack. I will bring them up at my first opportunity — oh, before you leave, about NIITAKA…”

Ryan stopped in his tracks and stared down at Cabot. “Sir, Mr. Goodley is not cleared for that word, much less that file.”

“We are not discussing the substance of the case. When will the people downstairs”—Ryan was grateful he didn't say M ERCURY —“be ready for the, uh, modified operations? I want to improve data-transfer.”

“Six weeks. Until then we have to use the other methods we discussed.”

The Director of Central Intelligence nodded. “Very well. The White House is very interested in that, Jack. Good job to all concerned.”

“Glad to hear that, sir. See you tomorrow.” Jack walked out.

“NIITAKA?” Goodley asked after the door closed. “Sounds Japanese.”

“Sorry, Goodley. You can forget that word at your earliest opportunity.” Cabot had only spoken it to remind Ryan of his place, and the honorable part of the man already regretted having done so.

“Yes, sir. May I ask an unrelated question?”


“Is Ryan as good as people say?”

Cabot stubbed out the remains of his cigar, to the relief of his visitor. “He's got quite a record.”

“Really? I've heard that. You know, that's the whole reason I'm here, to examine the personality types that really make a difference. I mean, how does someone grow into the job? Ryan's skyrocketed up the ladder here. I'd be very interested in seeing how he managed to do that.”

“He's done it by being right a lot more often than he's wrong, by making some tough calls, and with some field jobs that even I can hardly believe,” Cabot said, after a moment's consideration. “And you can never, ever reveal that to anyone, Dr. Goodley.”

“I understand, sir. Could I see his record, his personnel file?”

The DCI’s eyebrows arched. “Everything you see in there is classified. Anything you try to write about it—”

“Excuse me, but I know that, sir. Everything I write is subject to security review. I signed off on that. It's important that I learn how a person really fits in here, and Ryan would seem to be an ideal case study for examining how that process happens. I mean, that's why the White House sent me over here,” Goodley pointed out. I'm supposed to report to them on what I find.”

Cabot was silent for a moment. “I suppose that's okay, then.”

Ryan's car arrived at the Pentagon's River entrance. He was met by an Air Force one-star and conducted inside, bypassing the metal detector. Two minutes later, he was in one of many subterranean rooms that lie under and around this ugliest of official buildings.

“Hello, Jack,” Dennis Bunker called from the far end of the room.

“Mr. Secretary.” Jack nodded as he took his National Security Advisor's chair. The game started immediately. “What seems to be the problem?”

“Aside from the fact that Liz Elliot has decided not to grace us with her presence?” The Secretary of Defense chuckled, then went serious. “There has been an attack on one of our cruisers in the Eastern Med. The information is still sketchy, but the ship has been severely damaged and may be sinking. We presume heavy casualties.”

“What do we know?” Jack asked, settling into the game. He put on a color-coded name tag that identified which part he was playing. A card hanging from the ceiling over his chair had the same purpose.

“Not much.” Bunker looked up as a Navy lieutenant entered the room.

“Sir, USS Kidd reports that Valley Forge exploded and sank five minutes ago as a result of the initial damage. There are no more than twenty survivors, and rescue operations are underway.”

“What is the cause of the loss?” Ryan asked.

“Unknown, sir. Kidd was thirty miles from Valley Forge at the time of the incident. Her helo is on the scene now. Commander Sixth Fleet has brought all his ships to full-alert status. USS Theodore Roosevelt is launching aircraft to sweep the area.”

“I know the CAG on TR, Robby Jackson,” Ryan said to nobody in particular. Not that it mattered. Theodore Roosevelt was actually in Norfolk, and Robby was still preparing for his next cruise. The names in the wargame were generic, and personal knowledge of the players didn't matter, since they were not supposed to be real people. But if it were real, Robby was Commander Air Group on USS Theodore Roosevelt, and his would be the first plane off the cats. It was well to remember that, though this might be a game, its purpose was deadly serious. “Background information?” Jack asked. He didn't remember all of the pre-brief on the scenario being played out.

“CIA reports a possible mutiny in the Soviet Union by Red Army units in Kazakhstan, and disturbances in two Navy bases there also,” the game narrator, a Navy commander, reported.

“Soviet units in the vicinity of Valley Forge?” Bunker asked.

“Possibly a submarine,” the naval officer answered.

“Flash Message,” the wall speaker announced. “USS Kidd reports that it has destroyed an inbound surface-to-surface missile with its Close-in Weapons System. Superficial damage to the ship, no casualties.”

Jack walked to the corner to pour himself a cup of coffee. He smiled as he did so. These games were fun, he admitted to himself. He really did enjoy them. They were also realistic. He'd been swept away from a normal day's routine, dumped in a stuffy room, given confused and fragmented information, and had no idea at all what the hell was supposed to be going on. That was reality. The old joke: How do crisis-managers resemble mushrooms? They're kept in the dark and fed horseshit.

“Sir, we have an incoming H OTLINE message…”

Okay, Ryan thought, it's that kind of game today. The Pentagon must have come up with the scenario. Let's see if it's still possible to blow the world up…

“More concrete?” Qati asked.

“Much more concrete,” Fromm answered. ”The machines each weigh several tons, and they must be totally stable. The room must be totally stable, and totally sealed. It must be clean like a hospital — no, much better than any hospital you have ever seen.“ Fromm looked down at his list. Not cleaner than a German hospital, of course. ”Next, electrical power. We'll need three large backup generators, and at least two UPSs—"

“What?” Qati asked.

“Un-interruptible power supplies,” Ghosn translated. “We'll keep one of the backup generators turning at all times, of course?”

“Correct,” Fromm answered. "Since this is a primitive operation, we'll try not to use more than one machine at a time. The real problem with electricity is ensuring a secure circuit. So, we take the line current through the UPSs to protect against spikes. The computer systems on the milling machines are highly sensitive.

“Next!” Fromm said. “Skilled operators.”

“That will be highly difficult,” Ghosn observed.

The German smiled, amazing everyone present. “Not so. It will be easier than you think.”

“Really?” Qati asked. Good news from this infidel?

“We'll need perhaps five highly trained men, but you have them in the region, I am sure.”

“Where? There is no machine shop in the region that—”

“Certainly there is. People here wear spectacles, do they not?”


“Of course!” Ghosn said, rolling his eyes in amazement.

“The degree of precision, you see,” Fromm explained to Qati, “is no different from what is required for eyeglasses. The machines are very similar in design, just larger, and what we are attempting to do is simply to produce precise and predictable curves in a rigid material. Nuclear bombs are produced to exacting specifications. So are spectacles. Our desired object is larger, but the principle is the same, and with the proper machinery it is merely a matter of scale, not of substance. So: can you obtain skilled lens-makers?”

“I don't see why not,” Qati replied, hiding his annoyance.

“They must be highly skilled,” Fromm said, like a schoolmaster. “The best you can find, people with long experience, probably with training in Germany or England.”

“There will be a security problem,” Ghosn said quietly.

“Oh? Why is that?” Fromm asked, with a feigned bafflement that struck both of the others as the summit of arrogance.

“Quite so,” Qati agreed.

“Next, we need sturdy tables on which to mount the machines.”

Halfway point, Lieutenant Commander Walter Claggett told himself. In forty-five more days, USS Maine would surface outside Juan de Fuca Straits, link up with the tugboat, and follow Little Toot into Bangor, where she would then tie up and begin the hand-off process to the “Blue” crew for the next deterrence-patrol cycle. And not a moment too soon.

Walter Claggett — friends called him Dutch, a nickname that had originated at the Naval Academy for a reason he no longer remembered; Claggett was Black — was thirty-six years old, and it had been known to him before sailing that he was being “deep-dipped” for early selection to commander and had a chance for an early crack at a fast-attack boat. That was fine with him. His two attempts at marriage had both ended in failure, which was not uncommon for submariners — thankfully, there were no kids involved in either union — and the Navy was his life. He was just as happy to spend all of his time at sea, saving his carousing time for those not really brief intervals on the beach. To be at sea, to slide through black water in control of a majestic ship of war, that was the best of all things to Walter Claggett. The company of good men, respect truly earned in a most demanding profession, the acquired ability to know every time what the right thing to do was, the relaxed banter in the wardroom, the responsibility he had to counsel his men — Claggett relished every aspect of his career.

It was just his commanding officer he couldn't stand.

How the hell did Captain Hairy Ricks ever make it this far? he asked himself for the twentieth time this week. The man was brilliant. He could have designed a submarine-reactor system on the back of an envelope, or maybe even in his head during a rare daydream. He knew things about submarine design that Electric Boat's shipwrights had never even thought about. He could discuss the ins and outs of periscope design with the Navy's chief optics expert, and knew more about satellite-navigation aids than NASA or TRW or whoever the hell was running that program. Surely he knew more about the guidance packages on their Trident-II D-5 sea-launched ballistic missiles than anyone this side of Lockheed's Missile Systems Division. Over dinner two weeks earlier, he'd recited a whole page from the maintenance manual. From a technical point of view, Ricks might have been the most thoroughly prepared officer in the United States Navy.

Harry Ricks was the quintessential product of the Nuclear Navy. As an engineer he was unequaled. The technical aspects of his job were almost instinctive to him. Claggett was good, and knew it; he also knew that he'd never be as good as Harry Ricks.

It's just that he doesn't know dick about submarining or submariners, Claggett reflected bleakly. It was incredible, but true, that Ricks had little feeling for seamanship and none at all for sailors.

“Sir,” Claggett said slowly, “this is a very good chief. He's young, but he's sharp.”

“He can't keep control of his people,” Ricks replied.

“Captain, I don't know what you mean by that.”

“His training methods aren't what they're supposed to be.”

“He is a little unconventional, but he has cut six seconds off the average reload time. The fish are all fully functional, even the one that came over from the beach bad. The compartment is completely squared away. What more can we ask of the man?”

"I don't ask. I direct. I order. I expect things to be done my way, the right way. And they will be done that way,” Ricks observed in a dangerously quiet voice.

It made no sense at all to cross the skipper on issues like this, especially when he posed them in this way, but Claggett's job as executive officer was to stand between the crew and the captain, especially when the captain was wrong.

“Sir, I must respectfully disagree. I think we look at results, and the results here are just about perfect. A good chief is one who stretches the envelope, and this one hasn't stretched it very far. If you slap him down, it will have a negative effect on him and his department.”

“X, I expect support from all my officers, and especially from you.”

Claggett sat straight up in his chair as though from a blow. He managed to speak calmly. “Captain, you have my support and my loyalty. It is not my job to be a robot. I'm supposed to offer alternatives. At least,” he added, “that's what they told me at PXO School.” Claggett regretted the last sentence even before it was spoken, but somehow it had come out anyway. The CO’s cabin was quite small, and immediately got smaller still.

That was a very foolish thing to say, Lieutenant Commander Walter Martin Claggett, Ricks thought with a blank look.

“Next, the reactor drills,” Ricks said.

“Another one? So soon?” For Christ's sake, the last one was friggin’ PERFECT. Almost perfect, Claggett corrected himself. The kids might have saved ten or fifteen seconds somewhere. The Executive Officer didn't know where that might have been, though.

“Proficiency means every day, X.”

“Indeed it does, sir, but they are proficient. I mean, the ORSE we ran right before Captain Rosselli left missed setting the squadron record by a whisker, and the last drill we ran beat that!”

“No matter how good drill results are, always demand better. That way you always get better. Next ORSE, I want the squadron record, X.”

He wants the Navy record, the world record, maybe even a certificate from God, Claggett thought. More than that, he wants it on his record.

The growler phone on the bulkhead rattled. Ricks lifted it.

“Commanding Officer… yes, on the way.” He hung up. “Sonar contact.”

Claggett was out the door in two seconds, the captain right behind him.

“What is it?” Claggett asked first. As executive officer, he was also the approach officer for tactical engagements.

“Took me a couple minutes to recognize it,” the leading sonarman reported. “Real flukey contact. I think it's a 688, bearing about one-nine-five. Direct-path contact, sir.”

"Playback,” Ricks ordered. The sonarman took over another screen — his had grease-pencil marks on it and he didn't want to remove those yet — and ran the display back a few minutes.

“See here, Cap’n? Real flukey… right about here it started firming up. That's when I called in.”

The Captain stabbed his finger on the screen. “You should have had it there, petty officer. That's two minutes wasted. Pay closer attention next time.”

“Aye aye, Cap’n.” What else could a twenty-three-year-old sonarman second-class say? Ricks left the sonar room. Claggett followed, patting the sonar operator on the shoulder as he went.

God damn it, Captain!

“Course two-seven-zero, speed five, depth five hundred even. We're under the layer,” the Officer of the Deck reported. “Holding contact Sierra-Eleven at bearing one-nine-five, broad on the port beam. Fire-control tracking party is manned. We have fish in tubes one, three, and four. Tube two is empty for service. Doors closed, tubes dry.”

“Tell me about Sierra-Eleven,” Ricks ordered.

“Direct-path contact. He's below the layer, range unknown.”

“Environmental conditions?”

“Flat calm on the roof, a moderate layer at about one hundred feet. We have good isothermal water around us. Sonar conditions are excellent.”

“First read on Sierra-Eleven is over ten thousand yards.” It was Ensign Shaw on the tracking party.

“Conn, Sonar, we evaluate contact Sierra-Eleven is a definite 688-class, US fast-attack. I can guestimate speed at about fourteen-fifteen knots, sir.”

“Whoa!” Claggett observed to Ricks. “We picked up a Los Angeles at IO-K plus! That's gonna piss somebody off…”

“Sonar, Conn, I want data, not guesses,” Ricks said.

“Cap’n, he did well to pick that contact out of the background,” Claggett said very quietly. Summer in the Gulf of Alaska meant fishing boats and baleen whales, both in large numbers, making noises and cluttering up sonar displays. “That's one hell of a good sonarman in there.”

“We pay him to be good, X. We don't award medals for doing an adequate job. I want a playback later to see if there might have been a sniff earlier that he missed.”

Anybody can find something on playback, Claggett thought to himself.

“Conn, Sonar, I'm getting a very faint blade-count… seems to indicate fourteen knots, plus or minus one, sir.”

“Very well. That's better, Sonar.”

“Uh, Captain… may be a little closer than ten thousand… not much, but a little. Track is firming up… best estimate now nine-five hundred yards, course roughly three-zero-five,” Shaw reported next, waiting for the sky to fall.

“So he's not over ten thousand yards off now?”

“No, sir, looks like nine-five hundred.”

“Let me know when you change your mind again,” Ricks replied. “Drop speed to four knots.”

“Reduce speed four knots, aye,” the OOD acknowledged.

“Let him get ahead of us?” Claggett asked.

“Yep.” The Captain nodded.

“We have a firing solution,” the weapons officer said. The XO checked his watch. It didn't get much better than this.

“Very well. Glad to hear it,” Ricks replied.

“Speed is now four knots.”

“Okay, we have him. Sierra-Eleven is at bearing two-zero-one, range nine-one hundred yards, course three-zero-zero, speed fifteen.”

“Dead meat,” Claggett said. Of course, he's making it easy by going this fast.

“True enough. This will look good on the patrol report."

“That's tricky,” Ryan observed. “I don't like the way this is going.”

“Neither do I,” Bunker agreed. “I recommend weapons release to the TR battlegroup.”

“I agree, and will so advise the President.” Ryan placed the call. Under the rules for this game, the President was supposed to be on Air Force One, somewhere over the Pacific, returning from an unspecified country on the Pacific Rim. The President's decision-making role was being played by a committee elsewhere in the Pentagon. Jack made his recommendation and waited for the reply.

“Only in self-defense, Dennis.”

“Bullshit,” Bunker said quietly. “He listens to me.”

Jack grinned. “I agree, but not this time. No offensive action, you may act only to defend the ships in the group.”

The SecDef turned to the action officer: “Forward that to Theodore Roosevelt. Tell them I expect full combat air patrols. Anything over two hundred miles I want reported to me. Under two hundred, the battlegroup commander is free to act at discretion. For submarines, the bubble radius is fifty — five-zero — miles. Inside that, prosecute to kill.”

“That's creative," Jack said.

“We have that attack on Valley Forge.” The best estimate at the moment was that it had been a surprise missile attack from a Soviet submarine. It appeared that some units of the Russian fleet were acting independently, or at least under orders not emanating from Moscow. Then things got worse.

“H OTLINE message. There has just been a ground-force attack on a Strategic Rocket Regiment… SS-18 base in Central Asia.”

“Launch all the ready bombers right now! Jack, tell the President that I just gave the order.”

“Comm-link failure,” the wall speaker said. “Radio contact with Air Force One has been interrupted.”

“Tell me more!” Jack demanded.

“That's all we have, sir.”

“Where's the Vice President now?” Ryan asked.

“He's aboard Kneecap Alternate, six hundred miles south of Bermuda. Kneecap Prime is four hundred miles ahead of Air Force One, preparing to land in Alaska for the transfer.”

“Close enough to Russia that an intercept is possible… but not likely… have to be a one-way mission,” Bunker thought aloud. “Unless they strayed over a Soviet warship with SAMs… Vice President is temporarily in charge.”

“Sir, I—”

“That's my call to make, Jack. The President is either out of the loop or has had his comm links compromised. SecDef says that the Vice President is in charge until the comm links are reestablished and validated by codeword authentication. Forces are now at D EF C ON — O NE on my authority."

One thing about Dennis Bunker, Ryan thought, the man never stopped being a fighter jock. He makes decisions and sticks to them. He was usually right, too, as he was here.

Ryan's file was a thick one. Almost five inches, Goodley saw in the privacy of his seventh-floor cubbyhole. Half an inch of that was background and security-clearance forms. The academic record was fairly impressive, especially his doctoral work in history at Georgetown University. Georgetown wasn't Harvard, of course, but it was a fairly respectable institution, Goodley told himself. His first Agency job had been as part of Admiral James Greer's Junior Varsity program, and his first report, “Agents and Agencies,” had dealt with terrorism. Odd coincidence, Goodley thought, given what had happened later.

The documents on Ryan's encounter in London occupied thirty double-space pages, mainly police-report summaries and a few news photos. Goodley started making notes. Cowboy, he wrote first of all. Running into things like that. The academic shook his head. Twenty minutes later, he read over the executive summary of Ryan's second CIA report, the one which confidently predicted that the terrorists would probably never operate in America — delivered days before the attack on his family.

Guessed wrong there, didn't you, Ryan? Goodley chuckled to himself. As bright as they said he was, he made mistakes like everyone else…

He'd made a few while working in England, too. He hadn't predicted Chernenko’s succession of Andropov, though he had predicted Narmonov was the coming man well in advance of nearly everyone, except Kantrowitz up at Princeton, who'd been the first to see star quality in Andrey Il’ych. Goodley reminded himself that he'd been an undergraduate then, bedding that girl at Wellesley, Debra Frost… wonder what ever happened to her…?

“Son of a bitch…” Ben whispered a few minutes later. “Son of a bitch.”

Red October, a Soviet ballistic missile submarine… defected. Ryan was one of the first to suspect it… Ryan, an analyst at London Station had… run the operation at sea! Killed a Russian sailor. That was the cowboy part again. Couldn't just arrest the guy, had to shoot him down like something in a movie…

Goddamn! A Russian ballistic-missile defected… and they kept it quiet… oh, the boat was later sunk in deep water.

Back to London after that for a few more months before rotating home to be Greer's special assistant and heir-apparent. Some interesting work with the arms-control people…

That can't be right. The KGB Chairman was killed in a plane crash…

Goodley was taking furious notes now. Liz Elliot could not have known any of this, could she?

You're not looking for good stuff about Ryan, the White House Fellow reminded himself. Elliot had never really said that, of course, but she had made herself clear in a way that he'd understood… or thought he'd understood, Goodley corrected himself. He suddenly realized just how dangerous a game this might be.

Ryan kills people. He'd shot and killed at least three. You didn't get that from talking to the man. Life wasn't a Western. People didn't carry revolvers with notches cut in the handles. Goodley didn't feel a chill over his skin, but he did remind himself that Ryan was someone to be regarded warily. He'd never before met someone who had killed other men, and was not foolish enough to regard such people as heroic or somehow more than other men, but it was something to keep in mind, wasn't it?

There were blank spots around the time of James Greer's death, he noted… wasn't that the time when all that stuff was happening down in Colombia? He made some notes. Ryan had been acting DDI then, but just after Fowler took over, Judge Arthur Moore and Robert Ritter had retired to make way for the new presidential administration, and Ryan had been confirmed by the Senate as Deputy Director of Central Intelligence. So much for his work record. Goodley closed that portion and opened up the personal and financial side…

“Bad call…” Ryan said. Twenty minutes too late.

“I think you're right.”

“Too late. What did we do wrong?”

“I'm not sure,” Bunker replied. ”Tell the TR group to disengage and pull back, maybe?"

Ryan stared at the map on the far wall. “Maybe, but we've backed Andrey Il’ych into a corner… we have to let him out.”

“How? How do we do that without cornering ourselves?”

“I think there was a problem with this scenario… not sure what, though…”

“Let's rattle his cage hard,” Ricks thought aloud.

“Like how, Cap’n?” Claggett asked.

“Status on Tube Two?”

“Empty, it was down for maintenance inspection,” the weapons officer replied.

“Is it okay?”

“Yes, sir, completed the inspection half an hour before we got the contact.”

“Okay…” Ricks grinned. “I want a water slug out of tube two. Let's give him a real launch transient to wake him up!”

Damn! Claggett thought. It was almost something Mancuso or Rosselli would have done. Almost… “Sir, that's kind of a noisy way to do it. We can shake him up enough with a ‘Tango’ call on the Gertrude.”

“Weps, we have a solution on Sierra-Eleven?” Mancuso wants aggressive skippers, well, I'll show him aggressive—

“Yes, sir!” the weapons officer snapped back at once.

“Firing Point Procedures. Prepare to fire a water-slug on Tube Two.”

“Sir, I confirm torpedo tube two is empty. Weapons in tubes one, three and four are secure.” A call was made to the torpedo room to re-confirm what the electronic displays announced. In the torpedo room, the chief looked through the small glass port to make certain that they wouldn't be launching anything.

“Tube Two is empty by visual inspection. High-pressure air is online,” the chief called over the communications circuit. “We are ready to shoot.”

“Open outer door.”

“Open outer door, aye. Outer door is open.”


“Locked in.”

“Match generated bearings and… SHOOT!”

The weapons officer pushed the proper button. USS Maine shuddered with the sudden pulse of high-pressure air out of the torpedo tube and into the sea.

Aboard USS Omaha, six thousand yards away, a sonarman had been trying for the past few minutes to decide if the trace on his screen was something other than clutter when a dot appeared on the screen.

“Conn, Sonar, transient, transient. Mechanical Transient bearing zero-eight-eight, dead aft!”

“What the hell?” the Officer of the Deck said. He was the boat's navigator, in the third week of duty in the new post. “What's back there?”

“Transient, transient — launch transient bearing zero-eight-eight! I say again, LAUNCH TRANSIENT DEAD AFT!”

“All ahead flank!” the suddenly pale lieutenant said a touch too loudly. “Battle stations! Stand by the five-inch room.” He lifted the command phone for the captain, but the general alarm was already sounding, and the Commanding Officer ran barefoot into the attack center, his coveralls still open.

“What the fuck is going on?”

“Sir, we had a launch transient dead aft — Sonar, Conn, what else do you have?”

“Nothing, sir, nothing after the transient. That was a launch-transient, HP air into the water, but… sounded a little funny, sir. I show nothing in the water.”

“Right full rudder!” The OOD ordered, ignoring the Captain. He hadn't been relieved yet, and conning the boat was his responsibility. “Make your depth one hundred feet. Five-inch room, launch a decoy now-now-now!”

“Right full rudder, aye. Sir, my rudder is right full, no course given. Speed twenty knots and accelerating,” helmsman said.

“Very well. Come to course zero-one-zero.”

“Aye, coming to new course zero-one-zero!”

“Who’s in this area?” the CO asked in a relaxed voice, though he didn't feel relaxed.

“Maine's around here somewhere,” the navigator answered.

“Harry Ricks.” That asshole, he didn't say. It would have been bad for discipline. “Sonar, talk to me!”

“Conn, Sonar, there is nothing in the water. If there was a torpedo, I'd have it, sir.”

“Nav, drop speed to one-third.”

“Aye, all ahead one-third.”

* * *

“I think we scared the piss out of him,” Ricks observed, hovering over the sonar display. Seconds after the simulated launch, the 688 on the scope had floored his power plant, and now there was also the gurgling sound of a decoy.

“Just backed off on the power, sir, blade count is coming down.”

“Yeah, he knows there's nothing after him, now. We'll give him a call on the Gertrude.”

“That dumbass! Doesn't he know that there may be an Akula around here?” the Commanding Officer of USS Omaha growled.

“We don't show him, sir, just a bunch of fishing boats.”

“Okay. Secure from general quarters. We'll let Maine have her little laugh.” He grimaced. “My fault. We should have been trolling along at ten instead of fifteen knots. Make it so.”

“Aye, sir. Where to?”

“The boomer ought to have a feel for what's north of here. Go southeast.”


“Nice reaction, Nav. We might have evaded the fish. Lessons?”

“You said it, sir. We were going too fast.”

“Learn from your captain's mistake, Mr. Auburn.”

“Always, sir.”

The skipper punched the younger man's shoulder on the way out.

Thirty-six thousand yards away, the Admiral Lunin was drifting at three knots just over the thermocline layer, her towed-array sonar drooping under it.

“Well?” her Captain asked.

