Authors: Dale Brown
Major General “Earthmover” Terrill
General Samson has been given a new portfolio by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffâturn Dreamland into the country's top spec warfare command. He will
itâno matter how many eggheads he has to break in the process.
Lieutenant Colonel Tecumseh “Dog” Bastian
Dreamland's former commander finds himself in an uncomfortable positionâunder General Samson.
Major Jeffrey “Zen” Stockard
A top fighter pilot until a crash at Dreamland left him a paraplegic, Zen is in charge of the Flighthawksâwhile still looking for a cure for his paralysis.
Captain Breanna “Rap” Stockard
Zen's wife has seen him through his injury and rehabilitation. But can she balance her love for her husband with the demands of her careerâ¦and ambitions?
Major Mack “the Knife” Smith
Mack Smith is the best pilot in the worldâand he'll tell you so himself. But getting ahead may mean taking a desk jobâ¦as Samson's chief of staff.
Captain Danny Freah
Danny commands Whiplashâthe ground attack team that works with the cutting edge Dreamland aircraft and high-tech gear.
The young deputy to the National Security Advisor is Dreamland's link to the President. Barely old enough to shave, the former science whiz kid now struggles to master the intricacies of world politics.
A CIA officer who has worked with Dreamland before, Stoner has been sent to Romania on a special assignmentâand now finds himself in the middle of much more than he bargained for.
Air Force High Technology Advanced
Weapons Center (Dreamland)
22 January 1998
0250 (all times local)
LACK SMOKE ENVELOPED THE FRONT OF THE
, shrouding the aircraft in darkness. Wind howled through the open escape hatches.
Lt. Colonel Tecumseh “Dog” Bastian was alone on the flight deck. The rest of the crew had already ejected. Now it was too late for him to get out.
The plane's electronic controls had been fried by an electromagnetic pulse. Dog struggled to control it using the sluggish hydraulic backups. The smoke was so thick he couldn't even see the control panel immediately in front of him.
He pulled back on the stick, but the aircraft didn't respond. Instead, the right wing began tipping upward, threatening to throw the plane into a spin. Dog fought against it, struggling with the controls. Then suddenly the blackness cleared and he could see the aircraft carrier below.
It was on fire, but was going to still launch a plane.
The plane he had to stop.
He leaned on the stick, trying to muscle the nose of his aircraft toward his target. He was moving at over five hundred knots, and he was low, through a thousand feet, yet there was time to see each detailâthe crew fueling the airplane, the sailors on the deck, the destroyer in the distanceâ¦.
I'm going to crash, he thought. This is it.
ASTIAN ROLLED OVER ONTO HIS BACK IN THE
bed, half awake, half still in the dream. His legs felt as if they had immense weights on them, pinned to earth by his oppressive unconscious.
The dream had been a nightmare, but it was more memory than invention. Dog had barely survived a similar encounter with the Chinese navy a week before. He'd been moments away from crashing into a carrier's flight deck to prevent the launch of a plane with a nuclear bomb when the Chinese finally stood down. He'd been flying the Megafortress on hydraulics, just like in the dream, and nearly lost control before pulling up so close he could have grabbed the ship's arrestor cables if he'd had the gear.
But the dream wasn't a perfect recreation of the incident either. It was better in some waysâless scary, not more. The billowing black smoke hadn't gotten in his way. There'd been antiaircraft fireâa lot of it. He couldn't see any people on the flight deck. And time certainly hadn't slowed down.
No, if anything, time had moved considerably faster than normal. Things had crowded together as he pushed the plane toward what he was sure would be his last moment.
But there was one element of the dream that was far darker than reality. He hadn't felt the fear he felt now, sitting up on the bed. He hadn't been afraid at allâhe'd been too focused to be afraid, too consumed by his duty.
If Dog's girlfriend, Jennifer Gleason, had been here with him, he would probably have rolled next to her and fallen back to sleep, relaxed by her warmth. But she was on the other side of the country, at a hospital in New York, recovering from an operation on her kneecap. There was nothing to keep him in bed now, not warmth, not habitâDog got up, flexing his shoulders against the stiffness of the night. The shadows of the room played tricks on his eyes, and he thought for a second that Jennifer was here after all. He saw the curve of her hip, the swell of her breast as she stood on
the threshold. But the shadows gave way to solid objects: her robe hanging over his on the hanger behind the door.
Dog pulled on his pants, then two sweatshirts, grabbed his boots and stepped outside in his socks.
