Wealth of spirit, material dusts or digits red or black,
You choose, but the promise stands.
Mumbai – The perils of ambition
Apart from the setting of his date stamp this July day had a special significance for Mulk.
He'd talked it over with Ronila. Well, whispered it over, to keep his words from filtering through walls plastered with strangers’ ears when the jets were silent. The listening wasn't intentional just unavoidable and usually disregarded to preserve the myth of privacy. But what they had to discuss came into another category, one that was frightening in its strangeness; that would be dangerous if overheard. Mulk had decided to allow himself and his family two luxuries. Both had stemmed from his talk with Malik on the way home.
When Mulk told Malik of the Sird's reaction to the extra men, Malik had given his customary thisp then taunted him with his gapped grin. 'He's a crook. They’ve a scam running and you're part of it.'
Malik juggled the new information with the proposal he'd intended to introduce and adjusted the return to his benefit. 'How many men did he say?'
'I was to allow no more than fifteen.'
Malik tried to calculate the scale of the Sird's scam. He decided to readjust his proposal of ten new starts a week to the fifteen of the other crooks. 'You finish fifteen every week. I'll see to their replacements. It won't be long before they know to come to me and you won't be bothered. Together with the Sird's scam you could be making thirty extra every week. Not bad for shovelling a piece of shit down a hole.'
Not bad, hardly believable, but Mulk had grown careful of Malik's ability to specify income. 'Thirty doesn't seem much for fifteen jobs?'
Malik shook his head. 'No, no. I think you will get fifteen from the Sird. The other we split equally, after all I'll be doing most of the work.'
Remembering a road and an illicit electricity grid, Mulk was fairly certain work and reward had never been evenly balanced. 'No, we want four rupees for each job. I get three and you collect.'
'That's not honourable between friends. You will have more than me.'
Mulk noticed his friend's sudden concern with honour but didn't think it was a character trait so disregarded it. 'I have more mouths to feed.'
Four was not the figure Malik intended to charge but he managed a sigh of resignation. 'All right my friend, it will be difficult but I will get four then we split all our money half each.'
Mulk shook his head. 'No, the Sikh's scam is mine. You get one rupee from each of the rest. Why are you looking so unhappy my friend? It's no less than you asked?'
'Because you are my friend and you, demanding more, will share none of it with me.'
'You might charge five.' That had already been decided. 'And how will I know with you collecting the money? So every week it's you that has to pay me the three rupees.'
Malik conceded almost gracefully. 'I can see I have taught you well. All right, you keep your boss's scam, but still we go halves on the other.'
'No, three to me.'
'Two and a half.'
'Okay, two and a half to me the day they start.'
Having got what he asked for, Malik was still unhappy and tried to reopen negotiations with different permutations throughout the journey home. Mulk refused to move. He was a rock with a spinning head, and an unbelievable fifty-two and half extra rupees a week.
He pictured Raj in his uniform, head bent under the scrutiny of the teacher with nice ankles. It seemed so real that he was trembling with impatience to get the children asleep so he could tell Ronila. When he at last whispered it out with suppressed excitement, her sombre look shifted his tremble from voice to knee. 'What's wrong? We get a dream made possible and you can only frown at me.'
She lifted her hand to stroke his face. 'It cannot be Raj, he has no certificate.'
Mulk groaned at the fetters with which fate seemed to plague him while his mind searched for the strength he'd found earlier with Malik. 'I will buy a certificate. I've heard they can be bought from families where the child has died. The name doesn't matter and they're not interested in the address.'
'They will not ask questions at this school? Raj will not be asked of his family or where he lives, what his father does? There are no snoopers at this school, no curiosity in the children?'
'I will explain to Raj.'
'While he is with you, Raj will be as brave as you want him to be. How brave can you expect him to be with strangers or how careful with other children?'
'Woman, why do you put nothing but obstacles in my way?'
'They have always been there. I too would like to overcome some of the obstacles we have stumbled into.'
'What do you mean?'
Mulk caught his mouth beginning to droop. 'She's a girl. I cannot send her before Raj or little Mulk. This is rubbish Ronila.'
'No, it saves Gita from being rubbish. She is bright, perhaps brighter than Raj. She can attend without all these lies to trip over. What she learns each day, she can teach to her brothers and, in time, her sister. We have risked everything to keep the others whole, we must give Gita something to value.'
Why not? He had long dreaded telling Gita of the mistake they'd made. Not that he could avoid it, but perhaps if he could show how sorry he was; how, by doing this, they could show she was as much to them as Raj or the others. Then perhaps he wouldn't have to wait for her to renounce life in order to save her soul, or renounce her soul and become a vessel for a thousand men. She could be their teacher. She could be any child's teacher, renounce the home for the schoolroom and keep her soul. He pictured the kind lady with the trim ankles, transposing a grown Gita above them and wondered whether she'd had to make the same choice. On top of that he could leave it to Gita to explain to Raj why his father's foolishness had given him a name like Raj.
'You're right, Gita is the better choice. In two days I will take Gita to school and make arrangements.'
'And Raj? You'll explain to Raj?'
'I will tell him.'
Easing away from the children, Ronila stretched her arm over Mulk. 'You are a good husband to me and a good father.'
Gita screwed her eyes shut. Not against the sounds she was hearing but to hold on to the ones she'd heard. Many times her mother had told her of the dreams she had for her future, telling it as though hiding a pain she wasn't yet allowed to understand. Many times she'd listened without believing it would ever be heard, now she had just to understand.
Dick couldn't sleep, had thought he would with post coitus languor, but no. He lay for a while, listening to Mary's breathing while it eased through the rhythms of sleep. Easing out of bed he didn't bother with his robe until he caught a glimpse of himself from the mirror. Nudity at sixty might still be acceptable, provided it isn't yours.
He'd known nights like this. The hiatus when every thing was a plague of unknowns. Sleep that wouldn't come though the body had played a full day. If Mary had wakened and asked what was troubling him he'd have had to answer he didn't know. Stirring his coffee he found himself staring at his reflection in the darkened window. How he hated this fucking egg box. This mausoleum of insanity, carbuncle of inanity, was an indictment on every human value. All his calm acceptance was a sham. At one time he would have wandered through his home, picked up a book, sipped a whisky, watched a video or listened to music. Or he would have simply sat with the arrhythmic sounds of his home and enjoyed the solitude, allowing his mind to ease and sleep take over. There were no night sounds here, other than the muted whine of a lift or some other electromechanical gizmo; no creak of settling timber of a home resting after its day's labours. Everything here was concrete, solid; nothing was real except, potentially, he could be a father. The thought tormented and exhilarated him in about equal measure.
