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Authors: Doug Beason

Tags: #Science Fiction, #nuclear, #terrorist, #president, #war, #navy, #middle east

Return to Honor (9 page)

BOOK: Return to Honor
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They continued with the checklist. Reaching twenty thousand feet, they took a short break.

“Take her on up to thirty-eight, and call for some coffee.”

“Rog.” Laynam rang for the stewards.

After some moments, Hujr entered the flight deck, dressed in Yoli Aquinaldo’s high-collared white steward’s uniform. Hujr didn’t speak as he carried steaming two mugs.

McGirney twisted in his seat and grabbed the coffee with both hands. He glanced at the steward, then at the name tag. He frowned. He thought he’d met this guy before, but he must have been mistaken.
All these Filipinos look alike
, he thought. The only ones he recognized were the regulars on his flight; he couldn’t tell if he’d met this man the other day or not. “Thanks … and keep this filled for me.” He turned back to the front, dismissing the steward.

Do’brai

General Fariq Kamil smiled. Today was a good day. A
grand
day, indeed. He hadn’t felt this good since President Ash’ath had appointed him general and entrusted him with the day-to-day running of the Do’brainese militia.

Kamil nodded to his colleague Ghazzali, sitting and enjoying the thought of the coming coup as much as he was. Kamil leaned over and belched noisily, wiping his mouth with a sleeve, and spoke to the
sahib.

“I have just been notified that the first planeload of your lieutenants has landed.”

“Lieutenants?” Ghazzali bit into a fruit and swallowed before continuing. He leaned back against soft pillows, looking content.
“Aides
would be a better word than lieutenants—lieutenant
connotes a military operation.”

“Which, of course, you have nothing to do with. The point is well taken. For if the military can divorce itself from this affair, then this could only be seen as a popular mandate of the people, something that occurred spontaneously. It must never get out that the Do’brai militia is backing the ALH in this venture. We have too many ties with the West that cannot be broken.

“In fact, your, ah,
aides
must not know that President Ash’ath is connected to this affair, or that I am.” Kamil reached for a fruit and inspected it. He put the fruit down. “Still, the recognition that the ALH will gain will be astronomical. And once your aides arrive, then we will provide you adequate transportation to Kapuir.”

“And the news media?”

“They were reluctant at first. They did not believe that this event would actually warrant a live telecast.” Kamil brushed a crumb from his uniform and took a bite of his fruit. “But I was able to guarantee Al Jazeera and the US networks that it would be worth their while.”

“You did not let them know why we wanted the live telecast, did you?”

“No, no—of course not. Why should I do that when the western media cannot even keep their own state secrets quiet? I used a middleman and simply made them understand that His Excellency would pay for the cost of setting up their equipment and their plane fares if this did not prove to be the—uh—
scoop,
they call it—that we promised.”

Ghazzali chuckled. He settled back and refused the water pipe that was offered him. He said, “Hujr ibn-Adi will bring us glory within two days. With this as a catalyst, the
’Ad
will rise to their prophesy.”

Kamil took another bite of his fruit and narrowed his eyes. “You are that positive he will succeed?”

“Oh, I am certain of it. He is not yet ready to die a martyr.”

“But can he be trusted?”

Ghazzali raised an eyebrow. “He will never put his own gains above the ALH. Although Hujr works for your money, his loyalty is pledged to me. Rest assured, General—even if Hujr fails miserably in his task, Do’brai will never be linked with his actions.”

General Kamil tapped his fingers together. “Then it is done.” He pushed himself up; the entire chamber seemed to step back at his presence. “I will rest. I suggest you do the same. The next few days will be hectic.” The bare hint of a suggestion hung in the air.

“I am with my own kind now, Fariq. Thank you, but I will remain with them until we leave.”

“As you wish.” Kamil strode from the room, turning as he left to catch the eye of one of the female attendants. That’s a new one, he thought. A young, unmarred body …

He nodded to the Hajib guarding the door and said, “Have your new help—that one over there—join me in my quarters. I will expect her soon.”

As the general left the room an almost audible sigh of relief came from those attendants whom he had not noticed.