The cold desert air smacked his face as he leaned up against the wall of the house to put on his boots. It was good to feel coldâhe'd been in the tropics and the Middle East so long he forgot what fifty degrees felt like, let alone 34 degrees.
Had it been a little later, Dog might have gone for a run. But it was too early for that, and besides, he wanted to
not run. Something about walking helped make his brain work.
He took short, easy steps up the path. By habit, he turned right, heading for the Taj Mahalâthe unofficial name of Dreamland's command buildingâmost of which was underground. After two steps he stopped, realizing he didn't want to go in that direction.
Dog no longer had an office at the Taj. In fact, he had no office at all, anywhere. A week ago he'd been commander of Dreamland, responsible not just for the base and its people, but for its many missions and, ultimately, its myriad programs. Now he was just a lieutenant colonel looking for a job, replaced as commander by a highly connected major general, Terrill Samson. The general had been assigned to bring Dreamland back into the fold of the regular military, and wanted no part of Tecumseh “Dog” Bastian, a man the brass thought of as a cowboy, at best. So he was now a knight without portfolioânot quite as bad as a man without a country, but close.
The cold air nipped at him. Dog pulled the hood on his sweatshirt over his head and tightened the strings to choke off the chill as he headed in the direction of the old boneyardâthe graveyard of experiments past, where old aircraft came to sit out their remaining days, oxidizing in the sun. The first he saw was his favoriteâan F-105 Thunderchief, which had most likely flown in Vietnam, surviving untold trials before safely returning its pilot home.
He'd never flown a Thud, but his first squadron commander had, and he'd spent long hours listening as Pappy talked about riding the Thunderchief up and down the Ho Chi Ming trail, “bombing the bejesus out of the commie rice eaters, and getting nothing but SA-2s up our tail pipes for thanks.”
Dog stopped and smiled, thinking of Pappy. The funny thing was, he couldn't remember his real name.
Maybe even funnierâthey called him Pappy because to the young bucks in the squadron, their leader was a grizzled old coot, one step from the retirement home.
Truth was, Pappy couldn't have been a day past forty. That didn't seem so very old to him anymore.
Amused by the turn his thoughts had taken, Dog laughed at himself, then continued walking.
22 January 1998
ARCLAY HESITATED OUTSIDE THE DOOR
down at his suit jacket and tie to make sure everything was in order. It was one of the personal “tricks” the speech therapist had given him:
Reassure yourself before a meeting that you look fantastic, hon, then you can proceed with confidence.
Her precise, motherly voice rang in his ears as he took a slow, deep breath. The nearby Secret Service agent was probably choking back a laugh, he thought, not daring to glance in his direction.
“Jed, come on,” said Jerrod Hale, the President's chief of staff, spotting him through the doorway. “They've already started.”
“Yes, sir, I'm sorry.”
Jed started inside with his head down, then heard the therapist's advice again:
Head up, stride with
where you're going.
Even if it's the Oval office,
she might have addedâand undoubtedly would have if she'd known that his job as a deputy to the National Security Advisor often brought him here. He hadn't told her what his job was, and it appeared that the anonymous benefactor who arranged for his speech lessons hadn't told her.
Jed's boss, National Security Advisor Philip Freeman, nodded at him as he slipped into the room. President Kevin
Martindale gave him a nod as well, but then turned his attention back to the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral George Balboa, who was summing up the results of the U.S.'s successful intervention in the Indian-Pakistani War.
“So we now have peace between India and Pakistan. Total peace. For the moment.” Balboa puffed out his words, punctuating his sentences with hard stops and short breaths as if they were darts. “The Navy has the situation under control. Entirely. Our two carriers are more than a match for the combatants. Medals are in order. My opinion.”
“Oh, I think the Dreamland people deserve a
credit,” said Arthur Chastain dryly. Chastain was the Secretary of Defense, and lately had been making little secret of his disdain for Balboa. Dreamland had, in fact, done most of the work, and had the casualties to prove it.
“Some credit. Some,” admitted Balboa. “Terrill Samson is going to turn that place around.”
“Samson is a good man,” said Chastain. “But Dreamland doesn't need to be turned around. I admit Bastian is operating over his pay grade, but he's done a hell of a job.”
Balboa made a face before continuing. His words came even faster, and in shorter bits. “I can envision a day where Dreamland works with Marines, SEALs, the whole nine yards.”
“I think medals are a very good idea,” said President Martindale. “An excellent idea.” He rose from the desk. “And why hasn't Bastian been promoted?” he asked Chastain. “He deserves it.”