Since leaving Ruth at the Grange he was torn whether he should have grasped the nettle and demanded she came with them. Problem was any explanation would be too loose to stand scrutiny and if there was a threat to wipe them out he’d be bringing Ruth into the frame. Whereas the other, well that was beyond comprehension; too panoramic to analyse what would constitute risk or sense. At least she wouldn’t be amongst strangers.
Checking the sound was low he danced his fingers over the remote till he got an American news programme. Mud slid around the screen as the burst dam was shown spewing its bile down a Himalayan valley, cracking trees, limbs, homes and heads. Feeble humanity flushed away, too insignificant to be noticed. Obviously not much else happening or they wouldn't still be milking the story. He flicked through some more channels, not even sure what he was looking for, pressing the translate button on some foreign news stations until he was certain the item held no interest for him. He flicked until his coffee was cold and he knew "doing" had won. He flicked again, even though his mind was set and got an Italian channel. The newsreader had no film, only the backdrop of a map and a reference to insect plague. He picked up the phone and this time his finger dance was more deliberate. The doubts crept back when the phone began to ring, but not enough for him to hang up.
'Bob, I want to leave now.'
'Jesus Dick! What time is it and why the panic?'
'Half past twelve.' He shrugged uselessly before going on. 'Don't really know. Call it gut feeling or insomnia, but I think we should be on our way.'
'Christ Dick, I can't just up and leave like that. Jon's lads will expect me to be here when they come over in the morning. Or have you forgotten our morning's only five hours away?'
'Leave a note.'
'Bloody hell Dick! Five hours, six at the most!'
'All the less reason for you to argue.'
'I've another problem. I've a visitor.'
Dick gave himself two mental kicks. That was the one hiccup he hadn't expected. 'Sorry Bob, didn't mean to interrupt.'
'What? Bloody fool! Not that. It's a young lad I found up by Wilf's cottage.'
'Trying to break in?'
Bob chuckled. 'No, he's as green as grass. Bess found him rolled up in his tent; he'd sort of pitched himself into it.'
'Where is he now?'
'Zonked out on the settee. Said he was trying to make his way from Salford to Wales to find work. Reckons there's still some holiday trade. Best of all, he was biking it.'
'Christ. You sure he's as green as he's making out?'
'Pretty sure. Found some dope on him when I checked him over. Don't think it was anything serious. He didn't start twitching or anything when I threw it out.
'What are you going to do with him?'
'What can I do with him, other than give him breakfast and tell him to push off in the right direction, and I can hardly do that in the middle of the night, now can I?'
'How old is he?'
'Says he's seventeen. I think he needs another couple of years to catch up on that. He doesn't seem a bad lad, rough maybe, but not as tough as he tries to make out.'
'Can't you get an address or phone number from him and get his parents out? Or get the police to collect him?'
'I'll try to get his family but not the police.'
'Gets him off your hands.'
'What for Dick, dossing in a tent, or for being on the loose? Or for being young enough to think it would get him somewhere? I haven't been to Salford for donkeys' years but if it's anything like Stoke there's got to be some degree of sanity in him to try getting out.'
'All right, so what do we do?'
'Dick it's you that's got this bee in your bonnet. Why not leave it till morning like we planned?'
'Does he know you're leaving?'
'Does who know who's leaving?' Dick turned to find Mary watching him from the hall door.
'It's Bob,' he explained. 'He found a young lad camped out on the farm.' Then, 'Mary's just woken up Bob, she's asking what's going on.'
'You mean you haven't told her of the rescheduling?'
'I thought I'd get you organised first since you're the furthest away.'
Mary asked, 'What is there to organise at this hour?'
'I'm trying to convince Bob we should leave now.'
'Yes, Dick why?' chirped out of the phone.
Dick plunged around for a reason. 'Well if we leave now we won't be bothered by bugs.'
'In a air-conditioned car?' Mary asked wryly.
'Not that. I meant we would be far enough offshore not to be bothered by the time it's light.'
'I heard that. How does it impress, Mary?'
Having switched to conference Mary answered for herself. 'It doesn't, Bob and unless I hear something that does in the next sixty seconds I'm going back to bed.'
'Look, I can't give you any reason. It's a gut reaction, mental aberration, early senility, a premonition.' He grabbed at technology, tried to find the Italian station, couldn't and felt an idiot for not keeping it on. 'There's a news station reporting a plague of insects. Maybe it's started.'
'Bob, he's serious.’
'Right. But what about this lad?' They heard the rustle of covers as Bob threw himself out of bed.
'Get him to give you his parents' number and see how that goes. If not give him some grub and cash and set him on his way. Tell him there isn't a snowball's chance in hell of finding work in Wales and to head home. Best thing all round and it's what you intended to do in the morning anyway.'
'I suppose you're right.'
'That is what you were intending?' Mary asked.
'I was toying with the idea of asking Jon to keep an eye on him over at Betley and I'd take him on when we got back.'
'Christ Bob, you don't know him. Why do you want to be responsible for him?'
'Wait a minute you two, you're both being a bit high-handed with this. What if the lad doesn't want to go to Jon's or stay with you, Bob? What if he doesn't want to go home? And what if fidgety bum here is right and we are under threat, why shouldn't we give him as much a chance as we have? Why don’t we give him all the options we have?'
Dick shook his head. 'There's no sense in that, girl.'
'What if he doesn't work in with us? It's one thing sending him home from Betley, different altogether getting him off the boat. You know what it's like. Unless everybody gets on together you can cut the atmosphere with a knife.'
'How do you know Bob or I will get on with Glen and Anthony, or they with us? Seems to me he hardly adds to the risks and it means there are six of us. Three two man watches, which means I'm not relegated to chief cook and washer-upper.'
'We don't even know where we're going to end up. We could be putting him at risk.'
'Or, if you're to be believed, we could be saving him. If you are truly convinced, do we have the choice?'
Dick nodded. 'All right, but what if he hates it?'
'Easily solved. What's he got with him Bob?'
'Just about the clothes he stands up in, apart from a moth eaten tent and a bike and yes, I wouldn't mind if he came with us.'
Mary closed her argument. 'So, if he wants to come then finds he mortally hates us, or the sea and we have the option, we drop him ashore with a flight ticket home and enough money for a new bike and tent. He's lost nothing, had a bit of adventure and it's certainly not going to break us.'