Mid-Atlantic

President Montoya sat in the cushioned seat at the back of the plane. The oval bed that had accompanied the previous president on board Air Force One had been removed during the last administration. The moral high ground was broken when a reporter mistakenly opened the door to the presidential bedroom and found the Vice President in bed with her Secret Service escort. After that fiasco, no matter how much the press corps was sworn to secrecy, it was soon realized that the bed was an open invitation for debauchery. Not that the presidential rest rooms were free of fooling around, but the tone had been set three years ago, and Sandoval Montoya was paying for it now.

The sweep-winged Boeing 777 was comfortable enough in flight, but it would have been better if he could stretch out and lie down. The floor proved to be too hard, so his thickly cushioned chair would just have to do.

A tap at the door brought Montoya back from his meandering. He stretched and tucked in his shirt before answering, “What is it?”

“A snack, Mr. President.”

“Bring it in.” He swung his feet down from the footrest and straightened in the chair. A Filipino steward backed into the chamber, pulling a cart laden with food and drink. The steward stopped just short of the President and moved the place settings around so that the President could eat.

After the steward positioned the tray, Montoya grunted his thanks and dove into the food; he hadn’t realized how hungry he was. The last few hours of poring over reports and upcoming scenarios of the talks had left him famished as well as exhausted. The one nice thing about such a long trip was the opportunity to catch up on a little rest and relaxation.

The steward waited for a moment before asking, “Is there anything else I can get you, sir?”

“Eh? No, there’s not.” Montoya dabbed at his mouth. He studied the steward, keeping a fork in his food. “By the way, I don’t think I’ve met you. You’re new to this, aren’t you?”

The steward looked startled. “Uh, yes, Mr. President, this is my first time on Air Force One. I am honored to meet you.”

“Likewise. What’s your name, young man?”

“Petty Officer Yoli Aquinaldo, sir.”

Montoya thought for a second. “I believe that a relative of yours was a very famous man. Do you happen to know who it is I’m thinking about?”

Hujr shook his head. “No, Mr. President. Aquinaldo is a pretty common name in the P.I.”

“I see. Well, it’s been nice meeting you. Good day.” Montoya turned back to his meal. When the steward didn’t leave, Montoya raised his eyes to the young man’s face and repeated, “I said, good day.”

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry sir.” Hujr backed out of the chamber, almost tripping over his feet. When the door shut, Montoya shook his head. Being President wasn’t that big of a deal to him any longer, but sometimes he forgot how people acted when they weren’t in constant contact with him.

Edwards Air Force Base, California

“I forgot to tell you thanks.”

“Uh?”

“I said thanks. For the other night.” Delores propped her face up with an elbow on the kitchenette table.

“Oh.” The TV blared in the other room, drowning out any conversation taking place in the cramped eating area; high-pitched screams from cartoon characters warbled into the room. The kitchenette was decorated with murals of experimental planes that had lived and died at the California testing ground. Gould leaned against a painting of an antique BELL X-l and sipped his coffee, pondering Delores’ statement.

Delores slipped her hand from her face and glanced at the door from where the television came. “I mean it. You didn’t have to tell those other guys to mind their own business.”

“I didn’t, did I?”

“Yes, in a way you did. And you were very gentlemanly, too.” She paused. “I didn’t expect it from you, if you want to know the truth.”

Gould put down his cup. “I don’t know how I should take that.”

“As a compliment.” She studied him for a moment, then squinted her eyes. “I’ve been trying to figure you out.”

“That makes two of us.” He waited for a moment, and when she didn’t answer, he said, “So what’s the problem?”

“I’m not sure. But I think I know.”

“Oh?” He put his cup down and grinned, then put his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair. “So, what’s the hot poop on me?”

Delores sighed, shaking her head. “You know, you’re really not a fighter jock, are you, Robert? No matter how much you try.”

“Me?” Gould tried to look incredulous.

“Yeah, you, hotshot. Look, those guys knew you were sticking up for me. If you were a
real
fighter pilot, you would have saved your ego first. Real fighter pilots couldn’t handle an attack on their ego.”

“Now wait just minute—” Gould’s ears reddened as he rocked forward in his chair, his emotions unfeigned this time.

Delores held up a hand. “Hear me out. You could have saved your ego, but you didn’t. So I’m impressed. You let me see a little of the real you through that macho image you fly-boys have to keep up. Now tell the truth. Are you really a fighter pilot, or are those rumors I’ve heard about you true?”

“What rumors?”