“Ordinarily, sir, length of service is the most important criteria. Lieutenant Colonel Bastianâ”
“The hell with that. He should be a general.”
Balboa cut in. “Mr. President, with due respect. To go from lieutenant colonel to general, at a time when we're not at warâ”
“Thanks to him,” noted the President.
“Bypassing the normal process and making a lieutenant
colonel a general, I don't think it's a good idea, sir,” said Chastain. “I like Bastian. I admire him. He's got a great future. But making him a generalâ”
“Roosevelt did it,” said Martindale brightly.
“That was during the world war. And I don't believe that anyone went from lieutenant colonel to general without at least a few months as colonel,” said Chastain. “Congress was also involved. They passed special legislation.”
“There are promotion boards and processes,” added Balboa. “If we disregard them, the entire service is harmed. We can't put one man above the entire military. It's not worth it, Mr. President.”
Promotions were governed not only by tradition and service regulations, but by law. To become a full colonel, an officer usually had to spend twenty-two years in the militaryâand by law had to spend a minimum of three years in grade. Bastian failed on both counts. The law did allow what was unofficially called a “below the zone” promotion: One year before regular eligibility, a candidate might be elevated to the promotion list. But Chastain explained that Bastian had received a below the zone promotion to lieutenant colonel, and was therefore not eligible even for that consideration.
The criteria for promotion to flag officer rankâa generalâwas even more complicated. Congress limited the number of generals in the service. The Air Force was presently allotted 139 brigadier or one star generals; those ranks were not only full, but there was a long waiting list. In effect, a promotion was generally a replacement of a retiring general. No matter how capable he was, moving Lieutenant Colonel Bastian up to flag rank would provoke bad feelingsâand require the approval of the Senate. The process would surely involve hearings, and given the recent criticism from some members of the Senate and congress that Dreamland was being used as the President's private army, that was something best avoided.
“Yes, all right, I'm sorry, gentlemen. Of course,” said the
President. “We have to think about the entire military. But Bastian's promotion should be expedited. There
to be a way to get him to full colonel. He deserves it.”
“That can be looked into,” said Balboa.
“And the Congressional Medal of Honor, for what he did,” said Martindale. “Clearly he earned that.”
That was no exaggeration. Colonel Bastian had risked his life to stop a world war. His aircraft was under heavy fire and had been damaged by Chinese missiles, he'd outgunned several interceptors and at least one destroyer, he had his crew bail out, and then single-handedly dove his plane on that Chinese carrier, ready to sacrifice his life so the plane couldn't take off. He'd been seconds away from death when the Chinese stood down.
“If it weren't for Bastian,” agreed Freeman, “we would be at war with the Chinese by now.”
“I agree,” said Chastain. “Frankly, that sort of honor is long overdue. All of the Dreamland people who were on that mission. The two pilots who were on that islandâ¦”
The Secretary of Defense looked at Jed, expecting him to supply their names.
“That would be Zen Stockard,” he said. “Uhâ¦um, M-Major Jeffrey Stockard and Cap-Captain Breanna Stockard.”
Damn, he thought. He was still stuttering.
“I agree they should be recognized. Their efforts,” said Balboa. “But of course, we do have provisionsâ¦regulations. A procedure.”
“Follow the procedure,” said Martindale. “But Bastian gets the Medal of Honor. And medals for the rest. Our heroes have to be recognized. Period. Next topic.”
HE GUARDS CHANGE AT TEN MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
path to the pipe is wide open,” said General Tomma Locusta.
“You can make the attack without any interference.”
“And no loss to your men,” said the Russian.
Locusta nodded. The Russian was very good at stating the obvious.
“Sometimes eggs must be broken,” said the Russian.
“Eggs are one thing, men another.”
“As you wish,” said the Russian. His name was Svoransky; he was a military attachÃ© sent from Bucharest, the capital. He could not speak Romanian; the two men used English to communicate, the only language in common between them.
Locusta raised his binoculars, scanning farther across the valley toward the gas pipeline. Only the very top of its gunmetal-gray frame could be seen from here. Raised on metal stanchions, the huge metal pipe was part of an old network originally laid from Romania's own gas production wells. The government gas company had plans to bury the line eventually; until then, it was an easy and tempting target.
Which was what the Russian wanted.
“What is the interval between radio checks?” asked Svoransky.
“It is not necessary to worry about that,” said Locusta, fearing he had given away too much information already. Svoransky was helping him, but it would be a mistake to believe that their interests were precisely the same.
