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Copyright © 2010 by John Barnes.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Barnes, John, 1957-
eISBN : 978-1-101-18629-9
1. United States—Officials and employees—Fiction. 2. Terrorism—Fiction. 3. Terrorism—Prevention—Fiction. 4. Regression (Civilization)—Fiction. 5. Political fiction. I. Title.
For Diane Talbot
All the days of the modern world begin at the International Date Line, in the middle of the Pacific. When it is midnight on the Date Line, the midnight that ended yesterday touches the midnight that begins tomorrow, and the whole world is in a single day.
October 28th was a date that would be known everywhere, forever; bigger than July 4th or 14th or 20th, bigger than December 7th or even 25th. As 12:00 A.M., October 28th, entered at the Date Line, nothing had happened yet, though many thousands of people, millions of machines, and billions of messages and ideas were already moving. When 11:59 P.M., October 28th, exited through the other side of the Date Line, the world had just tipped and begun to fall over into its new shape.
The Earth turned, rotating lands and seas in and out of shadow. October 28th was already old in northern New Guinea as it was just being born in Washington.SENTANI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, NEAR JAYAPURA, PAPUA PROVINCE. INDONESIA. 6:20 P.M. LOCAL TIME. OCTOBER 28.
Across the bay, darkness rushed into Jayapura. Vice President John Samuelson sighed and tried not to see that as a metaphor. From the window of the unmarked 787, where he had lived for more than a week, Jayapura was a tumble of white and gray below the craggy green mountains still lit by the setting sun. Lights were flickering on; he liked that metaphor better.
He hadn’t so much as dipped a toe in the bay, set a boot on the hills, or shaken a hand in the town. Not that it would have been better if he had. Jayapura was maybe the size of Akron, Ohio, but as a provincial capital in a Muslim country, it was never going to be known for its night life. He had been there, once, thirty years ago, when he was demonstrating his backpack-to-anywhere skills to Kim, during the wildly romantic couple of years when he worked his way up to proposing to her.
To be here today, he’d sacrificed twelve days of campaigning in the last month before the election. Might as well just have taken Kim to the Caribbean for swimming and sun.
No one even knew he was here.
“Mr. Vice President?” Carol Tattinger, his State Department minder, said, “The communications techs say that if you have a message for the President, we should record and send now; once we’re airborne, we’re under radio silence.”
The mission had been thrown together so suddenly that a replacement satellite uplink hadn’t been available for this plane; they were stuck with tight-beam microwave to the American consulate across the bay. Typical, Samuelson thought: The budget for peace was just never there.
Samuelson stood up, his head almost touching the ceiling, and said, “All right, let me wash my face and put on a jacket and tie. I guess we’ll have to do this.”
Tattinger nodded; as he had so many times in the last few days, Samuelson watched her for any trace of sympathy or understanding, and saw none. With her hair in a tight bun, and her slightly large, beaky nose, she reminded Samuelson of a cartoon witch.
A few minutes later, he took his seat in front of the camera. “Roger, you and I have been friends a long time and I’m going to be blunt. The mission is a failure. I think that’s ninety percent them, ten percent us. We’ve spent the past eight days in an impasse, and now we’re at the deadline you set. I’d ask for more time but it wouldn’t help.
“Per your orders, and monitored by your people from State, Defense, and Homeland Security, I have repeated our offer without modifications. They still have not responded.”
Specifically, he thought, they had said neither yes nor no, but talked endlessly of general principles, mixed with hints about what might be possible.
He did try to keep the reproach out of his voice. “In my opinion, if
could hold a more open-ended conversation with them, a deal might be within reach; but per your orders, I was only able to repeat our basic offer, and thus I can do absolutely nothing. Sorry, Roger, but I just don’t have a deal for us. We’ll be taking off in less than an hour, and I’ll see you when we get in. Good night, Mr. President.”
That was awfully brusque
. He decided against re-recording. Unlike most presidents and vice presidents, they were friends, and had been friends long before they took their present jobs. If this message pissed Pendano off, well, Samuelson had always been able to get Rog’s forgiveness.