Dick conceded defeat. 'All right. Better take all the food you can carry. We'll do the same from here. I'll meet you at the old house. I want to fill Adam in on why we're going now and get two of his lads to escort us to Abersoch. If we get our skates on we could be casting off by four.'
'Well stop jawing and get on with it. I'm already half packed.'
Listening to the hum of the broken connection both knew the discussion would have happened in the morning anyway. Now it was up to the lad but they doubted if Bob's offer would be entirely without persuasion. For her part, Mary had other things on her mind, though she said nothing till the Rover was packed and they'd cleared Hades' gates. 'What are you going to tell the Morris's?'
'The truth, or as much as I know of it.'
'Can you do anything for them?'
'Other than telling them to shut the house well up, stock up and keep their eyes and ears peeled. I don't know what else to say. I'm going to ask Adam to say, if he's asked, that we're heading for the Hebrides then on to Spitzbergen. Antony's got a place there so it might be believed and, if we get the chance to warn him we can always ring.'
Sleep drugged, Deek thought he was on the settee back home. Except you didn't have to peel this one off your face and the hand shaking him was gentler than the old man's boot. Still it didn't stop him moaning his annoyance when he screwed up his eyes against the light and recognised the different smell of the place. He felt rather than saw the mug of coffee pressed into his hand and had to fight the impulse to moan back to sleep.
'I'll give you a couple of minutes to come to. Then I've something to talk over with you.' Bob watched the lad fight to break the spell of sleep. 'Do not go back to sleep because we will be on our way in fifteen minutes.'
What did he mean, "on our way; things to talk over"? Aw shit no. He felt his neck tremble with tension as he stretched it to sip the coffee. The dog lay still by the door except for its eyes constantly shifting between him and the sounds from the other side of the hall. Deek tried to remember all he'd said, how much he'd given away. Names, places, details and realised he'd forgot it all other than the name he'd given Rigby. Why could he remember that and not the rest from a conversation only hours old? Maybe it had been a trick to get his guard down. Why hadn't he a problem remembering the shit he wanted to forget? Maybe he wasn't allowed to get out of it. Mangy's stuttering fury, the old man's bluster. Holy shit, the stiff! Rab would grass him. Nah, Rab would never do that. Sodding would; stitch him up for the hash and the cash. A new thought wormed into his consciousness and turned his great escape into a gutless run. What if the dame was a nut? Some sort of psycho who'd smothered the bloke in the bed with his own shit, and he'd left Rab to the same fate? He could see it all, Rab yucking through shit. The headlines, gossip filtering through the towers likes the first suck of an unblocked toilet. Awkright, the spineless cunt, the gutless shit, left his mate to die. He tried to hold back the tears and drank the coffee.
Three minutes later the bloke came back with a load of shotguns. Five more minutes and he'd agreed he was only going on for fifteen and his name was Derek Rigby, that his mother's name was Eleanor and she'd been on the game since his father left.
There was a ring to the name but Bob couldn't place it. Deek did some mental gymnastics to improve his memory and commit the details as facts. Helicopters, yachts, sailing. Shit, he'd landed with billionaires. He helped load the chopper. Shotguns lying on top of cool boxes crammed with food and not a sign of sausage. For the first time in his life, Deek couldn't think of one thing that was chasing or bugging him. He even managed to slip the cash out of the bike when he was told to store it in one of the sheds. Bob took a last look round after checking the boy was harnessed in. He'd left a note for Jon's lads, pinned to the door; keys, they already had. Enough units pumped into the electricity meter to keep the lot going for six months. Bess he couldn't look at, other than the once when he snatched his eyes away. He told himself he had to be cruel to be kind. She'd hate it cooped up in the boat. Finishing his check he started the rotors. Bess stayed four square, her eyes piercing their intuitive accusation through the bubble.
'Don't touch anything.'
Unhooking his harness he strode past the dog into the house and back out with a cardboard box. The box went on top of the shotguns and Bess was dropped into Deek's lap.
'Hold on to her, she'll probably squirm like hell.'
Maybe Adam Morris would have her? If that was on, why was he thinking on the design of a special harness for her? Sort of pooper-scooper in reverse - holding the body while the poop went free over the side.
Britain's Fourth of July was four hours young when the lines were thrown from the pontoon and Dick waved his thanks to Bernie and Alex Morris. He'd got Glen when he'd rung Paris and had given him the rendezvous; the north shore of White Island in the Scillies, in thirty-six hours with another twenty-four of grace. Uninhabited, they would get a local fisherman to ferry them out for a few days of bird watching.
Glen had asked, 'Any sort of bird in particular?'
Dick admitted he didn't have a clue other than Gulls and they were to take as much food and water with them as they could carry. He also asked Glen to check out any Italian news programmes, outlining the flash he'd got on the insect plague.
There was no wind to fill the steadying sail as they headed through the Tudwals, the throb of her diesel gliding Whisperwind along at her eight knots. Deek was down below helping Mary stack a freezer in a place her husband called a galley. She called it a kitchen. She was explaining to him about toilets being called heads, kitchens called galleys, engines called donkeys and how left was port and right starboard, even when you faced the back-stern- and your right was to the left-port. She ruffled his hair at his look of confusion and told him, 'Don't worry about it, the men will make a boy of you yet.'
He didn't get it, but didn't think she was taking the mickey.
Bob was on deck, painstakingly lashing a line in a series of triangles from scupper to top guard wire. From his belt was a loose line attached to a choke chain. Loose, because as he slowly slid his way along the deck Bess's nose was stuck like a limpet in his armpit. It occurred to him that the cruelty he'd rejected had been to himself; neither Dick nor Mary had looked anything other than happy to see Bess. He'd mentally drawn the mark-two scooper. It looked like him with a bucket and chuck-it routine. Dick overheard snatches of conversation between Mary and the boy when he went below to lock in course and waypoints in the Sat Nav and autopilot. He set a course almost mid way down the Irish Sea, out of both the sea lanes. It should see them laying off White Island at about five the following morning. For now there was nothing to do but stop worrying about the decisions he’d made. If nothing happened, it turned into an impromptu holiday, so what. If something did, they wouldn't know till that something revelled itself. The only choice they'd made was to involve the lad; and it was unfair to resent him because he would have preferred it had been Ruth. But that decision had already been made and right or wrong he was stuck with it. For the moment his slate felt clean, or was getting there, and while the only breeze they had was that created by the boat, it was clean; free of all the restrictions that polluted it on land.