“We have this burst of noise at one-three-zero,” the sonar officer said, pointing to the display, “and nothing else. Fifteen seconds later, we have another burst of noise here… ahead of the first. The signature appears to be an American Los Angeles class going to full power, then slowing and disappearing off our screens.”

“An exercise, Yevgeniy… the first transient was an American missile submarine… an Ohio-class. What do you think of that?” Captain First Rank Valentin Borissovich Dubinin asked.

“No one has ever detected an Ohio in deep water…”

“For all things, there is a first time.”

“And now?”

“We will hover and wait. The Ohio is quieter than a sleeping whale, but at least we know now that there is one in the area. We will not chase after it. Very foolish of the Americans to make noise in this way. I've never seen that happen before.”

The game has changed, Captain,“ the sonar officer observed. It had changed quite a lot. He didn't have to say ”Comrade Captain" anymore.

“Indeed it has, Yevgeniy. Now it is a true game. No one need get hurt, and we can test our skills as in the Olympics.”


“I would have closed a little before shooting, sir,” the weapons officer said. ”Even money he might have evaded that one."

“Agreed, but we were only trying to shake him up,” Ricks said comfortably.

Then what was the purpose of that exercise? Dutch Claggett wondered. Oh, of course, to show how aggressive you are.

“I guess we accomplished that,” the XO said to support his captain. There were grins all around the control room. Boomers and fast-attack subs often played games, mostly pre-planned. As usual, the Ohio had won this one, too. They'd known that Omaha was around, of course, and that she was looking for a Russian Akula that the P-3s had lost off the Aleutians a few days before. But the Russian ”Shark" class sub was nowhere to be heard.

“OOD, take her south. We went and made a datum with that launch transient. We'll clear datum back down where Omaha was.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

“Well done, people.” Ricks walked back to his cabin.

“New course?”

“South,” Dubinin said. ”He'll clear datum by going into the area already swept by the Los Angeles. We'll maintain position just over the layer, leave our ‘tail’ under it, and try to reacquire." There wasn't much chance, the Captain knew, but fortune still favored the bold. Or something like that. The submarine was due to go back to port in another week, and supposedly the new sonar array she was due to receive during his scheduled overhaul was a major improvement over the current one. He'd been here south of Alaska for three weeks. The submarine he'd detected, USS Maine or USS Nevada, if his intelligence reports were correct, would finish this patrol, refit, conduct another, refit again, then yet another patrol in February, which coincided with his deployment schedule after his overhaul. So, the next time he was back, he'd be up against the same captain, and this one had made a mistake. After a refit, Admiral Lunin would be quieter, and would have better sonar, and Dubinin was starting to wonder when he'd be able to play his game against the Americans… Wouldn't it be nice, he thought. All the time he'd spent to get here, the wonderful years learning his trade in Northern Fleet under Marko Ramius. What a pity, for such a brilliant officer to have died in an accident. But duty at sea was dangerous, always had been, always would be. Marko had gotten his crew off before scuttling… Dubinin shook his head. Today he might have gotten assistance from the Americans. Might? Would have, just as an American ship would get one from a Soviet. The changes in his country and the world made Dubinin feel much better about his job. It had always been a demanding game of skill, but its deadly purpose had changed. Oh, yes, the American missile submarines still had their rockets pointed at his country, and Soviet rockets were pointed at America, but perhaps they would be gone soon. Until they were, he'd continue to do his job, and it seemed ironic indeed that just as the Soviet Navy was on the threshold of becoming competitive — the Akula class was roughly equal with an early Los Angeles class in a mechanical sense — the need for it was diminishing. Like a friendly game of cards, perhaps? he asked himself. Not a bad simile…

“Speed, Captain?”

Dubinin considered that. “Assume a range of twenty nautical miles and a target speed of five knots. We'll do seven knots, I think. That way we can remain very quiet and perhaps still catch him… every two hours we'll turn to maximize the capacity of the sonar… Yes, that is the plan.” Next time, Yevgeniy, we'll have two new officer sonar operators to back you up, Dubinin reminded himself. The drawdown of the Soviet submarine force had released a lot of young officers who were now getting specialist training. The submarine's complement of officers would double, and even more than the new equipment, that would make a difference in his abilities to hunt.

“We blew it,” Bunker said. “I blew it. I gave the president bad advice.”

“You're not the only one,” Ryan admitted, as he stretched. ”But was that scenario realistic — I mean, really realistic?"

It turned out that the whole thing had been a ploy by a hard-pressed Soviet leader trying to get control over his military, and doing so by making it look as though some renegades had taken action.

“Not likely, but possible.”

“All things are possible,” Jack observed. “What do you suppose their war-games say about us?”

Bunker laughed. “Nothing good, I'm sure.”

At the end, America had had to accept the loss of its cruiser, USS Valley Forge, in return for the Charlie-class submarine that USS Kidd's helicopter had found and sunk. That was not regarded as an even trade, rather like losing a rook to the other fellow's knight. Soviet forces had gone on alert in Eastern Germany, and the weaker NATO forces had been unsure of their ability to deal with them. As a result, the Soviets had won a concession on the troop-pullback schedule. Ryan thought the whole scenario contrived, but they often were, and the point in any case was to see how to manage an unlikely crisis. Here they had done badly, moving too rapidly in non-essential areas, and too slowly on the ones that mattered, but which had not been recognized in time.

The lesson, as always, was: Don't make mistakes. That was something known by any first-grader, of course, and all men made mistakes, but the difference between a first-grader and a senior official was that official mistakes carried far more weight. That fact was an entirely different lesson, and one often not learned.


“So, what have you found?”

“He's a most interesting man,” Goodley replied. “He's done some things at CIA that are hardly believable.”

“I know about the submarine business, and the defection of the KGB head. What else?” Liz Elliot asked.

“He's rather well liked in the international intelligence community, like Sir Basil Charleston over in England — well, it's easy to see why they like him — but the same is true in the NATO countries, especially in France. Ryan stumbled across something that enabled the DGSE to bag a bunch of Action Directe people,” Goodley explained. He was somewhat uncomfortable with his role of designated informer.

The National Security Advisor didn't like to be kept waiting, but there was no sense in pressing the young scholar, was there? Her face took on a wry smile. “Am I to assume that you have started admiring the man?”

“He's done fine work, but he's made his mistakes, too. His estimate on the fall of East Germany and the progress of reunification was way off.” He had not managed to learn that everyone else was, as well. Goodley himself had guessed almost exactly right on this issue up at the Kennedy School, and the paper he'd published in an obscure journal was something else that had earned him attention at the White House. The White House fellow stopped again.

“And…?” Elliot prodded.

“And there are some troubling aspects in his personal life.”

Finally! “And those are?”

“Ryan was investigated by the SEC for possible insider-stock trading before he entered CIA employ. It seems there was a computer-software company about to get a Navy contract. Ryan found out about it before anyone else and made a real killing. The SEC found out — the reason is that the company executives themselves were also investigated — and examined Ryan's records. He got off on a technicality.”

"Explain,” Liz ordered.

“In order to cover their own backsides, the company officials arranged to have something published in a defense trade paper, just a little filler item, not even two column inches, but it was enough to show that the information upon which they and Ryan operated was technically in the public domain. That made it legal. What's more interesting is what Ryan did with the money after attention was called to it. He cut it out of his brokerage account — that's in a blind-trust arrangement now with four different money-managers.” Goodley stopped. “You know what Ryan's worth now?”

“No, what is it?”

“Over fifteen million dollars. He's by far the richest guy at the Agency. His holdings are somewhat undervalued. I'd say he's worth closer to twenty myself, but he's been using the same accounting method since before he joined CIA, and you can't critique him there. How you figure net worth is kind of metaphysical, isn't it? Accountants have different ways of doing things. Anyway, what he did with that windfall: He split it off to a separate account. Then a short while ago it all moved out into an educational trust fund.”

“His kids?”

“No,” Goodley answered. “The beneficiaries — no, let me back up. He used part of the money to set up a convenience store — a 7-Eleven — for a widow and her children. The rest of the money is set aside in T-Bills and a few blue-chip stocks to educate her children.”

“Who is she?”

"Her name is Carol Zimmer. Laotian by birth, she's the widow of an Air Force sergeant who got killed in a training accident. Ryan has been looking after the family. He even signed out of his office to attend the birth of the newest child — a girl, by the way. Ryan visits the family periodically,” Goodley concluded.

“I see.” She didn't, but this is what one says. “Any professional connection?”

“Not really. Mrs. Zimmer, as I said, was Laotian. Her father was one of those tribal chieftains that CIA supported against the North Vietnamese. The whole group was wiped out. I haven't discovered how she managed to escape. She married an Air Force sergeant and came to America. He died in an accident somewhere, rather recently. There is nothing in Ryan's file to show any previous connection to the family at all. The Laos connection is possible — to CIA, I mean — but Ryan wasn't in government employ then, he was an undergrad in college. There's nothing in the file to show a connection of any kind. Just one day, a few months before the last presidential election, he set up this trust fund, and ever since he visits them on the average of once a week. Oh, there was one other thing.”

“What's that?”

“I cross-referenced this from another file. There was some trouble at the 7-Eleven, some local punks were bothering the Zimmer family. Ryan's principal bodyguard is a CIA officer named Clark. He used to be a field officer, and now is a protective guy. I wasn't able to get his file,“ Goodley explained. ”Anyway, this Clark guy evidently assaulted a couple of gang kids. Sent one to the hospital. I checked a newspaper clipping. It was in the news, a little item — concerned citizen sort of thing. Clark and another CIA guy — the paper identified them as federal employees, no CIA connection — were supposedly accosted by four street toughs. This Clark guy must be a piece of work. The gang leader had his knee broken and was hospitalized. One other was just knocked unconscious, and the rest just stood there and wet their pants. The local cops treated it as a gang problem — well, a former gang problem. No formal charges were pressed."

“What else do you know about this Clark?”

“I've seen him a few times. Big guy; late forties, quiet, actually seems kind of shy. But he moves — you know what he moves like? I took karate courses once. The instructor was a former Green Beret, Vietnam veteran, all that stuff. Like that. He moves like an athlete, fluid, economical, but it's his eyes. They're always moving around. He looks at you sideways and decides if you're a threat or not a threat…” Goodley paused. At that moment he realized what Clark really was. Whatever else he was, Ben Goodley was no fool. “That is one dangerous guy.”

“What?” Liz Elliot didn't know what he was talking about.

“Excuse me. I learned that from the karate teacher up at Cambridge. The really dangerous ones don't seem dangerous. You just sort of lose track of them in the room. My teacher, he was mugged on the subway station right there by Harvard. I mean, they tried to mug him. He left three kids bleeding on the bricks. They thought he was just a janitor or something — he's an African-American, about fifty now, I guess. Looks like a janitor or something the way he dresses, not dangerous at all. That's what Clark is like, just like my old sensei… Interesting,” Goodley said. "Well, he's a SPO, and they're supposed to be good at their job.

“I speculate that Ryan found out that some punks were bothering Mrs. Zimmer, and had his bodyguard straighten things out. The Anne Arundel County police thought it was just fine.”


“Ryan has done some very good work, but he's blown some big ones, too. Fundamentally, he's a creature of the past. He's still a Cold War guy. He's got problems with the Administration, like a few days ago when you didn't attend the C AMELOT game. He doesn't think you take your job seriously, thinks that not playing those war-games is irresponsible.”

“He said that?”

“Almost a direct quote, I was in the room with Cabot when he came in and bitched.”

Elliot shook her head. That's a Cold Warrior talking. If the President does his job right, and if I do my job right, there won't be any crises to manage. That's the whole point isn't it?"

“And so far, you guys seem to be doing all right,” Goodley observed.

The National Security Advisor ignored the remark, looking at her notes.

The walls were in place, and weather-sealed with plastic sheeting. The air-conditioning system was already running, removing both humidity and dust from the air. Fromm was at work with the machine-tool tables. Table was too pedestrian a term. They were designed to hold several tons each, and had screw jacks on each sturdy leg. The German was leveling each machine with the aid of spirit-levels built into the frames.

“Perfect,” he said, after three hours of work. It had to be perfect. Now it was. Under each table was a full meter of reinforced concrete footings. Once leveled, the legs were bolted into place so that each was a solid part of the earth.

“The tools must be so rigid?” Ghosn asked. Fromm shook his head.

“Quite the reverse. The tools float on a cushion of air.”

“But you said they weigh over a ton each!” Qati objected.

“Floating them on an air cushion is trivial — you've seen photographs of hovercraft weighing a hundred tons. Floating them is necessary to dampen out vibrations from the earth.”

“What tolerances are we seeking?” Ghosn asked.

“Roughly what one needs for an astronomical telescope,” the German replied.

“But, the original bombs—”

Fromm cut Ghosn off. "The original American bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were crude embarrassments. They wasted almost all of their reaction mass, especially the Hiroshima weapon — you would not manufacture so crude a weapon any more than you would design a bomb with a burning gunpowder fuse, eh?

“In any case, you cannot use such a wasteful design,” Fromm went on. “After the first bombs, the American engineers had to face the problem that they had limited supplies of fissile material. That few kilos of plutonium over there is the most expensive material in the world. The plant needed to make it through nuclear bombardment costs billions, then comes the additional cost of separation, another plant, and another billion. Only America had the money to do the initial project. Everyone in the world knew about nuclear fission — it was no secret, what real secrets are there in physics, eh? — but only America had the money and resources to make the attempt. And the people,” Fromm added. ”What people they had! So, the first bombs — they made three, by the way — were designed to use all the available material, and because the main criterion was reliability, they were made to be crude, but effective. And they required the largest aircraft in the world to carry them.

"Also… then the war was won, and bomb-design became a professional study and not a frantic wartime project, ja? The plutonium reactor they have at Hanford turned out only a few tens of kilos of plutonium per year at the time, and the Americans had to learn to use the material more efficiently. The Mark-12 bomb was one of the first really advanced designs, and the Israelis improved it somewhat. That bomb has five times the yield of the Hiroshima device for less than a fifth of the reaction mass — twenty-fivefold improvement in efficiency, ja? And we can improve that by almost a factor of ten.

“Now a really expert design team, with the proper facilities could advance that by another factor of… perhaps four. Modern warheads are the most elegant, the most fascinating—”

Two megatons?" Ghosn asked. Was it possible?

“We cannot do it here,” Fromm said, the sorrow manifest in his voice. “The available information is insufficient. The physics are straightforward, but there are engineering concerns, and there are no published articles to aid us in the bomb-design process. Remember that warhead tests are being carried out even today to make the bombs smaller and yet more efficient. One must experiment in this field, as with any other, and we cannot experiment. Nor do we have the time or money to train technicians to execute the design. I could come up with a theoretical design for a megaton-plus device, but in truth it would have only a fifty-percent likelihood of success. Perhaps a little more, but it would not be a practical undertaking without a proper experimental-test program.”

“What can you do?” Qati asked.

“I can make this into a weapon with a nominal yield of between four hundred and five hundred kilotons. It will be roughly a cubic meter in size and weigh roughly five hundred kilos.” Fromm paused to read the looks on their faces. “It will not be an elegant device, and it will be overly bulky and heavy. It will also be quite powerful.” It would be far more clever in design than anything American or Russian technicians had managed in the first fifteen years of the nuclear age, and that, Fromm thought, wasn't bad at all.

“Explosive containment?” Ghosn asked.

“Yes.” This young Arab was very clever, Fromm thought. “The first bombs used massive steel cases. Ours will use explosives — bulky but light, and just as effective. We will squirt tritium into the core at the moment of ignition. As in the original Israeli design, that will generate large quantities of neutrons to boost the fission reaction; that reaction in turn will blast additional neutrons into another tritium supply, causing a fusion reaction. The energy budget is roughly fifty kilotons from the primary and four hundred from the secondary.”

“How much tritium?” While not a difficult substance to obtain in small amounts — watchmakers and gunsight manufacturers used it, but only in microscopic quantities — Ghosn knew supplies over ten miligrams were virtually unobtainable, as he had just discovered himself. Tritium — not plutonium despite what Fromm had said — was the most expensive commercially available material on the planet. You could get tritium, but not plutonium.

“I have fifty grams,” Fromm announced smugly. ”Far more than we can actually use."

“Fifty grams!” Ghosn exclaimed. “Fifty?”

“Our reactor complex was manufacturing special nuclear material for our own bomb project. When the socialist government fell, it was decided to give the plutonium to the Soviets — loyalty to the world socialist cause, you see. The Soviets didn't see things that way. Their reaction”—Fromm paused—“they called it… well, I will leave that to your imagination. Their reaction was so strong that I decided to hide our tritium production. As you know it is very valuable commercially — my insurance policy, you might call it.”


“In the basement of my home, concealed in some nickel-hydrogen batteries.”

Qati didn't like that, not one small bit. The Arab chieftain was not a well man, the German could see, and that did not help him conceal his feelings.

“I need to return to Germany in any case to get the machine tools,” he said.

“You have them?”

“Five kilometers from my home is the Karl Marx Astrophysical Institute. We were supposed to manufacture astronomical telescopes there, visual and X-ray telescopes. Alas, it never opened. Such a fine ‘cover’ wasted, eh? In the machine shop, in crates marked Astrophysical Instruments, are six high-precision, five-axis machines — the finest sort,” Fromm observed with a wolfish grin. “Cincinnati Milacron, from the United States of America. Precisely what the Americans use at their Oak Ridge, Rocky Flats, and Pantex fabrication plants.”

“What about operators?” Ghosn asked.

“We were training twenty of them, sixteen men and four women, each with a university degree… No, that would be too dangerous. It is not really necessary in any case. The machines are ‘user-friendly,’ as they say. We could do the work ourselves, but that would take too much time. Any skilled lensmaker — even a master gunsmith, as a matter of fact — can operate them. What was the business of Nobel Prize winners fifty years ago is now the work of a competent machinist,” Fromm said. “Such is the nature of progress, ja?”

“It could be, then again it could not,” Yevgeniy said. He'd been on duty for twenty hours straight, and only six hours of fitful sleep separated that from yet another, longer stint.

Finding it, if that indeed was what they'd done, had taken all of Dubinin's skill. He'd guessed that the American missile sub had headed south, and that her cruising speed was in the order of five knots. Next came environmental considerations. He'd had to stay close, within direct-path range, not allowing himself to come into a sonar convergence zone. The CZs were annular — donut — shaped areas around a vessel. Sound that went downward from a point within the convergence zone was refracted by the water temperature and pressure, traveling back and forth to the surface on a helical path at semi-regular intervals that in turn depended on environmental conditions. By staying out of them, relative to where he thought his target was, he could evade one means of detection. To do that meant that he had to stay within theoretical direct-path distance, the area in which sound simply traveled radially from its source. To accomplish that without detection, he had to remain on the top side of the thermocline layer — he figured that the American would remain under it — while allowing his towed-array sonar to hang below it. In this way, his own engine-plant noises would probably be deflected away from the American submarine.

Dubinin's tactical problem lay in his disadvantages. The American submarine was quieter than his, and possessed both better sonars and better sonar-operators. Senior Lieutenant Yevgeniy Nikolayevich Ryskov was a very bright young officer, but he was the only sonar expert aboard who might fairly be matched against the American counterparts, and the boy was burning himself out. Captain Dubinin's only advantage lay in himself. He was a fine tactician, and knew it. And his American counterpart was not, Dubinin thought, and didn't know it. There was a final disadvantage. By staying on top of the layer, he made counter-detection by an American patrol aircraft easier, but Dubinin was willing to run that risk. What lay before him was a prize such as no Russian submarine commander had ever grasped.

Both captain and lieutenant stared at a “waterfall” display, looking not at a strobe of light, but instead a disjointed, barely visible vertical line that wasn't as bright as it should have been. The American Ohio-class was quieter than the background noise of the ocean, and both men wondered if somehow environmental conditions were showing them the acoustical shadow of that most sophisticated of missile submarines. It was just as likely, Dubinin thought, that fatigue was playing hallucinatory games with both of their minds.

“We need a transient,” Ryskov said, reaching for his tea. “A dropped tool, a slammed hatch… a mistake, a mistake… ”

I could ping him… I could duck below the layer and hit him with a blast of active sonar energy and find out… NO! Dubinin turned away and nearly swore at himself. Patience, Valentin. They are patient, we must be patient.

“Yevgeniy Nikolay’ch, you look weary.”

“I can rest in Petropavlovsk, Captain. I will sleep for a week, and see my wife — well, I will not sleep entirely for that week,” he said with an exhausted grin. The lieutenant's face was illuminated by the yellow glow of the screen. “But I will not turn away from a chance like this one!”

“There will be no accidental transients.”

“I know, Captain. Those damned American crews… I know it's him, I know it's an Ohio! What else could it be?”

“Imagination, Yevgeniy, imagination and too large a wish on our part.”

Lieutenant Ryskov turned. “I think my captain knows better than that!”

“I think my lieutenant is right.” Such a game this is! Ship against ship, mind against mind. Chess in three dimensions, played in an ever-changing physical environment. And the Americans were the masters of the game. Dubinin knew that. Better equipment, better crews, better training. Of course, the Americans knew that, too, and two generations of advantage had generated arrogance rather than innovation… not in all, but certainly in some. A clever commander in the missile submarine would be doing things differently… If I had such a submarine, not all the world could find me!

“Twelve more hours, then we must break contact and turn for home.”

“Too bad,” Ryskov observed, not meaning it. Six weeks at sea was enough for him.

“Make your depth six-zero feet,” the Officer of the Deck said.

“Make my depth six-zero feet, aye,” the Driving Officer replied. “Ten degrees up on the fairwater planes.”

The missile-firing drill had just begun. A regular occurrence, it was intended both to ensure the competence of the crew and desensitize them to their primary war-fighting mission, the launch of twenty-four UGM-93 Trident-II D-5 missiles, each with ten Mark 5 re-entry vehicles of 400 kilotons nominal yield. A total of two hundred forty warheads with a total net yield of 96 megatons. But there was more to it than that, since nuclear weapons depended on the interlocking logic of several physical laws. Small weapons employed their yield with greater efficiencies than larger ones. Most important of all, the Mark 5 RV had a demonstrated accuracy of ±50 meters CEP (“Circular Error Probable”), meaning that after a flight of over four thousand nautical miles, half the warheads would land within 164.041 feet of their targets, and nearly all the rest within 300 feet. The “miss” distance was far smaller than the crater to be expected from such a warhead, as a result of which the D-5 missile was the first sea-launched ballistic missile with counter-force capability. It was designed for a disarming first-strike. Given the normal two-at-one targeting, Maine could eliminate 120 Soviet missiles and/or missile-control bunkers, roughly ten percent of the current Soviet ICBM force, which was itself configured for a counter-force mission.

In the missile-control center — MCC — aft of the cavernous missile room, a senior chief petty officer lit up his panel. All twenty-four birds were on line. On-board navigation equipment fed data into each missile-guidance system. It would be updated in a few minutes from orbiting navigation satellites. To hit a target, the missile had to know not only where the target was, but also where the missile itself was starting from. The NAVSTAR Global Positioning System could do that with a tolerance of less than five meters. The senior chief watched status lights change as missiles were interrogated by his computers and reported their readiness.

Around the submarine, water pressure on the hull diminished at a rate of 2.2 tons per square foot for every 100 feet of rise towards the surface. Maine's hull expanded slightly as the pressure was relieved, and there was a tiny amount of noise as steel relaxed from the compression.

It was only a groan, scarcely audible even over the sonar systems and seductively close to the call of a whale. Ryskov was so drunk with fatigue that had it come a few minutes later he would have missed it, but though his daydreams were getting the best of him, his mind retained enough of its sharpness to take note of the sound.

“Captain… hull-popping noise… right there!” His finger stabbed the screen, just at the bottom of the shadow he and Dubinin had been examining. “He's coming shallow.”

Dubinin raced into the control room. “Stand by to change depth.” He put on a headset that connected him to Lieutenant Rykov.

“Yevgeniy Nikolay’ch, this must be done well, and done quickly. I will drop below the layer just as the American goes over it.”

“No, Captain, you can wait. His array will hang below briefly, as ours would do!”

“Damn!” Dubinin almost laughed. “Forgive me, Lieutenant. For that, a bottle of Starka.” Which was the best Russian-made vodka.

“My wife and I will drink your health… I'm getting an angle reading… Estimate target five degrees depression from our array… Captain, if I can hold him, the moment we lose him through the layer…”

“Yes, a quick range estimate!” It would be crude, but it would be something. Dubinin rasped quick orders to his tracking officer.

“Two degrees… hull noises are gone… this is very hard to hold, but he's occulting the background a little more now — GONE! He's through the layer now!”

“One, two, three…” Dubinin counted. The American must be doing a missile drill, or coming up to receive communications, in any case he'd go to twenty meters depth, and his towed array… five hundred meters long… speed five knots, and… Now!

“Helm, down five degrees on the bow planes. We're going just below the layer. Starpom, make note of outside water temperature. Gently, helm, gently…”

Admiral Lunin dipped her bow and slid below the undulating border that marked the difference between relatively warm surface water and colder deep water.

“Range?” Dubinin asked his tracking officer.

“Estimate between five and nine thousand meters, Captain! Best I can do with the data.”

“Well done, Kolya! Splendid.”

“We're below the layer now, water temperature down five degrees!” the Starpom called.

“Bow planes to zero, level out.”

“Planes to zero, Captain… zero angle on the boat.”