Hell, give me a little more time, and probably
Martin Reeve, the Defense liaison, looked in. “Sir, I thought I’d let you know I’m sending a message concurring with you. I think we just didn’t have enough flex to have a dialog.”
Samuelson made a face. “Thanks for the support. I don’t suppose Tattinger agreed with you.”
Reeve lowered his voice. “Everyone at State frets about whether they’re firm enough. I wouldn’t read anything personal into it, any more than I would into your following Pendano’s orders, sir.”
“I suppose not. Well, anyway, this was a lot of time in the plane I’d rather not have spent.”
“I’ll be happy to get off the Batplane myself, sir.”
Samuelson felt childish pleasure in that nickname, which made him feel like one of the guys. The design of the 787, with so many curves, made it look sissy to military eyes, so it had a million nicknames like “the Batplane,” “the Deco-Wrecko,” and “the Melted Boomerang.” Men’s planes should look like darts or spears; grace was for girls.
Technically this Covert High Level Missions plane was Air Force Two, like any plane carrying the Vice President; the Boeing 787 Dreamliner that was usually Air Force Two was back in Washington, parked in plain sight. “You know,” Samuelson said, “I never heard our cover story for this plane’s being here at Sentani.”
Reeve had no expression. “There’s a rumor that this plane is carrying the mistress of the Sultan of Brunei, and those men who visit are setting up a deal to make her his heir.”
“Well, no wonder you couldn’t let me get off the plane. I’d look like shit in a wig and a dress.”
Reeve grinned. “I’m glad you understand the necessity, sir.”
“There’s something else I still don’t get.”
Another full day before I can just talk to Kim—I wonder . . .
“Once we’re in the air, we have long-range radio even though we don’t have satellite uplink; wouldn’t it still be encrypted?”
“Sure, but you don’t need to be able to read the messages to use a direction finder to track the plane. And because this mission is covert and they kept the allies out of it, we don’t have escort fighters till they can come out and meet us from Guam. Till then . . . well, till we have the escorts, shit could happen, sir, if you’ll pardon the expression.”
Samuelson smiled. “I’m acutely aware that shit can happen, Mr. Reeve.”
Reeve grimaced. “Once we have escorts, chances are it’ll be okay to call home if you need to.”
Maybe I can talk to Kim in a couple hours. I’d sure feel better.
Reeve looked over Samuelson’s shoulder. “What’s
about? We’ve already refueled and resupplied.”
A panel van was pulling up alongside the plane; they could hear the pilot talking to the tower.
Over the intercom, the pilot said, “Sir, it’s representatives from the opposite organization. They’re requesting permission to come aboard; they say their principals are offering to give you much of what you’ve asked for.”
Carol Tattinger and DeGrante, the usually silent man from Homeland Security, came in.
Samuelson said, “All right, instant input?”
Tattinger folded her arms across her chest and nodded. “When you negotiate with Middle Easterners, oftentimes they won’t reach for what’s on the table until you go to take it off. And doing it in the way that causes maximum hassle and inconvenience is very much in character. So this very well
Reeve said, “It’s up to you, sir.”
Usually DeGrante would just nod or say “Concur,” but this time he said, “I don’t like it. When I was a bodyguard, anything that moved suddenly in my peripheral vision was bad. That’s what this feels like. Maybe it’s just what Ms. Tattinger says, negotiating the way they do in their culture. But I want to say ‘Don’t.’ ”
“Noted,” Samuelson said, “and thank you for your candor. I’ll count that as a two-to-one vote unless you want to exercise your veto?”
“Not on just a hunch, sir. But since we couldn’t do a pat-down at the gate, would you let me frisk them at the door?”
“Yeah. There should be
penalty for this dumb last-second stunt. Frisk them at the door, and be
excessively gentle. If you piss them off, I’ll square it up. Just let me change pants, and we’ll get this thing going.”
“I’ll cue you when we’re ready,” Tattinger said. She and DeGrante went forward to talk to the pilot.
In his private compartment, Samuelson appreciated the last streaks of deep red sun over the rugged mountains to the west, then shuttered his windows;
mustn’t have any maintenance workers catching a glimpse of the Second Most Important Boxer Shorts In The Free World
. Red sky at night, supposed to be a good omen.