Leaning against the doghouse he watched Mary and the boy sitting either side of the cockpit, teasing Bess with the last of the chicken. The game continued until the boy caught Dick watching him and a moment's hesitation gave Bess the prize. Maybe it was his face, drawn, set and matched by gloom. What the hell use was a clean slate if it didn't have a smile in it? Sliding up beside Mary he put his arm round her and gave her a squeeze while extending his other hand to the boy. 'Sorry I've been a bit offhand with you. Welcome aboard son.'
'You got it. But call me Dick.'
'Most call me Deek.'
'Sounds fine to me.'
The White House
The President of America was rubbing his face and flicking his fingers through his hair to acquire the "hard day" look. He had said his good-byes to his First Lady in private before watching Val and the two security men accompany her to the chopper. Ed Lane and Al Dewart had protected his flanks and every other part of him for over eight years, Val for even longer. Altogether he couldn't think of a safer cordon other than a battle group. Within a couple of hours of their landing at Camp David, she would be back in their first home in Wisconsin.
It was amazing how the passage of time could transform the minor blows of fate to good fortune. They'd tried to sell the house when nobody wanted the privacy and threat of open space. It was too vulnerable, too exposed they’d been told, but not half as exposed as his bank account had been at the time. That was long past, far enough back for the house to have slipped out of his records. Alexei had the number and knew it would be Val that answered. An “Albert Enrite” had rented the house through the agents for a three-month recovery from a nervous breakdown. He'd told Moira a month at the most, while knowing a week should do it. One way or another.
In his private room off the Oval Office Jim punched in the direct link to Moscow and waited while the square of grey luminescent coalesced into Varbagin's features. 'Alex that's Moira just gone, anything new happening?'
'Nothing official yet, other than the element that's worked its way through Turkey and, for the moment, looks set for Bucharest. As we expected we are likely to be the last they will ask for help. We have offered and requested air clearance from all states covering the line from Odessa to Trieste. It has been granted, provided we have a direct request for assistance from the country affected. With the exception of Rumania, Kresniak seems to be pinning his faith on Rome and Brussels.'
'Any indication how they intend dealing with it?'
'Not really. We know they're tracking it through Ancona and cross-referencing with Galati in the Ukraine. Just a minute, Jim.' Alexei didn't bother to cut the visual leaving Jim watching as he listened to a second line. He saw Alexei nod twice then issue an instruction that was too short and quick for him to catch. 'That was air command. The Italians have just been granted airspace by the Serbians to carry out reconnaissance.'
'Christ, don't they believe the Turks and their own tracking stations? What is there for them to reconnoitre?'
'Buying time, Jim. Our intelligence reports tell us they're already shopping round for all the pesticides they can get.'
'Seemingly for the moment they are doing all they can to prevent the indiscriminate use of pesticides until the exact nature of the pest can be identified.'
'It's wonderful when you have committees.' Jim Mair did some rough mental calculations. 'How long do you give them before they put some sort of response together?'
'Assuming they go for pesticides, ignore WREC and use what's already stockpiled in Italy, I'd say three hours to get the first lot airborne, plus forty minutes to an hour before they get to grips. Double that if they have to get additional supplies from France and Germany, which, as you know, may not be granted. All told, they have about eight hours to have some effect.'
Mair nodded. Alexei's prognosis matched his own. 'Suppose their results are limited, where do you expect the threat to be then?'
Alexei smiled. 'Somewhere along the line from Odessa to Trieste. We can't be more specific. They may even be successful, or manage to hold them, who knows.'
Jim Mair had his doubts, but this conversation would never appear in the archives. 'If you're asked to assist, how do you intend to handle it?'
'If we are asked, it would seem the pesticides were not up to the job, and we haven't that much in storage. We are working on a response. Favourite at the moment is to spray them with gasoline then fire an incendiary missile into them.'
'That would seem to make sense. I'll get our fly boys on it see if they can come up with any help.'
'Grateful for any help you can give, Jim. Before long we may be too involved to see the wood.'
Mair glanced at the clock. 'Just the way we want it. In seven minutes it'll be 23:00 hours here. Since we agree that four hours is about right for the Italians to have a first shot at them, I propose we make 04:00 hrs Washington time about right for Star Screen to go on red alert. By that time they should be getting to grips.'
Alexei nodded. 'That will be around noon here. One question. Schultz and WREC, what's happening with them?'
Mair understood the ambiguity of the question. 'He knows I'm scheduled to be in Reykjavik by ten local tomorrow. Preparations have been made for his flight to Brussels and at least two of the WREC team should be with him. The rest should all be in Brussels by 14:00 hours their time.'
'Perhaps you could find the time to brief him on these developments. Underline the seriousness of the situation and how it could jeopardise WREC and the whole movement for world government.'
'Okay, I'll bring him in. Alex, I've got lights flashing at me as though it was the fourth of July. I suggest we keep our lines open on vocal so we can listen in. Come back on visual if there's any comment you want to make.'
Jim Mair reviewed his last thirty minutes as he shrugged off his jacket and tie and slipped into his dressing gown. Soon, all being well, these lights would mark a sombre celebration for this year's Fourth of July. He punched through to the operator, already knowing there were seven waiting. Gnauk and Nakao could wait, they were only comparing notes. He'd take General Noder first and minimise the delay before he reported to the Secretary General. He juggled the others, first President Duberk of Egypt, Sayonnbe of Kenya, Bratongo of South Africa, then Prime Minister Munro. He'd stated the sequence before the thought dawned on him. What the hell would the Australian want?
He pressed the data button as soon as the general's face filled the screen, watched the screen split and give him the read out. Three stars: Ernest Samuel Noder, (Sam) Born etc... He let his hand hover while he drank in the features. Typical PP, Pointer to Pentagon. One style of haircut all his life, only now it was giving up on him. He pressed the button to give Noder the same facility. 'Yes Sam, what can I do for you?'
'Apologies for the hour Mr President, but we've one strange scenario happening over here. Every area command, north and west, has reported similar phenomena and now reports are coming in from the south.'
'Sam I've already got a posse of African presidents queuing to talk to me. I let you through first so I could get a rational briefing. Now just what is this phenomenon?'
He watched Noder breath in as though stiffening his resolve. 'Mr President, every single last Jack of them report they're being overrun by locusts.'
'That's a natural disaster Sam. Little we can do about it except help all we can once it's blown over.'
'Mr President, my fault for not making it clear. I'm in the command bunker and the security cameras should show me Kinshasa just about as quiet as it ever gets. Instead they're showing me chaos and a lot of bodies. All the reports tell the same story. God alone knows how, but these locusts kill.'