Had there been enough overhead room, Dubinin would have leaped off his feet. He'd just done what no other Soviet submarine commander — and if his intelligence information was right, only a handful of Americans — had ever done. He'd established contact with and tracked an American Ohio-class fleet ballistic-missile submarine. In a war situation, he'd be able to fire off ranging pings with his active sonar and launch torpedoes. He'd stalked the world's most elusive game, and was close enough for a killing shot. His skin tingled from the excitement of the moment. Nothing in the world could match this feeling. Nothing at all.

“Ryl nepravo,” he said next. “Right rudder, new course three-zero-zero. Increase speed slowly to ten knots.”

“But, Captain…” his Starpom — executive officer — said.

“We're breaking contact. He'll continue this drill for at least thirty minutes. It is very unlikely that we can evade counter-detection when he concludes it. Better to leave now. We do not want him to know what we have done. We will meet this one again. In any case, our mission is accomplished. We have tracked him, and we got close enough to launch our attack. At Petropavlovsk, men, there will be much drinking, and your captain will do the buying! Now, let's clear the area quietly so that he will not know that we were ever here.”

Captain Robert Jefferson Jackson wished he was younger, wished that his hair was still completely black, that he could again be a young “nugget” fresh from Pensacola, ready to take his first hop in one of the forbidding fighter aircraft that sat like enormous birds of prey along the flight line at Oceana Naval Air Station. That all twenty-four of the F-14D Tomcats in the immediate area were his was not as satisfying as the knowledge that one was his and his alone. Instead, as Commander Air Group, he “owned” two Tomcat squadrons, two more of F/A-18 Hornets, one of A-6E Intruder medium-attack aircraft, another of S-3 submarine hunters, and finally the less glamorous tankers, electronic-warfare Prowlers, and rescue/ASW helicopters. A total of seventy-eight birds with an aggregate value of… what? A billion dollars? Much more if you considered replacement cost. Then there were the three thousand men who flew and serviced the aircraft, each of whom was beyond price, of course. He was responsible for all of it. It was much more fun to be a new fighter pilot who drove his personal airplane and left the worrying to management. Robby was now management, the guy the kids talked about in their cabins on the ship. They didn't want to be called into his office, because that was like going to see the Principal. They didn't really like flying with him, because (A) he was too old to be good at it any more (they thought), and (B) he'd tell them whatever he thought they were doing wrong (fighter pilots do not often admit mistakes, except among themselves).

There was a certain irony to it. His previous job had been in the Pentagon, pushing papers. He'd prayed and lusted for release from that job, whose main excitement every day was finding a decent parking spot. Then he'd gotten his command of his air wing — and been stuck with more admin crap than he'd ever faced in his life. At least he got to fly twice a week… if he were lucky. Today was such a day. His command master chief petty officer gave him a grin on the way out the door.

“Mind the store, Master Chief.”

“Roger that, skipper. It'll be here when you get back.”

Jackson stopped in his tracks. “You can have someone steal all the paperwork.”

“I'll see what I can do, sir.”

A staff car took him to the flight line. Jackson was already in his Nomex flight suit, an old smelly one whose olive-drab color was faded from many washings, and threadbare at the elbows and seat from years of use. He could and should have gotten a new one, but pilots are superstitious creatures; Robby and this flight suit had been through a lot together.

“Hey, skipper!” called one of his squadron commanders.

Commander Bud Sanchez was shorter than Jackson. His olive skin and Bismarck mustache accentuated bright eyes and a grin right out of a toothpaste commercial. Sanchez, Commanding Officer of VF-1, would fly Jackson's wing today. They'd flown together when Jackson had commanded VF-41 off the John F. Kennedy. “Your bird is all dialed in. Ready to kick a little ass?”

“Who’s the opposition today?”

“Some jarheads out of Cherry Point in -18-Deltas. We got a Hummer already orbiting a hundred miles out, and the exercise is BARCAP against low-level intruders.” BARCAP meant Barrier Combat Air Patrol. The mission was to prevent attacking aircraft from crossing a line that they were not supposed to cross. “Up to some heavy ACM? Those Marines sounded a little cocky over the phone.”

The Marine I can't take ain't been born yet," Robby said, as he pulled his helmet off the rack. It bore his call sign, Spade.

“Hey, you RIOs,” Sanchez called, ”quit holdin’ hands and let's get it on!"

“On the way, Bud.” Michael “Lobo” Alexander came from around the lockers, followed by Jackson's radar-intercept officer, Henry “Shredder” Walters. Both were under thirty, both lieutenants. In the locker room, people talked by call sign rather than rank. Robby loved the fellowship of squadron life as much as he loved his country.

Outside, the plane captains — petty officers — who were responsible for maintaining the aircraft walked the officers to their respective birds and helped them aboard. (On the dangerous area of a carrier flight deck, pilots are led virtually by the hand by enlisted men, lest they get lost or hurt.) Jackson's bird had a double-zero ID number on the nose. Under the cockpit was painted “CAPT. R. J. Jackson ‘SPADE’” to make sure that everyone knew that this was the CAG’s bird. Under that was a flag representing a MiG-29 fighter aircraft that an Iraqi had mistakenly flown too close to Jackson's Tomcat not so long before. There hadn't been much to it — the other pilot had forgotten, once, to check his “six” and paid the price — but a kill was a kill, and kills were what fighter pilots lived for.

Five minutes later, all four men were strapped in, and engines were turning.

“How are you this morning, Shredder?” Jackson asked over his intercom.

“Ready to waste some Marines, skipper. Lookin’ good back here. Is this thing gonna fly today?”

“Guess it's time to find out.” Jackson switched to radio. “Bud, this is Spade, ready here.”

“Roger, Spade, you have the lead.” Both pilots looked around, got an all-clear from their plane captains, and looked around again.

“Spade has the lead.” Jackson tripped his brakes. “Rolling now.”

"Hello, mein Schatz,” Manfred Fromm said to his wife.

Traudl rushed forward to embrace him. “Where have you been?”

“That I cannot say,” Fromm replied, with a knowing twinkle in his eye. He hummed a few bars from Lloyd Webber's ”Don't Cry for Me, Argentina."

"I knew you would see,” Traudl beamed at him.

“You must not talk of this.” To confirm her suspicion, he handed her a wad of banknotes, five packets of ten thousand D-Marks each. That should keep the mercenary bitch quiet and happy, Manfred Fromm told himself. “And I will only be here overnight. I had some business to do, and of course—”

“Of course, Manfred.” She hugged him again, the money in her hands. “If only you had called!”

Arrangements had been absurdly easy to make. A ship outbound for Latakia, Syria, was sailing from Rotterdam in seventy hours. He and Bock had arranged for a commercial trucking company to load the machine tools into a small cargo container which would be loaded on the ship and unloaded onto a Syrian dock in six more days. It would have been faster to send the tools by air, or even by rail to a Greek or Italian port for faster transshipment by sea, but Rotterdam was the world's busiest port, with overworked customs officials whose main task was searching for drug shipments. Sniffer dogs could go over that particular container to their hearts’ content.

Fromm let his wife go into the kitchen to make coffee. It would take a few minutes, and that was all he needed. He walked down into his basement. In the corner, as far from the water-heater as was possible was an orderly pile of lumber, on top of which were four black metal boxes. Each weighed about twelve kilograms, about twenty-five pounds. Fromm carried one at a time — on the second trip, he got a pair of gloves from his bureau drawer to protect his hands — and placed them in the trunk of his rented BMW. By the time the coffee was ready, his task was complete.

“You have a fine tan,” Traudl observed, carrying the tray out from the kitchen. In her mind, she'd already spent about a quarter of the money her husband had given her. So, Manfred had seen the light. She'd known he would, sooner or later. Better that it should be sooner. She'd be especially nice to him tonight.


Bock didn't like leaving Fromm to his own devices, but he also had a task to perform. This was a far greater risk. It was, he told himself, a high-risk operational concept, even if the real dangers were in the planning stage, which was both an oddity and a relief.

Erwin Keitel lived on a pension, and not an especially comfortable one at that. Its necessity came from two facts. First, he was a former Lieutenant-Colonel in the East German Stasi, the intelligence and counter-intelligence arm of the defunct German Democratic Republic; second, he had liked his work of thirty-two years. Whereas most of his former colleagues had acknowledged the changes in their country and for the most part put their German identity ahead of whatever ideology they'd once held — and told literally everything they knew to the Bundesnachrichtendienst — Keitel had decided that he was not going to work for capitalists. That made him one of the “politically unemployed” citizens of the united Germany. His pension was a matter of convenience. The new German government honored, after a fashion, pre-existing government obligations. It was at the least politically expedient, and what Germany now was, was a matter of daily struggling with facts that were not and could not be reconciled. It was easier to give Keitel a pension than to leave him on the official dole, which was deemed more demeaning than a pension. By the government, that is. Keitel didn't see things quite that way. If the world made any sense at all, he thought, he would have been executed or exiled — exactly where he might have been exiled to, Keitel didn't know. He'd begun to consider going over to the Russians — he'd had good contacts in the KGB — but that thought had died a quick death. The Soviets had washed their hands of everything to do with the DDR, fearing treachery from people whose allegiance to world socialism — or whatever the hell the Russians stood for now, Keitel had no idea — was somewhat less than their allegiance to their new country. Keitel took his seat beside Bock's in the corner booth of a quiet Gasthaus in what had formerly been East Berlin.

“This is very dangerous, my friend.”

“I am aware of that, Erwin.” Bock waved for two liter glasses of beer. Service was quicker than it had been a few years before, but both men ignored that.

“I cannot tell you how I feel about what they did to Petra,” Keitel said, after the girl left them.

“Do you know exactly what happened?” Bock asked, in a level and emotionless voice.

"The detective who ran the case visited her in prison — he did so quite often — not for interrogation. They made a conscious effort to push her over the edge. You must understand, Günther, courage in a man or a woman is a finite quality. It was not weakness on her part. Anyone can break. It is simply a matter of time. They watched her die,” the retired colonel said.

“Oh?” Bock's face didn't change, but his knuckles went white on the stein handle.

“There was a television camera hidden in her cell. They have her suicide on videotape. They watched her do it, and did nothing to stop her.”

Bock didn't say anything, and the room was too dim to see how pale his face went. It was as though a hot blast from a furnace swept over him, followed by one from the North Pole He closed his eyes for a brief second to get control of himself Petra would not have wished him to be governed by emotion at a time like this He opened his eyes to look at his friend.

“Is that a fact?”

"I know the name of the detective. I know his address. I still have friends,” Keitel assured Bock.

“Yes, Erwin, I am sure you do. I need your help to do something ”

“Anything ”

“You know, of course, what brought us to this.”

“That depends on how you mean it,” Keitel said “The people disappointed me in the way they allowed themselves to be seduced, but the common people always lack the discipline to know what is good for them The real cause of our national misfortune… ”

“Precisely — the Americans and the Russians.”

“Mein lieber Günther, even a united Germany cannot—”

“Yes, it can. If we are to remake the world into our image, Erwin, both of our oppressors must be damaged severely”

"But how?”

“There is a way Can you believe me that much, just for now?”

Keitel drained his beer and sat back He'd helped train Bock At fifty six, it was too late for him to change his ideas of the world, and he was still a fine judge of character. Bock was a man such as himself. Günther had been a careful, ruthless, and very effective clandestine operator.

“What of our detective friend?”

Bock shook his head “As much satisfaction as that might give me, no This is not a time for personal revenge. We have a movement and a country to save ” More than one, in fact, Bock thought, but this was not the time for that. What was taking shape in his mind was a grand stroke, a breathtaking maneuver that might — he was too intellectually honest to say would, even to himself — change the world into a more malleable shape. Exactly what would happen after that, who could say? That would not matter at all if he and his friends were unable to take the first bold step.

“How long have we known each other — fifteen years, twenty?” Keitel smiled. “Aber natürlich. Of course I can trust you.”

“How many others can we trust?”

“How many do we need?”

“No more than ten, but we will need a total of ten.”

Keitel's face went blank. Eight men we can trust absolutely…?

“That is too many for safety, Günther. What sort of men?” Bock told him. “I know where to start. It should be possible… men of my age… and some younger, of your age. The physical skills you require are not difficult to obtain, but remember that much of this is beyond our control.”

“As some of my friends say, that is in God's hands,” Günther said with a smirk.

“Barbarians,” Keitel snorted. “I have never liked them.”

“Ja, doch, they don't even let a man have a beer,” Bock smiled. “But they are strong, Erwin, they are determined, and they are faithful to the cause.”

“Whose cause is that?”

“One we both share at the moment. How much time do you need?”

Two weeks. I can be reached—"

“No.” Bock shook his head. “Too risky. Can you travel, are you being watched?”

“Watch me? All of my subordinates have changed allegiance, and the BND knows that the KGB will have nothing to do with me. They would not waste the assets to watch me. I am a gelding, you see?”

“Some gelding, Erwin.” Bock handed over some cash. “We will meet in Cyprus in two weeks. Make sure you are not followed.”

“I will — I do. I have not forgotten how, my friend.”

Fromm awoke at dawn. He dressed at leisure, trying not to wake Traudl. She'd been more of a wife in the past twelve hours than in the preceding twelve months, and his conscience told him that their nearly failed marriage had not been entirely her fault. He was surprised to find breakfast waiting on the table for him.

“When will you be back?”

“I'm not sure. Probably several months.”

“That long?"

“Mein Schatz, the reason I am there is that they need what I know, and I am being well paid.” He made a mental note to have Qati send additional funds. So long as money kept coming in, she'd not be nervous.

“It is not possible for me to join you?” Traudl asked, showing real affection for her man.

“It is no place for a woman.” Which was honest enough that his conscience allowed itself to relax a little. He finished his coffee. “I must be off.”

“Hurry back.”

Manfred Fromm kissed his wife and walked out the door. The BMW was not affected in the least by the fifty kilos of weight in the trunk. He waved to Traudl one last time before driving off. He gave the house a final look in the mirror, thinking, correctly, that he might not see it again.

His next stop was the Karl Marx Astrophysical Institute. The single-story buildings were already showing their neglect, and it surprised him that vandals had not broken windows. The truck was already there. Fromm used his keys to let himself into the machine shop. The tools were still there, still in hermetically sealed crates, and the crates were still marked Astrophysical Instruments. It was just a matter of signing some forms he'd typed up the previous afternoon. The truck driver knew how to operate the propane-fueled forklift, and drove each crate into the container. Fromm took the batteries from the trunk of his car, and set them in a final, small box, which was loaded on last. It took him an additional half hour to chain things down in place, and then he drove off. He and “Herr Professor Fromm” would meet again outside Rotterdam.

Fromm rendezvoused with Bock in Greifswald. They drove west in the latter's car — Bock was a better driver.

“How was home?”

Traudl liked the money a great deal," Fromm reported.

“We'll send her more, at regular intervals… every two weeks, I think.”

“Good, I was going to ask Qati about that.”

“We take care of our friends,” Bock observed, as they passed over what had once been a border crossing. Now it was merely green.

“How long for the fabrication process?”

“Three months… maybe four. We could go faster,” Fromm said apologetically, ”but remember that I have never actually done this with real material, only in simulation. There is absolutely no margin for error. It will be complete by the middle of January. At that point, it is yours to use." Fromm wondered, of course, what plans Bock and the others had for it, but that was not really his concern, was it? Doch.


Ghosn could only shake his head. He knew objectively that it resulted from the sweeping political changes in Europe, the effective elimination of borders attendant to the economic unification, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and headlong rush to join in the new European family. Even so, the hardest part of getting these five machine tools out of Germany and into his valley had been finding a suitable truck at Latakia, and that had actually been rather difficult, since negotiating the road into where his shop lay had incomprehensibly been overlooked by everyone — including, he thought with some satisfaction, the German. Fromm was now observing closely as a gang of men labored to move the last of the five tools onto its table. Arrogant as he may have been, Fromm was an expert technologist. Even the tables had been built to exactly the right size, with ten centimeters of extra space around each tool so that one could rest a notebook. The backup generators and UPSs were in place and tested. It was just a matter of getting the tools set up and fully calibrated, which would take about a week.

Bock and Qati were observing the whole procedure from the far end of the building, careful to keep out of the way.

“I have the beginnings of an operational plan,” Günther said.

“You do not intend the bomb for Israel, then?” Qati asked. He was the one who would approve or disapprove the plan. He would, however, listen to his German friend. “Can you tell me of it yet?”

“Yes,” Bock did so.

“Interesting. What of security?”

“One problem is our friend, Manfred — more properly, his wife. She knows his skills, and she knows he is away somewhere.”

“I would have thought that killing her carries more risks than rewards.”

“Ordinarily it would appear so, but all of Fromm's fellow experts are also away — with their wives in most cases. Were she merely to disappear, it would be assumed by the neighbors that she'd joined her husband. His absence risks a comment by her, however casual it might be, that Manfred is off doing something. Someone might notice.”

“Does she actually know what his former job was?”

“Manfred is very security-conscious, but we must assume that she does. What woman does not?”

“Go on,” Qati said tiredly.

“Discovery of her body will force the police to search for her husband, and that is also a problem. She must disappear. Then it will seem that she has joined her husband.”

“Instead of the other way around,” Qati observed with a rare smile, “at the end of the project.”

“Quite so.”

“What sort of woman is she?”

“A shrew, a money-grabber, not a believer,” Bock, an atheist, said, somewhat to Qati’s amusement.

“How will you do it?”

Bock explained briefly. “It will also validate the reliability of our people for that part of the operation. I'll leave the details to my friends.”

“Trickery? One cannot be overly careful in an enterprise like this one.”

“If you wish, a videotape of the elimination? Something unequivocal?” Bock had done that before.

“It is barbaric,” Qati said. “But regrettably necessary.”

“I will take care of that when I go to Cyprus.”

“You'll need security for that trip, my friend.”

“Yes, thank you, I think I will.” Bock knew what that meant. If his capture looked imminent — well, he was in a profession that entailed serious risks, and Qati had to be careful. Günther's own operational proposal made that all the more imperative.

“The tools all have levelers for the air plates,” Ghosn said in annoyance, fifteen meters away. “Very good ones — why all the trouble with the tables?”

“My young friend, this is something we can only do one time. Do you wish to take any chances at all?”

Ghosn nodded. The man was right, even if he was a patronizing son-of-a-bitch. “And the tritium?”

“In those batteries. I've kept them in a cool place. You release the tritium by heating them. The procedure for recovering the tritium is delicate, but straightforward.”

“Ah, yes, I know how to do that.” Ghosn remembered such lab experiments from university.

Fromm handed him a copy of the manual for the first tool. “Now, we both have new things to learn so that we can teach the operators.”

Captain Dubinin sat in the office of the Master Shipwright of the yard. Known variously as Shipyard Number 199, Leninskaya Komsomola, or simply Komsomol'sk, it was the yard at which the Admiral Lunin had been built. Himself a former submarine commander, the man preferred the title Master Shipwright to Superintendent and had changed the title on his office door accordingly on taking the job two years earlier. He was a traditionalist, but also a brilliant engineer. Today he was a happy man.

“While you were gone, I got hold of something wonderful!”

“What might that be, Admiral?”

“The prototype for a new reactor feed pump. It's big, cumbersome, and a cast-iron bastard to install and maintain, but it's—”


“As a thief,” the Admiral said with a smile. “It reduces the radiated noise of your current pump by a factor of fifty.”

“Indeed? Who did we steal that from?”

The Master Shipwright laughed at that. “You don't need to know, Valentin Borissovich. Now, I have a question for you: I have heard that you did something very clever ten days ago.”

Dubinin smiled. “Admiral, that is something which I cannot —”

“Yes, you can. I spoke with your squadron commander. Tell me, how close did you get to USS Nevada?”

“I think it was actually Maine,” Dubinin said. The intelligence types disagreed, but he went with his instincts. “About eight thousand meters. We identified him from a mechanical transient made during an exercise, then I proceeded to stalk on the basis of a couple of wild guesses—”

“Rubbish! Humility can be overdone, Captain. Go on.”

“And after tracking what we thought was our target, he confirmed it with a hull transient. I think he came up to conduct a rocket-firing drill. At that point, given our operational schedule and the tactical situation, I elected to break contact while it was possible to do so without counterdetection.”

“That was your cleverest move of all,” the Master Shipwright said, pointing a finger at his guest. ”You could not have decided better, because the next time you go out, you will be the most quiet submarine we've ever put to sea."

“They still have the advantage over us," Dubinin pointed out honestly.

“That is true, but for once the advantage will be less than the difference between one commander and another, which is as it should be. We both studied under Marko Ramius. If only he were here to see this!”

Dubinin nodded agreement. “Yes, given current political circumstances, it is truly a game of skill, not one of malice anymore.”

“Would that I were young enough to play,” the Master Shipwright said.

“And the new sonar?”

“This is our design from the Severomorsk Laboratory, a large aperture array, roughly a forty-percent improvement in sensitivity. On the whole, you will be the equal of an American Los Angeles class in nearly all regimes.”

Except crew, Dubinin didn't say. It would be years before his country had the ability to train men as the Western navies did, and by that time Dubinin would no longer have command at sea — but! In three months time he'd have the best ship that his nation had ever given one of its captains. If he were able to cajole his squadron commander into giving him a larger officer complement, he could beach the more inept of his conscripts and begin a really effective training regimen for the rest. Training and leading the crew was his job. He was the commanding officer of Admiral Lunin. He took credit for what went well, and blame for what went badly. Ramius had taught him that from the first day aboard the first submarine. His fate was in his own hands, and what man could ask for more than that?

Next year, USS Maine, when the bitterly cold storms of winter sweep across the North Pacific, we will meet again.

“Not a single contact,” Captain Ricks said in the wardroom.

“Except for Omaha.” LCDR. Claggett looked over some paperwork. “And he was in too much of a hurry.”

“Ivan doesn't even try anymore. Like he's gone out of business.” It was almost a lament from the Navigator.

“Why even try to find us?” Ricks observed. “Hell, aside from that Akula that got lost…”

“We did track the guy a while back,” Nav pointed out.

“Maybe next time we'll get some hull shots,” a lieutenant observed lightly from behind a magazine. There was general laughter. Some of the more extreme fast-attack skippers had, on very rare occasions, maneuvered close enough to some Soviet submarines to take flash photographs of their hulls. But that was a thing of the past. The Russians were a lot better at the submarine game than they'd been only ten years earlier. Being number two did make one try harder.

“Now, the next engineering drill,” Ricks said.

The Executive Officer noted that the faces around the table didn't change The officers were learning not to groan or roll their eyes Ricks had a very limited sense of humor.

“Hello, Robby!” Joshua Painter got up from his swivel chair and walked over to shake hands with his visitor.

“Morning, sir”

“Grab a seat” A steward served coffee to both men “How’s the wing look?”

“I think we'll be ready on time, sir ”

Admiral Joshua Painter, USN, was Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, Commander-in-Chief Atlantic, and Commander-in-Chief U.S. Atlantic Fleet — they paid him only one salary for the three jobs, though he did have three staffs to do his thinking for him A career aviator — mainly fighters — he had reached the summit of his career He would not be selected for Chief of Naval Operations. Someone with fewer politically rough edges would get that job, but Painter was content. Under the rather eccentric organization of the armed services, the CNO and other service chiefs merely advised the Secretary of Defense The SecDef was the one who gave the orders to the area CINCs — commanders-in-chief. SACL ANT — CINCLANT — CINCLANT F LT might have been an awkward, cumbersome, and generally bloated command, but it was a command. Painter owned real ships, real airplanes, and real marines, had the authority to tell them where to go and what to do Two complete fleets, 2nd and 6th, came under his authority: seven aircraft carriers, a battleship — though an aviator, Painter rather liked battleships, his grandfather had commanded one — over a hundred destroyers and cruisers, 60 submarines, a division and a half of marines, thousands of combat aircraft The fact of the matter was that only one country in the world had more combat power than Joshua Painter did, and that country was no longer a serious strategic threat in these days of international amity. He no longer had to look forward to the possibility of war. Painter was a happy man. A man who'd flown missions over Vietnam, he'd seen American power go from its post-World War II peak to its nadir in the 1970s, then bounce back again until America once more was the most powerful country on earth. He'd played his part in the best of times and the worst of times, and now the best of times were better still. Robby Jackson was one of the men to whom his Navy would be turned over.

“What's this I heard about Soviet pilots in Libya again?” Jackson asked.

“Well, they never really left, did they?” Painter asked rhetorically. “Our friend wants their newest weapons, and he's paying with hard cash. They need the cash. It's business. That's simple enough.”

“You'd think he'd learn,” Robby observed with a shake of the head.

“Well, maybe he will… soon. It must be real lonely being the last of the hotheads. Maybe that's why he's loading up while he still can. That's what the intel people say.”

“And the Russians?”

“Quite a lot of instructors and technical people there on contract, especially aviators and SAM types.”

“Nice to know. If our friend tries anything, he's got some good stuff to hide behind.”

“Not good enough to stop you, Robby.”

“Good enough to make me write some letters.” Jackson had written enough of those. As a CAG, he could look forward on this cruise — as with every other he'd ever taken — to deaths in his air wing. To the best of his knowledge, no carrier had ever sailed for a deployment, whether in peace or war, without some fatalities, and as the “owner” of the air wing, the deaths were his responsibility. Wouldn't it be nice to be the first, Jackson thought. Aside from the fact that it would look good on his record, not having to tell a wife or a set of parents that Johnny had lost his life in service of his country… possible, but not likely, Robby told himself. Naval aviation was too dangerous. Past forty now, knowing that immortality was something between a myth and a joke, he had already found himself staring at the pilots in the squadron ready rooms and wondering which of the handsome, proud young faces would not be around when TR again made landfall at the Virginia Capes, whose pretty, pregnant wife would find a chaplain and another aviator on her doorstep just before lunch, along with a squadron wife to hold her hand when the world ended in distant fire and blood. A possible clash with Libyans was just one more threat in a universe where death was a permanent resident. He'd gotten too old for this life, Jackson admitted quietly to himself. Still as fine a fighter pilot as any — he was too mature to call himself the world's best anymore, except over drinks — the sadder aspects of the life were catching up, and it would soon be time to move on, if he were lucky, to an admiral's flag, just flying occasionally to show he still knew how and trying to make the good decisions that would minimize the unwanted visits.