A severe mistake. The Russians could never be trusted. Even Romania's fool of a president, Alin Voda, knew that.
Just thinking of him turned Locusta's stomach. He was a weakling, a democratâpart of the alleged liberalizing movement that aimed at bringing Romania into the twenty-first century. The movement was nothing but a cover for money grabbing capitalists who aimed at stealing Romania blind.
“Very good, then,” said Svoransky. “I appreciate your showing me this in person.”
Locusta nodded. He had taken the task on himself because he felt he could trust no one with itânot because he was
afraid they would betray him, but because the soldiers in his command retained a strong dislike for Russians. Few Romanian soldiers, officers or enlisted, would have been able to countenance helping the Russians in this way. Locusta himself barely accepted it, and he was doing it so he could rid the country of its scoundrel democrats and return the strong hand it deserved.
“You are sure you have everything you need?” Svoransky asked. “Very sure? You must see to every detailâyou do not want the government realizing who is truly behind the attacks.”
The remark didn't deserve an answer, and Locusta made no reply. Instead he turned his glasses to the southeast, in the general direction the pipeline took from Bulgaria, through Turkey, and over to the far-off Caspian Sea. It was amazing to think that the gas would travel so many milesâand that it would go even farther still, to Austria, then Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, and Spain.
Of course, that wouldn't be the case once the attacks were finished. Western Europe would have to freezeâor buy from the Russians, which was what Svoransky wanted.
While stopping the flow of gas served Locusta's purposes as well, he did not want the pipeline damaged too severely. As soon as he was in charge of the government, the line would be repairedâand better guarded, most especially against the Russians. The revenues would be as handy for him as they were for Voda and his cronies.
“Tomorrow,” said Svoransky. “Depend on it.”
“We will,” said Locusta, starting back toward the car.
TOCKARD TAPPED THE SIDE OF THE POOL AND
started back on his last lap, pushing hard enough to feel the strain in his shoulder muscles. The water was warm, and
stank of chlorine. He closed his eyes and dove down, aiming for the bottom. He tapped it, then came up quickly, his thrusts so hard he nearly slammed against the end of the pool.
“You're looking good,” said the lifeguard, standing nearby with a towel. They were the only two people in the large room that housed the gym's pool.
“Thanks, Pete.” Zen put his arms on the edge of the pool and lifted himself out slowly, twisting his body around to sit on the side. Even though he'd grown friendly with the lifeguardâor trainer, which was his actual titleâover the past six or seven months, Zen still felt self-conscious getting in and out of the pool, and especially getting into his wheelchair.
It wasn't the chair that bothered him; it was the looks of apprehension and pity from the people who saw him.
Not being able to use his legs did bother him, of course. It bothered him a great deal. But most days he had other things to focus on.
“Hey.” The lifeguard squatted down. “You want to catch some breakfast? Coffee or something?”
“No, sorry. I'm supposed to meet Bree for breakfast before work.”
Pete threw the towel over his shoulders. “I saw those news reports,” he said. “God damn. You are a real hero. I'm reallyâ¦it's amazing.”
“No, I mean it. I ain't buttering you up, Zen. I'm really honored just to know you.”
“Hey, I'm still the same guy,” said Zen. He wasn't sure why he was laughingâmaybe because he was nervous about being called a hero, or about being in the spotlight. “Still the same guy who pulls his pants on one bum leg at a time.”
“You want me to get your chair?”
“If you could.”
“Of course I can. God. Jeez, man, for you I'd do anything.”
Zen began edging away from the pool. The flooring material was textured to provide a good grip for feet, which made it harder for him to move back. The lifeguard positioned the chair and helped him up.
“Hard to believe you could do all that and still be in a wheelchair,” he said. “You guys really did stop a war.”
“I guess we did.”
“Maybe no one will ever go to war again, huh? If they know you guys will step in?”
“Somehow, I think that's wishful thinking, Pete,” said Zen, starting for the locker room.
College Hospital, Nevada
HAT ARE YOU DOING OUT OF BED
“I'm taking a walk,” said Breanna Stockard.
“What are you doing out of bed?” repeated the doctor. Her name was Rene Rosenberg, and she was so short that Breannaâno giant herselfâcould look down at the top of her head and see speckles of gray in the roots of her hair.
“I seem to be taking a walk,” repeated Breanna.
“Just about.” Breanna turned slowly, surveying the room. She'd forgotten where her sweater was.
“Ms. Stockardâreally, I insist that you rest. Have you had breakfast?”
“I need to move my legs before breakfast.”
“The bathroom is behind you.”