'Any casualties amongst our forces?'
'A few. Far as I can gather, most are down to accidents. Whereas the Indonesian contingent in Angola have just reported half their men have gone sick in the last two hours and some are already dead. We are getting the same sort of casualty stats among the construction personnel.'
'Sam do we carry our normal battle hardware on these U.N. assignments?'
'We're complete logistically, except for tactical nuclear.'
'Then you have personnel and field medical protection against gas and biological attack?'
'Yes. I've already given the order for it to be actioned, and full decontamination procedures until we give the all clear. That wasn't my reason for contacting you Sir.'
'Sorry Sam, should have known you'd be on top of that. Go ahead, what can I do to help?'
'We're getting requests from the heads of state to assist their own forces in the maintenance of order. So far I've refused, saying our mandate is to do no more than prevent any delay or threat to the projects. The picture we're getting is that there are very few of their own forces trying to maintain order. I think we will be left holding the can. I'd like your instructions before I contact the Secretary General.'
'I don't think, with the information we have at present, that we should interfere Sam. Give them all the medical and humanitarian aid you can without compromising security on the projects. There is something else we should do. Once you have a moment, arrange for a sample of these locusts to be flown over here. Maybe better quicker than later.'
'No, to Lubbock Texas. There's a special facility there. I'll arrange for them to get straight on to it. We need to know what you're up against.'
'I'll get that moving out of Dakar. I'll advise you as soon as I have an e.t.a.'
'Seems as though I'm going to be busy Sam. I'll put a call through to Strategic Command and get them to put Africa on the battle screen. Get all your area commanders to speed up their updates and go on security code red. Liase as closely as possible with the other national contingents so the picture we get is as factual as possible. Get that underway before you talk to the Secretary General. Oh, and Sam, if you have any contacts in Moscow liase with them. Sounds as though they could be having similar problems in the Balkans and President Varbagin was telling me they intend to spray them in flight with gasoline then napalm them.'
'Might be possible if the spread was limited. Seems to be all over here.'
'Do what you can Sam and the best of luck. You know I'll be praying for you all to come home.'
'Thank you Sir. We'll do our best.'
'Operator, you're in for a long night, son. Give me your name so I know who I'm putting through the hoop.'
Her boss chuckled. 'Well Lt.Sharon Kearson, you'll forgive my unfamiliarity and allow me to call you Sharon for the rest of the stint. Tell strategic command I want every damn scrap of information they can get me on the situation in Africa. Don't let anybody pull rank or they'll have to try their rank on me. Then call Christiani and tell him I want the war cabinet in session within the hour. Come to think of it get the press secretary, Pearson, into his office. He should be at home ogling his stamps. Tell him I want all the media contacted and this story put on ice. No breaks till Christiani or I sanction it. Then get him to contact every embassy and ask them to impose the same blackout. And Sharon, there's no war, so no outside calls to your loved ones telling them to flee to the desert or they have minutes to make their peace with God.'
'Can't do that, Sir. Only lines I can use are secure, and only function after I'm instructed by you.'
'Damn clever aren't we? Pity we can't use all this inventiveness to prevent rather than cure. Anyway nice talking to you Sharon, now patch President Duberk through if he's still waiting.'
'You have four more on hold. Prime Minister Munro has requested you call him back as soon as you're clear. He asked me to stress it is extremely urgent.'
'Patch them all through on conference. Otherwise I'm going to be all night hearing the same questions and giving the same useless answers. Tell each of them who they will be sharing with before you patch them through.'
Easing back in his chair he reminded himself of names to match the faces as they appeared on the multi screen, he got to six before Kearson came back to him.
'Prime Minister Lipshitz of Israel wants to talk to you direct.'
She'd pronounce it Lip-shitz; he knew the gaunt hawk preferred it pronounced Lips-hitz. Ah well, hitz or shitz if he wouldn't plead with the others he could find salvation on his own. After all didn't they claim to be special? And hadn't that claim of special ness been their curtain of excuse for the hate they'd engendered round them? Is-Ra-El might have to re-learn that three into one could go. Tonight they'd find the wilderness a busy place.
'Remind me if I get a minute to get back to him.'
He gave himself another few seconds to study the faces, some of which he knew of rather than knew. Of the six, one he liked but didn't know if he respected, two he respected, the other three were only faces and backgrounds. Studying them he listened to their background noises. Some were silent; others had the hum of control as a backdrop. From one, one of the respected, he heard an earthy incantation, accompanied by the rattle of bones - the each way bet. Had it been South America the incantation would have been in Latin and the bones exchanged for beads. Nearer home, there would be the clamour of telephonic incantation and the clatter of printouts as they searched for salvation from the fiduciary gods. He pressed a button, sending his image and voice to their screens. He pressed a second button, this one for the record.
'Gentlemen, my apologies for keeping you waiting. To save time let me tell you I've just been talking to General Noder and he's given me a fairly bleak briefing on the crisis you're all struggling with.'
Duberk of Egypt was first to interrupt. 'We are not struggling, Mr Mair, we're suffocating under it. I have the film from an air sortie that was ordered to survey the Nile. Its flow is slowing and beginning to flood. Look at the pictures for yourself.'
Mair played with the focus, zooming from the clarity of altitude where two banks were defined, to the close up of the porridge sliding between them. Duberk came back to him.
'We have tried to contact the engineers at the Aswan Dam. We get no response. We ask the sortie to try; they get no response. We asked the sortie to fly over the dam. They did, even though they knew it would force them to land on the airstrip to refuel; and, so far, none are reported to be on their way back. The photos show the lake in a similar state to the river. Bodies are forcing levels up to the flood relief gates and by now are probably slopping over them. We don't know if it will hold or what we can do. We asked your area command to help us in the cities. He's informed us that he is restricted to medical aid and cannot interfere with civil riot. Mr Mair, my people are not rioting, they're panicking.'
'What is the position with your own forces?'
'Truthfully, we don't know. We still have contact with our base at El Faiyum but little else.'
'Can I take it the rest of you are suffering similar disasters?'
Brotongo answered for them. 'Yes we are all suffering in Africa tonight. there is no discrimination between black or white, lion or springbok, all has been levelled by this plague, planed smooth by its ferocity. Last night there was no moon over Africa, this morning the sun is late. Perhaps it will never come.'