“Problems?” Painter asked.

“Spares,” Captain Jackson replied. “It's getting harder to keep all the birds up.”

“Doing the best we can.”

“Yes, sir, I know. Going to get worse, too, if I'm reading the papers right.” Like maybe three carriers would be retired, along with their air wings. Didn't people ever learn?

“Every time we've won a war we've been punished for it,” CINCLANT said. “At least winning this one didn't cost us a whole lot. Don't worry, there'll be a place for you when the time comes. You're my best wing commander, Captain.”

“Thank you, sir. I don't mind hearing things like that.”

Painter laughed. “Neither did I.”

“There is a saying in English,” Golovko observed. “’With friends like these, who has need of enemies?’ What else do we know?”

“It would appear that they turned over their entire supply of plutonium,” the man said. A representative of the weapons research and design institute at Sarova, south of Gorkiy, he was less a weapons engineer than a scientist who kept track of what people outside the Soviet Union were up to. “I ran the calculations myself. It is theoretically possible that they developed more of the material, but what they turned over to us slightly exceeds our own production of plutomum from plants of similar design here in the Soviet Union. I think we got it all from them.”

“I have read all that. Why are you here now?”

“The original study overlooked something.”

“And what might that be?” the First Deputy Chairman of the Committee for State Security asked.


“And that is?” Golovko didn't remember He was not an expert on nuclear materials, being more grounded in diplomatic and intelligence operations.

The man from Sarova hadn't taught basic physics in years. “Hydrogen is the simplest of materials. An atom of hydrogen contains a proton, which is positively charged, and an electron, which is negatively charged. If you add a neutron — that has no electrical charge — to the hydrogen atom, you get deuterium Add another, and you get tritium. It has three times the atomic weight of hydrogen, because of the additional neutrons. In simple terms, neutrons are the stuff of atomic weapons. When you liberate them from their host atoms, they radiate outward, bombarding other atomic nuclei, releasing more neutrons. That causes a chain reaction, releasing vast amounts of energy. Tritium is useful because the hydrogen atom is not supposed to contain any neutrons at all, much less two of them. It is unstable, and tends to break down at a fixed rate. The half-life of tritium is 12.3 years,” he explained. “Thus if you insert tritium in a fission device, the additional neutrons it adds to the initial fission reaction accelerate or ”boost“ the fission in the plutomum or uranium reaction mass by a factor of between five and forty, allowing a far more efficient use of the heavy fission materials, like plutomum or enriched uranium Secondly, additional amounts of tritium placed in the proper location nearby the fission device — called a ”primary“ in this case — begin a fusion reaction. There are other ways of doing this, of course. The chemicals of choice are lithium-deuteride and lithium-hydride, which is more stable, but tritium is still extremely useful for certain weapons applications.”

“And how does one make tritium?”

“Essentially by placing large quantities of lithium-aluminum in a nuclear reactor and allowing the thermal neutron flux — that's an engineering term for the back-and-forth traffic of the particles — to irradiate and transform lithium to tritium by capture of some of the neutrons. It turns up as small, faceted bubbles inside the metal. I believe that the Germans also manufactured tritium at their Greifswald plant”

“Why? What evidence do you have?”

“We analyzed the plutomum they sent us. Plutonium has two isotopes, Plutonium-239 and –240. From the relative proportions, you can determine the neutron flux in the reactor. The German sample has too little 240. Something was attenuating the neutron flux. That something was probably — almost certainly — tritium.”

“You are certain of that?”

“The physics involved here are complex but straightforward. In fact you can in many cases identify the plant that produced a plutomum sample by examining the ratio of various materials. My team and I are quite certain of our conclusions.”

“Those plants were under international inspection, yes? Are there no controls on the production of tritium?”

“The Germans managed to circumvent some of the plutomum inspections, and there are no international controls on tritium at all. Even if there were such controls, concealing tritium production would be child's play.”

Golovko swore under his breath. “How much?”

The scientist shrugged. “Impossible to say. The plant is being completely shut down. We no longer have access to it.”

“Doesn't tritium have other uses?”

“Oh, yes. It's commercially very valuable. It's phosphorescent — glows in the dark. People use it for watch dials, gunsights, instrument faces, all manner of applications. It is commercially very valuable, on the order of fifty thousand American dollars per gram.”

Golovko was surprised at himself for the digression. “Back up for a moment, please. You tell me that our Fraternal Socialist Comrades in the German Democratic Republic were working not only to make their own atomic bombs, but also hydrogen bombs?”

“Yes, that is likely.”

“And one element of this plan is unaccounted for?”

“Also correct — possibly correct,” the man corrected himself.

“Likely?” It was like extracting an admission from a child, the First Deputy Chairman thought.

“Da. In their place, given the directives they received from Erich Honecker, it is certainly something I would have done. It was, moreover, technically quite simple to do. After all, we gave them the reactor technology.”

“What in hell were we thinking about?” Golovko muttered to himself.

“Yes, we made the same mistake with the Chinese, didn't we?”

“Didn't anyone—” The engineer cut him off.

“Of course there were warnings voiced. From my institute and the one at Kyshtym. No one listened. It was judged politically expedient to make this technology available to our allies.” The last word was delivered evenly.

“And you think we should do something?”

“I suppose we could ask our colleagues in the Foreign Ministry, but it would be worthwhile to get something substantive done. So, I decided to come here.”

“You think, then, that the Germans — the new Germans, I mean — might have a supply of fissionable material and this tritium from which they might make their own nuclear arsenal?”

“That is a real possibility. There are, as you know, a sizable number of German nuclear scientists who are mainly working in South America at the moment. The best of all possible worlds for them. They are doing what may well be weapons-related research twelve thousand kilometers from home, learning that which they need to learn at a distant location, and on someone else's payroll. If that is indeed the case, are they doing so merely as a business venture? I suppose that is a possibility, but it would seem more likely that their government has some knowledge of the affair. Since their government has taken no action to stop them, one must assume that their government approves of that activity. The most likely reason for their government to approve is the possible application of the knowledge they are acquiring for German national interests.”

Golovko frowned. His visitor had just strung three possibilities into a threat. He was thinking like an intelligence officer, and an especially paranoid one at that. But those were often the best kind.

“What else do you have?”

“Thirty possible names.” He handed a file over. “We've spoken with our people — those who helped the Germans set up the Greifswald plant, I mean. Based on their recollections, these are the people most likely to be part of the project, if any. Half a dozen of them are remembered as being very clever indeed, good enough to work with us at Sarova.”

“Any of them make overt inquiries into—”

“No, and not necessary. Physics is physics. Fission is fission. Laws of science do not respect rules of classification. You cannot conceal nature, and that's exactly what we're dealing with here. If these people can operate a reactor, then the best of them can design nuclear weapons, given the necessary materials — and our reactor design gave them the ability to generate the proper materials. I think it is something you need to look into — to see what they did, and what they have. In any case, that is my advice.”

“I have some very good people in Directorate T of the First Chief Directorate,” Golovko said. “After we digest this information, some of them will come to speak with you.” Sarova was only a few hours away by train.

“Yes, I've met with some of your technology analysts. A few of them are very good indeed. I hope you still have good contacts in Germany.”

Golovko didn't answer that. He had many contacts still in Germany, but how many of them had been doubled? He'd recently done a reliability assessment of former penetration agents in the Stasi, and concluded that none could be trusted — more properly, that those who could be trusted were no longer in positions of any use, and even those… He decided on the spot to make this an all-Russian operation.

“If they have the materials, how soon might they fabricate weapons?”

“Given their level of technical expertise, and the fact that they've had access to American systems under NATO, there is no reason whatever why they could not have home-made weapons already in their inventory. They would not be crude weapons, either. In their position, and given the special nuclear materials, I could easily have produced two-stage weapons within months of unification. More sophisticated three-stage weapons… maybe another year.”

“Where would you do it?”

“In East Germany, of course. Better security. Exactly where?” The man thought for a minute. “Look for a place with extremely precise machine tools, the sort associated with high-precision optical instruments. The X-ray telescope we just orbited was a direct spin-off of H-Bomb research. Management of X-rays, you see, is very important in a multi-stage weapon. We learned much of American bomb technology from open-source papers on focusing X-rays for astrophysical observations. As I said, it's physics. It cannot be hidden, only discovered; once discovered, it is open for all who have the intelligence and the desire to make use of it.”

“That is so wonderfully reassuring,” Golovko observed crossly. But who could he be angry with — this man for speaking the truth, or nature for being so easy to discover? “Excuse me, Professor. Thank you very much indeed for taking the time to bring this to our attention.”

“My father is a mathematics teacher. He has lived his entire life in Kiev. He remembers the Germans.”

Golovko saw the man out the door, then walked back to stare out the window.

Why did we ever let them unify? he asked himself. Do they still want land! Lebensraum? Do they still want to be the dominant European power? Or are you being paranoid, Sergey? He was paid to be paranoid, of course. Golovko sat down and lifted his phone.

“It is a small thing, and if it is necessary nothing more needs to be said,” Keitel replied to the question.

“And the men?”

“I have what I need, and they are reliable. All have worked overseas, mainly in Africa. All are experienced. Three colonels, six lieutenant-colonels, two majors — all of them retired like me.”

“Reliability is all-important,” Bock reminded the man.

“I know that, Günther. Each of these men would have been a general someday. Each has impeccable Party credentials. Why do you think they were retired, eh? Our New Germany cannot trust them.”

“Agents provocateurs?”

“I am the intelligence officer here,” Keitel reminded his friend. “I do not tell you your job. Don't you tell me mine. Please, my friend, either you trust me or you do not. That choice is yours.”

“I know that, Erwin. Forgive me. This operation is most important.”

“And I know that, Günther.”

“How soon can you do it?”

“Five days — I'd prefer that we take longer, but I am prepared to move quickly. The problem, of course, is disposing of the body in a suitable manner.”

Bock nodded. That was something he'd never had to worry about. The Red Army Faction had rarely had to worry about that — except in the case of the turncoat Green woman who'd blown that one operation. But that one had been happenstance rather than design. Burying her in a national forest had been done — out of humor actually, not that he had thought of it, putting her back into the ecology she'd loved so much. It had been Petra's idea.

“How will I deliver the videotape to you?”

“Someone will meet you here. Not me, someone else. Stay at the same hotel two weeks from today. You will be met. Conceal the tape cassette in a book.”

“Very well.” Keitel thought Bock was overdoing things. Cloak-and-dagger was such a game that amateurs enjoyed playing it more than the professionals, for whom it was merely the job. Why not simply put the thing in a box and wrap it in plastic like a movie cassette? “I will soon need some funding.”

Bock handed over an envelope. “A hundred thousand marks.”

“That will do nicely. Two weeks from today.” Keitel left Bock to pay the bill and walked off.

Günther ordered another beer, staring off to the sea, cobalt blue under a clear sky. Ships were passing out on the horizon — one was a naval vessel, whose he couldn't tell at that distance, and the rest were simply merchantmen plying their trade from one unknown port to another.

On a day like this, a warm sun and a cool ocean breeze. Not far away was a beach of powdery white sand where children and lovers could enjoy the water. He thought of Petra and Erika and Ursel. No one passing by could tell from his face. The overt emotions of his loss were behind him. He'd wept and raged enough to exorcise them, but within him were the higher emotions of cold fury and revenge. So fine a day it was, and he had no one with whom to enjoy it. Whatever fine days might come later would find him just as alone. There would never be another Petra for him. He might find a girl here to use, just as some sort of biological exercise, but that wouldn't change things. He would be alone for the remainder of his life. It was not a pleasant thought. No love, no children, no personal future. Around him the terrace bar was about half-full of people, mainly Europeans, mainly on vacation with their families, smiling and laughing as they drank their beer or wine or other local concoctions, thinking ahead to the entertainments the night might hold, the intimate dinners, and the cool cotton sheets that would follow, the laughter and the affection — all the things that the world had denied Günther Bock.

He hated them all, sitting there alone, his eyes sweeping over the scene as he might have done a zoo, watching the animals. Bock detested them for their laughter and their smiles… and their futures. It wasn't fair. He'd had a purpose in life, a goal to strive for. They had jobs. Fifty or so weeks per year, they left their homes and drove to their workplaces and did whatever unimportant thing it was that they did, and came home, and like good Europeans saved their money for the annual fling in the Aegean, or Majorca, or America, or someplace where there was sun and clean air and a beach. Pointless though their lives might have been, they had the happiness that life had denied to the solitary man sitting in the shade of a white umbrella, staring out to sea again and sipping at his beer. It was not fair, not the least bit fair. He had devoted his life to their welfare — and they had the life that he'd hoped to give them, while he had less than nothing.

Except his mission.

Bock decided that he would not lie to himself on this issue any more than he did on others. He hated them. Hated them all. If he didn't have a future, why should they? If happiness was a stranger to him, why should it be their companion? He hated them because they had rejected him and Petra, and Qati, and all the rest who fought against injustice and oppression. In doing that, they had chosen the bad over the good — and for that one was damned. He was more than they were, Bock knew, he was better than they could ever hope to be. He could look down on all of them and their pointless little lives, and whatever he did to them — for them, he still tried to believe — was for him alone to decide. If some of them were hurt, that was too bad. They were not really people. They were empty shadows of what could have been people if they'd lived lives of purpose. They had not cast him out, they'd cast themselves out, seeking the happiness that came from… whatever lives they led. The lazy way. Like cattle. Bock imagined them, heads down in feeding troughs, making contented barnyard noises while he surveyed them. If some had to die — and some did have to die — should it trouble him? Not at all, Günther decided.

“Mister President…”

“Yes, Elizabeth?” Fowler replied with a chuckle.

“When's the last time someone told you how good a lover you are?”

“I sure don't hear that in the Cabinet Room.” Fowler was speaking to the top of her head, which nestled on his chest. Her left arm was wrapped around his chest, while his left hand stroked her blonde hair. The fact of the matter, the President thought, was that he was indeed pretty good at this. He had patience, which he judged the most important talent for the business. Liberation and equal-rights issues notwithstanding, it was a man's job to make a woman feel cherished and respected. “Not in the Press Room, either.”

“Well, you're hearing it from your National Security Advisor.”

“Thank you, Dr. Elliot.” Both had a good laugh. Elizabeth moved up to kiss him, dragging her breast along his chest to do so. “Bob, you don't know what you mean to me.”

“Oh, I think I might,” the President allowed.

Elliot shook her head. “All those dry years in academe. Never had time, always too busy. I was so tied up with being a professor. So much time wasted…” A sigh.

“Well, I hope I was worth waiting for, dear.”

“You were, and you are.” She rolled over, resting her head on his shoulder and drawing his hand across her chest until it rested on a convenient spot. His other hand found a similar place, and her hands held his in place.

What do I say next? Liz asked herself. She had spoken the truth Bob Fowler was a gentle, patient, and talented lover. It was also true that on hearing such a thing, any man, even a President, was under control. Nothing, for a while, she decided. There was time to enjoy him further, and time to examine her own feelings, her eyes open and staring at a dark rectangle on the wall that was a fine oil painting whose artist she'd never bothered to note, some sweeping Western landscape of where the plains ended at the Front Range of the Rockies. His hands moved gently, not quite arousing again, but giving her subtle waves of pleasure which she accepted passively, occasionally adjusting the position of her head to show that she was still awake.

She was starting to love the man. Wasn't that odd? She paused, wondering if it was or wasn't. There was much to like and admire in him. There was also much to confuse. He was an irreconcilable mixture of coldness and warmth, and his sense of humor defied understanding. He cared deeply about many things, but his depth of feeling seemed always motivated by a logical understanding of issues and principles rather than true passion. He was often befuddled — genuinely so — that others didn't share his feelings on issues, in the same way that teachers of mathematics were never angered, but saddened and puzzled that others failed to see the beauty and symmetry of their calculations. Fowler was also capable of remarkable cruelty and total ruthlessness, both delivered without a trace of rancor. People stood in his way, and if he could destroy them, he did. It was like the line in The Godfather. It was never personal, just business. Perhaps he'd learned that from the mafiosi he'd sent to prison, Liz wondered. The same man could treat his true followers with a matter-of-fact coldness that rewarded efficiency and loyalty with… how could she describe it? The gratitude of an accountant.

And yet he was also a wonderfully tender man in bed. Liz frowned at the wall. There was no understanding him, was there?

“Did you see that report from Japan?” the President asked, getting to business just as Elliot was on the verge of a conclusion.

“Ummm, glad you brought that up. Something disturbing came into the office the other day.”

“About what?” Fowler showed his interest by moving his hands in a more deliberate fashion, as though to coax information out of her that she'd been waiting to reveal for some time.

“Ryan,” Liz replied.

“Him again? What is it?”

“The reports we heard about improper financial dealings were true, but it looks like he weaseled out of them on a technicality. It would have been enough to keep him out of this Administration, but since he's grand-fathered in from before—”

“There are technicalities and technicalities. What other thing do you have?”

“Sexual impropriety, and possibly using Agency personnel to settle personal scores.”

“Sexual impropriety… disgraceful… ”

Elliot giggled. He liked that. “There might be a child involved.” Fowler did not like that. He was a very seriously committed man on the issue of children's rights. His hands stopped moving.

“What do we know?”

“Not enough. It should be looked at, though,” Liz said, coaxing his hands back into motion.

“Okay, have the FBI do a quiet investigation,” the President said, ending the issue, he thought.

“That won't work.”


“Ryan has a very close relationship with the Bureau. They might balk on those grounds, might smooth the thing over.”

“Bill Shaw isn't like that. He's as good a cop as I've ever met — even I can't make him do things, and that's the way it should be.” Logic and principle again. The man was impossible to predict.

“Shaw worked personally on the Ryan Case — the terrorist thing, I mean. Prior personal involvement by the head of the investigative agency…?”

“True,” Fowler admitted. It would look bad. Conflict of interest and all that.

“And Shaw's personal trouble-shooter is that Murray fellow. He and Ryan are pretty tight.”

A grunt. “So, what then?”

“Somebody from the Attorney General's office, I think.”

“Why not Secret Service?” Fowler asked, knowing the answer, but wondering if she did.

“Then it looks like it's a witch-hunt.”

“Good point. Okay, the A.G.'s office. Call Greg tomorrow.”

“Okay, Bob.” Time to change subjects. She brought one of his hands to her face, and kissed it. “You know, at times like this I really miss cigarettes.”

“Smoke after sex?” he asked with a harder embrace.

“When you make love to me, Bob, I smoke during sex… ” She turned to stare into his eyes.

“Maybe I should think about relighting the fire…?”

“They say,” the National Security Advisor purred, moving to kiss him again, “they say the President of the United States is the most powerful man in the world…”

“I do my best, Elizabeth.”

Half an hour later, Elliot decided that it was true. She was starting to love him. Then she wondered what he felt for her…


“Guten Abend, Frau Fromm,” the man said.

“And you are?”

“Peter Wiegler, from the Berliner Tageblatt. I wonder if I might speak with you briefly.”

“About what?” she asked.

“Aber…” He gestured at the rain he was standing in. She remembered that she was civilized after all, even to a journalist.

“Yes, of course, please come in.”

“Thank you.” He came in out of the rain and removed his coat, which she hung on a peg. He was a captain in the KGB's First Chief (Foreign) Directorate, a promising young officer of thirty years, handsome, gifted in language, the holder of a master's degree in psychology, and another in engineering. He already had Traudl Fromm figured out. The new Audi parked outside was comfortable but not luxurious, her clothing — also new — very presentable but not overpowering. She was proud and moderately greedy, but also parsimonious. Curious, but guarded. She was hiding something, also smart enough to know that turning him away would generate more suspicion than whatever explanation she might have. He took his seat on an overstuffed chair, and waited for the next move. She didn't offer coffee. She hoped the encounter would be a short one. He wondered if this third person on his list of ten names might be something worth reporting to Moscow Center.

“Your husband is associated with the Greifswald-Nord Nuclear Power Station?”

“He was. As you know, it is being closed down.”

“Quite so. I would like to know what you and he think of that. Is Dr. Fromm at home?”

“No; he is not,” she answered uncomfortably. “Wiegler” didn't react visibly.

“Really? May I ask where he is?”

“He is away on business.”

“Perhaps I might come back in a few days, then?”

“Perhaps. You might call ahead?” It was the way she said it that the KGB officer noticed. She was hiding something, and the captain knew that it had to be something—

There was another knock at the door. Traudl Fromm went to answer it.

“Guten Abend, Frau Fromm,” a voice said. “We bring a message from Manfred.”

The captain heard the voice, and something inside his head went on alert. He told himself not to react. This was Germany, and everything was in Ordnung. Besides, he might learn something…

“I, ah, have a guest at the moment,” Traudl answered.

The next statement was delivered in a whisper. The captain heard approaching steps, and took his time before turning to look. It was a fatal error.

The face he saw might as easily have come from one of the endless World War II movies that he'd grown up on, just that it lacked the black-and-silver-trimmed uniform of an SS officer. It was a stern, middle-aged face with light blue eyes entirely devoid of emotion. A professional face that measured his as quickly as he—

It was time to—

“Hello. I was just about to leave.”

“Who is he?” Traudl didn't get a chance to answer.

“I'm a reporter with—” It was too late. A pistol appeared from nowhere. “Was gibt's hier?” he demanded.

“Where is your car?” the man behind the gun asked.

“I parked it down the street. I—”

“All those spaces right in front? Reporters are lazy. Who are you?”

“I'm a reporter with the—”

“I think not.”

“This one, too,” the one in black said. The captain remembered the face from somewhere… He told himself not to panic. That, too, was a mistake.

“Listen closely. You will be going on a short trip. If you cooperate, you will be returned here within three hours. If you do not cooperate, things will go badly for you. Verstehen Sie?”

They had to be intelligence officers, the captain thought, making a correct guess. And they had to be German, and that meant that they would play by the rules, he told himself, making the last mistake of what had been a promising career.

The courier arrived from Cyprus right on schedule, handing off his package to another man at one of five preselected transfer points, all of which had been under surveillance for twelve hours. The second man walked two blocks and started up his Yamaha motorcycle, tearing off into the countryside just as fast as he could in an area where motorcyclists were all certifiably mad. Two hours after that, he delivered the package, certain that he had not been followed, and kept going another thirty minutes before circling back to his point of origin.

Günther Bock took the package and was annoyed to see that it was to all appearances a movie cassette — Chariots of Fire — rather than the hollowed-out book he'd requested. Perhaps Erwin was delivering a message along with the cassette. Bock inserted it in a player and switched it on, catching the first few minutes of the feature movie, which was subtitled in French. Soon, he realized that Keitel's message was on what intelligence professionals really did. He fast-forwarded through ninety minutes of the film before the picture changed.


“Who are you?” an off-camera voice asked harshly.

“I am Peter Wiegler, I am a reporter with—” The rest was a scream. The equipment used was crude, just an electrical cord ripped off a lamp or appliance, the insulation trimmed off the free end to expose a few centimeters of copper. Few understood just how effective crude instruments could be, especially if the user possessed some degree of sophistication. The man who called himself Peter Wiegler screamed as though his throat would split from the effort. He'd already bitten through his lower lip in previous efforts to keep silent. The only good thing about using electricity was that it wasn't especially bloody, just noisy.

“You must understand that you are being foolish. Your courage is impressive, but wasted here. Courage only has use when there is hope of rescue. We've already searched your car. We have your passports. We know that you are not German. So, what are you? Pole, Russian, what?”

The young man opened his eyes and took a long breath before speaking. “I am an investigative reporter with the Berliner Tageblatt.” They hit him again with the electric cord, and this time he passed out. Bock watched a man's back approach the victim and check his eyes and pulse. The torturer appeared to be wearing a chemical-warfare-protective suit of rubberized fabric, but without the hood and gloves. It must have been awfully hot, Bock thought.

“Obviously a trained intelligence officer. Probably Russian. Not circumcised, and his dental work is stainless steel, not especially well-done. That means an East Bloc service, of course. Too bad, this lad is quite brave.” The voice was admirably clinical, Bock thought.

“What drugs do we have?” another voice asked.

“A rather good tranquilizer. Now?”

“Now. Not too much.”

“Very well.” The man went off-camera, then returned with a syringe. He grasped the victim's upper arm, then injected the drug into a vein inside the elbow. It took three minutes before the KGB man regained consciousness, just enough for the rush of drugs to assault his higher brain functions.

“Sorry we had to do that to you. You have passed the test,” the voice said, this time in Russian.

“What test—” The answer was in Russian, just two words before his brain took hold and stopped him. “Why did you ask me in Russian?”

“Because that was what we wished to know. Good night.”

The victim's eyes went wide as a small-caliber pistol appeared, was placed against his chest, and fired. The camera withdrew a bit to show more of the room. A plastic sheet — actually three of them — covered the floor to catch blood and other droppings under the metal chair. The bullet wound was speckled with black powder marks, and bulged outward from the intrusion of gun-gases below the skin. There wasn't much bleeding. Heart wounds never produced much. In a few more seconds, the body stopped quivering.