Delores looked coy. “Oh, I’m sure you’ve heard: how you’re really only a chopper pilot who couldn’t make the grade—you know, not a good enough stick to handle fighters. And why the only reason you got TAVs is because you’re the President’s long-lost cousin.…”

“Right—Gould is an Hispanic name.”

Delores shrugged.

“Does it matter?” said Gould.

“I don’t know. Does it?”

“You tell me.”

They stared at each other.

When Delores spoke, her voice was barely audible. “I guess it doesn’t.”

Things were definitely looking up for him. Now if he just wouldn’t blow it. Gould shifted his weight and said, “And you’re not keeping up that fighter-pilot image either.”

“I’m surprised it took you all these months to notice.” She shot a glance at the door and said softly, “Maybe there’s hope for you after all. We need to talk.”

“Okay. I’m open for it.”

“Later. Not now.”

Gould’s muscles sagged a bit; he forced a smile. “Promises, promises.” He picked up his coffee and took a sip. “Tell you what. After this alert, I’ll show you the damnedest restaurant this side of Tokyo. They serve their meals in a miniature fishing boat that actually fits on a table. You can eat everything on it but the wood.” He flashed another smile. “And you can even use the wood for toothpicks, if you want.”

She grinned back at him, obviously pleased. “Sounds great.
After
the alert.” She stood to leave.

Gould held up his hands. “Hey, I’m a Boy Scout.”

“Yeah. And I sleep with my door locked, too, hotshot.”

Chapter 6

1500 ZULU: FRIDAY, 7 SEPTEMBER

When you strike at a King, you must kill him.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Moscow, Russia

“CPO Yoli Aquinaldo, 483-68-7729.” Hujr presented the doctored ID card to the marine.

The marine inspected the green ID and grinned. “You can always tell the greenhorns.”

Hujr tensed slightly. “So sorry…?”

“Look, you remember me from Andrews?”

“Aih,
yes.” And Hujr wasn’t lying. The marine had almost frightened Hujr half to death back in the States when he had certified that, yes, Hujr’s face matched that on the military ID, and yes, Hujr could board Air Force One for the flight to Russia.

The red-haired marine handed the card back to Hujr. “And I remember you. There’s no way you would have gotten past all the checks at Andrews if you weren’t who you were supposed to be. Still, that’s why I’m here. I’m the last say on who gets in.”

“Oh.”

The marine punched Hujr lightly on the shoulder. “So loosen up, swabbie. I won’t bite your head off. By the way, the name’s Clements. Don Clements.”

“Yoli Aquinaldo.” Hujr quickly shook hands and forced a grin. He almost felt himself liking the husky man but quickly pushed the feeling from his mind.…he couldn’t take the chance of having any emotions interfering with what he had to do.

Hujr kept the grin plastered on his face and held up the bundle he carried, deciding to take a gamble. “How about this—do you need to inspect it, too?”

“I’m supposed to.” The marine shouldered his weapon and peered inside the package Hujr carried. “What the hell is it?” He squeezed, and the package gave a little.

“What you say, uncultured cheese. For the President’s nachos.”

The marine withdrew his hand. “Well, knock me over with a feather! You know, I haven’t had that since the last time we went overseas, about four months ago. Do you think you’ll be able to scare some up for me?”

“I will try. Maybe I’ll let you try it right before the President, so you can tell me what you think about it.”

“You don’t say. Well, hot diggity dog. You’ve got yourself a deal.” He slapped Hujr on the back. “Get to work then, Yoli-san.” He motioned for him to hurry into the plane.

Hujr’s grin stiffened as he entered Air Force One. “I will.”
naive yankee
, he thought. When the marine attached the Japanese honorific to Hujr’s assumed Filipino name, it was a dead giveaway that the marine lumped all foreigners in the same pot. It only stirred the tumult raging in Hujr’s stomach, intensifying his desire to accomplish his mission.

 

“We’re ready, Mr. President.”

“Eh?”

“The plane, Mr. President. Air Force One has received clearance to take off.” The aide stepped back from the table.

“Oh, of course.” President Montoya leaned forward in his seat and clasped his hands. He directed his remarks to the gray-haired gentleman sitting across from him. “President Akulov, I’m sorry to cut this short, but I’m afraid I’ve got to go. Schedule and all that to keep up with.”

BOOK: Return to Honor
6.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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