Mair couldn't find an answer to match the South African's. 'I spoke earlier to President Varbagin. Perhaps you are not aware that there is a similar situation developing throughout the Balkans. I've explained to General Noder how the Russians intend to combat them. It's crude but I've instructed Noder to see what he can come up with to try and help you out. It may help to save some of your crops.'
Voices exploded all at once, some, in their anguish, resorting to their native tongues. Brotongo won on volume and clarity. 'Jim, it is not only our crops these locusts are pillaging, it's people, animals, anything that moves or flies. We have reports of them flattening the crops by sheer weight of numbers. But when they move on they're clean apart from their excrement. You understand? Clean, no bugs, no crawlies, no birds, nothing.'
'Have you been able to check this out?'
Brotongo shook his head. 'Not to what you would call proof, just the several accounts, all saying much the same thing before we lost contact.'
'With all of them?'
'All of them.'
Shaking his head in disbelief Mair added, 'I've already asked Noder to get a sample across here for analysis. We'll pull out all the stops to find a solution, there must be one.'
Brotongo's sigh was audible while his face had the passivity of someone who had made his peace with God. 'Your time to study and solve the scourge is equal to the time we have known it. You have hours, not days.'
'Gentlemen, I understand your concerns and anxieties. I will willingly make available any assistance you feel will help to minimise the destruction or your peoples' suffering. I say that unreservedly just tell me what you want us to do. We will try anything you think has the slightest chance of success.'
'Mr Mair.' He watched the speaker's eyes dart as though measuring the consensus of opinions round him. 'Quahira of Zambia here.'
'Yes, Mr Quahira?'
'I have requested General Noder for transport to fly my Government to some safe place, so we can return and restore order once the situation has settled. He has refused, saying such an order must come directly from you. I would formally request you issue the order.'
Pairs of eyes stared back at him. Duberk's disgusted, Brotongo’s sad. At best the others could be classed as hopefully pliant. He allowed some time for the fence hangers to let self or position win. Silence. 'Mr Quahira, if you want to leave your country, organise your own transport. However in view of your obvious concerns I will give firm instructions to General Noder to make available in every area all the materials and air support under his command to carry out a similar exercise to the one proposed by the Russians. You gentlemen, will be responsible for selecting the targets and agreeing to the methods used. These are decisions I cannot make and are responsibility I cannot ask him to assume. I suggest you contact the heads of neighbouring states and try to co-ordinate with them and Noder. In the meantime I will do everything to provide support. Excuse me. I have a call I must answer.'
The Africans waited through the silence, none of them wishing they could read lips.
'That was strategic command. India is starting to suffer the same problem. Gentlemen this menace could be global. I need to get the broadest picture possible and hope to God it's not overwhelming. I'm at a loss for words but I hope not for action. May your Gods go with you.'
Breaking the connections he called the operator. 'Sharon, has the war cabinet collected together yet?'
'No Sir. Vice President Christiani has been on to explain he's having difficulty because of the holiday. Secretary Croxton is on his way and should be first to arrive. Secretary Stannought's fishing somewhere in Washington State. He's already asked the state police to liase with the park rangers and issue news flashes.'
'Cancel the news flashes, Sharon; we don't want to create panic. Have Air Force Two fly up to Seattle and stand by. At least I'll be able to talk to him as soon as he's on it. How about Brewer, his assistant, and Defence Secretary McKay?'
'He's on his way from Memphis, e.t.a. within the hour. The Vice President wanted to know if you wanted Brewer in the war room. Something to do with him only being in the job for two months.'
'If he can answer a phone and think, Sharon, I don't care if he believes Angola's some sort of rabbit. And the Attorney General?'
'He's just rung in to ask if you want the Director of the F.B.I. with him?'
'No, I want his butt over here. How many calls have we got queuing?'
'There's nine live and you have Prime Minister's Munro and Lipshitz to ring back. The British Prime Minister called to ask if you were aware the King and Queen were on safari somewhere near Kariba Lake. That's in Zimbabwe. They've been in touch with General Noder and organised a search using their own troops based in Zimbabwe. He asked for you to contact him a.s.a.p. as he put it and offered any assistance.'
'No, quite calm. Said they were already organising an airlift to India and asked how you were coping.'
'Hope you gave me nine out of ten Sharon. Now get on to Christiani. Tell him to delegate the contacting of stragglers and get himself fully briefed in the war room. I'll join him there. When you've done that have Munro standing by. I'll be on to Varbagin.'
He'd just gone to visual when Strat-Com changed his battle screen from Africa to a panorama of Africa, the Middle East and India. Africa already looked like a ripe strawberry; the Middle East hadn't the shape but was already showing a healthy tinge. India's shape allowed a similar analogy to Africa's except the blood red pixels hadn't formed into a blush, yet. Still they were forming anywhere that mattered. He allowed his "God Almighty!" to be recorded before rendering the machine deaf.
'Alex, how are things there?'
'In a word, Jim, chaos. The Italians and Germans are trying to hold the line between Belgrade and Thessalonica. We're concentrating on Belgrade and Odessa with full support from the Rumanians and, would you believe, the Ukraine. For us the main front's about forty minutes from Bucharest. I'll patch you through to some film I've been watching. The river you see is the Danube.'
Jim Mair watched the screen open with a shot of milky white, raising slow tendrils of mist then plummeting abruptly to a verdant green, then the sun flash from reflecting water. It confused him for a second until he realised all he was looking at was nature. Slowly the water slipped down the screen until the camera panned ahead to pick up a shadow that changed every hue to grey. Transposed vertically on the screen was a line with 60k flashing next to it. He did some quick maths, 40 miles. Say from here to Baltimore and wondered how he'd feel if it was from here to Baltimore. His screen flickered and grew two dead bands top and bottom as the camera changed to a wide-angle lens. This time the line was horizontal, immediately below the black haze that swirled and flickered like the sequinned skirt of a flamenco dancer, the flashing number was 34k. Climbing fast, the cameras angle stayed while the view became that of a foolish bird threatened beyond life to an altitude it could never sustain. Through the upper edge appeared the tracery of ethereal pink, to become a pink sea undulating in a rhythmic swell. Like all powers beyond comprehension, its mass had a beauty that was awesome.
Alexei's voice broke through. 'Seen enough?'
'More than enough. Brotongo said the sun may not rise in Africa this morning. I thought he was dramatising. But if what I've just seen has been kicked off by the one shipment he could well be accused of understatement. Plus they seem convinced the locusts are flesh eaters.'
'I take it you didn't disillusion them. Anyway, that's the main body; there are three splinter groups that have veered to the west. Did you see the smoke towards the edge of the picture?'