“We could have taken more time to ascertain additional information, but we have what we need, as I will explain later.” It was Keitel's voice, off camera.

“Now, Traudl…”

They brought her in front of the camera, hands bound in front of her, her mouth gagged with the same bandaging tape, her eyes wide in terror, naked. She was trying to say something around the gag, but no one there had been interested. The tape was a day and a half old, of course. Günther could tell that from the TV that was playing in the corner, tuned to an evening news broadcast. The entire performance was a professional tour de force designed to meet his requirements.

Bock could almost hear the man thinking, Now, how do we do this? Günther momentarily regretted the instructions he'd given Keitel. But the evidence had to be positive. Magicians and other experts in illusion regularly consulted with intelligence agencies — but some things could not be faked, and he had to be sure that he could trust Keitel to do terrible and dangerous things. It was an objective necessity that this be graphic.

Another man looped a rope over a ceiling beam and hauled her hands up, then the first pressed his pistol into her armpit and fired a single shot. At least he wasn't a sadist, Bock thought. Such people were not reliable. It was quite sad to watch in any case. The bullet had punctured her heart, but she was too excited to die quickly, struggling for more than half a minute, eyes still wide, fighting for breath, still trying to speak, probably begging for help, asking why… After she went limp, one checked the pulse at her neck, then lowered her slowly to the floor. They'd been as gentle about it as they could have been under the circumstances. The shooter spoke without facing the camera.

“I hope you are satisfied. I did not enjoy this.”

“You weren't supposed to,” Bock said to the television set.

The Russian was taken off the chair and laid beside Traudl Fromm. While the bodies were dismembered, Keitel's voice spoke. It was a useful diversion, as the visual scene simply got more horrible. Bock was not squeamish about many things, but it troubled his psyche when human bodies were abused after death. Necessary or not, it seemed gratuitous to him.

“The Russian is undoubtedly an intelligence officer, as you have seen. His automobile was a rental from Berlin, and is being driven tomorrow to Magdeburg, where it will be turned in. It was parked down the street, normal procedure for a professional, of course, but a give-away in the event of capture. In the car we found a list of names, all of them in the DDR nuclear-power industry. It would seem that our Russian comrades have suddenly become interested in Honecker's bomb project. A pity we didn't have another few years to follow up on that, no? I regret the complication involved, but it took us several days to set up arrangements for disposing of the bodies, and we had no idea Frau Fromm had her ”guest“ when we knocked on the door. At that point, of course, it was too late. Besides, with the rain we had ideal conditions for the kidnapping.” Two men were working on each body. All wore the protective suits, and now they had their hoods and masks on, doubtless to protect them from the smell as much as to protect their identity. As in a slaughterhouse, sawdust was applied in bucketfuls to soak up the copious amounts of blood being spilled. Bock knew from experience just how messy murders could be. They worked quickly as Keitel's voice-over went on, using powered industrial cutting tools. Arms and legs had been removed from the torsos, and then the heads were removed and held up to the camera. No one could fake this. Keitel's men had truly murdered two human beings. The dismemberment in front of a playing television made that absolutely certain, and would doubtless also make disposal easier. The pieces were assembled neatly for wrapping in plastic. One of the men started brushing the blood-soaked sawdust into a pile for yet another plastic bag.

“The body parts will be burned at two widely separated locations. This will be accomplished long before you get the tape. That ends our message. We await further instructions.” And the tape returned to the dramatization of the 1920 Olympics — or was it 1924? Bock wondered. Not that it mattered, of course.

“Yes, Colonel?”

“One of my officers has failed to check in.” The Colonel was from Directorate T, the technical branch of the First Chief Directorate The holder of a doctor's degree in engineering, his personal specialty was missile systems He had worked in America and France, ferreting out the secrets of various military weapons before being promoted to his current job.


“Captain Yevgemy Stepanovich Feodorov, age thirty, married, one child, a fine young officer on the major's list He was one of the three I sent into Germany at your direction to check out their nuclear facilities He's one of my best.”

“How long?” Golovko asked.

“Six days. He flew into Berlin via Pans last week. He had German papers, good ones from downstairs, and a list of ten names to investigate. His instructions were to maintain a low profile unless he discovered something important, in which case he was to make contact with Station Berlin — what's left of it, I mean. We scheduled a periodic check-in, of course. He didn't make it, and after twenty-four hours, I got the alert.”

“Could it be that he's just careless?”

“Not this boy,” the Colonel said flatly. “Does the name mean anything to you?”

“Feodorov… wasn't his father…?”

“Stefan Yurievich, yes. Yevgeniy is his youngest son.”

“Good God, Stefan taught me,” Golovko said. “Possibility of…?”

“Defection?” The Colonel shook his head angrily. “Not a chance. His wife is in the chorus with the opera. No — they met in university and married young over the objections of both sets of parents. It's a love-match like we all wish we had. She's a stunningly beautiful girl, voice like an angel. Only a zhopnik would walk away from her. Then there's the child. He is by all reports a good father.” Golovko saw where this was leading.

“Arrested, then?”

“I haven't heard a whisper. Perhaps you might arrange to have that checked. I fear the worst.” The Colonel frowned and stared down at the rug. He didn't want to be the one who broke the news to Natalia Feodorova.

“Hard to believe,” Golovko said.

“Sergey Nikolay'ch, if your suspicions are correct, then this program we were tasked to investigate is a matter of grave importance to them, is it not? We may have confirmed something in the most expensive way possible.”

General-Lieutenant Sergey Nikolayevich Golovko was silent for several seconds. It's not supposed to be like this, he told himself. The intelligence business is supposed to be civilized. Killing each other's officers is a thing of the distant past. We don't do that sort of thing anymore, haven't done it in years… decades…

“None of the alternatives are credible, are they?”

The Colonel shook his head. “No. But the most credible is that our man stumbled into something both real and extremely sensitive. Sensitive enough to kill for. A secret nuclear-weapons program is that sensitive, is it not?”

“Arguably, yes.” The Colonel was showing the sort of loyalty to his people that KGB expected, Golovko noted. He was also thinking over the alternatives and presenting his best estimate of the situation.

“Have you sent your technical people to Sarova yet?”

“Day after tomorrow. My best man was sick, just got out of the hospital — broke his leg in a fall down some stairs.”

“Have him carried there if necessary. I want a worst-case estimate of plutonium production at the DDR power stations. Send another man to Kyshtym to back-check the people at Sarova. Pull in the other people you sent to Germany. We'll restart the investigation more carefully. Two-man teams, and the backup man is to be armed… that is dangerous,” Golovko said on reflection.

“General, it takes a lot of time and money to train my field people. I will need two years to replace Feodorov, two whole years. You can't just pull an officer out of another branch and drop him into this line of work. These people must understand what they are looking for. Assets like that should be protected.”

“You are correct. I will clear it with the Chairman and send experienced officers… maybe some people from the Academy… credential them like German police officials…?”

“I like that, Sergey Nikolay'ch.”

“Good man, Pavel Ivan'ch. And on Feodorov?”

“Maybe he'll turn up. Thirty days before he's declared missing, then I'll have to see his wife. Very well, I'll pull my people in and start planning the next phase of the operation. When will I have a list of the escort officers?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

“Very well, General, thank you for your time.”

Golovko shook the man's hand and remained standing until the door closed. He had ten minutes until his next appointment.

“Damn,” he said to his desktop.

“More delays?”

Fromm did not quite manage to hide his disgust. “We are saving time! The material we will be working on has machining characteristics similar to stainless steel. We must also manufacture blanks for the casting process. Here.”

Fromm unfolded his working drawings.

“We have here a folded cylinder of plutomum. Around the plutomum is a cylinder of beryllium, which is a godsend for our purposes. It is very light, very stiff, an X-ray window, and a neutron reflector. Unfortunately, it is also rather difficult to machine. We must use cubic boron-nitride tools, essentially an analog to industrial diamond. Steel or carbon tools would have results you do not wish to contemplate. We also have health considerations.”

“Beryllium is not toxic,” Ghosn said. “I checked.”

“True, but the dust resulting from the machining process converts to beryllium oxide, which when inspired converts again to beryllium hydroxide, and that causes berylliosis, which is uniformly fatal.” Fromm paused, staring at Ghosn like a schoolmaster before going on.

“Now, around the beryllium is a cylinder of tungsten-rhenium, which we need for its density. We will purchase twelve kilograms in powder form, which we will sinter into cylindrical segments. You know sintering? That is heating it just hot enough to form. Melting and casting is too difficult, and not necessary for our purposes. Around that goes the explosive-lens assembly. And this is just the primary, Ghosn, not even a quarter of our total energy budget.”

“And the precision required…”

“Exactly. Think of this as the world's largest ring or necklace. What we produce must be as finely finished as the most beautiful piece of jewelry you have ever seen — or perhaps a precision optical instrument.”

“The tungsten-rhenium?”

“Available from any major electrical concern. It's used in special filaments for vacuum tubes, numerous other applications, and it's far easier to work than pure tungsten.”

“Beryllium — oh, yes, it's used in gyroscopes and other instruments… thirty kilograms.”

“Twenty-five… yes, get thirty. You have no idea how lucky we are.”

“How so?”

“The Israeli plutonium is gallium-stabilized. Plutonium has four phase-transformations below melting point, and has the curious habit, in certain temperature regimes, of changing its density by a factor of over twenty percent. It is a multistate metal.”

“In other words, a sub-critical mass can—”

“Exactly,” Fromm said. “What appears to be a sub-critical mass can under certain circumstances convert itself into criticality. It will not explode, but the gamma-and neutron-flux would be lethal within a radius of… oh, anywhere from ten to thirty meters depending on circumstances. That was discovered during the Manhattan Project. They were — no, not lucky. They were brilliant scientists, and as soon as they had a gram or so of plutonium, it was decided to investigate its properties. Had they waited, or simply assumed that they knew more than they did — well…”

“I had no idea,” Ghosn admitted. Merciful God…

“Not everything is in books, my young friend, or should I say, not all the books have all the information. In any case, with the addition of gallium, the plutonium is a stable mass. It is actually quite safe to work, as long as we take the proper precautions.”

“So we start by machining out stainless-steel blanks to these specifications, then make our casting-molds — investment casting, of course.”

Fromm nodded. “Correct. Very good, mein Junge.”

Then when the casting is done, we will machine the bomb material… I see. Well, we seem to have good machinists."

They'd “drafted”—that was the term they used — ten men, all Palestinians, from local optical shops, and trained them on the use of the machine tools.

The tools were all that Fromm had said they were. Two years earlier, they'd been totally state-of-the-art, identical to the equipment used in the American Y-12 fabrication plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Tolerances were measured by laser interferometry, and the rotating tool heads were computer-controlled in three dimensions through five axes of movement. Instructions were passed to the computers via touch-screens. The design itself had been done on a mini-computer and drawn out on an expensive drafting machine.

Ghosn and Fromm brought the machinists in and set them to work on their first task, making the stainless steel blank for the plutonium primary that would ignite the thermo-nuclear fire.

“Now,” Fromm said, “for the explosive lenses… ”

* * *

“I've heard much about you,” Bock said.

“I hope it was good,” Marvin Russell replied with a guarded smile.

My first Indian, Bock thought quickly. He was oddly disappointed. Except for the cheekbones, he might have easily been mistaken for any Caucasian, and even those could seem like a Slav with perhaps a taste of Tatar in his background… What color there was had come mainly from the sun. The rest of the man was formidable enough, the size and obvious strength.

“I hear you killed a police officer in Greece by snapping his neck.”

“I don't know why people make a big deal about that,” Russell said with weary honesty. “He was a scrawny little fuck, and I know how to take care of myself.”

Bock smiled and nodded. “I understand how you feel, but your method was impressive in any case. I have heard good things about you, Mr. Russell and—”

“Just call me Marvin. Everybody else does.”

Bock smiled. “As you wish, Marvin. I am Günther. Particularly your skill with weapons.”

“It's no big deal,” Russell said, genuinely puzzled. “Anybody can learn to shoot.”

“How do you like it here?”

“I like it a lot. These people — I mean, they have heart, y'know? They ain't quitters. They work real hard at what they do. I admire that. And what they done for me, Günther, it's like family, man.”

“We are a family, Marvin. We share everything, good and bad. We all have the same enemies.”

“Yeah, I seen that.”

“We may need your help for something, Marvin. It's for something fairly important.”

“Okay,” Russell replied simply.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean 'yes,' Günther.”

“You haven't even asked what it is,” the German pointed out.

“Okay.” Marvin smiled. “So tell me.”

“We need you to go back to America in a few months. How dangerous is that for you?”

“Depends. I've done time — in prison, I mean. You know that. My fingerprints are on file with the cops, but they don't have a picture of me — I mean, the one they have is pretty old. I've changed since then. They're looking for me up in the Dakotas, probably. If you send me there, it might be a little tricky.”

“Nowhere near there, Marvin.”

“Then it shouldn't be much of a problem, dependin' on what you need me to do.”

“How do you feel about killing people — Americans, I mean?” Bock watched his face for a reaction.

“Americans.” Marvin snorted. “Hey, man, I'm a fuckin' American, okay? My country ain't what you think. They stole my country from me, just like what happened to these guys here, okay? It ain't just here shit like that happened, okay? You want me to do some people for you, yeah, I can do that, if you got a reason. I mean, I don't kill for fun, I ain't no psycho, but you got a reason, sure, I can do it.”

“Maybe more than one —”

“I heard you when you said ”people,“ Günther. I ain't so stupid that I think ”people“ means one guy. You just make sure some cops, maybe even some FBI guys are in there, yeah, I'll help kill all you want. One thing you need to know, though.”

“What's that?”

“The other side ain't dumb. They got my brother, remember. They're serious dudes.”

“We also are serious,” Bock assured him.

“I seen that, man. What can you tell me about the job?”

“What do you mean, Marvin?” Bock asked as casually as he could.

“I mean I grew up there, man, remember? I know stuff that maybe you don't. Okay, you got security and all that, and you ain't gonna tell me anything now. Fine, that's no problem. But you might need my help later on. These guys here are okay, they're smart and all, but they don't know dick about America — I mean, not what you need to get around and stuff. You go huntin', you gotta know the ground. I know the ground.”

“That is why we want your help,” Bock assured him, as though he'd already thought that part all the way through. Actually he had not, and now he was wondering just how useful this man might be.

Andrey Il'ych Narmonov saw himself as the captain of the world's largest ship of state. That was the good news. The bad news was that the ship had a leaky bottom, a broken rudder, and uncertain engines. Not to mention a mutinous crew. His office in the Kremlin was large, with room to pace about, something he found himself doing all too much of late. That, he thought, was a sign of an uncertain man, and the President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics could not afford that, especially when he had an important guest.

Union of Sovereign Soviet Republics, he thought. Though the official name-change had not yet been approved, that was how his people were starting to think. That's the problem.

The ship of state was breaking up. There was no precedent for it. The dissolution of the British Empire was the example that many liked to use, but that wasn't quite right, was it? Nor was any other example. The Soviet Union of old had been a unique political creation. What was now happening in the Soviet Union was also entirely without precedent. What had once been exhilarating to him was now more than frightening. He was the one who had to make the hard decisions, and he had no historical model to follow. He was completely on his own, as alone as any man had ever been, with a task larger than any man had ever faced. Lauded in the West as a consummate political tactician, he thought of it himself as an endless succession of crises. Wasn't it Gladstone? he thought. Wasn't it he who described his job as being the man on a raft in the rapids, fending off rocks with a pole? How apt, how apt indeed. Narmonov and his country were being swept along by overwhelming forces of history, somewhere down that river was an immense cataract, a falls that could destroy everything… but he was too busy with the pole and the rocks to look so far ahead. That was what being a political tactician meant. He devoted all his creative energy to day-to-day survival, and was losing sight of the next week… even the day after tomorrow…

“Andrey Il'ych, you are growing thin,” Oleg Kirilovich Kadishev observed from his leather seat.

“The walking is good for my heart,” the President replied wryly.

“Then perhaps you will join our Olympic team?”

Narmonov stopped for a moment. “It would be nice indeed to compete merely against foreigners. They think I am brilliant. Alas, our own people know better.”

“What can I do to help my president?”

“I need your help, the help of those on the right.” It was Kadishev's turn to smile. The press — Western as well as Soviet — never got that straight. The left wing in the Soviet Union was that of the Communist hard-liners. For over eighty years reform in that country had always come from the right. All the men executed by Stalin for wanting to allow the merest bit of personal freedom had always been denounced as Right-Deviationists. But self-styled progressives in the West were always on the political left, and they called their reactionary enemies “conservatives” and generally identified them as being on the political right. It seemed too great a stretch of imagination for Western journalists to adjust their ideological polarity to a different political reality. The newly-liberated Soviet journalists had merely aped their Western colleagues and used the foreign descriptions to muddle what was already a chaotic political scene. The same was true of “progressive” Western politicians, of course, who were championing so many of the experiments of the Soviet Union in their own countries — all the experiments which had been taken to the limit and proven to be something worse than mere failures. Perhaps the blackest humor available in all the world was the carping from leftist elements in the West, some of whom were already observing that the backward Russians had failed because they had proven unable to covert socialism into a humanistic government — whereas advanced Western governments could accomplish just that (of course, Karl Marx himself had said that, hadn't he?). Such people were, Kadishev thought with a bemused shake of his head, no less idealistic than the members of the first Revolutionary Soviets, and just as addlebrained. The Russians had merely taken the revolutionary ideals to their logical limits, and found there only emptiness and disaster. Now that they were turning back — a move that called for political and moral courage such as the world had rarely seen — the West still didn't understand what was happening! Khrushchev was right all along, the parliamentarian thought. Politicians are the same all over the world.

Mostly idiots.

“Andrey Il'ych, we do not always agree on methods, but we have always agreed on goals I know you are having trouble with our friends on the other side.”

“And with your side,” President Narmonov pointed out more sharply than he should have.

“And with my side, it is true,” Kadishev admitted casually. “Andrey Il'ych, do you say that we must agree with you on every thing?”

Narmonov turned, his eyes momentarily angry and wide “Please, not that, not today ”

“How may we help you?” Losing control of your emotions, Comrade President? A bad sign, my friend…

“I need your support on the ethnic issue. We cannot have the entire Union break apart.”

Kadishev shook his head forcefully. “That is inevitable. Letting the Balts and the Azeris go eliminates many problems.”

“We need the Azerbaijani oil. If we let that go, our economic situation worsens. If we let the Balts go, the momentum will strip away half of our country.”

“Half our population, true, but scarcely twenty percent of our land. And most of our problems,” Kadishev said again.

“And what of the people who leave? We throw them into chaos and civil war. How many will die, how many deaths on our conscience, eh?” the President demanded.

“Which is a normal consequence of decolonization. We cannot prevent it. By attempting to, we merely keep the civil war within our own borders. That forces us to place too much power into the hands of the security forces, and that is too dangerous. I don't trust the Army any more than you do.”

“The Army will not launch a coup. There are no Bonapartists in the Red Army.”

“You have greater confidence in their fealty than I do. I think they see a unique historical opportunity. The Party has held the military down since the Tukhachevskiy business. Soldiers have long memories, and they may be thinking that this is their chance.”

“Those people are all dead! And their children with them,” Narmonov countered angrily. It had been over fifty years, after all. Those few with direct memory of the purges were in wheelchairs or living on pensions.

“But not their grandchildren, and there is institutional memory to consider as well.” Kadishev leaned back and considered a new thought that had sprung almost fully formed into his head. Might that be possible…?

“They have concerns, yes, and those concerns are little different from my own. We differ on how to deal with the problem, not on the issue of control. While I am not sure of their judgment, I am sure of their loyalty.”

“Perhaps you are correct, but I am not so sanguine.”

“With your help, we can present a united front to the forces of early dissolution. That will discourage them. That will allow us to get through a few years of normalization, and then we can consider an orderly departure for the republics with a genuine commonwealth — association, whatever you wish to call it — to keep us associated economically while being separate politically.”

The man is desperate, Kadishev saw. He really is collapsing under the strain. The man who moves about the political arena like a Central Army hockey forward is showing signs of fatigue… will he survive without my help?

Probably, Kadishev judged. Probably. That was too bad, the younger man thought. Kadishev was the de facto leader of the forces on the “left,” the forces that wanted to break up the entire country and the government that went with it, yanking the remaining nation — based on the Russian Federation — into the 21st century by its throat. If Narmonov fell… if he found himself unable to continue, then who…

Why, me, of course.

Would the Americans support him?

How could they fail to support Agent SPINNAKER of their own Central Intelligence Agency?

Kadishev had been working for the Americans since his recruitment by Mary Patricia Foley some six years before. He didn't think of it as treason. He was working for the betterment of his country, and saw himself as succeeding. He'd fed the Americans information on the internal workings of the Soviet government, some of it highly valuable, some material they could as easily have gotten from their own reporters. He knew that they regarded him as their most valuable source of political intelligence in the Soviet Union, especially now that he controlled fully forty percent of the votes in the country's bumptious new parliament, the Congress of People's Deputies. Thirty-nine percent, he told himself. One must be honest. Perhaps another eight percent could be his if he made the proper move. There were many shades of political loyalty among the twenty-five hundred members. Genuine democrats, Russian nationalists of both democratic and socialist stripe, radicals of both left and right. There was also a cautious middle of politicians, some genuinely concerned about what course their country might take, others merely seeking to conserve their personal political status. How many could he appeal to? How many could he win over?

Not quite enough…

But there was one more card he could play, wasn't there?

Da. If he had the audacity to play it.

“Andrey Il'ych,” he said in a conciliatory voice, “you ask me to depart from an important principle so that I can help you reach a goal we share — but to do so by a route that I distrust. This is a very difficult matter. I am not even sure that I can deliver the support you require. My comrades might well turn their backs on me.” It only agitated the man further.

“Rubbish! I know how well they trust you and your judgment.”

They are not the only ones who trust me… Kadishev told himself.

As with most investigations, this one was done mainly with paper. Ernest Wellington was a young attorney, and an ambitious one. As a law-school graduate and a member of the bar, he could have applied to the FBI and learned the business of investigation properly, but he considered himself a lawyer rather than a cop, besides which he enjoyed politics, and the FBI prided itself on avoiding political wrangling wherever possible. Wellington had no such inhibitions. He enjoyed politics, considered it the life's blood of government service, and knew it to be the path to speedy advancement both within and without the government. The contacts he was making now would make his value to any of a hundred “connected” law firms jump five-fold, plus making him a known name within the Department of Justice. Soon he would be in the running for a “special-assistant” job. After that — in five years or so — he'd have a crack at a section chief's office… maybe even U.S. Attorney in a major city, or head of a special DoJ strike force. That opened the door to political life, where Ernest Wellington could be a real player in the Great Game of Washington. All in all, it was heady wine indeed for an ambitious man of twenty-seven years, an honors graduate from Harvard Law who'd ostentatiously turned down lucrative offers from prestigious firms, preferring instead to devote his early professional years to public service.

Wellington had a pile of papers on his desk. His office was in what was almost an attic in the Justice Department's building on the Mall, and the view from the single window was of the parking lot that rested in the center of the Depression-era structure. It was small, and the air conditioning was faulty, but it was private. It is little appreciated that lawyers avoid time in court as assiduously as the boastful avoid genuine tests of ability. Had he taken the jobs offered by the New York corporate firms — the best such offer was for over $100,000 per year — his real function would have been that of proofreader, really a glorified secretary, examining contracts for typos and possible loopholes. Early life in the Justice Department was little different. Whereas in a real prosecutorial office he might have been tossed alive into a courtroom environment to sink or swim, here at headquarters he examined records, looking for inconsistencies, nuances, possible technical violations of the law, as though he were an editor for a particularly good mystery writer. Wellington started making his notes.

John Patrick Ryan. Deputy to the Director of Central Intelligence, nominated by the President — politics at work — and confirmed less than two years previously. Prior to that acting Deputy Director (Intelligence), following the death of Vice Admiral James Greer. Prior to that, Special Assistant to DDI Greer, and sometime special representative of the Directorate of Intelligence over in England. Ryan had been an instructor in history at the Naval Academy, a graduate student at Georgetown University, and a broker at the Baltimore office of Merrill Lynch. Also, briefly, a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. Clearly a man who enjoyed career changes, Wellington thought, noting all the important dates.

Personal wealth. The requisite financial statement was in the file, near the top. Ryan was worth quite a bit. Where had it come from? That analysis took several hours. In his days as a broker, J. P. Ryan had been a real cowboy. He'd bet over a hundred thousand dollars on the Chicago and North Western Railroad at the time of the employee takeover, and reaped… over six million from it. That was his one really big score — sixty-to-one opportunities were not all that common, were they? — but some of the others were also noteworthy. On hitting a personal net worth of eight million, he'd called it quits and gone to Georgetown for his doctorate in history. Continued to play the market on an amateur basis — that wasn't quite right, was it? — until joining government service. His portfolio was now managed by a multiplicity of investment counselors… their accounting methods were unusually conservative. Ryan's net worth looked to be twenty million, maybe a little more. The accounts were managed on a blind basis. All Ryan saw was quarterly earnings statements. There were ways around that, of course, but it was all strictly legal. Proving impropriety was virtually impossible unless they put a wiretap on the line of his brokers, and that was not something easily accomplished.

He had been investigated by the SEC, but that had actually been a spin-off of the SEC's look at the firm he'd bought into. The summary sheet noted in clipped bureaucratese that no technical violation had been made, but Wellington observed that this judgment was more technical than substantive. Ryan had balked at signing a consent order — understandably — and the government had not pressed him on the issue. That was less understandable, but explainable, since Ryan had not been the actual target of the investigation; someone had decided that it had all probably been a coincidence. Ryan had, however, broken that money out of his main account… Gentleman's Agreement? Wellington wrote on his legal pad. Perhaps. If asked, Ryan would respond that he'd done it out of an over-scrupulous sense of guilt. The money had gone into T-Bills, rolled over automatically for years and untouched until it had all been used to… I see. That's interesting…

Why an educational trust fund? Who was Carol Zimmer? What interest did Ryan have in her children? Timing? Significance?

It was amazing, as always, that so much paper could show so little. Perhaps, Wellington mused, that was the real point of government paperwork, to give the appearance of substance while saying as little as possible. He chuckled. That was also the point of most legal papers, wasn't it? For two hundred dollars per hour, lawyers loved to quibble over the placement of commas and other weighty matters. He paused, recycling his brain. He had missed something very obvious.

Ryan was not liked by the Fowler Administration. Why, then, had he been nominated for DDCI. Politics? But politics was the reason you selected people unqualified for… Did Ryan have any political connections at all? The file didn't show any. Wellington riffled through the papers and found a letter signed by Alan Trent and Sam Fellows of the House Select Committee. That was an odd couple, a gay and a Mormon. Ryan had sailed through confirmation much more easily than Marcus Cabot, even easier than Bunker and Talbot, the President's two star cabinet members. Part of that was because he was a second-level man, but that didn't explain it all. That meant political connections, and very fine ones. Why? What connections? Trent and Fellows… what the hell could those two ever agree on?

It was certain that Fowler and his people didn't like Ryan, else the Attorney General would not have personally placed Wellington on the case. Case? Was that the right term for his activities? If there were a case, why wasn't this being handled by the FBI? Politics, obviously. Ryan had worked closely with the FBI on several things… but…

William Connor Shaw, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was celebrated as the most honest man in government. Politically naive, of course, but the man dripped integrity, and that wasn't always so bad a quality in a police agency, was it? Congress thought so. There was even talk of eliminating special prosecutors, the FBI had become so clean, especially after the special prosecutor had bungled the… but the Bureau was being segregated from this one.

This was an interesting case, wasn't it? A man could win his spurs on something like this.


The days were shorter now, Jack told himself. It wasn't that he was all that late, just that the days were shortening. The earth's orbit around the sun, and the way the axis of rotation was not perpendicular with the plane of the… ecliptic? Something like that. His driver dropped him off in front of the door, and he walked tiredly in, wondering when the last day had been, outside of the weekends, when he'd seen his house in daylight and not outlined by electric lights. About the only good news was that he didn't bring work home — but that wasn't quite true either, was it? He brought no documents home, but it was less easy to clear out his mind than to clear off his desk.

Ryan heard the sounds of a normal house, the TV tuned to Nickelodeon. The washing machine was making noise. Have to have that fixed. He walked into the family room to announce himself.

“Daddy!” Jack Jr. ran over to deliver a hug, followed by a plaintive look. “Daddy, you promised to take me to a baseball game!”

Oh, shit… The kids were back in school, and there couldn't be more than a dozen home games left up in Baltimore. He had to, had to, had to… When? When could he break loose? The new communications center project was only half done, and that was his baby, and the contractor was a week behind, and he had to get that back on line if it was going to be ready when it was supposed to be…

“I'm going to try, Jack,” Ryan promised his son, who was too young to understand about any obligation beyond a father's promise.

“Daddy, you promised!”

“I know.” Shit! Jack made a mental note. He had to do something about that.

“Bed time,” Cathy announced. “Tomorrow's a school day.”

Ryan hugged and kissed both of his children, but the exercise in affection merely left an empty spot in his conscience. What sort of a father was he turning into? Jack Jr.'s First Communion was next April or May, and who could say if he'd be home for that? Better find out the date so that he could schedule it now. Try to schedule it now. Jack reminded himself that little things like promises to his kids were—

Little things?

God, how did this ever happen? Where has my life gone?

He watched the kids head to their rooms, then himself headed to the kitchen. His dinner was in the oven. He set the plate on the breakfast counter before walking to the refrigerator. He was buying wine in boxes now. It was much more convenient, and his taste in wine was getting far less selective of late. The cardboard boxes held a Mylar bag full of — Australian, wasn't it? About where California wines had been twenty years earlier. The vintage in question was very fruity, to mask its inadequacies, and had the proper alcohol content, which was what he was mainly after anyway. Jack looked at the wall clock. If he were very lucky, he might get six and a half, maybe seven hours of sleep before a new day started. He needed the wine to sleep. At the office, he lived on coffee, and his system was becoming saturated with caffeine. Once he'd been able to nap at his desk, but no longer. By eleven in the morning, his system was wired, and by late afternoon his body played a strange melody of fatigue and alertness that sometimes left him wondering if he were going a little mad. Well, as long as he asked himself that question…

A few minutes later, he finished his dinner. Pity the oven had dried it out. Cathy had done this one herself. He'd been — he'd planned to be home at a decent hour, but… It was always something, wasn't it? When he stood, there was a twinge of discomfort from his stomach. On the way into the family room he opened the closet door to pull a packet of antacid tablets from his coat pocket. These he chewed and washed down with wine, starting off his third glass in less than thirty minutes at home.

Cathy wasn't there, though she'd left some papers on the table next to her customary chair. Jack listened and thought he heard a shower running. Fine. He took the cable controller and flipped to CNN for another news-fix. The lead story was something about Jerusalem.

Ryan settled back into his chair and allowed himself a smile. It was working. The story was about the resurgence of tourism. Shop owners were loading up in anticipation of their biggest Christmas in a decade. Jesus, explained a Jew who'd opted to stay in the town of Bethlehem, was after all a nice Jewish boy from a good family. His Arab partner toured the camera crew through the store. Arab partner? Jack thought. Well, why not?

It's worth it, Ryan told himself. You helped bring that about. You helped make that happen. You have saved lives, and if nobody else knows it, the hell with it. You know. God knows. Isn't that enough?

No, Jack told himself in a quiet flash of honesty.

So what if the idea had not been completely original? What idea ever was? It had been his thought that had brought it together, his contacts that had gotten the Vatican on board, his… He deserved something for it, some recognition, enough for a little footnote in some history book, but would he get it?

Jack snorted into his wine. No chance. Liz Elliot, that clever bitch, telling everybody that it was Charlie Alden who'd done it. If Jack ever tried to set the record straight, he'd look like a swine stealing credit from a dead man — and a good man, despite his mistake with that Blum girl. Cheer up, Jack. You're still alive. You have a wife, you have kids.

It still wasn't fair, was it? Fair? Why had he ever expected life to be fair? Was he turning into another one of them? Ryan asked himself. Another Liz Elliot, another grasping, small-minded ass with an ego-size inversely proportionate to her character. He'd so often worried and wondered about the process, how a person might be corrupted. He'd feared the overt methods, deciding that a cause or a mission was so vital that you might lose perspective on the important things, like the value of a single human life, even the life of an enemy. He hadn't lost that, not ever, and knew that he never would. It was the subtler things that were wearing at him. He was turning into a functionary, worrying about credit and status and influence.

He closed his eyes to remind himself of what he already had: a wife, two kids, financial independence, accomplishments that no one could ever take away.

You are turning into one of them…

He'd fought — he had killed — to defend his family. Maybe Elliot was offended by that, but in quiet moments like this, Jack remembered the times with a thin, grim smile. Not two hundred yards from where he now sat, he'd drilled three rounds into a terrorist's chest, coldly and efficiently — steel on target! — validating all the things they'd taught him at Quantico. That his heart had been beating a thousand times per second, that he'd come close to wetting his pants, that he'd had to swallow back his vomit, were small things. He'd done what he had to do, and because of that his wife and children were alive. He was a man who'd proven his manhood in every possible way — winning and marrying a wonderful girl, fathering two God-sent children, defending all of them with skill and courage. Every time fate had presented its challenge, Jack had met it and gotten the job done.

Yeah, he told himself, smiling at the TV. Screw Liz Elliot. That was a humorous thought. Who, he asked himself, would want to? That cold, skinny bitch, with her arrogance and… what else? Ryan's mind paused, seeking the answer to the question. What else? She was weak, wasn't she? Weak and timid. Beneath all the bluster and the hardness, what was really in there? Probably not much. He'd seen that sort of National Security Advisor before. Cutter, unwilling to face the music. Liz Elliot. Who'd want to screw her? Not very smart, and nothing in there to back up what smarts she did have. Good thing for her that the President had Bunker and Talbot to fall back on.

You're better than all of them. It was a satisfying thought to accompany the end of this glass of wine. Why not have another? This stuff really isn't all that bad, is it?

When Ryan returned, he saw Cathy was back also, going over her patient notes in the high-backed chair she liked.

“Want a glass of wine, honey?”

Dr. Caroline Ryan shook her head. “I have two procedures tomorrow.”

Jack came around to take his place in the other chair, almost not glancing at his wife, but he caught her out the corner of his eye.


Cathy looked up from her paperwork to grin at him. Her face was nicely made-up. Jack wondered how she'd managed not to mess her hair up in the shower.

“Where did you get that?”

“Out of a catalog.”

“Whose, Fredericks?”

Dr. Caroline Muller Ryan, M.D., F.A.C.S., was dressed in a black peignoir that was a masterpiece of revelation and concealment. He couldn't tell what held the robe portion in place. Underneath was something filmy and… very nice. The color was odd, though, Cathy's nighties were all white. He'd never forgotten the wonderful white one she'd worn on their wedding night. Not that she'd been a virgin at the time, but somehow that white silk had made her so… that, too, was a memory that would never go away, Jack told himself. She'd never worn it since, saying that like her wedding dress, it was something only to be used once. What have I done to earn this wonderful girl? Jack asked himself.

“To what do I owe this honor?” Jack asked.

“I've been thinking.”

“About what?”

“Well, Little Jack is seven. Sally is ten. I want another one.”

“Another what?” Jack set his glass down.

“Another baby, you dope!”

“Why?” her husband asked.

“Because I can, and because I want one. I'm sorry,” she went on with a soft smile, “if that bothers you. The exercise, I mean.”

“I think I can handle that.”

“I have to get up at four-thirty,” Cathy said next. “My first procedure is before seven.”


“So.” She rose and walked over to her husband. Cathy bent down to kiss him on the cheek. “See me upstairs.”

Ryan sat still for a minute or two, gunning down the rest of his drink, switching off the TV, and smiling to himself. He checked to make sure the house was locked and the security system armed. He stopped off in the bathroom to brush his teeth. A surreptitious check on her vanity drawer revealed a thermometer and a little index card with dates and temperatures on it. So. She wasn't kidding. She'd been thinking about this and, typically, keeping it to herself. Well, that was okay, wasn't it? Yeah.

Jack entered the bedroom and paused to hang up his clothes, donning a bathrobe before joining his wife at the bedside. She rose to wrap her arms around his neck, and he kissed her.

“You sure about this, babe?”

“Does it bother you?”

“Cathy, to please you — anything you want that I can get or give, honey. Anything.”

I wish you'd cut back on the drinking, Cathy didn't say. It wasn't the time. She felt his hands through the peignoir. Jack had strong but gentle hands that now traced her figure through the outfit. It was cheap and tarty, but every woman was entitled to look cheap and tarty once in a while, even an associate professor of ophthalmic surgery at the Wilmer Eye Institute of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Jack's mouth tasted like toothpaste and cheap white wine, but the rest of him smelled like a man, the man who'd made her life into a dream — mostly a dream. He was working too hard, drinking too much, not sleeping enough. But underneath all that was her man. And they didn't come any better, weaknesses, absences, and all.

Cathy made the proper noises when Jack's hands found the buttons. He got the message, but his fingers were clumsy. Annoying, the buttons were small and in those damned little fabric loops, but behind the buttons and the fabric were her breasts, and that fact ensured that he would not stop. Cathy took in a deep breath and smelled her favorite dusting powder. She didn't like perfume. A woman generated all the smells a man needed, she thought. There. Now his hands found her bare, smooth and still young skin. Thirty-six was not old, not too old for one more child. One more was all she craved, one more time to feel a new life growing within her. She'd accept the stomach upsets, the compressed bladder, the odd discomfort that merely gave detail to the wonder and the miracle of new life. The pain of birth — it was not fun, not at all, but to be able to do it, to have Jack at her side as he'd been with Sally and Little Jack, it was the most profound act of love that she had ever known. It was what being a woman meant, to be able to bring life to the world, to give a man the only kind of immortality there was, as he gave it to her.

And besides, she thought with a suppressed giggle, getting pregnant beat the hell out of jogging as a form of exercise.

Jack's hands removed her garment completely and eased her onto the bed. He was good at this, always had been, from their first nervous time, and at that moment she'd known that he would ask for her hand… after he'd sampled the other parts. Another giggle of past and present, as his hands slid over skin that was now both hot and cold to the touch. And when he'd asked, when he'd worked up the courage, she'd seen the fear in his eyes, the terror at the possibility of rejection, when she was the one who had worried — even cried once — for a week that he might not ask, might change his mind, might find someone else. From before their first lovemaking, Cathy had known. This was the one. Jack was the man with whom she would share her life, whose children she would bear, whom she would love to the grave, maybe beyond, if the priests were right. It wasn't his size or his strength, not even the bravery he'd had to show twice in her sight — and, she suspected, more than that in other places she'd never know about — it was his goodness, his gentleness, and a strength that only the perceptive knew about. Her husband was in some ways ordinary, in others unique, but in all ways a man, with all the strengths and few of the weaknesses…

And tonight he would give her another child. Her cycle, predictable as always, was confirmed by her morning temperature. Well, she admitted, it was mainly a statistical probability, but a very high probability in her case. Mustn't get too clinical, not with Jack, and not at a time like this.

Her skin was on fire now. Jack was so good at this. His kisses both gentle and passionate, his hands so wonderfully skilled. He was wrecking her hair, but that didn't matter. Surgical caps made perms a waste of time and money. Through the scent of the dusting powder now came the more significant smells of a woman who was nearly ready. Ordinarily she was more of a participant in these episodes, but tonight she was letting Jack take complete charge, searching over her silky skin for the… interesting parts. He liked that occasionally. He also liked it when she played a more active role. More than one way to do this. It came almost as a surprise. Cathy arched her back and whimpered the first time, not really saying anything. It wasn't necessary. They'd been married long enough that he knew all the signals. She kissed him hard and wantonly, digging her nails into his shoulders. That signal meant now!

But nothing happened.

She took his hand, kissed it, and moved it down so that he would know that she was ready.

He seemed unusually tense. Okay, she was rushing him… why not let… after all, she'd let him take charge, and if she changed now… She moved the hand back to her breast and was not disappointed. Cathy paid closer attention to him now. Tried to. His skills in exciting her were unchanged. She cried out again, kissed him hard, gasping a little, letting him know that he was the one, that her world centered on him as his centered on her. But still his back and shoulders were tense and knotted. What was the matter?

Her hands moved again, running over his chest, pulling playfully on the black hairs. That always set him off… especially as her hands followed the hairy trail down to…


“Jack, what's wrong?” It seemed forever before she heard him speak.

“I don't know.” Jack rolled over, away from his wife, onto his back, and his eyes stared at the ceiling.


“I guess that's it.” Jack slurred the words. “Sorry, honey.”

Damn damn damn! but before she could think to say something else, his eyes closed.

It's the hours he's working, and all that drinking. But it wasn't fair! This was the day, this was the moment, and—

You're being selfish.

Cathy rose from the bed and collected her peignoir from the floor. She hung it up neatly before getting another that was fit to sleep in and heading into the bathroom.

He's a man, not a machine. He's tired. He's been working too goddamned hard. Everyone has a bad day. Sometimes he wants it and you're not in the mood, and sometimes that makes him a little mad, and it's not his fault and it's not your fault. You have a wonderful marriage, but not a perfect one. Jack's as good a man as you have ever known, but he is not perfect either.

But I wanted…

I want another baby, and the timing is so right, right now!

Cathy's eyes filled with tears of disappointment. She knew she was being unfair. But she was still disappointed. And a little angry.

* * *

“Well, Commodore, I can't knock the service.”

“Hell, Ron, you expect me to have an old shipmate pick up a rental?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.”

Mancuso snorted. His driver tossed the bags into the trunk of the Navy Plymouth while he and Jones let themselves into the back.

“How's the family?”

“Great, thank you, Commodore—”

“You can call me Bart now, Dr. Jones. Besides, I just screened for Admiral.”

“All right!” Dr. Ron Jones observed. “Bart. I like that. Just don't call me Indy. Let's see, the family. Kirn's back in school for her doctorate. The kids are all in school — day-care, whatever — and I'm turning into a damned businessman.”

“Entrepreneur, I believe, is the correct term,” Mancuso observed.

“Okay, be technical. Yeah, I own a big piece of the company. But I still get my hands dirty. I got a business guy to do the accounting bullshit. I still like to do real work. Last month I was down at AUTEC on the Tennessee checking out a new system.” Jones looked at the driver. “Okay to talk here?”

“Petty Officer Vincent is cleared higher than I am. Isn't that right?”

“Yes, sir, Admiral's always right, sir,” the driver observed, as he headed off towards Bangor.

“You got a problem, Bart.”

“How big?”

“A unique problem, skipper,” Jones said, lapsing back to the time when he and Mancuso had done some interesting things aboard USS Dallas. “It's never happened before.”

Mancuso read his eyes. “Got pictures of the kids?”

Jones nodded. “You bet. How are Mike and Dominic doing?”

“Well, Mike's looking at the Air Force Academy.”

“Tell him the oxygen rots your brain.”

“Dominic's thinking CalTech.”

“No kidding? Hell, I can help him out.”

The rest of the drive occupied itself with small talk. Mancuso swept into his office and closed the soundproof door behind Jones after ordering coffee from his steward.

“What's the problem, Ron?”

Jones hesitated just a fraction before answering. “I think somebody was tracking Maine.”

“Track an Ohio? Come on.”

“Where is she now?”

“Heading back out to sea, as a matter of fact. Blue Crew is embarked. She links up with a 688 when she clears the strait for some noise checks, then clears to her patrol area.” Mancuso could discuss almost anything with Jones. His company consulted on the sonar technology for all submarines and anti-submarine platforms in the U.S. fleet, and that necessarily included a lot of operational information.

“Got any Gold Crew guys on base now?”

“The captain's off on vacation. XO's here, Dutch Claggett. Know him?”

“Wasn't he on the Norfolk? Black guy, right?”

“That's right.”

“I've heard good stuff about him. He did a nice job on a carrier group on his command quals. I was riding a P-3 when he kicked their ass.”

“You heard right. He's being deep-dipped. This time next year he'll be taking command of a fast-attack.”

“Who's his skipper?”

“Harry Ricks. Heard of him, too?”

Jones looked at the floor and muttered something. “I got a new guy working for me, retired chief whose last tour was with Ricks. Is he as bad as I hear?”

“Ricks is a super engineer,” Mancuso said. “I mean it. He's a genius at that stuff.”

“Fine, skipper, so are you, but does Ricks know how to drive?”

“Want some coffee, Ron?” Mancuso gestured at the pot.

“You might want Commander Claggett here, sir.” Jones rose and got his own coffee. “Since when have you turned diplomat?”

“Command responsibilities, Ron. I never told outsiders about the crazy stuff you did on Dallas.”

Jones turned and laughed. “Okay, you got me there. I have the sonar analysis in my briefcase. I need to see his course tracks, depth records, that stuff. I think there's a good chance Maine had a trailer, and that, Bart, is no shit.”

Mancuso lifted his phone. “Find Lieutenant-Commander Claggett. I need him in my office at once. Thank you. Ron, how sure—”

“I did the analysis myself. One of my people looked it over and caught a whiff. I spent fifty hours massaging the data. One chance in three, maybe more, that she was being trailed.”

Bart Mancuso set his coffee cup down. “That's really hard to believe.”

“I know. That very fact may be skewing my analysis. It is kinda incredible.”

It was an article of faith in the United States navy that its fleet ballistic-missile submarines had never, not ever, not once been tracked while on deterrence patrol. As with most articles of faith, however, it had caveats.

The location of American missile-sub bases was not a secret. Even the United Parcel Service deliverymen who dropped off packages knew what to look for. In its quest for cost-efficiency, the Navy mainly used civilian security officers—“rentacops”—at its bases. Except that Marines were used wherever there were nuclear weapons. Wherever you saw Marines, there were nukes about. That was called a security measure. The missile boats themselves were unmistakably different from the smaller fast-attack subs. The ship names were on the Navy register, and the sailors of those ships wore ballcaps identifying them by name and hull number. With knowledge available to anyone, the Soviets knew where to station their own fast-attack boats to catch the American “boomers” on the way out to sea.

At first this had not been a problem. The first classes of Soviet fast-attack submarines had been equipped with “Helen Keller” sonars that could neither see nor hear, and the boats themselves had been noisier than unmuffled automobiles. All that had changed with the advent of the Victor-III class, which approximated a late American 594-class in radiated noise levels, and began to approach adequacy in sonar performance. Victor-IIIs had occasionally turned up at the Juan de Fuca Strait — and elsewhere — waiting for a U.S. missile sub to deploy, and in some cases, since harbor entrances are typically restricted waters, they had established contact and held on tight. That occasionally had included active sonar-lashing, both unnerving and annoying to American sub crews. As a result, U.S. fast-attack subs often accompanied missile submarines to sea. Their mission was to force the Soviet subs off. This was accomplished by the simple expedient of offering an additional target for sonar, confusing the tactical situation, or sometimes by forcing the Russian submarine off-track by ramming — called “shouldering,” to defuse that most obscene of marine terms. In fact, American boomers had been tracked, only in shallow water, only near well-known harbors, and only for brief periods of time. As soon as the American subs reached deep water, their tactics were to increase speed to degrade the trailing sub's sonar performance, to maneuver evasively, and then go quiet. At that point — every time — the American submarine broke contact. The Soviet sub lost its track, and became the prey instead of the hunter. Missile submarines typically had highly-drilled torpedo departments, and the more aggressive skippers would have all four of their tubes loaded with Mark 48 torpedoes with solutions set on the now-blinded Soviet sub as they watched it wander away in vulnerable befuddlement.

The simple fact was that American missile submarines were invulnerable in their patrol areas. When fast-attack boats were sent in to hunt them, care had to be given to operating depths — much like traffic control for commercial aircraft — lest an inadvertent ramming occur. American fast-attack boats, even the most advanced 688-class, had rarely tracked missile submarines, and the cases where Ohios had been tracked could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Nearly all involved a grievous mistake made by the missile-boat skippers, the ultimate “black mark in the copybook,” and even then only a very good and very lucky fast-attack skipper had managed to pull it off — and never ever without being counter-detected. Omaha had one of the best drivers in the Pacific Fleet, and he had failed to find Maine despite having some good intelligence data provided — better than anything a Soviet commander would ever get.

“Good morning, sir,” Dutch Claggett said on his way through the door. “I was right down the hall at personnel.”

“Commander, this is Dr. Ron Jones.”

“This the Jonesy you like to brag on, sir?” Claggett took the civilian's hand.

“None of those stories are true,” Jones said.

Claggett stopped cold when he saw the looks. “Somebody die or something?”

“Grab a seat,” Mancuso said. “Ron thinks you might have been tracked on your last patrol.”

“Bullshit,” Claggett observed. “Excuse me, sir.”

“You're pretty confident,” Jones said.

“Maine is the best submarine we own, Dr. Jones. We are a black hole. We don't radiate sound, we suck it in from around us.”

“You know the party line, Commander. Now, can we talk business?” Ron unlocked his briefcase and pulled out a heavy sheaf of computer printouts. “Right around the half-way point in your patrol.”

“Okay, yeah, that's when we snuck up behind Omaha.”

“I'm not talking about that. Omaha was in front of you,” Jones said, flipping to the right page.

“I still don't believe it, but I'll look at what you got.”

The computer pages were essentially a graphic printout of two “waterfall” sonar displays. They bore time and true-bearing references. A separate set showed environmental data, mainly water temperature.

“You had a lot of clutter to worry about,” Jones said, pointing to notations on the pages. “Fourteen fishing boats, half a dozen deep-draft merchant ships, and I see the humpbacks were up to thin out the krill. So, your sonar crew was busy, maybe a little overloaded. You also had a pretty hard layer.”

“All that's right,” Claggett allowed.

“What's this?” Jones pointed to a blossom of noise on the display.

“Well, we were tracking Omaha, and the captain decided to rattle their cage with a water slug.”

“No shit?” Jones asked. “Well, that explains his reaction. I guess they changed their underwear and headed north. You never would have pulled that off on me, by the way.”

“Think so?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Jones replied. “I always paid real good attention to what was aft of us. I've been out on Ohios, Commander, okay? You can be tracked. Anybody can. It isn't just the platform. Now, look here.”

The printout was a computer-generated cacophony of dots that seemed for the most part to show nothing but random noise, as though a convention of ants had walked across the pages for hours. As with all truly random events, this one had irregularities, places where for one reason or another the ants had never trod, or places where a large number had congregated and then dispersed.

“This line of bearing,” Jones said. “This pattern comes back eight times, and it comes back only when the layer thins out.”

Commander Claggett frowned. “Eight, you say? These two could be reverbs from the fishing boats, or really distant CZ-contacts.” He flipped through the pages. Claggett knew his sonar. This is thin."

“That's why your people didn't catch it, either aboard or here. But that's why I got the contract to back-check your people,” Jones said. “Who was out there?”