'No, got to admit I wasn't looking.'
'Well the Bulgarians agreed to scorch earth so they could keep them flying. Rumania isn't too happy about that. They're toying with the idea of getting them alongside the Danube and trying to obliterate them there.'
'Alex get on to…to.. Damn what's his name?'
'Yes Kresniak, get on to him and tell him to keep them flying. I've just seen what they've done to the Nile. It's dammed by bodies, theirs and just about everything else. Even the dam itself is threatening collapse. I don't think it's dawned on him yet what it could be doing to the water.'
'It might be better if you were to tell him, Jim. You can also tell him we should be ready to try the flash run in about two hours. We propose to use six tankers; two will fly over the middle, two over each flank. The fuel will be dumped and two fighters will release their missiles and then we will see. We have sent our calculations to Noder and once we've finished I'll have the results sent to the Pentagon.
Jim, what you've just seen isn't the product of that one plane crash. I'm not sure about Gnauk but I think our friends have done a bit of, how do you call it, moonlighting. We are watching our southern and western borders very closely.'
Mair felt his left temple begin to twitch. 'I've Munro of Australia waiting on the other line. Now that you've said that I've a pretty shrewd idea of what's bothering him.'
'Put him on to Nakao. They might be able to barter a quick deal between sovereignty and mineral rights. Anyway, the chaos principle seems to be working. Nobody has time to speculate. That apart we need to hold to our Iceland meeting, force all the cards on to the table and know by how much they have raised the stakes.'
America's Fourth of July was two hours old when its president took a call from his counterpart in Brazil. President Griancia was polite but demanding, while Mair mouthed the unctuous concern of an undertaker, he tried to square the circle in his mind, eventually coming up with Stannought. He had two things to do in a hurry. The first was to warn Christiani of the likelihood of more calls from their southern continent. The second was to take a leak no, he'd one other. 'Sharon.'
'No Sir, Major Primet. Lt Kearson has to use the facilities.'
'Are you up to date with the situation?'
'Yes Sir, I'm coupled with Kearson for this hitch.'
'So, you'll have heard all I said to her.'
'Yes Sir.' The tone was military, flat.
'Then the same goes for you Major. We have no time tonight for the niceties of protocol. Unless I ask for a call nobody gets through to me. Route them through to the war room. If I want to talk to anybody you cut into any conversation they are having. I want instant access and zero accessibility until you have cleared with me. You got it?'
'We're on top of that, Sir.'
'One other thing. Lt Kearson, does she leave the room? I mean does she have access to a phone while she's powdering her nose?'
'No Sir, uh the facilities are within the secured area. Neither of us can leave until our replacements turn up and we insert our ID. cards and palm scans simultaneously.'
'Well Major, by the sound of her you could do worse than having her company for a shift.'
'Absolutely, Sir.' Though Major Primet couldn't think of anything worse as Kearson stalked back to her console. The voice of an angel entombed in a toad. Not stark enough, a dehydrated, skeletal, but still poisonous, toad.
Christiani was fed the news from a voice flat with control, then told the same problem had hit Brazil. Eric Christiani gave a considered reply. 'Shit.'
Mair continued. 'So far nothing been reported further north but I think we have to assume there will be. Get Strat-Com contacting all our units south of Grenada and Panama and issue the same instructions as Noder. If anybody asks for help, tell him or her what the Russians are trying and say it should work. Help all you can but don't stretch our cover. Where there is least land that's where they'll congregate. I don't care if as a last resort we separate the continents and use Mexico as a wipe up zone. I do not want one of these Neanderthal fuckers getting near here. Is General Doherty at Strat-Com?'
'Yes. We're, that is Brad McKay and I are on a direct line with him.'
'Good, tell him to get onto the Pentagon, I want an immediate assessment of the method the Russians put through to them. I want to know if we can improve on it, and if so, how. Once that's finalised I want them to send all the details to every functioning government or military command. I want every plane, every peace of military hardware out of mothballs. I want to know if we can get planes flying long enough to fly into the swarms and blow them up, along with anything else that can blow, burn, melt or shoot these shits out of existence.
Tell them to switch the screen here to global, but as soon as he's drawn up his defence I want to see it on the screen in detail. Anything I haven't thought of is for him to cover. Cover it first then clear with me, or you if I'm not available. I'll let you know in a few minutes if we're going to full red. Somebody out there may think they have nothing to lose.'
'Couldn't that provoke the very response we want to prevent.'
'Might well do. But this isn't a war with any known intellect or strategy. We don't know their rules and they obviously don't give a damn for ours. I don't want somebody that’s been pushed to the brink putting it down to us. This gets to be a question of survival; it boils down to America and its people come first. That's our job; what we're here for. I'd rather be one hundred percent wrong for going on red, than ten percent to blame for not activating it.
I've a snatch of film Varbagin sent. Watch it Eric; it might give you some idea of what we could be up against. I'm told the river's the Danube.' He let the disc run, measuring its progress by the look on Christiani's face. He kept his tone flat. 'Looks like the devil's in cricket's clothing. Get things moving, I'll be in touch.'
He got Sharon back before he went for his leak, told her to get Lyle at National Security to send Schultz over as soon as he arrived. There were any number of johns he could have used but the one he wanted was in his private suite. Besides he'd have to throw some clothes together for his Iceland trip.
Control was slithering nicely towards the abyss. Africa had been prepared. Foundations had been set up to absorb the residue then allow the building of the new to rise above it. It would be a new Africa, tamed and cosmopolitan, no longer unique to any specie but with usable space. The Middle East was a foil. Generally uncared for, though avariciously needed. Otherwise cosmetic surgery to remove an irritating wart. India had been their Rubicon. The crack of concession from the high principles of survival to the greed of power. A crack that seemed to have widened beyond any excuse. He'd managed to come to terms with a three and one half billion cull. He could have argued the logic of it, shown its rationale, a mass he couldn't visualise, yet knew the cubic metres they would fit into. Just words if you said them quickly and concentrated on the job in hand. Units were as abstract as computer bytes.
Now they'd raised the anti, doubled and maybe gone for quits. Unlocking his bedside cabinet he slid the attaché case out and on to his knee. He switched its scrambler on though the digits he pressed were an every day number and code. It was answered on the second ring. 'Val, just arrived? If Moira's handy I'd like to talk to her.'
Recognising the sound of footsteps hurrying up the stairs, he knew Moira would be taking the call in their old bedroom. Memories of erotic appetites flicked back to him before his mind dismissed them as an irrelevance to the body and time it now lived in.