“Commodore?” Claggett asked, and got a nod. “There was an Akula-class out there somewhere. The P-3s lost him south of Kodiak, so he was within maybe six hundred miles of us. That doesn't mean this is him.”

“Which one?”

“Admiral Lunin,” Claggett answered.

“Captain Dubinin?”

“Jesus, you are cleared pretty good,” Mancuso noted. “They say he's very good.”

“Ought to be, we have a mutual friend. Is Commander Claggett cleared for that?”

“No. Sorry, Dutch, but that is really black.”

“He ought to be cleared for that,” Jones said. “This secrecy crap goes way too far, Bart.”

“Rules are rules.”

“Yeah, sure. Anyway, this is the one that twigged me. Last page.” Ron flipped through to the end. “You were coming up to antenna depth…”

“Yeah, practice on the missiles.”

“You made some hull noises.”

“We came up fast, and the hull's made of steel, not elastic,” Claggett said in some annoyance. “So?”

“So, your hull went up through the layer faster than your 'tail' did. Your towed array caught this.”

Claggett and Mancuso both went very quiet. What they saw was a fuzzy vertical line, but the line was in a frequency range that denoted a Soviet submarine's acoustical signature. It was by no means conclusive evidence, but it, like all the other things Jones had notated, was dead aft of Maine's course.

“Now, if I was a betting man, which I'm not, of course, I'd give you two-to-one that while you were underneath the layer, someone might have been tooling along just over top, letting his tail hang under it. He caught your hull transient, saw you were going shallow, and ducked under the layer just as you came over it. Cute move, but your big up-angle meant that your tail stayed down longer than it should have, and that's where this signature came from.”

“But there's nothing after that.”

“Nothing at all,” Jones admitted. “It never came back. From there on to the end of the tapes, nothing but random noise and otherwise-identified contacts.”

“It's pretty thin, Ron,” Mancuso said, standing up to straighten his back.

“I know. That's why I flew out. In writing it would never sell.”

“What do you know about Russian sonar that we don't?”

“Getting better… approaching where we were, oh, ten or twelve years ago. They pay more attention to broad-band than we do — that's changing now. I sold the Pentagon on taking another look at the broad-band integration system Texas Instruments' have been working on. Commander, what you said before about being a black hole. It cuts both ways. You can't see a black hole, but you can detect it. What if you track an Ohio by what should be there but isn't?”

“Background noise?”

“Yep.” Jones nodded. “You make a hole in it. You make a black spot where there's no noise. If he can really isolate a line of bearing on his gear, and if he's got really good filters, and one dynamite sonar operator, I think it's possible — if something else cues you in.”

“That's real thin.”

Jones granted that observation. “But it's not impossible. I ran the numbers. It's not good, but it's not impossible. Moreover, we can track below ambient now. Maybe they can, too. I'm hearing they've started turning out a new large-aperture tail — the one designed by the guys outside Murmansk. Good as a BQR-15 used to be.”

“I don't believe it,” Mancuso said.

“I do, skipper. It's not new technology. What do we know about Lunin?”

“She's in overhaul right now. Let's see.” Mancuso turned to look at the polar-projection chart on his office wall. “If that was him, then if he headed straight back to base… it's possible, technically speaking, but you're assuming a hell of a lot.”

“I'm saying that this bird was just in the neighborhood when you fired that water slug, that you headed south, and so did he, that you gave him a hull transient which he reacted to, and then he broke contact on his own. The data is thin, but it fits — maybe, I grant you, maybe. That's what they pay me for, guys.”

“I commended Ricks for rattling Omaha's cage like that,” Mancuso said, after a moment. “I want aggressive skippers.”

Jones chuckled to break the tension in the room. “I wonder why, Bart?”

“Dutch knows about that job we had on the beach, that pickup we did.”

“That was a little exciting,” Jones admitted.

“One chance in three…”

“The probability increases if you assume the other skipper is smart. Dubinin had a great teacher.”

“What are you two talking about?” Lieutenant Commander Claggett asked in some exasperation.

“You know we have all sorts of data on the Russian Typhoon class, lots more on their torpedoes. Ever wonder how we got all that data, Commander?”

“Ron, God damn it!”

“I didn't break any rules, skipper, and besides, he needs to know.”

“I can't do that and you know it.”

“Fine, Bart.” Jones paused. “Commander, you may speculate on how we got all that information in one great big lump. You might even guess right.”

Claggett had heard a few rumbles, like why the Eight-Ten dock at Norfolk had been closed so long a few years before. There was a story floated about, spoken only in submarine wardrooms far at sea and well below the surface, that somehow the U.S. Navy had gotten its hands on a Russian missile sub, how a very strange reactor had turned up at the Navy's nuclear-power school in Idaho for tests and then had disappeared, how complete drawings and some hardware from Soviet torpedoes had magically appeared in Groton, and how two night missile shots out of Vandenberg Air Force Base had not appeared to be American missiles at all. Lots of operational intelligence had come into the fleet, very good stuff, stuff that sounded like it had come from someone who knew what the hell he was talking about — not always the case with intelligence information — on Soviet submarine tactics and training. Claggett needed only to look at Mancuso's uniform to see the ribbon that denoted a Distinguished Service Medal, America's highest peace-time decoration. The ribbon had a star on it, indicating a second such award. Mancuso was rather young for a squadron command, and very young indeed to be selected for Rear Admiral (Lower Half). And here was a former enlisted man who'd sailed with Mancuso, and now called him Bart. He nodded to Dr. Jones.

“I get the picture. Thanks.”

“You're saying operator error?”

Jones frowned. He didn't know all that much about Harry Ricks. “Mainly bad luck. Call it good luck, even. Nothing bad happened, and we've learned something. We know more about the Akula than we used to. A weird set of circumstances came together. Won't happen again in a hundred years, maybe. Your skipper was a victim of circumstance, and the other guy — if there was another guy there — was very damned sharp. Hey, the important thing about mistakes is that you learn from them, right?”

“Harry gets back in ten days,” Mancuso said. “Can you be back here then?”

“Sorry,” Jones said with a shake of the head. “I'm going to be in England. I'm going out on HMS Turbulent for a few days of hide 'n' seek. The Brits have a new processor that we need to look at, and I drew the duty.”

“You're not going to ask me to present this to the CO, are you, sir?” Claggett asked after a minute's reflection.

“No, Dutch… you trying to tell me something?”

It was Claggett's turn to look unhappy. “Sir, he's my boss, and he's not a bad boss, but he is a little positive in his thinking.”

That was artfully done, Jones thought. Not a bad boss… a little positive. He just called his skipper an idiot in a way that no one could ever call disloyal. Ron wondered what sort of hyper-nuc-engineer this Ricks was. The good news was that this XO had his act together. And a smart skipper listened to his XO.

“Skipper, how's Mr. Chambers doing?”

“Just took over Key West. Got a kid you trained as his leading sonarman. Billy Zerwinski, just made chief, I hear.”

“Oh, yeah? Good for him. I figured Mr. Chambers was going places, but Billy Z as a chief? What is my Navy coming to?”

“This is taking forever,” Qati observed sourly. His skin was pasty white. The man was suffering again from his drug treatment.

“That is false,” Fromm replied sternly. “I told you several months, and it will be several months. The first time this was done, it took three years and the resources of the world's richest nation. I will do it for you in an eighth of that time, and on a shoestring budget. In a few days we'll start to work on the rhodium. That will be much easier.”

“And the plutonium?” Ghosn asked.

“That will be the last metal work — you know why, of course.”

“Yes, Herr Fromm, and we must be extremely careful, since when you work with a critical mass you must be careful that it does not become critical while you are forming it,” Ghosn replied, allowing his exacerbation to show for a change. He was tired. He'd been at work for eighteen hours now, supervising the workers. “And the tritium?”

“Last of all. Again, the obvious reason. It is relatively unstable, and we want the tritium we use to be as pure as possible.”

“Quite so.” Ghosn yawned, barely having heard the answer to his question, and not troubling himself to wonder why Fromm had answered as he had.

For his part, Fromm made a mental note. Palladium. He needed a small quantity of palladium. How had he forgotten that? He grunted to himself. Long hours, miserable climate, surly workers and associates. A small price to pay, of course, for this opportunity. He was doing what only a handful of men had ever done, and he was doing it in such a way as to equal the work of Fermi and the rest in 1944-5. It was not often that a man could measure himself against the giants and come off well in the comparison. He found himself wondering idly what the weapon would be used for, but admitted to himself that he didn't care, not really. Well, he had other work to do.

The German walked across the room to where the milling machines were. Here another team of technicians were at work. The beryllium piece now on the machine had the most intricate shape and had been the hardest to program, with concave, convex, and other complex curves. The machine was computer-controlled, of course, but was kept under constant observation through the Lexan panels that isolated the machining area from the outside world. The area was ventilated upwards into an electrostatic air-cleaner. There was no sense in just dumping the metallic dust into the external air — in fact doing so constituted a major security hazard. Over the electrostatic collection plates was a solid two meters of earth. Beryllium was not radioactive, but plutonium was, and plutonium would presently be worked on this very same machine. The beryllium was both necessary to the device and good practice for later tasks.

The milling machine was everything Fromm had hoped for when he'd ordered it several years before. The computer-driven tools were monitored by lasers, producing a degree of perfection that could not have been achieved so quickly as recently as five years ago. The surface of the beryllium was jeweled from the machining, already looking like the finish on a particularly fine rifle bolt, and this was only the first stage of machining. The data readout on the machine showed tolerances measured in angstroms. The toolhead was spinning at 25,000 RPM, not so much grinding as burning off irregularities. Separate instruments kept a computer eye on the work being done, both measuring tolerances and waiting for the tool-head to show signs of wear, at which point the machine would automatically stop and replace the tool with a fresh one. Technology was wonderful What had once been the work of specially-trained master machinists overseen by Nobel Prize winners was now being done by microchips.

The actual casing for the device was already fabricated. Ellipsoidal in shape, it was 98 centimeters in length by 52 in extreme breadth. Made of steel one centimeter in thickness, it had to be strong, but not grossly so, just enough to hold a vacuum. Also ready for installation were curved blocks of polyethylene and polyurethane foam, because a device of this sort required the special properties of both the strongest and the flimsiest materials. They had gotten ahead of themselves in some areas, of course, but there was no sense in wasting time or idle hands On another machine, workers were practicing yet again on a stainless-steel blank that simulated the folded-cylinder plutomum reaction-mass primary. It was their seventh such practice session. Despite the sophistication of the machines, the first two had gone badly, as expected. By number five, they had figured most of the process out, and the sixth attempt had been good enough to work — but not good enough for Fromm. The German had a simple mental model for the overall task, one formulated by America's National Aeronautics and Space Administration to describe the first moon landing. In order for the device to perform as desired, a complex series of individual events had to take place in an inhumanly precise sequence. He viewed the process as a walk through a series of gates. The wider the gates were, the easier it would be to walk through them quickly. Plus/minus tolerances reflected slight closure of the individual gates. Fromm wanted zero tolerances. He wanted every single part of the weapon to match his design criteria as exactly as the available technology made possible. The closer to perfection he could get, the more likely it was that the device would perform exactly as he predicted… or even better, part of him thought. Unable to experiment, unable to find empirical solutions to complex theoretical problems, he'd over-engineered the weapon, providing an energy budget that was several orders of magnitude beyond what was really necessary for the projected yield. That explained the vast quantity of tritium he planned to use, more than five times what was really needed in a theoretical sense. That carried its own problems, of course. His tritium supply was several years old, and some parts of it had decayed into 3He, a decidedly undesirable isotope of helium, but by filtering the tritium through palladium he'd separate the tritium out, ensuring a proper total yield. American and Soviet bombmakers could get away with far less of it, because of their extensive experimentation, but Fromm had his own advantage. He did not have to concern himself with a long shelf-life for his device, and that was a luxury that his Soviet and American counterparts did not have. It was the only advantage he had over them, and Fromm planned to make full use of it. As with most parts of bomb design, it was an advantage that cut both ways, but Fromm knew he had full control over the device. Palladium, he told himself. Mustn't forget that. But he had plenty of time.

“Finished.” The head of the team waved for Fromm to look. The stainless-steel blank came off the machine easily, and he handed it to Fromm. It was thirty centimeters in length. The shape was complex, what one would get from taking a large water tumbler and bending its top outside and down towards the base. It would not hold water because of a hole in the center of what might have been the bottom — actually it would, Fromm told himself a second later, just in the wrong way. The blank weighed about three kilograms, and every surface was mirror-smooth. He held it up to the light to check for imperfections and irregularities. His eyes were not that good. The quality of the finish was easier to understand mathematically than visually. The surface, so said the machine, was accurate to a thousandth of a micron, or a fraction of a single wavelength of light.

“It is a jewel,” Ghosn observed, standing behind Fromm. The machinist beamed.

“Adequate,” was Fromm's judgment. He looked at the machinist. “When you've made five more equally as good, I will be satisfied. Every metal segment must be of this quality. Begin another,” he told the machinist. Fromm handed the blank to Ghosn and walked away.

“Infidel,” the machinist growled under his breath.

“Yes, he is,” Ghosn agreed. “But he is the most skilled man I have ever met.”

“I'd rather work for a Jew.”

“This is magnificent work,” Ghosn said, to change the subject.

“I would not have believed it possible to polish metal so precisely. This machine is incredible. I could make anything with it.”

“That is good. Make another of these,” Ghosn told him with a smile.

“As you say.”

Ghosn walked to Qati's room. The Commander was looking at a plate of simple foods, but unable to touch it for fear of retching.

“Perhaps this will make you feel better,” Ghosn told him.

“That is?” Qati said, taking it.

That is what the plutonium will look like."

“Like glass…”

“Smoother than that. Smooth enough for a laser mirror. I could tell you the accuracy of the surface, but you've never seen anything that small in your life anyway. Fromm is a genius.”

“He's an arrogant, overbearing—”

“Yes, Commander, he is all of that, but he is exactly the man we need. I could never have done this myself. Perhaps, given a year or two, perhaps I might have been able to rework that Israeli bomb into something that would work — the problems were far more complex than I knew only a few weeks ago. But this Fromm… what I am learning from him! By the time we are finished, I will be able to do it again on my own!”


“Commander, do you know what engineering is?” Ghosn asked. “It is like cooking. If you have the right recipe, the right book, and the right ingredients, anyone can do it. Certainly this task is a hard one, but the principle holds. You must know how to use the various mathematical formulae, but they are all in books also. It is merely a question of education. With computers, the proper tools — and a good teacher, which this Fromm bastard is…”

“Then why haven't more—”

“The hard part is getting the ingredients, specifically the plutonium or U-235. That requires a nuclear reactor plant of a specific type, or the new centrifuge technology. Either represents a vast investment, and one which is difficult to conceal. It also explains the remarkable security measures taken in the handling and transport of bombs and their components. The oft-told tale that bombs are hard to make is a lie.”


Wellington had three men working for him. Each was an experienced investigator, accustomed to politically sensitive cases which demanded the utmost discretion. His job was to identify likely areas of field investigation, then to examine and correlate the information they returned to his office in the Justice Department. The tricky part was to gather the information without notice going back to the target of the probe, and Wellington correctly thought that that part of the task would be particularly difficult with a target like Ryan. The DDCI was nothing if not perceptive. His previous job had qualified him as a man who could hear the grass grow and read tea-leaves with the best of them. That meant going slow… but not too slow. It also seemed likely to the young attorney that the purpose of his investigation was not to produce data suitable for a grand jury, which gave him quite a bit more leeway than he might otherwise have had. He doubted that Ryan could have been so foolish as to have actually broken any law. The SEC rules had been grazed, perhaps bent, but on inspection of the SEC investigation documents, it was clear that Ryan's action had, arguably, been made in good faith and full expectation that he had not violated any statute. That judgment might have been technical on Ryan's part, but the law was technical. The Securities and Exchange Commission could have pushed, and might even have gotten an indictment, but they would never have gotten a conviction… maybe they could have muscled him into a settlement and/or a consent decree, but Wellington doubted that also. They'd suggested it as a sign of good faith, and he had answered with a flat no. Ryan was not a man to tolerate being pushed around. This man had killed people. That didn't frighten Wellington in any way. It was merely an indicator of the man's strength of character. Ryan was a tough, formidable son-of-a-bitch who met things head-on when he had to.

That's his weakness, Wellington told himself.

He prefers to meet things head-on. He lacks subtlety. It was a common failing of the honest, and a grievous weakness in a political environment.

Ryan had political protectors, however. Trent and Fellows were nothing if not canny political craftsmen.

What an interesting tactical problem…

Wellington saw his task as two-fold: to get something that could be used against Ryan, and something that would also neutralize his political allies.

Carol Zimmer. Wellington closed one file and opened another.

There was a photograph from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. That one was years old — she'd been a child-bride in the most literal sense of the word when she'd first come to America, a tiny little thing with a doll's face. A more recent photo taken by his field investigator showed a mature woman still short of forty, her face now showing some lines where once there had been the smoothness of china. If anything she was more beautiful than before. The timid, almost hunted look in the first photo — understandable, since it had been taken after her escape from Laos — had been replaced by that of a woman secure in her life. She had a cute smile, Wellington told himself.

The lawyer remembered a classmate in law school, Cynthia Yu. Damn, hadn't she been quite a lay… same sort of eyes, almost, the Oriental coquette…

Might that be it!

Something that simple?

Ryan was married: Wife, Caroline Muller Ryan, M.D., eye surgeon. Photo: a quintessential Wasp, except that she was Catholic, slender and attractive, mother of two.

Well, just because a man has a pretty wife…

Ryan had established an educational trust fund… Wellington opened another file. It was a Xerox copy of the document.

Ryan, he saw, had done it alone, through a lawyer — not his regular lawyer! A D.C. guy. And Caroline Ryan had not signed the papers… did she even know about it? The information on his desk suggested that she did not.

Wellington next checked the birth records on the newest Zimmer child. Her husband had been killed in a “routine training accident”—the timing was equivocal. She might have gotten pregnant the very week her husband had been killed. Then again, she might not have. It was her seventh child — eighth? You couldn't tell with those, could you? Gestation could be nine months, or less. First kids were usually late. Later kids, as often as not, were early. Birth weight of the child… five pounds seven ounces… less than average, but she was an Asian, and they were small… did they have smaller-than-normal babies? Wellington made his notes, recognizing that he had a series of maybes, and not a single fact.

But, hell, was he really looking for facts?

The two punks. Ryan's bodyguards, Clark and Chavez, had mangled one of them. His investigator had checked that out with the Anne Arundel County Police Department. The local cops had signed off on Clark's story. The punks in question had long but minor records, a few summary probations, a few sessions with youth-counselors. The cops were delighted at the way things had turned out. “Okay with me if he'd shot that worthless little fucker,” a police sergeant had said, with a laugh recorded on the investigator's tape cassette. “That Clark guy looked like one very serious dude. His sidekick ain't much different. If those punks were dumb enough to hassle them, hey, it's a tough world, y'know? Two other gang members confirmed the story the way the good guys told it, and that's a closed case, man.”

But why had Ryan set his two bodyguards on them?

He's killed to protect his family, hasn't he…? This is not a guy who tolerates danger to his… friends… family… lovers?

It is possible.

“Hmm…” Wellington observed to himself. The DDCI is getting a little on the side. Nothing illegal, just unsavory. Also out of character for the saintly Dr. John Patrick Ryan. When his lover is annoyed by some local gang members, he simply sics his bodyguards on them, like a mafia capo might do, as a lordly public service that no cop would ever bother fooling with.

Might that be enough?


He needed something more. Evidence, some sort of evidence. Not good enough for a grand jury… but good enough for — what? To launch an official investigation. Of course. Such investigations were never really secret, were they? A few whispers, a few rumors. Easily done. But first Wellington needed something to hang his hat on.

“There are those who say this could be a preview of the Superbowl: Three weeks into the NFL season, the Metrodome. Both teams are two and oh. Both teams look like the class of their respective conferences. The San Diego Chargers take on the Minnesota Vikings.”

“You know, Tony Wills's rookie season has started even more spectacularly than his college career. Only two games, and he has three hundred six yards rushing in forty-six carries — that's six-point-seven yards every time he touches the ball, and he did that against the Bears and the Falcons, two fine rushing defenses,” the color man observed. “Can anybody stop Tony Wills?”

“And a hundred twenty-five yards in his nine pass receptions. It's no wonder that they call this kid the Franchise.”

“Plus his doctorate from Oxford University.” The color man laughed. “Academic All-American, Rhodes Scholar, the man who singlehandedly put Northwestern University back on the map with two trips to the Rose Bowl. You suppose he's faster than a speeding bullet?”

“We'll find out. That rookie middle linebacker for the Chargers, Maxim Bradley, is the best thing I've seen since Dick Butkus came out of Illinois, the best middle linebacker Alabama ever turned out — and that's the school of Leroy Jordan, Cornelius Bennett, and quite a few other all-pros. They don't call him the Secretary of Defense for nothing.” It was already the biggest joke in the NFL, referring to the team owner, Dennis Bunker, the real SecDef.

“Tim, I think we got us a ball game!”

“I should be there,” Brent Talbot observed. “Dennis is.”

“If I tried to keep him away from his games, he'd resign,” President Fowler said. “Besides, he used his own plane.” Dennis Bunker owned his own small jet, and though he allowed others to fly him around, he still maintained a current commercial pilot's license. It was one of the reasons the military respected him. He could try his hand at almost anything that flew, having once been a distinguished combat flyer.

“What's the spread on this one?”

“Vikings by three,” the President answered. “That's just because of the home field. The teams are pretty even. I saw Wills against the Falcons last week. He's some kid.”

“Tony's all of that. A wonderful boy. Smart, marvelous attitude, spends a lot of time with kids.”

“How about we get him to be a spokesman for the anti-drug campaign?”

“He already does that in Chicago. I can call him if you want.”

Fowler turned. “Do it, Brent.”

Behind them Pete Connor and Helen D'Agustino relaxed on a couch. President Fowler knew them both to be football fans, and the President's TV room was large and comfortable.

“Anybody want a beer?” Fowler asked. He could not watch a ballgame without a beer.

“I'll get it,” D'Agustino said, heading for the refrigerator in the next room. It was the most curious thing about this most complex of men, “Daga” thought to herself. The man looked, dressed, walked, and acted like a patrician. He was a genuine intellectual, with the arrogance to match. But in front of a TV watching a football game — Fowler only watched baseball when his presidential duties required it — he was Joe Six-Pack, with a bowl of popcorn and a glass of beer, or two, or three. Of course, even here, his “anybody want a beer?” was a command. His bodyguards could not drink on duty, and Talbot never touched the stuff. Daga got herself a Diet Coke.

“Thank you,” Fowler said, when she handed the glass to her President. He was even more polite at football games. Perhaps, D'Agustino thought, because it was something he and his wife had done. She hoped that was true. It gave the man the humanity that he needed above all things.

“Wow! Bradley hit Wills hard enough that we heard it up here.” On the screen, both men got up and traded what looked like an emotional exchange but was probably a mutual laugh.

“Might as well get acquainted fast, Tim. They'll be seeing a lot of each other. Second and seven from the thirty-one, both teams just getting loosened up. That Bradley's a smart linebacker. He played off the center and filled the hole like he knew what was coming.”

“He certainly reads his keys well for a rook, and that Viking center made the Pro Bowl last year,” the color guy pointed out.

“Great ass on that Bradley kid,” Daga pointed out quietly.

“This women's lib stuff is going too far, Helen,” Pete said with a grin. He shifted positions on the couch to get his service revolver out of his kidney.

Günther Bock and Marvin Russell stood on the sidewalk just outside the White House grounds among a crowd of a hundred or so tourists, most of whom aimed cameras at the executive mansion. They'd arrived in the city the previous evening, and tomorrow they'd tour the Capitol. Both wore ballcaps to protect them from what still felt like a summer sun. Bock had a camera draped around his neck on a Mickey Mouse strap. He snapped a few photos, mainly to blend in with the rest of the tourists. The real observations came from his trained mind. This was a much harder target than people realized. The buildings around the White House were all large enough that sharpshooters were provided with excellent perches concealed by the stonework. He knew that he was probably under surveillance right now, but they couldn't have the time or money to compare his likeness to every photo they had on their books, and he'd taken the trouble to alter his appearance enough to dispense with that worry.

The President's helicopter flew in and landed only a hundred meters from where he stood. A man with a man-portable SAM might stand a good chance of taking it out — except for the practical considerations. To be there at the right time was much harder than it seemed. The ideal way would be to have a small truck, perhaps one with a hole cut in the roof so that the missileer could stand, fire, and attempt his escape. Except for the riflemen who certainly perched on the surrounding buildings, and Bock had no illusions that such snipers would miss their targets. Americans had invented snapshooting, and their President would have the services of the best. Doubtless some of the people in this crowd of tourists were also Secret Service agents, and it was unlikely that he'd spot them.

The bomb could be driven here and detonated in a truck… depending on the protective measures that Ghosn had warned him about. Similarly, he might be able to deliver the weapon by truck to the immediate vicinity of the Capitol Building, perhaps at the time of the President's State of the Union Address… if the weapon were ready on time. That they weren't sure of, and there was also the question of shipping it here — three weeks, it would take. Latakia to Rotterdam, then transshipment to an American port. Baltimore was the closest major port. Norfolk/Newport News was next. Both handled lots of containerized shipping. They could fly it in, but airborne cargo was often X-rayed, and they could not risk that.

The idea was to catch the President on a weekend. It almost had to be a weekend for everything else to work. Everything else. Bock knew that he was violating one of his most important operational precepts — simplicity. But for this to have a chance of working, he had to arrange more than one incident, and he had to do it on a weekend. But the American President was only in the White House about half the time on weekends, and his movements between Washington, Ohio, and other places were unpredictable. The simplest security measure available to the President of the United States was the one they used: his movement schedule, as well-known as it might have been, was irregular and its precise details were often closely held. Bock needed at least a week's lead-time to set up his other arrangements — and that was optimistic — but it would be nearly impossible to get that seven days. It would actually have been easier to plan a simple assassination with conventional weapons. A small aircraft, for example, might be armed with SA-7 missiles… probably not. The President's helicopter undoubtedly had the best infra-red jammers available…

One chance. You get only one chance.

What if we are patient? What if we simply sit on the bomb for a year and bring it into the country for the next State of the Union speech? Getting the bomb close enough to the Capitol Building to destroy it and everyone in it should not be hard. He'd heard — and would see tomorrow — that the Capitol was a building of classical construction — lots of stone, but little structural ironwork… perhaps all they needed was patience.

But that wouldn't happen. Qati would not allow it. There was both the question of security, and the more important consideration that Qati thought himself a dying man, and dying men were not known for their patience.

And would it work in any case? How well did the Americans guard the areas where the President's presence was predictable well in advance? Were their radiological sensors in the area?

You'd put them there, wouldn't you?

Only one chance. You'll never be able to repeat this.

At least one week's advance notice, or you'll never achieve anything beyond mass murder.

Must be a place without the likely presence of radiological sensors. That eliminated Washington.

Bock started walking away from the black iron fence. His face did not betray the anger he felt.

“Back to the hotel?” Russell asked.

“Yes, why not?” Both men were still tired from their traveling anyway.

“Good, wanted to catch the ballgame. You know, that's about the only thing Fowler and I see eye to eye on?”

“Humph? What's that?”

“Football.” Russell laughed. “You know? Football. Okay, I'll teach it t'ya.”

Fifteen minutes later, they were in their rooms. Russell switched the TV to the local NBC channel.

“That was some drive, Tim. The Vikings had to convert six third downs, and two of them required measurements.”

“And one was a bad spot,” President Fowler said.

“Ref didn't think so.” Talbot chuckled.

They're holding Tony Wills to barely three yards a carry, and one of those was his twenty-yard break on the reverse that caught the Chargers napping."

“A lot of work for three points, Tim, but they did get the three.”

“And now the Chargers get their chance at offense. The Vikings defense is a little iffy, with two of their starters out with minor injuries. I bet they're sorry to miss this one.”

The Chargers' quarterback took his first snap, faded back five steps and hurled the ball towards his flanker, slanting across the middle, but a hand tipped the ball, and it ended up in the surprised face of the Vikings' free safety, who pulled it in and fell at the forty.

Bock found the game exciting in a distant sort of way, but almost totally incomprehensible. Russell tried to explain, but it didn't really help very much. Günther consoled himself with a beer, stretching out on the bed while his mind rolled over what he'd seen. Bock knew what he wanted his plan to accomplish, but the exact details — especially here in America — were looking harder than expected. If only—

“What was that they said?”

“The Secretary of Defense,” Russell answered.

“A joke?”

Marvin turned. “Sort of a joke. That's what they call the middle linebacker, Maxim Bradley, from the University of Alabama. But the real one owns the team. Dennis Bunker — there he is.” The camera showed Bunker in one of the stadium's sky-boxes.

How remarkable, Bock thought.

“What is this Superbowl they talked about?”

“That's the championship game. They have a playoff series of the most successful teams, and the last one is called the Superbowl.”

“Like the World Cup, you mean?”

“Yeah, something like that. 'Cept we do it every year. This year — actually next year, end of January — it's in the new stadium they built at Denver. The Skydome, I think they call it.”

“They expect these two teams to go there?”

Russell shrugged. “That's the talk. The regular season is sixteen weeks, man, then three weeks of playoffs, then another week wait for the Superbowl.”

“Who goes to this last game?”

“Lots of people. Hey, man, it's the game. Everybody wants to go to it. Getting tickets is a mother. These two teams are the best to go all the way, but it's real unpredictable, y'know?”

“President Fowler is a football enthusiast?”

“That's what they say. He's supposed to go to a lot of Redskin games right here in D.C.”

“What about security?” Bock asked.

"It's tough. They put him in one of the special boxes.

Figure they have it rigged with bulletproof glass or something."

How very foolish, Bock thought. Of course, a stadium was easier to secure than it might seem to the casual observer. A heavy crew-served weapon could only be fired from an entrance ramp, and watching those was relatively easy. On the other hand…

Bock closed his eyes. He was thinking in an unorganized way, vacillating between conventional and unconventional approaches to the problem. He was also allowing himself to focus on the wrong thing. Killing the American President was desirable, but not essential. What was essential was to kill the largest number of people in the most spectacular way imaginable, then to coordinate with other activities in order to foment…

Think! Concentrate on the real mission.

“The television coverage for these games is most impressive,” Bock observed after a minute.

“Yeah, they make a big deal of that. Satellite vans, all that stuff.” Russell was concentrating on the game. The Vikings had scored something called a touchdown, and the score was now ten to nothing, but it seemed now that the other team was moving rapidly in the other direction.

“Has the game ever been seriously disrupted?”

Marvin turned. “Huh? Oh, during the war with Iraq, they had really tight security — and you remember the movie, right?”

“Movie?” Bock asked.

“Black Sunday, I think it was — some Middle East guys tried to blow up the place.” Russell laughed. “Already been done, man. In Hollywood, anyway. They used a blimp. Anyway, during the Superbowl when we were fighting Iraq, they wouldn't let the TV blimp come near the place.”

“Is there a game at Denver today?”

“No, that's tomorrow night, Broncos and the Seahawks. Won't be much of a game. The Broncos are rebuilding this year.”

“I see.” Bock left the room and arranged for the concierge to get them tickets to Denver in the morning.

Cathy got up to see him off. She even fixed breakfast. Her solicitude over the past few days had not made her husband feel any better. Quite the reverse. But he couldn't say anything about it, could he? Even the way she overdid it, straightening his tie and kissing him on the way out the door. The smile, the loving look, all for a husband who couldn't get it up, Jack thought on his way out to the car. The same sort of smothering attention you might give to some poor bastard in a wheelchair.

“Morning, Doc.”

“Hello, John.”

“Catch the Vikings-Chargers game yesterday?”

“No, I, uh, took my son to see the Orioles. They lost six to one.” Success was following Jack everywhere, but at least he'd kept his word to his son. That was something, wasn't it?

Twenty-four to twenty-one in overtime. God, that Wills kid is incredible. They held him to ninety-six yards, but when he had to deliver, he popped it for twenty yards and set up the field goal," Clark reported.

“You have money on the game?”

“Five bucks at the office, but it was a three-point spread. The education fund won that one.”

It gave Ryan something to chuckle about. Gambling was as illegal at CIA as it was in every other government office, but a serious attempt to enforce a ban on football betting might have started a revolution — the same was true at the FBI, Jack was sure, which enforced interstate gambling statutes — and the semi-official system was that half-point betting spreads were not allowed. All “pushes” (odds-caused ties) forfeited into the Agency's in-house charity, the Education Aid Fund. It was something that even the Agency's own Inspector General winked at — in fact, he liked to lay money on games as much as the next guy.

“Looks like you at least got some sleep, Jack,” Clark noted, as they made their way towards Route 50.

“Eight hours,” Jack said. He'd wanted another chance the previous night, but Cathy had said no. You're too tired, Jack. That's all it is. You're working too hard, and I want you to take it easy, okay?

Like I'm a goddamned stud horse that's been overworked.

“Good for you,” Clark said. “Or maybe your wife insisted, eh?”

Ryan stared ahead at the road. “Where's the box?”


Ryan unlocked it and started looking at the weekend's dispatches.

They caught an early direct flight from Washington National to Denver's Stapleton International. It was a clear day most of the way across the country, Bock got a window seat and looked at the country, his first time in America. As with most Europeans, he was surprised, almost awed by the sheer size and diversity. The wooded hills of Appalachia; the flat farmlands of Kansas, speckled with the immense circular signature of the traveling irrigation systems; the stunning way the plains ended and the Rockies began within easy sight of Denver. No doubt Marvin would say something when they arrived about how this had all been the property of his people. What rubbish. They'd been nomadic barbarians, following the herds of bison, or whatever had once been there before civilization arrived. America might be his enemy, but it was a civilized country, and all the more dangerous for it. By the time the aircraft landed, he was squirming with his need for a smoke. Ten minutes after landing, they'd rented a car and were examining a map. Bock's head was dizzy from the lack of oxygen here. Nearly fifteen hundred meters of altitude, he realized. It was a wonder that people could play American football here.

They'd landed behind the morning rush hour, and driving to the stadium was simple. Southwest of the city, the new Skydome was a distinctive structure located on an immense plot of ground to allow ample room for parking. He parked the car close to a ticket window and decided that the simple approach would be best.

“Can I get two tickets for tonight's match?” he asked the attendant.

“Sure, we have a few hundred left. Where do you want them?”

“I don't know the stadium at all, I'm afraid.”

“You must be new here,” the lady observed with a friendly smile. “All we got's in the upper deck, Section Sixty-Six and Sixty-Eight.”

“Two, please. Is cash all right?”

“Sure is. Where are you from?”

“Denmark,” Bock replied.

“Really? Well, welcome to Denver! Hope you enjoy the game.”

“Can I look around to see where my seat is?”

“Technically, no, but nobody really minds.”

Thank you." Bock smiled back at the simpering fool.

They had seats for tonight?“ Marvin Russell asked. ”I'll be damned."

“Come, we will see where they are.”

Bock walked through the nearest open gate, just a few meters from the big ABC vans that carried the satellite equipment for the evening broadcast. He took the time to notice that the stadium was hard-wired for the equipment. So, the TV vans would always be in the same place, just by Gate 5. Inside, he saw a team of technicians setting up their equipment, then he headed up the nearest ramp, deliberately heading in the wrong direction.

The stadium had to seat sixty thousand people, perhaps a little more. It had three primary levels, called lower, mezzanine, and upper, plus two complete ranks of enclosed boxes, some of which looked quite luxurious. Structurally, it was quite impressive. Massive reinforced-concrete construction, all the upper decks were cantilevered. There were no pillars to block a spectator's view. A fine stadium. A superb target. Beyond the parking lot to the north were endless hectares of low-rise apartment buildings. To the east was a government office center. The stadium was not in the city center, but that couldn't be helped. Bock found and took his seat, orienting himself with the compass and the TV equipment. The latter was quite easy. An ABC banner was being hung below one of the press boxes.


“Yes?” Bock looked down at a security guard.

“You're not supposed to be here.”

“Sorry.” He held up his tickets. “I just bought them, and I wanted to see where my seats were, so that I would know where to park. I've never seen an American football game,” he added, heavy on the accent. Americans, he'd heard, were always nice to people with European accents.

“You want to park in Area A or B. Try to arrive early, like before five. You want to beat the rush-hour traffic. It can be a bear out there.”

Günther bobbed his head. “Thank you. I'll be leaving now.”

“No problem, sir. It's no big deal. I mean, it's the insurance, y'know? You have people wandering around, they might get hurt and sue.”

Bock and Russell left. They circled the bottom level, just so that Günther could be sure he had the configuration memorized. Then that became unnecessary when he found a stadium diagram printed on a small card.

“Seen what you wanted?” Marvin asked, when they got back to the car.

“Yes, possibly.”

“You know, that's pretty subtle,” the American mused aloud.

“What do you mean?”

“Dickin' with the TV. The really dumb thing about revolutionaries is that they overlook the psychological stuff. You don't have to kill a lot of people, just pissin' them off, scarin' them, that's enough, isn't it?”

Bock stopped at the parking-lot exit and looked at his companion. “You have learned much, my friend.”

“This is pretty hot stuff,” Ryan said, leafing through the pages.

“I didn't know it was that bad,” Mary Patricia Foley agreed.

“How are you feeling?”

The senior field officer's eyes twinkled. “Clyde has dropped. Waiting for my water to break.”

Jack looked up. “Clyde?”

“That's what I'm calling him — her — whatever.”

“Doing your exercises?”

“Rocky Balboa should be in the shape I'm in. Ed's got the nursery all painted up. The crib is put back together. All ready, Jack.”

“How much time will you be taking off?”

“Four weeks, maybe six.”

“I may want you to go over some of this at home,” Ryan said, lingering on page two.

“Long as you pay me,” Mary Pat laughed.

“What do you think, MP?”

“I think SPINNAKER is the best source we have. If he says it, it's probably true.”

“We haven't caught a whiff of this anywhere else…”

“That's why you recruit good penetration agents.”

“True,” Ryan had to agree.

The report from Agent SPINNAKER wasn't quite earth-shaking, but it was like the first rumble that got people worrying about a major quake. Since the Russians had taken the cork out of the bottle, the Soviet Union had developed an instant case of political schizophrenia. Wrong term, Ryan reflected. Multiple-personality disorder, perhaps. There were five identifiable political areas: the true-believing communists, who thought that any divergence from the True Path was a mistake (the Forward-to-the-Past crowd, some called them); the progressive socialists who wanted to create socialism with a human face (something that had singularly failed in Massachusetts, Jack thought wryly); the middle-of-the-roaders, who wanted some free-market capitalism, backed up with a solid safety net (or craved the worst of both worlds, as any economist could say); the reformists, who wanted a thin net and a lot of capitalism (but no one knew what capitalism was yet, except for a rapidly expanding criminal sector); and on the far right, those who wanted a right-wing authoritarian government (which was what had put Communism in place over seventy years before). The groups on the extreme ends of the spectrum had perhaps 10 percent each in the Congress of People's Deputies. The remaining 80 percent of the votes were fairly evenly split among the three vaguely centrist positions. Naturally enough, various issues scrambled allegiances — environmentalism was particularly hot and divisive — and the biggest wild card was the incipient breakup of the republics that had always chafed under Russian rule, all the more so because of the political coda imposed from Moscow. Finally, each of the five groupings had its own political subsets. For example, there was currently a lot of talk from the political right of inviting the most likely Romanov heir-presumptive back to Moscow — not to take over, but merely to accept a semiofficial apology for the murder of his ancestors. Or so the cover story went. Whoever had come up with that idea, Jack thought, was either the most naive son of a bitch since Alice went down the rabbit hole or a politician with a dangerously simplistic mind-set. The good news, CIA's Station Paris reported, was that the Prince of all the Russias had a better feel for politics and his own safety than his sponsors did.

The bad news was that the political and economic situation in the Soviet Union looked utterly hopeless. SPINNAKER 's report merely made it look more ominous. Andrey Il'ych Narmonov was desperate, running out of options, running out of allies, running out of ideas, running out of time, and running out of maneuvering room. He was, the report said, overly concerned with his waffling on the nationalities problem, to the point that he was trying to strengthen his hold on the security apparatus — MVD, KGB, and the military — so that he could keep the empire together by force. But the military, SPINNAKER said, was both unhappy with that mission, and unhappy with the halfhearted way Narmonov planned to implement it.

There had been speculation about the Soviet military and its supposed political ambitions since the time of Lenin. It wasn't new. Stalin had taken a scythe through his officer corps in the late 1930s; it was generally agreed that Marshal Tukhashevskiy had not really posed a political threat, that it had been yet another case of Stalin's malignant paranoia. Khrushchev had done the same in the late '50s, but without the mass executions; that had been done because Khrushchev had wanted to save money on tanks and depend on nuclear arms instead. Narmonov had retired quite a few generals and colonels also; in this case, the move had been exclusively one of economizing on military expense across the board. But this time also, the military reductions had been accompanied by a political renaissance. For the first time there was a true political opposition movement in the country, and the fact of the matter was that the Soviet Army had all the guns. To counter that worrisome possibility, the KGB's Third Chief Directorate had existed for generations — KGB officers who wore military uniforms and whose mission it was to keep an eye on everything. But the Third Chief Directorate was a mere shadow of what it had been. The military had persuaded Narmonov to remove it, as a precondition to its own goal of a truly professional force, loyal to the country and the new constitution.

Historians invariably deemed the age in which they lived to be one of transition. For once they were right, Jack thought. If this were not an age of transition, then it was hard to imagine what the hell was. In the case of the Soviets, they were poised between two political and economic worlds, teetering, not quite balanced, not quite sure which way they would go. And that made their political situation dangerously vulnerable to… what? Jack asked himself.

Damned near anything.

SPINNAKER said Narmonov was being pressured to make a deal with the military, which, he said, was part of the Forward-to-the-Past mob. Group One. The danger existed, he said, that the Soviet Union would revert to a quasi-military state that repressed its progressive elements; that Narmonov had lost his nerve.

“He says he's had one-on-one meetings with Andrey Il'ych,” Mary Pat pointed out. “Intel doesn't come any better than that.”

“Also true,” Jack replied. “It is worrisome, isn't it?”

“I'm not really concerned about a reversion to Marxist rule… What worries me—”

“Yeah, I know. Civil war.” Civil war in a country with thirty thousand nuclear warheads. There's a cheery thought.

“Our position has been to cut Narmonov as much slack as he needs, but if our guy is right, that might be the wrong policy.”

“What's Ed think?”

“Same as me. We trust Kadishev. I recruited him. Ed and I have seen every report he's ever sent in. He delivers. He's smart, well placed, very perceptive, a ballsy son-of-a-gun. When's the last time he gave us bad stuff?”

“I don't know that he ever has,” Jack replied.

“Neither do I, Jack.”

Ryan leaned back in his chair. “Christ, I just love these easy calls… I don't know, MP. The time I met Narmonov… that is one tough, smart, agile son-of-a-bitch. He's got real brass ones.” Jack stopped. More than you can say for yourself, boy.

“We all have our limitations. Even the brass ones go soft.” Mrs. Foley smiled. “Oops, wrong metaphor. People run out of steam. Stress, hours, time in the saddle. Reality grinds us all down. Why do you think I'm taking time off? Being pregnant gives me a great excuse. Having a newborn isn't exactly a picnic, but I get a month or so of the fundamentals, real life instead of the stuff we do here every day. That's one advantage we have over men, doc. You guys can't break away like we women can. That may be Andrey Il'ych's problem. Who can he turn to for advice? Where can he go for help? He's been there a long time. He's dealing with a deteriorating situation, and he's running out of gas. That's what SPINNAKER tells us, and it is consistent with the facts.”

“Except that we haven't heard anything like this from anyone else.”

“But he's our best guy for the inside stuff.”

“Which completes the circularity of the argument, Mary Pat.”

“Doc, you have the report, and you have my opinion,” Mrs. Foley pointed out.

“Yes, ma'am.” Jack set the document on his desk.

“What are you going to tell them?” “Them” was the top row of the executive branch: Fowler, Elliot, Talbot.

“I guess I go with your evaluation. I'm not entirely comfortable with it, but I don't have anything to counter your position with. Besides, the last time I went against you, turned out I was the one who blew the call.”

“You know, you're a pretty good boss.”

“And you're pretty good at letting me down easy.”

“We all have bad days,” Mrs. Foley said, as she got awkwardly to her feet. “Let me waddle back to my office.”

Jack rose also and walked to open the door for her. “When are you due?”

She smiled back at him. “October thirty-first — Halloween, but I'm always late, and they're always big ones.”

“You take care of yourself.” Jack watched her leave, then walked in to see the Director.

“You'd better look this over.”

“Narmonov? I heard another SPINNAKER came in.”

“You heard right, sir.”

“Who's doing the write-up?”

“I will,” Jack said. “I want to do some cross-checking first, though.”

“I go down tomorrow. I'd like to have it then.”

“I'll have it done tonight.”

“Good. Thanks, Jack.”

This is the place, Günther told himself halfway into the first quarter. The stadium accommodated sixty-two thousand seven hundred twenty paying fans. Bock figured another thousand or so people selling snacks and beverages. The game was not supposed to be an important one, but it was clear that Americans were as serious about their football as Europeans were. There was a surprising number of people with multi-colored paint on their faces — the local team colors, of course. Several were actually stripped to the waist and had their chests painted up like football sweaters, complete with the huge numbers the Americans used. Various exhortatory banners hung from the rails at the front of the upper decks. There were women on the playing field selected for their dancing ability and other physical attributes, leading the fans in cheers. Bock learned about a curious kind of demonstration called The Wave.

He also learned about the sovereignty of American television. This large raucous crowd meekly accepted stoppage of the game so that ABC could intersperse the play with commercials — that would have started a riot in the most civilized European soccer crowd. TV was even used to regulate play. The field was littered with referees in striped shirts, and even they were supervised by cameras and, Russell pointed out, another official whose job it was to look at videotape recordings of every play and rule on the rightness or wrongness of every official ruling on the field. And to supervise that, two enormous TV screens made the same replays visible to the crowd. If all that had been tried in Europe, there would have been dead officials and fans at every game. The combination of riotous enthusiasm and meek civilization here was remarkable to Bock. The game was less interesting, though he saw Russell genuinely enjoyed it. The ferocious violence of American football was broken by long periods of inactivity. The occasional flaring of tempers was muted by the fact that each player wore enough protective equipment as to require a pistol to inflict genuine harm. And they were so big. There could hardly be a man down there under a hundred kilos. It would have been easy to call them oafish and awkward, but the running backs and others demonstrated speed and agility that one might never have guessed. For all that, the rules of the game were incomprehensible. Bock had never been one to enjoy sporting contests anyway. He'd played soccer as a boy, but that was far in his past.

Günther returned his attention to the stadium. It was a massive and impressive structure with its arching steel roof. The seats had rudimentary cushions. There was an adequate number of toilets, and a massive collection of concession stands, most serving weak American beer. A total of sixty-five thousand people here, counting police, concessionaires, TV technicians. Nearby apartments… He realized that he'd have to educate himself on the effects of nuclear weapons to come up with a proper estimate of expected casualties. Certainly a hundred thousand. Probably more. Enough. He wondered how many of these people would be here. Most, perhaps. Sitting in their comfortable chairs, drinking their cold, weak beer, devouring their hot dogs and peanuts. Bock had been involved in two aircraft incidents. One airliner blown out of the sky, another attempted hijacking that had not gone well at all. He'd fantasized at the time about the victims, sitting in comfortable chairs, eating their mediocre meals, watching their in-flight movie, not knowing that their lives were completely in the control of others whom they did not know. Not knowing. That was the beauty of it, how he could know and they could not. To have such control over human life. It was like being God, Bock thought, his eyes surveying the crowd. A particularly cruel and unfeeling God, to be sure, but history was cruel and unfeeling, wasn't it?

Yes, this was the place.


“Commodore, I have real trouble believing that,” Ricks said as evenly as he could manage. He was tanned and refreshed from his trip to Hawaii. He'd stopped in at Pearl Harbor while there, of course, to look over the sub base and dream about having command of Submarine Squadron One. That was a fast-attack squadron, but if a fast-attack guy like Mancuso could take over a boomer squadron, then surely turn-about was fair play.

“Dr. Jones is a really good man,” Bart Mancuso replied.

“I don't doubt it, but our own people have been over the tapes.” It was normal operating procedure and had been so for more than thirty years. Tapes from missile-sub patrols were always examined by a team of experts on shore as a back-check to the sub's crew. They wanted to make sure that no one might have been trailing a missile boat. “This Jones guy was one hell of a sonar operator, but now he's a contractor, and he has to justify his fees somehow, doesn't he? I'm not saying he's dishonest. It's his job to look for anomalies, and in this case what he did was to string a bunch of coincidences into a hypothesis. That's all there is here. The data is equivocal — hell, the data is almost entirely speculative — but the bottom line is that for this to be true, you have to assume that the same crewmen who tracked a 688 were unable to detect a Russian boat at all. Is that plausible?”

“That's a good point, Harry. Jones doesn't say that it's certain. He gives it a one-in-three chance.”

Ricks shook his head. “I'd say one in a thousand, and that's being generous.”

“For what it's worth, Group agrees with you, and I had some people from OP-02, here three days ago who said the same thing.”

So, why are we having this conversation? Ricks wanted to ask, but couldn't. “The boat was checked for noise on the way out, right?”

Mancuso nodded. “Yep, by a 688 right out of overhaul, all the bells and whistles.”


“And she's still a black hole. The attack boat lost her at a range of three thousand yards at five knots.”

“So how are we writing it up?” Ricks asked, as casually as he could manage. This was going into his record, and that made it important.

It was Mancuso's turn to squirm. He hadn't decided. The bureaucrat part of him said that he'd done everything right. He'd listened to the contractor, booted the data up the chain of command to Group, to Force, and to the Pentagon experts. Their analysis had all been negative: Dr. Jones was being overly paranoid. The problem was that Mancuso had sailed with Jones for three very good years in USS Dallas, and had never known him to make a bad call. Never. Not once. That Akula had been somewhere out there in the Gulf of Alaska. From the time the P-3 patrol aircraft had lost her to the moment she'd appeared outside her base, the Admiral Lunin had just fallen off the planet. Where had she been? Well, if you drew speed/time circles, it was possible that she'd been in Maine's patrol area, possible that she'd left Maine at the proper time and made homeport at the proper time. But it was also possible — and very damned likely — that she'd never been in the same area as the American missile sub. Maine hadn't detected her, and neither had Omaha. How likely was it that a Russian sub could have evaded detection by both top-of-the-line warships?

Not very.

“You know what worries me?” Mancuso asked.

“What's that?”

“We've been in the missile-sub business for over thirty years. We've never been tracked in deep water. When I was XO on Hammerhead, we ran exercises against Georgia and had our heads handed to us. I never tried tracking an Ohio whe