'Jim, where are you ringing from?'
'From our bedroom. I've just come up to get some clothes for Iceland, so there's no chance of me getting up for the break. I've got another problem and Stannought's gone missing some where in Washington State. No contacts we can find, just eased himself right out of the game.'
Moira sounded concerned. 'That's very unreasonable of him. I take it you need him contacted urgently?'
'Well he seems to have exceeded his brief. I've Air Force Two on its way to Seattle should he be found. Can't say any more at the moment, but I can say I love you.'
'That's a message I always want to hear loud and clear. Love you too, dear.'
Breaking the connection he watched the lights begin to dance under the buttons. The message confirmed, he had to acknowledge it before the lights danced to a new tune. Stannought, whatever his game, could be hidden from sight but the Stygian controller knew the urgency and had the advantage. This game had never been for personal gain. Six minutes had elapsed by the time he was back in his office, the day thirty-three minutes older from the last time he'd checked. Time to check with Alexei.
'Alex, I've just had a leak anything new?'
'I've been on to our three colleagues; they all confirm they'll be in Reykjavik for ten. Put the cards on the table and got a winsome smile from Chan and the inscrutable opportunist's shrug from Nakao. Gnauk's still playing it coy.'
'Well, we'll have something that will wipe the hypocritical shit off their faces. Any reports yet of them being hit?'
'Not yet, though they are making the right noises and reporting the situation much like everyone else. They're just not so urgent with their defence measures obviously relying on the immunisation program.'
'Well they're taking the risk. If any of the others get two and two together, it may be that we have to label and attack them as the initiators.'
Alexei smiled. 'Let's see how it goes tomorrow. So far nobody's got down to casualty or any other statistics, and when and if the do they'll find it quicker to count survivors. No doubt they'll each have created enough home-grown statistics to take their seats with the other mourners. Meantime, watch Gnauk playing nursemaid to Italy and Greece.'
'What!' Mair switched the screen from his southern states back to global. Italy was already heavily poxed; Greece was completely rashed, as were Turkey and most of the Balkans. The tit of southern Spain was taking on the same colour as its match in Morocco.
Alexei chuckled. 'Sly one is our German friend. Most of Europe has been doing what it can to supply and help. Once they're exhausted and exposed, Gnauk could be making his bid for the fourth Reich. Somehow I don't think Heil Gnauk has got the same ring to it'
'Alex in view of this, and in case we have to take measures against them, I think we should both go on to full alert now.'
'Agreed. I'll initiate ours.'
'I'll get on to Doherty and tell him we want the full star screen.'
'Fine, but only on China. If Chan's out of the game, Japan hasn't the logistics to threaten.'
'No Alexei, it has to be both of them. We have to make Gnauk too frightened to be anything other than dumb.'
'All right my friend. I'll see you in Reykjavik.'
'Okay, I'm off to talk to Schultz in the Oval Office.'
03:00 hrs July the Fourth Washington time, 2026
Every WREC controller was staring at blank, unresponsive screens.
Pytor Tozrin peered through the murk of his cockpit's screen, searching for the Danube. Already his eyes were aching but it was nothing to the ache that was clawing into his heart. He remembered an old joke, not a particularly funny one, but one that could be told all over the world and get a chuckle. What's the last thing that goes through a fly's mind when it splatters on your windscreen; its arsehole. It wasn’t funny when there were this many arseholes to contend with.
He knew the area well, having flown on countless routine border patrols after growing up in it, when patrols and borders hadn't mattered. Maybe they wouldn't again.
Glancing over his right shoulder he saw the results of his earlier run. A vertical wall of smoke going nowhere. Above it a black shroud seemed to act like a cowl, preventing the smoke from filtering through to the heavens. He hadn't considered it much of a threat, Biblical plagues against modern armaments and cutting edge technology; they'd soon be decimated. If his innocence hadn't quite gone, his naiveté had. Flying at less altitude he already knew what he'd see if he looked directly ahead. Except he could see it at ground level and add perspectives, rooms, smells and emotions to it. He'd tried to ring, pleaded with the others when he hadn't got through to keep trying for him once his plane was again primed with incendiaries. He caught a glimpse of the white farmhouse and asked for forgiveness from his family before averting his eyes to the instruments. He knew he’d over flown. Knew it wouldn't matter, one of his wingmen would fill the gap.
He felt the Mig lift as its load was released and a simultaneous well of anguish flood inside him. He hit reheat and went into a climb that forced the tears to stream back to his ears. He fired systems he didn't have till the judder of cannon gave him some satisfaction. On he climbed, straight into the centre of the black cowl until it engulfed him for an instant of hell.
The rest of his wing saw him swallowed and then felt the shock of air before the flash of explosion. Part of the cowl thinned to the intricacy of lace, hesitated, surged to solid again and then moved on. If it had worked, they might have followed Pytor. Instead they banked to port and asked for the co-ordinates of where they were to land this time. Nobody questioned Carabia. Borders were only for those who didn't know they no longer had purpose.
Klaus got nothing out of Lyle other than to get his butt across to Mair’s office. In the tunnels running between the National Security building and the White House there was an air of purposeless alert. A sort of active infill, a neurosis waiting to be diagnosed. He was through the final security check and into the private elevator before the thought struck him. One way or the other, now that it had started, there was absolutely Jack shit that he could do about it. So why was he here?
He was little wiser when he was escorted through the same security point twenty minutes later. A formal President had offered every available means to help eradicate this pest. WREC's task was to form and co-ordinate a cohesive plan to first contain and destroy this threat, and then to track down its origins. The information given to him had been vague, snatches of film and conversations, all recorded on the disc nestled in his coat pocket. The questions put to him were probing but not damning, allowing answers to be general rather than specific.
'No, he couldn't recall any specific reference to locust swarm patterns being fed in or erased from WREC's data banks.'
'No, he'd no knowledge of any modification or change to the use and dispersal of the data pods.'
He'd played the game knowing Mair was covering ass. Shit comes to fan the only reason for the meeting was for it to be on the record. He was told his plane would be ready to leave just as soon as the President's was cleared and, as yet, there was no sign of Shafner. Forsiya Gamadran had reported in. Someone had corrected her earlier instruction, changing it from Dulles to Andrews where she was waiting for him. Settling into his seat as the chopper lifted him from the White House lawn, Klaus tried to remember the name of the colonel who would brief him.
Perhaps then he would be able to make sense of Mair's remoteness.